It’s Thursday so it’s time to go to the movies with TMINE. Once again, I’ve managed to maintain discipline and go superhero free. I’ve even watched one – perhaps even two – modern classics of very different genres. However, in common with last week, one of them (unexpectedly, this time) features Keanu Reeves, so is that a new theme?
- Always Be My Maybe (2019): Randall Park and Ali Wong grow up next door to one another but their lives take very different paths. Will they realise they’re made for each other? And will Park punch Keanu Reeves in the process?
- First Man (2018): Ryan Gosling takes us to the moon and back in this partial biopic of Neil Armstrong.
All that after the jump.
Always Be My Maybe (2019)
Childhood sweethearts have a falling out and don’t speak for 15 years, only reconnecting as adults when celebrity top chef Sasha (Ali Wong) runs into air conditioner repairman Marcus (Randall Park) in San Francisco. Although the old sparks are still there, the couple live in different worlds.
Fresh off the Crazy Rich Asians
It would be tempting to suggest that Always Be My Maybe is the result of the success of Crazy Rich Asians, given it’s an attempt to do a proper, unapologetically Asian-American rom-com. However, it’s far more the result of the televisual success of ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat: the male lead is that show’s star, Randall Park, while the female lead, Ali Wong (American Housewife), was one of its writers for many years; the two were friends in real-life as well and they’re the film’s co-writers, too; meanwhile, first-time director Nahnatchka Khan (Don’t Trust the B—-) is Fresh Off The Boat‘s showrunner.
Certainly, Always Be My Maybe feels more like an off-shoot of Fresh Off The Boat, given that it’s about cooking, the working class and the Asian-American experience. And sure, there are some crazy rich Asians, particularly Daniel Dae Kim (Lost, Hawaii Five-0), but this is more a traditional rom-com about the collision of different worlds than anything about the social mores of the Asian elite.
That said, this isn’t a totally traditional rom-com, as it has far more modern concerns. There’s no ‘will they, won’t they’ here. Wong and Park are best friends in childhood and hook up before Wong goes to college. After that, there’s a 15-odd year separation before they meet again and once again hook up. Repeatedly.
However, on each occasion, the question isn’t whether they’re perfect for each other, it’s whether they can actually have a relationship together without sabotaging it in some way. Both need to develop as people and go on personal journeys before they can be together. So the question is more whether they can realise what their own flaws are and overcome them, in order to be happy.
Along the way, we get nuggets of Asian-American culture. Not that the latter is a monolith, as the movie makes clear that Park’s Korean heritage and Wong’s Chinese heritage are somewhat different things, neither of which they cling to rigorously or which are unique to them – Wong complains of getting bad service in a Chinese restaurant because she doesn’t speak Cantonese, upon which Wong launches in Cantonese to talk to the waitresses, having gone to the trouble of learning some himself.
However, there’s also plenty of self-deprecating humour from both parties, as well as laughs from Park’s comedy rap band (again, something he plucked from real-life). Park is as funny as always, but Wong impressed me, as I’ve never seen her in anything before and she has a good line in putdowns.
There’s plenty of laughs to be had on that score alone, but the film’s crowning glory, one that the film didn’t initially highlight, is something that actually draws on Khan’s Don’t Trust the B—- background of celebrities playing evil comedic versions of themselves. It’s the world’s most famous living Asian-American Keanu Reeves playing ‘Keanu Reeves’ in probably his funniest film role since Bill and Ted.
Keanu Reeves – to the max
This enables the movie to not only hilariously mock pretentious high-end restaurants and rich people in general, it also gives us possibly the most Keanu Reeves line in movie history, when it’s his turn to order: “Do you have any dishes that play with time? The concept of time?”
It’s no mere cameo either – he’s there, sending himself up for a long time. Even if you don’t like rom-coms, you should watch Always Be My Maybe, purely for Reeves scenes in the middle of the movie.
Always Be My Maybe isn’t always uproariously funny. But it has a lot to say about both Asian-American life and modern heterosexual romance, particularly when the woman is more successful than her male partner. It sticks with some clichés but avoids many others and is willing to drop one-line gems around the place as it sees fit (“Welcome to Burger King… would you like to order a burger to take away, so that you can eat it while you cry in your car?”). I’d certainly rate as one of the best rom-coms I’ve seen in a good number of years, though.
Give it a watch and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised – and impressed by the gameness of Keanu Reeves.
First Man (2018)
Director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling reteam for Universal Pictures’ First Man, the riveting story of NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong and the years 1961-1969. A visceral, first-person account, based on the book by James R Hansen, the movie explores the sacrifices and the cost – to Armstrong and the US – of one of the most dangerous missions in history.
Seat of the pants
Over the best part of a century, science-fiction has done its best to convince us that space travel could be perfectly normal. Sure, it’s flying up into outer space, but it could be as simple as taking an aeroplane flight. The likes of Radar Men From The Moon had people walking into spaceships with their suitcases then flying off to other planets, while 2001: A Space Odyssey literally had Pan-Am running space flights with hostesses to the sound of ‘The Blue Danube’.
Even when movies have shown us things going wrong, such as in Apollo 13 or The Martian, it’s always been the suggestion that these accidents been a glitch in an otherwise safe procedure.
By contrast, First Man is probably one of the most terrifying movies I’ve ever seen. Unlike Gravity, which only worked as a big-screen 3D movie, whether I watched it on an iPad, a 27″ monitor or a 42″ TV screen, all that happened was that something already terrifying became even more terrifying, as director Damien Chazelle showed us what an insanely dangerous thing it was the astronauts did in the 1960s to get us on the moon, in a pre-digital, pre-microchip time when the average computer the size of a room had less computational power than a modern pocket calculator.
The movie is ostensibly a biopic of Neil Armstrong, a man so emotionally closed down by the death of one of his children that when he’s leaving home to fly to the moon, he briefs his other children in the same way as he briefed journalists at a press conference. He can hardly talk to his wife (Claire Foy) either and can only ever express emotion when he’s by himself.
However, as much as it succeeds at that, First Man is far more important for its depiction of the space programme. Shot as though a colour-saturated, blurry, 16mm documentary of proceedings on the ground, stunning, clear as crystal high def during flight scenes, First Man highlights that for the most part, astronauts were sitting in virtually untested, novel, insanely powerful and dangerous technology held together with just a few bolts. An electrical short could be the end of their lives at a moment’s notice and the movie isn’t shy of showing just how often that happened.
Although there’s clearly some CGI going on, the movie feels viscerally physical thanks to in camera effects and Chazelle’s direction. There are no smooth roars of engines and utopian take-offs. This is a successive sequence of nightmares, of bone-jarring shuddering, cacophonies of shaking metal, and warning alerts, in dimly lit, claustrophobic tin boxes.
In particular, the film is particularly impressive at showing us Neil Armstrong the pilot. It’s easy to wonder in theory why Armstrong was selected to be the man who took us to the moon. But First Man shows us a man of almost superhuman calmness and methodicalness. In several near disasters, we seem him able to save the day through a combination of astonishing endurance and the ability to deal warning alerts, malfunctioning equipment, limited visibility and rapid changes in the environment, and make life-saving decisions in an instant.
Even if he only notionally impressed you before the movie, by the end of it, you will have total admiration for the man afterwards.
First Man is by no means a complete biopic of Armstrong, starting as it does during the X-plane programme and at the beginning of the Apollo programme. It’s by no means a complete ‘biopic’ of the Apollo programme, either, with the astronauts’ training for the activities they were due to perform on the moon, for example, not getting a look-in.
Instead, it’s a modern classic about bravery and one of the best, most realistic movies about space flight that’s ever been made. Watch it on the biggest screen you can.