Crazy-Rich-Asians

Singaporean Nick Young (Henry Golding) heir to the Young fortune, is dating American economics professor, Rachel Chu. (Constance Wu)  Before Nick can introduce Rachel to his controlling mother, Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) Eleanor finds out that Nick and Rachel are dating.  Rachel accepts a wedding invitation from Nick’s friend, Colin’s (Chris Pang) wedding to Araminta Lee. (Sonoya Mizuno)  Before the wedding, Rachel meets Eleanor, Elenor is polite, but cool to Rachel, Rachel fares better with Nick’s grandmother, Ah Ma (Lisa Lu).  Rachel goes to Amarita’s bachelorette party and finds out something that throws her whole relationship with Nick into disarray.  Does she go to Colin’s wedding?  What does Rachel find out at the bachelorette party?

For all the fanfare about crazy Rich Asians , the film is a very conventional romantic comedy.  A wealthy guy is interested in a not-wealthy woman, and his domineering mother sneers at her son’s interest.  These a brassy, outspoken friend, and a female rival. The characters of Nick’s mother and grandmother don’t make sense given their backstory.  There are characters and storylines that need to be cut in this bloated, padded screenplay. There is nothing specifically Chinese about this film except for the women making dumplings, and Rachel and Eleanor playing mah-jong.  There are some tensions between Singaporean Chinese and American Chinese briefly discussed, but not nearly enough.  Eleanor s a Christian even shown at a Bible study, while lording her wealth and power over Rachel.  Someone needs to pay more attention during Bible study.  And there’s a false ending, before the real ending, the real ending makes a sequel much harder to do.

The acting is good, even though the script betrays the actors.  Constance Wu is fantastic, she gives Rachel so many facets, sweet and vulnerable, yet tough and intelligent a very good performance.  Henry Golding is suitable as the boyfriend, he plays Nick as suave, and unflappable. Michelle Yeoh is a good actress, but the writers really want her to play a certain type of character, and so she does.  Awkwafina is loud and annoying as Rachel’s friend.  The casting was also criticized for not being Chinese enough, and not portraying Malays and Indians in Singapore at all.

The direction looks more like a travelogue of Singapore , it shows the skyscrapers all lit up, that part looks great.  But the pacing is lousy, The acting is good, and I guess the director deserves some credit for that, but the script is long and unwieldy, and the director loses credit for not streamlining the story.

Crazy, Rich Asians: Singa-rich in Singapore.

 

 

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blackklansman

In the early 1970’s, Colorado Springs’ first black police officer, Ron Stallworth, (John David Washington) is asked to infiltrate a black student union sponsored event with former Black Panther , Stokley Carmichael.  (Corey Hawkins) At the speech, Stallworth meets black militant student activist Patrice Dumas, (Laura Harrier) and the two become romantically involved.  Stallworth’s second assignment is self-propagated, he calls up the local chapter of the Klan, using his own name and asks to become a member of the white supremacist group.  Stallworth obviously can’t infiltrate the Klan, but his partner, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) can, so he becomes the public face of Ron Stallworth.  The local Klan chapter wants to impress the visiting Klan leader, David Duke. (Topher Grace)  Local Klansman Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold) just wants to meet Duke, but Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Pakkonen) wants to go further.  Does Stallworth and Zimmerman’s infiltration expose Kendrickson’s plan?  Do the local Klan members find out that Stallworth is black, and Zimmerman is Jewish?

There’s an unintended sense that Black Klansman is a bad joke, like a Dave Chappelle comedy sketch, actually it was a real investigation into the Klan and how they planned violence in Colorado Springs, but Spike Lee tones down the viciousness of the Klan and makes it seem like the Klan is just a social club interested in getting together and watching Birth of A Nation and burning crosses.  There’s no sense that they are a menacing hate group, a nationalist terrorist organization. There are interesting links between this local Klan group and the government, but that expose’ comes very late in the film. Stallworth and Zimmerman sound totally different in the movie and they don’t even try to sound the same. There’s a clunky romance, and the only interesting part is the interplay between Stallworth and Zimmerman, and the characters reaction to the Klan.  Other than that,  Black Klansman plays like a 70’s tv show, Starsky  and Hutch, if either of them were African American.  Actually, the most jarring part of the movie was the last 10 or 15 minutes, which only had a tangential link to the film.

The acting is good for the most part.  John David Washington is Denzel Washington’s son,  he does a good job with the role, trying to balance the character’s  life with the police force with his race, and the tensions they cause.  His white guy voice, however, sounded silly and trivialized the role, it sounded more like Eddie Murphy than Adam Driver, and that was a key part of  the role.  Adam Driver was very good as Zimmerman, the Jewish cop who finally has to face up to his religion, instead of running from it. Driver gives a complex performance of a conflicted man.  Laura Harrier plays a one dimensional, Angela Davis type militant black feminist role, in the mold of Angela Davis.  Jasper Pakkonen does a really good job as a hateful, vile bigot named Felix.  It is really difficult to play someone that hateful convincingly. Topher Grace is ok as David Duke, he plays him too mildly, he gets the snake oil salesman part right, but he doesn’t give Duke enough of the hateful edge that is part of Duke’s m.o.  Michael Buscemi, looking and sounding a lot like his brother Steve, does a decent job as a quirky police officer.

The direction by Spike Lee is disappointing.  The pacing is inconsistent, at times there are monologues, which slow the pacing to a crawl, at times BlackkKalnsman tries to be an action film, and so the pacing speeds up.  A trademark of Spike Lee films is that the colors pop off the screen.  Ernest Dickerson was Lee’s cinematographer until the mid-1990.  Since then, Lee has used different cinematographers, and this film is bathed in a dull sepia tone, which is meant to make it visually resemble 1970’s films, but just makes Blackkklansman look uninteresting.

BlackkKlansman:  Hood-lums behaving badly.

oceans eight

As soon as Danny Ocean’s sister, Debbie (Sandra Bullock) gets out of prison, she plans a caper that would make her brother proud.  She finds her partner, Lou (Cate Blanchett) who recruits the rest of the team.  The frustrated ex designer Rose Weil, (Helena Bonham Carter) the jewelry forger, Amrita, Mindy Kaling) the hacker, Nine Ball (Rihanna)  the sleight of hand specialist, Constance (Awkwafina) the fence, Tammy  (Sarah Paulson) and the unsuspecting actress, Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway)  The gang plans to steal priceless jewels from around the neck of Daphne, during the Met Gala.  Will Debbie’s ex-boyfriend, Claude Becker (Richard Armitage) or a bumbling insurance investigator, John Frazier (James Cordon) foil their plan?

Ocean’s 8 has many problems, sexism for one.  The ladies only seem interested in stealing jewels from the Met Gala, a fancy dress ball.  Why would women be interested in stealing jewels, at an event filled with beautiful women wearing fancy dresses?  That in itself makes the viewer dismiss the plot.  Ocean’s 8 doesn’t seem to be sure of what it wants to be, a comedy or a drama, and it’s not enough of either to be good as a comedy or a drama, the actors seem to sense the uncertainty, resulting in a lot of awkward pauses.  The men are reduced to caricatures, the hunky ex-boyfriend, the bumbling Clouseau  like character.  In the end the only thing that distinguishes this movie from all the other heist movies, is the fact that the thieves are women.  The script is way too long, at the point it should end, it just continues for no apparent reason.

The acting is surprisingly bad in this film. Most of these actresses are A-List top of the line Grade A actresses, which makes it even more surprising to see them phoning it in.  Sandra Bullock can be a good actress at times, but she is not even trying here.  Her delivery is flat, the timing of her jokes is off, it’s just a bad performance.  Cate Blanchett seems uninterested by the whole enterprise, she seems to be saying wake me when it’s over.  Helena Bonham Carter does an Irish accent, and that’s the extent of her effort in this movie.  Anne Hathaway is the only actress who really tries, she plays the privileged Daphne, with a don’t you know who I am aura that works.  Mindy Kaling is annoying, with her whiny Valley Girl voice, and Rihanna is playing Rihanna, she tries, but really can’t act.  The young actresses try too hard, and the older actresses don’t try hard enough. For Bullock and the other veteran actresses, this seems like purely a vanity project.

The direction is awful.  The writer and director are the same person, Gary Ross,  and the director doesn’t know when to end his script.  When it should end and when it does end, are two vastly different thing.  The performances are mostly listless, and the pacing is lousy.  Ross doesn’t get a decent performance for nearly anyone,  even with veteran actresses, the director shares some responsibility for the bland performances here.

Ocean’s 8:  Drowning in self-indulgence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

fantastic-beast-crimes-of-grindelwald-002

In 1927, dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes from a maximum security prison while in transport from New York City.  Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is appealing his travel ban to the Ministry of Magic.  The Ministry of Magic states that Newt can get his travel pass back if he agrees to work with his brother, Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner) but Newt refuses.  Theseus is marrying Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) and Newt still has feelings for Leta. Newt accepts a mission from Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) in Paris.

Newt finds out from Queenie Goldstein (Allison Sudol) that her sister Tina (Katherine Waterston) is also in Paris.  Newt also has feelings for Tina, but Tina thinks Newt is marrying Leta, so she’s run away to Paris.  Tina is also looking for Credence in Paris.  Grindelwald also has a reason to find Credence.  Credence is in Paris, with his girlfriend Nagini. (Claudia Kim) Credence is looking to find his real mother.  Does he find her?  Who finds Credence first?  Tina, Newt or Grindelwald?  What does Grindelwald plan for Credence if he finds him first?

The Crimes of Grindelwald does not have many beasts in it, so if a viewer was enthralled by that aspect of the first movie, that element is sorely missing.  What the story does have is a multi-track storyline, there is a romantic storyline, involving, for the most part, Newt and his love interests, past and possibly future.  For those not interested in the romantic side, there is the mystery of Credence, who he is and his powers as a wizard.  There’s also the Grindelwald storyline, is he a threat to the existing order or a prophet to deliver the wizards to their rightful place in humanity?  I like all of the storylines, if there is a complaint, it is that the female characters are underdeveloped, only Queenie seems to have a multifaceted character.   It was also nice to see younger versions of beloved Harry Potter characters, although there was some controversy in one of the younger incarnations of a character.

The story goes along fine until the ending , which is a real head-scorcher for even die hard Potter fans, which I am not, I have not read the books, but I have seen all the movies, and JK Rowling basically reached for something that did not exist in the past books or movies to create a twist ending.  She hinted at one thing, and sprang this ending out of the blue.  It didn’t ruin the film, but it did call into question her writing skills.

The acting is far stronger than I expected.  Eddie Redmyne still has that sly look on his face, and he still has fun with the role, but he seems like a sidekick in the sequel, and that’s too bad.  Johnny Depp thankfully plays Grindelwald with some restraint, and turns in a nice understated performance.  Jude Law displays enough gravitas to play Albus Dumbledore as he should be played.  I’m sure Law will add more layers to his performance in the next film.  Allison Sudol, does a good job of playing Queenie, she is given more serious material in this film, and she handles it well.  Katherine Waterston is ok, but her character is still not well-developed, even after two films.  Zoe Kravitz was pleasantly surprising, I was expecting a flat performance from her, but it was filled with emotion.

The direction was good.  Director David Yates did a good job of letting the disparate elements of the story unfurl, and he got good performances from his lead actors.  This is familiar territory for Yates, he directed Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows Pat 2.  Where I think Yates went awry was with the special effects.  He lets the special effects take over at some points, and the special effects obstruct the narrative and get in the way, rather than enhancing the story.

Fantastic Beasts:   The Crimes of Grindelwald:  I’m a slave to the Grind.

 

Hotel Artemis

In Los Angeles, in the year 2028, a “nurse” named Jean Thomas (Jodie Foster) runs a members only secret hospital for criminals.  A bank robber named Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) seeks medical attention for his brother, Honolulu. (Bryan Tyree Henry)  Waikiki definitely wants out of Lost Angeles, but has to wait for his brother to heal first. The brothers are joined by Acapulco (Charlie Day) and Nice (Sophia Boutella) a contract killer looking for her mark.  Nurse Thomas is also told that Niagara (Jeff Goldblum) is coming to Hotel Artemis for treatment, he runs Los Angeles in the year 2028, and so he is let in without question.  Then , Nurse Thomas sees a woman  named Morgan (Jenny Slate)  injured in the street, and tells her assistant Everest (Dave Bautista ) to bring her in. Trouble is Morgan is a cop, and there are definitely no police allowed in Hotel Artemis.  Why does the nurse make an exception for Morgan?  Does Waikiki ever get out of L.A.?  Does Nice Find her mark?

This should have been a good story, it was a pretty good premise, but badly executed.  The relationships between the characters is vague, they all seem to know each other, but how is not exactly spelled out, the character development is poor, some character development is non-existent and the story meanders for a long time, the ending is chaotic and violent, maybe that was the intent, but this ending looked like another Hollywood excuse for mayhem, and bloodshed.

The cast is stellar.  Jodie Foster tries to eschew her physical beauty, as a tough-as nails, no-nonsense healthcare professional.  It works at times, and doesn’t work at other times.  Sterling K. Brown is good as Waikiki, the only good guy in a den of thieves, he displays a different character than he plays in This Is Us The other actors play characters familiar to them. Charlie Day plays a fast-talking wise guy, a role that’s oh so familiar to viewers of the first Pacific Rim movie. Sofia Boutella plays a mysterious assassin, which is what she played in Kingsman.  Dave Bautista, plays a big dumb comedy relief role, same as Guardians of the Galaxy.  Jeff Goldblum actually reins in his performance a bit, it’s actually quite a muted performance.  But Jenny Slate as a police officer?  No, just no.

The direction is ok.  Not great, there are some interesting crane shots from above, but the pacing is slow.  Drew Pearce is the director and the writer, something that usually sets off alarm bels for me, and Hotel Artemis is no exception. The elements of the story that he wrote come together very slowly.  An hour and a half long movie seems much longer.

Hotel Artemis:  Where For Art Thou plot?

 

 

runnin with the devil

Van Halen was one of the most popular and influential rock bands of the late 70’s and mid 80’s.  Their sound is trademarked by the distinctive howl of original lead singer David Lee Roth, and the revolutionary finger tapping guitar technique of Eddie Van Halen.  Noel Monk managed the original lineup from 1978-1985, when Roth left the band and went on to pursue a solo career.

I am a big Van Halen fan, the original lineup was one of my favorite rock bands ever.  So imagine my excitement when I got this book as a birthday present this year, I would finally get to hear some juicy stories from someone on the inside.  The book is both less entertaining and less informative than I expected.  Sure there are stories, but they are nothing that a devoted Van Halen fan wouldn’t already know. A large part of this book consists of stories about how the manager, who’s also the author, came to the rescue of the band, or made the band better, or richer or more popular. One thing is for certain, no Van Halen fan, no matter how dedicated, gives a rat’s behind about Noel Monk, or what he did he did for Van Halen.  It was Eddie Van Halen’s guitar skills and David Lee Roth’s promotional skills, some would say self-promotional skills, that made Van Halen famous, the manager had very little to do with the music, honestly Monk is a glorified tour manager, and he probably overstates his role as manager.

Noel also takes shots at everyone in the band, except one, depending one who he was angry at in that chapter.  Monk was never involved in the musical end of Van Halen, and the music would seem to be what would be most interesting to me, so I would read a book by Van Halen producer by Ted Templeman before I would read this book because I would really like to know what the studio experience was like with Van Halen, what the creative process was like with them, and this book never provided those insights.  Monk gives his opinions about the songs and the cd’s, almost all of which I disagree with, so take his opinions about the music with a grain of salt.  Somehow, at the end of this complicated story, Monk makes himself the victim of the whole sordid tale, Monk comes across as many things, but a victim, no.  Not by a long shot.

I read David Lee Roth’s book Crazy From The Heat, a long time ago, I don’t remember many details, but I remember laughing a lot, because when David Lee Roth tells a story, it was worth telling.  There was always a punchline, and the punchline was worth hearing.  This book seems to forget about the fun,  and concentrates on the anger, bitterness and acrimony that was undoubtedly  part of the band, but  it’s also what makes parts of this book difficult to read.  The stories of drugging, drinking and womanizing also become a bit redundant after a while.  That said, I read this book pretty quickly, I think I was hoping for more interesting details, or better writing, in the end, there was neither.

Runnin’ With The Devil:  The Devil’s in The Details.

bohemian rhapsody

Farokh Balsara (Rami Malek) was a baggage handler in London when he met Brian May (Gwylim Lee)  Roger Taylor (Ben  Hardy) and John Deacon.  (Joe Mazello)  They were members of the band Smile, and Freddie Mercury as he renamed himself boldly stated that he wanted to be their lead singer.  They took Freddie on, and reamed the band Queen.  At the same time, Freddie meets Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton)  Mary and Freddie fall madly in love and get married.  To take their shot at stardom, the band sells their van and records the album Night At The Opera in 1975.  A record exec named Ray Foster (Mike Myers) hates the song the band picks for the first single, Bohemian Rhapsody, but the band releases it anyway, and the song launches Queen to fame. As the band becomes more famous, Freddie comes to a realization about himself that puts a strain on his marriage, and his bandmates.  Does his marriage survive?  Does the band survive?

The story plays fast and loose with the early history of Queen that’s something that no biopic should do. The story takes a lot of liberties with what actually happened in Queen, some of it is dramatic license, but most of it is unnecessary. There’s the usual rock n’ roll clichés, partying, band members fighting, egos inflating, there’s even a Svengali, steering Freddie Mercury  toward himself and away from the band.  There is a curiously anti-gay subtext throughout the film, most of the gay characters are portrayed as users and hangers on.  The straight people are portrayed as the people trying to steer Freddie from his excesses.  The ending was too neat, tying up all the loose ends a little too well.  Hollywood loves a happy ending, even when the leading man dies.

The acting is pretty good.  Rami Malek is amazing, he looks and sounds like Freddie Mercury, I really can’t imagine anyone else playing this role.  When a Freddie Mercury biopic was first discussed, Johnny Depp was spoken of as playing Freddie Mercury, that idea seems ludicrous now, and would have been another case of Hollywood whitewashing.  Glylim Lee is good as guitarist Brian May, Lucy Boynton is ok, as the love interest with a twist.  Allen Leech does a commendable job as Paul Prenter, a difficult role as Queen’s manager in the band’s later years.

Beyan Singer, director of two of my favorite  X Men films seems out of his element here, he cvan’t rely on special effects, so he goes  through the motions, There’s a predictable montage of Queen concerts, live performances of all their big hits, which by the way is disappointing to true Queen fans.  Then there’s another predictable climactic scene. There’s nothing really inspiring in the direction.

Bohemian Rhapsody:  Mercurial.