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

X-plosions Abound in Newest Installment of Marvel Franchise

3 out of 5 stars (average)

X-Men Apocalypse poster
Image from http://www.impawards.com/

Despite the seriousness of its title, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is one of the goofier entries in the ongoing franchise of films centering on the X-Men, a group of super powered people lead by Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) as they fight oppression from fearful humans as well as Xavier’s old friend Magneto (Michael Fassbender).  This time around, the mutants must defeat a villain more powerful than anyone or anything they have ever encountered, Apocalypse (an overacting Oscar Issac), the world’s first mutant.  He has awoken from a centuries-long snoozer and decides to, what else, destroy the world and rebuild it in his own image (can someone say God complex?)  Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence out of the blue makeup for most of the events) must put aside their differences and, with the help of a quirky host of new mutants (including some you may recognize, others you will not), defend the world once again.

To give away any more of the plot would be to spoil the proceedings, so I won’t. I came into this movie hoping for the best, as it has received very polarizing reviews in the mainstream community.  Some are praising it for “finally” embracing its comic book roots, while others are calling it goofy, boring, and too action-happy.  I am somewhere in the middle of those two camps, as I appreciate the goofier look of some characters (especially Nightcrawler, a blue teleporter), as well as the action (however much of it there may be), but feel the pacing is off in some places and the acting is occasionally mixed.

First and foremost, I found the story to be engaging. It isn’t anywhere near the level of narrative engagement as “Days of Future Past”, but it kept me interested.  I wanted to see where the characters would go and how they would change by the end, something this series has always nailed in my opinion.  Even if it isn’t Shakespeare, the story in “X-Men: Apocalypse” is nothing to scoff at.

A large part of that is due to the actors involved. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender once again prove themselves as capable actors here, allowing us to feel their emotions gracefully and sympathetically.  I never would have imagined McAvoy as a young Patrick Stewart, but he finally shows shades of the original character here that make the transition easy to see.  Fassbender continues to stun me as a young Magneto, channeling Ian McKellan’s menace while adding sympathy to the character that McKellen never had.  Also, fan-favorite Quicksilver (Played with an unstoppable and unpredictable energy by Evan Peters) rushes back into the fray, providing much-needed snarky commentary on the tumultuous events.  I love this character because of the actor, and want to see him at least one more time.  Lastly, Jennifer Lawrence imbues Mystique with the maturity seen in the original films.  However, her character arc in these films has been eerily similar to that of Katniss Everdeen, her “Hunger Games” character.  I won’t say how, but you’ll know it if you think about it.

Unfortunately, the rest of the actors are either standard or not that great. Oscar Issac alternates between passable intimidation and YELLING ALL OF HIS LINES.  I hdon’t know if director Bryan Singer told him to do this or if Issac felt the need to imitate a Power Rangers villain, but it became unintentionally funny at some points.  Overall, he does a decent job, but this is a poor follow-up to Peter Dinklage’s menacing Bolivar Trask.  We also see younger versions of past X-Men here, and their actors are suitable, if not perfect.  That said, they had a lot to live up to, and they do a serviceable, if not memorable, job.

The action thankfully makes up for most of the acting shortcomings, until it doesn’t. The first half of the movie is primarily plot, something I did not expect and also enjoyed.  There is action, but it is quick and serves to move the plot forward. I was waiting anxiously for the big set pieces to come, and when they did, I wanted the dialogue scenes back.  The action is decently shot and suitably intense, with a minimum use of shakeycam and effective use of CGI, but the last 30 minutes hit us over the head with loud, endless explosions that nearly made me forget the end goal.  The 3rd act almost felt like a “Transformers” movie in its level of destruction, something I never want to feel in a Marvel movie.  I understand it’s the end of a trilogy (and likely the start of another), but the previous films were able to have big climaxes without sacrificing their narrative integrity, a trap that “Apocalypse” sadly falls into.  That said, it is a summer movie, so big over-the-top action is expected, especially in end-of-trilogy installments.  I just wish that I could have been affected emotionally by the action instead of staring in disbelief at its absurdity by the end.

All in all, I would recommend this movie to fans of the series. It’s action-packed, decently acted, and surprisingly funny for the circumstances (much of the humor comes from Quicksilver and Nightcrawler).  McAvoy and Fassbender again provide fascinating and layered performances that help compensate for the over-emphasis on explosions, and the new characters are good editions to the series.  “X-Men: Apocalypse” might not rock your world, but it will provide a chasm of entertainment for the summer season.

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Violence, Action, And Destruction, Brief Strong Language, And Some Suggestive Images

“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

These “Angry Birds” Should Have Flown Straight to DVD

1 out of 5 stars (one of the worst of the year)

Angry Birds movie poster
Image from https://ia.media-imdb.com/

The Angry Birds Movie is what happens when a studio takes an outdated property, finds some half-decent actors, and inserts unnecessary adult humor into a premise devoid of any cinematic potential.  The film is loud, overlong, and dull, with voice actors who alternate between trying way too hard and not trying at all.  That’s not to say that young kids won’t enjoy it: the film is extremely colorful and the characters are always moving around, but the dialogue is immature and overly childish.  Again, I understand this is a movie targeted at young children, but in a postInside Out landscape, animated films like this are insulting to children’s intelligence as well as their parents’ tolerance.  In short, The Angry Birds Movie is the worst animated film I’ve seen this year, its single star gained out of the 5 honest laughs in its 97-minute runtime.

It concerns Red (Voiced by a wholly unlikable Jason Sudeikis), an angry bird on an island where every other inhabitant is a happy one. While people like you and me might see the glass as half-full, Red doesn’t see any water in the glass at all.  His latest angry outburst lands him in anger management class with some other angry birds: Bomb (Voiced by Danny McBride), who literally explodes when he gets angry, and Chuck (voiced by an extremely irritating Josh Gad), who possesses a pathological need for lawbreaking.  This class is taught by the eternally perky Matilda (voiced by an energetic Maya Rudolph), the only character I liked in the film.  This is Red’s worst nightmare, but for us, it’s only the beginning.

The feathers really hit the fan when green pigs, led by Leonard (Voiced by a boring Bill Hader) arrive unexpectedly. While the rest of the island is taken by these mysterious invaders, Red senses something is amiss and, after some investigation, discovers the pigs are imperialists who will take the island resources and leave it for dead.  This causes him, Chuck, and Bomb to set out on a quest for the legendary Mighty Eagle (Voiced by a paycheck-seeking Peter Dinklage) to help save their home.

This film annoyed me. Some critics have praised the animation for its detail on the bird feathers.  I don’t think the birds were much to look at, but some of the backgrounds were relatively pretty (in some cases they were more involving than the events transpiring with the characters).  However, the pig characters were ugly to me and seemed creepy when they moved around (which they do a great deal).  As well, I found the main characters to be unoriginal, unlikable, and somewhat grating.  I was never invested in these characters or cared about their adventure.  I honestly considered walking out at a couple of points (something I never do).  However, I thought it might improve in the end or have a message about the danger of imperialism. Unfortunately, what I got for my hard-earned-time was an anticlimactic 20 minutes of angry birds being flown at a pig castle via convenient slingshot (as in the mobile app, as far as I know).

The Angry Birds Movie is loud, obnoxious, and irritating to no end. Fans of the app may enjoy it, but for everyone else, I would suggest seeing Zootopia again.

Rated PG for Rude Humor and Action

Read my review for Zootopia Here

Read my review for Inside Out Here

“Civil War”: The Ultimate Marvel Movie

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best in its series)

Captain America Civil War poster
Image from https://www.imdb.com/

Captain America: Civil War is the definition of an event film. All of your favorite Marvel heroes (sans Thor and Hulk) choose sides in a battle of ideologies as well as personal demons.  The action is great, the writing is mature, and the performances are highly memorable (especially from Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, once again showcasing their dramatic chops).  Everything from Tony Stark’s captivity to the battle with Ultron has lead up to this.  Sides will be chosen, friends will become enemies, and nothing will ever be the same.  And if you aren’t on the Marvel train by now, then don’t expect this to clear anything up, because you will not understand half of what is going on.

I won’t spoil anything for those who have not seen it, but here’s the gist: The government is tired of the destruction the Avengers leave behind after their epic battles, so they have imposed a law that would require all “enhanced beings” to be at the beck-and-call of a committee that would determine where they go, where they go, and how often they go to save the world, eliminating the choice each one has to use their abilities or not.  Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans totally disappearing into the character) doesn’t like this idea, so he is firmly against it.  However, Iron Man/Tony Stark (An angry, powerful Robert Downey Jr.) believes that the heroes should be put on a leash to prevent the deaths of innocents.  This difference of opinion will tear the Avengers apart, some siding with Cap, others with Tony, all while a vengeful man (Daniel Bruhl) watches with nefarious intentions

I cannot go into plot details without spoiling this event. The actors have really grown into their characters over the years, and they are directed to near-perfection by the Russos (those guys who brought you Community and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.)  They know the seriousness of the story here, having the characters act like the adults they are instead of  having misplaced wit after dramatic moments.  This is the least humorous film in the Marvel cannon thus far, and it needed to be.  There is humor here, but it is only for comedic relief in what is otherwise a very dark offering.

Spider-Man is in the movie. Yes, they are rebooting him AGAIN.  While Tobey Maguire will always be My Spider-Man, this version fits the character well, injecting the snarky humor he is known for in the comics.  I wore my Spider-Man T-shirt to the film, eagerly awaiting the new wallcrawler.  His Peter Parker comes off as a regular 16-year-old should (and yes, the actor is actually 16 this time, no more attractive 30-somethings in teen roles).  Though I have seen two film series of the character in the last 10 years, I am eager to see this version expanded upon in his own solo movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, out in 2017

Overall, this is the Marvel movie for people who think these films are afraid to tackle mature issues. It is gritty, serious, and surprisingly realistic in its treatment of the subject matter, which was necessitated in order for this to work.  I don’t know if this will be a billion-dollar phenomenon, but I can say that this is exactly what Age Of Ultron should have been, and what DC’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice so desperately wanted to be.

Rated PG-13 for Extended Sequences of Violence, Action, and Mayhem