‘Raya and the Last Dragon’? More Like ‘Raya and the Dragon-Who-Can’t-Stop’!

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Raya and the Last Dragon (CREDIT:
Walt Disney Animation Studios/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, Thalia Tran, Lucille Soong, Alan Tudyk

Directors: Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: PG

Release Date: March 5, 2021

Now that I’ve seen Raya and the Last Dragon, do I want a dragon of my own? It doesn’t have to be a “last” dragon, but I guess if that’s all that available… Anyway, if she’s voiced by Awkwafina, I won’t complain. In fact, that’s a positive in my book! She’s good company. That’s probably my most positive takeaway about this movie. Sisu’s a friend to all, as she’s been imbued with the personality of the lady who voices her, i.e., one of our favorite current Queens-bred rapper-actor-comedians. And I’m also happy to report that friendship ultimately shines through brilliantly in this flick, even with creatures who initially seem like they’re going to be enemies. That’s great news in a world in which magic objects can turn people to stone. You suddenly find yourself alone, but next thing you know, a dragon’s your best friend.

Also, the music reminds me of Woodkid’s “Run Boy Run,” a song that’s had a surprisingly strong pop cultural impact.

Grade: 3 out 5 Credit Purchases

Movie Review: ‘Captain Marvel’ is a Blast of Low-Key Wonder

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CREDIT: Marvel Studios

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Annette Bening, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Clark Gregg

Directors: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence That Tends to Cause Nosebleeds

Release Date: March 8, 2019

It’s been a while since I have felt consistently sustained excitement for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m a fan of superheroes, and Marvel in particular, but I’m a bigger film buff, and I often find myself in a weird liminal space where I want to have more unbridled emotions for these movies, but it is hard to feel that way about a series sticking to a formula that is so much about ticking off obligatory long-term checkpoints. Captain Marvel does not burst free of that formula, but it has enough of its own magic to make it the first MCU movie in quite some time in which I left the theater wanting to re-watch it. It could have just been the way it happened to hit me on one particular day, but I think it has also something to do with its vibe of ignoring all the noise and getting on with it mission.

The plot is a little too complicated to easily synopsize, which Disney and Marvel are surely happy about, as they do not want us spoiling any of their MCU flicks, particularly this one, as it is uniquely dependent on backstory reveals and memory retrieval. Suffice it to say then that Vers (Brie Larson) is an intergalactic warrior fighting for the race known as the Kree, but she is also plagued by visions of a past life as U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Carol Danvers. The Kree are stuck in a long-term struggle against the shapeshifting Skrulls, which leads Vers to Earth in 1995 in a race for a powerful energy source. This is a typical McGuffin-focused Marvel film, but this particular McGuffin is unusually resonant, touching on themes of refugees and the perils of deep psychological deception.

Captain Marvel is also your standard MCU movie insofar as it builds to a climax with an unengaging, undistinguished action set piece. But luckily, that is not the main attraction. Vers teams up with a pre-eye patch Nick Fury, resulting in a buddy flick that serves as Samuel L. Jackson’s biggest showcase thus far in this franchise. His and Larson’s dynamic is one of instant respect that still leaves plenty of room for clowning around as they save the universe. That feeling is matched by a strong sense overall of the film being aesthetically tuned in. I cannot think of any other superhero movie that features a steady stream of crickets chirping amidst characters talking outside.

Captain Marvel is not massively revolutionary. While it may be the first MCU movie fronted by a female hero, it is not about femininity the way that Black Panther is about blackness. But while it does not respond hard to the big questions, it gets so many of the little things right.

Captain Marvel is Recommended If You Like: Top Gun, Nineties Rock, Friendly and Intelligent Aliens Who Speak English or At Least Have Universal Translators

Grade: 4 out of 5 Supreme Intelligences

This Is a Movie Review: Be Wary of the Spectacle of ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ Stay for the Characters

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CREDIT: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and RatPac-Dune Entertainment LLC

This review was originally posted on News Cult in August 2018.

Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Tan Kheng Hua, Chris Pang, Sonoya Mizuno, Pierre Png, Nico Santos, Jimmy O. Yang, Ken Jeong

Director: Jon M. Chu

Running Time: 121 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Excessive Partying and a Nasty Message Written in Blood

Release Date: August 15, 2018

Ever since I have noticed the buzz building for Crazy Rich Asians, the title has had me worried that I wouldn’t able to relate. I’m not talking about the “Asian” part (and I’m certainly not talking about the “crazy” part). No, what I’m talking about is that four-letter word right in the middle. Sure, it would be nice to have enough money to pay off all my debts, but amassing a fortune into the billions feels plainly excessive. And Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel does nothing to dissuade me from that notion. When we enter the film’s first Singaporean mansion, I am immediately overwhelmed by the real estate per person. And then we learn that this dwelling is actually modest by this country’s standards, and I guess I’ll have to say the Serenity Prayer a few more times. But the good news is that Crazy Rich Asians wants us to be skeptical of insane wealth to an extent.

The biggest takeaway to be had from this big-hearted rom-com is the danger of making assumptions, a problem that can befall anyone, no matter their net worth. Chinese-American economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) assumes that her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) is a man of modest means. That is hardly the most damaging assumption, but it does mean that she is in for plenty of surprises when he flies her into Singapore for his best friend’s wedding and she learns that he is in fact a member of one of the country’s wealthiest families. Far more consequential are the assumptions made about Rachel, especially from Nick’s domineering but also impressive (and frankly, occasionally likeable) mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). She objects to Rachel as a potential daughter-in-law, not because she is an outsider, but because of what type of outsider she is, assuming that as an American, personal fulfillment is more important to her than building a family. Accordingly, the requisite final act misunderstanding is not some phony moment between Rachel and Nick, who are far too honest with each other to not be able to work things out. Instead, it is a background check that drives a wedge of emotional manipulation that can only be cured by selflessness on all sides.

Ultimately, Crazy Rich Asians does not win me over to the lavish lifestyle, but it does successfully convey the traditions that lead to creating a familial empire. Judging by the reactions of the largely Asian crowd at the screening I attended, this is an accurate and resonant portrayal. There was plenty of whooping and laughing that indicated intimate recognition of a pan-Asian exchange of culture, the immigrant experience, and (presumably) key moments from the book. We may not need a billion dollars to be happy, but I now see the potential value in learning how to play mahjong or attending a wedding in which the aisle is flooded with water.

Crazy Rich Asians is Recommended If You Like: Rom-Coms with an unapologetic cultural flavor

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Jade Rings