Friday, September 07, 2018

Movie Reviews: Crazy Rich Asians, Destination Wedding, I Feel Pretty, The Wife, Won't You Be My Neighbor

See all of my movie reviews.

Crazy Rich Asians: This was surprisingly good, considering the trailers. Not great, but good. it's about an American Chinese economics professor who goes to meet her boyfriend's Chinese family in Singapore. She soon discovers that his family is very, very rich, and that his mother doesn't think an American Chinese woman belongs in the family.

From the trailer, I expected this to be stupid, marketed only on the basis of having an all-Asian cast of comedians. Thankfully, this was not the case. I guess because a) trailers are often put together by idiots, and b) it came from a rather decent novel, which I have not yet read.

Like Me Before You, I am now interested in reading the novel. This movie is a little Jane Austeny - nowhere on that caliber - but interesting, with characters and confrontations that seem to have something to say. It works, I feel, almost in spite of itself. It looks like the director/screenwriter tried to cut it down to something resembling a Me Before You, but couldn't quite cut everything.

There are throwaway characters who I suspect have far more dept and character in the book; here they are stand-up comics doing two or three minutes of material. And there is a plot so tired and retread as to make any tension non-existent. But ... but the main characters have something to them, and they do a few things that make you feel that the plot is more than just something on which to hang comedy. I suspect that the book highlights these parts and makes them more prominent.

It is well acted, other than some of the comedy bits which seem out of place. There are scenes of sumptuous foods and wealth, as one would expect from the title. And a few too many party scenes. But fun and - nearly - satisfying. As for the fact that it had an all-Asian cast, well, duh. Like Black Panther, this doesn't prove anything. Any idiot already knew that an ethnic cast could lead a movie that contains ethnic story overtones and interactions. Any idiot should also know that the same people could be main characters in any, generic movie, but apparently there are a lot of people who are not yet as smart as just any idiots.

Destination Wedding: This was a surprisingly great movie. Lindsay (Winona Ryder) and Frank (Keanu Reeves) are the ex-fiance and the estranged brother of a guy getting married. They don't want to be there, don't like the groom, don't like the bride, or the place, or the airline, or the food, or each other, or themselves. And so they snark and insult their way through 90 minutes of screen-time. Literally no one else in the movie talks: it's just Lindsay and Frank. They are both so vile and bitter that even the usual rom-com tropes are subverted: they know that they should end up together, but they refuse to allow it to happen.

This movie follows in the tradition of the Before series of movies, as well as other heavy dialog movies. It's not quite as good as a Before movie, which had a more wide-ranging series of discussions and characters who were a little (a lot) less jaded. The movie is smart with snarky dialog and has some interesting things to say about relationships, self-worth, decency, obligation, and so forth. It's often very funny. I had a blast and really want to see it again.

Yes, they are miserable. Unlike the real misery that repelled me in movies like Logan and Three Billboards, these guys are funny-miserable, so it's fun to watch.

I Feel Pretty: This movie has a great message, or it pretends to, anyway: don't let what you look like rob you of your confidence. And Amy Schumer has certainly been known to be funny ... sometimes, and in small doses. This one is a disaster.

The movie has no artistry: Amy's character is supposed to feel bad about her looks, so she writes ten scenes in a row with her looking in a mirror with disappointment and people insulting her looks in various ways. It's so straightforward and artless that it is painful to watch. Compare this to the exact same message that Anne Hathaway conveys in The Devil Wears Prada and you see what I mean: Anne's lack of self-worth derives from the story around it and the occasional barbs thrown at her in passing, not ten flat scenes of "you're ugly". And let's not forget that Amy is not unattractive; she is a plus size, but she is not a flat blob and she is also perky and white with good skin. So the premise is a stretch.

Amy wakes up after a head injury believing that she is now beautiful (although her body hasn't changed, and no one else knows what she is talking about), and with her new head injury she confidently strides her way into the job and relationship she wants, while everyone else looks on in a) disbelief, b) with amusement, or c) with respect at her confidence based on nothing outwardly visible.

Her head injury also, apparently, causes her to become completely social unaware of what everyone else thinks, says, or does, causes her to steamroll over every conversation without listening to anyone, causes her to be cruel to everyone else, and somehow causes everyone else to respect her, despite the fact that she is still a complete klutz and idiot. One scene of this is tolerable; the same scene of her talking over people and insulting them, over and over and over and over and over is wearying, and eventually very very unfunny.

What's worse is that the entire point of the movie is that what's inside counts, not what's outside, but she ends up working for and being spokesman for a beauty company, which defeats the entire damn point. Crassness is one thing, artless is another. I really tried, but I couldn't tolerate more than half of the movie.

The Wife: A decent but not not great movie with great acting and an unambitious and uncomplicated fictional plot. Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce star as Joan and Joe Castleman. They, their son, and a nosy, persistent journalist travel to Sweden so that Joe can get the Nobel prize for literature, The son is behaving like a spoiled teenager (he is supposed to be in his thirties) and the journalist is writing a book about Joe and suggesting some possible problems with his past.

It doesn't descend into something deep, dark, and criminal, like an action thriller. It's just a question of authorship, validity, and respect. This movie is reminiscent of the far superior Big Eyes, a true story that made it quite clear early on that a supposed genius was passing his wife's art off as his own. This movie, entirely fiction, gives us the revelation further into the movie, and handles it badly. The movie doesn't have anything new or interesting to say and also doesn't maintain much tension, other than who will get mad at whom, when, and how much. It is an acting exercise, which is a waste of time, since neither Close nor Pryce need to prove how well they can act.

Admittedly, if Big Eyes didn't exist, I might give this more of a break. As it is, I can't recommend it, but lovers of the actors or of acting scenes will enjoy it. It's really not all that bad. My particular non-enjoyment comes from the son, who is just too miserable throughout the movie, and the odious behavior of one of the other main characters, which drove me to distraction.

Won't You Be My Neighbor: Growing up I didn't like Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood too much, since it was slow, the production was rather low, and puppets on television didn't excite me. As an adult, I have watched videos of Fred Rogers, including his speech defending public television and some of his great moments (such as telling a room full of celebrities to think about, in total silence, who got them to where they are today, and so forth). These videos move me. I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for the man. Nevertheless, I'm sure there were many others like me who could not connect to the messages he tried to convey in his TV series, for the reasons that I mentioned.

This biopic movie covers many major stories and facts about him and his philosophy, with only a small amount of material not related to his TV program. I doubt that anyone who never saw the TV show will be interested in it. It is a paean to a simple, slow goodness that seems to be fading away ... that I suspect will always seem to be fading away. There will always be a few great, lovely people with simple messages who lead wholesome lives, even while most of us are consumed by the latest glitz, glamour, gossip, guns, or sensationalist brawls that pass for entertainment or debate. I think it is great to be reminded about better values, at least once in a while. Of course, if we go right back to the guns and brawls, it doesn't come to much.

As a movie, it was okay. It is riveting if you find his personality riveting. Not much, otherwise.