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.

Continue reading “Review: Are You Glad I’m Here”

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: The Great Gatsby

When I read the Great Gatsby as a high schooler, I was taught about dangers of excess and the cautions of the chase for the American dream. Jay Gatsby’s pursual of Daisy Buchanan was a warning of the attempt to achieve an unobtainable goal. In the same vein, Gatsby’s wild parties were examples of the moral decay in society. Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby largely ignores that message in his 2013 release, instead choosing to focus on a highly stylized fantasy world.

And what a fantasy world it is. Luhrmann’s Gatsby has Jay-Z playing in the background of his wild and lavish parties that would put Ditty to shame. ‘Extravagant’ wouldn’t come close to describing the visuals. Then again, I expected that, coming from his work in Moulin Rouge.

In this regard, Luhrmann does pay appropriate tribune to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. The characters all speak in his stylized prose, and the parties do justice to what Fitzgerald envisioned. But, of course, this isn’t the reason that Fitzgerald’s novel became a mainstay in American education. The main problem with The Great Gatsby is that Luhrmann’s film doesn’t quite cut to the core of Fitzgerald’s story, missing the chance to connect the viewer with the overall message.  Continue reading “Review: The Great Gatsby”

Review: Ironman 3

I’m always wary when watching the third installment (the three-quil, if you will) of a movie series. Think Godfather 3, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Spiderman 3, or the Matrix Revolutions. Then again, there has been a reverse in the trend recently with The Dark Knight Rises, and now, with Ironman 3.

What separates Ironman 3 from its two predecessors is  that the focus of the story shifts to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) rather than The Suit he wears. There are plenty of flaws in the exposition in an attempt to tell an over-complicated story (see also, The Dark Knight Rises), but in the end, do we really watch movies like Ironman for the logical consistency of the story?

Ironman 3 picks up where The Avengers leaves off (which is good, considering I’ve seen the Avengers). Tony Stark is having nightmares and anxiety attacks from his experiences from New York City, and, instead of working on his relationship with the lovely Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), he chooses instead to build every iteration of The Suit he can think of (going up to 47). When bodyman Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is put into a coma by international terrorist “The Mandarin” (Ben Kingsley), Stark lashes out at the organization, prompting Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and his thugs to destroy Stark’s home. An old flame of Stark’s, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), is part of the impetus, and the threat extends all the way to the President of the United States (William Sadler) who is protected only by “Iron Patriot” (Don Cheadle). Continue reading “Review: Ironman 3”