Archive for August, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance on August 19, 2018 by Mark Hobin

crazy_rich_asiansSTARS3.5Hollywood is so steeped in the culture of comic books and sci-fi these days that when a movie comes along that hinges on the various alliances between a clan of a well to do socialites, the occurrence seems almost unique.  There was a time when Hollywood used to regularly finance big-budget relationship-based tales.  The romantic comedy in particular has a long history of stock characters that the audience can easily identify.  We cheer and jeer accordingly.  That is the case with Crazy Rich Asians.  However, there is a very essential distinction to this account. This is the first major studio offering since The Joy Luck Club to feature a predominately Asian cast.  Hard to believe that was 25 years ago.  That makes the film significant, but more importantly, it also happens to be incredibly entertaining.

Crazy Rich Asians is based on the 2013 bestselling novel by Kevin Kwan.  The narrative features a large cast but is centered on longtime couple Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Nick Young (Henry Golding).  Two attractive people that are intellectually distinguished and utterly pleasant in every way.  If they have faults, they aren’t shown here.  They’re blandly perfect.  She is an American born economics professor at NYU of Chinese descent.  He is a professor at NYU as well.  He currently lives with Rachel in New York City but is originally from Singapore.  She comes from modest beginnings but he, unbeknownst to her, hails from a very prosperous family living back in Singapore.  Things are set in motion when Nick’s best friend Colin (Chris Pang) invites Nick to his upcoming wedding back home.  This is a golden opportunity for the longtime couple to of course attend, but also meet Nick’s parents in the process.   Father is away on business but mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) is very much present and a force with which to be reckoned.

Crazy Rich Asians is a big budget spectacle fashioned around the “wedding of the year.”  Jon Chu directs this story with an eye toward luxury and elegance.   There’s an abundance of wealth on parade – enough affluence to accent several movies. This is colorful entertainment.  An escapist movie built on extravagance.  Nick’s family makes him a well-known member of the upper class.  We live in a celebrity-obsessed age. Just how exactly Rachel is unaware of his social standing is rather incomprehensible but I’m game.   I’ll suspend disbelief.   The speed at which gossip travels in our modern world is featured to delightful effect. There’s a moment early on when Nick and Rachel are on a date in public and a stranger from a blog site snaps a photo of the two together. News of the mystery woman (Rachel) gets back to Nick’s mother.  The cinematic vignette of how that photo goes viral is brilliantly presented with a succinct flair that encapsulates the power of social media in seconds.

Crazy Rich Asians is always giving us something to see. The ensemble is highlighted by a large cast of interesting individuals. There’s too many to mention each in detail. However, Rachel’s friend Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina) stands out. She’s a larger than life personality.  Her family’s ostentatious residence is done up in the gilded and gold style of the Palace of Versailles or “Donald’s Trump’s bathroom” as she jokes.  Nick’s second-cousin Oliver (Nico Santos) also seizes the viewers’ attention whenever he is on screen. So too does Gemma Chan as fashionista Astrid, Nick’s cousin.  When first introduced, I was getting vibes of Audrey Hepburn.  In fact, I was thinking more about her marital woes with husband Michael (Pierre Png) than the main storyline.

The myriad of human bonds intertwine and elevate the drama. They affirm that detailing interconnected relationships is an idea worthy of a film.  This saga is a glorious soap opera.  I say that with respect not ridicule. Director Douglas Sirk appealed to the same emotions. His work in the 1950s pushed the genre into art.  Crazy Rich Asians is a lot sillier than that.  We’re poking fun at class obsessed people who think that where you come from is more important than who you are.  There’s side glances and disapproving looks galore.  If looks could kill, this movie would have the highest body count of the summer.  Crazy Rich Asians makes sure to condemn those superficial sensibilities but still manages to simultaneous revel in them anyway so the viewer gets lots of opulent displays. The wedding is a wow!  It’s a charming amalgamation that is a worthy addition to the pantheon of light, frothy rom-coms.

08-18-19

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The Meg Podcast – “Out Now With Aaron and Abe”

Posted in Podcast on August 17, 2018 by Mark Hobin

I was guest this week on Out Now With Aaron and Abe

This week’s Out Now with Aaron and Abe has the gang on a shark frenzy. Aaron and Abe are joined by Mark Hobin and Tyler Smith to discuss The Meg, the Jason Statham vs. Giant Shark movie everyone has been waiting for. Among topics covered, we have a fun round of Know Everybody (7:39), some Out Now Quickies™ (15:12), Trailer Talk for The Nun (25:29), the main review (31:12), Games (1:15:08), and Out Now Feedback (1:23:24). We then wrap things up (1:46:33) and end on some bloopers (1:58:30), following this week’s closeout song. So now, if you’ve got an hour or so to kill…

The Meg

Posted in Action, Drama, Horror, Science Fiction with tags on August 10, 2018 by Mark Hobin

meg_ver7STARS1.5In the four decades since Jaws there has been a seemingly never-ending tide (pun intended) of shark-themed dramas. I suppose quality determines whether each offering is considered a rip-off, an homage or perhaps “inspired by”.  I do enjoy these types of stories.  The Shallows is a recent example that was quite good.  Others like Deep Blue Sea or Jaws 3-D — a proper sequel in the original franchise — are so ridiculous that they’re kind of enjoyable anyway. The Meg is neither of those. It’s just awful. This production doesn’t even qualify as adequate entertainment. It’s cut up pieces of fish – a bucket of chum in the sea of movies about killer sharks.

The Meg is actually short for Megalodon which is a now extinct 75 foot long species of fish that lived in prehistoric times.  It was one of the largest and most powerful predators to have ever lived.  First off, The Meg is a stupid title.  It sounds like a romantic comedy about a woman named Megan with a very big ego.  Yes I know it was based on the book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten.  I don’t care.  Lose that title.  That’s why movies are written by screenwriters.  It astonishingly took three writers (Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber) to adapt this story.  Personally, I don’t know why they didn’t embrace the silliness with some fun title like Megalomania! and put an exclamation point at the end to emphasize the fact.  The saga is helmed by Jon Turteltaub (Phenomenon, National Treasure).  He’s one of those dependable directors that has been working since the early 90s.  For years he turned out a lot of profitable live-action features for the Disney studio.  Disney in fact picked up the movie rights way back in 1997 but dropped the project a few years later. It languished in development hell for 2 decades. Warner Brothers has finally brought it to the screen.  Given the production budget was between $130–178 million plus $140 million on advertising, it would appear they’re likely to lose money.  At least in the domestic market.  There are overworked clichés, dreary special effects, and a plot so rote it can be summed up in three words: Shark attacks crew.

The Meg could have been so bad it’s good. No such luck. The picture takes itself too seriously to be in on the joke but then not legitimately enough to bother with a decent script.  It occupies that middle ground where it’s conspicuously bad.  The marketing for The Meg has featured Jason Statham. I am a fan of the action star.  He brings a much needed stoic resolve that is required in adventures like these.  He plays a rescue diver and he’s the main figure.  However, there’s a large international cast of actors playing scientists, oceanographers, and Ph.D. holders that take residence up in this underwater research facility too.  They add absolutely nothing to the narrative.  There’s some great talent here.  I won’t impugn their acting craft.  Unfortunately, none of it is on display here.  It’s surprising that in a flick named after a prehistoric beast, the titular animal doesn’t really occupy that much screen time.  This is mainly about the capricious relationships between the various crew members.  In fact, there’s very little to recommend about The Meg. It’s a pretty weak excuse for a film.  This shark movie lacks bite.

08-09-18

Christopher Robin

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Fantasy with tags on August 9, 2018 by Mark Hobin

christopher_robin_ver3STARS3Christopher Robin is the latest live-action re-imagining of a Disney studios’ previously animated work.  A tradition that can at least be traced back to the 1994 version of The Jungle Book starring Jason Scott Lee.  This approach has yielded some major hits for the studio over the past two decades. The biggest being Beauty and the Beast in 2017. There’s usually a twist to these adaptations though. Christopher Robin is decidedly different. This is not an upbeat audience-pleasing romp, but rather a melancholy rumination on growing up.

Our story concerns the titular character mostly as an adult.  So you see it’s more of an extension of A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard’s book Winnie-the-Pooh and its followup The House at Pooh Corner. At the open, however, he is a young boy.  Christopher is leaving for boarding school. Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Owl, and Rabbit are all there to bid him farewell with a party in the Hundred Acre Wood.  Many years pass and eventually he meets architect Evelyn (Hayley Atwell).  They get married and have a daughter named Madeline (Bronte Carmichael).  He goes to work as an efficiency expert for Winslow Luggage.  Without getting into details, his job places demands on him that comes at the expense of a good relationship with his family.  Meanwhile, Pooh awakens one day unable to find his friends.  He travels through a door in the tree and finds himself in London where he meets his companion from the past now all grown up.

The drama is pitched in a minor key, a quiet meditation on what’s important in life. Christopher Robin is working to support his family. Nothing wrong with that, but it goes deeper. He has been tasked with reducing costs which means he will likely have to lay off his friends.  The proposal must be put together during a weekend he had promised to spend with his wife and daughter.  The idea is that this man has lost more than the time. It’s his very soul that is at stake and it’s up to Pooh to help him remember to recapture it again.  In this way, the stuffed bear is not unlike a wise sage with philosophical guidance. Pooh is an uplifting presence, although his personality is fairly subdued.

Christopher Robin is surprisingly somber for a children’s movie.  This is about a man dragged down by existential despair.  The production design utilizes a muted color palette for both the workaday world in London as well as that of the Hundred Acre Wood.  Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and the rest of the gang have the look of beloved stuffed animals that are showing signs of wear.  All of this makes for odd stylistic choices but it does give the production a stimulative dose of reality. I did welcome the reflective mood. Not a whole lot happens and intellectually it doesn’t all make sense. Let’s not delve too deeply into the schizophrenic resolution. A denouement that ultimately acknowledges the importance of capitalism after it has been railing against it for most of the movie. Oh bother!  I simply appreciate Christopher Robin because it’s a poetic reminder to cherish your loved ones.  The film is gentle and sweet.

08-02-18

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Posted in Action, Adventure, Thriller on August 2, 2018 by Mark Hobin

mission_impossible__fallout_ver3STARS4The rather generic sounding “Fallout” label of the latest Mission: Impossible title has sort of a dual meaning. There is the obvious threat of nuclear terrorism on which the entire movie is based, but it also can apply to the adverse side effects of a past decision. That certainly plays a part in the life of Ethan Hunt. This is the sixth chapter in the Mission: Impossible franchise and I dare say this just might be the very best episode. Despite beginning way back in 1996, the film series shows absolutely no signs of fatigue.

Tom Crusie has anchored this franchise since the very beginning. Ethan Hunt is a solid action hero that ranks up there with characters like James Bond and Jason Bourne. Much has been made of the actor’s age-defying looks and stamina. I must throw my approval on top of the heap. He does an incredible job here. The original TV show was an ensemble piece. Mr. Cruise is definitely the face we associate with these pictures. Still actors Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Alec Baldwin return from the previous film. They all provide ample support in varying degrees. Also of note is an arms dealer known as the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), new CIA Director Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett) and her operative August Walker (Henry Cavill). Cavill is best known as Superman, but here he brings the same rugged sophistication that he demonstrated in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. He’s a charismatic addition to the colorful cast.

These flicks have never been known for the continuity between installments. This is actually a benefit because you can pick up the story without ever having seen a previous episode. Each one admittedly a convoluted manifestation of plot machinations that make something like The Big Sleep appear simple by comparison. Everyone’s allegiances are in doubt. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the way to enjoy these movies is not to get caught up on plot specifics like why who is doing what to whom. You just sit back and revel in the excitement. Other parts of the drama are positively rote. The evil villain’s credo is “The greater the suffering, the greater the peace.” Isn’t that that the justification for like every Marvel villain too? Each entry in the Mission Impossible franchise has always been helmed by a different director with a distinctively different style. That is until now. Filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) has been a frequent Tom Cruise collaborator for over a decade. He’s back after having also completed the last installment, Rogue Nation in 2015. The two obviously work well together. Tom Cruise trusts the director implicitly and is apparently game to perform almost any action sequence. This is amidst much hype that the actor does his own stunts. I still maintain a healthy degree of skepticism, but the stunts do look impressively REAL. In this day and age of reliance on CGI, you can best believe that matters.

The saga is jam-packed with spectacle and each set piece is so breathtaking, it could be the climax of any drama. The great thing is that there are a lot. Right at the beginning, Ethan does a HALO jump out of out of a C-17 plane. HALO is a “high-altitude, low-open” skydive for the uninformed. Hey, that includes me. I had to look it up. A fight in the men’s room of the Grand Palais in Paris is profoundly intense. Walker and Hunt go toe to toe with a man they believe to be the mysterious John Lark (Liang Yang) The high contrast, brightly lit altercation of raw fist punching testosterone is a demonstration of broken tile and smashing mirrors that rain down like glitter on the bloody participants. These things aren’t random. There is a choreographed art to this scene whose precision equals the most graceful ballet. A car chase down the impossibly narrow streets of Paris provides more excitement on another setpiece. The ACTUAL climax includes a helicopter chase, mountain climbing in Kashmir, and two ticking time bombs. Director McQuarrie piles exhibition on top of extravaganza in a ridiculously over-the-top display. Of course, no Tom Crusie actioner would be complete without the obligatory running scene. No one books like this guy. By now the appearance has become fan service but it gives the people what they want and what we want is to be entertained. Simply put, Mission: Impossible – Fallout delivers that in abundance.

07-26-18