Personal Column – Second Place
“Crazy Rich Asians” brings back the beloved rom com
I have never considered myself to be the biggest fan of the romantic comedy genre, yet I admit to missing their presence from the movie screen.
For years, it has seemed as if the only options have been reboots, sequels, comic book adaptations and depressing awards bait and the lack of something sweet really makes you yearn for that cutesy, feel good, ball of love fluff.
Throughout this era of stagnation, there has been a light push for the return of the romantic comedy and slowly but surely they are making their way back to the silver screen and streaming services.
With its newest offering, “Crazy Rich Asians,” those that come after will have a lot to live up to. But if they’re even half an entertaining as this one, I say bring them on — and fast!
Based on the international best-selling novel by Kevin Kwan, “Crazy Rich Asians” explores wealth, privilege, class, clashing cultures and customs and family expectations.
As both a book and a movie, “Crazy Rich Asians” doesn’t quite reinvent the romantic comedy wheel but the themes therein open a whole new world for both the reading and film lover in us all.
The theatrical adaptation begins with Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Nick Young (Henry Golding), the sickeningly sweet and profoundly attractive couple, preparing for their trip to Singapore where Nick will serve as best man in his friend’s wedding. This venture will mark the first time Rachel, a Chinese-American economics professor, has visited the home country of her boyfriend, as well as the first time meeting his family.
Due to her upbringing, Rachel has little knowledge of said family — he seldom goes into in-depth discussions about them — but we the audience know from a series of social media montages that she is about to go into a viper’s nest as he hails from one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Asia.
Once in Singapore, Nick introduces Rachel to his best friend Colin (Chris Pang) and his fiancée Araminta Lee (Sonoya Mizuno) and the foursome go on a streeteating and sight-seeing adventure that succeeds in making you really hungry and want to brave the long flight to see the country firsthand. During this meet-andgreet-and-eat, Colin and Araminta try to warn Rachel of what is to come, but it doesn’t quite click until she meets up with her college friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina) who positively freaks when she says who she’s dating.
Being the good friend she is, Peik Lin spills all about Nick’s family — from his snobby movie producing relative, to his wonderful fashion icon cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan), and then to his formidable mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). It’s the latter, she says, Rachel really has to watch out for.
With this in mind, she does all she can to impress his mother, his family and his old friends with wit, charm and manners, but she can tell immediately that a majority of them dislike her because of her lack of wealth and where she comes from. At first, she tries to get through this dream wedding trip turned personal nightmare with a pained smile, but soon finds out that it may be impossible to survive this journey with her relationship and self-confidence fully intact.
Like the romantic comedies before, “Crazy Rich Asians” is complete with drama, humor, strife, families behaving badly, clothing montages and a ‘glow-up’ for the ages. Overall, it’s a very cute and engaging film that works despite some uneven storytelling decisions from director
John Chu and the stark reality of growing income disparity throughout the world. Given that the novel on which this film is based has at least two follow-ups, and given the fact that the film is doing well at the box office, I expect to hear that there will be a sequel in the future. I just hope it will be as good as this one, because even romantic comedies are not immune to the bloated sequel curse despite having a great cast to fall back on.
“First Man” is moving and visually engaging
If you have yet to see “First Man” but are under the impression that it is a sweeping epic about the 1960s space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, allow me to dispel that notion: This movie is nothing like that.
While that may be a deterrent for those who were hoping for a theatrical adaptation regarding this topic in the vein of a Michael Bay film, it shouldn’t make you dismiss it outright based on that alone.
“First Man” is a great film — a terrific character study about an introverted man thrust into the national spotlight while struggling with repressed grief. It is quiet, contemplative, at times breathtaking and at times remarkably dull. It isn’t perfect, and I’m not certain I would watch it again, but it made me appreciate what it strived to do nonetheless.
It begins in 1961 with civilian pilot Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) testing the outer limits of the X-15. His experience in the soon to be grounded flights are visually inspired and absolutely terrifying to watch. A word of warning though: if you suffer from bouts of motion sickness, you may need to look away during the opening sequence, as well as a few others throughout. Just as the Ohio native is climbing the ranks in his professional life, his personal life is being met with devastation as he and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) learn of the tumor growing in their young daughter’s brain. Working as hard as he does in and for his field, Neil searches far and wide for doctors doing experimental treatments to prolong Karen’s life but little more can be done.
Being a private person, though the film slyly posits his reaction as a product of his generation, Neil buries his grief and immerses himself in work. Shortly after this family tragedy, he applies for a position with NASA Astronaut Group 2 and relocates his family to Houston for a fresh start.
In the following years, we see the advancement of space exploration and the public’s divided reaction to the space race. More intimately, we see the toll it takes on the astronauts, some of whom are killed trying to reach their dreams, as well as that of their families. In regards to the Armstrong’s, we see two young sons trying to get their father’s attention, a woman struggling with putting on a happy face for public documentation, and a man who becomes obsessed with his work at the expense of his mental and emotional well-being. Though the film is set more than half a century ago, it feels all too modern.
A majority of this film is the years leading up to the moon landing — we see the test flights, the stimulations, the mistakes, the lives lost in pursuit of advancement. At times, it feels draggy despite the emotional punches this movie throws. But when it comes time for the landing, however, the suspense, wonder, visualization, pride and sadness make you almost forget how long it took to get there.
While it is definitely not an action-packed thriller, “First Man” is an effective and affecting study on an American icon and his private journey through grief. Had it been billed that way, I probably wouldn’t have seen people walking out of the theaters due to boredom, but ultimately I felt that was their loss. Though admittedly boring at points, this is a wonderfully moving film that is one of the better acted films this year and one of the most visually engaging. Grade: B
“Rampage” silly and mindless, but entertaining
There were only two viable outcomes for a monster mash movie like “Rampage:” The first is that it is utterly stupid but in an entertaining way. The second is that is it utterly stupid in a mad at the universe for having wasted your time watching it kind of way. The science behind these movies dictates that there could be no inbetween.
Having seen this movie, I can definitively say that it is utterly stupid. However, I can also say that I kinda, sorta enjoyed it. I am so ashamed.
You find out quickly — or you’re going to find out quickly — whether this will be the movie for you upon its opening act. If you can’t buy into what you’re seeing, I guarantee you’re not going to like the rest of it.
The opening act takes place in space, where apparently no good things happen, – ever. A lone scientist (Marley Shelton) is desperately trying to reach an escape pod after her crew dies under mysterious circumstances. Via satellite radio, she begs the person on the line to help her get out of this dangerous situation. She is given an ultimatum: go back and get the research they had been working on and she will be shown safety. If she refuses, she perishes.
After a decently shot segment by director Brad Peyton, the imperiled scientist floats rapidly throughout the space station with an unknown monster screeching loudly behind her, hot on her heels. Just when she thinks she has reached the safety of the shuttle, the monster, a human bodybuilder sized rat, attacks. The aftermath sets the stage for the rest of the film, which deals with genetically altered animals and the people who fear them.
If there is one thing to like about The Rock, or Dwayne Johnson as he is known on the silver screen, is that he’s unafraid of being in ridiculous movies. I don’t suspect it’s a money thing, (it could be a script thing) but it’s somewhat admirable that this huge wrestling star turned film star is shameless in his projects. For the most part, he elevates the material of these less than polished gems and that streak continues with “Rampage.” And I cannot believe I used the term ‘elevates the material’ in regard to this film.
Here, Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a primatologist at a San Diego wildlife preserve. Like many, he prefers the company of animals to humans and has spent the last decade or so caring for George (portrayed by the prolific creature performer Jason Lilies), a rare albino silverback gorilla whom he taught sign language. From their interactions, it’s clear these two well-muscled males care deeply about each other, and when disaster strikes, Davis will do anything to keep his chemically altered friend from being captured or killed by unfriendly forces. This includes teaming with Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a rogue scientist whom many blame for the rapid growth and aggression of a number of animals. He believes she is the key to saving the lives of millions, and more importantly, the life of George.
There is no doubt about it — “Rampage” is a ridiculous movie. Its villains are overthe- top (one eats a Poptart wrapped in a warming blanket), the dialogue is exceedingly cheesy and the special effects are something that recalls disaster movies of the 90s. There has been remarkable improvements in that field since then, but “Rampage” embraces all of that horrible glory.
I really wasn’t expecting to like this movie, or even to find a smidge of enjoyment out of it, but I did. It’s silly and stupid and mindless and reads on the medium- high level of the entertainment value scale. Having said all of this, I beg you: Please, send help. I need to find my misplaced taste. Grade: Ridiculous