September 23, 2016

Queen of Katwe (2016)

Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o



There's something I hate about the term "feel good" when applied to movies. It reduces them to cliched, sappy stories in my mind. When I hear "feel good movie," I think Dolphin Tale. And while I know plenty of people really liked that movie, I sat through its sequel and there was nothing good about it. Just, as I suspected, a lot of cheesy inspirational dialogue and cuddly animals. So I was a bit hesitant that this movie might fall into the same trap, except we'd sub out dolphins for adorable, barefooted African children. 

It turns out, this movie embodies the "feel good" term without the inherent terribleness the genre tends to invoke. For one thing, its focus on people and their issues instantly makes it more relatable in my book. It's not that I didn't enjoy Eight Below or whatever other pet-friendly family movie out there would be classified into this same genre, but I have loads more empathy for a teenaged girl in Uganda than I do for puppies in the South Pole. I guess I'm just cold like that.

But seriously, it's hard not to be hooked into this story. There are a lot of inspirational stories out there. The trick is what else the movie brings to convey that story. The plot loosely follows a typical sports drama pattern (set-up, early success, challenges, doubt, ultimate success), but adds the twist of being A. not actually about sports, and B. set in Uganda, starring an entirely African and African-American cast. But instead of panning the camera around poor Ugandan neighborhoods like an extended infomercial for Christian Children's Fund, where the audience is reduced to anxious gawkers plagued with middle-class guilt, Mira Nair (the director) manages to make it all seem relatable.

By focusing on the relationship between Phiona and her mother, and her struggle to find her place in the world, it becomes a movie that transcends its location and cast and becomes a movie for anyone who has ever dreamt of doing something more with their life. It's exactly the kind of movie people like me have been dying to see from Hollywood--an original story with a talented cast of people of color that doesn't center around slavery or the Civil Rights Movement. It could certainly use a better title, though.

Final word: The fact that it's a true story, and that the lead actress' life mirrors that story, will make you love it even more.

P.S. I didn't see 12 Years A Slave, so this was my film introduction to Lupita Nyong'o. I want to point out that she is distractingly beautiful. And that she should wear nothing but Ugandan street clothes from now on.

September 8, 2016

Skiptrace (2016)

Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville



Rush Hour, this is not. Shanghai Knights, this is not. Even The Medallion, this is not. Jackie Chan may be playing the same "play by the rules" Chinese guy set against a kooky American counterpart, but somehow, it's so much worse this time. Worse than The Tuxedo.

It's not Jackie's fault, of course. The man can only do so much. He's busy doing every stunt imaginable (even at 62!) and spouting an entire script's worth of English dialogue he can't possibly be responsible to teaching Johnny Knoxville how to act.

In case you are fortunate enough to have never seen a single episode of Jackass, Johnny Knoxville can most recently be described as "that guy who wrote Bad Grandpa."

So the standard "trying to expose the bad guys and save the girl" script is instead transformed into an interminable action movie that leaves you wracking your brain for better casting alternatives to Knoxville. Lucas Black, aka Paul Walker's replacement in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, who doesn't sound like he's faking his Southern accent? The guy who played Stifler in the American Pie movies, who seems like a comedic genius in comparison? Zac Efron, who is in every other terrible movie except, as it seems, this one? A brown paper bag with a smiley face drawn on it? 

All of these would have been better options.

P.S. The fedora is a dead giveaway
you're well past middle age
I hate to be so harsh on a Jackie Chan movie, especially on the heels of the news that he'll receive an honorary Oscar later this year, but his awesome stunt work is not enough to save an otherwise abysmal movie. I would have preferred he simply make a Youtube video of the stunts he would have performed and I could have paid him $6 directly to watch it since those were the only worthwhile parts of the movie. And as an added bonus, it would have allowed me to skip over a completely inappropriate romantic paring between Chan and a woman who looked to be no older than 30. Just to refresh your memory: he's 62. And not like an "Asian" 62. You can tell he's 62.

But to end on a positive note (because yes, I did find one), this is literally the most Asian people I've ever seen cast in an English-speaking movie. Almost every single person (aside from Knoxville and a small group of Russians) was Asian. It was glorious. I only wish it had been in a real movie. You know, something people would actually want to see.

Final word: However bad you think this would be: it's worse than that.

P.S. IMDB shows this movie was released in the US on September 2nd (as in 6 days ago), yet I was able to watch it OnDemand from Comcast. Whatever you think of my opinion above, that fact alone should tell you all you need know.