Disney brings us a story of a young woman trying to heal a broken world.
Kumandra was a great country of men and dragons until 500 years ago, when it was suddenly besieged by the Druun, evil energy spirits that turn people and dragons to stone. A war ensued and the Druun turned almost everyone to stone. The dragon Sisu (Awkwafina), the last of the dragons, used her energy to forge a gem that turned the humans back to normal and banished the Druun, but the dragons stayed stone and Sisu disappeared. Six years ago, Kumandra had fallen into five nations that are constantly at odds. Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is the daughter of Benja (Daniel Dae Kim), the chief of the Heart Land, the guardians of the dragon gem. When Benja attempted to unite the land, it backfired and the dragon gem was broken, resulting in the return of the Druun. Now, Raya seeks to find the long-dormant Sisu and banish the Druun again while avoiding her enemy, Namaari (Gemma Chan), daughter of Virana (Sandra Oh), the chief of the Fang Land. Fortunately, this is a Disney movie, so she has an animal companion named Tuk-tuk that is voiced by Alan Tudyk, and some friends she meets along the way, including Boun (Izaac Wang), a young boat captain, Tong (Benedict Wong), a warrior, and a bunch of other cute characters. Unfortunately, it turns out that “legendary dragons” might not be quite what she expected.
This was a heck of a film. While I don’t know that it’ll enter the top class of Disney movies, I think it’s at least up for consideration. It was good enough that, despite the fact that it’ll be on Disney+ for free in a few months, I don’t regret buying this movie. Watch it with a friend and the cost of the purchase is basically the same as if you went to the movie in a theater. I will say that this would be a movie that would be absolutely improved by watching it on the big screen, because it is beautiful and colorful and has some wonderful action sequences. Unfortunately, this ain’t the year for that. Maybe in 2022 they’ll put it back up for a limited run.
Part of what makes this film great is that it walks a very tough line. This is a dark film in a lot of ways. It takes place in a dystopia literally populated by omnicidal balls of energy and a bunch of countries that are basically at war all the time. Children, families, etc. are shown to be victims of the Druun, and trust me, they make sure you understand that the attacks are completely indiscriminate. The leaders of these countries are frequently shown to be willing to stab each other in the back, as are many of the people. In order to balance out this dark undertone, the film often has some extremely cute moments, as well as a wider assortment of comic relief sidekicks than many other Disney films. It also just has some better comedy routines than most other kids movies, made much better by the presence and delivery of Awkwafina. She plays Sisu as someone who lacks intelligence at times, but has great wisdom. It results in some hilarious cognitive dissonance.
The film’s moral is one of the most important ones that a Disney picture has attempted in a while and, surprisingly, it does a pretty great job of pulling it off without being overly preachy. Most of the film is just about how you need to give people your trust sometimes in order to move forward. It’s one of the hardest things to do, but sometimes you really just need to believe in the ability of other people to do the right thing when asked. Now, the movie is not written by idiots, part of the reason why some characters can do this is that they are capable of dealing with the consequences of having that trust betrayed. But sometimes you do need to believe in people even if it means putting yourself on the line. At the end of the movie, I was reminded of the MLK quote: “Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.” Truly a message that the world needs if we’re going to deal with the problems facing us in the future.
Overall, this was a really great movie. I recommend it. I would even say that, if you have kids or are a Disney fan, this one was worth the money.
The Hellboy remake can go straight to Boy. I tried harder writing that joke than the people who wrote this movie.
Hellboy (David Harbour) is a demon hunter who also is a demon or a half-demon or something like that. Whatever, he’s big, he’s red, and his right arm looks like it was pulled off of a different action figure and glued on. He works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, an organization that fights all the stuff that you traditionally find in those creepy German fairy tales preying on children: Ogres, giants, witches, Ted Nugent, etc. The BPRD is led by Hellboy’s adoptive father Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian “C*cksucker” McShane), who found Hellboy after he was summoned by Nazis and Grigori Rasputin (Markos Routhwaite) back in 1945 and elected not to kill him despite the fact that Hellboy was summoned to bring about Ragnarok.
After killing a Mexican Vampire (Mario de la Rosa) who tells him the end is coming, Hellboy is sent to hunt giants with the Osiris Club, a bunch of rich English guys who have been doing this since knights were en vogue. They quickly stab Hellboy in the back and try to kill him to prevent the apocalypse and he falls into a river.
At the same time, a boar-man named Gruagach (Stephen Graham/Douglas Tait) beseeches the Baba Yaga (Troy James/Emma Tate), the Russian Witch, for a way to get revenge on Hellboy. We’re later told that this is because Hellboy stopped him from being able to switch places with a baby and be raised human. Baba Yaga tells him to find the pieces of the witch Nimue (Milla Jovovich) and put them together, which apparently isn’t hard because there are only like 7 pieces, instead of the hundreds that you’d think a body would end up in over 1500 f*cking years. Seriously, why do all these damned “separated body parts” stories keep the number so small rather than just having the caretakers go “oh hey, another year passed, let’s cut another piece off and throw it into a new mine shaft?” This is why Voldemort’s an idiot.
Whatever. Hellboy gets out of the river, because of f*cking course he does, only to find out that apparently there actually were giants that easily killed the giant hunters. Hellboy kills them in what is admittedly a pretty cool fight scene, but then the movie has to keep going by having him pass out as a young woman named Alice (Sasha Lane) arrives. She saves Hellboy, revealing that she’s a medium and also the baby Hellboy saved from Gruagach. The BPRD shows up to tell Hellboy that the last piece of Nimue is in the custody of the Osiris Club, who have now been massacred. It’s also revealed that Nimue wants Hellboy to kickstart the end of days, because that’s what they always want him to do in these movies. He’s joined by a werejaguar named Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), who has secret orders from M11, the British BPRD, to kill Hellboy if he needs to.
Hellboy gets transported to Baba Yaga’s house, who hates Hellboy for taking her eye, offers to tell Hellboy Nimue’s location in exchange for one of his eyes. Hellboy cheats her, resulting in her cursing him, because we need an emotional thing later. The heroes head to the location and kill a bunch of witches, but Nimue’s back because movie’s gotta movie. She poisons Alice, but Hellboy goes and wakes up Merlin to cure her, who also offers Hellboy the way to Excalibur, because apparently he’s descended from King Arthur through his mother. Hellboy passes, however, despite it being the weapon that cut Nimue apart in the first place. Also, almost no version of the Arthurian myth has Arthur leave a surviving royal lineage, and the ones that do mostly say that the Pendragon line only produces male heirs, so I’m calling bullshit on this “descended from Arthur through his mother” crap.
Merlin the Plot Device dies and so do most of the supporting characters. The key characters fight Nimue in a church, like one does. Hellboy kills Gruagach and falls into a pit containing Excalibur, rendering Hellboy’s earlier decision pointless. He refuses to pull it out until Nimue kills Bruttenholm, completing Baba Yaga’s curse. Hellboy pulls the sword, which starts the apocalypse for some reason, until he kills Nimue, because cliche hero’s gotta cliche hero. Later, they find Abe Sapien, which is too little too late for this film.
Thank goodness the third season of Stranger Things came out, because I would hate for a movie like this to hurt David Harbour’s career. Actually, his portrayal of Hellboy was one of the only good things in the film. He conveys a lot more complex emotions than the dialogue allows, he looks great as Hellboy, he’s completely distinct from the version of Hellboy in the other films without feeling like a betrayal of the character, and also he feels like he’s actually giving the film effort. I love Ian McShane in general, but from his narration at the beginning of the movie, I thought he was phoning it in. Given the quality of dialogue he was reading I can’t quite blame him, but still, at least Harbour tried to make lemonade out of the pile of lemon-scented dung that they gave him to work with. Daniel Dae Kim, an actor I normally like, also seemed checked out, like he was upset that he was the second choice for the role after Ed Skrein backed out over the whitewashing of the character. I didn’t see American Honey, so I have no idea if this was above or below average for Sasha Lane. Milla Jovovich… well, she was Leeloo, she gets a pass from me. What kind of pass? If you can’t answer that, punch yourself in the head and go watch The Fifth Element.
The acting really isn’t the problem, compared to the story and the dialogue. The story feels like it was cobbled together from a bunch of different scripts precisely because it WAS exactly that. This movie adapts like three or four different plotlines from the Hellboy comics and that’s kind of a mistake out of the gate. Not only are those all fairly long plots to work in, they’re also from comics that occurred pretty far into Hellboy’s run, where the series didn’t have to worry about establishing characters or trying to quickly convey how they’d previously interacted. Even more, the film had to convey how the world you’re building is different than the only previous one we’d seen in the medium, and it’s quite a bit different from both the previous movie and the comic. A big difference is the presence of Hellboy on Earth. In the Guillermo del Toro films, Hellboy is a well-kept secret. In the comics, he’s the world’s most famous supernatural investigator. Here, he’s sort of in-between, not in hiding but also not publicly super recognized. So, basically, this film had to distinguish itself, establish a world, convey a complicated story, explain the history of the characters, and also kick-ass at the same time. That can be pulled off (like Into the Spider-Verse did), but it requires a great script and some efficient storytelling. This was not that script.
It’s difficult for me to pick exactly when I realized I was probably going to hate this film, but since it was during the flashback that opens the movie, I’d say it was about 25 seconds in when Ian McShane is throwing in some random “f*cks” to remind people what the rating is. However, I can absolutely say when I realized that I definitely was going to hate the film, and that’s when Hellboy delivered the line “if my face could talk it would disagree with you.” That line is so terrible and delivered with such unearned confidence in its quality that I just about vomited. Everything after that wasn’t much of an improvement, but my standards had hit “The Room without ironic pleasure” at that point, so I couldn’t care.
I also pretty much gave up hope of any redemption in how the plot was going to play out when the knights stab Hellboy in the back and ask him “we’ve been doing this for a thousand years, you didn’t really think we’d need your help, did you?” This is stupid on several levels. First, why didn’t Hellboy ask himself that, particularly given that they explain the history of the hunt before setting off? Second, it turns out that the giants are real and they quickly massacre the knights, so they DID need his help and they could have killed him after he helped them kill the giants. Third, their plan was to blame the giants for his disappearance so that Bruttenholm wouldn’t notice, but Hellboy kills all of them single-handedly while heavily wounded, so it seems like it would have been suspicious anyway. I’d say that hey might not know that he’s that strong, but they’ve been studying him for 60 years. Fourth, why even take him on a real hunt if you’re just going to kill him? You’re doing it to prevent the apocalypse, couldn’t you have thought of a ruse that would be more likely to kill him? Fifth, you decapitate giants, but you think you can drown a freaking demon? Lastly, this entire act pretty much ends up doing nothing, as it has almost no impact on the rest of the story, meaning it was pointless.
AND THAT’S MOST OF THE MOVIE. Something kind of easily preventable happens, Hellboy kind of deals with it, but then his decisions are rendered pointless by circumstances so that they can get to the next plot point.
This movie sucks. David Harbour is pretty good and some of the fights look neat, but everything else is poorly executed.
Netflix makes a fairly generic, but fun, romantic comedy featuring a mostly Asian cast with refreshingly few stereotypes.
Vietnamese-American Sasha Tran (Miya Cech) and Korean-American Marcus Kim (Emerson Min) are neighbors in San Francisco. Due to Sasha’s parents being gone frequently for work, she often spends her dinners with Marcus’s family, even learning how to cook from Marcus’s mother, Judy (Susan Park). Years later, Sasha (Ashley Liao) and Marcus (Jackson Geach) are still close friends, but Judy dies in an accident. Sasha tries to comfort Marcus, which leads the two of them to have sex in a car. The ensuing awkwardness leads the two to fight and not speak to each other.
Sixteen years later, Sasha (Ali f*cking Wong) is a celebrity chef while Marcus (Randall Park) is living with his dad (James “The Shredder” Saito) and playing with his band. Sasha moves to San Francisco to open a new restaurant and runs into Randall when he and his father come to fix her apartment’s A/C. They reconnect as friends, with Sasha meeting Marcus’s flaky girlfriend Jenny (Vivian Bang). Sasha breaks up with her boyfriend Brandon (Daniel Dae Kim) and Marcus decides to tell her that he still has feelings for her, but she meets someone new the night before. She invites Jenny and Marcus to dinner with her new man, who is revealed to be none other than KEANU F*CKING REEVES. The evening quickly devolves as Reeves reveals himself to be strange and aggressive. He repeatedly demeans Marcus, until finally Marcus and Keanu start fighting. Jenny ends up staying the night with Keanu, and Sasha and Marcus start dating.
Marcus starts taking Sasha to all of the old, local restaurants that they went to as kids, trying to reconnect her to the city and her roots. She starts to fall in love with both Marcus and the local scene, realizing that her dislike of San Francisco was just a byproduct of her anger towards her absent parents. She reveals, however, that she’s still going back to New York to move on with her career and asks Marcus to come with her. He refuses and she leaves alone. Marcus realizes that, much as Sasha’s parents made her hate the idea of staying in San Francisco, Marcus’s mom’s death made him hate the idea of leaving. He moves out of his dad’s house, starts making his band successful, and tries to reconnect with Sasha, but gets no replies. Eventually, he discovers she’s been buying his band’s merchandise, leading him to ambush her on a red carpet and deliver a passionate speech promising to follow her wherever she goes. She forgives him and shows him her new restaurant, which is dedicated to Marcus’s mom.
Okay, so, this movie’s super generic in a lot of ways, but most rom-coms are basically just playing Mad Libs with names and jobs on the same script and we still love them. However, I do appreciate that this movie doesn’t have to portray any of its characters as idiots to try and up the comedy part of romantic comedy. I mean, yes, some of the scenes are weird and almost surreal, because it’s still a rom-com, but for the most part they’re not insane or played up for cheap laughs.
The movie has three really big positives:
First, the performances by Ali Wong and Randall Park are just so entertaining. Ali Wong is someone who would entertain me by reading a phone book humorously, but that’s what makes it better that she is cast as the more successful and slightly more “normal” of the two. Meanwhile, Randall Park is constantly showing just the right amount of insecurity and self-loathing underneath his nice-guy persona to allow the audience to gain some sort of pleasure in his misery, mostly because it’s self-inflicted and therefore earned in a traditional comic sense. When they interact, they both give off the exact vibes that the movie leads us to expect: That they were each their first loves. It makes everything that happens between them, from the resentment to the disappointment to the forgiveness all feel justified. It might be because Wong and Park have been friends for so long that it works between them, or maybe they’re both so lovable it’s easier to make it feel natural. Either way, the performances are above-average for this kind of schlock.
Second, this movie does get a slight benefit from casting two Asian comics for the lead in a rom-com. I know it shouldn’t matter, but on the other hand I can count on one hand the number of movies meant for general American audiences that are rom-coms with Asian leads. Because the movie plays up their different cultures as part of their backgrounds without going too heavy and requiring us to actually know anything about Korean-American or Vietnamese-American culture, it comes off as giving the characters something inherently more original than “guy who likes sports meets woman who doesn’t and hi-jinks ensue.” The movie also manages to avoid falling into any major stereotypes, likely because the two leads were also the ones who came up with the idea and worked on the script.
Third, Keanu Reeves. Look, this movie’s good, but if you want to know the thing that I most remember about it, it’s the scenes with Keanu. He plays a douchey version of himself so well that Neil Patrick Harris probably needs to take notes. What’s amazing is that apparently he added a decent amount to it, including the amazing character element that he wears glasses without lenses just to make himself look smart. He’s so hateable, but also so naturally likeable at the same time, that his interactions with the main characters could go either way and feel justified. You want to root against him because he’s keeping Sasha and Marcus apart, but also… he’s Keanu Reeves. It’s just such a great element in the film that really does distinguish it.
As for the bad parts:
It’s still a generic rom-com. When they get together, we know they’re going to break up then get back together again with some big gesture because every rom-com since When Harry Met Sally has told us that’s what happens. Hell, Ali Wong and Randall Park even said this was their version of that film. So, yeah, all the notes are the same and, aside from Keanu Reeves, most of the movie is just following the same generic script as all of the others. Also, them never speaking again after some post-coital awkwardness is maybe the most tired narrative device ever.
Overall, if you like romantic comedies, this is a prime example that does merit watching. If you don’t like the genre, you won’t like this.