Crazy Rich Asians thoughts (by a Singaporean)

This review comes extremely late, as CRA is weeks into its historic box office run in the US, but I thought I’d just share some thoughts on it anyway.

loved the movie. The fact that it’s plot was striking of a run-of-the-mill rom com didn’t deter my enjoyment of the movie; it may even have enhanced it. Because this is the first time I saw a truly mainstream Hollywood with a full-fledged Asian (and not to mention highly Singaporean) cast.

Many western reviews have noted how it’s a fine portrait of Asian culture and society. Mostly, they seem to implicitly refer to Chinese American culture (making dumplings etc), however, I thought it did a fine job of displaying Singaporean values and culture as well, which was such an added bonus for me. Peik Lin’s family was not just comic relief, it was a nice quip at Singaporean’s obsession with things new and shiny, and the antics of the burgeoning nouveau riche. The snarky aunts that flank Eleanor in almost every scene are also a nice reflection of competitive family dynamics in a typical Singaporean household, where a spirit of one-upmanship and incessant gossiping is a mainstay. Of course, these may seem like generic tropes, but I thought they were imbued with a nice, authentic Singaporean touch and were tropes commonly seen in Singaporean films, giving it that added local flavour.

My favourite scene was definitely the Mahjong scene. The usage of such a popular game in Singapore in such a pivotal scene was nice, and I liked how it tied in with the very first scene we see with Constance Wu, where she wins a game of Poker because her opponent was playing to not lose, and not to win. Bringing this concept full circle at the end of the film, (with a change in the game from Poker to Mahjong being a nice nod to Singaporean/Asian culture), she talks about how Eleanor had made it such that any side winning had become impossible. She utilises the game to express this sentiment amazingly; Eleanor technically wins, at first, but then Rachel reveals her hand, showing how she’d given the game to Eleanor, rendering Eleanor’s win unauthentic. Here, we see how she’d played not to win, not to ‘not lose’, but to lose, and in the process had felt for the first time that she was ‘enough’. I thought this had a nice message of how assessing different permutations towards success wasn’t necessarily always the optimal way to grow as a person, rather, considering the value of failure or loss may prove more valuable.

Overall, just loved this film, and watched it three times because I had to. As for it’s Oscar chances, I think it should show up in some minor categories just as a nod to it’s significance as one for the history books, though a nod for Michelle Yeoh may well be possible if the stars align.

9/10

Comic Con trailers: Godzilla, Fantastic Beasts

Recently, I saw the trailers for the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Godzilla films, and thought I’d pen down some of my thoughts.

First, the Godzilla trailer. I thought the trailer poised the film really well as a giant monster flick; the one shot where Godzilla spews his atomic breath into the sky with the military ship before him as a size comparison is a glimpse of the breathtaking scale of the visuals that I’m hoping permeates throughout the film.

I think Millie Bobby Brown is an interesting casting choice (if someone typecast). Assuming the trailer is simply playing up her popularity and that she is indeed the main human protagonist of the film, I think some interesting dynamics can be explored by the filmmakers in terms of size and stature, both physical and metaphorical. Her character appears to be small in size even relative to the other humans in the film, but perhaps her bravery will render her larger-than-life, comparable to the literal titans in the film.

I think the trailer does leave things somewhat vague, which is good, though those knowledgeable in Godzilla lore may note the presence of certain familiar rivals to the king of monsters and infer how it would play out. I suppose if the filmmakers were to follow pre-existing lore meticulously, we’d probably see a battle between two camps of monsters. (Godzilla and Mothra against Ghidorah in a CGI-explosive Act 3, where the human characters play their own minor parts but are largely left on the sidelines)

Next, Fantastic Beasts.

I liked how the trailer still placed some emphasis on the various fantastic beasts of the wizarding world. We even see some new ones! I had feared that the film would sidelines the beasts to place emphasis on the Grindelwald/Dumbledore storyline and more or less transform it purely into a Harry Potter prequel. Thankfully, the trailer seems to show that the film will offer a lot more. The line where Zoe Kravitz’s character observes how there was no monster Newt couldn’t love was particularly interesting to me. I feel that she meant this not pertaining solely to his care for the various beasts seen in the film, but also to the sidelined people or perhaps those seen as ‘sub-human’ because of various peculiarities. I think it’ll be interesting if the filmmakers explored this human-beast dynamic and what made someone or something constitute a beast. For instance, in our world, we may treat a dog infinitely better than we do another human being. What would that say about the status dynamics between beasts and humans?

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Trailers: First Man, A Star is Born

In recent weeks, some trailers for several upcoming films touted to be big players at next year’s Oscars were released. I’ll give my brief thoughts on two of them: First Man and A Star is Born.

First Man appears to be as dramatic and Oscar-baity as you’d expect, with a lot of the trailer showing us the brooding Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, whose inner turmoil he brings out in anticipation of the mission to the moon. It does seem like a lot of this film will be carried on his shoulders, so if it succeeds, I think he may be a lock of a lead nomination, especially seeing how favourable he’s been with Academy members recently (La La Land).

I think Claire Foy looks to be an electric foil to Gosling’s brooding Armstrong; her first scenes from the trailer show her to be loud and quick-tongued, and with her stellar work in The Queen, I think Academy members will give this TV star her first Oscar nomination, likely in the supporting category. The supporting, empowering wife figure seems to be a popular choice for Academy voters, especially when to a male lead who’s primely in the race (see: Felicity Jones, Keira Knightley, Ruth Negga). Claire Foy does seem to add no small degree of her own voice in this film, (she’s seen berating Neil’s colleagues in potentially scene-stealing fashion) and I think she may be a lock as well.

Onto A Star is Born, I think Lady Gaga looks great! Of course, she sounds great as well, and just from the trailer, I can detect definite chemistry between the two leads. I think this could really be a breakout for her, but she’d have to be really good, and so would the movie. When people remember that Cher won an Oscar back in the day, I’m not sure if Academy members view that as a historic moment or a ‘what were we thinking’ moment, so I think they’d want to be extra sure if they were to award a (former?) pop artist the biggest prize. A nomination definitely seems possible, though.

 

Renee Zellweger in Judy

I think this is the year Renee Zellweger returns to the Oscar race.

Following her consecutive Oscar nominations in the early 2000s, including one for her unforgettable performance in Chicago and her ultimate win in Cold Mountain, I’ve felt for a long time that she was bound to take home the top prize one day – a Best Actress award (her win in Cold Mountain was in the supporting category). 

It’s too early to tell, but given her undeniable talent, and given that she’s playing a Hollywood legend, the stars just seem so aligned. Time will tell.

Why Avengers: Infinity War ultimately disappoints

I liked Avengers: Infinity War. One of the factors I’d been most wary about; the balancing of so many different characters and their individual stories, turned out to be a success, as I thought the various plot lines weaves together really nicely, concurrently displaying how far-reaching Thanos’s impact was, with our heroes playing their parts in different parts of the galaxy at the same time.

I thought the focus on Thanos as the main character was well done too; it definitely gave him a proper introduction that previous Marvel villains lacked.

Ultimately, I was disappointed by Avengers: Infinity War because of the widely talked-about ending. 

Since it’s been awhile since it’s release, I think it’s safe to reveal that basically half the characters die as Thanos has collected all the Infinity stones.

When I saw Black Panther, Spider-Man and the bulk of the GOTG cast disappear though, instead of shock I felt somewhat cheated – because we know they’re coming back based on Marvel upcoming announced releases. 

Effectively, the sense of finality and characters being gone for good just wasn’t there. 

I guess I’d expected this to have a defined ending on its own, but it’s instead become a Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 or Mockingjay Part 1; it’s only half of a complete story; and surely the less important half.

Overall rating: 6.7/10

Broadly speaking a real accomplishment of a film, if brought down only by a disappointing ending 

“The Wife” and Glenn Close’s overdue Oscar

Pretty late on this post, since the trailer for “The Wife” came out awhile back, but from the trailer alone, Glenn Close looks like a strong bet to be nominated in the upcoming Oscars for her performance. 

Playing the “kingmaker” wife of a professor of literature who wins a Nobel Prize, (I’d assume she actually wrote the novel that paved the way to her husband winning the prize), this certainly looks to be a complex role for the living actress who has garnered the most number of Oscar nominations without ever winning one. 

It seems to be somewhat in the vein of Charlotte Rampling’s slow-searing and deep reaching performance in 45 Years, though certainly appears to contain its fair share of explosive scenes that could be points of catharsis within the film and be ‘the scene’ that voters would latch onto as a testament to her performance as a whole.

I think a lot will come down to the quality of the film as a whole, but I can certainly see her running away with it the way Frances McDormand did with last year, who gave a performance which was in equal parts explosive and controlled but show-stopping throughout. Not to mention the overdue factor for Glenn Close. 

It does seem like the Academy has a tendency to award the top actress prize to Hollywood’s favourite new star, as was the case with Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone. This year, it could well be Saoirse Ronan for Mary Queen of Scots, who has been nominated twice in the last three years, and came out both times as the presumed runner-up. As I clearly haven’t seen either of these films, only time can tell. 

A Quiet Place Quick Thoughts

A Quiet Place is an amazing movie. Much in the vein of last year’s Get Out, it is an exciting and unique offering to the horror genre, with subtle social commentary at play as well.

Director and star John Krasinski has mentioned that the film is meant to explore the family unit. Upon reviewing the film by memory, I find that the use of sound as the key element to the story certainly gels with his goal.

In any family unit, noise can be destructive, both literally and metaphorically. Arguments can tear families apart, noise from people external to the family can very quickly cause disharmony among the family. The toxicity of all this unwanted noise is manifested as a killer alien in AQP, and we see that the family sticks to the solution of not making any sound.

We see that this too, is sub-optimal; in blocking out the negative elements of all this sound, they also remove the positive; a lack of communication means issues cannot be solved as one does not understand the other; the young girl believes her father doesn’t love her.

It is interesting how the alien is killed, which is through sound, more specifically a frequency that the father had utilized in his attempt to help his daughter hear. I suppose this could be analogous to how in order to truly be in tune with each other, a family must find a common ground, a common frequency which they can all subscribe to in order to understand and appreciate one another. A more far-fetched idea I got was in relation to how it’s the feedback from the hearing aid that causes the creature to experience immense pain – which could translate to how feedback is required from all members of the household in order to foster understanding, even if it may cause pain along the way (as shown by the pain experienced by the girl from the feedback).

Overall, a very very thoughtful and well thought out movie that is engaging throughout with it’s incredibly scary and tense scenes that definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. I thought the cast’s performances were amazing, especially Emily Blunt’s; without sound, they manage to reveal so much about themselves solely through their actions and facial expressions; the bathtub scene was so gripping. Another highlight scene for me was of course when the Dad sacrifices himself for his children through a burst of sound that can be described as raw and primal; speaking to parent’s primal instinct of putting their children first.

Rating: 9/10