'Rich Asians' plus pre-Christmas horrors

By Tom Von Malder | Dec 02, 2018
Photo by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Michelle Yeoh, left, Henry Golding and Constance Wu star in "Crazy Rich Asians."

Owls Head — Crazy Rich Asians (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 120 min.). So this is how the top 2 percent live, with tradition and immense wealth mingling with a lot of empty lives. Much has been made of the film's almost 100 percent Asian casting, but the roles they still play are mainly stereotypes, albeit ones Caucasians usually play. Ironically, one of the two leads, Henry Golding, could easily pass for Caucasian.

At its heart and stripped of all the trappings of wealth, the film's story is about two lovers from two different walks of life, with the wealthy one's mother determined to sunder their relationship. Golding ("A Simple Favour") plays Nick Young, the heir to a considerable Singapore-based fortune who has taken a couple of years off to live in America before taking control of the family's lucrative businesses. During that time in America, he has fallen in love with Rachel Chu (Constance Wu of TV's "Fresh Off the Boat"), a Chinese-American college economics professor, who was raised by a very poor single mother. In a bad choice, Nick has never told Rachel that his family has vast wealth.

In the prologue, we see Nick's mother (Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor Young) encountering prejudice when she tries to check in to a London hotel in 1995. The twist is she and her unseen husband now own the hotel, something the staff is unaware of. The scene does set Eleanor's steely demeanor. Forward to the present, Nick and Rachel have met for lunch and Nick asks Rachel to accompany him to Singapore to meet his family, as Nick is to be the best man at his friend Colin Khoo's (Chris Pang) wedding. Also, it would give Rachel a chance to reconnect with her college roommate, Peik Lin Goh (the wonderful and funny Awkwafina of "Ocean's 8"), whose parents are played by Ken Yeong (funny as usual) and Chieng Mun Koh.

Since loving Rachel would mean Nick staying in America and therefore his less adept cousins taking over the family business, Eleanor is cold at first to Rachel and then actively seeking to break the couple up. Nick's cousins, by the way, include Remy Hii as Alistair, a filmmaker in love with a no-talent, big-buxom starlet; Ronny Chieng as finance guy Eddie; and Gemma Chan (TV's "Humans") as fashion icon and non-profits helper Astrid. A subplot has Astrid having difficulties with her less successful husband (Pierre Ping as Michael).

One of the film's best moments is how it embraces social media. While Nick is asking Rachel to go to Singapore at lunch, their photo is snapped and, even before they leave the restaurant, Eleanor is calling Nick to ask if it is true. Director Jon M. Chu ("Now You See Me 2") allows us to follow the news through social media via split screens, instant messages, tweets and "drawn" graphics. Similarly, when Nick and Rachel fly to Singapore, Chu uses the old standby of drawing an arrow on a map. By the way, it has been five years since I have flown and I've never flown first class, but their airplane tickets are to a "suite" that looks more like a hotel room to me than being on an airplane.

Colin's bachelor party takes place on a container ship, to which they are ferried by helicopters (and the stereotype is "Ride of the Valkyries" playing, a la "Apocalypse Now"), and bride-to-be Araminti's (Sonoya Mizuno) bachelorette party is on the fictional Samsara Island, to which the participants have to be flown. The wedding itself recreates a jungle inside the church, complete with water flowing down the aisle.

The movie is well made and very opulent looking, but its core story is a very familiar one. Bonus features include audio commentary by director Chu and source novelist Kevin Kwan, both of whom also appear in the making-of featurette (7:18). There also are six deleted scenes and one extended one (12:10 total) that include Nick and Eleanor having a fight over Rachel, an explanation of how Nick and Colin got away from the bachelor party, and a longer wedding dance scene that is very nice. Finally, there is a gag reel (1:47). Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2.75 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

All the Creatures Were Stirring (RLJE DVD, NR, 80 min.). Constance Wu ("Crazy Rich Asians") also has a small part in this Christmas-themed horror anthology. The shorts are connected by a wrap-around segment about a man and a woman who meet for an awkward first date on Christmas Eve. The guy has booked two seats to an experimental theater presentation that seems mostly mime; however, what they act out on stage become the live short films. Wu plays Gabby in a segment about alien abduction.

Of the six short films, including the wrap-around that briefly pops up between each segment, before becoming the final segment itself, two stand out. The first is about a man who gets locked out of his car after a late bit of Christmas shopping. He meets two women in a van, who allow him to use their cellphone to call for help, then things turn decidedly creepy. The other one has three Christmas ghosts attack an anti-Christmas grump, as his TV shows an old black-and-white film about three Christmas ghosts. Fiction turns into reality.

Among the other stories is a mini-"Saw" about office workers forced to play a deadly game of secret Santa while locked in a room, and a reindeer seeking revenge after a driver strikes and kills Blitzen. Overall, it is an uneven effort. The sole bonus feature in audio commentary by the filmmakers, including co-directors/co-screenwriters Rebekah McKendry and David Ian McKendry and producers Joe Wicker and Morgan Peter Brown. Grade: film and extra 2 stars

The Nun (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 96 min.). The fifth film in the "Conjuring" franchise, this purports to tell the story of the origin of the evil or, at least, how the demon got out to cause destruction in the world. Thus comes the first strike against the movie: one knows how it has to turn out. What the film does have going for it are some wonderfully creepy old castles on location in Romania, including Corwin Castle and Bethlen Castle. They help give the film a wonderful look. Too bad the story is not as interesting, despite one massive scare and two secondary ones. As often is the case, the film's final 10 minutes, when the evil is confronted, are the best.

Demian Bichir plays Father Burke, a priest the Vatican uses to investigate the unusual. He is sent to the Abbey of St. Carta in Romania, along with novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate the hanging of a nun and to determine whether the abbey is still holy ground. (There is a real Abbey of St. Carta, mostly ruins now, located near Sibui, Transylvania, Romania, which was said to be haunted.) In the film, the nearby villagers think the abbey is cursed, but Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), who makes food deliveries to the abbey and discovered the body, brings the visiting pair to the abbey.

Weirdness begins as the sister's corpse, which had been lying down, is found sitting, and her blood on the outside steps is still fresh, despite her death having occurred weeks earlier. One of the best sequences has a demon attack Frenchie in the abbey's graveyard. There also is a flashback to Father Burke's attempt at an exorcism of a young boy in the past, setting up the boy's apparition to taunt the priest in the present.

When Sister Irene is attacked, the screen is so dark, it is hard to know what is going on. The three main characters then forget the rules of horror films and split up while searching for the entrance to the catacombs beneath the abbey. Both the beginning clips from previous "Conjuring" films and the epilogue ending tie this film to the previous films. Basically, this is a haunted house story.

Bonus features include seven deleted scenes (12:18); a look at the film's Romanian locations (6:18; the best extra); a look at the Nun as a new horror icon with creator James Wan (5:18); and a "Conjuring" chronology (3:50). Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 2 stars

Ride (RLJE, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 76 min.). An expansion of an original short film (also included) by writer-director Jeremy Ungar, making his feature film debut after a handful of short films, this film should turn off anyone from working for a ride-share company, such as Uber or Lyft. Here the company is Ryde in Los Angeles and the driver is James (executive producer Jessie T. Usher), a struggling actor who is proud to have a henchman role on TV's "Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D." on his resume.

His first fare for the night is Jessica (Bella Thorne of "The Duff," "Midnight Sun"), with whom he has an instant attraction, and she invites him to meet up with her later at the club she is hanging out with friends. His next fare is Bruno (Will Brill), who is mysterious about his destination -- instead picking several stops -- but charismatic enough to get James to recite a monologue from "Richard II" and then go to the club to meet Jessica and invite her to travel with them to a party in Malibu. As the evening wears on, the slightly obnoxious Bruno becomes more aggressive and soon is forcing the other two into unwanted acts.

It takes more than half of the run time to get there, but the film eventually builds tension. Grade: film 2.25 stars

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973, Warner Archive Blu-ray, R, 87 min.). From Hammer Productions, this was the studio's final Dracula film and a follow-up to "Dracula A.D. 1972." More like a spy film than a horror film for the most part, it opens with a rite in progress, and instant nudity. A man then escapes from that house, which we learn later is Pelham House. He was undercover for a government agency, an agency run by one of the five men participating in the blood rite and sacrifice, during which the undercover agent took photos. Four of the men are high government figures, while the fifth photo lacks a subject, apparently because it was a photo of Count Dracula (Christopher Lee), whose image cannot be captured on film.

The investigators, before they are shut down, bring in Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), who does a lot of explaining, to help. It is 31 minutes before Dracula appears, but later he is shown to also be industrialist D.D. Denham, whose aim is to wipe out mankind with a new strain of the bubonic plague. Van Helsing rightfully asks, but would that not wipe out Dracula's food source.

Joanna Lumley, long before "Absolutely Fabulous," plays Van Helsing's granddaughter, Jessica, who has an encounter with Dracula's secret stash of female vampires in the basement of Pelham House. Overall, this is not a very good film and is absent of any excitement. It does seem to kill Dracula for good at the end, though. Grade: film 2 stars

The Happytime Murders (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 92 min.). Someone had the awful idea to make a murder mystery starring Melissa McCarthy and a bunch of lewd puppets -- story by actor Todd Berger and Dee Austin Robertson; screenplay by Berger -- and then have Brian Henson direct the film and his Henson  Alternative (HA!) bring the puppets to "life."(Brian is the son of Muppets creator Jim Henson.)  I am surprised the film did not earn an "X" rating what with its voluminous use of the "f" word and anatomical jokes.

Berger, apparently inspired by "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," has created a Los Angeles in which humans (aka "meatbags") and puppets coexist, but the puppets are a downtrodden lot, used mostly for entertainment, including, unfortunately, porn. The "hero" of the film is puppet private detective Phil Philips (voiced by Bill Barretta), who narrates the story. He used to be a cop, partnered with Detective Connie Edwards (executive producer McCarthy), but was drummed out when he failed to shoot a puppet suspect that was holding Connie hostage and, instead, killed a bystander. This led to the creation of the city's Philips Code, that no puppet could ever be a policeman again.

Phil and Connie are forced to work together again after the cast of "The Happytime Gang" puppet TV show start being killed off. One of the cast is Phil's brother, who has bleached his blue skin and otherwise tried to change his appearance to be more human like. A running joke is the puppets keep referring to Connie as a man.

The humor is hit or mostly miss, with the two biggest groans and laughs coming from two scenes involving bodily fluids, both cow and puppet. Some of the puppets are sugar junkies, as is Connie, who has had a puppet liver transplant. Phil has a funny line as, while being beaten, he says, "You realize I have no bones. You're basically fluffing a pillow."

The film has a decent central mystery and Maya Rudolph is fun as Phil's human secretary, Bubbles. Elizabeth Banks plays Jenny, the only human Happytime Gang member. Among the naughty doings is a "Basic Instinct" interrogation homage. Mostly the film is puppets doing outrageous stuff, just because they can.

The film's closing song, appropriately, is Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy," a personal favorite. During the closing credits are some scenes showing the puppeteers in action. More of this follows in the extras. Bonus features include audio commentary by Henson and Barretta; six deleted scenes (14:24); an at times very funny gag reel (2:47); a line-o-rama (2:35); and how-they-did-that stuff, including virtual environments (2:15), avatar demos (2:45) and a visual effects breakdown (4:08). Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 2.25 stars

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