Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Image is property of Warner Bros. Pictures and Color Force

Crazy Rich Asians – Film Review

Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong

Director: Jon M. Chu

Synopsis: When an American woman is invited by her boyfriend to visit his family in Singapore ahead of his best friend’s wedding. Upon arrival, she soon realises that his family are insanely rich…

Review: Like almost any genre, the romantic comedy one is one that can provide audiences with films that tend to retread familiar tropes and don’t seek to bring something new to the market. Therefore when something does manage to be a delight breath of fresh air into the genre, it is undeniably wonderful to see. In recent years, two such films have met that criteria, namely last year’s The Big Sick and now, Crazy Rich Asians, have proved themselves to be massive hits that also break significant ground, the latter of which especially so since it is the first big budget Hollywood production to feature an all Asian cast in a quarter of a century.

At the centre of this romance is Rachel Chu (Wu) who is an Economics Professor at New York University. She has dated her boyfriend and fellow NYU Professor Nick Young (Golding) for around a year. Things get interesting for her when he invites her to Singapore to visit his family, ahead of the wedding of his best friend.  What Rachel doesn’t know, and soon begins to fully comprehend, is just how wealthy Nick’s family is. This starts to put a strain on their relationship, particularly when she meets his family and they seem to have their doubts about whether Rachel is the right match for him. It is a very familiar set up for a rom-com story, but the with their extravagant wealth that they possess, it puts the genre in some uncharted territory.

As the main couple in this story, Constance Wu and Henry Golding both excel as Rachel and Nick respectively. There is genuine chemistry between the two and perhaps the most key ingredient of any rom-com is you want these two to make it work. However, of course, that isn’t going to be easy as Nick’s uber rich family pose a few problems, in that Nick’s mother especially (an equally excellent Michelle Yeoh) does not view Rachel as being wholly suitable to become a part of their family. Given how one member just casually splashes around a million dollars on a pair of earrings like it’s mere loose change, which to them, it probably is.

There are a lot of characters at play here, but there are some notably memorable turns from Awkwafina as Rachel’s best friend at college, Goh Peik Lin and Ken Jeong as her wacky but extremely entertaining father. With such a large cast though there is always a risk that some cast members are under-utilised, and Gemma Chan’s Astrid, sister to Nick, is one such character who could have done with a lot more screen time as there is a plot with her own family life that could have benefited from being fleshed out a bit more. Nevertheless the screenplay adapted by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim manages to weave the family drama and the romance together tremendously well.

Where this film really shines is its visual splendour. The costumes on display here are very bright and colourful, and they perfectly illustrate the remarkable wealth that these people possess. The excellent production design also helps to really hit that point home, particularly when we get to the rather lavish wedding ceremony, one that would certainly give any member of any royal family around the world a run for their money. This is a very different film for director Jon M Chu, and while there are certain familiarities with rom coms of the past, he gives the movie a fresh vibe to it. It is somewhat surprising how it has been so long for a major Hollywood film to feature an all Asian cast, but with the success this film has had, more studios will hopefully soon follow suit.

Boasting some extremely resplendent production design, coupled with an extremely heart-warming tale that manages to breathe new life into the rom-com genre, whilst also being a landmark achievement for representation in Hollywood.

 

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Searching (2018)

Image is property of Sony Pictures, Bazelevs Company, Screen Gems and Stage 6 Films

Searching – Film Review

Cast: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, Joseph Lee

Director: Aneesh Chaganty

Synopsis: After a young woman vanishes without a trace, her fraught father tries to piece together clues that could explain her disappearance…

Review: There’s no hiding from the fact that in this era we are living in, that technology is driving a considerable proportion of how we live our day-to-day lives. So much of our time, be it at work or at home, involves computers and smart phones. One such aspect of our digital lives that has become prominent, especially in the lives of young people, is social media. Given how much these devices drive of many aspects of our lives, to tell a story in its entirety through technology and social media is an inspired and refreshing new approach to a story to a very realistic story, and one that would be any parent’s absolute worst nightmare.

At the centre of this all is David Kim (Cho) a father who has to endure the most heart-breaking of circumstances in his family life whilst raising his daughter Margot (La). All seems well after some father-daughter time until Margot disappears with little information available to David as to what possibly could have happened to her. Using any information he can find from his own computer as well as Margot’s, David begins to piece together clues that could lead to anything that could uncover new details. As he receives help in the investigation from Detective Vick (Messing), what begins to become apparent is quite simply unimaginable for him.

Making his directorial debut, Chagnanty and co-writer Sev Ohanian, utilise family videos to establish the early stages of Margot’s life through family videos and what she and her father have been through. It’s simple but it does the job of establishing their relationship, and just how much did David actually know about his daughter and her life? The means of telling this story could become stale very quickly, but it never becomes overbearing or annoying. If anything it makes it feel fresh and unique, and crucially makes the audience care for David’s plight. What’s more, it captures how if a story such as this was on the news, the social media aspect of such a story would be very prominent, and that makes it feel all the more real.

In what may be some of his best work, Cho gives a superb performance. Though he is faced with a horrendous situation, he goes about trying to find anything he can with resolute determination, even though you can feel the pain he is feeling during the investigation and in the years prior to it.  In a thriller such as this, it is critical that the audience is kept on the edge of their seats, and as we follow this investigation, it does exactly that as you are never sure which way the investigation is going to turn next, keeping you very much in suspense right throughout the film’s run time.

It is frustrating however that once we reach the climax of this investigation, the resolution does feel a little bit rushed and a few things could have been explained in a bit more detail. However, though the Internet is a wonderful thing that is capable of enthralling and delighting us, there is an extremely dangerous side to it. In the age of social media where people can share quite a bit about themselves, this film serves as a reminder that like the internet itself, social media certainly has its upsides, but the perils of it are all too real.

With a powerful lead performance from John Cho, bolstered by its innovative and fresh approach to a subject matter that we so often see on the news, it makes the film feel uncomfortably grounded in reality.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Image is property of Legendary and Focus Features

BlacKkKlansman – Film Review

Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier

Director: Spike Lee

Synopsis: Suspecting that the Klu Klux Klan is planning an attack, black undercover police officer Ron Stallworth infiltrates the KKK and establishes contact, whilst another officer (Driver) poses as Stallworth when they meet face-to-face…

Review: It is scary to think that a film set in the 1960s could be a reflection of 21st century USA. Yet, Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit was exactly that, as it spoke volumes about the horrendous treatment of black people at the hands of police officers, something that is still horrifyingly relevant in 21st century USA. It is therefore all the more shocking that another filmmaker has come along, with another film (also based on true events) that also starkly reminds us just how racism and bigotry is startlingly prevalent in modern US society. Enter director Spike Lee, a man who isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

The setting this time is 1979, as Ron Stallworth (Washington) joins the Colorado Springs Police and is soon appointed to become an undercover officer. When he finds a leaflet for the local KKK organisation, he bravely establishes contact over the phone and almost instantaneously strikes up a connection. To maintain the ruse another officer, Flip Zimmerman, assumes Stallworth’s identity whenever the organisation meets up whilst the actual Ron works behind the scenes, looking for any indication as to what the organisation could be planning.

To think that this is based on real life events is just completely astonishing for one thing. But also, to think that such acts of blatant racism and bigotry are still prevalent is equally nauseating, given that the very idea of one race being superior to the other, is to put it bluntly, absolute bullshit. Washington is superb in this lead role, clearly showing the talent that runs in his family. He portrays Stallworth as a guy who is intelligent and immediately likeable and you watch in anxiety as he goes about this extremely risky endeavour. As after a few exchanges, it comes across pretty quickly that, the members of the KKK are deeply unpleasant people and the risk of this operation going sour is very high right from the very first meeting.

Though having said that, there are moments of humour throughout which in such a heavy film, could be a huge risk, yet it all flows pretty seamlessly.  Lee chooses to tell this story in a manner that emphatically pulls no punches whatsoever, though there are some moments in which the pacing does suffer. Subtlety in such a heavy hitting story like this would not have been a wise decision, and thankfully Lee doesn’t choose to go down this route. There are of course two sides to this story as the story focuses on the Black Panther Party, and there are some intriguing moments in which the two movements are essentially shown side by side. While some stylistic choices are inspired, others are a little bit perplexing.

Spike Lee is a man who has not been afraid to speak his mind when it comes to the current White House incumbent and his inability to make a stand in the face of hate and division. And with this movie, and in particular the closing credits scene that utilises real life footage of the horrific events in Charlottesville last year. It is extremely thought-provoking and deeply moving imagery that will stir up the emotions. This bigotry and hate is something that should have been long since consigned to the history books. Yet unfortunately the famous saying “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” rings true now more than ever. Lee’s message is furious, it is loud, and it is crystal clear.

To think how relevant a film like this is, is frightening but the well balanced script, combined with excellent performances from Washington and Driver, make this an essential piece of cinema for this day and age.