Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

New Releases For the Week of  8/17/18

Crazy Rich Asians (R)

Starring: Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Chris Pang, Gemma Chan

Directed by: Jon M. Chu

At its core, Crazy Rich Asians is a rom-com with the classic pairing of a beautiful woman from one culture and handsome man from another, but the cultures are not what you think. Rachel (Constance Wu) is an American-Chinese Economics professor from Queens whose mother reminds us of those we met in The Joy Luck Club. New Yorker Nick Young (Henry Golding), is originally from Singapore, but more importantly, his family is mega-wealthy. And I mean MEGA wealthy. Both try to hide their backgrounds. He tries to act thrifty around his basketball buddies while dressing off the court in custom-tailored suits and hand-made shoes. She tries hard to avoid being stereotyped by Caucasian racists and highly competitive Asians. At the same time, Rachel’s mother and Nick’s family insist on following centuries of Chinese traditions. Can you predict some of the conflicts that will arise? Of course you can, but what you won’t envision is the over-the-top extravagance as “old money” and “nouveau-riche” families compete by trying to outspend each other. In the end, we enjoy watching characters who are crazy, or rich, or crazy-rich played by an “all Asian” cast while shedding a few tears (both of joy and sorrow) along the way. 

3 and 1/2 pieces of conspicuous consumption rom-com toast 




The Miseducation of Cameron Post (NR)

Starring: Chloe Grace Moritz, John Gallegher Jr., Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, Emily Skeggs, Quinn Shepard

Directed by: Desiree Akhavan

The logic of putting gay and lesbian teens in a summer-camp setting to “cure them of their gayness” makes perfect sense to the conversion-therapist and her minister brother who run “God’s Promise.” “I lost my gayness through prayer and therapy” the brother tells the latest group of adolescents, with the unspoken assumption that it will work for them too. The film is set in a 1993 past where things were either one way or the other, and the Kinsey scale (a graduated measure of levels of sexual orientation) was only talked about in research studies. It would be easy to hate or laugh at the earnestness of the siblings who run things, but they truly believe that eradicating SSA (same sex attraction) is a worthy endeavor. The filmmakers have wisely chosen to make Emily M. Danforth’s YA novel as a coming-of-age story in the mode of a John Hughes film. So instead of comic book characters, we have authentic, realistic people grappling with the universal challenge of becoming who they are.

3 pieces of a John Hughes style film with homosexual boys and girls toast 




Puzzle (R) 

Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Irfan Khan, 

Directed by: Ken Marino

Opening in a setting straight from the 1950’s,  Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) celebrates her 40th birthday by doing all the work for her party and then opening her presents alone. That is because she has allowed her over-bearing husband and doltish sons to treat her like a servant. Among the presents are a new iPhone (cuing the audience into it is happening right now), and a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle that she joyfully assembles into a map of the world in a few minutes. For underneath the oversized sweaters and frumpy dresses is a talented puzzle assembler. Through a series of overly complex plot points, Agnes ends up competing in a jigsaw puzzle contest partnered with a handsome, recently-divorced millionaire where the grand prize is an all-expenses-paid trip to Belgium. If this storyline sounds trite—it is. The only reason to see this movie is to watch Kelly MacDonald transcend the absurdly obvious screenplay. 

2 and 1/2 pieces of only worth seeing for Kelly Macdonald’s performance toast




Alpha (R) 

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Hohannes Haukur Johannesson, Leonor Varela, Jens Hulten  and Chuck the wolf-dog

Directed by: Albert Hughes

Forget what British actor Martin Clunes or British naturalist David Attenborough told you about how dogs are descended from wild wolves. In Alpha, director Albert Hughes tells how the man’s best friendship really evolved. Set in Ice-Age Europe (with Canada’s wilderness as the impressive, filmed for I-Max stand-in), it tells the story of  Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a misunderstood teenager in the mold of dozens of other misunderstood movie teens.  Speaking a language invented for this film (and forcing this reviewer to ask why bother—when researchers have already created ancient languages for movies like 1,000,000 Years BC, and Clan of the Cave Bear?), the tribal leader encourages his son to revel in the hunting rituals he will soon join. However, fate has other plans, and a bison hurls the boy over a steep cliff. Abandoning Keda as dead, the tribe returns in sorrow to its compound. In the interests of making a feature-length movie, Keda didn’t die, and manages to fight a pack of hungry wolves while injuring one in the process. This injured wolf and the injured boy bond with each other leading to bucolic scenes of them romping together against picturesque backgrounds. When snow arrives, the need to return to the human tribe becomes more desperate—especially since cans of Alpo were few and far between way back then.

NOTE: PETA has called for a boycott of Alpha, claiming that five bison were killed and skinned during the production. The studio first responded that the animal carcasses were “legally obtained from a slaughterhouse,” but later added that they may have come from “a rogue butcher.”

3 pieces of a familiar boy and dog trope with very realistic scenes of prehistoric hunts by man and beast toast

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