Archive for the ‘Jon M. Chu’ Category

Dominican Dreams

In The Heights

Director: Jon M. Chu

Cast: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Jimmy Smits, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Dias IV, Daphine Rubin-Vega, Dascha Polanca, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Olga Merediz, Marc Anthony

Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu takes on the ambitious project of adapting a Broadway musical In the Heights into a film adaptation and unfortunately the finished product while dazzling and funky has limited appeal and should have been edited considerably.

In the Heights was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda who has a small cameo role as a cool drink seller and based upon the novel by Quiara Alegria Hudes, is set exclusively in the mainly Puerto Rican and Dominican neighbourhood of Washington Heights in Spanish Harlem, New York.

Last seen in a supporting role in the Oscar winning A Star is Born opposite Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, Anthony Ramos expertly takes on the main role of Usnavi as a young thirty something Bodega owner who runs a mom and pop store in the heights with the help of his naughty but sharp cousin Sonny wonderfully played by Gregory Dias IV. It’s refreshing to see the talented Anthony Ramos headlining a film.

Audiences should watch out for a cameo by Jennifer Lopez’s ex-husband Marc Anthony as Sonny’s drug fuelled deadbeat father.

Usnavi starts off the film by telling a story to his young children and their friends about the community of Washington Heights and soon the screen explodes into a dazzling dance sequence of exuberant characters and a community which is proud of its Latino roots even if their economic advancement is often stymied by the affluent New York establishment.

With the exception of Sonny and Usnavi’s Cuban grandmother Abuella Claudia played by the brilliant Olga Merediz, the rest of the characters are portrayed with flippant glamour and without much depth including the love interest between Benny played by Corey Hawkins (Kong: Skull Island, BlackKKlansman) and Nina Rosario played by Leslie Grace.

Even well-known actor Jimmy Smits (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Nina’s father Kevin Rosario who is desperate to uplift himself out of the Latino community he is born into, does not get enough screen time or suitable characterization. The conflict between Nina and her father is deepened by her terrible experience at Stanford, an Ivy League University in California.  

The dance numbers in In the Heights are uneven, some of them are excellent especially the sequence with Claudia on a subway train channelling her Cuban immigrant roots while others are terrible including the rap number in the communal swimming pool.

As the story unfolds, the film does not find its feet until the second half when New York is plunged into a three day blackout during a summer heatwave. When the blackout occurs, the real depth of In the Heights ironically shines through.

In the Heights is an enjoyable musical about a section of the Latino community which seldom gets a spotlight shone on them. Despite some good performances, In the Heights at 2 hours and 23 minutes could have been drastically edited.

If viewers love fun musicals then watch In the Heights which gets a film rating 7 out of 10, but this area specific musical has limited appeal.

Digital Illusions

Now You See Me 2

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Director: Jon M. Chu

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Lizzy Caplan, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Daniel Radcliffe, Dave Franco, Sanaa Lathan

Following the success of the 2013 magical film Now You See Me, there was definitely a call to make a sequel and reunite the illusive four horsemen.

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In the sequel, Now You See Me 2, G. I. Joe: Retaliation director Jon M. Chu misses the mark in providing a magical follow up to the original film, despite reuniting the same cast including Jesse Eisenberg as Daniel Atlas, Woody Harrelson as Merritt McKinney who also has a rather irritating identical twin brother in this film, Mark Ruffalo as Dylan Rhodes and Dave Franco as Jack Wilder.

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New to the cast is master illusionist Lula played by Lizzy Caplan famous from the raunchy Masters of Sex TV series and the superfluous Daniel Radcliffe as a reclusive tech billionaire Walter Mabry who recruits the magicians to steal back a ubiquitous yet highly guarded computer chip which can hack into anything at an international exchange in the glamorous resort casinos of Macau.

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As the action moves swiftly from New York to Macau and then onto London, the magical tricks and digital illusions even involving numerous card tricks in which the microchip seemingly passes from one horseman to another, Now You See Me 2 appears to be lacking in the essential element of revelation. Something the first film did so brilliantly. For as the optical illusions, card tricks and magic increases, there is less time to provide valuable explanations to the bewildered if slightly amused audience.

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Veteran actors Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman reprise their roles as Arthur Tressler and Thaddeus Bradley respectively whose unholy alliance leads the Four Horseman to play the ultimate trick on the chief villain, a poorly played part by Daniel Radcliffe, who unfortunately appeared to be out of place in this sequel. Perhaps Radcliffe should stick to stronger script material with meatier roles in mind like he did in Victor Frankenstein and Kill Your Darlings.

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Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight, Foxcatcher) is plausibly believable as the elusive FBI agent Rhodes despite occasionally giving the impression that he should not have signed on for this sequel. Harrelson is in top form playing twins and the only sparks are provided by Eisenberg and Caplan who seem to be the most energetic and enthusiastic magicians.

Whilst Now You See Me 2 falls short of being as brilliant as the first film, it certainly is a fun film to watch even if the plot is slightly convoluted especially in between the globetrotting disappearing acts that the main actors seem to do quite effortlessly. Now You See Me 2 is an enjoyable film, but nothing as magical or dazzling as the original. Lets hope the third film in this magical trilogy is more impressive.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

GI Joe: Retaliation

All Braun and no Brains

All Braun and no Brains

Following on the success of 2009 GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra, featuring Channing Tatum and Sienna Miller, comes the delayed release of GI Joe: Retaliation directed by Jon M. Chu teams Dwayne Johnson with Bruce Willis along with some newcomers including D. J. Cotrona as Flint and Adrianne Palicki as Lady Jaye and is supported by Ray Stevenson (fresh from playing a Ukranian gangster on the series Dexter) as a fiendishly deranged Southerner, Firefly the muscle for the Cobra group and a little seen Channing Tatum as Duke, one of the original GI’s and Ray Park as Snake Eyes.

With a convoluted plot involving an imposter American president played with evil cynicism by Jonathan Pryce, reprising his megalomaniac villain Elliot Carver from the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, this film is nothing more than a homage to all the weapons of mass destruction, and to a male-orientated obsession with weaponry, arms and naturally testosterone fueled combat. All types of weapons are on display in this film from samurai swords to high-calibre machine guns and whilst GI Joe: Retaliation is a great action packed film to watch, one hopes that it does not inspire some unwanted teenager to randomly gun down a group of strangers in a Mid-Western American mall. Sadly in the wake of the Sandy Hook School shooting in Connecticut and the massacre at the Aurora Theater in Colorado both in 2012, Gi Joe: Retaliation‘s overemphasis on weaponry surely points to a society which is unwilling to relinquish its right to bear arms despite the many casualties.

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Gi Joe: Retaliation action spans the globe from Pakistan to North Korea, from Washington DC to South Carolina, and whilst the plot resembles a twisted version of Diamonds are Forever without the glamour and whilst there are some great moments provided by Willis and Stevenson, most of the film is filled with explosions, knife fights, infinitely explosive gun battles, exhilarating boat and car chases and perfectly provides a cinematic reason to showcase all the weapons of retaliation stockpiled by any of the G8 nations, a fill arsenal of destruction, capable of flattening any major capital city in the globe, from London to Tokyo.

Fun to watch, without much thought behind it, GI Joe Retaliation will definitely find a following in its target audience and is not as good or slick as the original film, the slightly more sophisticated GI Joe, Rise of the Cobra. GI Joe: Retaliation has some fantastic sequences in it especially the ninjas on a Japanese mountain and the odd quirky dialogue naturally involving Bruce Willis, but the script is a bit too outlandish to be taken seriously and should really be viewed in the context of a some fun Saturday afternoon entertainment. Definitely recommended mainly for bored teenage boys and young men who like the action thick and fast without much thought.

 

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