Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Blue Bayou (2021)

Blue Bayou (2021) Directed by: Justin Chon Rated: R Runtime: 1h 52m

Studio: Focus Features Screenwriter: Justin Chon  Cast: Alica Vikander, Justin Chon, Mark O’Brien, Sydney Kowalske, Emory Cohen

Blue Bayou is a poignant film about love, family, and the ties that bind; in an unjust society full of bigots and legal loopholes. 

Antonio LeBlanc (Chon) was adopted as a toddler from Korea by a family from a small Louisiana town. Who gave him up after six months—left to be raised by the foster care system for the rest of his youth. After a lifetime of small-minded people, he meets Kathy (Vikander), the love of his life. He marries her, helping raise her daughter, Jessie (Kowalske). They’re his whole world. 

In Blue Bayou, Antonio struggles to make ends meet, like so many people with or without baggage. Yet Antonio’s obstacles are things he can’t check at the door or put in a closet. He’s a convicted criminal-worse in Louisiana; he’s Asain. Constantly asked, “where you from?” despite a thick Cajun accent. It’s the smallest example of racism his character endures. He’s always the outsider with no nuclear family growing up and nothing of pride to hold on to of his Korean heritage. 

Alicia Vikander, Sydney Kowalske, Justin Chon in ‘Blue Bayou’ Image: Focus Features via

Small-minded bigotry is as common as breathing in the deep South of America, and prejudice and authority make a terrible combo. It is this mindset that sets off the plot and story. 

A run-in with Ace (O’ Brien), Jessie’s father, and his police partner (Cohen) at a store ends in Antonio’s arrest and subsequent detainment by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). The legality of Antonio’s adoption from Korea is called into question and sets the wheels in motion for his deportation. 

Chon’s set locations, the lush, quiet bayou hideaway, and sunsets over the water juxtapose Antonio’s reality. That’s what this film is at its core, emotional resonance. The shared body language between Antonio and Kathy, or his honesty and bonding efforts with Jessie, all speak to the little moments we all have. For better or worse, those real human moments are layered with abuse and ridicule bubbling near the surface for Antonio, constantly. And now, through legal loopholes, he could lose it all-the only places he’s ever called home, through no fault of his own. 

Sydney Kowalske as Jessie in ‘Blue Bayou.’ Image: Focus Features via

Illegal immigration/entry into the United States is a very polarizing topic. Still, Chon has honed in on this overlooked slice of the issue. Despite anyone’s thoughts on immigration into America, one burning question is this: why are all adopted children from other countries not automatically citizens? The truth is illuminating. 

Blue Bayou is a realistic, raw look into a topic and people’s reality on the subject of international adoption, racism, and the strength of the vows “for better or for worse.” If ever an indie film deserved a place on a watchlist, this one does. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Jungle Cruise (2021)

Jungle Cruise (2021)

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra  Rated: PG-13  Runtime: 2hr 7 min

Studio: Disney  Screenwriter: Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Cast: Emily Blunt, Paul Giamatti, Dwayne Johnson, Edgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall

Movies are adapted from books, real-life events, and video games, but Jungle Cruise was based on a Disney theme park ride. It’s an ode to the capitalistic aspirations of the American-based company. Digressing from that, it is a palate cleanser to all the sci-fi, superhero, or low-rent quality content currently swirling around. 

When I first saw this film’s trailer, I wanted to see it. Not because the plot was original (it’s not), but because Emily Blunt’s films are always entertaining. In that, I wasn’t disappointed. She’s a wonderfully talented actress who is more than capable of portraying whatever is required of her. In Jungle Cruise, she’s Dr. Lily Houghton, a sassy British botanist who’s out to find a magical plant that will cure-all, a vital tool as World War One rages. It also would validate herself amongst the sexist scientific community. She sets off to the Amazon to search for this fabled plant, with her brother, MacGregor (Whitehall), in tow. 

Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt in ‘Jungle Cruise’ Image: Disney via

Once there, she encounters Nilo (Giamatti), a Prince (Plemons), and Frank Wolff (Johnson), who are all in the middle of their own mico issues that help Lily and MacGregory meet Frank, their riverboat captain, and continues the tone for the film. That tone, feeling, is similar to the banter, charm, hijinx, and quirkiness of The Mummy and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises, with a hint of Indian Jones. If there was more action and humor with Johnson in tow, I could have seen this as a workable version of Jumanji as well. It’s an exciting mix, but I did say this plot isn’t original. 

The plot feels familiar, and so do aspects of the story, but it’s not so campy despite Frank making bad captain (dad) jokes. The romantic segway is on the nose for Disney, but it’s not so groan-worthy it’s unwatchable. 

Edgar Ramírez as Aguirre in ‘Jungle Cruise’ Image: Disney via

Cinematically it’s beautiful; it was filmed in Hawaii. Despite the cast, the rest was made possible by an army of CGI experts. Edgar Ramírez’s Aguirre has snakes coming out of him; one comes out of his face! The stunt and action sequences are well done for the type of movie that Jungle Cruise is and the period for which it’s set. I wish that Aguirre and his cohorts had more screen time, a chance to add more conflict to the story. It seems like a missed opportunity to not use them more. 

I don’t see movies purely because Johnson is in them; his “acting” does nothing for me. I’d be more impressed if he could do a film where he didn’t throw something, have a fight scene, or swing off/jump off something. When you have an actor who can do their own stunts, great, but he doesn’t scream to me, a seasoned riverboat captain and con man. Depending on the age, Andrew Garfield or Jack Davenport-type actors would have fit the bill better than Johnson. When we think of Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones or Brendan Fraser’s Rick O’ Connell, one will out-think his opponents. The other is going to shoot at you. Dwayne Johnson is just going to punch you across the Amazon and keep going. 

Paul Giamatti as Nilo in ‘Jungle Cruise’ Image: Disney via

It’s a simple story, but it’s consistent with a plot that doesn’t spring too many leaks from beginning to end. There are times where the pace stalls, not from poor editing but the plot arrangement in general. The energetic performances by the cast and the general chemistry they all have together make it entertaining enough to get through. Jungle Cruise is different from others in its genre because the protagonists seek a magical plant and not the fountain of youth and whatnot. Or that it’s a woman searching and not a man. They’re small twists, but it works. Moreover, unlike Pirates, Indiana Jones, or The MummyJungle Cruise is more family-friendly.  

Jungle Cruise isn’t a cinematic masterpiece; it is a carefree way to spend time with the family for a few hours. It’s a textbook example of a popcorn film, made to watch as an escape for a few hours of innocent enjoyment. If that’s your thing, then give Jungle Cruise a place on your watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Chef (2014)

Chef (2014)

Directed by: Jon Favreau  Rated: R Runtime: 1 hr. 54 min Screenwriter: Jon Favreau 

Studio: Aldamisa Entertainment, Fairview Entertainment

Cast:  Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Emjay Anthony, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale, Robert Downey Jr. 

Warning, if you love food, this movie might cause you to drool like my Great Pyrenees begging for food. 

Many adults are merely content with their jobs or careers. In Chef, however, Carl Casper (Favreau) loves what he does. To cook. To create. In real life, it’s inspiring to see such a person who enjoys what they do. Favreau creates and depicts such a person, character with chef Carl Casper. 

‘Chef’ Officail Trailer via YouTube–Movieclips Trailers

Carl is head chef at a popular LA restaurant owned and operated by Riva (Hoffman). When a review one night by famous food critic Ramsey Michel (Platt) ruffles feathers, a Twitter war ensues. Shit happens, and Carl is left looking for a place that will appreciate his creative, delicious endeavors. 

Outside the single-minded vortex of food and cooking is Carls family. His ex-wife Inez (Vergara) and their son Percy (Anthony). While there isn’t a backstory per se of their marriage, the audience understands Carl’s priorities and how parental responsibility isn’t high on his list. He isn’t so self-centered that he won’t spend time with Percy or go on a trip last minute with him and his ex-wife, essentially to be a babysitter for a weekend for his own kid. I’ve never met ex’s that get along so well, so in terms of believably take what you will from this part of the script/character development. 

Going along with the believability…is when Carl meets Marvin (RDJ). Awkward…and Marvin gives Carl a food truck because Inez talked them into it. You know what, it’s okay. It’s a fun movie, really, so go with it. 

Jon Favreau, Emjay Anthony, Sofia Vergara in ‘Chef’ from Aldamisa Entertainment via Entertainment Weekly

The actual girth of the film is Carl’s journey of discovery and self-reflection. The best ingredients for this plot and character arcs involve Percy and Carl’s former line-cook, Martin (Leguizamo). There is such great chemistry between them; you see the love, inspiration, respect, and bonds.

Anthony’s Percy comes off just right. Not too bright for his character’s age and not so whiny or dejected that you wish he wasn’t there. It’s hard to get kid roles right. Leguizamo is a welcome addition to everything I’ve ever seen him in. He adds humor, authenticity, and energy to contrast Carl’s more serious side. 

A film needs good pacing, just like a kitchen and this movie has it. While it is about Carl’s journey, it’s also about the food. Unlike a regular person Instagramming every meal they make at home, the food in a film based on a chef should be a focal point. The creations chef Carl makes are well presented and colorful. If you choose to see this movie, don’t do it on an empty stomach. That would be worse than going grocery shopping while hungry. 

Jon Favreau and John Leguizamo in ‘Chef’ by Aldamisa Entertainment Image via IMDb

This movie is stacked with a wonderfully talented cast selection; they all do justice to their respective roles. An easy film to have missed when it came out; Chef is an under-appreciated, relatable story with a comedic backbone. 

Chef is undoubtedly worthy of your time and a place on your watchlist, provided you view it on a full stomach. 

—a pen lady