Thursday, August 30, 2018

Film Review: Jumanji - Welcome to the Jungle

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

I've read a number of critics who complain about the glut of mediocre action/adventure movies that have been filling our theaters.  If you want to save your hard earned dollars for only great movies, then Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is not for you.  But if you get your money's worth from a fun, distracted two hours then you will get your money's worth.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle takes place in the same universe as the first film, only this time the magical board game has morphed into a video game.  The other main difference is the plot inversion: instead of the board game invading our real world, four people from the real world enter into the video game world.

The geeky Spencer (Alex Wolff) changes into the colosallal Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), the popular jock Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain) is transformed into the tiny Franklin "Mouse" Finbar (Kevin Hart), brainy rebel Martha (Morgan Turner) becomes the athletic and attractive Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillen), and instagram girl Bethany (Madison Iseman) gender bends into the rotund Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon (Jack Black).  Once in the game they have to work together with their very specific set of skills to win and to survive the machinations of the evil Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale).

The film was more entertaining than I expected.  Throughout the film there were several plays on standard video game tropes from the three lives for each player, co-op balance of skills, character regeneration and the like.  Rather than being simple meta jokes, the filmmakers are able to use them to further the plot and create some nice visual set pieces.

Director Jake Kasdan does a fantastic job of making the movie incredibly watchable.  He intermixes the real with the artificial environments in a way that is not jarring.  Because they are in a video game, the digital animation does not feel off-putting.  The entire movie is lush and bright.

Another thing that makes this movie better than average is that they did not make their leads simple caricatures.  The four leads fit into the typical high school archetypes.  But instead of leaving them flat, we get to see them in more than two dimensions.  I particularly liked a moment between Martha and Bethany where they explored the barrier between them.  Martha always judged and looked down on Bethany's popular girl because Martha always thought Bethany was doing the same.  It was an interesting moment where Bethany could confess her admiration for Martha and Martha could embrace more of her femininity.  Surprisingly, none of these character epiphanies felt forced or artificial.

The chemistry with the actors was great.  Johnson and Hart feel like they have a comedy short hand.  Gillen and Black synced with them completely.  The movie is aware enough to use Johnson's charisma and make fun of it at the same time while getting maximum laughs from Hart's humiliation.  Gillen showed some real comedic chops, especially when her character tries hard to be sexy and does not know how.  But the funniest one is Black who captures the spirit of being a sixteen-year-old girl in the modern world.  His performance was oddly honest in its portrayal.  And I was impressed that while some of the gender-switch comedy was a bit naughty, it was never vulgar.  There is something almost innocent when Black shouts in surprise about an unfamiliar biological reaction "These things are CRAZY!"  I was actually pleasantly relieved that this gender-swap did not veer into some kind of political sucker punch.

Not all of the performances are great.  Nick Jonas plays Alex, a boy stuck in the game for years.  He isn't distractingly terrible, but he nowhere near the same level as the four leads.  Cannavale does his best with his character, but the writers dropped the ball on making a compelling villain.

Ultimately, the movie is a coming of age story where the leads are taken out of their comfort zones and get to see themselves and the world in a completely new way.  It embraces the idea of getting outside of your own ego to see others as they really are.  And in a small way, there are several moments where characters have to heroically give a "life" in order to help others in an heroic way.

While all of this is good, it isn't very deep.  Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle does not soar to new heights or sound great depths.  But it is a fun adventure that will make you smile.  And that is no bad thing.

image by Yasir72.multan

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Disney's Gunn Control

A few weeks ago, Disney decided to unceremoniously fire James Gunn from the Marvel movie franchise.

Gunn had risen through the ranks at Marvel by writing and directing both  Guardians of the Galaxy
movies and achieving the position of co-executive producer on Avengers: Infinity War.  But recently,
internet commentator Mike Cernovich put a spotlight on a number of things Gunn has posted over the
years that are, at best, in bad taste and, at worst, horrifically perverse.

I have held back my commentary on this only because I have a natural aversion to mob mentality.  
In the age of social media, a story can whip thousands, if not millions, into a frenzy demanding drastic
action.  This can be particularly destructive if someone innocent is being targeted. The public outrage
and firing of Gunn was so fast that I wasn't sure if all of the relevant facts were out.

James Gunn spent a good portion of his early career trying to push the envelope
of good taste with his jokes and his movies.  At first I did only a superficial sampling of
the offensive tweets. Based on what I saw in that initial view, I saw a struggling filmmaker who was
trying to get noticed by making shock-value jokes.  These tweets were intentionally tasteless to get
attention. I see this behavior often in teenagers who are excited to shock anyone by their words and
behavior in order to get any kind of reaction.  You can find similar jokes from comedians like Patton
Oswalt and Sarah Silverman.

My initial reaction after this first look was that none of this should be new to Disney,
who hired Gunn.

The Mouse House didn't fire him because of what he had written in the past.  They fired him because
the general public found out about it and got upset.

Do not misunderstand, that doesn't excuse Gunn.  I'm saying if Disney was actually concerned with the
character of the people they hire, they should not have given him the job in the first place.  I always fear
acquiescing to mobs. Doing so only encourages more of this behavior. I saw this happen with Orson
Scott Card, who was pushed out of DC Comics because he supports the same moral position on
“gay marriage” that the Catholic Church does.  It is easy to foment outrage online. But that doesn't
exclude the possibility that Gunn was worthy of such outrage.

After my initial thoughts, I waited for more information and did a little more digging.

Let us put aside most of his tasteless jokes.  I remember as a child, my brother and I found
books with the most disgusting jokes you could imagine.  They were so outrageous that
we could not stop reading them to each other.  I look back on that time with great shame
and revulsion and I am so grateful that today this type of humor fills me with disgust.
I have grown and matured beyond that humor.  I am willing to believe that Gunn may have outgrown
this immature humor as well.  Granted, Gunn was much older than I was when he was
throwing out these horrific "jokes," but I can accept that a man can change over time, if
given the chance.

However after looking at all of the relevant facts that I could, I am going to have to agree with Disney’s
decision.  There are two main reasons for this. I will attempted to be as exact as possible, but it will be
difficult to do so and not descend into vulgarity.

1.Real Children

Gunn posted a story in which he witnessed a trained monkey perform a sex act that traumatized a
young boy.  Gunn wrote about how this incident made him laugh and laugh.

Most of Gunn’s “joke” tweets sound like they could be made up out of the ether.  But this incident is
presented as real. Gunn publicly expressed emotional pleasure at real life innocent child being sexually

In addition, someone shared a video with Gunn that he hosted on his own website.  I will give the title
of the video, but it implied that involved minors. The video itself (I have not looked at it, but I have
read reports), is not an illegal video, but involves many young girls of various ages singing the one
hit of the band the Divinyls.  When asked about his reaction to it, Gunn made a vulgar remark that
said that he was sexually excited by it.

Again, this is not something in the abstract.  Gunn was commenting and sexualizing real life girls.  

As I wrote above, I refuse to look up the video itself, so I will take correction if the people in the video
are all adults.  But from the accounts I have read, they are not.

2. Real Crimes?

I credit the mighty John Nolte for not letting this name fall through the cracks of the scandal: Huston

This is the person who supplied the video to Gunn.  He someone that Gunn has met. He is also
someone who is now a convicted sex offender who tried to solicit illegal material from children.

Now, Gunn may not have any control over who enters his circle or be able to vet every single person
with whom he interacts.  The problem is that their level of association has not been fully investigated.
Is Huddleston simply a crazy person who’s toxic presence is throwing a taint on an innocent Gunn?
 Or do Gunn and Huddleston connect because of their malevolent predilections?

Either possibility seems possible to me, but Gunn posted a video with such an illegal sounding title
from Huddleston and then made sexual comments on it.

Disney may be only cutting Gunn because of mob outrage.  But if I was Disney, I would cut him too.
He may have delivered some incredibly profitable films.  But once the story broke, Disney would be in
serious trouble if they kept him. Imagine if they didn’t fire him and then later he was accused of
something inappropriate with a child on set.  Even if the charge was false, Disney could be held
accountable for not taking proper action when they had noticed. Look at all of the ire that the Catholic
Bishops are enduring because of their lack of action, even when they had suspicions that someone
was a predator.

No matter what your take on the situation, I think we should all pray for James Gunn.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sunday Best: Fall/Winter Movie Preview 2018

Now it is time to turn to the upcoming Fall-Winter movies.  This is the time usually when the "important" movies come out.  The reason being that studios want Academy and other awards groups to have their movies fresh in voters minds.

However, some studios realized that this is a good time to release a big blockbuster because there is less competition, even though more people are home watching television. 

Here is a list, with a few brief thoughts of my own, including on a scale of 1-5 stars my likelihood of seeing it in theaters (1 being “Not at all” 5 being “Cannot wait!”).

So here are some of the movies that are coming out along with my level of excitement.  My ability to get out to the theater may be limited this time around.  But I will try to get to the ones that really excite me.

September 7

The Nun (*)
-zero interest in this.

Peppermint (**)

-quite possibly the worst title to a movie I have ever seen.  Seriously!  You want to make a female Death Wish with an experienced action heroine and you go with THIS title!

September 14

The Predator (***)
Infrared vision showing The Predator creature & the Predator logo
-the first trailer left me cold, but the subsequent ones look a bit better.  I don't know that any film can live up to the full potential of this series.

A Simple Favor (***)

-I really like the cast, but I have the feeling this is going to be another disappointment like Gone Girl.

White Boy Rick (*)
White Boy Rick.jpg
-why would anyone pay money to see this.  This looks terrible.

The Children Act (**)

-I thought this would be another movie that bashes people of religious faith.  But I'm not quite sure.  It still may be the case that religion is mocked here, but the trailer is intriguing enough for me to at least give it a chance.

Mandy (*)
-hard pass.

September 21

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (**)

-This looks to be in the same vein as the Goosebumps movie, which I also did not see.

Colette (*)

-Oh my goodness does this look pretentious and preachy as heck.

Assassination Nation (*)
-this looks like an ugly movie that tries to one-up The Purge.

September 28

Smallfoot (**)
Smallfoot (film).png
-there doesn't seem to be any of the wonder and magic that a movie like this should give.  Looks downright dull.

Little Women (***)
File:Little Women 2018 poster.jpg
-setting the story in the modern world looks like a trope, but the trailer worked in making the material seem as relevant as any modern coming of age story.

Night School (***)
Night School.png
-this looks like it could have some solid laughs, but Kevin Hart is hit and miss for me.

October 5

Venom (**)
Venom poster.jpg
-okay, the trailers make this movie look terrible.  But the talent and character are enough to get me to see this, though maybe not on opening night.

Unbroken: Path to Redemption (**)

-the first one was good, but this film seems a bit too overdone and preachy.

A Star is Born (****)

File:A Star is Born.png
-I am repulsed by almost all of Lady Gaga's music persona and I have never understood the hype about her.  When I heard she was cast in this movie, it looked like a stunt.  But I'll be darned if this movie doesn't look like it might have some actual heart and powerful music.

October 12

Goosebumps: Haunted Halloween (*)
Goosebumps 2 Haunted Halloween (2018) poster.jpg
-Didn't see the first.  Won't see the second.

First Man (***)
File:First Man (film).png
-I've like the director's last two movies and the story is a good one.  The cast also looks excellent.  But there is something about the directing style of this film that seems off.  It feels less like Apollo 13 and more like Cloverfield.

Bad Times at the El Royale (**)
Bad times at the el royale theatrical poster.jpeg
-this feels like a Tarantino-esque knock-off.  But it has a very good cast.

What They Had (**)

-this looks too depressing to see in theaters.

Beautiful Boy (***)

-both Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet are going to pull out all the stops to try and win Oscars.  Could be good but also looks like it could be a bit too melodramatic.

October 19

Halloween (*)
Halloween (2018 film) Teaser Poster.jpg
-This franchise is so messed up that they keep throwing out their old movies' continuity.  I have no idea what is happening here and I don't care.

Serenity (*)

-cast looks great, but I think I've figured out the entire film from the trailer.

The Hate U Give (*)

-message movies tend not to be very good.  The performance by the lead actress looks impressive, though.

October 26

Hunter Killer (**)

-this movie looks like a cheesy throwback to the action movies of the 80's and 90's, which isn't a bad thing if you just want a good time watching crap explode.

Overlord (*)

-the movie looks interesting, but not enough to overcome my distaste for horror movies.

Johnny English Strikes Again (*)
-didn't see the second, won't see the third.

November 2

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (***)
File:The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.png
-my mother used to take us downtown every year to watch the ballet.  I am curious as to how this movie expands the story, but it reminds me too much of Burton's awful-looking Alice in Wonderland.

Bohemian Rhapsody (****)
File:Bohemian rhapsody theatrical poster.jpeg
-I have a feeling that the content will be a little much for me.  But I am a huge fan of Queen's music and the performances look spot on.  They seem to capture the epic feelings of exhilaration and despair found in Queen's songs.  (Also, does it bother anyone that the word "Queen" is reflected in the sunglasses, which means that the text that he's looking at is backwards?)

Boy Erased (*)
Boy Erased.jpeg
-when I saw in the trailer that someone was telling a gay teen that Jesus won't love him as he is, I noped out.

Nobody's Fool (*)
Nobody's Fool (2018 film).png
-I'm not quite connecting with the humor I saw in the trailer.

November 9

Dr. Seuss' The Grinch (*)
File:The Grinch (2018 film).png
-this looks so incredibly pointless.  The original animated is a masterpiece.  Any attempt to recapture that is a fool's errand.  That includes the awful Jim Carrey/Ron Howard film.

The Girl in the Spider's Webb (**)
The Girl in the Spider's Web teaser poster.jpg
-while the trailer was good, I did not see the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or it's remake so I think I'm out.

November 16

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (****)

-the first Fantastic Beasts movie wasn't great, but it was interesting.  At the very least, it did not turn me off of the remaining series.  Most of the main characters are not even mentioned in the original Harry Potter series, so their fates are uncertain, giving the films a sense of danger.

November 21

Robin Hood (*)

-someone looked at the Antifa riots on the news and thought that it would be a good idea to portray them as the heroes in a Robin Hood film.  I cannot comprehend the idiocy of this.  The visuals are less medieval as they are faux-medieval, like something out of Ella Enchanted.

Creed II (*)
File:Creed ii poster.jpg
-this is no reflection on this movie because I have intentionally been avoiding the trailers.  I have been meaning to watch the original Creed, and don't want to spoil it yet.

Ralph Breaks the Internet (***)
Ralph Breaks the Internet poster.jpg
-I loved the first movie, but something about this seems soaked in cynicism and a bit too much "of the time."  That means that the references that seem fresh now will be dated and obscure all too soon.

Second Act (**)

-I don't care for Jennifer Lopez, but I am open to seeing more of this film if the trailers are funny.

December 7

Mary Queen of Scots (**)
Mary Queen of Scots.png
-the actresses are good, but for some reason, this isn't capturing me.

December 14

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (**)

-The trailers for this movie are really good.  But Miles Morales is such an annoying character for me.  The fact that he and Peter Parker are in this movie may get me to see it.

Mortal Engines (**)
Mortal Engines teaser poster.jpg
-Oh, Peter Jackson, what happened to you?  The Lord of the Rings worked for many reasons, one of which was that Jackson made a fantasy world seem real and tangible.  Nothing about this movie seems real.

December 19

Mary Poppins Returns (****)

-the music gives me chills for some reason.  The cast is excellent and I am hoping for some wonderful original songs.

December 21

Aquaman (*****)

-I love Momoa's Aquaman and I'm glad they are giving him a chance to prove himself as a solo character.

Bumblebee (****)

-the tradition of Transformers movies is that the trailers look good but the movies are terrible.  But the old school feel of this one might just break that spell.

Alita: Battle Angel (**)

-nothing I have seen so far has me excited for this movie.

Welcome to Marwen (*****)

-Directed by Robert Zemeckis?  Check.
-Starring Steve Carell?  Check
-An serious drama about a man finding hope through action figures?  CHECK!

Decemeber 25

On the Basis of Sex (*)

-honestly it comes down to the final line of the trailer.  A judge says to Ginsberg that the word "woman" does not appear in the Constitution.  She responds with the stinging: "Neither does the word 'freedom,' your honor."  All this would prove is that Ginsberg never read the first amendment.  This is such a glaringly stupid thing to not catch that I am shocked that it became the tag of the trailer.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

King Krusty Syndrome

The Happy Time Murders just premiered last night.  It is an R-Rated comedy that involves a murder in a Muppet-like universe.  It is filled with sex, drugs, and violence.  I did not see and I have no intention of seeing it, but it feels like the rock-bottom end of the Jim Henson legacy.

How did things get here?

Brian Henson, Jim's son, originally took up the mantle with beautiful grace.  A Muppet Christmas Carol is, I daresay, the best Muppet movie that has been made and it was directed by Brian.  But slowly over the years, the Muppets have devolved into a morally bankrupt and cynical enterprise.  And while The Happy Time Murders are not directly related to the Muppets, it has Muppet DNA all over it.  I have a feeling people will not want anything to do with the Muppets for a long time.  But that is not the fault of this franchise per se.

It is the result of King Krusty Syndrome.

In The Simpsons episode "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner" (11x03), Homer and Lisa are at a dinner theater where Krusty the Clown is playing King Lear.  He hasn't really read the script and he doesn't understand the material at all.  Feeling like he needs to improve on it, he begins a series of awful jokes to get more laughs out of the audience.  Instead they boo.  Krusty's response, "Whoa, tough crowd.  They're booing Shakespeare!"

King Krusty Syndrome is when someone takes control of an artistic medium, character, or franchise and makes ignorant changes that upset the fans.  Ultimately, the blame for the ire is not placed upon the person making the changes but on the medium, character, or franchise itself.

Krusty did not understand what he was doing.  He ignorantly tried to "improve" the material.  When people got upset, he blamed the source.

You can see this take place with the comic book movie genre back in the late 1990's.  Tim Burton's Batman was one of the greatest commercial hits of all time.  It captured the darker tones of the comic book Batman that fans had been missing on the big screen for years.  This spawned super hero movies and TV shows of varying degrees of quality.

But then Joel Schumacher directed to most awful film I have ever seen in the theaters: Batman and Robin.  Burton's film had its flaws.  But Schumacher's movie was a cacophony of every horrible, stupid thing that most people hated from the Batman TV series, with none of the nostalgic charm.  The lines were awful, the acting was terrible, the story was non-sensical, the directing and art design were ludicrous, and the special effects were laughably bad. 

Did the movie industry say, "We need to look back at what Batman successful and find out where we went astray?" 


Instead, they said, "Whoa, tough crowd.  They're booing Batman!"

They decided that the problem was super hero films in general.  As a result, there was an effective moratorium on comic book movies for years.  This involved killing Burton's Superman Lives starring Nicholas Cage.

To be fair to Schumacher, he apparently wanted to get back to the roots of Burton's Batman with a sequel called Batman Triumphant.  But he was never given the chance.  The executives (who probably had a strong hand in the inane tone of Batman and Robin) decided that people just didn't like super hero films.

King Krusty Syndrome killed super hero films for years.

I can see this in other industries as well.  Many of the major comic book companies employ people who don't really understand the characters they publish.  Brian Michael Bendis is a very good writer who is more talented than I will ever be.  That said, he wrote Ultimate Spider-Man, which at one time I believe as Marvel's top selling book.  It was in an alternate universe of Marvel characters that soon sprouted other titles and was praised by fans and critics alike.  Then Bendis killed off Peter Parker and replaced him with his own new creation: Miles Morales.  And unlike most comic book deaths, Peter Parker stayed dead.  Eventually sales from the ultimate line decreased to the point where the entire alternate universe was ended.

"I guess people didn't like Ultimate Spider-Man."

No, they didn't like Miles Morales.  For the most part, they still don't.  And now he's getting his own movie.

Again to be fair, there were many factors that led to the demise of the Ultimate line.  But it is hard to see how killing off Peter Parker and replacing him with someone far less appealing was a positive step.  Bendis' early work on Ultimate Spider-Man was so successful, in part, because he understood the spirit of the main character.  Reading those books felt like what it was like to read the character for the first time back in the 1960's.  But remove that character and you remove what people love.

I believe the Marvel movies are about to run into the same potential problem.  Captain Marvel is set to come out before Avengers 4.  The character, played by Brie Larson, is said to be the central focus of the MCU after the original Avengers finish their contracts.  The problem is that Captain Marvel comic books are horribly unpopular.  Marvel keeps pushing her, even going so far as to say that in the Marvel universe she is "the most popular superhero in the world."  But the character has become incredibly unappealing to fans.  So far, Kevin Feige has done an excellent job of taking characters without strong comics appeal and making them hits, ala Guardians of the Galaxy.  But if Captain Marvel fails to connect to audiences because of the way she is portrayed in the comics books, my fear is that once again the response will be:

"I guess people don't like super hero movies."

Star Wars fans can see this in their beloved franchise.  I am convinced that Solo did not fail purely by its own merit.  There were many problems with the production and marketing of that film.  But the Star Wars fan base tends to be very forgiving, while vocal about their dislikes.  If that was not the case, the prequel trilogy would not have made as much money as it did. 

But Solo failed mainly because of Rogue One and The Last Jedi.  While many critics loved the subversion of expectations found in these movies, fans were less than thrilled.  And even though I stand by my praise for The Last Jedi, I completely understand why so many people were turned off and disgusted by what they saw.  They believed that the characters they loved and the themes they cherished were betrayed by the last two films which replaced the classic sincerity for post-modern irony.  Many were willing to take a mulligan on Rogue One, but The Last Jedi was a saga film that, in the minds of many, tainted Luke Skywalker.  And so, fans are less willing to trust the stewards of Star Wars with their theatrical dollars and see Solo.  And the reaction I read soon after Solo opened soft was:

"Tough crowd.  They're booking Star Wars.  I guess people don't like Star Wars anymore."

After twisting the property out of its original bent, the blame is set on the property, not the twisting.

This brings us to the Muppets.

The Muppest always had a small touch of satire to them, but they were filled with a sincere innocence at heart.  As I wrote back in 2015 about the failed Muppets reboot TV show:

The rebooted Muppet movie from a few years ago had a lot of the trappings of the classic, optimistic old show but there was just a slight touch of cynicism that is poisonous to something like this.  The sequel, Muppets Most Wanted, employed some of the most cynical humorists around like Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais.

Now the Muppets have fully embraced the cynicism and so have lost all of their joy.

There is nothing joyous about this show.  Are there some funny jokes?  Yes.  But they lack any kind of heart or warmth.

In this first episode alone we had jokes about:

-unmarried pregnancy
-drug use
-hook ups
-gay bears
-bigoted parents
-Animal's several women

They've turned the Muppets into the cast from 30 Rock.  And that is NOT a good thing.

It's not that the jokes were incredibly offensive per se.  It's that they don't belong with the Muppets.

All of the affection that you have for the characters is completely lost.  These are Muppets that have been destroyed and deformed to reflect modern Hollywood's own disgusting image.  The Muppets are now defeated, self-loathing cynics who are emotionally broken and use humor as an outlet of their frustration and rage.

And now that frustration and rage has warped into the nigh-pornographic Happy Time Murders.  Brian Henson has ground the legacy into a putrid concoction of vulgarity. 

"I guess people don't like the Muppets anymore."


We love the Muppets.  We love Star Wars!  We love the MCU!  We love comic books!

We just don't want a bunch of King Krusties "improving" the things we love by destroying the things we love about them.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Film Review: Crazy Rich Asians

Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence No Objection
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

Crazy Rich Asians is a by-the-numbers romantic comedy that never achieves anything ground-breaking but delivers a diverting and enjoyable two hours at the movies.

The film is about Rachel (Constance Wu), a Chinese woman raised in America who is dating Nick (Henry Golding).  Nick is going to be the best man at wedding at his home in Singapore.  Along the way, Rachel learns that Nick is actually the heir apparent to the wealthiest family on the island.  She becomes overwhelmed by the beauty of the city and is incredibly nervous to make a good impression on Nick's mother Eelanor (Michelle Yeoh), who constantly casts an apparent disproving eye on the relationship.  In the meantime, Rachel leans on her old college friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina) and Nick's sister Astrid (Gemma Chan), as she deals with pressures from Eleanor and the several hangers on who see Rachel as a gold-digger.  All the while, Nick also deals with pressure from his family to take over his responsibilities to their collective businesses and fortunes.

One of the great thing about Crazy Rich Asians is that it uses the idiosyncrasies specific to a given culture to say something universal about family and romance.  Rather than being an insular film that only people on the inside of the culture could understand, most of the movie-going public will be able to see their own family dramas play out in some way in what they see on screen.  

Director Jon M. Chu does an excellent job of showing both sides of "crazy rich."  He films Singapore like an island paradise as a modern city of the future that also has pristine, edenic beaches, and an intoxicating mix of culture and cuisine.  If this movie was co-financed by the Singapore Board of Tourism, then they definitely got their money's worth.  But Chu also knows when to make these excesses repulsive either in the ugliness of the spoiled or in the overwhelming nature of living in the harsh spotlight.  The film has a really nice visual story-telling style.  This is on full display when Chu uses a mixture of live-action and animation to show how social media spreads news like wildfire all over the world.

The movie also knows that it needs to give depth when needed, but is not shy about using one-dimensional characters.  Yeoh's Eleanor could have been a simple Monster-in-Law, but she fills her performance with great restraint and pressure.  Eleanor is also living under the judgmental eye of her high matriarchal mother-in-law Ah Ma (Lisa Lu).  Astrid has a complicated relationship with her husband Michael (Pierre Png), who does not come from money.  What could easily have been a story about a rich heiress who does not understand the needs of an everyman, instead took some surprising turns.  But Chu effectively uses Peik Lin and her family, including her father (Ken Jeong), to pepper the film with punchlines that really punch.  They provide an over-the-top humor that some might find a bit annoying, but add a little low-brow comedy to mix in with the wit.

But none of this matters if you don't buy the chemistry between the leads.  Fortunately, Wu and Golding work incredibly well together.  Wu is our entry into this crazy world and she does an amazing job of showing us all of the strong and contradictory emotions that her character experiences in her adventure.  Godling turns the charm up to 11.  He carries with him a strong sense of manners that comes from that upbringing and makes us believe his feelings for Rachel are strong enough to be in competition with his lavish fortune.

As I wrote earlier, the movie taps into that universal dilemma when your romance and your family are at conflicting odds.  One of the things that the movie does well is that it doesn't reduce the problem to a simple choice.  In order for a resolution to occur, all of characters have to grow and mature their understanding of what love is.

The excesses of the movie can move towards the perverse.   One of the groomsmen Bernard (Jimmy O. Yang), throws a bachelor party that is a giant drunken rave/possible orgy.  Thankfully, this never gets too graphic.  

Eleanor is established towards the beginning as a devout Christian, as we see from an early scene with her at Bible study.  But Rachel and Nick are clearly involved in a pre-marital sexual relationship.  While I am grateful that a character's Christian faith is brought up, but not for ridicule, this nevertheless left a bad taste in my mouth.  In a film where our lead characters engage in fornication and we do not know their religious upbringing, I can sometimes bring myself to be less offended by the possibility that these characters were never raised to know that pre-marital sex is wrong.  But when it is very clear that Nick was raised in a religious house-hold, I am saddled with a deep sense of sadness at his rejection of the Christian faith as evidenced by his lifestyle.  Perhaps my distaste is merely my own personal problem, but it still taints my perception of their relationship knowing that he chose sex over Jesus.

Despite this, Chu and his cast execute a fine and fun romantic comedy.

image by Yasir72.multan

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Film Review: The Meg

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

When you go to the theater to see The Meg, you get what you pay for: dumb characters being chased by a giant shark.

The movie focuses on Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) a former deep water rescue leader who has retired after making a tough call that cost lives.  If that sounds a lot like the beginning of Skyscraper, you're not wrong.  Jonas is called back into action when his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee) has become trapped in a sub below the recorded bottom of one of the world's deepest trenches, which is filled with previously undiscovered aquatic life.  Little did they know that among these sea oddities is the long-thought-extinct megaldon, a gigantic shark that is nearly 100-feet long.  Wacky horror ensues. 

One of the surprising things about this movie is the number of quality actors who are in it.  Rain Wilson plays Morris, the eccentric billionaire who is funding this deep-sea expedition.  Cliff Curtis is Mac, one of the overseers of the project.  BingBing Li plays Suyin a brilliant scientist/single mother who butts heads often with Taylor of how to proceed.  You also notice other semi-familiar faces like Ruby Rose (from John Wick Chapter 2) and Masi Oka (from the TV show Heroes).  Their presence makes for a fun game of "Oh, Hey, I Know That Actor From Somewhere" while watching.

And fun is the biggest selling point of The Meg.  It never quite tries to be more than it is.  We know that you can make a masterpiece like Jaws from shark movies, but The Meg is never this ambitious.  It's only goal is to give cheap thrills and it delivers for the most part. 

There are plenty of opportunities for The Meg to give us real horror and suspense.  The settings at sea make for the perfect sense of vulnerability.  It is difficult to think of a more vulnerable position in nature than to be swimming in the presence of a shark.  But instead of tapping deeply into this primal fear, director Jon Turtletaub goes for the quick shock, followed by action movie sequences.  

This is where Statham's presence as a leading man becomes a mixed bag.  There is a reason that Brody and not Quint was the main character in Jaws.  Statham's stoic machismo never quite registers the panic and fear that should be transferred to the audience.  When told that he must swim out to the large shark to tag it with a tracker, Statham is filled with eye-rolling annoyance, rather than pee-down-your-leg terror.  But his hyper-masculine presence is just the right side of ridiculous to create a strangely entertaining absurd tone to the whole film that a movie like Deep Blue Sea never achieved, while not devolving completely into Sharknado territory.  The other actors provide for some nice comic moments, especially Wilson, but they never achieve anything very memorable.

That silliness works sporadically.  When we see the giant shark approach a beach full of vacationers, it's over-the-top nature sails along well.  But there are times when the main heroes behave so stupidly that you have to fight the urge at one point not to scream at the screen.  One moment had me so frustrated where one character is knocked off of a boat.  Just a few minutes earlier there were swarms of sharks in those waters.  But instead of insanely paddling back to the ship, he floats there for a few moments and laughs.  I cannot imagine anyone human being who has ever lived behaving in this way, except that the script needed for it to happen.

This silliness means that there is a great lack of tension in most of the chase sequences.  Instead of feeling afraid, we are meant to be thrilled by the visual spectacle on the screen.  And while that spectacle is adequate, it is by no means great.

The Meg might be larger in size to Jaws, but it will be much smaller in your memory.

image by Yasir72.multan

Monday, August 20, 2018

New Evangelizers Post: Reflections on Humanae Vitae Part III: Paul's Prophecy

I have a new article up at  

There are many reasons that Paul VI, the author of the papal encyclical <em>Humanae Vitae</em>,  will soon be canonized as a saint.  For today’s article, I would like to focus on one particular element that may have been a factor: Paul VI was a prophet.

He was a prophet in the theological sense as someone who speaks the Word of God, especially to a world of men that would mostly reject it.  But he was also a prophet in the common understanding of the term as someone who predicts the future accurately.  In <em>Humanae Vitae</em>, Paul VI predicts three consequences of accepting artificial contraception into our culture. 

1.The Destruction of Marriage

Paul VI writes “Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.” (<em>Humanae Vitae</em>, 17)

Let us deal with the first point: the destruction of marriage.  As Paul points out, human beings are very susceptible to temptation.  And I think human experience can tell us that for many, the lure of lustful pleasures can be very powerful, if not overwhelming.  I believe that Our Lady of Fatima said something akin to the idea that most souls go to hell because of sins of the flesh not because they are the worst but because they are the most frequent.  

Marriage requires sexual fidelity to your spouse.  As the years progress, as the flame of romantic love tends to cool between the spouses, the temptation is common.  One or both spouses may begin to connect on an emotional level with someone else or they could just experience plain animal lust for another.  In the past, fear of pregnancy could be a strong deterrent against these affairs.  With the introduction of contraception, that fear is removed.

To be clear, someone who refrains from cheating only because he or she does not want to get caught is not someone who is living the marriage ideal.  But introducing contraceptive will make that ideal harder to reach.  And if we make it easier by lowering this moral standard, as Paul says, then marriages will be destroyed with all of the negative consequences that has to the spouses and the children.

2. The Objectification of Women

You can read the whole article here.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Film Flash: Crazy Rich Asians

15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Pleasant rom-com that feels like a 2-hour commercial from the Singapore Board of Tourism.

image by Yasir72.multan