Netflix Review: Always Be My Maybe – Cute Movie, Amazing Cameo

Netflix makes a fairly generic, but fun, romantic comedy featuring a mostly Asian cast with refreshingly few stereotypes. 

SUMMARY

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.

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No one would suspect these two just banged… except everyone with eyes.

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.

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Whoa.

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.

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No one but Ali Wong should wear that hat.

END SUMMARY

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. 

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The dad clearly supportive but also sad that his son does this.

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.

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Fine, yes, I love them and root for them because awwww….

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. 

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I got so hungry during this film.

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.

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WHOA.

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.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

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Toy Story 4: Definitely the Worst Toy Story, but Still a Good Movie (Spoiler-Free)

Pixar makes a mostly unnecessary film, but it’s Pixar, so it’s still better than 90% of the movies out there.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang from the last movie are still living with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), the girl who inherited the toys from their former owner Andy (John Morris). However, on her first day in Kindergarten orientation, Bonnie makes a toy out of items found in the trash and names it Forky (Tony Hale). Forky ends up coming to life and having an existential crisis because he was made to be thrown in the trash, not played with. On a road trip with Bonnie, Forky ends up trying to throw himself out and Woody has to rescue him, running into the film’s “villain” Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and his old lost flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts). Stuff happens and you’ll cry at one point, probably. 

END SUMMARY

Okay, first of all, if I seem a little harsh on this movie, it’s only because Pixar has set a bar that is pretty much the highest of any studio out there. Aside from the Cars movies, which I personally didn’t care for much, Pixar’s pretty much churned out magic every time for me, including all three of the previous Toy Story movies. They made Wall-E, half of which is basically the perfect film, Up, which has one of the best openings in cinema, Coco, which is a visual masterpiece, and Inside Out, which has a scene that will reduce me to a broken mass of tears even upon thinking about itohgodBingBongshe’sgoingtothemoonIpromise. So, it is with that in mind that I say this movie was good, but not Pixar good. 

Here’s the good stuff:

The opening to the film is amazing. Really, despite being a flashback, it sets up a lot of layers of the characters of Woody and Bo Peep that they had only alluded to prior to this. It also foreshadows a difference in their internal philosophies that will end up being crucial to the movie. We then head to the present and find Woody’s life is not the same anymore, because he’s not Bonnie’s favorite toy. In fact, when Bonnie plays with the toys, she makes Jessie (Joan Cusack), the cowgirl, the sheriff, leaving Woody in the closet. And, again, we’re at a good point in the narrative set-up at this point, because when Forky comes along, it’s made pretty obvious that Woody is facing an existential crisis of his own and their parallels and differences are set-up to be explored.And then we enter the second act and Forky quickly just moves to accept his place as a toy and from there the movie did kind of start falling apart a little, but more on that in a second.

The animation in the film is so damned good. It’s just… so damned good. I just re-watched Toy Story because I’m trying to watch the AFI top 100 along with the podcast “Unspooled,” and it’s unbelievably amazing how much they’ve improved the graphics without having to re-do the character models. The eyes of all of the characters are probably the best representation, because in this film all of the eyes are clearly made out of different materials based on the nature of the toy. Also, the materials that make up everything are so detailed now, as opposed to the patterned surfaces from the original. Now, this isn’t to say that the surfaces in the original weren’t amazing, hell, they’re more impressive than most CGI movies that come out now, but the technology has advanced and Pixar has advanced with it and I want to celebrate that.

The antagonist is Gabby Gabby, a Talky Tina/Chatty Cathy surrogate, who lives in an antique store and never gets played with, something that breaks her heart. I will say, this movie did a great job with her because, even though she’s the villain, her motivations aren’t nearly as evil as Al from Toy Story 2 or Lotso from Toy Story 3. She never had a chance to do the one thing toys are supposed to do, play with children, so she’s spent her entire life trying to find a way to do that and, admittedly, has gone too far. Still, you definitely sympathize with her by the end.

Bo Peep’s character has changed and grown a lot since Toy Story 2 and I really appreciate how they’ve evolved her in the interim. Without a child to play with, she has had to find her own purpose and fulfillment and it’s really a great character arc, even if it mostly happened off-screen. 

Keanu Reeves is in the movie and while his character is only okay, he does deliver a trademark “whoa” and everything was right in the world for just a second. 

Lastly, small SPOILER WARNING here, the end of the film has Woody completing an entirely new arc for his character that somehow feels believable, even though it marks a major change. I have to give credit to Pixar for being willing to change a main character’s motivations in a believable way. Also, they never explain how toys come to life, and they even seem to flat-out tell us that they’re not going to explain it, and that’s awesome, because suck it Midi-chlorians.

Now to the Bad things:

This movie was completely unnecessary. There was nothing at the end of the third movie that suggested they needed to keep telling the story. I mean, technically at the end of Toy Story, everything seemed complete, but the nature of the premise of living toys always set the idea in the back of our minds of “what happens when the kid gets older.” At the end of Toy Story 3, we see multiple ways that toys deal with it, from going to schools for communal play to just finding a new kid. It answered the last question we really had. From the trailers, they seemed like they were going to answer the question that we probably shouldn’t have answered “how are the toys alive” and “when are things toys as opposed to something else,” but the movie makes a point of not answering that, so why did we need to have this film? The themes of the movie are pretty much the same as the themes in almost every other Toy Story, or even Pixar, film, so it’s not for those.

The plot goes in like 5 different directions at once and they don’t exactly mesh as well as they should. They also have characters change a little bit too easily when they need to get to the next stage in the film. The most blatant example is Forky who resolves his inner conflict the literal second that they find something else to move on to and it doesn’t feel natural.

The big thing here is that the humor isn’t as good as it was in some of the other films. One running gag is that Buzz Lightyear is trying to listen to his “inner voice,” which just results in him pushing his own buttons and following their orders. Sometimes it’s funny, but most of the time it just makes me go “Buzz, why are you suddenly an idiot?” I mean, in each movie Buzz has some weird thing, like believing he’s not a toy or meeting a duplicate Buzz or being reset to Spanish, but he’s never been actually portrayed as this type of idiot and it just doesn’t feel real. He eventually meets Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), who actually are funny at times, but most of the time just seem to be pointless. I’m not saying there aren’t laughs, I’m saying that they weren’t quite as good as in the other films. 

The same is true of the sincere moments. There are moments in the movie that are touching and emotional, but several of them fall flat, partially because they’re just re-treads of other, better, scenes Pixar has done before. I do admit there are two scenes with Gabby Gabby that will give you some feels in your heart-holes, but aside from that it’s still lacking.

The last thing is that the movie REALLY REALLY REALLY REEEEEEEEEAAAAAAALLLY has to suspend disbelief in exactly how much people are oblivious. I mean, the toys do so much in the open in this film and it’s so obvious at times that you just can’t imagine that nobody notices. 

Overall, it’s still a good movie, but it’s definitely the bottom of the Toy Story hierarchy. And for those of you who are saying “isn’t that Toy Story 2?” I say “DID YOU EVEN HEAR WHEN SHE LOVED ME?” Still, if you liked the first three, you’ll like this. Heck, little kids might even like it more than the others, since it’s very kinetic and colorful. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum: Forced Creativity is Still Creativity (Spoiler-Free) + Weird Theory

SpoilerFree

John Wick is back and killing people, but this time he’s being hunted by an entire army of professional assassins.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Starting a few minutes after the last movie ended, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is now on the run from the “High Table” that apparently controls all of the mobs in the world after shooting Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), one of the members of the High Table who betrayed him in the previous film, while on sacred ground. The High Table has excommunicated him from all mob resources and has put a bounty on his head of $14 million, attracting every assassin in the world. John must figure out a way to get rid of the bounty while fighting off an amount of killers that makes it seem like most of the global population murders for money.

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Admittedly, after killing hundreds of other people, he might forget how to not kill people.

END SUMMARY

I loved John Wick. It was an amazing action movie that basically stripped down the story as much as possible without sacrificing emotional impact and providing a lot of worldbuilding with minimum exposition. Mostly, the long-take fight sequences provided a much desired counterbalance to the rapid cut and fast moving fights we see in most other action movies, particularly those in the MCU. It’s not that the other style is bad, but it definitely feels more dramatic to be able to just show the action in its completeness, particularly since it shows the real, and extremely impressive, skills of the stunt performers. It also allows for some more aesthetically creative fights without diminishing the brutality of the violence.

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Also, the use of color is… just amazing.

This movie continues all of that, but it becomes clear quickly that the filmmakers are realizing that they are running out of ways to keep making gunfights interesting without seeming repetitive, so they very cleverly figure out ways to force the fights to be different. Sometimes it’s by adding other people or animals, sometimes it’s by keeping John from having a gun and forcing them to improvise, sometimes it’s by reducing the effectiveness of John’s weapons, but the key is that every action sequence in the movie still feels original. Is it sometimes a little forced, like they have to go out of their way to avoid showing John having a gun or being able to just wreck all of the bad guys the way he previously has? Yeah, a little, but that doesn’t detract from the fun.

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I mean, he uses a horse as a weapon. That’s just neat.

The world in which the film is set is expanded upon a lot, including showing us some more of the inner workings of the nebulous organization that the High Table oversees. The worldbuilding continues to be interesting and the characters that populate it are all compelling, even if they’re just a clever variation on an archetype, like the wise poor man or the shadowy ninja assassin. We also get a little more background on Wick himself, but not enough to remove the air of mystery and badass that surrounds him.

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Also, Halle Berry has amazing dogs.

Basically, if you liked the first two movies, you’ll like this one.

WEIRD FAN THEORY (Mild Spoilers)

John is actually Koschei the Deathless from Russian Mythology. Now, give me a minute on this:

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I mean, they even both have… beards… and skin?

John Wick’s motivation is that someone killed his dog and stole his car. At least, that’s the ostensible motive. The reality is that the dog was a gift from his late wife and the car contained one of the last mementos he had left of her. Thus, when John loses them, he is losing a part of her, the great love of his life for whom he moved heaven and Earth… or, more precisely, killed an absolutely enormous amount of people in one night, essentially accomplishing an impossible task in order to be with her. The rage that fuels John is the desire to retain the powerful love he felt for the woman he lost. Essentially, he’s doing terrible things because he no longer has his heart.

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Her C.O.D. says “Plot and Motivation.” Common for women in movies.

One thing that comes up repeatedly in the films is that John’s nickname is “Baba Yaga,” translated from Russian as “the Boogeyman.” However, at one point in the first film, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) points out that John’s not actually the Boogeyman, he’s the one you send to kill the Boogeyman. In other words, he’s the one that you would send to kill Baba Yaga.

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Believe the old Russian guy.

In Russian Mythology, Baba Yaga is a witch or a magical being that takes the form of an old woman. As with most figures in Russian Fairy Tales, her role can vary wildly, going from snatching children and eating people who fail her tests to being a kindly, maternal figure who feeds lost children and helps them find their way home. Universally, though, she’s extremely powerful and immortal. In fact, there’s typically only one figure in Russian Mythology that is capable of destroying her: Koschei the Deathless. Sometimes he’s her husband, sometimes her brother, sometimes just her male counterpart, but she often is stated to know that he’s the only one who might be able to kill her. Hence, if John Wick is the guy who could kill Baba Yaga, he’d be Koschei the Deathless.

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See? Here he’s even meeting Baba Yaga as Ted Theodore Logan.

While Russian Mythology tends to vary a lot, Koschei’s three main qualities are that A) he’s deathless (duh), B) he can kill anyone and is shown to be magically blessed with all weapons, and C) his heart/soul is gone. The reason why he is immortal (deathless) is because his heart is gone, and typically the only way to get rid of him is to find it. His heart is usually depicted as being hidden in some complicated nested form, such as: The heart is in a needle, the needle is in an egg, the egg is in a duck, the duck is in a hare, the hare is in a box, the box is in a log, the log is in a pond, the pond is in a forest, the forest is on an island. Essentially, it’s inside of a Matryoshka nesting doll. Without a heart, Koschei cannot die.

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Also, sometimes it’s a gemstone.

What do we know about John Wick? Well, 1) he’s Russian (established in this film and implied in the first one), 2) he’s specifically a Ruska Roma, or a Russian Gypsy, a people who are known more for their performing than for their combat ability, and who are, mostly through racism, associated with myths like Baba Yaga and Koschei, 3) his name is fake, but his birth name is likely also fake, with his revealed “real name” being the equivalent of John Johnson, 4)  before he had his wife, he was famous for killing people with a pencil and after he loses her, he similarly proves that he can kill anyone with anything, and 5) he can survive stuff that would kill even most action movie protagonists (particularly in this film). Note that John is only portrayed as being lethal and immortal when he doesn’t have his heart, which is to say his love, but when he is at peace (with his dogs to serve as his heart), he is beaten up by a group of two-bit punks and his house is blown up. If he doesn’t have a gaping hole to fill in his life, he’s not immortal.

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He even bears a token of a Russian bond.

What does this mean? Well, first of all, I’m not saying he’s literally Koschei the Deathless, so I’m not predicting that magic or old women in chicken-legged houses are going to be in the next one (sadly), but I’m saying his story is similar. Ultimately, the only way John Wick can end is the same way any story with Koschei always ends: With someone returning his heart to him and killing him. I firmly believe that it’s only when John actually finds something to love again that he’ll be allowed to die.

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Of course, I could be pulling this out of nowhere. It’s not like John Wick literally keeps one of his most treasured photos inside of a book of Russian Mythology depicting Koschei the Deathless in the New York Public Library, right? Oh, wait, that’s literally in the opening scene which I sadly can’t find a clip of online to place here. Your move, John Wick: Chapter 4.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.