What We're Watching

What We’re Watching – April 2022

This past month, our critics delve into comedic films including a late career effort from John Huston. We also recommend an underseen film that delves into the immigrant experience as conveyed by a Chinese-British couple. Keep reading to find out what we’re watching:

El Camino Christmas (2017)

9DbG4Xr6H0gxyHpnBg7haeL5xVHThis was a surprising find for me, as I was neither familiar with the works of David E. Talbert, nor I expected much from a film with Christmas in its title. Granted, this can be attributed to my short-sightedness, but nevertheless, I am happy to have stumbled upon it.

The film revolves around Eric (Luke Grimes) who comes to El Camino looking for his father whom he had never met, just to get in trouble with an irritable police officer. As a result, a series of misunderstandings ensue, from which an enjoyable comedy crime film is born. There are issues within the film that hinders its creativity at times, especially in the final act, though its runtime being barely ninety minutes and everything else being quite adequate makes it easy to overlook most of the faults. El Camino Christmas is not a masterpiece by any means, but it is still worth watching for anyone who is fond of films that do not take themselves very seriously. – Alper Kavak

En Man Som Heter Ove (2015)

yMCHeGA9OU2JS8s3P1JDdozYAAMWe come across occasional directors and writers that stick to a certain subgenre, and in that sense, Hannes Holm is the kind of director that does not stray from his dedication to comedy. Granted, there have been some flops in his career, but En Man Som Heter Ove (appropriately translated to English as ‘A Man Called Ove’) alone is enough to make up for any shortcomings he might have had previously.

Following the story of a cranky old man whose life practically consists of visiting his wife’s grave and ignoring people around him, Holm tells a bittersweet tale that’s filled with the darkly Swedish humour that anyone who has familiarised themselves with the cinema of the country would be well aware of. The plot is then enriched with a new neighbour who makes a connection with the protagonist, and at that point, the film really takes off. Filled with laughter and unexpected positivity, En Man Som Heter Ove is first and foremost a brilliant comedy, and then a great adaptation of Fredrik Backman‘s novel. It also serves as a great introduction to the modern cinema of Sweden, where one would be surprised about how much there is to explore. – Alper Kavak

Fat City (1972)

9Y4IFs0inDLRevrEt3HagORJ7akThough John Huston‘s most famous films happened earlier in his career (The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, etc.), a strong case could be made that Huston actually got better with age, or at least stayed consistent. Fat City might be squarely in the latter half of his career, but it couldn’t be more at home with the New Hollywood trend of anti-heroes and focus on the disenfranchised.

Billy Tully (Stacy Keach) is a down-on-his-luck boxer who sees promise in a young man he sees box at a gym (Jeff Bridges). Fat City follows both men as they tentatively enter (or reenter) the world of competitive boxing, yet the film is not some predictable underdog story about getting back on your feet after you have been knocked down. Much of the film takes place in dingy, unglamorous places like the local boxing gym or dive bar, focusing on seemingly mundane dialogue. Yet the film is beautifully shot by Conrad L. Hall who doesn’t make these places look pretty but rather makes them almost like extensions of the characters’ vibes. All the performances are excellent, but Keach is the standout as he seems so at home in his character that we believe he has frequented that bar and that gym in Stockton for decades. His acting is not just realistic; one can sense the respect he has for Tully, even though Tully is deeply flawed and makes stupid decisions. That balance between humanity and immersion in a performance is extremely tricky, but Keach nails it. – Eugene Kang

Soursweet (1988)

nUY9KEv77vgdVTprYiat8WeZpquThis tale of Chinese-British immigrants has many of the hallmarks of immigrant stories – combating racism, attempting to assimilate, struggles with cultural and linguistic clashes, etc. But Soursweet is also a tale of intrigue where the main male character (Danny Dun) must also escape the clutches of a gang who want to extort him for all that he is worth. It is a bracing antidote to the idea that immigrants tend to look out for each other in places where they are a minority, when anyone who is a member of such a community can point out many instances when this altruism is decidedly lacking. The threat of violence only underlines just how fragile the liminal state many immigrants find themselves in the countries where they end up living. Sylvia Chang is marvelous as the loyal and fiercely strong wife and mother who sticks by her man, even though she brings a lot more to their relationship than he does. For a film not directed by Asian people (Mike Newell and Ian McEwan of all people), Soursweet manages to explore a specific cultural subset in a complex and intelligent way. It is a shame that more films about Chinese-British people haven’t received any level of fame outside of Britain. Even Soursweet is not discussed even in terms of Mike Newell’s or Ian McEwan’s careers. – Eugene Kang

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