CommentaryVideo

Sandra Oh owns ‘The Chair,’
and Paolo Contis the ‘Faraway Land’

The latter shows what a fine actor he is—even if the script is lazy

'The Chair': Think of it as campus version of 'The Good Doctor' (Official poster)


Credit: Netflix/YouTube

The Chair

Cast:  Sandra Oh, Holland Taylor, Bob Balaban

Think of it as the campus version of The Good Doctor, where Chaucer is often the topic of conversation instead of surgical procedures.

A new comedy-drama set in the academe, The Chair offers an often funny look into the travails of the people who toil in the faculty lounge of the English Department of a fictitious university called Pembroke.

Sandra Oh plays Ji-Yoon Kim, a Korean-American professor of English literature. She’s also the newly-installed chairperson of the English department.  For the university’s old guard, having her as chairperson is a progressive choice, but it actually seems so only on the surface.

Racism, sexism, and ageism remain major issues in the academe. Older faculty members are threatened with forced retirement due to their alleged “antiquated” teaching techniques. Their classrooms are always more than half empty. So now, the dean wants to attract more students to the department by hiring celebrity guest lecturers like David Duchovny.

What makes this 30-minute show interesting is the great cast led by Sandra Oh. Providing wonderful support is Holland Taylor as an aging oversexed mentor, Bob Balaban as another senior professor, and David Morse as the dean of the university. And there’s Jay Duplass as the department’s youngest and only “cool” professor, though his self-destructiveness threatens to ruin his career.

The Chair is not above using slapstick and toilet humor to get a big laugh, but the ensemble cast is game and the actors play with great abandon.  But given their art, they manage to keep their dignity intact.

These seasoned actors are almost always upstaged by Everly Carganilla, who plays Kim’s six-year-old adopted daughter. The precocious kid is supposed to be highly intelligent for her age, and the young actress who plays her is obviously just as smart and cute. Oh, but if she was my kid, she’d be standing in the corner most of the day. She can expertly deliver expletives in Spanish and could certainly teach an introductory course on bratty behavioral science. This little girl is supposed to be Mexican, so it’s amusing to see various cultures collide during a party scene.

Still, everyone in the cast gets to have a showy scene in each episode.  The characters they play aren’t necessarily amiable, though. That’s just fine, since I can count on only one hand the number of mentors I really liked in college.

But Sandra Oh is indisputably the star of this show, and even with her usually calculated acting (she always seems to be in on the joke), she makes The Chair work beautifully.

A Faraway Land

Cast:  Paolo Contis, Yen Santos
Directed by Veronica Velasco
Written by Veronica Velasco, Jinky Laurel, Erwin Blanco

‘A Faraway Land’: Paolo Contis is the vigor of a movie that’s nothing new. (Official poster)


Credit: Mavx Production/YouTube

The plot offers nothing new. It’s The Bridges of Madison County set in the Faroe Islands. Like the Clint Eastwood film, A Faraway Land is about a married woman and a man with a camera who brings passion into her life.

Nico Mercado (Paolo Contis) is making a documentary film on Filipinos based in the Faroe Islands. His main resource person is Mrs. Marhjoy Gardalid (Yen Santos), a Filipina married to an older local fisherman (played by Hans Tórgarð). They have a daughter who is in kindergarten.

Nico learns that all Marhjoy does is work and do the household chores. Most of the OFWs lead comfortable lives. But like the islands and the climate, relationships with spouses are cold and distant. The husbands love them but tend to be undemonstrative. Marjhoy’s free time is spent caring for her daughter and being interviewed by Nico, who charms her with his sense of humor and chivalry. It’s easy to guess the turn of events.

The movie’s first half is interesting, as it does play like a documentary on the OFWs. It’s also a scenic travelogue. The stunning drone shots of the natural landscape are enough to entice a woman to say yes to her online suitor from the Faroe Islands.

The film, however, takes its time to reach its predictable denouement. The script is lazy when it comes to Marjhoy’s enlightenment. Details are done away with. She doesn’t even switch to a new color of lipstick. What happens next just happens.

The script is lazy when it comes to the heroine’s enlightenment…She doesn’t even switch to a new color of lipstick

Then again, it was probably impossible to show even a subtle change in her, since Yen Santos, from the start, looks too young and dewy. Her Marjhoy lacks the weariness of a hardworking mother and wife. But she’s a competent actress, and she plays well with Paolo Contis, of course. The film, however, plunges into Star Cinema territory when the theme song is played during her emotional breakdown. The song, annoyingly, distracts viewers from her big moment.

Contis, who co-produced the film, literally and figuratively provides the movie’s vigor. He’s funny when Nico tries to be funny, and he gives a heartfelt performance during the film’s serious moments. A Faraway Land offers viewers the chance to see what a fine actor he is.

Georgetown

Cast:  Christoph Waltz, Vanessa Redgrave, Annette Bening
Directed by Christoph Waltz
Written by David Auburn

‘Georgetown’: Dominick Dunne, this isn’t. (Official poster)


Credit: Paramount Movies/YouTube

The last movie I saw that was set in Georgetown in Washington D.C. was The Exorcist.  Since then, I’ve shivered at the mere mention of that place as it conjures images of that terrifying movie.

Well, there’s a new movie that’s set in that upscale neighborhood. Its title is simply Georgetown. Happily, it’s not horror, but an intriguing story about a Washington D.C. socialite who gets murdered by her much younger husband.

Based on a true story (the characters’ names were changed), the murderer is Ulrich Moht (Christoph Waltz), a man with a humble background. He climbs his way to near the top of D.C. society and marries into wealth.  A compelling raconteur, he gets to fool even the top brass of various government agencies.  His status in society is sealed when he charms and weds the aristocratic widow Elsa Brecht (Vanessa Redgrave).

The role of Ulrich is a perfect fit for Waltz, who displayed his talent for gab and lying in previous films like Django Unchained. The actor must have had the same thoughts, since he decided to direct the film himself.

With such an impressive cast and a fascinating premise, I expected Georgetown to be the next  sumptuous high-society murder story a la Reversal of Fortune (about a socialite accused of attempting to murder his heiress wife), with a slice of Six Degrees of Separation (a man pretends to be Sidney Poitier’s son and climbs New York’s social ladder) and All About Eve (struggling actress ingratiates herself to an aging Broadway star and steals a coveted role from her).

I expected ‘Georgetown’ to be the next sumptuous high society murder story

Sadly, the script didn’t meet our high expectations. It direly lacks wit and passion, and leaves viewers wondering what Motz has done to have all these important people under his spell. The rich characterizations and humor of a Dominic Dunne are sorely missed in this film. Screenwriter David Auburn is no John Guare (author of Six Degrees of Separation). He doesn’t dwell on the details that supposedly make the protagonists so special and revered.

The film makes me wonder if several scenes were cut because it’s half baked at every turn.  The lavish soirées seem so dull. Despite the name-dropping, the unlikely onscreen couple feels isolated. The murder investigation isn’t thoroughly explored, and the courtroom scenes are perfunctory.

Ditto with the scene where the unlikely couple announces their engagement at a party they’re hosting. With the exception of the daughter (played by Annette Bening), the surprise announcement is quickly accepted, sans tongue-wagging and or eyebrow-raising. This takes diplomacy to a new level.  (Waltz should have hired the writers of Downton Abbey or even Dynasty to spice things up.)

Annette Bening is wasted as the daughter who remains suspicious of her homicidal stepfather. They could have written a catty confrontational scene for her and Waltz, if only to enliven the film—even if a confrontation never happened in real life.  As written, the role of the daughter could have been played by any actress.

Georgetown is not a bad movie. It just plays like a true-to-life TV movie, which is a disappointment when one considers the stars involved. Waltz was born to play this part. And Redgrave looks lovely as Elsa. This great actress has been appearing lately without makeup and wigs in films, but she looks fetching in this one. After all, she has to look the part.

Read more:

The Good Doctor—the Korean original and Hollywood remake go separate ways

Trese—where stars come and go faster than Voltes V

‘Friends’—the sexy Gen-Xers in my living room every week

Cruella: Like an expensive Hollywood tribute to Joey Gosiengfao’s epics

You want an escape? Not this year’s Oscar movies

Give Glenn Close the award—Oscar hopefuls you can watch now

About author

Articles

He is a freelance writer of lifestyle and entertainment, after having worked in Philippine broadsheets and magazines.

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