Crazy Rich Asians: Romantic Dramedy Promotes Positive Representation, Despite Flaws

3.5 out of 5 stars (Above Average)

Crazy Rich Asians Poster
Image from IMP Awards

Crazy Rich Asians is a pretty big deal.  Not only is it a mainstream film promoting positive representation of Asian culture, but it is also a funny, sweet, and sometimes thought-provoking look at the bonds of family.  Anyone expecting this to be a turn-your-brain-off yuk fest will surely be disappointed, but for people who go in with an open mind, Crazy Rich Asians should be a mostly satisfying experience.

Economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and her boyfriend Nick Young (Newcomer Henry Golding) seemingly have the perfect relationship.  Rachel is a hard-working middle-class Chinese-American, and Nick is secretly an ultrarich guy who chooses to live frugally rather than embrace his family’s lifestyle.  This secret is blown when Nick is named best man at a friends’ wedding, choosing this function to introduce Rachel to his family.  Now, Rachel must learn to mingle with the disapproving Youngs, especially, Nick’s tightly traditional mother (Michelle Yeoh), with supportive best friend Goh Peik Lin (A sometimes annoying Awkwafina) in tow.

Crazy Rich Asians mostly works.  Many of the characters come off as flawed and relatable human beings rather than easy stereotypes for us to laugh at.  Constance Wu and Henry Golding have great romantic chemistry, and Michelle Yeoh provides Nick’s mother with more depth than initially expected.  I understand where she’s coming from in her dislike of Rachel and can sympathize with it while still disliking her, a tricky feat to balance.  The soundtrack is also solid and some stylish visuals kept my engagement when present without overstaying their welcome.

On the negative side, Goh Peik Lin feels more like a borderline ghetto caricature than a regular person, along with a flamboyantly gay cousin Oliver (Nico Santos).  The actors do well, but I don’t understand why a movie that is so good at representing Asians as regular people would stoop to those stereotypes for comedy’s sake.  Goh Peik’s brother also takes pictures of Rachel creepily in an uncomfortable running gag given the current political climate (which I would love to stop thinking about at the movies).  However, these issues did not detract too much from my enjoyment of the film as a funny and occasionally resonant romantic dramedy.

All in all, Crazy Rich Asians is an enjoyable romantic dramedy with mostly solid performances, a respect for Asian culture, and a great step forward for proper representation of minorities onscreen.  Jon M. Chu’s stylish direction helps the slower moments, the soundtrack is toe-tapping, and the characters have unexpected layers.  However, Awkwafina and the gay character’s stereotypical portrayals do not fit in this movie, and, while not film-breaking, keep it from being one of the best of the year.  Despite these problems, I still recommend this film.  See it.

Rated PG-13 For Some Suggestive Content and Language

Pitch Perfect 3: Third Installment an Aca-tastrophe Worth Seeing

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

Pitch Perfect 3 Poster
Image from https://www.themoviedb.org/

Pitch Perfect 3 is the third installment in the musical comedy series about  a cappella and  the bonds of sisterhood.  If you enjoyed the other two and want one last hurrah with the Bellas, then you should embrace your inner completionist and seek this out.  And, even if you’ve never cared for this series, I would still recommend it purely to watch the film morph from a generic comedy into a ridiculous action film.  No I’m not kidding.

This film sees the Bellas reunite post-graduation to take part in an international USO tour and encountering rival groups Evermoist (yes you read that right) and other unimportant bands, who all use actual instruments!  The goal: to  to impress and open for DJ Khaled (playing himself).  However, things get complicated with the intro of Fat Amy’s (Rebel Wilson) criminal father (John Lithgow sporting a horrid Aussie accent), who essentially forces the movie into a bizarre (yet still enjoyable) direction.  John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks also appear as the sexist announcers, this time following the Bellas around for a documentary.  Because of course they are.

This is a bad movie.  Most of the musical numbers feel forced and aren’t memorable like previous entries.  The comedy is self-mocking, almost as if the film was originally supposed to satirize the formula before being overhauled, and the final 3rd becomes a Rebel Wilson Action Movie.  I don’t know who made this decision, but I would like to personally thank them for doing so.

Pitch Perfect 3 is both a beautiful aca-tastrophe and a passable swan song to fans of the franchise.  The musical sequences should get the toes tapping, but the plot and characters are hilariously thin and the final act was clearly rewritten to get more buts in seats.  It’s time to close the aca-curtains on this series, while it still has a shred of dignity left.

Rated PG-13 for Crude And Sexual Content, Language, And Some Action

Millennials: Skip this Book Club

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

Book Club Poster
Image from https://teaser-trailer.com/

I know I am not the target audience for Book Club.  In fact, the only reason I saw it was because I got the times wrong for another movie, and Book Club was the only other option at that time.  However, I was fully ready to embrace the film, be surprised, or have a laugh.  I wanted to enjoy this movie, but the longer it dragged on, the less inertia its subplots contained, the more I fought back a snooze.  It’s a shame, because 2 of the actresses are really good here and deserve better material.  Book Club is fitfully funny, but its overlong runtime, sluggish pacing, and lack of focus undermine the chemistry of the four leads.  Cross this Club meeting off your calendars.  The older women in my audience enjoyed this film, but I unfortunately did not.

Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen have been BFF’s for years, meeting for book club meetings while balancing their own lives.  While reading the Fifty Shades  trilogy, the quartet decide to embrace life and love in their own way, becoming stronger people individually and as friends.

Diane Keaton is the biggest problem with this movie.  The character writing isn’t bad, but Keaton makes her wimpy and boring most of the time, save for one inexplicably good scene where she tells her adult daughters not to worry so much about her in her old age.  Jane Fonda is Jane Fonda, for better or worse, but Bergen and Steenburgen provide needed life to the movie and their characters.  Steenburgen in particular steals the show, culminating in a hilarious dance number with husband Craig T. Nelson (who also rocks).  If only the film around them could be as good.

Book Clubs’ moments of hilarity are outweighed by long stretches of tedium that make you question its purpose.  While I certainly laughed enough to keep my butt in the seat (no, it wasn’t Overboard 2018 bad), I nearly dozed off near the end.  Fans of the cast may enjoy seeing them together, but anyone else is better off participating in an actual book club.

Rated PG-13 for Sex-Related Material throughout and language

Melissa McCarthy’s Newest a Decent Party Film

2.5 out of 5 stars (decent)

Life of the Party poster
Image from http://www.impawards.com/

Life of the Party may have the slightest plot I’ve seen in 2018, and I’m okay with that (seriously, An Extremely Goofy Movie had more narrative thrust than this).  In a time when most big Hollywood releases are trying to cram “important messages” down our throats, Life of the Party comes along to give us a good laugh.  This is not Melissa McCarthy’s funniest movie, nor her best performance, but it is definitely a fun enough romp in the “turn your brain off” genre that left a smile on my face.

McCarthy is Deanna, a proud mother whose husband Dan (Matt Walsh) just divorced her after dropping daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off for her senior year of college.  Not wanting to move in with her own parents again, Deanna decides to complete her Archaeology degree and attend college with Maddie (who takes this decision unrealistically well).  She meets boys, bumps into a mean girl (Disney Channel starlet Debby Ryan), and all the other things people in movie college do.

Life of the Party is a movie made to entertain.  The cast is having fun, enough of the jokes hit, and the film thankfully avoids unearned sentimentality and feminist messages that ruin so many movies like this.  Sometimes a movie just needs to be funny, and for me, this one did the trick.  McCarthy and Gordon have nice mother-daughter chemistry, and Debby Ryan works well as the mean girl.  Also, look out for Julie Bowen as Dan’s new girlfriend and Maya Rudolph as Deanna’s BFF.  This isn’t particularly memorable, but in a time when Hollywood movies seem more concerned with addressing topical issues than entertaining the audience, Life of the Party is a fun ride that’s worth seeing at the cheap theater.

Rated PG-13 for Sexual Material, Drug Content, and Partying

“Out of the Shadows”: Half-Shelled Sequel Should Entertain Kids

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Poster
Image from http://www.comingsoon.net/

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” is a surprising (if only minor) improvement over its 2014 predecessor. The tone is light, the turtles are more fun, and the characters frequently point out the ridiculousness of their situations (at one point, a Knicks player comments on having pizza on his Nikes).  The sexualization of April O’Neil has also been toned down (sorry Megan Fox fanboys), and the story is more turtle-centered.  Some good songs also appear.  Unfortunately, the praises end there.

The “story” this time involves the Heroes in a Half Shell once again attempting to stop the evil Shredder (this time played by Brian Tee) from, and listen to this, opening a portal so that an alien named Krang (voiced by an unrecognizable Brad Garrett) can come and rule the earth.  It doesn’t help that Shredder has turned petty thugs Bebop and Rocksteady (Gary Anthony Williams and wrestler Sheamus) into a mutant rhino and warthog to stand in their way.  Now, the brothers must defeat their new enemy with the help of human friends April O’Neil, Vern (a forgettable Will Arnett), and cop Casey Jones (Stephen Amell, known for TV’s “Arrow”) and save the world once again.

This movie knows how dumb it is and has an appropriately light and kid-friendly atmosphere. My theater did not have any children in it, but I presume they would enjoy the banter between the turtles as well as Bebop and Rocksteady’s antics.  That does not make it a “good” kids’ movie by any means, but they will enjoy the action and ridiculousness of the proceedings.

I found the action and performances to be rather forgettable here. There is one decent sequence involving a plane over Brazil, and Laura Linney is decent as a policewoman, but everything else is either “meh” or laughably bad.  The latter is especially true for Stephen Amell, who shows none of his dramatic abilities in his thankless role.  I won’t blame it all on him, as the script gives him absolutely nothing to do.  The same goes for a “Nutty Professor-esque” Tyler Perry playing a scientist who helps Shredder turn Bebop and Rocksteady into monsters.  The entire film seems to be going through the motions with very little personality or flair put in.  However, to end on a positive note, I thoroughly enjoyed the placements of the songs “War”, “Ice Ice Baby”, and even “A Little Less Conversation.”

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” should entertain die-hard fans and the 10-12 year-old demographic (I don’t say younger due to some unnecessary profanity and freaky images), but for everyone else, I would suggest going shopping for a couple of hours and then picking them up. While it isn’t the worst kids’ film I’ve seen this summer( “Angry Birds” has that honor), I think it may be time for these turtles to retreat back into the shadows.

Rated PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence

Legally Blonde: Watch, Laugh, Repeat

3 out of 5 stars (Average)

Legally Blonde Poster
Image from https://www.movieposter.com/

It’s funny how we look at movies differently depending on our ages.  Most Disney classics remain that because they have loads of adult humor that fly over our heads as children, but make us laugh hysterically as adults.  Thank you Disney animators for all the in-jokes, adult puns, and raunchy humor that would leave us in tears of joy later.

That can be said for almost any movie, Disney or not. There are several PG-13 comedies that I watched at a younger age and didn’t understand the humor in.  Only after watching them in my later years did I understand why they were so funny (or not, depending on the movie).

This was the case for Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde, a Reese Witherspoon comedy in which she attempts to change animal testing laws so that the mother of her Chihuahua can attend her wedding (Yes, it’s stupid, but it was the early 2000s, and we all remember THOSE).  I saw that film several times as a tween and didn’t think it was as funny as I do now.  I’m not saying that the film is a comedy gem, but it’s good, unchallenging entertainment for a Saturday afternoon.

After some time, I realized that I had not seen the first Legally Blonde yet.  If this was the sequel, then something must have come before it to warrant said sequel’s existence.  After months of searching through the TV channels, I finally recorded the film, and I am happy to say that it is funnier, better structured, and more meaningful (in certain ways) than the sequel.

For those who haven’t seen it, the movie follows sorority girl Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon in her star-making and most recognized role), a woman whose main goal in life is to marry her boyfriend Warren (Matthew Davis, most known for his stint on The Vampire Diaries).  With best friends Margot and Serena by her side, Elle’s life couldn’t get any better for a blonde in Beverly Hills.

Unfortunately, Elle’s perfect world comes crashing down when Warren unceremoniously dumps her because she’s “too blonde” for him. After a brief depression, Elle decides to “woman up” and enroll in Harvard Law School to steal her man back from his new fiancé, Vivian (Selma Blair, perfect casting).  While at Harvard, she gets the help of nice guy Emmett (Luke Wilson) and makes friends with local girl Paulette (Jennifer Coolidge), learning some things about herself in the process.

I laugh whenever I watch this movie. The casting is spot-on, with Witherspoon making Elle sympathetic instead of annoying.  She has done much better movies in the course of her career, but Reese Witherspoon owes this film for launching that.  Luke Wilson, also brings a certain charm to his role and works perfectly off of her.  Matthew Davis absolutely nails his snobbish role, and Selma Blair is perfect.

The music, while dated, fits the tone of the movie perfectly, made up primarily of feel-good pop and female-empowerment tunes that make the audience feel good. The score is nothing to ride home about, but it works with the movie.

The pacing is fast, never lingering on anything more than is necessary. Pacing is important to me because it determines how much the film engages me.  For example, if you have a 90 minute comedy, then the pacing needs to be relatively quick.  However, if you have a 2 hour thriller, then the pacing can be a bit slower to build up suspense.  It’s all about entertaining the viewer, and this movie does that well.

I also like Elle’s arc. In the beginning, she is a ditzy blonde, but she transforms into a smart law student who uses her knowledge to her advantage in ways she never thought about before.  Witherspoon just overplays the ditzy part a little bit, but it is forgivable because of the character’s likability.  She (the actress) has maintained that likability throughout her career, and it’s one of the reasons her career has lasted this long.

I don’t technically have any problems with Legally Blonde. It’s light, funny, and has a subtlety-placed message about being the best you can be despite the odds against you.  I think it’s a great movie for girls to watch who need to be reminded that being the best they can be is the best way to be.

Rated PG-13 for Sexual References and Language