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Much will be made about the financial success of director Jon M. Chu's film Crazy Rich Asians out in wide release today. Based upon Kevin Kwan's wildly popular novel, the film marks one of the first large studio releases to feature an Asian cast. In 2018 this shouldn't be such a big deal, but the fact that most articles about the film mention this means that for better or worse, Warner Bros. has a lot riding on Crazy Rich Asians. I enjoyed the novel and got enough laughs out of it, that I decided to see what the film adaptation had to offer.
Like the book, the film follows NYU professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she follows her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) home to Singapore. One of Nick's best friends is getting married, so this is the perfect opportunity for Rachel to see the place he grew up. Nick has always been pretty quiet about his family, so Rachel isn't sure what to expect. She grows suspicious of him the moment they board their private first class suite on the plane, an extravagance Rachel has never even dreamed of. Soon Nick reveals a huge secret about his family. They are crazy rich!
Before the plane even leaves the tarmac, the news of Nick's mysterious new girlfriend reaches his mother played by Michelle Yeoh. Eleanor Young is not impressed with Rachel. Nick may think he's found "the one", but mothers know best. Rachel is American born from a single mother and has no financial or social stature to speak of. Eleanor will not stand by while her son's emotions and bank account are taken advantage of. She has to stop this relationship.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians. Chu's film improves upon the novel by making the characters more emotionally rounded and allowing the themes of culture and family to weave into the comedy. Similar to the way that My Big Fat Greek Wedding bridged Greek culture into universally relatable themes, Crazy Rich Asians finds a perfect balance in highlighting the intricacies of its own unique culture while crafting an emotionally satisfying romantic comedy that should appeal to the masses. Unlike the novel, the film ends with a true conclusion that will leave you wanting more from these remarkable characters. I can't predict what the box office results will be, but I can say without a doubt that I thoroughly enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians.
I'll preface this review by saying that I've never read any of the novels in Stephen King's Dark Tower series. I've been a fan of King's since discovering Duma Key in high school, and I've been reading his new releases and catching up on old ones ever since. Hollywood has spent years trying to develop the epic novels into a film, citing the dense plot and sprawling mythology as reasons for the delay. Finally, today marks the release of a film that King fan's are sure to come into with high expectations.
The Dark Tower opens with the image of the titular tower standing as a beacon against the darkness that threatens to invade the universe. As long as the tower stands, the world is safe. The mind of a child is said to hold the power to destroy the tower, thus destroying the universe. We see children harnessed into chairs, light emitting from their heads, shooting into the sky, and striking the tower. It is all quite grim and apocalyptic.
The film is centered around young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a boy whose dreams reveal visions of the tower and those who seek to destroy it. He is haunted by the images of the Man in Black, played by an understated Matthew McConaughey, using children to exact his destruction of the world. Drawings of these visions plaster the wall of his New York bedroom. Jake's mother is concerned with his odd behavior and sends him to therapists to try to interpret these visions. Little do they know, the images are real.
Idris Elba is the star of the show as Roland the gunslinger who exists to protect the tower. Jake travels through a portal to enter Mid-World, the home of Roland and the Man in Black. The best parts of the film lie in those all too short moments between Roland and Jake. There is true chemistry between the characters that goes tragically underdeveloped.
The Dark Tower is one of those book adaptations that seems draw on the characters and world of the novels, rather than the actual story. The rich plot and characters of the books seem to have been abandoned in favor of a lean 95 minute movie that only has time to gloss over the plot and character development. Frankly, the movie hints at a larger mythology that the short running time doesn't allow for. The promise of a forthcoming TV series that continues this story excites me with the prospect of filling in the gaps of this movie. For all of its faults, The Dark Tower is still an enjoyable film. It is the rare summer blockbuster that has a true beginning, middle, and end, an attribute that makes for a satisfying conclusion. While filmmakers throw in several nods to Stephen King's other works (I spotted The Shining, Cujo, and 1408), fans of the Dark Tower books may end up being disappointed. Having gone into the theater with an open mind, I actually had a good time with it.
A couple years ago, Slender Man, the fictional monster created by Eric Knudsen, came to the forefront of American culture. The creepy fiction inspired two adolescent girls to complete an act of ruthless violence that was more terrifying than any story. A quick search of the character reveals numerous accounts of the way this 21st-century boogie man abducts children. These stories are often accompanied with photoshopped images of the figure throughout history, adding to the mystery and allure of the character.
It was only a matter of time before Hollywood would try to profit off of the character, so naturally, this Slender Man film was born. The film follows a group of high school students who accidentally summon Slender Man into their world. They watch a bizarre internet video filled with spooky shots of forests, pagan looking symbols, and otherworldly bells. Honestly, this reminded me of the VHS tape that is played in The Ring. A week later, one of the girls goes missing, and the rest of the group must face the Slender Man to try to get her back.
For being based upon a character that has inspired so much imagined and real-life horror, Slender Man the movie isn't very scary. The film is plagued by horror movie cliche after cliche and an ending that was so inevitably mundane that I left the theater wondering why I had even bothered. Save for the wonderfully atmospheric shots and creepy forest settings, there really aren't many redeeming qualities to the film. We see this CGI monster far too often for us to really be scared of the unknown of it. Instead of getting behind the characters as they try to investigate the mythology and motivation of the Slender Man, I spent more time rolling my eyes at their terrible judgment and cringe-worthy dialogue. There was a real opportunity to craft a modern horror classic based upon what is arguably one of the most terrifying spooks in recent years. What we get instead is a boring and uninspired movie that will have even the most die-hard horror fans wishing they had kept Slender Man away from the big screen.
Henrietta Lacks single handedly changed the course of scientific research and discovery. Unless you have read author Rebecca Skloot's bestselling novel The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, you have probably never heard of her. Lack's was a young African American woman who succumbed to cervical cancer in the 1950's. Lack's cancer cells, known in the scientific community as HeLa, were rare in that they were infinitely replicable and could be grown in a lab. As such, these immortal cells became paramount in the research of curing diseases.
Rather than focusing on the questionable moral nature of such research, especially considering the massive profits made by those who used the cells, the book and subsequent film focus more on Lack's life and the people she left behind. Oprah Winfrey stars as Deborah, Lack's daughter. Deborah is hesitant when aspiring author Rebecca (Rose Byrne) contacts her about writing a book on Henrietta. Years of misinformation and mental illness color Deborah's life, and reluctance on the part of her siblings to speak about the past only adds to this paranoia. But curiosity wins out and the two embark on the incredible journey of discovering the life of Henrietta and in turn discovering more about themselves.
I actually haven't read the book, but I was immediately drawn into this story. I was surprised at the way Winfrey disappeared into her role. She perfectly captured the distrust and paranoia of the mentally ill Deborah while still making her a sympathetic and emotionally genuine being. What begins as a voyage into the past quickly becomes one of friendship and respect. This is ultimately a "feel good" film that doesn't stray into enough depth to be completely satisfying. I felt as if the story ended without ever provided a true sense of resolution. Still, as a made for TV film, it hits all of the right notes. I only wish the story and rest of the film could have lived up to the performance that Winfrey provides.
America has a complicated history with airplanes. They started as a luxurious means of travel and represented the core of mankind's exploration of the world. They represented the best of what we were capable of if we put our efforts toward a common goal. Later, they became the weapon of choice as terrorists executed the largest attack in the history of the country. Suddenly, planes became the ammunition in our darkest nightmares. In his latest film Sully, director Clint Eastwood portrays an event of American heroism that explores the complexities of an unplanned aircraft landing in a post 9/11 world.
Tom Hanks plays captain Chelsey "Sully" Sullenberger the pilot who managed a miraculous landing of US Airways flight 1549 into the Hudson River. With all of the passengers and crew surviving the unlikely ordeal, Sully is quickly labeled a hero. But as the NTSB begins their standard investigation of the crash, evidence from the wreckage brings Sully's actions into question. He trusts his gut, but models appear to show the event could have been avoided. With his entire career set to be judged on a few fateful minutes of extraordinary circumstance, Sully struggles to defend his legacy while acclimating to his new role as an American hero.
Following his hit American Sniper, director Clint Eastwood once agains chronicles the story of a real life hero. Like his previous film, the events of 9/11 cast a shadow over the entire proceedings. Images of the doomed plane gliding through the New York skyline eerily recall the famous news footage from that September morning. But like Sniper, Sully is more about average Americans rising to the occasion than any darkness that terrorism elicits. Despite knowing the end result, the faithful recreation of the water landing left me on edge of my seat. The efforts of the ferry drivers and emergency response teams in the direct aftermath of the incident are reverently portrayed as a tribute to the services of these ordinary heroes.
While Aaron Eckhart as co-pilot Jeff Skiles and Laura Linney as Lorraine Sullenberger dutifully fill their supporting roles, there is no denying that this movie belongs to Tom Hanks. As he's done time and time again, Hanks disappears into the role of an everyman in an extraordinary circumstance with ease. He captures the emotional complexity of Sully with a subtlety that makes you forget that you're watching a movie. Based on Highest Duty, the autobiography of the real life Sullenberger, Sully is a film that respectfully tells many sides of the story while never losing the focus on its main character. The film checks all the boxes of a potential awards season contender and serves as another solid notch in Eastwood's storied career.