Review: Are You Glad I’m Here

A millennial teacher working in Beirut befriends her neighbor, an educated yet oppressed Lebanese housewife, and the two become partners in a murder and cover-up. Those are the essentials to need to know in “Are You Glad I’m Here,” a film that runs 85 minutes but in reality should’ve been cut down by about 30 minutes.

We are introduced to Kirsten (played by Tess Elliot), who is a 20-something just out of college and looking for some experience abroad. She ends up teaching English in Lebanon, and right way, we can see that money is an issue. She’s not familiar with the customs or language, and needs to steal from a local grocery store. She ends up meeting and befriending her neighbor, Nadine (Marwa Khalil), who at first blush appears to be a friendly, thoughtful, if not somewhat mysterious, mother next door. We quickly learn that Nadine is the target of physical, verbal and emotional abuse from her husband Ameen (Madim Deaibes), who is also a misogynist and a philanderer.

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Review: Creed

Creed_posterWhat made 1976’s Rocky such a brilliant and celebrated picture? At its heart, the movie wasn’t about boxing, or about a particular opponent. Rocky was about the struggle within. It was about overcoming yourself and exceeding expectations, regardless of winning or losing.

Rocky’s II – V went away from this formula, and made the films more about defeating a villain than the metaphor. Rocky VI steered back in the direction, but still didn’t truly tap the full true potential of the Rocky franchise. Alas, it took six more Rockys and 40 years to come to Creed, the most compelling character study since the original film that captured the Academy Award.

Creed centers around Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed. He was rescued out of the foster care system by Apollo’s wife Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashād), who provides a stable home in Los Angeles and a world of opportunities away from boxing. Johnson ends up at a hedge fund, but has been fighting on the side in Mexico. Ditching his cushy lifestyle, Johnson moves to Philadelphia to pursue boxing full time, recruiting Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as his trainer. Eventually, an opportunity opens up to fight world light heavyweight champion “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, setting up a tantalizing and thoroughly satisfying choreographed climax to the film. The final fight scene on its own brought the audience to raucous cheers, resembling the closest thing I’ve seen to an actual boxing match on film. Continue reading “Review: Creed”

Review: Wonderful Nightmare

20150812090613_1_1439370373A cold, calculating, highly-successful single lawyer is forced into the body of a lower middle-class, unemployed, married woman with two children. Hilarity and romance ensue.

That, in two sentences, is the plot of Wonderful Nightmare, a 2015 South Korean romantic comedy film that was featured on the final night of the 2015 New York City Korean Film Festival in Astoria, New York. If you’ve heard of that plot before, it’s probably because you remember Nicolas Cage’s 2000 movie Family Man.

Any review of what is essentially a remake of a movie doesn’t have to turn on originality so much as execution of the story. And, for the most part, Wonderful Nightmare does exactly that, turning a thoroughly unlikable lead character Yeon-woo (Uhm Jung-hwa) until a more humbled version of herself by the end of the film. As in the tradition of Korean films, director Kang Hyo-jin throws in several plot twists designed to wrench the heart and bring tears to the audience’s eyes. Continue reading “Review: Wonderful Nightmare”

Review: Jurassic World

It’s difficult to imagine, but it’s been 22 years since the original Jurassic Park hit the movie theaters, and changed the way movies were made. The original 90s movie was the first to take a huge step into CGI, immersing any viewer in a world where dinosaurs truly roamed the world alongside humans. Jurassic World appropriately pays homage to the first film, while forging ahead with its own personality and unabashedly campy jokes in what is ultimately a thoroughly enjoyable and thrilling summer popcorn flick.

Like the three movies that preceded it, Jurassic World continues with the concept of a dinosaur theme park, and the ‘one that goy away’ plot. Of course, this is 2015 now, so the technology has improved and we are met with a scientific laboratory that Tony Stark would’ve enjoyed. But the entertainment value of the movie isn’t about the plot, it’s about the execution of it. Jurassic World develops its characters just enough to make the characters slightly more than one dimensional, and then lets its dinosaurs do the rest.

One particular performance that stands out is Chris Pratt’s portrayal of the main character, Owen. He’s believable as a rugged everyday man who was plucked from the Navy to train dinosaurs. Owen isn’t superfluously handsome or brainy, but he’s crafty and witty, and more importantly, very likeable. Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire is passable as a female lead, but are we really to believe that she stays in her heels throughout the entire movie? For good measure, Jurassic World borrows heavily in plot from the original Jurassic Park, so we have two annoying kids that we also follow throughout the movie (Ty Simpkins’ Gray and Nick Robinson’s Zach). Continue reading “Review: Jurassic World”

Review: Edge of Tomorrow

article-2637334-1E229F2900000578-794_634x669The dazzling actions scenes of Transformers meets the loop in the space-time continuum of Groundhog Day in a perfect blend of heart-pounding action, well-told exposition and occasional touch of humor in Edge of Tomorrow.

Tom Cruise stars as Major William Cage of the United Defense Force, who is involved in the public relations side of an ongoing war with the Mimics, and alien race bent on destroying humanity. After a spat with General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), Cage is demoted to private and is sent off to England as a ground troop in a large scale invasion against the enemy. The invasion proves disastrous, and Cage perishes while killing an unusually large mimic nicknamed an “alpha.” The killing of this alpha traps Cage in a time loop. In one of the loops, he meets Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who has experienced a similar fate before, and helps Cage hone his abilities as a fighter. However, each time Cage dies, everything resets, including the memories of everyone around him.

While Cruise headlines the movie, in reality, the film belongs completely to Blunt. She completely steals the show with her portrayal of Vrataski, though I’m torn as to the gender roles portrayed in the film. On the one hand, Vrataski is portrayed as a highly capable soldier, who is far superior in combat skills to Cage in the early part of the film. She is the one who needs to train and protect a clumsy and mostly inept Cage. On the battlefield, she is ruthless and calculating in her utter dismantling of the enemy, in sharp contrast to societal ideals of women being too fragile for war. But Vrataski still reminds me of Trinity from the Matrix. Though Trinity was Neo’s superior in both rank and combat skills in the beginning of the trilogy, she ultimately played a back seat to Neo in becoming the “chosen one” to save the human race. Vrataski is at her core essentially the same character, and plays second fiddle to Cage’s abilities by the end. Her character seems to be the new paradigm for feminism in Hollywood: Appease women by scripting strong female leads, but ultimately make the male character superior by movie’s end. Continue reading “Review: Edge of Tomorrow”

Review: Kung Fu

Kung Fu, the latest play from David Henry Hwang, scores big points on fluid action and amazingly choreographed martial arts, but the script still leaves a viewer wanting for more.

The play follows Bruce Lee (Cole Horibe) in his early days as a childhood martial arts star in Hong Kong through his struggles in trying to make it in the mainstream American media. Along the way, we meet the most seminal figures in his life, wife Linda (Phoebe Strole), father Hoi-Chuen (Francis Jue), and son Brandon (Bradley Fong).

More so than an average play, there needs to be an aura of credibility for the main character’s martial arts ability, and Horibe certainly possesses it. His martial arts skill, along with all of the other cast members, is at a high level, and the scenes are choreographed so well, you’d think that you were watching an old Hong Kong action film. There are plenty of action scenes throughout the play and all of them are thoroughly enjoyable. These scenes, in and of themselves, make the production a worthwhile show.

But the script has some serious issues. To start, there is an utter lack of chemistry between Linda and Bruce. With the way the play is written, I’m not actually sure what she sees in him. On their first date, Bruce spends all of his time talking about his favorite topic: Himself. And yet, she completely falls for him, which comes off more as puzzling and forced. While we all know that they ended up together, the play doesn’t really sell the idea of why, instead preferring to fast forward to their abrupt marriage. That dooms their storyline from the start.

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Review: Rocky on Broadway

Yo, Adrian. They did it.

There’s a confluence of factors that make Rocky one of the most entertaining, moving and thrilling spectacles on Broadway in recent history. It pays homage to the original 1976 Oscar-winning cannon, brilliantly and effortlessly fuses together underdog and love storylines, and still maintains a dazzlingly unique theater-going experience. There’s just nothing quite like it out there.

For the rare few who aren’t familiar with the original film, Rocky Balboa is an out-of-luck club circuit boxer whose life seems headed nowhere. He barely makes enough to cover the rent by shaking down deadbeat borrowers for money. In his spare time, he toils away at the local gym, dreaming of being an elite boxer. His other dream has always been to be with his childhood crush, Adrian. Heavyweight champion Apollo Creed has a match set in Philadelphia, but due to his opponent breaking his hand, Creed is in search of a new rival. That person becomes Rocky, who faces insurmountable 80-to-1 odds against Creed. The odds should be even higher considering that Creed has never been knocked down in his career, nor gone beyond five rounds before ousting opponents.

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