Tag Archives: Hong Chau

The Whale (2022) Review


The Whale

Time: 117 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Suicide themes, sexual material, drug use & offensive language
Brendan Fraser as Charlie
Sadie Sink as Ellie Sarsfield
Hong Chau as Liz
Ty Simpkins as Thomas
Samantha Morton as Mary
Director: Darren Aronofsky

In a town in Idaho, Charlie, a reclusive and unhealthy English teacher, hides out in his flat and eats his way to death. He is desperate to reconnect with his teenage daughter for a last chance at redemption.

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The Whale was one of the recent awards movies I was most nervous about watching. This would be Darren Aronofsky’s next movie since mother! back in 2017, and it would be starring Brendan Fraser in the lead role. While it had been positively received on the whole, there were some polarizing reactions and controversy which made me unsure about how I would land on this. I would say that I liked it but had some clear issues.


Even if you didn’t know it beforehand, you could probably pick up on the movie originating from the play very early on. The Whale takes place at one location and consists of a small cast of characters. Even some of the dialogue feels very stagey, especially with lack of subtlety. Although there are some good moments, the screenplay and dialogue interactions can be very repetitive at times, though it usually fixes itself when it starts to feel that way. It isn’t a subtle movie by any means, whether it be with the dialogue or the themes. There’s a lot of things at play thematically, including religion, faith, personal tragedy and depression, and overall, I think it’s a bit messy and obvious with those.


The Whale is a dark and heavy movie, though Aronofsky seemed to try to aim for empathy with this movie, however the results are mixed. Much of the movie is bleak, and whenever it leant towards nihilism and hatred, I thought it was convincing and genuine. When it is trying to be empathetic, it felt fake and hollow, especially when watching the story play out. For a movie that tries to reflect the view of protagonist Charlie that “people are amazing”, the movie conveys quite the opposite. In fact, I would’ve admired the movie so much more if it ended up leaning into the hatred of the world and people, because at least it wouldn’t feel so hollow. Another notable theme is honesty, which is also something that Charlie encourages. It’s also another thing that The Whale struggles with. I don’t exactly like using the criticism “emotionally manipulative” when it comes to movies, since all emotions in movies are manipulated by the filmmakers and writers. However, certain moments were clearly intended to make you feel something, and most of them felt artificial to me. The more impactful moments for me were the quiet, tender, and softer moments, as opposed to the over the top dramatic moments, the latter of which had me feeling unsure about them. This also extends to the ending, and I’ve noticed that it made lots of people emotional and cry. In contrast with the other scenes which I wasn’t sure about, I knew for certain that I really didn’t like the ending. Finally, there’s been some talk about whether The Whale is fatphobic, and I really don’t have enough to engage in that discourse, but I can talk about the way it views its protagonist. I will say that I’m pretty sure Aronofsky doesn’t have a negative view of Charlie, the film is sympathetic towards him. Some characters do treat him poorly, but I don’t think the film views him poorly. At the same time, I’m not sure its empathetic towards him (ironically).


The acting for the most part does help to make the movie work better. Brendan Fraser gives probably his best performance yet, it’s very dramatic and he goes hard out for that, but I thought it worked. His character of Charlie is optimistic and believes in people despite the things he’s going through or the way people treat him. Much of the character’s positivity and optimism becomes redundant as we don’t really get to unpack that, he’s just positive because he’s just positive. Still, Fraser does help the character feel real and sells it as best as possible. Sadie Sink gives a notable performance in the movie, playing Charlie’s daughter, Ellie. I am fully aware that this is intentional, but she’s written to be such a menace and cartoonishly evil character that its hard to take her seriously. While she’s loud and aggressive, her character is pretty one note despite being one of the main supporting players, and it really could’ve used more nuance and depth. Sink’s performance goes along with that too, the angsty teenager scenes were pretty standard and she’s much better at the more emotional scenes, especially near the end. Hong Chau was one of the best performances of the film for me, playing a nurse and a friend of Charlie. While a lot of the supporting character are underdeveloped, Chau makes her character feel real, and was the most interesting and believable character in the film. Her scenes were really the highlights for me, her dynamic with Fraser was great and even worked better than his dynamic with Sink. Other actors like Ty Simpkins and Samantha Morton are also good in their parts.


Darren Aronofsky’s style and direction is usually very overt in his movies, but it’s been toned down quite a lot appropriately for The Whale. Not to say that the movie is directed in a basic way, it’s straightforward and simplistic, but it works for this story. It is shot with a 1.33 aspect ratio which makes you feel claustrophobic, especially given the movie takes place just inside and outside of an apartment. The murky and dim interior is also sets the right tone.  Brendan Fraser is wearing a fat suit and prosthetics to make him look obese and fair is fair, he looks completely different. The score from Rob Simonsen is also effective, atmospheric and oppressive, even if it can be a bit overbearing at points. However, the direction isn’t perfect; I wasn’t sure about some decisions that Aronofsky made, mainly in the way Charlie was filmed. The shots of his body and the filming of the binge eating is akin to how David Cronenberg would film grotesque body horror. It’s done for shock value and becomes uncomfortable, and for the wrong reasons which work against the film.


The Whale remains a movie that I’m very conflicted about. Some aspects of Darren Aronofsky’s direction work, and many of the performances are great, especially Brendan Fraser and Hong Chau. However, even if you put the fatphobic debate aside, it has plenty of issues that hold it back from really working. The writing is so messy and mixed, from the lack of subtlety, to the rather hollow attempts at being empathetic, and to even the attempts of being emotionally resonant, much of it misfires and was a rather mixed result. I do wonder whether Aronofsky really was the right choice for this film. If it wanted to be more empathetic and human, then it should’ve been handled with more sensitivity and subtlety. That aside, The Whale might be worth checking out for the performances. I guess I liked the film overall, but I understand the people who really don’t.


Watchmen (2019) TV Review



Age Rating: 860949[1]
Regina King as Angela Abar/Sister Night
Don Johnson as Judd Crawford
Tim Blake Nelson as Wade Tillman/Looking Glass
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Calvin “Cal” Abar
Andrew Howard as Red Scare
Jacob Ming-Trent as Panda
Tom Mison as Mr. Phillips
Sara Vickers as Ms. Crookshanks
Dylan Schombing as Christopher “Topher” Abar
Louis Gossett Jr. as Will Reeves
Jeremy Irons as Adrian Veidt
Jean Smart as Laurie Blake
Hong Chau as Lady Trieu
Creator: Damon Lindelof

When masked vigilantes are treated as criminals by government agencies, some band together to start a mutiny while others aim to stop it before it yields chaos.

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I had heard about HBO’s Watchmen for some time, and I’ve been meaning to watch it. I read the graphic novel, and I’m a big fan of the Zack Snyder movie. It was hard to imagine what a follow up to the graphic novel would look like. The end result was not what I expected at all, and yet was more than welcome. HBO’s Watchmen is incredibly bold and ambitious, incredible on just about all fronts, and is one of my favourite TV shows in recent years.


I’ll do my best to talk about the show without spoiling anything. First of all, something to address is the source material itself. HBO’s Watchmen is a sequel to Alan Moore’s acclaimed graphic novel Watchmen. If you read the original graphic novel, then you’re all set for this show. If you haven’t, I’d recommend reading it. However if you really aren’t into reading comic books or graphic novels, the simplest alternate way to get up to speed thoroughly would be to check out the 2009 movie (director’s cut preferably), and afterwards looking up the differences between that and the novel, especially with the ending. The reason why I say this is that despite much of HBO’s Watchmen’s story being standalone, the world it exists in is very specific and strange. So it really pays to have some level of familiarity with it, not to mention many major aspects of the plot from the original story are significant parts here. Now you could go into it completely blind and still enjoy it, but having that background definitely adds something to the show. With all that being said, HBO’s Watchmen still manages to be a standalone story. It’s in tune with the nature of the original comic, it’s very much in that world and there are a couple of characters from the original Watchmen story who make appearances. However, it is its own thing and doesn’t just ride off the success of the source material.


The writing throughout the show was great, I was riveted throughout all 9 episodes. There are fully realised characters with depth and motivations, the dialogue is great, and the plotlines were fascinating. Before going into the show, I did hear about how Watchmen started slow and how some people had to persist through it before it hooked them. I wouldn’t say that its that slow, the early episodes are establishing the characters and with setting up the overarching mysteries and questions of the show. I was intrigued with the characters and plotlines, and I was satisfied with the answers that were given at the end of the story. With that said, some parts of the show might be confusing for the most part, but by the end everything becomes clear. Some of the structures of the episodes can be disjointed with regards to the narrative, but I found that the risks actually worked quite well. It clearly has no interest in pleasing a mainstream audience, and really commits to the strangeness, which I’m glad they did. The sociopolitical commentary, thought provoking themes and the connections to real life events were quite effective and notable aspects of the show. The original Watchmen story was a take on American exceptionalism, the show carries almost a similar take, this time on white nationalism. It spends time investigating America’s racist heritage and handles relevant real-life issues like racism, white nationalism and generational trauma, and I thought it handled it well. It’s not subtle at all, but I loved it for that. This show even opens with the Tulsa Massacre of the early 1920s, an event that some Americans today didn’t learn about until they watched the show. If there’s any problems I have, it’s just that there are some characters that I liked that I would’ve liked to have seen more of, specifically Tim Blake Nelson’s Looking Glass, and Jean Smart’s Laurie Blake. Each of them have an episode more focusing on them and they really shine, especially Looking Glass, who I found one of the best characters of the show. However it’s not really their stories, so it’s not too much of a flaw. So far, another season hasn’t been announced for Watchmen, but honestly I though it ended quite well and I’m not sure where they’d go from here if they were to continue the season. I’m satisfied with the point they ended the show on.


The cast are all great, every character is memorable and the casting for each was perfect. Regina King plays the lead character, and she’s incredible in her part from beginning to end. She conveys an incredible amount of emotion and energy into her performance. It’s not just her though, the likes of Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jean Smart, Jeremy Irons Louis Gossett Jr., Don Johnson and Hong Chau are all exceptional in their roles.


Each of the episodes are directed very well. The cinematography is great and visually stunning, and this show is full of impressive and memorable shots. The use of colour is particularly great, some of the shots are definitely inspired by the framing of some panels in the original graphic novel. All of the show is well made but one of the stand out episodes was episode 6, which is a flashback episode. Not going to give too much away but there are so many stylistic choices made which was outstanding and added a lot . It’s not really an action show, but the moments of action are directed quite well. One of the most standout elements of the show on a technical level is the electronic score from Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, which is extraordinary and heightens many of the show’s best moments. The pair have composed plenty of outstanding scores for movies and tv, but this has to be one of their best works to date.


HBO’s Watchmen is fantastic, audacious and gripping from beginning to end. The cast are perfect on their parts, the writing is fantastic, and it’s an incredible continuation of the Watchmen source material. I’d recommend doing whatever you need to do to get up to speed with the original story and jump right into this show as soon as you can. It’s one of the best pieces of live action comic book media I’ve ever seen.