erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2018 posts

Thursday October 04, 2018

Movie Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is stupid from the get-go. The characters are stupid, the filmmakers make stupid choices, and everyone is stupid about the one thing the movie should be smart about—money—since that’s the only reason it exists: to take our money.

Here’s a minor, stupid example.

Apparently the place where the dinosaurs live, which is apparently called Isla Nublar, has an active volcano that’s about to blow. Bye-bye, dinos.

Some people, though, including former high-heeled PR flak Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), are working overtime to save them. We see her walking into her warehouse office wearing sensible shoes and carrying Starbucks-y coffee, and talking to the kids working the phones: a T-Rex-phobic tech geek named Franklin (Justice Smith of “The Get Down”); and a tough-as-nails, I-guess-she’s-got-a-medical-degree young woman named Zia (Daniella Pineda). They’re the new kids on the block.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is way way stupidMeanwhile, an old kid from the lab, Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), unseen in the Jurassic movies since 1997, is testifying before a Senate subcommittee and says this: “We altered the course of natural history. This is a correction.” I.e., We shouldn’t have brought them back; it’s probably best to let the dinos die.

That’s not a bad dichotomy. Two likeable characters on opposite sides of an issue. I’m with Malcolm but I see Claire’s side, too.

Except when Malcolm says the above line about “a correction,” the head of the subcommittee, Sen. Sherwood (Peter Jason*), says this: “Are you suggesting the Almighty is taking matters into his own hands?”

Wait, what? Wow, that’s some leap. The worst part: I don’t know whose leap it is: Sherwood’s, for bringing God into the equation, or the filmmakers’—screenwriters Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) and director J.A. Bayona (“El Orfanato”)—who I guess want to condemn Bible-thumping pols. Either way, it’s unnecessary. Let’s say Sherwood is a Libertarian who doesn’t think it’s the government’s place to save owls, whales or dinosaurs. Malcolm has just given him an out. “Hey, this leading scientist says nope.” Instead, before the news cameras, and thus Claire watching TV—and displaying the first of her 50 shades of dumbfounded reaction shots—Sherwood says, “This is an act of God.” I’m sick of powerful Bible thumpers more than you can imagine, but even I thought this was gratuitous.

(* The reason Jason looked familiar to me was because he played the redneck bartender dealing with Eddie Murphy’s Reggie Hammond in “48 Hrs.” Great scene. I saw it many times while ushering at the Boulevard Theater in South Minneapolis. And now Hoss is a senator? Way of the world.)

Again that’s just a minor stupid thing from the first five minutes. It gets worse.

10 million dollars
Private industry gets involved—in the form of wheelchair-bound rich bastard Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the former partner of beloved dino creator John Hammond (Richard Attenborough). Lockwood’s assistant, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), contacts Claire, and gets her to contact her ex, handsome raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who is the only one who can get close to “Blue,” the supersmart raptor he helped raise. (Was all of this in the first movie? I forget.) Lockwood and Mills say they want to save the dinos but that’s obviously a lie. It’s a “Jurassic” movie. Someone has to have a stupid scheme that blows up in their face. Munching will ensue.

Oh, and there’s a little girl, Maise (Isabella Sermon), playing her own game of hide-and-seek in Lockwood’s mansion. It’s Lockwood’s granddaughter. He’s raising her because her mother died in a car accident. But looks are exchanged, a telltale photo is hidden. What could it possibly be—other than the obvious: that she, too, is a clone, probably of the mother. And ... it’s that. The reveal comes two-thirds of the way through and presented as if it were news.

Everything’s telegraphed. When Claire, Grady, et al., land on Isla Nublar, they’re greeted by a sunglasses-wearing, paramilitary dude, Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), whom we know we can’t trust—and not just because Levine played Buffalo Bob in “The Silence of the Lambs.” The camera just holds on him in a certain way. He says things like, “We’ve got your back, brother,” patting Grady on the shoulder, and Grady looks at his shoulder as if it's infected. But even Wheatley’s betrayal is stupid. They need Grady to bring back Blue and they need Blue alive, right? So when does Wheatley reveal his duplicity? Back at the ship? Nah. Immediately. He shoots Blue with a tranq, and Grady with a tranq*, but allows Blue to attack one of his men. In the struggle, Blue gets shot. Now the target is bleeding to death**.

(* I did like Wheatley blowing a puff of air at a tranqued Grady, who, no longer able to stand, collapses. A serious dick move.)

(** BTW: Why do they need Blue alive? Don’t they just need the DNA—as with the dead Indominus Rex retrieved in the cold open? Or do they need Blue to help train the next gen? But—again—aren’t the new Indoraptors super well-trained already?)

So what’s the nefarious scheme? The least imaginative one possible. Rather than send the dinos to their own island, as Lockwood intended, Mills transports them to Lockwood’s estate, puts them in cages in the basement, and plans to sell them on the black market. When Lockwood finds out, he demands that Mills turn himself in. Instead, Mills kills Lockwood. The lickspittle turns.

Here’s another detail that’s so unnecessarily stupid I can’t stand it. Mills needs a black market connection or auctioneer or something, so he meets with Gunnar Eversol (Toby Jones, doing a bad American accent), who’s supposedly “the best.” Gunnar actually flies to the Lockwood estate in Northern Cal for the meet. But as soon as he gets there, he acts as if he can’t do it. Not for moral reasons. Because he doesn’t think it’s worth his time. He acts as if selling dinosaurs is small potatoes.

By the idiot logic of the movie, he’s almost right. Once the auction begins, before a creepy collection of international war profiteers and Big Pharma, the first dinosaur, an ankylosaurus, is sold for ... wait for it ... $10 million! Gunnar and Mills are actually happy to get such a huge amount, but I immediately flashed on Dr. Evil’s outdated ransom demand: one million dollars. Seriously, don’t Connolly, Trevorrow and Bayona—not to mention Universal—even know the value of their product?

And the idiot hits just keep coming. Mills makes the argument that animals have long been used in war—horses, elephants—and I’m like, “Sure. 100 years ago.” Gunnar introduces the indoraptor as “The perfect weapon for the modern age,” and I’m like, “Wouldn’t one missile take care of it?”

As for our ostensible hero, Grady? After he wakes from his tranq-sleep by a dino’s tongue just as the lava is about to turn him into a burnt hot dog, and he hooks up with Claire and Franklin, and all three make their escape in that plastic ball from the previous movie—riding it over a cliff and into the ocean and swimming onto a nearby beach (cue “From Here to Eternity” homage), then stealing a truck and driving it onto the departing ship just as the island is blowing, but, bummer, back in America, getting captured and tossed into one of Lockwood’s dungeons, after all that, his great idea of escaping from their cell is to taunt the head-butting stygimoloch in the cell next door so it keeps ramming the wall between them and eventually breaks into their cell. I'm like, “That's the plan?” But of course it all works out. Because as the animal charges him, he’s able to leap out of the way at the last second. As we all do with charging animals.  

$1.3 billion
We know how it’s all going to play out, too. The dinos—or at least the indoraptor—will get loose, eat/kill the bad guys, and threaten our heroes. And who will come to their rescue? Blue, of course. 

But even within this obvious framework, they keep adding stupid shit. Maise, for example, knows all the nooks and crannies of the mansion—we’ve seen her hiding out in a dumbwaiter, for example. But when the indoraptor is chasing her, guess where she flees? Into her bedroom. No, not the closet. Into her bed. No, not even all the way under the covers. She just pulls a sheet up to her chin and looks around frightened as the indoraptor approaches. I think it’s supposed to be a Spielbergian moment like in “Poltergeist”—what happens when imagined monsters become real—but Spielberg began from that premise—with the kid in bed, trying to sleep. He didn’t have the kid flee into it*. 

(*That said, in terms of direction, the bedroom scene, with its monstrous shadows, is the best in the movie. A shame it was constructed out of such stupid sand.)

So after Blue saves the day and kills the indoraptor—but not before the indoraptor kills Gunnar and Wheatley—our heroes are overlooking the dungeonous basement where a gas, I guess, has leaked, and the poor dinos are suffocating. They’re being poisoned. So now we get a callback to that original dilemma: Save the dinos or let them die? Claire is on the precipice of pushing the button to release them into the world; but then she pauses, stops, can’t do it. She can’t introduce dinos into northern California. It will wreak havoc. And ruin property values.

If this were a movie made 20, 30, 50 years ago, that would be the end of it. But it’s 2018, “Jurassic” is worth billions, and Marvel/Disney has already paved the way with its continuing universe movies. Shouldn’t Universal join that club? (It tried, certainly, with its abysmal Dark Universe.) Sure, the dinos could be resurrected for the next movie, but that’s same-old, same-old. They need to continue

So guess who presses the button that releases them into our world? Maise, of course. Because, as she says, “They’re like me. 

Yes, honey, they’re just like you. Except they’re up to 100 feet long, up to 100 metric tons, and have razor-sharp teeth. And they’re not very smart.

Of course, considering how well this movie did ($1.3 billion worldwide), neither are we.

POST-CREDITS SLIDESHOW OF BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD REACTION SHOTS


  • When the movie began, Patricia said, “Oh, I like Bryce Dallas Howard.”

  • But as the movie progressed...

  • And we kept getting dumbfounded reaction shots like these ...

  • Well, feelings changed. *FIN*
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Posted at 04:26 AM on Oct 04, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  
Monday September 24, 2018

Movie Review: Juliet, Naked (2018)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

“You look ... well.

It’s a line spoken halfway through “Juliet, Naked” by Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) to his ex-girlfriend, Annie (Rose Byrne), and O’Dowd nails it. His character is an insufferable professor of cultural studies who’s jogging on the boardwalk with his new girlfriend, Gina (Denise Gough), in their small, sleepy, British seaside town, when he spots Annie with some dude and a kid on the beach. So he condescends to say hello. He literally descends to their level. And after they greet, and while Annie’s trying to explain something to him, he leads the conversation to where he wants to lead it, which includes the above line. It should be well-meaning but isn’t. The way O’Dowd says it, eyes showing a faux concern, it implies: You look well for someone who’s been through what you’ve been through. You look well for someone who no longer has me

It’s both awful and delicious.

Juliet, Naked movie review
OK, poster needed work.

It’s delicious because we anticipate the fate that awaits him. Because the thing she’s been trying to tell him? The dude with her? That’s Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), the reclusive musician Duncan has been obsessed with since forever. Duncan has a rec room and a website devoted to Tucker and considers himself the world’s foremost Tucker Crowe expert. He’s his everything. 

It’s the ex’s ultimate revenge. You leave, but I wind up with your greatest love.

The truth is banal
“Juliet, Naked” is that increasingly rare animal: a small, fun, funny and original movie made for adults.

That said, it felt a little less original when I found out it was based on a Nick Hornby novel. Hornby is like his own genre, isn’t he? He writes of fallible loves and overwhelming obsessions. 

His obsessives have gotten less sympathetic over the years—at least in the movies I’ve seen. In “High Fidelity,” who doesn’t like John Cusack and his obsessive top 5 lists, which are really about obsessing over the girl he’s lost. BoSox fan Jimmy Fallon in “Fever Pitch” is a little less sympathetic simply because he’s played by Jimmy Fallon. And now here, with Duncan, we get the least sympathetic of all. Also the funniest. Most of the laughs in the movie come from O’Dowd’s line readings and reaction shots. He’s both absurd and relatable. So much so, that when Patricia and I were walking home, laughing about this or that bit, I had to ask.

“Do I remind you of him?” 

“Who? Duncan? No! Why?”

“You know. Obsessive behavior. Like me with Lin-Manuel Miranda or Joe Henry.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head, but maybe thinking deeper on it this time; maybe wondering if there wasn’t something there.

Ethan Hawke is perfectly cast as the reclusive rock star who released an album of quiet love songs, “Juliet,” in 1993, then promptly disappeared. He was playing a gig in Minneapolis, took a break, never came back to the stage. He was a handsome young man on the indie rock scene who went poof, and back then Hawke was a handsome young man in the indie movie scene who didn’t. He kept working and growing and taking risks: “Before the Devil Knows Your Dead,” “The Woman in the Fifth,” “Boyhood.” He let his looks sag. Everyone in Hollywood has superhero abs and he’s got a paunch. Hawke has a lived-in quality to him now, like the worn, musty sweaters he wears in this movie, and the air of a dude who finds life more perplexing as he ages.

Tucker and Annie are opposites. He took chances, she didn’t. He left messes. Duncan and the other fans parse the rumors about why Tucker left and what’s become of him, but the truth is banal. He fathered five children by four women, but was never much of a father. Some children didn’t even know about the others, which leads to this bit of dialogue with one of his eldest:

Tucker: Parenting. Sometimes I think I could use a manual.
Lizzie: Or tips such as, “Always tell your kids they have siblings.”

Lizzie (Ayoola Smart) is visiting him in ... is it New England? Pennsylvania? He lives with his son in a remodeled barn behind the house of his latest ex. We actually see him at his best. He’s raising a child rather than running from one. The child, Jackson (Azhy Robertson), is endearing. The actors work well together. Tucker seems both father and younger brother. He’s teaching the boy about life but also seems more broken. Maybe that’s the nature of Ethan Hawke now: to seem broken. 

Tucker and Annie get together for the same reason Duncan and Annie break up. Someone mails Duncan a demo of “Juliet” called “Juliet, Naked” (Cf., Paul’s “Let It Be ... Naked”), and she has the gall to: 1) listen to it first, and 2) not like it. When Duncan posts his glowing review, she, in the comments field, tears it down. Then she gets an email from someone agreeing with her. Tucker, of course.

Is it odd that Annie is the central character but we know the least about her? She curates at the local museum, and sees herself in a1964 photo of two couples on the beach. Specifically, she’s drawn to the face of one woman, who, she finds out later, regrets all the chances she didn’t take—the timidity with which she approached life. Not enough carpe diem, or seizing the day—if we want to back to “Dead Poets Society,” the movie that helped Hawke break out. But that’s about all we get of her. It’s a weakness in the film—and particularly odd since two of its three screenwriters are women: Tamara Jenkins and Evgenia Peretz. The director is Jesse Peretz, who also directed “Our Idiot Brother” and episodes of “Girls.” 

I also didn’t buy why Tucker left the music scene in 1993. It’s the movie’s big reveal but it lands with no weight. It just glances off. It’s just, “Oh ... I guess?”

Opposites exist
Is it a weakness that there’s a tonal difference between the two men? Duncan/O’Dowd is coming from a place of comedy while Tucker/Hawke is closer to drama, romance. Hawke is muted, O’Dowd broad. But I think that’s a plus. And it feels real. In any group you’ll find your broad-comedic types and your muted-romantic types. It’s particularly true with our perceptions of significant others. The one out the door is the clown, the new one is serious and vulnerable.

It’s a shame “Juliet, Naked” didn’t find a bigger audience. Roadside Attractions released it in mid-August, but in four theaters. It waited two weeks before expanding to 300/400+. I don’t get the delay. It’s adult romance. August is perfect and September too late. But it will find its audience after its theatrical run. It’s too funny and sweet not to.

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Posted at 01:26 AM on Sep 24, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  
Tuesday September 04, 2018

Movie Review: Big Brother (2018)

Review of Big Brother with Donnie Yen

WARNING: SPOILERS

It sounded like fun. The new teacher for ne’er-do-well kids in a poor Hong Kong neighborhood is Donnie Yen, Ip Man himself, who, when the kids act up, or when gangs threaten the school, breaks out the gongfu. It’s “To Sir, With Love” meets “Iron Monkey.”

I was also intrigued by what ne’er-do-well kids in a Chinese movie are like. Turns out:

  • Two brothers have an alcoholic dad, so one escapes into video games, the other into Ritalin
  • One girl feels like her dad doesn’t love her so she wants to race cars
  • A Pakistani kid wants to sing but remembers when others kids laughed at him because his Cantonese was good even though his face was dark, so he can’t
  • One boy schleps for a local gang

There’s also a fat kid but he’s just fat; he gets no backstory.

As bad as all that sounds? It's worse than that. 

不是乖孩子
When Henry Chen (Yen) first shows up in class, none of the kids pay attention. So he pays attention to them. Individually, he asks after their interests. They don’t care. To be honest, they seemed more spoiled than underprivileged. 他们不是乖孩子。 So he activates the fire-safety sprinklers, dousing them all, while he smiles, self-satisfied, beneath an umbrella.

The next day they try to get him back with the water-bucket-over-the-doorway trick. It’s like they’re the Katzenjammer kids. And of course it doesn’t work. He kicks the bucket across the room, dousing them all in the process. They’re amazed but not particuarly curious. They should be saying “Wow. Who the fuck is this guy?” But no.  

Oh, then he solves all of their problems. All of them. Like that

He gets the Pakistani kid up on stage. He gets the girl to race go-karts with her dad; and when she crashes, Dad, thinking she’s dead, breaks down, sobbing, saying how much he always loved her, and she overhears. 当然。The most clichéd problem and insulting resolution is the alcoholic dad. He comes homes from what little work he does and demands the kids buy him booze. Then one day Mr. Chen sends the class on a field trip to a rehab center. And guess who’s speaking? Dad! Not sure when he decided to give up drink—the night before?—and if this is what the Chinese do instead of AA meetings. Is it supposed to help addicts? Bare your soul to some high school kids who don’t know shit. What step is that—lucky 13th?

The gang kid story is the most convoluted. He lives in a shack with his sweet, obtuse grandma who sells things on the streets. When he steals the gold lighter of a gang boss (Yu Kang), he’s beaten up and then forced to join the gang. His first test? To drug an ultimate fighter who refuses to take a fall for the money. But the kid isn’t sly about it, the fighter’s manager catches him in the act, and all of them force the kid to drink a lot of water (????), and then shove him in a locker. They’re high-fiving each other in the loutish way of foreign villains in Hong Kong movies when Chen shows up, figures everything out, and takes them all on. He’s defeating 5, 10 of them, including eventually an ultimate fighting champion, and when he momentarily loses the upper hand, they do that loutish high-five thing again. Really? As with the kids, none of them wonder, “Hey, who the fuck is this guy?” Wouldn’t that be more interesting? That curiosity?

Anyway, Mr. Chen solves the kids’ problems (“The White Shadow” wishes he were this involved in his students' lives) and we’re about 30-45 minutes in. So what’s going to happen now? Well, we finally find out who the fuck this guy is.

The incident with the ultimate fighter leads to a news story, and the journalists do the due diligence the school didn’t. They get Chen’s backstory. Turns out he’s a former U.S. Marine.

Chinese movies have an odd love for the Marines, don’t they? At one point in “Wolf Warrior II,” Leng Feng, its jingoistic hero, admits U.S. Marines may be the best fighting force in the world before adding, “But where are they now?” The implication is that America cuts and runs. The implication here is the exact opposite: America fights forever. Our wars never end. That’s why Chen—in a not-good flashback—leaves the Marines; he gets worn down. Then he walks the earth, as Jules said of Kwai-chang Caine. He tries to find a purpose again. He’s also being followed by an eagle—to which, sure—and he remembers eagles always return home to nest. So that’s what he does. He returns to the secondary school he was kicked out of so he can teach kids like he was back then. It’s “Welcome Back, Kotter” meets “Restrepo.” Except awful.

当然
What are the movie’s other conflicts?

  • The school needs to do well in the national exams or fold
  • Gangsters want to demolish the school for a development deal

All of this comes to a head on the same day. The gangsters take the students hostage so they can’t attend exams. But Mr. Chen to the rescue. 当然。Turns out the gang leader is the kid Chen beat up back in the day, hurting his hand and making it impossible for him to play the piano. That’s why he's a gangster. As we all know, the fallback position for any classical pianist is a life of crime.

But it all ends well for him and for everyone else onscreen. Just not for me. By the end, I was exhausted by how stupid it was.

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Posted at 12:48 AM on Sep 04, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  
Thursday August 30, 2018

Movie Review: The Island (2018)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Four people, all Chinese, watched a screening of “The Island” with me at the Regal Cinemas in downtown Seattle last Thursday. When it was over, I wanted to ask, “什么意思?” What does it mean? What’s that all about?

In the past, if I had such a question after watching a movie from China, it was invariably cultural in nature. This is more. “The Island” is a mix of “Lost,” “Lord of the Flies” and “Swept Away.” It’s the darkest comedy I’ve seen in a while and definitely the darkest comedy I’ve seen out of China.

Team building
Review of the Island: 一出好戏It starts simple. Ma Jin (Huang Bo, “Lost in Thailand,” directing for the first time) is a down-on-his-luck dude with big dreams and big debts. He pines for ShanShan (Shu Qi of “The Assassin”), his way-too-beautiful co-worker, but she doesn’t give him a second glance. She’s way too beautiful.

One day, during reports that a meteor might strike the earth causing giant tsunamis, his company is on a team-building morale event—one of those “Ride the Ducks” things on the ocean—when Ma learns his latest lottery ticket has come in: $60 million! He can barely contain himself. He’s celebrating, singing karaoke in front of the bus, when they suddenly encounter a giant tsunami. Amid ocean liner wreckage and a frisky giant whale, the bus/boat is tossed and tumbled and winds up broken on the rocky shore of a small, deserted island. Everyone is stunned, horrified, in tears. Particularly Ma. All that money—gone.

Right away we get a bit of “Swept Away” (or is it “Lord of the Flies”?), as the busdriver, Wang (Wang Baoqiang, Tang Ren in the “Detective Chinatown” movies), figures out how to get food, water and shelter, then begins to lord it over everyone. The old boss, Lao Zhang (Yu Hewei), is humiliated.

Ma, still holding onto his winning lottery ticket, which must be redeemed within 90 days, plots to get away. He builds a raft with his agreeable, somewhat dim cousin, Xiao Xing (Zhang Yixing, AKA Lay of the hugely popular boy band EXO), and off they go. They find nothing but a dead polar bear floating in the water. When Ma wakes again he’s back on the island, and is beaten and humiliated by Wang, who, with everyone agreeing that the world has ended, and they’re all that’s left, now considers himself their absolute ruler. That’s the first stage.

The second stage is the comeback of the old boss. Lao Zhang has found an upended cruise ship on the other side of the island, with supplies and fishing nets, and half the group follow him there. His rule is more corporate than primitive. Playing cards become a form of barter used for goods and services—and he has all the cards. Meanwhile, Ma, who has exiled himself with Xing, counts down the days until the lottery ticket is worthless. On that day, fish fall with rain from the skies. Ma considers it a gift from God, a way of making up for the lost lottery ticket. That’s when he plot his own power move—trading the fish to his hungry colleagues for seemingly worthless devices like smartphones. After Xing repairs a generator, they’re able to charge up the phones, and Ma and Xing begin to sell hope in the form of old family images. I.e., As Wang was the primitive leader and Zhang the corporate one, Ma becomes the religious leader. He is revered.

The fact that all of this is happening during the aftermath of a team-building exercise is the film's great unstated joke. 

Wo bu xihuan ni
Much of the movie is extreme and over-the-top. Everyone shouts, the people are sheep, security forces come and go.

How “Swept Away” does it get? A bit. A buxom woman becomes willing concubine to Wang, while a professor creates a system to spread out the gene pool by having the few women have babies with as many men as possible. He’s shouted down. Later, the buxom woman jumps rope, or some such, while men ogle her. The Chinese today are less like Italians in the 1970s, than Brits in the ’60s: cleavage crazy.

I did laugh out loud a few times. Early on, Ma finally comes clean to ShanShan. Back in the office, he was the one who was giving her those secret gifts. “Why didn’t you tell me you liked me?” she asks. There’s a long pause, he hems and haws, and paws at the dirt. Then he finally says it: 我喜欢妳: “I like you.” As he’s barely finishing the sentence, she immediately responds with: 我不喜欢你: “I don’t like you.” It’s click-boom. The timing is as perfect as in a Jackie Chan fight.

Of course, they wind up together, and Ma is happy. So happy that when he, Xing and Wang discover a cruise ship gliding through the water on the other side of the island, lights on, fireworks sparkling—meaning the world has not ended—he conspires with Xing to keep it all quiet. They tell the others Wang went crazy, imagining a ship, and thus when he returns, superexcited about the ship, no one believes him. They chase him and give him a primitive electro-shock treatment.

But Ma’s conscience gets the better of him, particularly after ShanShan talks up how truthful they are with each other. Except by now, his dim cousin, Xing, has learned the cold-blooded lessons of achieving power, plots to talk all of Lao Zhang’s wealth and then leave everyone on the island. So Ma conspires with Wang to light their broken cruise ship on fire as a signal. There’s this great moment when Ma, pursued through the woods, falls off a cliff. And as he’s floating down, he sees their broken ship on fire, and the new cruise ship, seeing this, diverting its course to come rescue them. He smiles. I expected that would be his end. I thought he would be dashed on the rocks. The movie might have been better for it.

Instead, he plunges into deep water, wakes on the shore with ShanShan nearby. Everyone else has been rescued. She stayed behind to find him. Sweet. The camera pulls back and the credits roll.

And that’s when it gets really weird.

Breakup Buddies assemble
During the first credits sequence, we see our company members, our team builders, post-rescue. Their story is now famous, and Zhang has already monetized it by making the island a tourist destination.

Except ... Ma has won the $60 million, Xing is in an asylum, and Ma sees its inmates walking in a circle wearing the same kind of striped clothing they wore on the island. So ... was it all just a fantasy? That would explain the fish from the sky. But if so, whose mind were we stuck in? Xing’s? All of them? And if it didn’t happen, how is Zhang monetizing it?

And then we get a second credit sequence, which, I’ll assume, takes place before anything we’ve watched. It’s Ma and Xing on the metro, dreaming of riches, while a bystander, played Xu Zhenng, Huang’s “Lost in Thailand” and “Breakup Buddies” co-star, listens, rolls his eyes, then makes a disparaging comment about them on his phone. That’s it. It seems to exist for the cameo. It certainly doesn’t clear anything up.

And maybe that’s the point. The Chinese movie title is not the Chinese version of “Island.” It’s《一出好戏》, which translates roughly as “A Good Show” or “A Good Play.” That last character, xi, also means “trick,” so one assumes a pun is involved—implying something fake: jiade. The question remains: Who’s doing the tricking? And on whom?

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Posted at 01:27 AM on Aug 30, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  
Wednesday August 29, 2018

Movie Review: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I was bored. Sorry. 

I misread the title, too. I thought it meant “crazy and rich” rather than, you know, “super rich.” Although I’m sure the author of this series, Kevin Kwan, meant both.

Even so, there’s not nearly enough crazy in “Crazy Rich Asians.” There’s not enough unique crazy. It’s same-old. The matriarchs are steely and plotting, the married men philandering. The young women are catty and go on insane shopping sprees while the young men are loutish and rent expensive boats for booze- and bikini-clad-girl-filled parties.

And a perfect couple runs through them.

Essentially our titular Asians escape the confines of racial stereotypes only to get trapped in the rom-com kind. Progress, I guess.

Steely Matriarch 3
Crazy Rich Asians movie reviewThe perfect couple is Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an NYU economics professor, and her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding), the scion of a freakishly wealthy Singapore real estate/development family. In Singapore, he’s like JFK Jr., but with a financial rather than a political legacy. Oddly, after a year of dating him in NYC, Rachel doesn’t know any of this. Did she never Google him? She finds out, bit by bit, when they travel to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding.

What else does she find out?

  • Nearly every young woman in Singapore hates her—having imagined themselves as Mrs. Nick Young.
  • Nick’s mom, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), hates her. She isn’t about to let her oldest child marry a mere economics professor.
  • She didn’t bring the right clothes.

Thank god Rachel has her bestie, Peik Lin (Awkwafina), whose own family is rich—just not Young family rich—and who essentially plays the traditional rom-com black BFF: hipper, straight shooting, without a life of her own. We also get a gay confidante, Oliver (Nico Santos), who also doesn’t have a life on his own. Everyone exists to either impede or help Rachel.

I liked Wu but Rachel is that rom-com staple: the girl who’s pretty (but not threateningly so), who’s sometimes clumsy (so girls can identify), and who beats the odds with grit and determination. Really, the only thing new are the faces.

And they’re only new to Hollywood. “Crazy Rich” might be the first Hollywood movie with an all Asian-American cast since “The Joy Luck Club” in 1993 (an unforgivable stat), but it’s the third movie I’ve seen just this year involving the machinations of Chinese matriarchs. The others: “The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful,” which won won the Golden Horse Award for best picture in Taiwan; and “Love Education,” which should have won the Golden Horse Award for best picture in Taiwan. “Crazy Rich” isn’t nearly in their category, but I'm curious about the matriarchal theme. Why does it keep returning given the patriarchal nature of Confucian societies? Or is that why it keeps returning? Scheming is what's left. 

Is it odd that the thought of rejecting Nick never comes into play? Once the other women are aligned against Rachel, the goal simply becomes fighting back and getting him. Sure, he’s handsome, but everything he’s hidden from her leaves her floundering. There’s a kind of obtuseness to his reticence, too—as if he’s glided along in this gilded world for so long he doesn’t know how difficult it might be for others without money to keep up. Or is he simply testing her? To see if she can keep up? That wouldn’t be bad. At least it would mean something’s whirring inside him. It would mean he inherited some of his mother’s nature. But I doubt it. He just seems bland and nice. And this is the guy who’s supposed to run the family business?

Wedding Singer 2
“Crazy Rich Asians” was directed by Jon M. Chu, whose other work includes the second “G.I. Joe,” the second “Now You See Me,” the second and third “Step Up”s, and the first and only “Jem and the Holograms”—all bottom dwellers on the Rotten Tomatoes charts. This one somehow landed a 93% rating. Because it was that much better? Or because everyone is ashamed of the “Joy Luck” stat and want it changed?

A few moments aren't bad. I liked the turnabout with Ah Ma (Lisa Lu). I liked the mah-jong scene, where Rachel gets the upper hand on Eleanor even as she concedes Nick. It’s a good winning-by-losing scene. But we know it’s not going to last. Hollywood has to have her win. So, yes, Nick chases her onto the plane, and there, amid luggage and crowds, he gets down on one knee and proposes and everyone applauds. Then they throw a party next to the insane infinity pool atop the insane Marina Bay Sands hotel; and everyone, all the crazy rich, party like it's 1929.

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Posted at 02:35 AM on Aug 29, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  
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