FlixChatter Review: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Ok so first, a confession. Even though my bestie had lent me her book of Kevin Kwan‘s Crazy Rich Asians over a month ago, telling me to read it before the movie opened, I didn’t get a chance to do so. I finally started reading it right after I got home from the advanced screening… and suffice to say I’ve become a bit obsessed with anything CRA. In the weeks following to its release, the buzz has been strong, and it keeps building up steadily. Naturally, being that I’m likely the only Southeast Asian film blogger here in town (as well as one of the few SE Asian filmmakers), I can’t help feeling giddy about this movie.

A bunch of reports surrounding this movie has pointed out that it’s been 25 years since Joy Luck Club was released that we have a big studio-backed Hollywood film based on a book by an Asian author, featuring a mostly East-Asian cast, and directed by an Asian director. It’s impossible to dispute the historical importance of this movie in terms of representation, which comes at the perfect time as there’s growing pressure in Hollywood to feature greater diversity on screen. For me personally, it feels incredible to see so many characters who look like me reflected on the big screen!

But setting all of that aside, every film still has to be judged on its merit. Yes, it’s an important film, but is it any good?

Well I’m happy to report that (borrowing from Ken Jeong‘s line in the movie) HELLS YEAH! It’s perhaps the best rom-coms I’ve seen in a good long while. It has the exact mix of romance AND comedy, wrapped in a lavish, colorful and vibrant concoction. It’s extravagant surely, over the top even, but the ‘go big or go home’ sensibility seems appropriate here. Can love actually conquers all? When the economic and social class is SO wide, would true love suffice?

The film’s protagonist is Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a NYU economics professor whose life is about to be turned upside down when her dreamy boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) takes her to Singapore to attend his bestie’s wedding. Somehow Nick’s been able to conceal the fact that his family is not just rich or filthy rich, but crazy rich. But thanks to an astute family acquaintance who eavesdropped when he was at a Manhattan, everyone in his social circle learn that Nick is coming home with his girlfriend in tow. I love the way director Jon M. Chu showcases the way the news goes viral on screen, which serves as a way to display local flavor in its expression, i.e. alamak which is an expression akin to OMG used by Malay and Singaporean people.

As someone who wasn’t born in the US but came here for college, I feel like I’m always in two worlds, never quite belonging anywhere. So Rachel’s fish-out-of-water story strikes a chord with me, and Wu deftly displays a sense of alienation in her performance. Soon she realizes who she’s dealing with. ‘I didn’t know you’re like the Prince William of Asia,’ she tells Nick, to which he quickly replies, ‘Oh don’t be ridiculous, I’m more of a Harry.’ The timing couldn’t be more perfect for this fairy tale, given we just saw Prince Harry married ‘commoner’ Meghan Markle just this past Spring. In many ways, CRA follows the familiar tropes of a rom-com, yet Chu and writers Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim manages to transcend the genre with astute social class commentary. It’s Cinderella meets Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, but yet maintain its own uniqueness in terms of voice and style.

Wu and Golding has a sweet, charming chemistry together that makes you root for them to be together. It’s a crucial ingredient in any rom-com which this movie gets right. As the breakout star of Fresh Off The Boat, Wu seems like the natural choice, but casting Golding, an unknown talent who’s never acted before in a film, is a brave move that pays off amazingly. The British-Malaysian former travel presenter is easy on the eyes with a killer smile, even killer voice, and has that Classic Hollywood look about him. I call him the Asian Gregory Peck. I’m curious to see him in other roles in the future, certainly a fresh new leading man we could use more of in Hollywood.

The movie also benefits from a plethora of memorable supporting characters. Michelle Yeoh is perfectly icy as Nick’s strictly-principled and dutiful mother. Her resentment towards Rachel is more than just cattiness, and even when she’s at her most severe, I can’t help but sympathize with her. I have to say I can’t get enough of Awkwafina as Rachel’s hysterical bestie Peik Lin. I feel like she barely had any screen time as the token Asian character in Ocean’s 8, so I’m glad to see her show her comedic chops to perfection here. She and the notoriously farcical Ken Jeong as Peik Lin’s dad provide some of the funniest bits in the movie. The makeover scene with Nick’s ‘rainbow sheep of the family’ cousin Oliver (Nico Santos) is a hoot! All the ladies playing Nick’s relatives also provide a ton of comic relief. I do have to mention Lisa Lu as Ah Ma, Nick’s powerful grandma, who often reminds me of my own.

I absolutely adore the luminous Gemma Chan as Nick’s fave cousin/confidante Astrid. In houte couture, the jet-setting heiress is the epitome of elegance, grace and sophistication. Her crumbling marriage to her handsome-but-not-so-rich husband (Pierre Png) sends a not-so-subtle message that nobody’s life is perfect and even the ultra rich have problems like the rest of us. Chan’s performance is tinged with the right amount of poignancy and melancholy.

This movie lives up to its title in more ways than one. Obviously the set pieces, costumes, cars, palatial houses, etc. potently gives us a glimpse of how the crazy rich live. Then there’s the obnoxiously-crazy behaviors of Nick’s relatives, especially the imbecile frat-boys led by Bernard (Jimmy O. Yang). Nick practically has to escape the outrageous, hedonistic bachelor party with his groom-to-be BFF Colin (Chris Pang) which leads to a rare quiet moment in the movie.

The sheer absurdity of the crazy rich lifestyle is not lost on the filmmakers, as they unabashedly poke fun at them with zippy one-liners. There’s even a hilarious line poking fun of Donald Trump’s bathroom. The movie does an amazing job in showing the class structures within the rich society, something that Rachel isn’t at all familiar with. It’s as if we, the general audience, is living vicariously through her as she’s trying to navigate her way in this ultra-exclusive club.

What I admire most about this movie is that, amidst the world of high fashion and dizzying parties, the richly-drawn characters remain front and center. Despite the razzle-dazzle glamor, it never feels like the movie is style-over-substance because we’re always reminded of what’s at stake. The filmmakers did a good job to make me feel invested in Rachel & Nick’s story, as well as in their respective families’. The mahjong scene towards the end is an emotional one that packs so much cultural & personal significance, down to that one quick glance between the two mothers. I appreciate that Kwan’s book and the movie portray various multi-dimensional, complex women with formidable inner strength. It’s one of the rare rom-coms that is not about the girl chasing the boy, but a girl finding her self worth.

But you can’t review this movie without mentioning the amazing visuals. It’s really a treat for the senses. The cinematography by Vanja Cernjul is breathtakingly beautiful. I haven’t been in Singapore in years and it looks like a fantasy land in this movie. The music by Brian Tyler is fun, energetic but also romantic. In fact, I was enjoying the soundtrack on youtube as I was writing my review. I love Kina Grannis‘s gorgeous cover of Can’t Help Falling in Love during the wedding scene.

I don’t usually say much about box office numbers in my review. But I am SO rooting for this film to do well. Obviously, all the studio execs see is green, so there’s a lot at stake in terms of its box office performance whether they’d think it’s viable business to have make Hollywood movies with predominantly Asian cast like this one. I honestly believe the success of this movie would have a big impact in diversity and inclusion in storytelling, not just for Asians but for every content creator, talents and moviegoers of color.

On top of its historical significance, Crazy Rich Asians is a great movie, period. I laughed, I cried, sometimes both at the same time. Thanks Jon M. Chu and the phenomenal cast, it’s such a joyful experience that’s both funny AND romantic. I sure hope there’ll be a trilogy just like the books!


Have you seen Crazy Rich Asians yet? I’d love to hear what you think!
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FlixChatter Review – The Meg (2018)

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The Meg, short for “megalodon,” refers to a massive prehistoric shark dwelling below what scientists initially believed to be the ocean floor. When a team of explorers is trapped in their submarine and at the mercy of the enormous creature, it’s up to disgraced deep-sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) to save them.

On a scale of Jaws to Sharknado, this movie is closer to the latter half. The acting quality is mixed. Leading man Statham is pretty much what you would expect. We see his abs. We have trouble understanding what he says in his gravelly voice and thick British accent. He gives a fun performance, if not necessarily memorable. Bingbing Li is a great leading lady as Suyin; she gives a genuine, dynamic, likable perfomance. The supporting cast is mostly decent, especially the delightful Page Kennedy as DJ, who has some solid comedic timing, but Ruby Rose as Jaxx is painfully boring; she’s always cast as the sarcastic cool girl and gives the same one-note performance every time, and this role is no exception. The one time she has to show any real emotion is embarrassingly bad; she has the least convincing “crying” face I have ever seen.

The movie is also a mess writing-wise, mostly due to sloppy pacing. At first it seems like the focus will be on rescuing the trio (Jessica McNamee as Lori, Masi Oka as Toshi, and Olafur Darri Olafsson as The Wall), but that is resolved surprisingly quickly and the focus shifts to finding and killing the shark, which you think will be the focus for the rest of the movie, but then (spoiler warning: highlight to read) they kill it barely over halfway through the movie only to discover there’s a second meg!

It’s a pretty lame twist to begin with, but to introduce it so far from the ending is extra weird. It would have been more effective if they had made the rescue mission at the beginning longer; not only does spending more time in the isolated setting make the conflict more suspenseful, but making it longer would help balance the “hunt and kill” portion of the story.

All that said, The Meg is visually impressive. The CGI is excellent and believable, thanks in large part to mostly showing the shark in quick, brief shots or extremely close up or in shadowy underwater shots, so it’s easy to forget it’s computer-animated. The deep sea environment is beautifully haunting and imaginative without feeling unrealistic. While releasing so many feature films in IMAX often feels overdone, it’s absolutely warranted in this case, because the visuals are so much more breathtaking.

While The Meg is by no means a brilliant movie, it’s still a cool one to see on the big screen. If you enjoy cheesy action flicks and well-done CGI, you’ll like this one.

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Have you seen ‘The Meg’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: The Darkest Minds (2018)

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Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Writer: Chad Hodge
Running Time: 1h 44min

Review by: Vitali Gueron

When you think of good movies that were adapted from young adult novels, you should think of The Hunger Games films, the Divergent series and The Maze Runner trilogy. Unfortunately, you should not be thinking of the subpar movie The Darkest Minds, directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, written by Chad Hodge and based on Alexandra Bracken‘s young adult novel of the same name. This movie is not evenly-paced, full of post-apocalyptic/dystopian clichés and has a very cheesy teenage romance.

The movie starts off in near-future version of America where children suddenly begin dying off from a mysterious disease. The few that do survive have some kind of enhanced/supernatural abilities, and they’re color-coded according to their creepy glowing eyes. Some are deemed safe by the government — greens have a heightened intelligence, blues have telekinetic powers, and yellows can control electricity. But a few are too dangerous to keep alive – reds that can start fires and a select few who are orange, meaning they can control minds. The government imprisons the greens, blues and yellows and kills off the reds and oranges (with the exception of a few that are kept alive to be used for the government’s diabolical methods).

The main character in the movie is Ruby Daly (Amandla Stenberg) who has orange glowing eyes, but convinces a doctor that she is actually green, meaning that she is not killed but rather imprisoned to a child labor camp – which is unsurprisingly a total bummer. She gets smuggled out of the camp by a strange doctor named Cate Connor (Mandy Moore) who is a member of a group that fights against the government’s policies. Ruby does not believe her and escapes to find a group of three teens who just had escaped from another child labor camp – blue Liam (played by Harris Dickinson, who looks way too old to be a teenager), green Chubs (Skylan Brooks) and yellow Zu (Miya Cech). The four set off to find a secret camp, run by Clancy Gray (Patrick Gibson), who is the president’s son – a supposed good guy who helps escaped teenagers and shelters them away for government soldiers – and is also the only other known orange alive.

Unsurprisingly, Ruby and Liam’s relationship begins to take off just in time for her to be seduced by the orange-eyed Clancy along with his unclear motives. By this point in the movie, the story is flying ahead at warp speed, and before we realize what just happened, there are government soldiers working under Clancy, who’ve captured most runaway kids at the camp. Somehow Ruby manages to escape the government trap but her group with Liam, Chubs and Zu gets split up and one member sustains life-threatening injuries rescuing Ruby. Next thing we know, Ruby is back with Doctor Cate, making a deal to spare Liam’s life. Because of the movie’s uneven pacing, our heroes move rapidly from one conflict to the next without properly ramping up or down the tension.

I don’t know what’s worst about The Darkest Minds – the way too much time given to the film’s corny romance or the underdeveloped story that has predictable twists come far too quickly to make you feel invested. Since this movie is based on a book series by Alexandra Bracken, it naturally suggests that several movie sequels are to follow. My recommendation for the studio is to cut its losses and forget about even considering a sequel. And my recommendation for potential viewers is to save almost two-hours of your life by avoiding this movie. If you are looking for a good movie that was adapted from young adult novel, try re-watching The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner. Don’t bother wasting your time by watching this movie – even if you are in the target demographic of being a young adult. Or you can watch the 2011 Diablo Cody-written comedy Young Adult, starring Charlize Theron.


Have you seen ‘The Darkest Minds’? Well, what did you think? 

Rental Pick: LOVING VINCENT (2017)

In a story depicted in oil painted animation, a young man comes to the last hometown of painter Vincent van Gogh to deliver the troubled artist’s final letter and ends up investigating his final days there.

Billed as the world’s first fully painted animation feature, naturally each scene is worth framing. It’s a gorgeous film that leaves my mouth agape as I kept wondering ‘how did they do THAT?’ Well, per IMDb trivia, each of the film’s 65,000 frames is an oil painting on canvas, using the same technique as Van Gogh himself, created by a team of 100 painters. It’s fitting then that title is Loving Vincent as his art was treated with such care.

Now, the story itself surprised me. I didn’t know much about Van Gogh but the ‘fact’ that he killed himself in his 30s was well-known. But did he actually commit suicide? The film traced the last days of Vincent’s life through the eyes of a young man (Douglas Booth), who happens to be the son of Vincent’s postman. The film’s filled with plenty of familiar faces (at least to me as I’m into British shows/films) portraying people in Vincent’s life (Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Eleanor Tomlinson and her Poldark‘s co-star Aidan Turner).

Written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, it’s really quite an endeavor and astonishing to behold. It’s not the strongest film in terms of narrative however, but still it’s an incredible feat to accomplish. It’s quite something to want to tell an artist’s story through his painting, to actually do it–and done it well–is astounding. Well-deserved of its Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations, I was also rooting for it to win an Oscar in Best Animated Feature category. It’s definitely a must-see for art fans or really anyone up for something you’ve never seen before.

Loving Vincent left me in awe of Van Gogh’s talents but also saddened by his troubled life. I think most artistic genius are tortured souls and he’s definitely one of them.


Have you seen Loving Vincent? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review – Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)

The Mission: Impossible film franchise is one of the few that somehow got better and better after its third sequel struggle to make a dent at the box office. Not only did the later sequels were financially successful, they’re also critically darlings. Looking at Rottentomatoes.com, Mission: Impossible 4-6 received mid to high 90% rating.

After a mission gone wrong and three nuclear missile heads are in the hands of a new group of terrorists known as The Apostles, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his teammates Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) must retrieve the weapons. When Hunt was getting an intel briefing from his boss Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), as to where he can find the nuclear weapons, they’re both got interrupted by a new CIA director Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett). Sloan is upset that the IMF team lost the nuclear heads and insists that her agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) must go with Ethan to retrieve them.

First on their task is to capture and impersonate a man named John Lark (Liang Yang) and meet with a mysterious woman named White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), in Paris who has the connection to the Apostles. But when Hunt and Walker met with White Widow, she insisted that they must break out an international terrorist and Hunt’s nemesis Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) from prison or they won’t get the nuclear weapons. Of course this complicates the mission but both Hunt and Walker went along and helped Lane escaped. Along the way, Hunt ran into an old friend Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). She’s also has her own mission and that is to eliminate Lane for good. Well, things never go as planned and Hunt must use all of his skills to try to save the world from chaos and also save those who he cares about.

For the first time in franchise history, the same director and writer Christopher McQuarrie of the previous film has returned and take charge of this new mission. To my surprise, McQuarrie has exceeded what he created in the last picture. He crafted a complexed storyline that’s full of twists, drama, humor and big action sequences. By hiring new crew members, notably a new cinematographer and composer, he was able to differentiate this film from the last one. It’s clearly that he used Nolan’s The Dark Knight as his inspiration for this outing. The film even contains a big chase that’s very similar to a chase sequence from The Dark Knight. A big bathroom brawl, a spectacular motorcycle and car chase through the streets of Paris and a helicopter chase are the highlights of the set pieces.

Cinematographer Rob Hardy is having a good year. He shot the excellent Annihilation for Alex Garland earlier this year and again for this film, he did a tremendous job. This film contains so many wide shots in the series since Woo’s Mission: Impossible 2. This is good because we the audience can actually see the action and not trying to figure out what’s going on super chaotic scenes. Shout out also goes to composer Lorne Balfe who apparently is the understudy of Hans Zimmer. So, of course this film’s score sounds like it’s was composed by Zimmer. There’s still the well know Mission: Impossible theme but Balfe made it sounded like something very original. Just a little trivia, Hans Zimmer did compose a Mission: Impossible film, he worked on the second one.

With three box office bombs in a row, Cruise poured all of his performance into this film. He did the usual crazy stunts but was willing to show his character’s age and flaws by having him get his ass whooped a few times in the film. The rest of the cast members were pretty good too. I was afraid Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust might just be nothing more than a cameo but her role was an integral part of the story and as usual she saved Hunt’s life couple of times in the film. Simon and Luthor didn’t really have much to do except to be comic relief. Luther did have a touching scene with Ilsa, I really liked that scene. I liked the addition of Alec Balwin’s character and he even got involved in one action scene with the team members. Bassett and Cavill were a nice addition and I hope we see more of Bassett’s character in the next Mission film. Kirby’s White Widow is an interesting character and I thought she played the role quite well even though she didn’t get a lot of screen time.

Having seen the film twice already, I can declare Fallout is the best Mission: Impossible film yet. It’s full of humor, great tensions and spectacular actions sequences. If there’s an IMAX, Dolby Cinema or other large vendor theater near you, go see it there. It’s definitely my favorite film of the summer and maybe even of the year.


So have you seen Mission Impossible: Fallout? Well, what did YOU think?

Music Break: ABBA’s songs in Mamma Mia!

Happy midweek everyone! It’s kind of a sleepy Wednesday even though just exactly a week ago I was extremely busy casting for my upcoming short film project, Master Servant. It was my first time holding auditions (as I didn’t have to do that Hearts Want) and let’s just say it was quite an experience. I have even more appreciation for actors (especially working actors) and what they have to go through to land a part.

In any case, well I saw Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again last week… it had been such a whirlwind few weeks that I needed a crowd-pleaser type of movie and it definitely did the trick. It’s funny but when the original first came out, I didn’t even bother to see it and wasn’t really interested. But my friend in San Diego has the DVD so I ended up watching it when I visited her. I actually grew up listening to ABBA (who’s my brother’s fave) and it was fun nostalgia hearing the catchy tunes once again. As for the movie, well I don’t think it would’ve worked at all without ABBA’s music to be honest. It’s the kind of contagiously rousing songs you can’t help but being drawn to it, heck the songs have been stuck in my head for days since I saw the sequel! Plus having Meryl Streep and a pretty phenomenal cast doesn’t hurt. Amanda Seyfried is pretty good as Sophie (Streep’s daughter) but it’s Julie Walters and Christine Baranski who’s truly light up the screen. I wish we all had them as our besties!

Oh and the scenery!! Honestly, I was gawking at the amazing Greek islands (filmed on location on Skopelos, Skiathos and Damouhari Pelion) which surely have become a major tourist attraction now thanks to the movie. Who hasn’t fantasized living in such a incredible place, running a hotel with your handsome boyfriend and your three dads consist of Mr. Darcy, James Bond and Thor’s Dr. Selvig?? I mean, come on!!

Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård and Pierce Brosnan as Sophie’s three dads

It’s the kind of movie to just put off your thinking caps and be ready to groove! So here are some of my fave songs and/or scenes from the original and the sequel:

Ok yes it’s a silly movie, but I couldn’t help but tearing up a bit hearing this rendition of The Winner Takes It All (darn you Meryl!)

Donna looked so believably devastated in this scene… I wish the sequel had more oomph in showing her romance with Sam in the flashback scene. I feel like this scene in the original was far more emotional than the entire scene of young Donna & Sam in the sequel.

Oh man, what an end credits!! Such a hoot to see all the three dads in full disco gear. Looks like the entire cast had such a great time making this that they totally went all out in the bohemian spirit of the movie!!

I’ve been a fan of Lily James since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Cinderella, she’s instantly likable and apparently this girl can sing! I actually like her rendition of this melancholy song… yeah she’s my current girl crush.

I really, really enjoyed this scene and the song Why Did It Have To Be Me. I adore Lily James as young Donna (not an easy task playing the young version of a character originally played by Meryl Streep, but she did a fine job!) and Josh Dylan (young Bill) is my fave of the three young actors.

Well one of the highlights of the sequel is Cher (natch!)… and her fans would likely NOT be disappointed. She only appears at the end but her rendition of Fernando (a duet with Andy Garcia), as teased in all the promos, is pretty darn amusing.


Hope you enjoy this Music Break. Well, which ABBA song(s) is your favorite?

FlixChatter Review: EQUALIZER 2 (2018)

With such a long and successful career, it’s hard to believe that Denzel Washington has never starred in a sequel until now. The first Equalizer film was a modest success at the box office, but I didn’t think it warrants a sequel. But then again, this is an era in Hollywood when every movie can be turned into a franchise.

Retired secret agent Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) still lives under the radar and uses his special skills to help the helpless. As the story begins, he rescued a little girl from her evil father and returned her to her mother. After the successful mission, McCall is back in Boston where he works as a Lyft driver. He lives a mundane life and try to stay out of the limelight as much as possible. One day he was notified that his friend and ex-colleague Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) was murdered while investigating an assassination of an asset who worked for the CIA. He realized someone from his past is trying to get rid of his teammates and he must use his skills to find out who’s responsible. He enlisted the help of his old partner Dave York (Pedro Pascal) and the two must work together again to find out who’s behind the killings.

Written by Richard Wenk, who also wrote the first film, the story is pretty straightforward. There aren’t any surprises or anything that hasn’t been done in this kind of genre. There are couple of subplots that didn’t really add much to the narrative. One involves McCall trying to help an old man reunite with is long lost sister and the other involves him trying to help his young neighbor kid from gang violence. These two subplots just slowed down the main plot of the story and made the film a lot longer than it should’ve been.

With not much of a deep plot, you’d think director Antoine Fuqua would fill the void with big action scenes after another, but surprisingly the film lacks big thrills. The film contains only couple of fight scenes and a big climatic sequence that takes place during a hurricane. Now I don’t know if Fuqua couldn’t get enough money to shoot more action scenes or he just wanted to make this one more of low key action film. I do have to give shout out to director of photography Oliver Wood, who I think is very underrated, this film looks pretty great. The aforementioned hurricane sequence was one of the best shot action scenes I’ve ever seen. He and Fuqua did a great job of combining practical effects and CGI.

Washington again commands the screen and he’s great as usual. He’s able to convey a character who has all these special skills and willing to help people, but his personal life is nothing special. Here’s a man who’s trying to escape his past and trying to atone for whatever he did by helping others, but he can’t seem to help himself. The rest of actors were kind of just there to fill the screen so Washington to interact with. None of the supporting cast members stood out to me.

The film is way too long and needed better pacing. Hopefully for the third sequel, they can come up with a better story and give us more action. I still enjoyed this one, just like the first film, I don’t have the urge to see it again anytime soon.

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So have you seen EQUALIZER 2? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: SKYSCRAPER (2018)

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Review by Vitali Gueron

I was eagerly anticipating the release of the movie Skyscraper, partially because it is not a sequel and it is one of only a few blockbusters coming out this summer that aren’t part of a franchise. The movie is written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber and stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Will Sawyer, an amputee who is forced to save his family from terrorists inside a burning building. Sawyer walks with a prosthetic leg due to a hostage situation gone wrong that costs Sawyer his leg while working as an FBI agent. This is how the movie opens, and in all places, a fictitious remote town in Minnesota in the middle of winter.

We next see Sawyer 10 years later, as a security expert consulting for the Hong Kong skyscraper known as “The Pearl.” The structure is billed as the tallest building in the world, easily eclipsing the real life tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and nearly tripling the height of the Empire State Building in New York City, at a height of over 3,500 feet. The signature touch of the building is the spherical object at the crest of the tower, looking just like a freshly-plucked, shiny pearl form the bottom of the sea. Sawyer also brings his family to Hong Kong, including his wife Sarah (played by Neve Campbell) and two grade school children. They are put up in the yet-to-opened residential section of The Pearl, on the 98th floor of the gigantic building. While Sawyer gets ready for his security presentation to The Pearl’s owner Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), along with his fellow former FBI agent Ben (Pablo Schreiber) who has set up the meeting, his wife and kids set off to visit the famous local panda bears of Hong Kong.

When Ben leads Sawyer to an offsite apartment in Hong Kong, we realize what Ben’s true intentions are and soon enough we realize that he is not on our side. Speaking of bad guys, we are introduced to a team of villains, led by the menacing Kores Botha (Roland Moller), who have broken in to the building with highly flammable chemicals and intend to steal something belonging to Zhao Long Ji inside his penthouse, 220 stories above ground level. The situation intensifies when Sawyer’s wife Sarah calls him to tell him that they’ve returned to The Pearl after one of his kids wasn’t feeling well. When Botha’s men ignite the highly flammable chemicals on the building’s 90th floor, and manager to turn off the building’s fire suppression system, Sawyer’s family becomes trapped on the 98th floor of a burning skyscraper in the middle of Hong Kong Island. It is then up to Sawyer to return to the skyscraper and try to rescue his family before the whole building is engulfed in flames.

This is when the movie begins to completely fall of the rails as Dwayne Johnson scales a nearby construction crane – over 90 floors and without a harness – and uses the crane’s hook to break a window of the nearby skyscraper so that he can swing in – or jump inside the building, all while being chased by and shot at by the Hong Kong police who actually think he is the bad guy (I guess they’ve never seen a Dwayne Johnson movie). At times, the movie looks more like a modern day Die Hard with explosive sequences rather than a situation where it could potentially happen. But the character Will Sawyer is no John McClane, and as the action gets increasingly absurd, most of the suspense and excitement dissipates, mostly because it’s clear that neither Sawyer, nor his family are in any real danger. Although, this cannot be said for building owner Zhao Long Ji, who becomes trapped in his penthouse on the 220th floor, and when his security staff is taken out by the team of villains, he has to rely on Will Sawyer to save him. Don’t worry! The billionaire owner of The Pearl knows who to trust at the end of the day.

While Dwayne Johnson has been relatively successful in his recent movies Rampage(see Ted Saydalavong’s review from earlier this year) and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (see my review from last year), Skyscraper becomes just another film that squanders Johnson’s movie-star charisma and witty sense of humor. Apart from a few scenes where Will’s resourceful and bad-ass wife (with just a few on-screen minutes from Neve Campbell) almost single-handedly saves the day, the over-the-top CGI sequences that could have been converted to 3D and added during post production (but were not for whatever reason). The film left me wanting something more than what this scorched skyscraper disaster flick had to offer. The faster they tried to top other films in this genre in terms of sheer spectacle, the harder it became to take seriously, even as Sawyer’s children stay trapped inside the towering inferno (pun intended) facing all but certain doom. I was certain this movie was void of any character, emotion and soul from early on and sadly I was never proven wrong by the end.


Have you seen SKYSCRAPER? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)

I can’t believe it’s been three years since Ant-Man came out. Perhaps because we saw the character in Captain America: Civil War, it felt like I had just seen him recently. This movie actually takes place following the aftermath of Captain America 3, which explains why Ant-Man isn’t fighting with his fellow Avengers in Infinity War.

The immensely likable Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lang and here he grapples with the consequences of being a superhero and a dad. I love the opening sequence of Scott playing with his adorable daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) at his well-equipped home as he’s in house arrest (due to his involvement with the Avengers). He’s only days away of being a free man when suddenly he’s dragged back into his life as Ant-Man and re-team with Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas).

I’m not going to mention what the urgent new mission is, but those who saw the first film could probably guess what it is. Speaking of which, Michelle Pfeiffer shows up as a prominent character and she’s always lovely to watch. I wish the film would just focus more on that storyline, instead of overcrowding it with multiple plots. In fact, one of the main plots involving a ghost named Ava (Hannah John-Kamen) who can phase through objects is so boring and the serious tone feels off compared to the rest of the movie. Thankfully, for the most part Peyton Reed succeeded in creating yet another fun-filled Marvel adventure, thanks to the fantastic cast.

I love that this time Ant-Man sort of play second banana to The Wasp in many ways, especially during the action scenes. Hope is such a take-charge woman-with-a-mission character that she’s a natural born leader, while Scott is always one step behind. The dynamic works well and makes for some hilarious moments. Rudd is such comedic gold, even just him doing ordinary things around the house is funny! I truly can’t imagine anyone else in the role (another spot-on casting that Marvel Studios have done, just like Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man). The supporting cast are a hoot just like the original. I gotta say Randall Park as an FBI agent & Lang’s parole officer and Michael Peña (with his mad rapping style) as one of Lang’s bff/business partners are especially hilarious.

The quantum realm ‘science’ of the shrinking and expanding of the characters is never clear to me but what I love is that this movie knows that full well and uses it to its advantage. “So you just put quantum in front of everything?” Scott Lang quipped at one point during the discussion w/ Hank Pym’s former assistant played by Laurence Fishburne (ahah so now we’ve got Samuel L. Jackson‘s arch rival joining Marvel too, awesome!) I think the movie’s low point is the villains, what’s with Walton Goggins playing yet another lame villain after seeing him in the Tomb Raider reboot. He plays a low-level blue-collar criminal who wants to steal Pym’s technology to sell it on the black market. He’s once again outsmarted by a woman here as his character is absolutely idiotic. That said, and even with the plots and subplots piling up, this movie still moves along at a breezy pace with dynamic action scenes. I don’t normally care for 3D but this time I didn’t mind as it actually looks good.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the action scenes, especially the main chase scene through San Francisco, showcasing some of its landmarks. All of the shrinking and expanding scenes are hilarious and a joy to watch, especially when big Ant-Man rides a pick-up truck like a kiddy scooter! Oh and I’ll never be able to stop giggling every time I hear the name Antonio Banderas now 😛

I gotta hand it to Marvel Studio honcho Kevin Feige, under his leadership the Studio really thrives in creating a plethora of movies that have its own individual style yet ties in as a whole to the Avengers’ story. Like Thor: Ragnarok, this movie is mostly a comedy but more family-friendly instead of the more sardonic style of Taika Waititi’s humor.

The Ant-Man may be tiny but this sequel sure is a huge dose of fun! I don’t even mind watching it again on the big screen. Definitely check this out if you enjoyed the first one, but even if you hadn’t seen the original, I think you’d still enjoy it. Oh and Marvel fans, you want to stay for the mid-credit scene 😉

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So have you seen Ant-Man and The Wasp? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO (2018)

Denis Villeneuve’s SICARIO was one of the best films of 2015 and one of my favorites that year. It was well received by many movie critics, but it wasn’t a huge box office hit, so I didn’t expect or wanted to see a sequel. But these days Hollywood studios will try to turn ANY movie into a franchise and now part 2 of the hit man saga has been unleash to multiplexes.

The story kicks off with terrorist bombings, including one at a major convenient store in the heartland of America. Special agent Matt Gravers (Josh Brolin) has been summon by his boss Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener) to find out who’s responsible for the bombings. With the blessing from the Secretary of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine), Gravers was given a mission to do whatever it takes to get a payback for the bombings.

After interrogating a Somalian pirate, he found out that the drug cartels in Mexico are smuggling terrorists through southern border of Texas. With a help of his trusted assassin Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), they devised a plan to kidnap a daughter of one of the big drug cartels and made it look like it’s another cartel who did it. Their goal is to start a war between the cartels, hoping they would all kill each other and wouldn’t be able to smuggle people to the United States. The victim is teenager named Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), whose father happens to be the biggest drug lord in Mexico. Once Graves and his men took Isabel, things went south fast and Alejandro must use skills to protect Isabel from danger.

With Villeneuve being busy with other projects, stepping into the director’s chair this time is Stefano Sollima, whose previous projects were mostly TV shows in Italy. I thought he did a decent job by following Villeneuve’s template, in fact I think most people would think this film was directed by Villeneuve if they didn’t know a new director was hired for the job. The look and feel were no different from the last film. There’s nothing wrong with following the previous director’s style but for me, if a new director takes over a franchise, I expect to see that person to bring in their own creative vision. Sollima did stage a pretty impressive action sequence in a desert where Graves and his men got ambushed.

Taylor Sheridan’s script is solid but not as good as the first one. Here he tackled several political subjects that are relevant to our real-world issues such as immigration debate, terrorism and politics bickering. But I thought with all those complex ideas he came up with, they just masked a very thin plot. If you’ve seen the trailers of this film, you pretty much know the whole story and that’s pretty disappointing to me. There were opportunities to make this one even compelling than the first film, but the story ended way too fast. I understand they’re planning a trilogy, so hopefully the third film will give us better story.

Performances were pretty decent all around, Brolin and Del Toro looked very comfortable in their respective roles and some of the young actors were pretty good. I thought Keener’s and Modine’s character were kind of wasted, they didn’t really have much to do and could’ve been played by unknown actors.

I was looking forward to this sequel and was a disappointed, mostly with the script. I think they missed an opportunity to make this one as good or better than the last film. Still a solid thriller and fans of the first film should check it out.

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So have you seen Sicario: Day of the Soldado? Well, what did you think?