Unfinsihed Song A Complete Joy

Courtesy:  Anchor Bay Entertainment

Courtesy: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Everybody knows the story of The little Engine That Could.  Well now, people are going to start learning the story of the little movie studio that could.  That’s thanks to Anchor Bay Entertainment’s latest home release, Unfinished Song.  This latest release is one more from Anchor Bay that has found its way onto this critic’s list of the year’s best independent movies.  The other is the recently released rom-com, Shanghai CallingUnfinished Song is nothing like Shanghai Calling.  It is also entirely unlike 20th Century Fox’s geriatric drama, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  Despite attempts by some to make a comparison, there is no comparison as the two are wholly separate stories.  Unfinished Song is its own story.  And it is a story that will both entertain and move audiences just as much as the aforementioned works.

Unfinished Song boasts so much heart throughout its roughly ninety-minute plus runtime.  It is centrally a story about family.  On a deeper level, one could argue that it is also a story about appreciating life.  Throughout both story elements, writer/director Paul Andrew Williams throws in more than enough laughs to keep audiences of any age laughing, too.  His ability to balance both the story’s dramatic and comedic elements is to be highly commended, especially considering the story’s length.  Also to be considered in the success of Unfinished Song is the story’s casting.  Terrence Stamp (Superman II, Get Smart, The Adjustment Bureau) was the perfect choice to fill the role of grumpy old Arthur Harris.  And Vanessa Redgrave (Howard’s End, Mission: Impossible, Cars 2), was just as solid a choice to play Arthur’s wife Marion.  The two play off of each other so well.  Their interpretation of Williams’ scripts draws viewers in even deeper, and thus makes suspension of disbelief that much easier.  The resultant effect of both of that acting prowess and the general writing make this movie one more surprise hit from Anchor Bay, and one of the year’s surprise hits.

The writing behind Unfinished Song is, as already noted, one of the keys to the movie’s success.  Despite attempts by some to compare this movie to the likes of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the two stories are total opposites.  The latter is centered more on the elderly acquaintances’ personal journeys of self realization.  Unfinished Song is its own story in that it is more centered on family.  Audiences are introduced in this story to Arthur Harris, a very Scrooge-like character that doesn’t want to have a good time or smile.  He’s just a crotchety old man.  But underneath that rough exterior, Arthur is very much the sympathetic character, as audiences will learn as the story progresses.  The change that he eventually undergoes as the result of a tragic event completely envelops audiences and makes them cheer even more for him; perhaps even more than his fellow choir members.  By the story’s end, Arthur’s transformation is complete so to speak.  And audiences will realize just how deeply they have been pulled into the story thanks to Williams’ writing and by Stamp’s acting.

The acting on the part of the veteran Stamp was perfect from start to finish.  Though, his wasn’t the only acting that audiences will appreciate.  The passion in Redgraves’ voice when Marion sang ‘True Colors’ to Arthur will bring even the strongest person to tears.  And his reaction to what happens after the fact is even more powerful.  Of course there are some funnier moments that come from the supporting cast.  Audiences will find themselves laughing uproariously as the members of the elderly choir perform Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’ and Salt ‘N Pepa’s ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ to an audience made up of people of various ages.  There is just something hilarious about a group of older people trying to rock out to Motorhead.  And one would think that older people would be more conservative when approached with the idea of singing Salt ‘N Pepa seductive song.  Yet, they were entirely open and enthusiastic about it.  Their reactions are more than worth the laughs that are generated.  And countered by Arthur’s view of the song, it makes this moment even funnier.  Paul Andrew Williams has given audiences quite the story, as is evidenced here.  He has written a story that boasts a perfect balance of comedy and heart.  It is a story with equally excellent acting.  Whether for the acting, the writing, or both factors, both work hand-in-hand to make Unfinished Song a story that will leave viewers feeling entirely complete.  It will be available this Tuesday, September 24th on DVD in stores and online. It can be ordered direct online from the Anchor Bay Home Entertainment website at http://www.anchorbayent.com/detail.aspx?ProjectId=3967a252-b0ce-e211-838a-d4ae527c3b65.  More information on this release is also available here and through Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AnchorBayEnt.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Shanghai Calling A Surprisingly Enjoyable Rom-Com

Courtesy:  Anchor Bay Entertainment/Starz Media

Courtesy: Anchor Bay Entertainment/Starz Media

The rom-com genre is one of the most difficult for which writers can do their job.  That’s because ever since Hollywood’s golden era, romantic comedies have been a staple for audiences.  It would seem that every story possible has been written in the decades since.  So the question is how does one write a story that is original and enjoyable at the same time?  Writer/Director Daniel Hsia has answered that question in the script for Shanghai Calling.  Somehow, he has managed to craft a story in Shanghai Calling that perfectly balances its central rom-com storyline with comedy that would seem more fitting for a stand-up comedy routine than a rom-com.  Yet it works perfectly within the context of this story.  In the end, the balance of the two elements makes Shanghai Calling a surprisingly enjoyable movie both for couples and anyone looking for a good laugh.

Shanghai Calling is a fitting watch for any couple looking for a good date night movie.  That’s thanks to the work of writer/director Daniel Hsia.  The central rom-com storyline centered on a person finding love in a foreign land is in itself not entirely original.  It’s been done.  What Hsia has done is he has taken that classic storyline and updated it for the 21st Century.  It sees a young up-and-coming lawyer named Sam (Daniel Henney—X-Men Origins: Wolverine) sent to China in order to work with a client that is trying to get his supposedly innovative new phone on the market.  The client in question is one Marcus Groff (Alan Ruck—Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).  Hsia throws in just enough plot twists in this central storyline to keep audiences engaged from start to finish.  Along the way, Hsia throws in an interesting romance element for couples that is just as certain to keep them watching.  As he is dealing with the issues caused by Groff and his own bosses, Sam meets two young women.  At first glance, the use of two women and one man would lead to the cliché love triangle subplot used in so many rom-coms before this one.  But as noted already, Hsia ignores the standards used so many times before in crafting his story.  This is just one of those clichés that Hsia ignores.  Sam does end up falling in love with one of the two women, which leads in the story’s final minutes to another rom-com cliché being ignored in the standard boy gets girl back airport scene.  This is an element that far too many writers have used through the ages in their rom-coms.  Hsia completely avoids the cliché in question although he does hint at it.  That hinting at the classic element is as close as he comes to said element, though.  And for that, Hsia again deserves even more credit.

Daniel Hsia deserves more than his share of credit for crafting a story that while it is a rom-com, avoids so many pitfalls of nearly every rom-com that has come before his.  It makes this story bearable for even those that aren’t generally fans of said genre.  If the fact that he avoids those pitfalls isn’t enough to convince viewers of its worth, then the story’s cultural comedy is far more than enough.  The comic element tied into the story feels like material pulled right from a stand-up comedy act.  The cultural joke of Sam being of Chinese descent yet unable to speak Chinese is in itself funny.  His inability to speak the nation’s language leads to more than one hilarious moment at which audiences will find themselves laughing uproariously.  There are also plenty of other cultural jokes that audiences will love, including one told as Sam mistakes a cab driver for a monk.  The cab driver’s reaction to Sam’s mistake is one of the funniest of the jokes told throughout the movie.  The joke in question won’t be spoiled here.  Those that have yet to see this movie will appreciate it more when they hear it for themselves.  It’s just one more of so many incredibly funny moments that help drive the story and make it that much more entertaining and worth the watch.

Daniel Hsia has done an extraordinary job in combining the comic element and updated rom-com storyline in Shanghai Calling.  There is one more element for which he deserves credit in looking at the story’s overall writing.  That one last element is the fact that for all of its comic greatness, it would have been so easy for Hsia to take the easy road and incorporate a journey of self-discovery for Sam so to speak.  He does this somewhat in having Sam learn what’s really going on with his bosses and with his client.  But that is roughly the extent of that self-discovery.  Just as Hsia expertly avoids so many rom-com clichés, he also keeps the related dramatic elements to an extreme minimum, as evidenced here.  It’s one more victory for a movie that while it is an indie flick, is just as entertaining as any major studio’s rom-com past or present.  It will be available on DVD Tuesday, September 17th.  It can be ordered online direct from the Anchor Bay Entertainment website at http://www.anchorbayent.com/detail.aspx?ProjectId=1f407439-18d8-e211-8257-d4ae527c3b65.  More information on this and other releases from Anchor Bay Entertainment is available online at http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com and http://www.facebook.com/AnchorBay and http://twitter.com/Anchor_Bay.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.