Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Everything Before Us

Title: Everything Before Us
Directors: Philip Wang and Wesley Chan (Wong Fu Productions)
Cast: Aaron Yoo, Brittany Ishibashi, Brandon Soo Hoo, Victoria Park, Randall Park, Joanna Sotomura, Chris Riedell, Ki Hong Lee
Genre: Indie, Drama, Romance
Running Time: 100 minutes
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Plot
What if everyone had an emotional integrity score akin to a credit score? Would that aid in people’s quest for love and happiness? Everything Before Us attempts to answer these questions through two contrasting yet parallel relationships.

He Said
Wong Fu was one of the pioneers who truly showed that content on YouTube could be as entertaining, if not even more creative and endearing than anything on TV/movies. Asian casting aside, for the Asian viewer in the US, their productions often have relatable and genuine themes that are not addressed by mainstream media. While I am not a regular viewer/follower, I do recognize their tremendous growth in production values throughout the years. Everything Before Us is their first full-length motion picture effort. Similar to a lot of their shorts, the movie’s main focus is on love and relationships (which is probably Wong Fu’s specialty) in a post-modern world in which the government tries to protect against hurtful/bad relationships. The cinematography was beautiful, but the storyline was rather predictable. Perhaps they were not accustomed to such a long running time — I felt like it was a bit drawn out. While there were some good scenes, as a whole it didn’t draw me in like some of their shorts (such as “The Last“) and there wasn’t that usual resonance.

She Said
This is an incredibly difficult movie review for me to write. I have supported Wong Fu’s works for years. I did not hesitate to make monetary contributions to their movie campaign. They provided a very intriguing premise and detailed a thorough budget plan. [They make very convincing grant writers, if I may say. :P] Along the filming process, I was given updates and the anticipation greatly built. I believed in their visions. Due to all that, my thoughts may be biased. More importantly, I approached this movie with high expectations. Did it deliver? Yes and no. As expected, the film was artistic and thought-provoking. The problem is that the premise (introduced months before the film was made) already provoked all these thoughts and conversations. The film, in my opinion, did not further illuminate the premise. It did not deliver an emotional punch. But overall, it was a beautiful attempt — they might want to fasten the pace a bit and dial down on the cheesiness a bit for their next feature film. :) In the end, I am still proud of what Wong Fu achieved and will still be their supporter.

We Say
This was a movie made for fans and with the support of fans. Its success through crowdsourcing paved a way for independent filmmakers looking for a nontraditional route to produce art. Cheers to new media!

Our favorite scene from the movie:

Movie Review: Big Hero 6

Title: Big Hero 6
Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Cast: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T. J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans, Jr., Génesis Rodríguez, Maya Rudolph
Genre: Animation
Running Time: 102 minutes
Accolade: Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature

Plot
Based on a comic book by the same name, on the exterior, this movie is an action-packed adventure/comedy about how an unlikely group of 5 “kids” and an oversized robot came together to “fight evil”, but at its core, it is a beautiful story about overcoming grief.

He Said
I was skeptical about this movie due to the unappealing title that makes it sound like a sequel and lackluster “teaser trailer”, but the fact that it was from someone who worked on Frozen made me curious. Additionally, as a healthcare professional, I also thought the concept of Baymax, a personal healthcare robot, was hilarious. Therefore I watched Big Hero 6 with little knowledge of the plot/premise and relatively low expectations… and what a splendid surprise! The beginning is admittedly slow, but once Baymax comes to life and attends to the needs of the depressed Hiro, it is golden. There is so much humor and joy to be had from the scene-stealing Baymax! The action and animation are so well done, but what impresses me the most is the brilliant and mature script that so effectively portrays tragedy, grief, and healing. The emotional ending earns all of my heartfelt tears.

She Said
If the virtue of a movie resides in its ability to induce cathartic tears, then this movie ranks very, very high on my list. In short, I balled. Like Thanh, I brushed off the movie after seeing its unimpressive (and slow paced) preview. The movie, however, drew me in the moment Hiro explored the robotics lab at his brother’s university. The innovations! What started as an intellectual adventure quickly escalated to an emotional catharsis. I recommend this animation unequivocally and can’t wait to (re-)watch it with my niece and nephew!

We Say
Big Hero 6 is an amazing and brilliant movie that has tremendous emotional resonance. Disney continues to prove it is in a new “Golden Age” with Big Hero 6 deservedly earning the studio its second consecutive Oscar for “Best Animated Feature” (after 2014’s epic Frozen). This is a must-watch movie for all of its action, comedy, and heart – it is all-around fun for all ages (although “younger kids” will probably not appreciate it as much) with a wonderful message about dealing with losses.

Broadway Review: Wicked

Title: Wicked
Directors: James M. Nederlander & James L. Nederlander
Cast: Kara Lindsay, Lilli Cooper, Kathy Fitzgerald, Tom McGowan, Matt Shingledecker, Catherine Charlebois, Robin De Jesus, Timothy Britten Parker
Genre: Musical
Running Time: 2.5 hours (with 15 min intermission)

Plot
Wicked is one of Broadway’s biggest and most acclaimed hits, which reframes the classic story of The Wizard of Oz and thereby spins it into a refreshing, creative retelling with new layers (based on the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West).

He Said
While The Wizard of Oz movie has some good songs and the costumes/cinematography is indeed iconic, I must admit that I wasn’t a fan of the movie. The slow pace and illogical storytelling felt too campy. Truthfully I also don’t love musicals as a genre. I can endure and even enjoy songs interspersed (such as in some of Disney’s classics), but I much prefer dialogue and speedy plotting. Therefore I’m not sure why I wanted to see Wicked for so many years. Perhaps it was just all of the hype (same reason I watched The Wizard of Oz). Perhaps this curiosity was renewed after watching Once Upon A Time‘s spin on Oz/The Wicked Witch of the West during season 3. In any case, I did at last see Wicked. Similar to my reaction to The Wizard of Oz movie, I was underwhelmed and felt like it was too long, but overall the storyline felt more mature and better developed with nice twists all-the-while being truthful to the source material. The costumes and staging were impressive. I didn’t love any of the songs and actually couldn’t make out the lyrics sometimes. We unfortunately also didn’t get to see the “real” star of Elphaba but instead saw her understudy, who felt like a miscast.

She Said
While the plot was excellent with many twists and connections to The Wizard of Oz, I couldn’t help but tune into the orchestra. I honestly hoped to either be seeing a play or a symphony. However, the storytelling was not lacking, with great humor interspersed. Glinda stole the show for me – in acting, comedic timing, and singing. Perhaps this is because Elphaba was portrayed by an understudy, a fact we weren’t informed of until we sat down and read the Playbill… Another complaint: the main love story was inappropriately sexual. There were kids in the audience and I had hoped the show to be more G-rated. Overall, it was nice to see what the buzz is all about, but it definitely felt long. I was ready to leave after Act I…

We Say
Our Wicked viewing exemplifies how much productions (be it TV, movies, or musicals) depend on star power and the right casting. When the lead role suffers, the rest suffers too. While Wicked wasn’t terrible by any means and honestly musicals aren’t our cup of tea, we think we would have enjoyed it more if the character of Elphaba was played by someone else. Wicked is definitely a must-see for fans of The Wizard of Oz and for people who love Broadway/musicals. For everyone else, you can see it for the hype and to experience Broadway (great production values), but it’s not worth going out of the way or to pay lots of money for if you’re not a true fan (which is what we did).

Movie Review: Despicable Me (1 & 2)

Title: Despicable Me
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Cast: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Kristen Wiig, Will Arnett, Benjamin Bratt
Genre: Animation
Running Time: 95 minutes; 98 minutes

Plot
The Despicable Me franchise follows the adventures of Gru, a “super-villain”, his Minions, and the family he acquires in his quest to enact his “evil plots”. There are currently two movies, with more coming out in the near future.

He Said
I saw the trailer for Despicable Me in 2010 when I was watching Toy Story 3 in theaters. It seemed funny, but I never had any desire to watch animated kids movies (not made by Disney/PIXAR). Curious about the ubiquitous Minions and hearing that the niece/nephews enjoyed the movie, I decided to watch it after so many years. Similar to Tangled, I wanted to quit after 20 minutes. The movie seemed like superfluous, forced comedy without any storyline. Despicable Me picks up instantly after Gru decides to adopt three orphans to fulfill his villainous plan. From there, it becomes a rather entertaining and fun story about how a “villain” becomes a “hero” (in the vein of Wreck it Ralph – albeit not as touching). Despicable Me 2 picks up where the first movie left off, making Gru return to his “former ways” to catch a true “super-villain”. Unlike its predecessor, the sequel is all over the place, with no true plot. While it retained the humor and it was nice to see the charming characters from the first movie again, the sequel was not memorable as it lacked that emotional pull.

She Said
One of my challenges/resolutions for this year is to write a children’s book. Thus I asked my niece and nephews about their favorite books/films for inspiration. This gave rise to a weekend marathoning animated features. Like Thanh, I wanted to quit Despicable Me, but faith in my little ones’ taste kept me going. In the end, the charming film introduced one of the cutest animated characters – Agnes. The sequel, however, disappointed on all fronts, overdosing viewers with unnecessary humor, characters, and side plots.

We Say
Despicable Me is a charming and funny movie with a positive message (despite a slow start). While Despicable Me 2 does a decent job with continuing the storyline and providing some further character development, it lacks the clear theme/purpose that the predecessor has and is therefore not as good. If you watch the original 2010 movie, you will probably end up liking the characters and thus want to continue to watch the rest of the franchise. Here’s to hoping that they don’t milk the cow too dry!

Movie Review: Gone Girl

Title: Gone Girl
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Running Time: 145 minutes

Plot
Nick and Amy Dunne neared the seventh year itch in their marriage. The two lost their jobs in New York City and moved back to Nick’s hometown in Missouri to take care of his ailing parents. Using the last bits of Amy’s trust funds, Nick opened a bar with his sister. Things seemed to have found a rhythm again, until Amy went missing on their fifth year anniversary. Now the whole town is left to wonder… Did Nick kill his wife?

He Said
With very superficial knowledge and having not read the book the movie is based on, I really did not know what to expect – and for that I am grateful. You do not feel the 2+ hour length because the movie flows so beautifully and runs at an exhilarating pace delivering endless thrills and chills. It was very well directed and mostly well cast. The dark cinematography truly captivated me into the movie’s actions. Gone Girl highlights how so much of what we think we “know” is all about perceptions (and oh, how easily that can be manipulated!). When it comes to crime, as a society we rely on “evidence” to convict, but the truth? Only the victim and the culprit will ever really know. The depiction of modern media’s (or is it the public?) lust for scandal was spot-on.

She Said
The singular merit of Gillian Flynn’s novel is its twisty, fast-paced narratives. Having read the book, it unfortunately robbed me of a raw movie experience. The film remained faithful to the book, smartly cutting out scenes/characters. Affleck gave a believable performance as someone confused, outwitted yet cunning. Pike half-convinced me that she’s the titular sociopath, but most of the time carried a blank expression. I honestly don’t understand the Oscar’s buzz surrounding her. David Fincher did not impress me as the movie’s director, either. There was nothing exquisite about the picture. Overall, it was an average movie with a terribly bleak message about marriage:

Nick: Yes, I loved you and then all we did was resent each other, try to control each other. We caused each other pain.
Amy: That’s marriage.

We Say
The best way to view Gone Girl is to have as little knowledge about it as possible. The twisty ride will be much more enjoyable and keep you at the edge of your seat!

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Bees

Title: The Secret Life of Bees
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Cast: Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, Paul Bettany
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 110 minutes

Plot
Based on Sue Monk Kidd’s novel of the same title, The Secret Life of Bees is a coming-of-age journey for Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning), who was trapped between her father’s ruthlessness and guilt for having accidentally killed her mother. Escaping her hometown with her stand-in-mother Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), Lily found solace in a pink house inhabited by three beekeeping sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, and Sophie Okonedo).

He Said
This was the first time I watched a movie blind, with no knowledge of premise or plot. I’m not sure I liked this, as I didn’t know what to expect as I was watching. Some scenes were hard to follow (possibly a result of the movie being unable to provide backstories from the novel). While an enjoyable movie, overall I felt the story wasn’t as well-fleshed as it could have been and it lacked depth in characterization. I thought they would focus more on the social/race issues of the 1960’s, but it turned out to mostly be a teenage girl’s coming of age story.

She Said
While not as poignant or powerful as the book, the film was a fine effort. Most notable is Sophie Okonedo’s performance in her supporting role as May, a simple-minded, innocent, and lovable “Calendar sister”. August, on the other hand, was disappointing. While she was my favorite character in the book (whom I secretly wish would come to life and be my best friend), she rather paled in the movie with a much more limited screen time. Dakota Fanning delivered a believable performance as a girl looking to be loved. Overall, the movie was reasonably paced, had touching moments, but the true gem could only be found in the book.

We Say
A suitable family drama for a Sunday evening. But if you’re looking to be inspired, moved, and empowered, grab the paperback!

Movie Review: The Fault in Our Stars

Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Director: Josh Boone
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 125 minutes

Plot
Based on John Green’s young adult novel of the same title, The Fault in Our Stars followed the lives of teens who are fighting cancer.

He Said
While the book felt excessively long, the movie felt choppy and like a poorly pieced-together dramatization of various scenes in the book. Without a clear purpose, the storyline was non-existent and consequently lacked development and was hard to follow. Characters were not at all fleshed out and for the most part were poorly acted. Devoid of charm and feelings, this movie had a poor prognosis from the moment it started.

She Said
In an interview, Green expressed that his book wasn’t about death or cancer. It was about people struggling to accept the idea of ambiguity. Unfortunately, the movie only told a story of teenage love that was slightly blinded and incredibly rushed. It was not heartfelt. One of the better parts of the book was Augustus’s metaphorical use of cigarettes. In the movie, he looked like a jerk with a cigarette in between his lips. It doesn’t help that Ansel Elgort absolutely cannot act.

We Say
We disliked the book. The movie was worse. Our favorite scene was when the credits rolled.