Saturday, September 22, 2018

Fahrenheit 11/9 review

About fifteen minutes into director and writer Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 11/9, he makes a fascinating point. America is actually a liberal nation. As evidence, he cites polls which show majority support for unions, a women's right to choose and other progressive causes. He even cites the recent Reuters poll which shows that a whopping seventy percent of Americans want medicare for all. So he raises the question of how did we as a nation elect a far right-wing conservative in Donald Trump as President? It's one of the themes in this film.

The film starts out with the political Titanic campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton. We again are reminded of how the Democrats and she were so confident of winning that she skipped campaigning in Democratic states such Wisconsin. It would be these states primarily in the rust belt of the Midwest and Pennsylvania that doomed her. Yet she won the popular vote. So, how did she lose?

Moore goes back and examines the system and politics that lade to Trump's victory. No doubt, he raises the Electoral College system. But Moore goes in a direction that most people would not expect. He blames Democrats. Don't get me wrong, conservative Republicans don't look good in this movie either. However, it's Democrats who "compromise" their liberal beliefs that fails working people. He makes this point by looking at the water crisis in his hometown of Flint, Michigan.

Moore uses Michigan as a microcosm of how Trump was able to win. Michigan's governor is Rick Snyder who like Trump was a super rich businessman. Promising to use his business expertise to run the state even though he had no experience running a government. To seize power from some of the cities, Snyder ordered Emergency Managers to run them and suspend democratic rule. Yes. this is true. In Flint, to save money, the manager decided to take water from a polluted river that would corrode lead pipes. As a result people were poisoned with lead.

Now in Moore's film,  conservative Republicans take some of  the blame. However, Moore is objective. He highlights a visit by then President Obama, who comes gives a great speech, and pulls a stunt by drinking a glass of Flint's water. But he does nothing to help them. Later the city is used for war games. Abandoned, you can guess that people are not going to vote Democratic. It's this abandonment of liberal ideas by Democrats that suppressed the votes of their own. Why would working people vote Democrat when it's all lip service. Hence, the rise of Trump just like Snyder. And Trump also wants power, to the point of looking like a fascist.

It's not all a horror show. Moore shows emerging democratic progressive movements. West Virginia teachers striking for better pay. Parkland, Florida high school students who survived a mass shooting, taking on conservatives and the NRA. More women candidates running in the #metoo movement. And the rise of Democratic Socialist candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who won her New York Democratic primary against heavy odds.

The problem with reviewing a documentary is what happens when the critic agrees with the political views of the filmmaker. It becomes more difficult to be objective. So, I watched Moore's film trying to be more critical of his more leftist opinions. What I looked for were moments of truth that could not be denied. Immigrant children in detention camps crying for their parents. The children of Flint poisoned by lead. Moments like these were emotional and powerful. It made me question what our democracy has become. One small gripe, the focus on Flint does take away from Moore doing a more thorough analysis of Trump's con job.

Fahrenheit 11/9 is both horrifying and hopeful. At times sad and funny. It's also a powerful call for liberals to fight back. The grade is A.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians review

As a Chinese American, I'm glad that Crazy Rich Asians has the "rich" as part of its title. Because the lifestyles of these Asians is nothing like your average, normal Chinese American. it's like a fairy tale for Asians who yearn to be really rich. And by rich, I mean rich as in royalty rich.

Based on Kevin Kwan's novel of the same name, Crazy Rich Asians, is about the romance of Nick Young (Harry Golding) who's the heir of a Singapore real estate dynasty and "commoner" Rachel Chu (Constance Wu). She's an economics professor at New York University. Nick invites her to attend a friends wedding in Singapore and meet the family, including the head of the Young family, Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) a kick ass secret agent for China... oops, that's the excellent James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies. (1997) Her name in this movie is Eleanor. She's not too thrilled about her son romancing an American commoner. If you look at the conflict that I just described, you can guess where this film is going. No, I'm not talking about the James Bond movie of a narcissistic villain wanting to dominate the world.    Hold on.  Isn't that is what is happening in America now?  Okay, back to this film, I'm talking about the coming clash of classes between the wealthy Young family and Rachel's "working" woman.  Hold on.  She''s a college professor not a constuction worker.   Oy.  I forget, this is how the Chinese want to see themselves in a movie.  . 

When Rachel arrives in Singapore, she looks up a college buddy, Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina) which sounds like in the movie "Piglet." Thank God for the internet because I would have called her Piglet. Yeah, major ABC moment. (American Born Chinese) Anyway, Peik Lin lives with her crazy rich family led by Wye Mun Goh played by Ken Jeong who thankfully doesn't do a full frontal nude scene like he did in The Hangover. (2009) That being said the Goh family steals the movie. They're wacky and fun. And Peik Lin might be super rich but she's every man or should I say every woman. The common person could relate to her wit, middle class sensibility even if she is super wealthy.  She's got a  hilarious demeanor. Peik Lin is Rachel's guide to the "royal" Young family because everybody in Asia has heard of the Young family except Rachel and us the audience.

It's a fact that there are very limited acting roles and stories for Asian actors in Hollywood films. It doesn't help when they whitewashes Asian stories. I'm looking at you 21 (2008) and Ghost in the Shell (2017) So, it is good to see another world, one that is based on Asian society. This film gets it right when they describe the color red as symbolizing good fortune to the Chinese or  the love of  eating especially dumplings. But what this film misses is that it's not a normal look at Chinese Americans or Chinese. Virtually all Chinese in China or America do not live the obscenely wealthy lifestyle of the Youngs. That economic royalty is a fantasy for Chinese. Hence, if you're not part of the world, you don't get what the real world feels like for Asians.
The screenplay by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim has some very funny moments but swings uncomfortably between comedy and drama.  This occurs when the film focuses on Nick's sister, Astrid (Gemma Chan) and her personal problems.  Perhaps this novel might have been better presented as a mini-series.  As for the directing,   Jon Chu certainly has an eye for film as his visuals are lovingly created to show the beauty of Singapore.  I'm sure this film will do well  in China as it generally has a positive view of Asians.

There is nothing new  in Crazy Rich Asians. The only thing new is this is a movie about obscenely rich Chinese who are basically economic royalty.  It's the Chinese fantasy.  Think of it this way.  It's Chinese Cinderella.  The grade is B.