Sunday, August 19, 2018

Film Review - Crazy Rich Asians

First, there was Asgard, then Wakanda and now Singapore? Crazy Rich Asians is the first English language film from a major Hollywood studio in 25 years with an all Asian cast since 1993's Joy Luck Club As African Americans did with Black Panther, Asian Americans are pushing the film to the top of the charts, buying tickets for those that can't afford to and purchasing tickets for entire screenings.

Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) an NYU Economics Professor specializing in game theory has been dating her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) for about a year. He plays basketball at a dodgy YMCA gym, borrows her Netflix password and never orders his own dessert but rather shares her's.  One day over dessert Nick invites her back home to Singapore to a wedding where he is the best man. Nick never talked about his family always changing the subject when it came up meaning that an invite to meet the Youngs is a big step. Rachel begins to realize how much things are about to change when they get on the plane and are ushered to a first -class suite. All Nick will say is that their family is comfortable and that they do business with the airline so this is a perk.

Crazy Rich Asians hits all of the Romantic Comedy tropes. The most obvious being Cinderella with the girl from the wrong side of the tracks falling for the golden boy heir apparent in a neutral setting. The Old money family with a series of Matriarchs that are exceedingly hard to please. Glamour, glitz, and means that are beyond just about anyone's wildest imagination. Plus a bevy of Cousins, Aunts, and Uncles educated at the best schools in the world. Not to mention the old flame lurking around that the family would see as a better fit.

Director Jon M. Chu and writer Peter Chiarelli's adaptation of Kevin Kwan's first of a three novel set is a significant project for all Asian Americans in the Hollywood film industry. There have been recent incidents where Asian roles have been whitewashed, Ghost In the Machine, Annihilation and perhaps the worst of all example in Aloha. Other roles are also hard to come by so the success of this film means more opportunities for actors, writers, and directors alike.

Constance Wu's Rachel takes many twists and turns in the film. Her intellect shines right of the bat in the classroom. She's put on the defensive in meeting all of the cousins, Aunties and Singapore elite at Nick's Grandma's party. Then recovers her footing as the local girls try to shut her out. Michelle Yeoh is a counterbalance to Rachel as Eleanor Young, She was once in the same position when dealing with Nick's grandmother Ah Ma. But she see's Rachel at a lower level a foreigner with American ambitions that are not family first or our kind of people. Look for Awkawfina at her scene-stealing best fresh off her role in Ocean's 8 as Rachel's roommate from college Peik Lin Goh who has returned back home to Singapore. Henry Golding handles the responsibly well as the rarely seen role in American film of an Asian male being the most desirable man in a film.  It's light, funny, sparkling, outrageous, easy to follow opener to a likely trilogy that just may be the saviour of the Rom-Com genre that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Crazy Rich Asians | Jon M. Chu | USA | 2018 | 120 Minutes.

NYU, Professor, Economics, Wedding, Best Man Singapore, First Class, Tiger Mom, Bachelor Party, Ex-Girlfriend, Cheating, Wedding, Proposal, Mahjong.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Film Review - BlacKkKlansman

Starting with the famous sweeping  dolly out shot of Scarlet O'Hara searching frantically through  wounded Confederate soldiers at the Atlanta Railway Station from Gone With The Wind ending with the frayed Confederate Flag blowing in the wind. Spike Lee announces his presence with his latest Spike Lee Joint BlacKkKlansman. Lee makes the case that from 1865, though the teens, 50's,  70's setting of the film continuing on to last year at Charlottesville. The more thing change the more they stay the same.

Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) has just joined the force of the Colorado Springs Police Department. He is the only black officer on the force. After a time in records, he lands in the investigative unit. One day while reading the paper he sees an add for the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. He calls the number to obtain more information hurls some racial slurs leading to a meeting.  Problem is he can't go to the meeting. In steps Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) a non-practicing Jewish officer to play the live role to Ron's phone presence.

 Lee is back with a bang unleashing his best non-documentary film since Inside Man in 2006. He came to the project after a phone call from Executive Producer Jordan Peele asking if he wanted to direct the Ron Stallworth project. Spike adds in all of his touches to the film. The rich colour palate, Characters floating towards the camera, and the straight-on shot of actors addressing the camera directly. The subject matter based on a Fo real account is so unbelievable that Spike plays it with a heavy dose of satire. Right down to the doting wife of true believer Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Paakkonen) Connie (Ashlie Atkinson) dropping intel to an association meeting room as she spouts racial slurs then offers the group dessert.

Another Lee trait is to have a Washington in the film. Normally its Denzel but in this instant, his son John David plays Ron Stallworth. Washington has to walk between several worlds.  He's the first black officer on the CSPD having to protect those who instinctively don't like him.  He's dating the head of the Colorado College Black Student Union Patrice (Laura Harrier) who calls cops pigs sure each one is out to harass black people. Then he's doing a dance on the phone with the Klan trying to get intel without blowing his or Flips cover. Look for Alex Baldwin as a 50's era white- supremacist theologian Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard in a satiric drenched diatribe warning of the ills of integration carotid in the Brown vs Board of Education decision when he's not referring to Reverend Martin Luther King by a derogatory name. the interlude is full of Lee's trademark over-saturated colour palate as the Dr. who shares a last name with a Confederate General and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes several mistakes receives prompts from of camera to remember his lines.

BlacKkKlansman is a comment on the past, the films early 1970's setting and modern day. The narrative pushes the theme that change can't be forged from inside old slow-moving institutions but rather has to be forced on them from outside. The piece also takes every opportunity to link the past present and future never more on the nose than when Donald Trumps catch phrases pass through organization members lips. It's a bold fact based tale helmed by a director that has been looking for a project along these lines for over a decade.

***1/2 Out of 4.

BlacKkKlansman | Spike Lee | U.S.A.  | 2018 | 135 Minutes.

Tags: Colorado Springs, Rookie Cop, Undercover, Ku Klux Klan, Membership, Black Panther, Stokley Carmichael, Black Power, White Power, David Duke, Initiation, Birth of A Nation, C4, Bomb.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Film Review - Mission: Impossible -Fallout

Belfast: Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is sleeping in a sparsely decorated room. There is a knock at the door to deliver a package. The parameters of the next mission are revealed then it's on to Berlin to buy some Plutonium. The Mission franchise has suffered some bumps on its way to six. The widely panned John Woo second outing, audiences complaining that they could not follow the plot of the first film.  Then that unsure timeframe between the third and fourth film. A good part of the gang return from the 5th film.  Rebecca Ferguson is back as the motorcycle riding marvel British Agent (Rebecca Ferguson) MI5 villain Sean Harris also reprises the role of Solomon Lane.

The capture of the aforementioned Lane has left a void amongst the syndicate members. They have turned to terror for hire calling themselves The Apostles. The new shady element is an unidentified arms dealer turned Anarchist John Lark. Who its feared may have teamed up with the Apostles to place strategic mobile nuclear weapons to strike at the planet. The IMF is out to find the plutonium before their rivals with CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) embedding her man August Walker  (Henry Cavill) on the team to combat Hunt's pension for softhearted decisions.

Christopher McQuarrie takes the controls for the second time in the franchise after the very successful last outing with Rogue Nation. The action is non-stop. Ethan is back on the bikes as is Ilsa Faust, there's a halo jump, a brawl in a nightclub bathroom and of course masks. Two standard locals Paris and London plus an exotic spot this time Kashmir. The plot is straightforward with an unidentified target that easy to decipher from the first moment they are on screen. Plus he's managed to avoid the prone on your stomach thing for two straight films.

Tom Cruise has entered Sean Connery territory as Ethan Hunt. He has his go to kit, his moral code, crashes cars on purpose and his we'll figure it out when we cross that bridge attitude. His willingness to perform his own stunts are well documented. It's most evident here with the HALOjump and in close-ups as he's chased through Paris helmetless on a motorcycle. Simon Pegg has settled in nicely as main sidekick Benji Dunn. He works computers & coms, does a bit of the field work spends most of his time ignoring Ethan's crazy stunts while being the main source of comic relief normally as he comes to after all the heavy action has occurred. Look for Vanessa Kirby as the elusive White Widow she's part government asset part arms dealer and possibly the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave's wonderful Max from the first Mission film.

Mission Impossible: Fallout is another strong entry in the Mission franchise all the elements that fans of the series expect are present plus McQuarrie ties up some loose ends from prior outings. Its action from the opening scene to the catchy recap of in the closing credits. The formula is clearly established for future missions should Ethan Hunt chose to accept them.

*** 1/2  Out of 4.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout | Christopher McQuarrie | U.S.A. | 147 Minutes.

Tags: Plutonium, Manifesto, Nuclear Weapon, HALO Jump, Helicopter, Paris, London, Kashmir, Small Pox.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Fantasia '18 Film Review - Amiko

Amiko (Aira Sunohara) is obsessed with a boy Aomi (Hiroro Oshita). He happened to wander into a classroom giving his approval to a Radiohead song she liked. After that, she was smitten. Hiding in the classroom watching Aomi from afar in soccer practice. Amiko has one friend Kanako (Mike Mineo) she spends time with her knitting and hanging out in a forum that she feels free to be her herself.

One day Aomi goes missing from school. Amiko eventually gleans that he has left Nagano and gone to Tokyo to move in with a former student. She follows him to the city stalking his girlfriend at first before turning up at their apartment. Amiko drifts through a fantasy land in the city. She engages with the mentally challenged. She gets two lovers to join her in a dancing sequence. She sees the seedier side of town as her target headed into an establishment where men go to pay and talk to pretty girls.

Director Yoko Yamanaka was 20 years old when she made this film. It has a playful air with a strong element of childlike pouting when things don't go Amiko's well. Working on a micro-budget she is able to portray the raw emotions of being a teenage girl in central Japan. Another key aspect of the film is that there are no significant adult roles in the piece. Another sign that this film is focused in the imagination of a teenage girl.

Amiko is a jolting journey into teenage torment Japanese style. Our lead charter crushes on a boy after one conversation. Turns stalker confronting him in a new city after months of no contact. Working with a minuscule budget Director Yamanaka brings her vision to the screen that is daring, a bit jumbled but we are all better off that she made the attempt.

**1/2 Out of 4.

Amiko | Yoko Yamanaka | Japan | 2018 | 66 Minutes.

Tags: High School, Adolescence, Angst, Radiohead, Soccer, Nagano, Bus Trip, Tokyo, Pure.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Fantasia 18' Film Review - LOUDER! Can't Hear What You're Singing, Wimp!

Fuka (Riho Yoshioka) is a church mouse behind the mike as she sings with her street performing band. She is so quiet people walk by talking on their cell phones louder than she projects into the mike. Her frustrated bandmates finally have enough and kick her out of the band. Sin (Sadao Abe) is the biggest voice in Japan. His fans go crazy for his heavy metal vocals. He takes risks with his vocal chords though a process of vocal cord doping that leads to a harsh abrupt end at his latest concert. Leaving that event he just about runs over Fuka entering into her life ending her excuses and avoidance.

First, Sin pushes her into attending an audition that a companies her to incognito down. He takes her under his wing pushing her out into the open to build her confidence. He even turns up at her home patrolled by her Uncle Zappa and Aunti Devil. A psychedelic late 60 paradise that Sin crashes into literally coming though a window leading Fuka to an exaggerated writing sequence. The focus shifts to Sin as his larynx problems return. The search for a cure leads the pair to South Korea where a series of dramatic events ends with Fuka finally finding her voice.

Director Satoshi Miki shows once again that fantasy is his playground with his film. He has two central charters are perfect foils then begin to move towards each other as the action progresses. Another Miki trait of throwing together different personalities to create a spark. Miki presents the trippy home environment for Ruka providing rich visuals for the viewer.

Suzuki Matsuo and Eri Fuse steal the show as Fuka Uncle and Aunti. The former full of zany ideas while Aunti Devil is tough as nails a good match for heavy metal maniac Sin. Riho Yoshioka transforms during the piece. She is a meek whisper at the outset then upon finding her voice an acoustic projector on stage. Sadao Abe's Sin goes the other direction. Screaming leather bound madman to a stoic monk like introvert.

Louder! Can't Hear What You're Singin', Wimp! benefits from an ensemble cast that buys into the Miki lunacy. They are all dedicated to the project with their enthusiasm coming through clearly on film. The film has several twists and turns plus many instances that push boundaries with some working better than others. It's an experience at the theatre which goes over better with a crowd willing to let go and absorb.

*** Out of 4.

Louder! Can't Hear What You're Singin' Whimp! | Satosi Miki | Japan | 2018 | 106 Minutes

Tags: Heavy Metal, Rock God, Vomit, Larynx, Doping, Vocal Chords, Acoustic, Promoter, Ice Cream.