⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated: Profanity, adult themes, brief sex scene. In English and Mandarin.
If “Lilting” was a play, it would run for months. The film by Cambodian-British writer-director Hong Khaou is a moving drama about the joys and strains of relationships between families, lovers, generations, friends and societies. Junn (rivetingly played by Pei-pei Cheng) is a widowed Chinese-Cambodian mother, entering her last years in an English retirement home. Having been in Britain since long before the birth of her devoted twenty-something son, Kai (Andrew Leung), she still feels estranged and inarticulate, speaking a half-dozen Asian languages well, but English hardly at all.
Her days are made up of memories of good times together with Kai, and his invitation to join him in the flat of his “best friend,” Richard (Ben Whishaw, recently cast as the newest Q in the James Bond saga). What Kai is hesitant to address, and Junn not eager to endorse, is the depth of his four-year relationship with Richard. Richard’s attempt to connect with Junn becomes all the more challenging when an unexpected event touches her beloved son’s fate.
Hong’s bilingual film is a model of balance. Every actor has touching moments of sensitivity, jealousy, decency and despair. The story unfolds in passages that cross several seasons, and even the modest, well-designed interiors are vivid character elements. Scene by scene, it’s equally moving and touching.
THE BEST OF ME
⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for sexuality, violence, some drug content and brief strong language
Dawson (James Marsden) once loved Amanda (Michelle Monaghan). They were high school sweethearts — the pushy, spunky rich girl, the book-smart “white trash” bayou rat from a family of dentally deficient lowlifes.
But circumstances broke them apart, and when we meet him he’s on an oil rig in the Gulf, a rig that has a blowout that hurls him into the sea. When he wakes up, he’s summoned to the reading of a will. She’s been summoned, too. Can love’s flame rekindle after 20 years?
For an hour or so, Monaghan and Marsden gamely swim against the current, fighting the torpid tide of tripe that romance novelist Nicholas Sparks sends their way in his latest. Eventually, the actors give up as the lachrymose “The Best of Me” drowns them in a sea of tears and saccharine.
“The Best of Me” is just Sparks’ greatest hits, starting with “The Notebook,” a touch of “Dear John,” and running through every “not good enough for my daughter,” every tragic death, broken memory or noble sacrifice.
Which is why “The Best of Me” plays like the worst of Nicholas Sparks.
Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel
FISHING WITHOUT NETS
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: R for violence, language, drug use and brief sexual images.
Theater: St. Anthony Main; Cedar Cultural Center (Oct. 26 and 28).
Young husband and father Abdi, no longer able to make a living as a fisherman in the overfished coastal waters off Somalia, is lured into joining a band of pirates who board an oil tanker and hold its crew for ransom. Director Cutter Hodierne, who won a Sundance Grand Jury Prize in 2012 for his short version of the film, has stretched it out into a revealing, moving feature.
Shot in East Africa with nonprofessional Somali actors, it’s “Captain Phillips” from the pirates’ point of view, combining the realism of a documentary with the dramatic arc of fiction. Strung along by a sleazy broker promising them riches, the desperate, naive pirates grow increasingly frustrated, slaughtering goats in front of their captives, chewing khat and huffing gasoline as they wait for the cash. “Don’t bother with the black guys, just worry about the white guys,” says one, believing that whites are the only ones worth money.
Regretful Abdi, who by his own assessment has been blessed with a wife, son and “good heart,” reaches a point of no return in an unexpected, open-ended conclusion.