As one very intelligent philosopher said, expectations are a devil, aren’t they? It’s so easy to overhype a film from a two minute trailer, only to have that hype squandered with the final product. However, it’s even easier to be a cynic in this day and age, watching a two minute trailer and thinking “that’s got to be a terrible movie.” Surprisingly though, there are a number of films that were seemingly destined to fail, and miraculously ended up being quality films.
Crazy Rich Asians
God forbid we lose the ancient Chinese tradition of guilting your children.
The trailer for Crazy Rich Asians did absolutely nothing to convince me that it was going to be nothing more than a dopey, melodramatic affair. Upon watching it, however, I can honestly say I had a legitimately good time. The character of Rachel Chu and her determination to have the approval of her boyfriend’s very protective mother is the heart of the film, complete with great performances across the board. The surprising standout is Akwafina, who delivers some of the very best laughs in the entire film. Her comedic timing is razor sharp, enough to make haters into fans, myself included. Though it isn’t groundbreaking, Crazy Rich Asians is a cultural milestone that is respectful of its heritage yet lucid to the ever changing times that heed a response. Also, it has what could be the most beautiful wedding ever put on film.
Grey Trace: See, you thought I was a cripple but you didn’t know that I’m a ninja.
Stem: While I am state of the art, I am not a ninja.
I somewhat expected Upgrade to be a tolerable film, but MAN OH MAN did I not see this coming. It’s a Rated R retelling of Ratatouille, and this time, he’s serving up kills.
I’ll see myself out.
Still, Leigh Whannell’s futuristic revenge tale is everything that Venom should have been: Violent, creative in its shocking violence, a reluctant hero, and a lurid sense of fun. The future aesthetic feels as though it takes place in the Blade Runner universe but still feels like Whannell’s brainchild with its soaring creativity. Upgrade is an insane piece of cinema, unbridled and uncompromised by convention, delivering a refreshingly original and at times innovative sci-fi film.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado
Matt Graver: You gonna help us start a war.
Alejandro: With who?
Matt Graver: Everyone.
Well what do ya know, this didn’t suck. I can’t say that after watching the first Sicario, I thought to myself “Oh boy, we need a cinematic universe of this!”. Though not directed by Denis Villeneuve, Day of the Soldado is once again written by Taylor Sheridan, who’s been proving to be a great writer/director in his own right, so the tone and feel of the original is very much intact. Stefano Sollima is at the helm and, though he does do a brilliant job as director, it pales in comparison to Villeneuve’s masterful direction that made the original an modern classic. Fortunately, Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin are the main focuses this time around, and they are in top form. Day of the Soldado is a perfectly fine companion piece to the 2015 original, developing del Toro’s already-iconic character of Alejandro even further, and actually having me want there to be a third film. Here’s hoping!
Laurie Strode: I always knew he’d come back. In this town, Michael Myers is a myth. He’s the Boogeyman. A ghost story to scare kids. But this Boogeyman is real. An evil like his never stops, it just grows older. Darker. More determined. Forty years ago, he came to my home to kill. He killed my friends, and now he’s back to finish what he started, with me. The one person who’s ready to stop him.
It’s incredible that it took four decades, but we finally got a good Halloween sequel. Having spent the summer prior watching every film in the series, I had zero expectations for this new installment. The lore of the Halloween series is downright comedic, and it was an act of wisdom that David Gordon-Green and co. decided to retcon all of the sequels, leaving this and the 1978 original canon. The end result is something surprisingly well done. To me, what made Michael Myers the quintessential horror icon is the lack of information. We don’t know what motivates him to kill, or if he even gets pleasure from it. He is the embodiment of pure evil, and that’s reason enough to be frightened. Halloween 2018 knows this, and delivers the most satisfying portrayal of Michael Myers to date. The tracking shot of Michael Myers going from house to house is worth the price of admission. Though there’s some questionable comedy (“I got peanut butter on my penis!”), and some truly baffling character decisions that grinds the film to a complete halt at one point, Jamie Lee Curtis’ homecoming to the series breathes new life into the once dead franchise, with a phenomenal score by series creator John Carpenter to boot.
Agent Burns: [to Charlie and Bumblebee] Don’t run. Do *not* run.
[Bumblebee runs off, carrying Charlie]
Agent Burns: She ran.
After twelve years and five horrifically dated films, the Transformers series finally netted a good, at times great entry. Being notorious for its portrayal of its women and the damsels they play, the inclusion of Hailee Steinfeld as the lead Charlie is more-than-welcome change of pace. It’s quite the testament to this film for being able to stand on its own, while belittling the crass humor and racist undertones that Michael Bay’s films ravished in. Steinfeld is typically fantastic, playing a wide range of emotion to perfection, once again showing us that she’s an actress to look out for. John Cena is reliably charismatic, though a little offputting in the more serious scenes with his character, which is ironic considering the sheer mass of the man. The title character is done lovingly, with director Travis Knight conducting a Transformer story that actually does the original cartoon justice, implementing a tone that evokes adolescent wonder reminiscent of ET (to a certain fault). In the end, though it’s not as flashy or explosion filled as its predecessors, Bumblebee has its feet on the grown, delivering a down-to-earth film that isn’t focused on its ludicrous action, and instead acts as a much needed breath of fresh air for the series.
David Kim: I didn’t know her. I didn’t know my daughter.
A huge temptation when making a movie is to end up being preachy. Every film has a message, an intention, sure, but that message is almost always conveyed best when its conveyed with subtlety. Searching is very much a cautionary tale concerning social media and the prevalent and constant dangers it can produce with ease. However, there was no point where the message overwhelmed or stole the narrative’s momentum, telling a story of a father desperately looking for his missing daughter. John Cho delivers a career best performance, perfectly invoking the confusion, uncertainty, anger, anguish that his character is burdened with throughout the film. The main surprise here is the near perfect and terrifying portrayal of social media websites and the dreadful trends we all see on our feed. This isn’t pandering, though it easily could’ve been, and instead portrays those trends and regularities with the terror and oddness that, deep down inside, we all know it to be.