-Reviews of movies from Mid-August to Late September
A SIMPLE FAVOR
Director: Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy, The Heat, Unaccompanied Minors, Ghostbusters)
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Andrew Rannells
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
-A career best for Director Paul Feig:
Anna Kendrick is Stephanie, a single-mom vlogger who is Martha Stewart for all things kiddie. She’s the most involved parent at her school and smothers her children with watchful supervision. Enter Blake Lively’s Emily, an absentee mom who works in the city in the fashion industry. She likes a martini well before 5:00 and becomes enamored with Stephanie’s prudish clothing and child-speak. Then, their friendship begins taking a mutual toll on them. Stephanie starts trying to look attractive and opens up about her past life. Emily starts paying more attention to her son, and they develop a bit of a bond, almost using each other for the kinds of things they can’t manage on their own.
Then, Emily goes missing. Stephanie, using her blog as public fodder, begins the investigation to find her missing friend. She also starts spending a little too much time with Emily’s husband, the disturbed writer-type.
The film has great style. It has the type of pristine cinematography that can totally make a thriller seem worthwhile. It has a unique and notable color pallet, and at all times is fun to look at. It’s the kind of movie where you do become absorbed into the palatial homes, nice clothes, and attractive lead actresses. When a movie gives you such easy escapism it’s hard to resist.
This very escapism makes certain plot mistakes gloss over a bit easier. A viewer is more willing to let mistakes in script-writing or pacing fly when having such a good time, and that’s very evident here. Outside of a few “explain-it-all” scenes at the end that I thought were unnecessarily bogged down in exposition, even the movie’s more daring leaps in connecting plot tissue worked for me. This is also probably Blake Lively’s best performance, and for Anna Kendrick, you can slot this in with some of her other best ones like 50/50, Up in the Air, or Into the Woods.
I would lie and say that something more serious and socially important is my favorite movie of the year so far, but I’d be lying. I was transfixed by this movie, by its absurdity and also by its occasional dose of unexpected raunchiness or violence. The best movies aren’t just ones that check all of the objective boxes, they are also the ones that sit on your DVD/Blu-Ray shelf because you’re ready to watch them on a Sunday night. This is one of those movies.
CRAZY RICH ASIANS
Director: Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2 & 3, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Now You See Me 2)
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Michelle Yeoh, and Awkwafina
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
-A socially inclusive rom-com probably best suited for Netflix.
Let’s get this out of the way first-and-foremost: by being lukewarm on Crazy Rich Asians, I am in no way commenting on the social impact of the film. The fact that we got an all-Asian cast in a mainstream American movie that respects cultural traditions and has people’s attention is great. I’m glad this movie is making as much money as it is. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m required to grade the movie on a non-objective scale. The movie itself, while riddled with cliches, is also extremely derivative of so many other things we’ve seen before. It’s the mix of wealth fantasy and forbidden love, the unimportant protagonist trying to prove herself worthy to the rich and powerful family of her lover. It’s fine, but that’s it. Just fine.
Constance Wu plays Rachel, a professor who lives in America and is dating Henry Golding’s Nick Young. Somehow unbeknownst to her, Nick is actually the eligible bachelor from the most famous and powerful family of Singapore. Nick doesn’t aspire to be like his wealthy family, and doesn’t attempt to be as judgmental, but when Nick brings Rachel home for a week of celebration, the results are a negative insistence of marrying Nick off to someone more powerful and desirable.
The settings are interesting to look at and the cultural backdrop of the film was nice. It’s departure from the rom-com norms are entirely in its backdrop, and that’s fine. All of this would be fine by me, a feel good movie with a nice setting which brings something different. But then, we start getting to plot threads that never resolve or add up to the larger story, characters that disappear in and out of the film without a trace, and performances that can’t find the note between dramatic and comedic. Constance Wu especially struggles in the lead here, and she never quite manages to hit any sort of convincing note.
There are scenes where characters wander around aimlessly just to get to the part of the script where they interact with other characters. It’s that type of movie, where there’s no set and no precursor, so we just have a bunch of “oh, hi!” scenes. The execution in this film left a lot to be desired for me, and would be better to watch on your couch in the background, where its flaws aren’t so apparent, rather than going out to the theater and seeing.
Director: Shane Black (The Nice Guys, Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)
Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Olivia Munn, and Sterling K. Brown
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 34%
-Shane Black’s Predator is inconsequential and disappointing.
I have loved Shane Black as a director, especially with The Nice Guys from two years ago, which perfectly blended sophisticated comedy with a buddy cop plot. He was perfect to take over a Science Fiction franchise because he could bring the right level of violence and fun to it, and rebooting Predator was a nice way to do it. Now, I know the allegations came out about Black casting his pedophile friend and the effect it had on Olivia Munn and the rest of the cast. This dampens my view of Shane Black the person, but The Predator movie didn’t need allegations to sink it. It did just fine on its own.
The movie details a new Super-Predator which is hunting other Predators that are spliced with other types of genes in order to make them even better soldiers. When some humans, notably Boyd Holbrook and a group of soldiers with psychological issues get their hands on the equipment, the Super Predator begins the hunt.
The good things: I liked the action sets, and the plot-line involving Jacob Tremblay as a little boy somewhere on the spectrum. I also thought the group dynamic among the different soldiers was fine. Olivia Munn also does a really good job as the outsider thrust into a military role with our other characters. The actual actors and the actual violent sets were good.
The problems lie in the details. Not all of the plotting makes a ton of sense, and the movie also feels like it walks the line of silly and violent too often to the silly side, where the stakes are completely eliminated. A movie which is often fun and well-presented is dragged down by unnecessary banter and useless minutes spent on objects or things played for a laugh that aren’t needed. Overall, it’s a pretty mixed bag.
Director: Aneesh Chaganty (X)
Starring: John Cho, Michelle La, Debra Messing, Sara Sohn, and Joseph Lee
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
-We’ve seen the all-screen movies before, but they’ve never been this effective.
John Cho is a concerned Dad who realizes that his daughter is missing over a day full of unanswered texts, calls, and undone household chores. She’s late in high school, experiencing some freedom for the first time, fresh off of a family tragedy that changed the family dynamic forever.
Who are her friends? How can he contact them? Does he really know her as well as he thought?
We get a really solid performance by John Cho as the worried father who becomes more and more aggressive as the film goes on. He portrays a great mixture of aggravation and worry with the process, occasionally directed at the detective assigned to the case, played by Debra Messing. The two characters are both well considered, and we get visual backgrounds for everyone involved in the plot through various files on Cho’s desktop. This helps us acclimate to the characters quickly but also provides some relatability into the way we all store pictures and memories digitally these days.
Once the actual plot gets started, we’re invested in the plot, and some of the twists and turns are done really effectively. Like many movies like this, the third act isn’t as good as the build-up, but I still was intrigued with the plot, which was difficultly tense, and then really enjoyed the way the film was presented. There’s been a few of these ‘all on the computer screen’ movies, but this movie is the best executed of them.
Director: Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Inside Man, The Original Kings of Comedy, Malcolm X)
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
I have a confession: I haven’t watched a ton of Spike Lee films. He’s a director who everyone respects and admires, but looking through his filmography, there’s a lot of stuff I’ve never had opportunities to see. Because of this, there wasn’t a sense of BlackKKlansman being some return to form, with stinging racial satire and a nice mix of dramatic acting and comic zaniness. Instead, this works to be one of the best movies of the year on its own, without me having any pre-conceived notions about what it would be like.
The story is a stretch on something that (kind of) happened in real life. John David Washington plays Ron Swanson, a newly appointed police officer in a rural town, who calls and joins the KKK on the phone. After a few conversations with David Duke (Topher Grace) himself, he recruits another policeman on the force (Adam Driver) to impersonate him at the rallies. They begin an undercover operation of trying to thwart nasty plans and ideas propagated by the KKK, with Swanson attempting to earn the respect of an otherwise all-white police force, and everyone else around him learning to be more considerate and tolerant.
Some of the scenes in this movie are just insane, where we go into the lair of the KKK. Some of them are just dudes trying to have other white dudes as friends. Some of them are serious racists who take gleeful pride in cross burning and vandalizing the homes of African Americans. These tense undercover scenes, acted impeccably by Adam Driver are then juxtaposed with these hysterical phone conversations between the real Swanson and David Duke, where Topher Grace just completely hams it up.
Other parts of the film do have some overlap with themes found in Sorry to Bother You from early this year. If this film tackles police racism and institutional segregation as Sorry to Bother You attacks workplace discrimination, they both also show lead characters trying to come to grips with where they fit into rebellious movements. Swanson may be a black man, but he also loves being a police officer, which carries a negative connotation with some of his friends who side more with a Black Panther/aggressive ideology. This sort of idea was present in Sorry to Bother You, where the fight was more about the little workers and wanting to unionize, but that film had these touches of how ones race impacts where he is expected to fall into or out of rebellion.
The film is directed wonderfully. It has great energy. It’s well acted. It’s great.
Director: Bjorn Runge (X)
Starring: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater, Max Jones, and Harry Lloyd
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
This is the first of two movies this year to feature a talented wife who has a husband taking large portions of credit from her, the other being Keira Knightley’s Collette later this month. In The Wife, Glenn Close plays the creative spirit behind her husband (Jonathan Pryce).
He’s about to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, yet, she clearly feels amiss about something. We follow her through her college days, when she met her husband, and we take a look inside their creative process together. The film lets your judgment about how their careers together turn out, but note that she decided not to take a front seat as a writer, largely because of sexism during that time period. Maybe the editors wouldn’t take her seriously, so she decided to take a floundering author, and make him great.
For years, it appeared that they could co-exist, but as the movie takes us through the days leading up to his receipt of the prize, it’s obvious that he loves the fame, and has no respect for the person responsible for him getting it.
Glenn Close gives a powerhouse performance in this movie, a stoic, subdued, but rageful look into someone overcome with a mixture of pride, jealousy, and subversion. She appears ready to erupt at any moment, but then has sarcastic, witty banter with characters who try to test her limits. Jonathan Pryce is a great foil to her subdued nature, a flirty, outgoing, precocious older man who forgets his age and place, resulting in a party-first mentality that his wife finds most unattractive. The more we learn about their backstory, the more tangled the story becomes.
Maybe this movie is a great testament to how any marriage is about the stories you make together and how you tell them. For this couple, they may be great for each other in their own way, but they’re story is riddled with deceit and dishonesty and every turn. When Christian Slater, the biographer, comes in to try to pry into their personal life, he has no idea where to go.