BUMBLEBEE (Travis Knight, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Bumblebee:

1. Never thought l’d see the day that I would actually like a Transformers movie from the Michael Bay Non-Biodegradable Universe. How could I not be that pessimistic when this was the most revered film series in Razzie history? Revenge of the Fallen as Worst Picture? Definitely! Bay as Worst Director for Age of Extinction? Well-deserved! I only watched most of them out of pure nostalgia (and a self-diagnosed masochism, of course!). Unsurprisingly, the best entry (so far) only needed a director not named Michael Bay.

2. Although it still contained a huge amount of robot on robot action (that reminded me so much of the 4D ride in Universal Studios Singapore), more time was spent on the blossoming friendship between Bumblebee and Charlie Watson (Academy Award nominee and certified #PinoyFried Hailee Steinfeld). Who knew that beneath all the metal exterior lay the heart of this awesome prequel? (More than meets the eye? Take that, Star Wars!!)

3. If you immediately fell in love with the terrific Steinfeld as soon as she started air drumming here (and you had only seen her in the Pitch Perfect sequels), now would be a good time to catch up on her much better films like True Grit and The Edge of Seventeen.

(And yes, I still think she would have made a better Belle in the Beauty and the Beast live-action remake.)

4. One of my favorite moments was when Bumblebee first transformed in the garage. He got himself all tangled up with a kite, stumbled over, and then cowered in fear while sitting in one corner. More than just looking really cute (in an aww shucks way you would feel towards a scared child), he had never looked and felt more human.

There was also a lot of effective (intentional) humor in this movie that included him stomping on a car or doing a radical impression of Judd Nelson’s fist pump in The Breakfast Club (which was just as funny as Kimmy’s in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). Cue the classic Don’t You Forget About Me.

And speaking of classic songs, I was happy that Bumblebee eventually learned to like The Smiths (although it was still unforgivable that he hated Kuya Dick’s Never Gonna Give You Up).

5. Happy to see Pamela Adlon on the big screen as Charlie’s mother. I wish they could find a way to incorporate this in Better Things with Sam getting her big break as a supporting actress in a huge Hollywood production.

6. Alf and Miami Vice references. A picture of then-President Ronald Reagan. Posters for The Thing and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yet the biggest giveaway for me that this took place in the 80’s was the noisy dot matrix printer.

(Also, did they suggest that the Decepticons actually invented the internet?)

7. So Charlie started the Bird Box Challenge? (Kids, do not try this on the road unless you own Bumblebee.)

8. Ahh, so that was the Camaro explanation. Goodbye pendong peace!!

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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CRAZY RICH ASIANS (Jon M. Chu, 2018)

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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: ★★☆☆☆