Movie reviews: Crazy Rich Asians and Searching

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to the reviews of TWO films that are equally just important as Black Panther was/is! Today, we are discussing Asian representation in Crazy Rich Asians and Searching.

IMDb summaries:

Crazy Rich Asians: This contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family.

Searching: After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her.

Acting

Even though I usually start my reviews by discussing the writing of the film(s), I thought that these two movies warranted that we discuss the acting and the casting first. While Black Panther was a first big-brand film with a predominately black cast, Crazy Rich Asians was the first American mainstream film with an overall Asian cast (as the title suggests). More importantly, the film showcased the diversity within the Asian community by casting actors that were from or descendant from a plethora of countries: Taiwan, Malaysia, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, The Phillippines, and Singapore. The cast consisted of Constance Wu and Henry Golding (A Simple Favor) as the superb lead couple, and Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina (who was also recently in Ocean’s 8), Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, and Ronny Chieng among others in the supporting roles. Could more Asian identities/actors have been included? Yes. Did they have space for that in the film? Maybe. Did Crazy Rich Asians begin a process of change in Hollywood through which more Asian identities could be portrayed by Asian actors? I really hope so!

Searching didn’t have an Asian-only cast – it had a better thing – a blindly casted Asian lead – a lead that was Asian but his race never once came into play, played superbly by John Cho (of American Pie and Star Trek films).

What I loved even more than these two film’s (and their casts’) separately was the fact that the actors from the two films were so supportive of one another, especially Henry Golding and John Cho. Their mutual cross-promotion was one of the reasons why I put these two reviews together!

Writing

Crazy Rich Asians was a book adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name by screenwriters Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim. Searching was an original screenplay by Aneesh Chaganty (who also directed) and Sev Ohanian. Both of these films took well known Hollywood tropes and genres – romcom and thriller, respectively – and made them feel brand new!

In Crazy Rich Asians, the romantic plotlines and the Cinderella-like tale were not as cliche as I was expecting them to be. The story also had more depth and sophistication than I was expecting. Some great ideas about the differences between Asian experiences (as a native and an immigrant/old culture vs new culture) were also expressed and added layers to the story.

Searching had a great showcase of father’s love and determination. On the flip side, it also showed the negative side of a parent’s love and how that love and ‘everything for one’s child’ attitude might be quite damaging. The end reveal of the plot was quite surprising and I don’t know if it worked completely. Nevertheless, it allowed the movie to look at a couple of more issues – toxic masculinity and obsessive relationships.

Directing

John M.Chu (of Step Up and Now You See Me 2) directed Crazy Rich Asians, while Aneesh Chaganty helmed Searching (both directors are also of Asian descent!). Chu handled the world building of Singapore beautifully (the glamour of the culture itself + rich setting made for a neat world to vicariously live in for the audiences a.k.a. me) and also nailed the pacing and the comedic timing of the film. My one critique was that the movie might have been a touch too long.

Chaganty and cinematographer Juan Sebastian Baron made Searching unique by having so much of that film be portrayed with screens on the cinema screen: the opening montage was just brilliant. I never thought that the movie portrayed through social media and technology (screens within the screen) could be so compelling and intense.

In short, Crazy Rich Asians and Searching were two films that not only did a lot in terms of representing an underappreciated group of actors and audiences but were just great movies in general!

Rate: both at 4.5/5

Trailers: Crazy Rich Asians trailer | Searching trailer

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Movie review: Now You See Me 2

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another movie review of this summer. This time, it’s another sequel – Now You See Me 2 also known as Now You See Me: The Second Act.

IMDb summary: The Four Horsemen resurface and are forcibly recruited by a tech genius to pull off their most impossible heist yet.

2013’s NYSM was a surprising and vastly entertaining film, but if Hollywood would not be so focused on franchises, the movie would not have gotten a sequel. Before going to see the sequel, I actually rewatched the first film, because I’ve heard that NYSM 2 relied heavily on the plot of the first picture and, now having seen the movie, I can confirm that. If you want to really enjoy The Second Act you have to have The First One on your mind. Usually, Hollywood tends to make more of  standalone sequels that do not require homework or any preparation, so I don’t understand why they made an exception this time.

SPOILERS FOR BOTH FILMS

Writing

NYSM 2 was written by the same screenwriter as the first film – Ed Solomon. While I really enjoyed the story that he crafted in 2013, I had quite a few problems with its 2016 continuation.

Firstly, as I have already mentioned, the film’s big reveals relied too heavily on the plot developments of the first film:

  1. The movie made the big deal out of the fact that Dave Franco’s character was alive, but we, as the viewers, find that out at the end of the first film.
  2. The reveal that Morgan Freeman was behind all of the events of the sequel (at least, it looked like it) was meaningless if you did not know what role he played in the first film.
  3.  Ruffalo’s character motivation, as well as his father’s story, were given even more screen time but, once again, the crucial info was only told in the first film.
  4. Michael Caine’s character’s involvement in this film can also only be explained by the events of the first movie.
  5. The EYE was once again present in the film and didn’t do anything useful. The big reveals – who was the EYE’s members and that ending involving the EYE – were also kinda underwhelming.
  6. The 2nd film mentioned why Isla Fisher’s character left (in truth, the actress got pregnant and couldn’t participate in the filming), so I appreciate the fact they at least addressed this development in an appropriate to the story way.
  7. The first film had a quick pace and a straight forward plot, but this one had a really slow setup and a really convoluted yet predictable plot.
  8. The sequel kinda recapped the events of the first film and set up the revenge plot in that opening montage with the voiceover by Freeman, but I don’t really think that that was enough.

A few things that I did enjoy where the pairing-ups of the characters. I liked that Dave Franco’s character was the one with the love interest this time, instead of Jesse Eisenberg. Caplan and Franco had great chemistry, although I did not appreciate the fact that they emphasized a few times that Caplan was the only female horseman.In the first film,  Isla Fisher  was just one of the members of the group, not THE ONLY female member. The other pairs were the Prison Break with Mark Ruffalo’s character and Morgan Freeman’s character as well as the competition for the leadership between Ruffalo and Eisenberg. I also liked the mentor/student relationship between Woody Harrelson’s characters and Dave Franco’s character.

The overarching theme of the two films was the revenge of the sons, so I wonder who will be avenging who in the 3rd film, as they will probably make it.

Directing

The film was directed by Step Up’s Jon M. Chu, whose latest film- Jem and the Holograms was one of the biggest financial and critical flops recent years. He did an okay-ish job this time. I didn’t see the need to set half of the movie in Macau, except to please the Chinese audiences and get their money. Also, if you have to set-up a film Macau, why not use it? We only saw Macau in a few shots of the lights and billboards  and those shots were only used tot transition between the scenes.

Also, this film lacked magic. NYSM had 3 big and somewhat realistic magic shows, while NYSM 2 had a few small performances/moments and a few big-ish ones that were completely unbelievable. To begin with, this time, hypnosis seemed like an easy thing that really everybody could do. The passing of the card/chip trick was cool to look at but completely over-the-top. The water/rain trick was also nice and pleasing visually, but, once again, unbelievable and unrealistic. The final act was pretty cool though and did wrap up the story nicely, so I can at least give the director that. However, the finale did leave a lot of questions unanswered and even the horseman realized that. I wonder if they will address any of the questions in the sequel if they make one.

Acting

Firs of all, let me just say that this film had way too many characters, a few of whom were really unnecessary.

  • Jesse Eisenberg as Danny Atlas – was okay and I finally liked his hair in the film, after suffering through his bad hairstyles in BvS and American Ultra. He was believable as an egoistic illusionist and I did like him in the role. Now, I just hope that I can learn to like him as Lex in Justice League.
  • Mark Ruffalo as Dylan Rhodes was also fine. I enjoyed the fact that we finally got to see him doing a few tricks and I also liked the fact that he took up his right place as the 5th horseman in the end. I don’t think that I’ve ever watched a movie with Ruffalo that I did not enjoy, so any film of his is a good bet, but if you don’t know where to start, just check out his most recent work  with Marvel and in Spotlight.
  • Woody Harrelson as Merritt McKinney/Chase McKinney was good and annoying. I liked the character of Merritt but could not understand the need to include Chase as his twin brother, especially when he was this annoying. I sill haven’t finished watching Harrelson on True Detective, although, I’ve really liked him on THG films. He will also be in War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Dave Franco as Jack Wilder was also good. He is really charming and has a great screen presence. He has mostly done comedic work, in 21/22 Jump Street and Neighbors films. He will also be in Nerve later this year.
  • Daniel Radcliffe as Walter Mabry was good but slightly creepy. I’m happy to see Radcliffe getting some mainstream work in this film as well as in Victor Frankenstein, but none of his post-Harry Potter films were able to reach the level of HP success. I wonder if that is even possible
  • Lizzy Caplan as Lula May was a great addition to the cast. I liked her awkward humour and the line ‘He’s cute, let’s kill him’. I don’t know why Caplan does not get more roles in bigger films, as she is so good. My favorite film from Caplan’s filmography is Bachelorette, in which she starts alongside the former NYSM female lead – Isla Fisher.
  • Jay Chou as Li was only there to add ‘diversity’ and appeal to the Asian audiences.
  • Michael Caine as Arthur Tressler and Morgan Freeman as Thaddeus Bradley were both fine but I am getting angry with both of them. They used to be respectable actors and now they are just doing all the films, the majority of which are paycheck gigs. I would love to see them in more serious films and in more challenging roles.

All in all, Now You See Me 2 was an okay film. It was worse than the seqeul, had an uninspired and messy plot and really unrealistic ‘magic’. Defintely not a must watch, but if you do choose to see it, make sure to re-watch NYSM 1 or at least read its plot online.

Rate: 2.8/5

Trailer: Now You See Me 2 trailer

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