EASTER SUNDAY (2022)

August 5, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Director Jay Chandrasekhar and co-writers Kate Angelo and Ken Cheng have crafted a tribute to the Filipino community, paying homage to family bonds and the culture. The obvious comparisons here are CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018) and any number of Bollywood movies offering insight and a peek behind the curtain of Indian families. As global societies continue to disburse and intertwine with various races and cultures, it only makes sense for us to gain more understanding of each other … and what better way than through comedy?

In the film, real life comedian Jo Koy plays fictional comedian and aspiring actor Joe Valencia. Joe moved to Los Angeles, away from his Bay area family, to pursue a career in entertainment. It’s been a struggle, and he’s best known for a beer commercial where he looks into the camera and says, “Let’s get this party started, bayBee!” One of the recurring gags is how so many either recite the line to him, or plea with him to do so. Up for a big role in a TV pilot, Joe once again lets down his high school aged son, by attending an audition rather than a parent meeting at school. Junior (Brandon Wardell) is struggling a bit with his grades at the prestigious prep school he attends. See, Joe’s career as an actor might not be rolling, but his ex-wife is a powerful attorney married to a professional athlete.

The real fun begins as we see the tension between father and son on the road trip they make to join the rest of the family for Easter Sunday … an important day for Filipinos. Along the way, we experience two more of the film’s running gags: Joe’s mom (Lydia Gaston) pressuring him not just to show up, but to not be late, and Joe’s agent (played by director Chandrasekhar), whose use of ‘entering a tunnel, so I’ll be losing the connection’ is his standard way of ending a conversation when he’s done. Once they arrive, we get yet another running gag – the ongoing sister rivalry between Joe’s mom and his Tita Theresa (Tia Carrere). It’s a quick trip for Joe and Junior, but it’s filled with family drama, Joe’s impromptu stand-up in church, a love interest for Junior (Eva Noblezada), a run-in with a former lover (Tiffany Haddish) for Joe, a questionable business investment between Joe and his cousin Eugene (Eugene Cordero), a confrontation with a local gangster named Dev Deluxe (Asif Ali), and an all-in family karaoke song. There is even a Lou Diamond Phillips tie-in that adds a touch of class.

The writers and director have worked mostly in TV to this point, and that is just too obvious. A TV sitcom style rarely succeeds on the big screen, and though we do get some laughs, there is an amateurish feel to the proceedings. On the upside, some insight into Filipino culture is welcome, I now know Manny Pacquaio’s birthday, and it was my first exposure to “Hype Truck!”

Opens in theaters on August 5, 2022

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LUCK (2022, animation)

August 4, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. “Find a penny, pick it up, and all day long you’ll have good luck.” That’s how the old saying goes, and it plays a prominent part in this first animated feature film from Skydance Animation. Directed by former Disney animation choreographer Peggy Holmes, and co-written by Kiel Murray (CARS, 2006) and writing partners Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, who teamed on the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise (as well as other projects), the film’s approach shifted when Skydance hired John Lasseter as head of animation. You may know Mr. Lasseter as the creative force behind Pixar and such groundbreaking films as TOY STORY (1995), but he’s also the guy that faced multiple accusations of workplace sexual impropriety and left Disney Pixar in late 2017. His Skydance hiring brought a change of director to the project, and was the reason Oscar winner Emma Thompson recused herself, replaced by Oscar winner Jane Fonda, who evidently had no such qualms about working for Lasseter.

Sam Greenfield (voiced by Eva Noblezada) is a klutzy 18-year-old who has ‘aged out’ of the foster home where she has lived. Never experiencing a ‘forever family’, Sam has maintained a positive outlook on life, despite what she sees as a never-ending streak of mishaps, accidents, unfortunate coincidences, and overall bad luck. She’s been very supportive of her younger friend Hazel (Adalyn Spoon), who holds out hope for adoption and is a collector of good luck charms … missing only a lucky penny. While bumbling through her first days as an independent woman, Sam finds a lucky penny, only to have bad luck strike (in the form of an automatic toilet) before she can deliver it to Hazel. And soon, Sam is chatting up a talking black cat (Simon Pegg) before they both enter a portal that whisks them to the Land of Luck.

It might seem odd that a black cat brough Sam her first taste of good luck, but as the story develops, so does their friendship. The Land of Luck is run by a dragon (Jane Fonda), and it’s her Captain (Whoopi Goldberg) that has it out for Bob … and the shenanigans that Sam brings to this new world certainly don’t help. The Land of Luck consists of leprechauns and four-leaf clovers, rabbits (none missing a foot), and pigs (never knew they were considered lucky). Down below the Land of Luck is the land of Bad Luck, and it’s Jeff the Unicorn (a terrific Flula Borg) who is charged with keeping the ‘right’ mixture of good luck and bad that gets sent to the land of humans. Yes, it’s all a bit convoluted, but what the movie gets right are the colorful visuals and the fun characters. Sam, Bob, the Dragon, and Jeff are all memorable in their own way.

It seems pretty clear that John Lasseter’s fingerprints are on the final film, as influences from INSIDE OUT and SOUL are quite evident … although those films are far superior. Where this one falls short is in memorable and pointed storytelling, always a strength of Pixar. We are left a bit befuddled on the takeaway message. Are our lives determined by a mixture of good and bad luck? What about making our own luck and forging our own path? Taking responsibility for our own actions and building our own network of friends and acquaintances seems every bit as important as whether the toast lands jelly-side up or down. Despite all that, it’s a pretty solid first animated feature from a studio likely to continue to improve as more projects are released – assuming they have the best of luck!

In select theaters and on AppleTV+ on August 5, 2022

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