It's been far too long since I've seen a movie with such economic… MoreIt's been far too long since I've seen a movie with such economic exposition! Within the first five minutes, Caleb wins a contest, helicopters out to a remote paradise, meets genius-inventor-gone-rogue Nathan, and becomes the human component in an AI Turing Test, and we're off on a twisted android/creator/savior hate-triangle that challenges our notions of God, patriarchy, and humanity.
I loved Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander's simmering chemistry in "Anna Karenina," and they are even more quietly explosive here as an ordinary computer programmer who falls under the spell of the dangerously alluring robot, Ava. Ava uses her sexuality, but she is not the typical femme fatale with only the one trick. Nathan and Caleb debate her sexual anatomy versus her sexual agency, and her fierce fight for autonomy from her God/father makes for a white-knuckle creation allegory tinged with sexual politics. Vikander is grace personified, Gleeson does a good American accent, and excellent-in-everything Oscar Isaac plays the mad scientist with fast and loose insouciance.
I do wish, however, that the script better defined the criteria for humanity. Not being well-versed in bio-robotics, I still think of androids as robots, but the movie's thesis hinges upon the supposition that they're not - that a robot programmed to have that high a level of human consciousness is essentially human. As such, I didn't quite understand why Caleb calls Nathan a monster for so blithely dismantling his beta versions. Also, the big reveal is played out for the audience's benefit with unrealistic suspense that is incongruous to what Caleb already knows.
Epic freaking musical about a singing comedienne wedging her way into… MoreEpic freaking musical about a singing comedienne wedging her way into her big break. The beginning is a bit slow, and I tired of Fanny's repetitive self-deprecation about her lack of traditional beauty, but Barbra Streisand is sassy and ballsy, and my word, is Omar Sharif not the most dashing and earnest paramour? He says "I love you" so shyly yet tenderly! Nicky's love and admiration are so soaring, and that's what makes the main relationship conflict of Fanny outgrowing Nicky and the show-stopping number "My Man" all the more tragic in a mere mortals sort of way.
I think I was in my own transitional, break-up period when I first saw… MoreI think I was in my own transitional, break-up period when I first saw this movie about a stagnant couple that orchestrates an incremental break-up - spending less and less time with each other to cushion the emotional blow - so I really identified with the dragged out "break up that lasts longer than the relationship" heartbreak.
Upon rewatch though, I found the movie lacking in establishing shots; there's no room to breathe between each quirky little on-day and off-day conflict. The emotions are still real, and the final break-up and goodbye scenes are still brutal and bittersweet, respectively. Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones have easy, soul-connected chemistry - smartly deriving this movie from a real-life experiment - but their fictional counterparts could have used more grounded reasons for getting together and breaking up. I wonder if they are still on-again-off-again now that Zoe has gotten more mainstream famous.
Romantic and hysterical! Very clever dream world of sock animals and… MoreRomantic and hysterical! Very clever dream world of sock animals and cellophane seas. Gael García Bernal is awkwardly naive, and Charlotte Gainsbourg is understatedly worldly. Their clashing romance blossoms into the bittersweet, but I would have appreciated a bit more resolution on Stephane's misanthropic defense mechanism at the end.
Bradley Cooper plays Bradley Cooper in a convoluted Cameron Crowe… MoreBradley Cooper plays Bradley Cooper in a convoluted Cameron Crowe dramedy that attempts to tackle everything under the bright Hawaiian sun: personal and professional redemption, race and colonialism, long-lost love juxtaposed with budding chemistry, macho-male stand-offs and whose-your-daddy doubt, and of course, military inside jokes and weapons of mass destruction.
While there are plenty of problems with the movie, the media has focused on the whitewashing of the cast, which is a fair point when looking at the film's landscape as a whole. However, the criticism leveled against Crowe's choice to cast "white-looking" Emma Stone as an Asian woman is unfounded and racist in itself. That is because Air Force pilot Allison Ng isn't just Asian, just like how Barack Obama isn't just black. She is a quarter Hawaiian, a quarter Chinese, and half Swedish, and when Asian-Pacific is diluted down to 1/2, blond hair and blue eyes are within the realm of possibility. The criticisms are problematic because in terms of checking the ethnicity census box, when we identify mixed race people only by the non-white descriptor, it perpetuates the idea that white is the default - unnecessary to mention because it's so normal and not "unique" - and it also implies that the non-white side is what makes up the bulk of their personality or sociocultural identity, both of which are regressive assumptions.
Crowe issued an apt non-apology for hurt feelings and explained his intent of portraying a real-life, blond-haired, blue-eyed Hawaiian/Chinese/Swedish woman he knew who embraced her Otherness while looking ostensibly White. East Asians have a slang term for those who are too assimilated into white culture: Twinkies - yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Allison would be called (perhaps pejoratively) an egg - white on the outside, yellow on the inside - and she does mention her heritage so much in the movie that it hints at some self-consciousness about her white outer appearance clashing with her mixed DNA, and she overcompensates by announcing her Hawaiian pride to whomever will listen. That juxtaposition makes for a really compelling character. Not necessarily more compelling than a Hawaiian/Chinese character who looks Hawaiian/Chinese and could be portrayed by a deserving Hawaiian and/or Chinese actress, but that's probably why Olivia Munn, Janel Parish, or Sandrine Holt, talented part-Asian-Pacific AND "Asian-Pacific-looking" actresses, weren't cast.
Many people think color and ethnicity is all that matters for ethnic roles: "Why didn't Cameron Crowe cast any of these truly mixed heritage actresses?" Well, that seems to say that color and experience are interchangeable. Munn, Parish, and Holt are part-Asian-Pacific, and there's probably an actress out there who IS a quarter Hawaiian, a quarter Chinese, and half Swedish. Does that mean they are all more deserving of this mixed role? Do they understand the complex duality of in-group inclusion and out-group alienation more than Emma Stone does just by virtue of their skin color?
We, as spectators and media critics, can't possibly know this or make that judgment call. We generally accept the fact that actors are actors, stepping into characters who may or may not share varying degrees of similarity with themselves, so why can't we accept that convention for multi-ethnic roles? We don't mind so much when Australian actors adopt American accents or when Black British actors play African American historical figures; we only mind if the attempt is unconvincing. However, when it comes to ethnic characters beyond black and white, we still need the ethnic character to conform to that congruous visual identification of being "ethnic-looking"; otherwise, we find it hard to suspend disbelief, which is a myopic worldview especially for such a diverse backdrop as Hawaii.
While mainstream films can certainly incorporate more diversity, diversity for diversity's sake can become just as offensive as the lack thereof. Non-white actors walk a thin line when it comes to portraying non-white characters. They understand that "ethnic roles" are the only ones that their appearances fit, but they don't want a director to approach them to play such a character just because they have the ethnic look, even if the role is substantial. All any working actor wants is a meaty role, and in a truly diverse and equal world, Asians can play non-Asian roles and whites can play non-white roles (barring historical figures perhaps, or roles that redefine race out of spite, or reinterpretive roles that are merely star-making vehicles not in service of a strong story and authentic portrayals). After all, every person has ethnicity and every culture is ethnic; diversity doesn't just mean non-white.
Emma Stone may lack Allison Ng's exact genetic make-up, but I didn't find her outer appearance unbelievable, perhaps due to her unique eyes (which are huge and anime-like when open and long slivers when she smiles, and yes, I'm employing stereotypical expectations of Asian eyes being "unique" here). I didn't find her undeserving of the role because she played the plucky, goofy, sassy role as written and was fairly competent at it, charming even.
Now, the movie as a whole has a lot more narrative, character, political, racial, and scientific problems than Emma Stone playing a woman of mixed ethnicity. Allison isn't a bad role, but it's not a great role either. She is Crowe's epitome of the cute and clever supporting MPDG, and beyond the cool first shot of her donning her Aviators, we don't actually get to see Allison in her professional element; her flying competency is only ever complimented by men of high brass.
If we are to blame Crowe for anything, it shouldn't be for his casting decision because Stone's look actually works for the "egg" he intended. If anything, we are blaming him for not writing a fully Asian-Pacific female romantic interest to begin with, but then we'd be asking for blanket affirmative action and not what we ask of artists: to make the piece of art they set out to make. If this is the movie he intended, well, maybe we should just blame him for making an uneven movie. Woody's angsty hissy-fit over Brian coming to town is sudden and inexplicable considering Tracy had been suffering Woody's radio silence for a while now. Brian's plan to foil the launch doesn't make much sense, and the nature of his entire contracting job is cloudy (another example of Crowe not doing his research on the occupations about which he writes *see or don't see "Elizabethtown"). My favorite moment does get a kudos though: Grace sees Brian outside her hula dancing studio, and she slowly realizes why he's there. The dawning look on young Danielle Rose Russell's face and her cathartic crying as she's simultaneously dancing is touching and impressive.
The title event doesn't even happen until forty minutes into the… MoreThe title event doesn't even happen until forty minutes into the movie. Elizabeth McGovern is criminally one-note as a criminally underwritten shrew. Kristy and Jake's relationship arc is borderline nonexistent. How did they fall for each other in the first place, and are we to believe that a baby will infuse purpose in this surface love story? Kevin Bacon plays quarter-life-crisis with stunned anxiety, and the using newspaper to plan out where furniture goes is rather clever, but the movie is a bore and a half.
When the original came out, I wasn't that into Anna Kendrick, but in… MoreWhen the original came out, I wasn't that into Anna Kendrick, but in the last three years, I've really grown to hate-like her for the annoyingly talented, enviably petite, infinity-threat powerhouse she is. Elizabeth Banks proves a competent director in this installment, charting the trajectory of some real-life senioritis challenges for the stagnant Bellas: Beca gophering for and ultimately impressing a bigshot music producer played by Key and/or Peele, Fat Amy taking a chance on Bumper, Chloe finally graduating from super-senior status, and Aubrey channeling her Type-A control freak mojo into a team-building retreat.
The best aca-performances of the movie are the riff-off invitational, the training montage, and the campfire reprise of "Cups," but unfortunately, the parts that I expected to bring das haus down (the Das Sound Machine sets, the Bellas' final set, Hailee Steinfeld's audition, and the Sia-penned generic pop song "Flashlight")...didn't. Katey Sagal has a surprisingly nice singing voice though!
Watching Britt Robertson play a teenaged, NASA-nerd anarchist is a bit… MoreWatching Britt Robertson play a teenaged, NASA-nerd anarchist is a bit jarring after seeing her essentially dry-hump a bucking barrel (yeah that's what they're called) while Scott Eastwood gives her twinkling dry-hump-eyes in "The Longest Ride." She's a baby-faced twenty-five-year-old at that awkward stage in her career when she looks either too old or too young for the starring roles for which she's cast. I'm not sure that she anchored this film or the other as well as she needed to.
Luckily though, "Tomorrowland" boasts a wealth of sumptuous visuals: a shiny and vintage 1960s Disney World, a bright and gleaming futuristic metropolis, and fun smash-cuts of the real world into the O beautiful Tomorrowland commercial of spacious skies and amber waves of grain.
The movie gets a bit confusing and convoluted about why Frank got expelled from Tomorrowland Academy of Jump-Suited Youths, what Nix's save-the-world-by-destroying-it endgame actually is, and most importantly, how Casey inexplicably "knows how things work" - this magic touch without which the character would just dwindle into Regular Girl all over again.
All the kid actors are flippin' adorbz. Thomas Robinson (whom I loved in "The Switch") is all prodigious ingenuity and chubby-cheeked puppy love; Raffey Cassidy is all freckly, blue-eyed, pertly-coifed, robotic charisma as Athena, SNASA's android talent scout; and it's nice to see Pierce Gagnon again (who was great in "Looper" and "Wish I Was Here") even though he only has a minor part.
I read "Divergent" but didn't get around to reading the rest, and… MoreI read "Divergent" but didn't get around to reading the rest, and knowing this second installment is more a loose adaptation, I wasn't wholly dissatisfied! The test simulations to open the secret box are emotional and action-packed, and the contents revealing the genesis of the faction system are mind-blowing, if obviously dumb in the first place. Pixie-cut, gun-wielding badass Shailene Woodley is badass while also showing vulnerability and self-abnegation, Miles Teller's fast-talking "go with happiness" patter is awesomely douchey, and Naomi Watts, as Four's estranged mother, plays her cards close to her chest.
Did anybody else notice that the name of the messenger from the outside is Edith Prior? Are they all related?!
So much party and bullshit, and I mean that in the best way possible!… MoreSo much party and bullshit, and I mean that in the best way possible! A financially stable but friendship-challenged guy (who manages to put a ring on a hot blonde) enlists the ultimate, temporary friendship salesman. I'm not really familiar with Kevin Hart's stand-up, but he is rather excellent as Jimmy Callahan aka Bic Mitchum, the faux Best Man. He imbues all his toasts with off-the-cuff humor, crowd-pleasing meet-cutes, researched anecdotes, and unexpected poignancy. I want him as MY Best Man!
Jimmy and Doug bonding through dance is hysterical, and the whole soundtrack is bumpin'. The septet of random groomsman is weird yet lovable, and Jimmy's flirtation with Alison, the bride's flinty sister (played by winsome Olivia Thirlby) is subtle and sweet. I was afraid Gretchen, the hot blonde, would just be a one-dimensional nice girl, but revealing her as a gold-digger is just as bad character development. Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting didn't really have any room to play with hot and bland, but maybe she could have played the gold-digger with a bit more sympathetic intention.