Tag Archives: Ken Jeong

The Muppet Movie (2011)

This weekend, I was babysitting my two adored and adorable little nephews, Brady, who is 7, and Jack, who is 5. We went to the trampoline park and the toy store, and then we came home to bake a cake for their dad, who was celebrating a birthday. We mixed and measured and layered on nearly 5 pounds of candy, which they insisted their dad would love, including banana cannons and a candy fence we dubbed the fortress of bananatude (I know, this cake sounds banana heavy).

Anyway, the kids were discussing The Muppet Babies for some reason, which Jack pronounces ‘Muffin Babies’ and is pretty sure he’s saying the same thing we are. I’m thinking about Jack a lot today because he’s being brave and having a little surgery. Mostly I’m thinking about my sister, Jack’s mom – the surgery will likely be harder on her than on him. But anyway. After we discussed which muppets were our favourites (Kermit for Jack, Fozzy for Brady, who does work in an errant “wocka wocka” into random conversations), and how we’d recently seen them at Disney World, we decided that our pre-bedtime movie would be Lego Batman. Haha, just kidding, they watched that in the car (imagine as a kid having a movie screen in your car!) – we watched The Muppet Movie!!

It’s about two brothers, the human Gary (Jason Segel) and the muppet Walter, who is obsessed with THE Muppets, who they’ve compulsively watched on television since they were kids, but who have sadly been absent from show business in recent years. Gary and his human girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) are celebrating their tenth anniversary and plan to visit L.A. to celebrate, and Walter is thrilled to be invited along with them (by Gary, and a much more reluctant Mary) as it is the home of the Muppet studios. But once there, he discovers that an evil businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is about to buy both the studio and the Muppet name right from underneath them. So he enlists Kermit to go on a roadtrip to assemble the old gang in an effort to raise the money to save the day.

Jason Segel showed his puppet fetish in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and went full kink with this script, clearly a loving tribute to a beloved franchise. There’s joy being spewed all over the screen in this film, the movie is dripping with it, and it’s fun just to sit back and get soaked in nostalgia. The script introduces a new character, Walter, with whom we re-experience the magic of the Muppets, and it’s great to see them back in action, recreating a lot of acts that we remember so fondly, in a format that we know and love. They work in plenty of celebrity cameos, both human and Muppet, and the whole thing feels like a love letter – not just to the Muppets, but to a new generation of kids just discovering them, two of whom were cuddled next to me in my bed.

At the end of the movie, when asked how they liked it, Jack exclaimed “I didn’t know Kermit had a car!” Because when you’re 5, even the most mundane things can seem momentous. The Muppets are that elusive thing that can bring out the kid in all of us.

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Advantageous

Gwen and her daughter Jules live in a near-future metropolis where economic disparity is increasing. There’s incredible wealth and progress but also increasing instability and hardship, and more and more, women are being pushed out of the workplace complete. Up until recently, Gwen (Jacqueline Kim) has been the face of a biotech company, but she’s been released from her contract for daring to approach middle age, and she’s finding that prospects have dried up considerably since she was last in the job market.

A single mother with not a lot of help or resources, Gwen’s primary concern is for daughter Jules (Samantha Kim). It feels vitally important, now more than ever, to set Jules up with the absolute best start in life, and a prep school will go a long way to getting things right. A school that Gwen can’t necessarily afford, even when she had a salary. But how will Jules fare in a world increasingly hostile toward her gender without a head start? Gwen casts about for options but finds only one – ironically from the company that’s just fired her. Their particular brand of bio technology is a procedure that would lift your consciousness into a young, beautiful host body. They’re still in the beginning stages and could use a “volunteer” to be the first civilian subject. If Gwen accepts, she’ll be young and beautiful enough to get her old job back. Two scoops with one cone?

Imagine explaining this to your kid. Mommy’s going to the hospital, and when she comes home, she’ll be a MILF. These arms that hold you, these lips that kiss you, these hands that soothe you will be no more. It’s nearly impossible for a small child to comprehend this, but it turns out that Jules won’t have the hardest time with this. Gwen suffers a huge mental hurdle trying to reconcile her past memories with her current body. And the surgery has left her different emotionally, too. Even her personality seems different. What will life be like for her now?

I LOVE when female directors get behind science fiction. Advantageous is character-driven, and the details of the world they inhabit are cleverly dispersed. It’s low budget, so the effects aren’t what will keep you interested. But there are so many questions that will poke little holes in your soul. Gwen’s choice is a little extreme but the commodification of women’s bodies is apparently something we’ll never be able to stop talking about, and this film makes us confront the line that is so easily overstepped along the way. If this were merely about our obsession with youth culture it would be one thing, but this is also about a mother’s love, and the depths she’ll go to to ensure her daughter’s health and happiness.

Wonder Park

June and her mother (Jennifer Garner) have expansive imaginations. Together they created a pretend theme park called Wonderland, a special place that peopled by June’s favourite toys: a warthog named Greta (Mila Kunis), a hedgehog named Steve (John Oliver) a blue bear named Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell), and brought alive by the pictures and blueprints that June and her mother draw together, wallpapering June’s room with their designs.

But then June’s mother gets sick, and June can’t bring herself to play their favourite game without her. June’s dad (Matthew Broderick) thinks it’s a good idea that she spends her summer at math camp, but halfway there, she gets cold feet and heads back. But she gets so turned around she ends up in – Wonderland? But how is the amusement park in her imagination a real place? And how are her toys talking, breathing characters?

One thing’s for sure: Greta the pink warthog and friends feel abandoned by the “voices” who inspired their adventures and brought life to their home. June realizes that she’s been so afraid to lose her mom that she’s somehow lost herself. But in the meantime, saving Wonderland presents itself as a real thing. We don’t know how June has wandered into the actual iteration of the park, but she’s there, and must contend with the consequences of her neglect. Luckily, as the inventor of Wonderland, there’s no one better to fix it up and save it from the darkness.

It’s hard to make a movie with colourful, talking stuffed animals in a fanciful amusement park address grief, so the script does not, not in any meaningful or profound way, even though grief is the catalyst for June’s neglect, and her need for escape, and for pretty much 80 of the film’s 85 minute runtime. It also talks about the nature of play, and what happens when you shut down an integral part of yourself, but without really saying anything about it. The movie is really content just to a diversion for kids than to be something with a moving story or a plot that makes sense. But it’s fun and full of energy and perfectly likable if you’re 5 and think bendy straws are the shit.

Sidebar: it’s shocking how many animated kids movies have erection jokes in them. Like, it’s pretty much all of them. This one’s no exception. In fact, it’s not exceptional in any way.

Then Came You

It cost me some dignity to even click on this film. That’s the first thing you need to know. The dying teen trope is practically my nemesis and it’s truly difficult to picture a universe in which I don’t resent it just for existing. So, not exactly a neutral space for writing impartial film reviews. But Netflix doesn’t pay me to write impartial reviews. Netflix doesn’t pay me at all.

Calvin (Asa Butterfield) and Skye (Maisie Williams) meet at a cancer support group where they’re both working on bucket lists, only they don’t call them that because that movie’s already been done. Their impending deaths lend an air of urgency to these lists – Skye wants to do loads of very general sounding things, like learn a trade and leave a mark, but she imposes only one item on his list: asking out a girl.

He works as a baggage handler at an airport where he’s seriously crushing on a flight attendant named Izzy. Which doesn’t stop Sky for going full manic pixie dead girl on him. That might be a nice farewell gift to a dying teen, only Calvin’s hanging on to a secret. He’s not dying. He’s just a hypochondriac.

Does this mean I only hate this movie half as much, or twice as much, on principle?

Then Came You has some nice moments, mostly because Butterfield and Williams are more watchable than a bag of dicks. Stop with the effusive praise, you say. No shade to Butterfield or Williams – they really are a sweet pair, she not quite convincing as a free-spirited punk, he all too convincing as an awkward, gangly spazz.

The problem is with the words coming out of their mouths. Whoever writes these things clearly thinks dialogue should double as a pancake topping: pure syrup. Skye had cancer, but she died of an overdose of cheese. Which actually sounds like my new top favourite way to die. Too much cheese! But not movie cheese. Cheese cheese. Goat cheese. Old cheese. Soft cheese. All the cheese. But Sky’s fatal dose of cheese came from doing all the tragic dying girl things that tragic dying girls always do in movies. Just once I’d like to see them go kicking and screaming. I mean, how many 17 year olds can possibly be so stoic in the face of the big sleep? I guess anger and fear and bargaining aren’t as photogenic. We like our tragedy porn to be youthful, docile, and composed. Tears are fine, but no ugly crying, it goes without saying.

Then Came You is ten cents out of $1.20 (a dime a dozen – is that how that works?). If you’re adding to your weepies fix, I suppose this one deserves a spot on the list. Otherwise it’s not a super great use of your Netflix account.

Crazy Rich Asians

Netflix has quietly been reviving the rom-com: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Kissing Booth, and Set It Up have all drawn in big numbers for the streaming service, and to be honest, for us Assholes too, even though I didn’t like any of those movies, and was actively offended by at least one of them. Netflix was smart enough to offer a very lucrative deal to the team behind Crazy Rich Asians, but that team knew that if they were successful, they could make not just a film, but an event, a landmark, even. It’s been 25 years since we had an all Asian or Asian-American cast (with The Joy Luck Club), which is a number as astonishing as it is embarrassing. But with this summer’s indie successes for Blindspotting, Sorry To Bother You, and BlacKkKlansman, (and heck, I’d even put Eighth Grade on that list) audiences are proving that diverse casting and story-telling is more than welcome in theatres.

I read Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan some time ago and kind of loved it. It’s one of those fluffy, easy reads that was somehow elevated by the specific characters and setting. It opened the door to a hidden part of Asian culture and it made the reader feel part of the secret. So while I try my best to support diverse stories with my dollars, Crazy Rich Asians had already hooked me with its story. Could the film live up to the book?

In a word,  yes. Of course, it diverges from the book in some pretty big ways, but I think the spirit is definitely there.

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It’s about Rachel (Constance Wu), a Chinese-American who flies to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) to meet his family for the first time. Nick fails to prepare her for his family’s immense wealth, or for their insular, reclusive, snobbish lifestyle. Their rejection of her is immediate and definite. His mother (Michelle Yeoh) and aunts are downright cold, and the other young women (who perhaps fancied themselves in the running for his hand, and his inheritance) are wickedly cruel. Still, Rachel persists, determined to put on a brave face as she navigates the lavish “wedding of the century” featuring Nick’s best friend Colin as the groom and the beautiful Araminta as the stunning, head-turning bride. Rachel’s only ally is her college friend and roommate Peik Lin (Awkwafina) whose own fortune is dwarfed by the deep pockets of old money in Nick’s family.

Director Jon M. Chu has only two hours to communicate the impressive opulence that the book devotes chapter upon chapter to, and while he could never quite achieve the great wall of wealth presented in the book, he works hard visually to transplant the luxuriance and splendor directly into our brains. And of course the scene that works best for this is the wedding – a wedding that cost the bride’s parents more than Donald Trump could piss away in a lifetime. Tens of millions. It’s seriously impressive.

And so is the large ensemble cast – though because of their numbers and the obvious time crunch, we don’t get to know nearly as many of them even half as well as we do in the book. This is very much the story of Rachel and Nick, and everyone else takes a backseat. Although Rachel’s best friend, and curiously, that friend’s dad take up a fair bit more screen time than the novel would suggest. That’s because Chu has the delightful Awkwafina and zany Ken Jeong adding their signature spice to the mix, and Nico Santos as well, which means Crazy Rich Asians isn’t just romance and jaw-dropping locations – this shit is funny.

And it’s a lot of fun to watch, highly entertaining and enormously enjoyable. At times it veers almost into the fantastical, but it’s definitely the kind of movie that sweeps you away, from over-the-top sets and locations to the recognizable pop songs with an Asian twist. Even Sean, who probably likes your typical rom-com even less than I do, chuckled throughout and declared it a good deal of fun – and for once I could repay the favour by keeping him back for a mid-credits scene. The movie is, almost by definition I suppose, more formulaic than the book, but the familiarity is broken by the eye-popping setting and fresh cultural references. And if you love it, and I bet you will, that mid-credits scene hints at a possible sequel…in fact, the books make up a trilogy. Isn’t that just the best news you’ve heard all day? Get thee to a theatre for a Crazy Good Movie today.

Las Vegas Chronicles: The Hangover

Today the Assholes are in lovely Las Vegas, so what better movie to discuss than The Hangover? If your brain reaches back to 2009, you may remember that in the original movie, the boys wake up the morning after a wild and crazy bachelor party in Vegas only to discover that their groom is missing.

The boys stay at Caesars Palace during their stay, which wouldn’t be most people’s first choice of accommodation on the strip. It’s an older place, not as glam, and nowadays its claim to fame is hosting Celine Dion’s ongoing concert series, which you wouldn’t think attracts a lot of bacherlor parties, but what do I know? When Sean and I hit up Vegas in 2011, it was already cashing in on The Hangover success with a movie-themed slot machine that was a lot of fun to play (similarly, Sex and the City and The Dark Knight slot machines also took a LOT of our quarters).

The Hangover boys upgrade to a very swanky suite during their stay, one that doesn’t actually exist in real life but is modeled after two of Caesars Palace’s most luxurious suites in its Forum Tower – the Emperor suite penthouse, natch, and the so-called “Rain Man suite” (guess which other movie was filmed there!) that takes up two floors, has 10 TVs including in-mirror bathroom televisions, and will set you back $3500\night.

Mike Tyson appears in one of the best, most random cameos ever written, and this man has a real history with Caesars Palace, it being a popular boxing venue since the 1970s. He has said that he only took the part to further fund his drug habit, and was high on cocaine during his scenes. Mike Tyson does not own a tiger in real life. In real life, he owns 7.

The staff of Caesars Palace will tell you that to this day guests enjoy quoting lines from the movie to them upon check-in, particularly “Did Caesar live here?” and “Do you know if the hotel is pager friendly?” They are beyond tired of hearing it, but if you must, a nice tip helps secure a forced chuckle.

Las Vegas got a bump of tourism thanks to this movie, but it was already a busy place. In fact, Vegas is naturally so debauched that Bradley Cooper walked around with bloody tiger scratches on his neck, and not a single person ever questioned it. He has said that he does not believe Vegas even noticed there was a movie being made.

 

While we’re carousing in Vegas, be sure to follow us on Twitter @assholemovies to get a load of our debauchery!