CRAZY RICH ASIANS (Jon M. Chu, 2018)

B0C3809E-6B30-439A-B53D-9753CB2838B4

SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Crazy Rich Asians:

1. I remembered watching this episode of Bonkers Closets on Facebook that featured the humongous fingerprint-protected walk-in closet (and by walk-in, I meant way bigger than our entire house) of crazy rich Singaporean socialite Jamie Chua. It stored hundreds of her Birkins and Louboutins and every kind of sparkly Chanel dress that any woman (and gay man) could ever dream of. She even called one of her purchases, an Hermès Mini Pochette worth over $11k, completely useless because it could only fit a credit card and a piece of tissue. It was this same kind of opulence (read: ridiculously excessive levels) that I expected from this movie.

As a third world citizen without a Jamba Juice card, but mooches off of my friend’s Netflix account, I wanted to see how these crazy rich Asians were living my fantasy life that I would have to pick my jaw off the sticky floors of the cinema after every scene of extreme extravagance. Aside from that overhead shot of the Young estate with what seemed to be a built-in lagoon, there really weren’t a lot of “Kalokang mayayaman ‘to!” moments here, though. I had more “Wow!” moments while skimming over the Yes! issue of Willie Revillame flaunting his mansion and luxury cars.

(If anything, this movie worked as a really effective tourism video for Singapore because every location just looked incredibly gorgeous.)

2. Wait, I’m not required to lower my standards naman just because Asians are finally getting represented in Hollywood, right? So I should be as brutal to this cliché-ridden rom-com the same way that I would to a Star Cinema langit-lupa love story? Because seriously, that plane scene reeked of Bea Alonzo flying to Cagayan de Oro with Dingdong Dantes running after her and then making that grand proposal while every passenger cheered even with their flight delayed. Why should this one get a free pass as an enjoyable, fluffy piece of entertainment just because it’s an “important” film?

3. The opening scene was my favorite because I weirdly enjoyed squirming in my seat while watching that really uncomfortable discrimination situation. I even remembered being in a slightly similar incident when my family had a vacation in (guess where?) Singapore back in the early 90’s. We were eating at KFC and the locals sneered at us like we were stray dogs that got lost in that establishment (of course back then I had no clue that they looked down on Pinoys as second-class citizens so I just thought they weren’t too happy with the crispy chicken they were eating).

When the legendary Michelle Yeoh served that fitting retribution to the hotel manager with such intense coldness, I came very close to standing up and cheering from my seat. I’d have preferred it though if she ended that scene with “Wala pang taong hindi rumespeto sa pangalang ELEANOR Young! At ang hindi marunong rumespeto sa AKING pangalan ay ASO lamang!!”. (If you got that reference, you have excellent taste in films.)

4. So many #PinoyFried in this movie, although none of them actually portrayed Pinoy characters (except for Astrid’s maids, of course!). Nico Santos’ fey turn as cousin Oliver was a delight, although it wasn’t surprising given his amazing turn as Mateo Fernando Aquino Liwanag in Superstore.

And speaking of Aquinos, when crazy rich Kris showed up onscreen as Princess Intan, there were some audible gasps from the audience. I guess none of them were able to watch Magic to Win 5 on the big screen. I still think it would have been the biggest casting coup if she played Imelda Marcos (the only woman that could put Jamie Chua’s shoe collection to shame).

5. I completely get the use of the very Asian mahjong game in that climactic showdown between Eleanor and Rachel (Constance Wu), although I honestly didn’t understand all of the symbolisms. The only thing I noticed was that Eleanor took the East seat which was significant in The Joy Luck Club (now there’s a brilliant Hollywood Asian film) since that was where the dealer sat and where all things began (in the novel/film, Jing Mei took that seat to replace her dead mother Suyuan who started the said group). 

Wouldn’t it have been great though if they amped up the camp factor and showed more clashes between these strong women (very much like a Pinoy cockfight)? With two brilliant actresses front and center (fyi, this should serve as your reminder to finally catch up on Fresh Off the Boat), this could have been really fun.

(Also, the Nick character was so bland that I couldn’t see why two amazing women were “fighting” over him. No amount of Henry Golding’s shirtless scenes could hide that fact.)

Side note: Given that Jon M. Chu also directed Now You See Me 2, I actually had this gnawing feeling during the mahjong scene that Rachel would perform some sort of elaborate magic trick. Like she would be able to switch her bamboo tiles without Eleanor ever noticing. Pong!!

6. I teared up a bit when I realized that the Ah Ma character was played by Lisa Lu, who was also Auntie An-Mei in Joy Luck Club (“My mother not know her worth until too late. Too late for her, but not for me.” Waaaah!).

7. I wasn’t particularly fond of Awkwafina in Ocean’s 8, but she was hilarious in the Nikki Valdez role here. As Peik Lin (aka Asian Ellen), she stole every scene that she was in whether she was criticizing Rachel’s look as Sebastian of The Little Mermaid, playing around with her car window, or simply taking a selfie around the Young mansion.

My favorite (very Asian) joke though was when Wye Mun (Ken Jeong) said something like, “Red’s a lucky color if you’re an envelope”. I also liked the bite in his line that “There’s a lot of children starving in America”.

8. Supposedly affluent young women going crazy over off-the-rack items? Shouldn’t they be turning their enhanced pointed noses up on anything that wasn’t bespoke? How un-crazy rich. (And what to make of that tacky tassel necklace? Only Kat Galang could have pulled that one off.)

9. The story about Astrid’s failing marriage felt like complete filler. It was like one long setup for the sequel. (Which probably was made more obvious when Harry Shum, Jr. showed up in one scene and yet received top billing in the end credits.) Her story only served as a distraction to what could have been more screen time for Nick and Rachel or Rachel and Eleanor. Also, Gemma Chan looked very much like Nathalie Hart, no?

10. One of the highlights here was the royal wedding of Araminta (Sonoya Mizuno) where the guests held lighted butterflies (dragonflies?) as she walked down that water-filled aisle. While everyone else teared up when Kina Grannis’ Can’t Help Falling in Love played in the background, my OCD kicked in high gear imagining that lovely wedding dress turning all soggy and getting completely ruined. These crazy rich people paid $40M for that? 

Meanwhile here in the Philippines, a bride in Bulacan went viral for actually wading in murky floodwater (which she got free courtesy of the monsoon) out of necessity just to continue with her dream wedding. Now that was something that really made me cry.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

THE CONJURING 2 (James Wan, 2016)

image

SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on The Conjuring 2:

1. My love for horror films started during the Betamax (the videotape, not the blood gelatin) days. I think that with all the years of watching scary movies, I became desensitized to all imaginable frightening or shocking scenes, any jump scares, or just about everything that could startle a normal viewer. Sometimes I even just watched them to hear people scream their lungs out.

There have been quite a few recent good ones (e.g. Insidious) that made me double check the foot of my bed before going to sleep. The rest were just fun popcorn movies best enjoyed in a packed theater. This sequel fell in the latter category.

2. Director James Wan actually used the exact same template for this sequel that it felt like a retread of the original: a stand-alone opening story ripe for a spin-off (Annabelle in the first, Amityville here), the (re)introduction of the Warrens, a family of young kids (mostly female) with a strong maternal figure living in a haunted house and tormented by evil spirits, strong religious overtones, a demonic possession and a final climactic exorcism. In case it wasn’t obvious enough, he also brought back a spinning music box. Oh, and he borrowed the tent in The Sixth Sense (and most of the cliches in The Exorcist).

There was nothing wrong with sticking to a formula that worked (especially since he delivered on the promised scares), but one could still wish for a talented director like him to bring out something fresh to the old and tired horror genre.

3. I really liked how the camera moved to perfectly build up tension (swooping above and below characters, inside and outside rooms, around a central character, etc.) My favorite sequence (aside from that great transition from night to a rainy day) had to be the one where Janet (the talented Madison Wolfe) locked the door using a chair and it suddenly appeared next to her bed. The succeeding fake-outs (sister telling her nothing’s wrong, mother tearing up the Ouija board) and resulting scares (shaking bed, moving drawer) elicited the needed fear. It was perfectly capped off with the hilarious scene of the entire family running to a neighbor’s house.

4. For every genuine scare though (girl speaking in a different voice, old man’s reflection on the basement water), there were those that fell completely flat (the entire dog/Crooked Man sequence, the dragging Sister Marilyn Manson painting bit) or just plain bizarre (Patrick Wilson had a good voice but what was that Can’t Help Falling in Love sing-along?, also the I Started a Joke song was really off considering the building terror). If there was one song that upped the creepy factor, it was Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (this Christmas hymn will never sound the same way again).

5. Way too long especially for a horror flick. They could have easily chucked the entire Warrens plot and it would not have made a difference, but then again they would lose the needed star power (Wilson being the Kris Aquino of Hollywood horror). Also, that faux danger scene involving Ed Warren was exciting only if you never Googled his story after the first movie (he couldn’t die because he lived until the late 2000’s).

6. The scene where Janet tied her arms on the bed brought back a sad childhood memory. As a kid, I had severe asthma-related skin allergies and I usually woke up with huge scratch marks on my legs. To prevent this from happening while I was asleep, I used a blanket to tie my wrists on the bed posts (E.L. James, we need to talk). And then I learned about Caladryl and the rest was history.

7. I completely understood the old man’s fury whenever someone touched his remote. I always turned into that old man, especially when a favorite show was about to start and I still couldn’t find it. The only difference was that he wore dentures making less successful bite marks on his victims. My chunky front teeth could easily tear another person’s arm off.

Speaking of, was this the first movie where a ghost actually had pustiso? Even the great Lilia Cuntapay only had gums to show because she knew it would be scarier. Imagine her in a nun’s habit standing in the corner of your room. Now that would make a really scary movie.

Rating: ★★★☆☆