January 21, 2020

Parasite (2019)

Song Kang Ho, Choi Woo Shik, Park So Dam, Cho Yeo Jeong, et al



Rarely do I take the time to think about the brilliance of a particular title. After all, there are so many other surface-level ways to evaluate a movie--the poster, the trailer, even the actors in in. But the title? Even a good movie can overcome a terrible title (for example, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). But a perfect title can do more than just compel people to watch the movie; it can add another layer of depth to something already expertly crafted--the icing on the cake, so to speak.

So it is we get the word Parasite. Highlighting the destitute Kim family and their slow creep to infiltrate the wealthy Park family, this term is apt because it describes both the fact that they cannot survive with the host family, and the way they are viewed by the host family: interlopes, leeches, less than.

This movie is the first thriller I have ever seen where I wasn't absolutely terrified out of my mind. In general, I think of the term "thriller" as just a way to describe scary movies that lack gore. But this film had an insidiousness about it--a low simmering tension throughout that kept me on high alert, just waiting for what would happen next. It was terrifying in a different, more subtle, and more relatable way. Instead of waiting for zombies to pop out of walls or mass murderers to show up at the door, this discomfort stemmed from forcing the audience to evaluate the character's behavior. Who was really the parasite here: the wealthy family that couldn't function without their money paying for the help of poor workers? Or the poor family that manipulated their way into earning a living off a wealthy family, thereby displacing other poor workers in a fight for the scraps?

A lot has been said about this movie and its overall message (go ahead, Google it!), so I don't feel like I have any new insights to add to that. What I do want to address, however, is the fact that Hollywood has somehow managed to praise the movie without actually acknowledging its actors at all. How is it that a movie can be so brilliant as to land on a number of "Best of" lists, garner Oscar noms for both Best Picture and Best Director, yet not a single acting nomination? How is that Scarlett Johansson can get not one, but TWO acting nominations without any nods for these cast members? How exactly is a movie brilliant if the actors in it are not?

Beyond the class warfare in this movie, I think what is striking many of us in the Asian-American community is the representation shown in this movie: Korean spoken instead of English; a variety of characters; the spectrum of good to evil-type behaviors. This movie is speaking to us (well, me anyway) because instead of clinging desperately to the one or maybe minor two characters in a movie, I'm able to see an entire screen of Asian faces and not have to feel like I don't want to root against them. I'm able to see an entire complex narrative fleshed out without pandering to the white experience. Watching this felt like the manifestation of this somewhat sarcastic article I wrote about Asian representation in media. (Side note: could I just watch more Asian-based films? Yes. But I want those films to break into the mainstream here in the US too.)

But in all seriousness, Asian or non-Asian, this movie had everything. Plot, tension, acting, cinematography (it's not just for outdoor panoramic shots!) - yet somehow people are looking only at the overall package and not all of its component parts. So while the recognition of this movie signals a big step forward in Hollywood, the fact that its actors are still being overlooked shows that we still have a long way to go.

Final word: Park So Dam would absolutely crush any high school movie - please put her in everything

P.S. I couldn't quit put my finger on the discomfort of the "Indian" theme running throughout and this post finally put it into words. So give it a read because it's good.


January 17, 2020

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac


Look, I've tried to like Star Wars. With the notable exception of The Last Jedi, I've made the effort to see all the movies. (I even watched them in the "proper" viewing order the first time - read my takeaways here.) So even though I'm not a mega die-hard fan of the series, I figured I know enough about it to watch the "final" (I'll believe it when I see it) installment.

I'll admit upfront: I loathe Adam Driver as an actor. To me, he is the ultimate over-actor, aka why frown when you could pout, why raise your voice when you can shout, why be angry if you're not flailing your arms kind of actor. The fact that people find him sexy in some way is what puts it over the top for me. Like, no. Just no. Honestly people, get some standards.

I'm also not the biggest fan of Daisy Ridley. Like, she's fine in the way Wonderbread is fine if you really need to make a sandwich. She's a bit bland for me, like Keira Knightly-lite. And as much as I love Keira Knightly, I don't really need a knock-off copy of her. But she's fine.

So already, this last trilogy sets a bit of a challenge for me. But whatever, I watch it anyway. And I worry: will I be able to follow what's happening without having seen The Last Jedi? It is, after all a trilogy.

As itv turned out, I had no problems following along. Why? Well, because it's the same damn plot. Evil Emperor Palpatine, a dark mask that warps the voice, Jedi power, Millennium Falcon, Chewy, Ewoks, blah blah blah. It was like deja vu, but with less desirable actors.

I get that this was meant to be some sort of sentimental send-off. A tribute to the Star Wars movies that came before. So in that narrow regard, I guess it's a a triumph of some sort. But like, this is what you chose to do with the "last ever" Star Wars movie? Really???

Like, why did Kylo even need the mask? Darth Vader used it to breathe. How does it make sense that he would just create one for himself and oh, now he suddenly has a different voice? Why? Whyyyyyyy? (But oooh, it has red slashes across it to mimic the scars across his face? *eye roll*)

I don't generally like to wade into Star Wars controversies (mostly because the die hard fans are honestly frightening), but being a person with eyes who uses the internet, it's a bit hard to avoid reading about. So in that regard, I want to throw my two cents in about a couple of things.

1. The FinnPoe shipping is real. And quite honestly, the two of them had more chemistry than literally anyone else in the movie, including the Kylo/Rey connection we're supposed to feel

2. Speaking of Kylo and Rey...maybe I missed something by not watching TLJ, but uhhhhhh I'm not feeling it. At all. And not just because I hate Adam Driver. They really have no chemistry. Also, the whole situation between them felt so...contrived? Predictable? Just not fresh or exciting in any way.

3. Kelly Marie Tran. Sigh. I am SO disappointed I missed the movie where she had a big role because she might as well have no existed in this movie. From what I read of TLJ, she'd had a meaty role (which is when the racists crawled out of their holes and sent her death threats for apparently daring to exist in a movie), which all but disappeared in ROS. If I hadn't read the previous internet discourse, it wouldn't even have occurred to me that she was anything but an extra. I don't know why this decision was made (though I have a few guesses!), but it seems like a waste to have done a bunch of character-building throughout a movie, only to discard them the next time around.

4. Regenerated Carrie Fisher gives me the creeps. I understand why they felt they needed to bring her back for this movie and that not having her would have changed the story, but like, no. I'm 100% against conjuring dead people out of thin air to suit a story, unless that person died during filming and the entire thing would have to be restructured and re-shot otherwise (see: Furious 7). It's all just a bit too sci-fi for me.

Ultimately, I was really unimpressed by this movie. It was possibly the least exciting, most unimaginative conclusion to a series that has somehow spanned decades. It wasn't worse than say, The Phantom Menace, but is that really saying anything?

Final word: It's finally over*



*oh please, this is Disney they'll never stop finding ways to make money off this franchise

January 14, 2020

Bombshell (2019)

Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie



I need to start with a disclaimer: this movie is not intersectional. It is for sure peak white feminism, focusing only on the plight of white women who are afforded the privilege of creating careers off racism. I know this. I acknowledge this. I am fully aware of how this creates an unsavory taste in the mouths of WOC and how it can make them not want to watch this. I want to get this out of the way because of course it is a huge weakness of the story. But it is also a true story, and you cannot create intersectionalism where none exists.

That being said, this movie keeps a very tight focus on the sexual harassment case and the culture at Fox News. I think this was a very smart play because frankly, there's no other way to get everyone on the side of the heroines who espouse things like "Santa is a white man." (Also, props to the director for stealthily sliding that in anyway.)

Even while hating the fact that a movie was made about the sexual harassment of only powerful white women, I still liked it. Did it make women I normally dislike sympathetic? Yes. But it also made sure not to totally gloss over the havoc Fox News has wreaked on the American public, repeatedly referencing the toxic culture of fear it has instilled. I also feel like it might be impossible as a woman in corporate America to not relate to this story in any way. I don't know if I can name a single woman acquaintance who has *not* been sexually harassed at work?

But setting aside the particular facts in this case, what impressed me most about the movie was its ability to keep a brisk pace and the integration of proper dates, people, and real footage of the event. I always think it is much more difficult to craft an interesting story out of something that already happened and was highly publicized, as everything is open to higher amounts of scrutiny. But the way the story was woven, balancing the both similar but varied experiences of three different women, was really well done. Also, I am totally blown away by Theron's ability to embody Megyn Kelly. For some reason all the accolades have gone to Margot Robbie, which seems strange to me when I had to keep actively searching Theron's face to convince myself it was really her. Being able to accurately portray a living person honestly seems like it deserves its own award category.

This movie will not be everyone's cup of tea. I get that. It's deeply uncomfortable to watch, even already knowing how it will all end. But I am hoping that regardless of how you feel about the women of Fox News, we can all agree that the type of sexual harassment portrayed in this film is unacceptable and that no woman deserves to suffer through it. Even if they are the kind of person who wants to die on the hill of "Jesus is white."

Final word: Well written, well acted.

January 13, 2020

Joker (2019)

Joaquin Phoenix


Hey, remember when The Dark Knight came out and everyone was flipping out over how dark and gritty it was because it was an exciting shift from the typical "comic book movie?" God, I hope this movie signals the death knell for that. (Hint: it won't.)

Look, I'll fully admit I did not go into this movie with a whole lot of excitement. For one thing, another movie about the joker? At this rate his franchise is multiplying as quickly as Spiderman. For another, I just don't really get that jazzed about origin stories. They're just prequels with prettier titles. But I held out hope because well, Joaquin Phoenix.

I was not prepared for how much I loathed this movie. Like, temped to just straight up quit watching it, which you know I never do. I mean sure, it's not my style of movie, but I've certainly sat through worse. Somehow this one just got to me.

For one thing, it's just so goddamn boring. It's not necessarily the pacing, as I generally prefer a slow movie. But when you already know where it's going to end up? It's taking the scenic route for the sake of taking the scenic route. Except the scenery is just Joaquin Phoenox forced laughing and occasionally killing people.

I know one of the things people really loved about Black Panther was the complicated morality of the "good guy" vs. the "bad guy" and how really, anyone can see themselves as the good guy. I get that. And I appreciate it in certain circumstances. But in trying to craft a complicated backstory for the Joker, it feels like they instead tried so hard to make him sympathetic. Which like, sure, yeah, okay. But he's still a homicidal maniac? What, exactly are you hoping to achieve by explaining that he was abused and bullied and whatnot? To humanize the joker? How about making him the face of an anti-capitalist movement? Are you trying to make him into some kind of a hero?

A lot was made when this movie debuted about the danger of glorifying the violence and how certain populations might come away with a dangerous message from it. And no, that didn't happen. But even knowing that, I couldn't help coming to the exact same conclusion. Like why are we as a society so eager to delve into the psyche of a white male mass murderer and put his actions into context, when countless scores of ordinary people are not afforded the same courtesy? This isn't just a movie, but practically a mirror into regular life.

Ultimately, my problem rests on the shoulders of Phoenix. A lot of praise has been heaped on him for his performance, and I respect him for doing what he could with what was a very bare bones script. At the same time, the fact that entire movie focuses almost solely on him and him alone, the flaws are easier to pick out. I'd hoped we were past awarding actors just for losing lots of weight and overacting anger, but here we are. (No but seriously, what purpose did it serve for his character to be emaciated? It's not like Phoenix is a pudgy dude. Was it really necessary to make him lose all that weight for this?) I'm not saying he didn't do a good job--I'm asking if this is really what we consider to the best performance actors can give. (Because let's be honest, we all know they're going to give him the Oscar for this.)

I know I'm going to take a lot of flack for this opinion. I know that a lot of people want to see it as an intimate portrait of mental illness or the ills of a capitalistic society. And maybe that is what director Todd Philips set out to create. But to me, it felt more like a movie that took itself far too seriously, while only giving the slightest of nods to deeper themes so that it could go back and claim anyone who didn't see it as not understanding the material. So let me be clear: I understood it, I simply didn't like it.

Final word: Thanks, I hate it

January 12, 2020

Late Night (2019)

Mindy Kaling, Emma Thompson 


You know how children are often so different looking than their parents? Like how two unattractive people can somehow create a marvelous looking child, and vice versa? (Yes, I realize there are people out there who truly believe all children are beautiful, but I am not one of them. I'm not saying they can't outgrow it, and I realize there are more important things than looks, but yeah, objectively not cute children exist. *shrug*)

This movie feels like one of those unattractive children. I adore Emma Thompson. A woman who wrote the screenplay for Sense & Sensibility and cast her 31-year-old self in the role of the 19-year-old protagonist? Absolute legend. And Mindy Kaling? Ok, so I didn't watch the office, and I couldn't get into her show, but I did read her book and it was funny. And I love her unabashed fight to bring more diversity to every project she's on. Add all that to a story about women fighting against a male dominated industry? Should've been a shoo-in.

Alas.

It wasn't bad. I'm not sure anything with Emma Thompson can be bad. (Wait, scratch that. I just remembered her turn as Mrs. Potts in the live action Beauty and the Beast movie and her Snarky Award for it.) It was just...fine? Like, perfectly unoffensive. Not funny enough to laugh out loud, not terrible enough to turn off (even considering I watched it for free on Amazon Prime). Just fine.

These are the movies I always find hardest to review because there's just nothing standout enough to even critique. On the other hand, I feel like I've been screaming to let women make mediocre movies because then we'd know we really "made it" as equals. I guess this is a step toward that. *shrug*

Final word: Stop Nominating People's Performances In Unmemorable Movies 2020

January 7, 2020

JoJo Rabbit (2019)

Roman Griffin Davis, Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson


Satire is a tricky beast. Hit it too hard and the joke becomes stale. Don't hit it hard enough and it's not recognizable as satire in the first place. Too much of it and the audience gets bored. This movie strikes precisely the right balance between all of those points.

I'll be honest: I wasn't super looking forward to this. Yes, Taika Waititi is a genius. Yes, the previews were mildly funny. But right now? In this political climate? Joking about Hitler? No thanks.

But this is where the film is brilliant. It is over-the-top enough so that no rational human could somehow take away the wrong message. It's not glorifying or even making light of the destruction of the Nazis, despite the numerous moments of levity. Does Waititi play a caricature version of Hitler? Yes. But do you like Hitler more because of it? Of course not. The story is intended to be seen through the eyes of a Nazi youth, so it tracks that much of the actual horror of the war and Germany's role in those would remain virtually unseen.

This movie has a depth to it not shown by the previews, the poster, or really any of the promotional material. It's a sneaky depth, that draws you in and pulls emotions you weren't expecting to have in a satirical war movie. It was risky, I'm sure, to hide all the best bits for the people who actually watch the film, but made the pay off that much sweeter. Because for those who are willing to take a chance of what looks like a funny Hitler movie, they are rewarded with a touching not-quite-coming of age story about a boy learning to decipher the world around him.

Final word: No joke, this movie is deeply enjoyable.

Bonus plus: Everyone in this movie, including actors I normally don't enjoy, like Rebel Wilson, are good. Even the kid is brilliant! All the kids!

December 20, 2019

The Sun Is Also A Star (2019)

Yara Shahidi, Charles Melton




I'll admit it: I'm a sucker for teen movies. And books. And really, anything about teens. There's just something that's so much more...genuine...about their stories than the overwrought dramas of adulthood. Give me Yara Shahidi's angsty face over Julia Roberts monologuing her anger in a heavily scripted tirade any day.

I love that this is a movie starring two non-white love interests. I love that it shows a male lead in a desirable, romantic way. I love that they are both equally hot. And I love that it doesn't shy away from the hugely pressing issue of immigration.

...aaaaand that's about all I loved about it.

The thing is, in a story that's all about 2 people walking around a city together and falling in love, the acting and chemistry is everything. It's literally all the movie has. And while I'm not trying to compare it to Before Sunrise, it's hard not to see all the ways in which this particular movie could have been better. There could have been more dialogue and less silent staring. More natural interactions with family and less vignette-feeling tension that seemed very "out of sight, out of mind" for the MCs. There could have even been (gulp) better acting. Nothing terrible, but nothing particularly memorable either. What sticks with me are the basics of the story, not the execution of it.

Final word: the movie wasn't anything to write home about but it convinced me to buy the book as a gift for someone, so there's that

A Star Is Born (2018)

Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper



Look, it's taken me a year to watch this because frankly, I just wasn't excited about it. All the hype, hearing that goddamned Shallow song over and over again, and that ridiculous clip of a sweaty Bradley Cooper telling a no-make-up faced Lady Gaga she's beautiful? Just...no.

But I finally caved, due to a combination of peer pressure and the fact that literally everyone I knew couldn't stop raving about how much they cried watching it. So I settled in, hoping for a deeply unsettling watch where I could cry my eyes out and forget I ever once thought Bradley Cooper was hot. (I'm sorry! The Hangover was deeply misleading as to his overall appeal!)

It turns out, the problem isn't that neither of the stars are hot. (Yes, yes, I'm shallow like that. But I would have been able to overlook it had the movie compelled me in some other way.) The problem is that I just didn't care enough about either of them. I don't know if it was just my bad attitude going in, but I've certainly had my mind changed by a movie I was reluctant to see many times. This story just didn't feel new in any way. (Before you jump into the comments to remind me that yes, this has been remade a million and one times, know that I've never seen any previous iteration of it.)

I just...how many times can we watch a movie about a self-destructive man fall in love and have the long-suffering woman try to save him? How many times can we nominate this exact movie for Oscars? Is this really what we consider to be "the best of the best?"

The movie is fine. The singing performances are actually really good. It's just all very "been there, done that." You know exactly how it's going to end. You know you're supposed to feel sad about it. I guess I just couldn't go through the actions with this one. Nothing to me connected this particular movie on a deeper level with the audience that would make me recommend this movie to anyone. The soundtrack? Sure. The actual acting? Meh.

A lot has been made of Lady Gaga's performance and how brilliant she was as an actor in this. She was good. Bradley Cooper was good. Even Sam Elliott, who is great in everything, is great in this. The performances aren't the problem. I just wish the platform of getting Oscar noms shone a light on a more deserving movie.

Final word: I have nearly zero emotions about this movie, even after watching it

December 12, 2019

Hustlers (2019)

Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu


First off, let me just say congratulations to Jennifer Lopez on her Golden Globe nomination for this movie! Did you ever think we'd see the day when a movie led by WOC, directed by a WOC, about strippers but not from a male gaze would ever be up for recognition?!? Maybe I'm overexcited but I think this is actually a huge step in the "we only take historical dramas and white man angst" type movies that tend to dominate awards shows.

So. The movie. 

This is the third time I've been able to tag the post with the word "strippers" (thank you, Magic Mike) so that should really tell you where my cinematic tastes lie. But to call this is just a "stripper movie" would be doing it a huge disservice, because it's not really about strippers at all. (Not that it would be a problem if it were, but just that people might otherwise wrongly avoid the movie.)

This is a movie about friendship. About empowerment. About struggling in a male-dominated society. About how the culture of power and money intersects with that. About love and survival and forgiveness. It's about nearly everything but stripping. 

And this is where I circle back to the power of a female director. I'm not saying men can't handle women's stories. But how easy would it have been for this movie to have fallen into a trap where stripper = broken woman a la Natalie Portman in Closer? The stripping in this movie isn't done just for tantalizing fantasy moments. They serve a purpose. We get to know the characters through their actions and yes, how exactly they perform. The decisions in this movie are made thoughtfully, finely layered atop one another so that when it's all over, you can go back and unravel it all to see how it was put together. 

It might seem hyperbolic to tout the brilliance of a film about strippers. But ask yourself, why? Why do we, as a society, romanticize and uphold films about gangsters and mafia while looking down on movies that follow a similar premise, but in which the women use their bodies instead of guns? Why is one genre inherently more deserving of praise and acclaim than the other? Because I can't stop thinking about this interview with Jennifer Lopez in which she says she gets to play Joe Pesci to Constance Wu's Ray Liotta. When will we learn to appreciate female-led crime dramas that don't simply mimic the same tone and tenor of male-led crime dramas?

All that being said, I'm not saying this is my favorite movie of the year or even that this movie is more deserving of awards nods than other movies. What I am saying is that I wish we would embrace a wider range of movies, especially for women, and that we be allowed to explore female characters without them being dismissed as particular types of women, undeserving of a deeper dive. Sex workers are an easy target for discrimination, ridicule, and even outright abuse. To see a nuanced portrayal of even a small subsection of them, and to have those performances singled out for acclaim, I think, is a triumph.

Also, this movie made me cry, which is always a win in my book. 

Final word: If you can watch Goodfellas, you can watch Hustlers without getting uppity about it.






November 1, 2019

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Mahershala Ali


I'll admit it: Spider-Man is BY FAR my least favorite superhero. For one thing, his costume is ugly. For another, I was introduced to him when he was played by Tobey friggin' Maguire. Then Andrew Garfield. Literally nothing I've seen about him has made me want to cheer for him.

Needless to say, I put off seeing this movie for those reasons. Yeah yeah yeah, I know people raved about it. I know it's animated. And I was excited about the inclusion of a non-white, non-boring actor Spider-Man. But I still couldn't bring myself to do it.

But like I always do, I caved. And to the surprise of probably no one, I liked it. Because of course I did. It's fresh, it's exciting, and its done in a style I've never seen before. For a comic book movie, it's the only one I've seen that actually manages to capture that comic book feeling. It's pretty astounding in that regard.

Story-wise, it's clever in that it's both simple and straight-forward, but layered with more complicated implications of what having different dimensions means, so both young kids and adults alike can enjoy it. My 3yo, for one, was completely glued to the screen the entire time, even though there is zero chance he understood anything beyond Spider-Man fights bad guys.

But on top of all that, it goes above and beyond to capture both culture and humor in a way many kid's movies do not. They're not crude jokes, meant to go above kids' heads, nor are they easy potty humor. They embrace Miles's interests (like the stickers and the tagging) instead of demonizing them as the hobbies of a delinquent as mainstream media is wont to do. And they introduce a diverse cast of characters in a way that's meaningful and not simply slapping non-white faces on unimportant characters.

Having seen it much later than everyone else, I have the gift of knowing the outcome, and that is all the accolades and awards it won, which I can safely say it deserves. It's innovative in a way Disney hasn't been in quite awhile (yeah yeah, I know technically Disney owns Marvel), and it's a nice change from the usual princess or animal movies we're offered at every turn. 

My one complaint, and I realize this is strictly a personal problem, had to do with the sketch animation sequences during portal openings. I think it was effective to turn the pictures into a rougher, more choppy style to mimic the disruption from opening a portal to different dimensions, but it personally made me feel sick, like I might have a seizure from it. Not dissimilar to the black and white strobe fight sequence in The Incredibles 2. I don't have any recommendations as to what they could have done differently but still capture that feeling, but it seemed worth a mention as I can't possibly be the only person who feels like passing out when confronted with pulsing lights.

Other that that, however: near perfection. (Oh, the other minus is of course, using Nicholas Cage as a voice actor.

Final word: Maybe I'll even watch Spider-Man: Homecoming now.

June 7, 2019

Fifth(ish) Annual Snarky Awards

Every year I seem to watch less and less movies. Life, paid work, and laziness all come into conflict with the week-in-week-out grind of running a blog. But as Woody in Psych once said, I can't disappoint my 43 followers.  Which I apparently did last year, when I neglected to hand out any awards. So here I am, honoring the tradition of honoring the worst movies I've watched this past year. Except now it'll be two years because I suck and skipped last year. So it's the fifth annual awards for a blog that's been running for 7 years. It's really a shock any of you stick with me through this. So, thanks.



All that being said, I opted for no individual awards this year. No one person was so awful in their own right they deserved to be singled out (who knows, maybe I'm just getting soft in my old age). But I did create a new category. See if you can spot it.

THE LINDSAY LOHAN AWARD 


for the most disappointing movie you were rooting for

A Winkle In Time



THE NEW YEAR'S EVE AWARD 


for the worst ensemble cast movie

Ocean's 8





THE MARY-KATE AND ASHLEY OLSEN STRAIGHT-TO-DVD AWARD 


for the worst movie you've never heard of

Alex and the List







THE NAPOLEON DYNAMITE AWARD 


for the worst movie that other people inexplicably loved

Phantom Thread



I'll try to do better next year. Thank God for Netflix.

June 2, 2019

Always Be My Maybe (2019)

Ali Wong, Randall Park




When Crazy Rich Asians came out, all the talk was about how ground-breaking it was. The first movie with an all Asian cast since 1994! (Not totally true, but also not far off.) And for all the excitement the movie (rightfully) earned, it didn't encompass the Asian-American experience. Crazy Rich Asians was a fantasy of sorts, with the expensive parties and travel and rich people politics of Chinese in Singapore. In fact, it makes almost no sense to compare the two movies to each other at all. Except, of course, that both movies are rom-coms that boast all-Asian casts, and therefore will probably always be lumped together until Asian-led movies become more of a regular occurrence.

But you know what? Fuck that nonsense. Diverse movies shouldn't have to compete against one another just because people aren't creative enough to see beyond the skin tone of the actors in it. So instead, I'm going to review Always Be My Maybe for what it really is: a good old fashioned rom-com.

It has all the classic trappings of a rom-com: a friends-to-lovers storyline, a friend to shortcut plot points that would otherwise seem implausible, an upbeat soundtrack, and of course, a grand romantic gesture. But the strength of this movie lies in the in-between--the little details between those major requirements that makes this movie feel different from every other rom-com.

For one thing, yeah, it's Asian. But beyond that, it's unapologetically Asian. People take their shoes off before walking into homes, even during parties. Moms do meal prep with scissors. People eat with metal chopsticks. Ali Wong's dad schemes to avoid paying tips. None of these things are a big deal, but when taken all together, woven throughout the entire movie, it becomes a sort of comfort--a familiarity for Asian-American viewers that isn't usually present in mainstream media.


Even more so, it was wonderful to see a narrative separate from the usual cold, dismissive parenting we usually see from Asian parents. Randall Park's parents didn't speak with accents. Everyone was't rich or smart. There was no talk of feeling alienated or "othered" in society. And most importantly, all the love interests were Asian men! Always Be My Maybe not only gives Asian-American viewers a nod to their lives, but a positive one at that. No trauma! No racism! No questioning their identity! (At least, racially.)

Then there are the jokes. Ali Wong is, of course, a real life comedian. So you'd expect the movie to be funny. But this had laugh-out-loud funny parts, many of them coming from her co-stars. Namely, Keanu Reeves, who basically stole the entire spotlight with his ridiculous turn as an ultra-serious, obnoxious version of himself. And if Randall's Park's band, Hello Peril, isn't nominated for a musical Oscar, it will be one of the biggest snubs of the year. Netflix even delayed their usual skip to previews at the end of Always Be My Maybe so that viewers could listen to the entirety of his song, "I Punched Keanu Reeves."

But some of the things I loved most about the movie were also what held it back for me. Because many of the jokes came at the expense of itself--spoofing the seriousness of romance and relationships--I found it's more earnest parts falling a bit short. It's difficult to both mock earnestness by having Keanu spoof himself, for example, and also have Ali Wong confess her feelings for Marcus in earnest at the exact same time. Perhaps that juxtaposition was what they were going for, but it didn't totally work for me.

I'm also not totally sold on Park's transformation, as I found him to be a smidge on the Judd Apatow side of potential boyfriends. I'm sure this will be met with lots of disagreement, but I found his total disregard of his girlfriend's entire industry to be both insulting and judgmental. And yeah, I might be taking this too seriously. After all, the jokes made at the expense of pretentious dinners were funny, and I myself have left a number of parties frustrated at the size of the food portions. But again, this is the industry in which she's built her career. And he sits there, criticizing her hard work without aspiring to anything himself.

But overall, the movie is exactly what a rom-com should be. It's funny, it's fun to watch, and it makes you feel good at the end of it. And even if the overarching plot isn't necessarily the best I've ever seen, my heart is so full to watch a screen full of Asian faces (Ali Wong's glasses collection in the movie is to die for) and lust after hot Asian men, watching them defy the racial stereotypes I grew up with. The fact that it's filmed in my current city and set to Bay Area music, is just the icing on the cake. Like I said, it's the details that make this movie.

Final word: Between this, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, and Crazy Rich Asians, I'm convinced the resurgence of the rom-com is being led by Asians.


May 28, 2019

Unicorn Store (2019)

Brie Larson


Indie movies are always a bit quirky. I get that. I expect it. But to say this was "quirky" would be a huge understatement. For one thing, I didn't expect it to revolve around actual unicorns.

I mean yes, it's not actual unicorns. Except it is. But not. It's all very complicated. Except it's not really that either.

The problem with this movie is that is doesn't quite know what it is. Quirky commentary on growing into adulthood? Magical fantasy for adults? Searing look into life from the eyes of a child? Cynical take on sexual harassment or other trauma? Oh wait, how about all of those things? Or none of them? While never, ever deviating from the literal unicorn narrative?

I just---

This movie is charming. It's just funny enough to keep you watching, and just strange enough to keep you wondering what the hell is going to happen next.

But at the end of the day, it's SO literal. While somehow also being completely figurative. If it had added a twist--a glimpse into the real ending, for example--it might have driven its point home in a way that would have had lasting impact. Instead, we're left with a muddled and strange film that never quite achieves what it could have been. In fact, the most exciting part was in the middle, when I started to brainstorm all the metaphors the movie could be, instead of what it was actually delivering.

Final word: Much like adults who are fiercely attached to glitter and rainbows and sparkly things, this movie takes itself far more seriously than it should.

May 26, 2019

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Everyone


I've been hiatus for nearly two months now, which means that a fair number of movies have come and gone without my commenting on them. (I did a lot of screaming in my head and on Twitter, rest assured. I still have opinions.) But it's time to get off my lazy butt and start blogging again because frankly, Twitter threads just aren't as satisfying.

So. The Avengers.

I didn't see every movie in the universe, but I did see nearly all of them. At least, enough to appreciate the thought that was put into this [allegedly final] movie.

For one, this movie does a good job of referencing all the major movies that came before it. They brought back absolutely everyone to recreate certain moments in the cannon and make the whole time travel thing feel refreshing and immersive. And honestly, my favorite thing in the whole movie might be when they took the time to sit down and explain the effects of changing events in the past. This may be an action movie, but it's still an action movie for nerds and I respect their decision to honor that.

In terms of the individual storylines, I thought they did an equally honorable job of respecting each character and making decisions that seemed in line with what those characters would do. Reasonable people can disagree with the outcomes of particular people, but I'm sure we can all agree that certain things needed to happen in order to make this feel like a satisfying conclusion.

Pretty much the only controversy with this movie was about Thor's massive weight gain, which I have to say I am on the side of the critics. It's surprising (or perhaps not surprising) to see easy fat jokes being made in 2019. It's uncreative, it's not very funny, and frankly, disappointing to see so much thought be put into all the other details of this movie, only to have Thor's trauma reduced to gross fat jokes. It's a shame. (Not as important, but worth noting that Chris Hemsworth is obviously the hottest superhero so can they not have him walking around with food crumbs in a ratty beard? Thanks.)

There's not much else I can say about the movie, seeing as it's the end cap to a franchise and I don't post spoilers. So uh, if you like the Marvel movies, this one is worth your time. But only if you've seen a decent amount of the ones that come before it. (You can still skip Ant Man though. They basically say so in the movie itself.)

Final word: A satisfying ending. Now stop remaking the movies that came before it.

February 24, 2019

2019 Oscar predictions

First things first. Fuck the Academy for shunting cinematography, film editing, live-action shorts, and makeup/hairstyling to the commercials. People in these departments are critical to a movie's success and to deny them the opportunity to share their joy and triumph with the world is a dick move, especially in a year where there's not even a host to deliver an un-funny monologue for 20 minutes at the beginning of the telecast.

So in defiance of what they've determined to be "important" categories, I've decided to do a full roster of predictions, even in categories where I haven't seen any of the nominees. (This is, of course, an especially terrible year for me as I've seen less movies than any of the previous years, due to personal circumstances.) But I forge on anyway.

Reminder: my predictions are what I think will win, not what I want to win.

Update: the Academy wisely reversed their decision (after A LOT of backlash), but I'm keeping my full scorecard anyway. Feel free to post your picks in the comments and see if yours are better than mine!

Best Picture predicted winner: Roma



Look, I know I didn't get to all the Best Picture nominees. It's not my finest year. I battled illness in the weeks up to the Oscars, severely limiting my stamina and ability to sit through movies. So some just fell by the wayside. That doesn't affect my choice not to watch Green Book, or the fact that I'm picking Roma to win. From the ones I watched, The Favourite was by far my ahem, favorite, but I know the Academy likes things with gravitas, and I have a feeling The Favourite is a bit too comedic to pull down the ultimate award.

  • Black Panther: A big barrier was broken when this superhero movie was nominated for Best Picture. I do not think voters are ready to crown a superhero movie Best Picture yet.
  • BlacKkKlansman: This is a good alternative from Green Book for a white Hollywood that wants to pat itself on the back for being "woke," but even while this movie plays it a bit safe, it's still too risky to win
  • Bohemian Rhapsody: With fresh allegations against director Brian Singer for child molestation, there's no way anyone in Hollywood wants to draw any more attention to this movie.
  • The Favourite: This season's underdog, for sure. While pretty universally acclaimed, it's also just really weird. (Though just to note, not weirder than love story with a fish-man, but the Academy has never held consistent standards)
  • Green Book: Nope nope nope-ity nope. I've read the description. I've read the statements from Don Shirley's family. I'm not interested in supporting this movie, even to review it.
  • Roma: This is totally on me, especially considering it's free on Netflix. But sometimes when something is so readily available you put it off in favor of other things, meaning to get around to it, before you finally run out of time. Or maybe it's just me. Either way, I know what the story is about and I think it sounds like a movie voters would see as Best Picture material. It also lacks a lot of the controversy many of the other nominees have.
  • A Star Is Born: I'm not super interested to watch this one either, but I'm sure I'll get around to it eventually.
  • Vice: Just didn't have the opportunity. *shrugs*

Best Director predicted winner: Alfonso Cuaron

I found the inclusion of Pawel Pawlikowski to be sort of shocking, especially considering Cold War wasn't nominated for Best Picture, but it's an exciting twist on a normally straightforward Best Director race. And Spike Lee is loooooong overdue for recognition, but I don't think it's going to happen this year.

Best Actress predicted winner: Glenn Close



I actually think this is a two-person race between Glenn Close and Olivia Coleman and that it could really go either way. But while I'm pulling for Coleman, I have a sinking feeling they're going to give it to Close, which is a shame because The Favourite is a better movie in every which way. And honestly, disability doesn't get nearly the platform it deserves.

  • Yalitza Aparicio, Roma: Hope this is launches her career, despite the thinly veiled racist efforts to derail her happening in Mexico. =(
  • Glenn Close, The Wife: Her performance was good, sure, but not nearly as complex as the movie wanted us to believe. 
  • Olivia Coleman, The Favourite: She was a delight. Absolutely brilliant.
  • Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born: Did you know that in a room of 100 people, you only need one to vote for you? Of course, you won't win an Oscar that way, but I'm sure Gaga is happy just to nominated.
  • Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Her acting made the movie, which is what Best Actress should be about, but this performance isn't going to outshine the frontrunners.

Best Actor predicted winner: Rami Malek


  • Christian Bale, Vice: Did you know Christian Bale even has the same birthday as Dick Cheney? That's commitment to character. ;)
  • Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born: Look, I know I didn't see the movie, but I just want to comment on the fact that all the previews make me want to dump a bucket of soapy water on his head. Like, did he not shower for the entirety of the shoot?
  • Willem Dafoe, At Eternity's Gate: Sorry, Willem. I just didn't make it to your movie. And from the people I've talked to, neither did a large swath of the population. *shrug*
  • Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody: He should win solely for talking with those eff-ing false teeth. And he will.

Best Supporting Actress predicted winner: Regina King


  • Amy Adams, Vice: Amy Adams is always great, but there's been virtually no buzz surrounding her performance.
  • Marina de Tavira, Roma: No comment.
  • Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk: Considering Regina took home the Golden Globe, I'm betting on her to win here. Also, since she was the only nomination for the movie, I think voters are going to want to reward it where they can.
  • Emma Stone, The FavouriteFor the first time ever, I endorse the nomination of more than one actor from the same movie in the same category
  • Rachel Weisz, The Favourite: But...I still think Rachel Weisz was better


Best Supporting Actor predicted winner: Mahershala Ali


  • Mahershala Ali, Green Book: It's unfortunate to earn accolades for a movie that Ali himself seems to be cringing about now (see this face when it won at the Golden Globes), but he seems to be the clear favorite in this category.
  • Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman: This might be the first time I didn't want to punch Adam Drive in the face. So there's that. But like, how is his performance deemed better than John David Washington's, who didn't garner a nomination?
  • Sam Elliot, A Star Is Born: I still think of Tombstone when I see him and I probably always will. Whether that has anything to do with the movie I have no idea. 
  • Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?: He should win just based on his video reaction to finding out he was nominated.
  • Sam Rockwell, Vice: No one wins it two years in a row. They just don't. 


    Best Original Screenplay predicted winner: Green Book


    • The Favourite: Splitting Best Picture from Screenplay, I think this should be the winner. But I also don't think voters are smart enough to pry themselves away from the racist train-wreck that is Green Book
    • First Reformed: Another one I missed.
    • Green Book: If you don't know the story (and controversy) behind this one by now, you're not paying attention.
    • Roma: Since I'm picking this to win Best Picture, I think voters will kick the Screenplay award to someone else.
    • Vice: I find Adam McKay to be a genius in turning otherwise undesirable subjects into engaging movies and I don't doubt this is any different, so this would be my runner-up pick.


    Best Adapted Screenplay predicted winner: A Star Is Born




    This might be the closest we have to an honest-to-God toss up. Each of these scripts is unique and though some were more commercially popular than others, the only one I can safely eliminate with confidence is the Coen brothers one, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Not because the Academy doesn't love the Coen brothers (they do), but because it has the lowest profile of the nominated movies and therefore is the least likely to have been watched by voters. Maybe that's unfair, but there's a reason more nominations usually equals more wins. I don't make the rules, I just play the odds.

    That being said, I think Can You Ever Forgive Me? was the most interesting in that it took what is otherwise not a super interesting story and stretched it into a full length feature worth watching. But BlacKkKlansman stayed very true to its source material (which I think should be rewarded). Ultimately, I'm cynical and think the Academy voters can't wait to give A Star Is Born an Oscar for something while simultaneously depriving Spike Lee of ever winning anything, so I'm not willing to bet that the best screenplay will actually win here.


      Best Makeup & Hairstyling predicted winner: Mary Queen of Scots


      Best Costume Design predicted winner: Black Panther

      I'm still a little miffed that Colette didn't get a nomination for this.

      Best Cinematography predicted winner: Roma


      Best Original Song predicted winner: "Shallow," A Star Is Born

      • "All the Stars," Black Panther: I expect Black Panther to clean up on all the "minor" categories, but not this one.
      • "I'll Fight," RBG: Uh, I watched this movie and I could not for the life of me tell you when this song occurred. 
      • "The Place Where Lost Things Go," Mary Poppins Returns: TBH this wasn't even my favorite song of the movie
      • "Shallow," A Star Is Born: Honestly, I'm not a fan of a song that draws out a 2-syllable word into 4 when it could have just inserted another word to compensate, but I dunno, people are crazy over this so I assume it'll win
      • "When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings," The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: This movie doesn't appeal to me, on any level. I assume it really only got watched by voters because of the Coen brothers name.


      Best Original Score predicted winner: Mary Poppins Returns

      I mean, it's a musical. It feels like it would be hard to top a musical for this category.


      Best Documentary Feature predicted winner: Minding the Gap

      • Free Solo
      • Hale County This Morning, This Evening
      • Minding the Gap
      • Of Fathers and Sons
      • RGB

      Best Animated Feature predicted winner: Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse

      I did watch Incredibles 2. I swear I did. I just didn't feel motivated enough to write about it after watching it, which I think says something. I think it says this is the year Disney gets de-throned, even with 2 offerings in the mix. I don't know a single person who watched Spiderman and didn't love it. Not one. And damn it, that means I'm going to have to reverse me strict NO MORE SPIDERMAN MOVIES rule.
      • Incredibles 2
      • Isle of Dogs
      • Mirai
      • Ralph Breaks the Internet
      • Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse

      Best Foreign-Language Film predicted winner: Cold War

      • Capernaum (Lebanon)
      • Cold War (Poland)
      • Never Look Away (Germany)
      • Roma (Mexico)
      • Shoplifters (Japan)

      Best Sound Mixing predicted winner: Bohemian Rhapsody


      Best Sound Editing predicted winner: Bohemian Rhapsody

      Ok, to be honest, I just assume the same movie wins for both of these categories. I know it's lazy, but c'est la vie.

      Best Production Design predicted winner: Black Panther

      Best Visual Effects predicted winner: Avengers: Infinity War

      • Avengers: Infinity War: Yes, yes, I realize I'm probably the only person in the world who hasn't seen this movie, but I've read all the spoilers on the Internet (unavoidable), so I feel informed anyway?
      • Christopher Robin: I was more impressed by Ewan McGregor's acting, knowing the visual effects were added later, but the animals themselves didn't blow me away. Pooh definitely could have been cuter.
      • First Man: Too realistic and it'll feed the rumors that the moon landing was faked! LOL
      • Ready Player One: It certainly looked like the inside of a video game, which I suppose is a triumph, but nothing about the movie felt special.
      • Solo: A Star Wars Story: From what I heard, literally no one liked this movie, so...

      Best Film Editing predicted winner: BlacKkKlansman

      This isn't normally the category I pay the most attention to (because frankly, you really only notice it when it's really bad), but considering it was one of the categories the Academy tried to boot into the commercials, I especially wanted to take the time to highlight it. Also because of all the tings Bohemian Rhapsody did right, film editing was NOT one of them. So I'm optimistically going with what I thought was the best that I saw, which was BlacKkKlansman. But the Academy has a way of always letting me down, so I'm sure I'll be wrong.

      Best Animated Short predicted winner: Bao

      • Animal Behaviour: Ah. Where to start. I could probably write an entire entry on this one there was so much going on, but I will just say that while it was clever, I was so turned off by the animation style I could barely watch it. I really hate ugly animation and this is very crude drawing.
      • Bao: Oh man, I cried so much watching this. This was far and away my favorite. I liked it better than the movie it preceded in the theaters, even. (Incredibles 2)
      • Late Afternoon: Annoyingly, the "Oscar shorts" package I rented on Comcast didn't include this one, so I didn't manage to see it.
      • One Small Step: This had the most straightforward plot of all the entries (without speaking to the one I didn't see, I suppose), but it was still enjoyable. Clean animation, easy story that yes, maybe manipulated the heartstrings a little too easily, but I still enjoyed it.
      • Weekends: This one was odd. The animation was very pretty and the story invoked a lot of visceral reactions, but was a bit scary and I found the ending a bit unsatisfying.

      Best Live-Action Short predicted winner: Marguerite

      I'm guessing completely blind on a few of these categories, not having seen any of the entries. It's like March Madness, but in February!
      • Detainment
      • Fauve
      • Marguerite
      • Mother
      • Skin

      Best Documentary Short predicted winner: End Game

      • Black Sheep
      • End Game
      • Lifeboat
      • A Night at the Garden
      • Period. End of Sentence.