Joy Ride

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Lionsgate;
Comedy;
Box Office $12.9 million;
$29.96 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for strong and crude sexual content, language throughout, drug content and brief graphic nudity.
Stars Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Sabrina Wu, Kenneth Liu, Desmond Chiam, Meredith Hagner, Daniel Dae Kim.

Director Adele Lim’s Joy Ride is just that, a non-stop sidesplitting jaunt that provokes more howls than it does scowls. Don’t expect a ‘PG-13’ comedy with an all-at-once gratuitous dildo sword fight thrown in to barely qualify for an ‘R’ rating. Nor is it a male-enhanced chick flick variation from the Apatow Factory out to prove that a confederacy of bruidsmeisje can be just as proudly piggish as their genial jerkoff male counterparts. There’s not a chance in hell that one of our four leads will wait the few years necessary before feminist remorse sets in causing her to go full Katherine Heigl by publicly shaming her contribution to the crudity. After all, it was the cast’s appearance on The View and their boastful championing of the film’s hard-earned “under 17 not admitted” MPAA rating that first drew me to the theater. Come for the obscenity and stay for the universal undertones of isolation and loss of identity set in place for a talented quartet of resourceful actresses to bounce off one another like vulgarity shock absorbers.

Before one ‘F’-bomb is dropped or one vagina tattooed, we’re privy to the first meeting of Audrey and Lolo, the only two Asian kids living in the aptly named Seattle subdivision, White Hills. Lolo’s (Sherry Cola) parents are Chinese while Audrey (Ashley Park) was adopted by Anglos. Lolo’s “F*** off!” rejoinder to the playground bully who refers to the girls as “Ching Chongs” seems in accordance, but the ensuing fist to the face as a bonding device that opens the picture doesn’t jibe. Is there an easier way to earn a laugh than by having a kid curse or flip the bird? Yes. Having one child sock another. Fortunately the violence is short-lived. The punch may have been thrown in the name of anti-racism, but Lolo’s the type to use her tongue, not her fists to settle a score.

Unaware of her Chinese roots, Audrey believes the kids in the playground when they say the reason she was put up for adoption was because her mother abandoned her. Audrey doesn’t get mad, she gets even by studying hard to become one of Washington’s top emerging attorneys. Lolo, who was voted most likely in her class to get arrested, is a starving artist with an eye for genitalia and whatever sexual fetishes come to mind to inspire her, or as she calls it, “body positive art.” Visiting her birth country for the first time on a business trip, Audrey’s boss assures her there’s a partnership in her future if she can close the deal. It’s the first time Audrey has been in a place surrounded by Asian people where she blends in rather than stands out. They’re joined by the ambisexual Deadeye (Sabrina Wu in the year’s funniest performance) who tags along hoping to hook up with a group of “friends” she met online. Rounding out the quartet is Kat (Stephanie Hsu), a local celebrity known for her work in what appears to be China’s answer to telenovelas. (Of the four travelers, Audrey is the only one not fluent in Chinese.) Kat is engaged to her co-star Clarence (Desmond Chiam), a muscle-bound boy toy who insists that the two keep a certain degree of space between each other in order “to leave room for Jesus.” (As Kat puts it, “No tongue until the wedding bells rung.”) In order to hold onto Christian Clarence, Kat hides her past promiscuities by masquerading as a Bible thumping servant of God. Wait until Clarence gets ahold of Satan’s face tattooed on her what-Trump-grabbed.

The action is spread across Seoul, South Korea and Beijing. Take note of the superb visual effects work. You may not notice it the first time through, but the filmmakers never set foot out of Vancouver thanks in large part to the contributions of production designer Michael Norman Wong and fellow forger, cinematographer Paul Yee. Not everything during the title road trip connects. The screenwriters, wanting desperately to bring cocaine to the party, do so in the form of a zonked out-pusher (Meredith Hagner) with whom the women share a train compartment. Drama happens when Audrey decides to seek out her birth mother. A chance meeting with her mother’s boyfriend (Daniel Dae Kim) can’t be written off as a happenstance, which makes the impact of the encounter that much stronger. Ditto the resolution of the Kat/Clarence romance. Rather than resorting to Christian-bashing, or homosexuality as an easy out, the couple stick together while remaining true to themselves. And just when you think it’s all getting a bit too heavy, Deadeye appears in a Chinese restaurant using chopsticks to pick chips out of a bag of Ruffles. 

Special features include 30 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage featuring interviews with the cast, director, screenwriters Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, and producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Add to that a deleted scene and greenscreen footage of the cast choreographing a “WAP” sing-along version.

Stowaway

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Netflix;
Sci-fi;
Not rated.
Stars Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson.

It comes as no surprise that science-fiction is often a breeding ground for morality tales steeped in the guise of fantastical fiction, the trappings of the genre providing unique options for new ways to explore a topic. The ethical dilemma at the core of Stowaway is one that has been debated in countless philosophy classes and is itself a sci-fi staple: Can taking an innocent life be justified if it means saving more?

The film, steeped in realism by director and co-writer Joe Penna, depicts what is supposed to be a routine mission to a Mars colony in the not-to-distant future. The crew consists of Commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) and medical researcher Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick).

Their method of travel between the planets is a Mars cycler — an intriguing concept that involves parking a large habitable vehicle in a stable orbit around the sun that takes it near Earth and Mars every few months. Since the ship, once it’s established as a cycler, doesn’t need to burn the massive amount of fuel required for an interplanetary journey (aside from slight course corrections), it offers an efficient method for travel between the two destinations, with crews simply needing to shuttle from the surface to the cycler when it’s in range (while also refreshing its consumables from time to time).

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As the crew of MTS-42 settles into their two-year mission, they discover that a launch support engineer named Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson) was knocked out performing some pre-flight maintenance, and has accidentally become the stowaway of the title. With no way for the cycler to turn around, Michael is stuck with them on the trip to Mars, so they make him part of the crew. It turns out, however, that his presence threatens the entire mission. First, during the launch his unconscious body damaged a device that scrubs carbon dioxide from the ship’s breathable air. With no way to repair it, and with Michael’s unexpected presence putting more strain on the ship’s oxygen reserves, the crew will run out of air weeks before reaching Mars.

Mission control determines there’s no way to mount a rescue mission in time to save the mission. Biologist Kim’s planned experiments to grow algae on Mars, if implemented on the ship, might provide enough extra oxygen to get three people to Mars. That leaves the crew with the harsh reality of finding another desperate solution on their own, or ejecting Michael out of the airlock.

The dilemma, as it applies to spaceflight, has its origins in Tom Godwin’s 1954 short story The Cold Equations, which involved a medical supply ship loaded with vaccines and just enough fuel to reach an outlying world as quickly as possible hampered by too much weight when a teenage girl sneaks aboard because she wants to see her brother, forcing the pilot to consider her life against those of thousands of colonists dying from an outbreak. The short was the basis for a pretty faithful adaptation on an episode of the 1980s “Twilight Zone.”

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Like Cold Equations, Stowaway is bound to inspire discussion about the tragic circumstances that can often arise from the inherent dangers of spaceflight, and the best ways to deal with them, especially when there are no easy answers. Of course, like all works of fiction designed to twist the audience’s natural sensibilities, fate and plain old bad luck have their roles to play as well.

While the dilemma requires intricate plotting to serve the story, as a piece of speculative fiction Stowaway is methodically paced and a bit claustrophobic, bringing the audience along with the POV of the crew — which means Penna eschews any flashy visual effects or long lingering exterior shots of the spacecraft. The cast’s performances are engaging, with Kendrick playing the typical energetic, optimistic personality she usually plays, just as an astronaut.

Interestingly, Penna conceived of the film as the first of a loose trilogy of films involving Mars missions, though the story for the sequel apparently became the basis for Penna’s 2018 film Arctic, with Mads Mikkelsen awaiting rescue in the polar north regions of Earth, rather than somewhere on Mars had the trilogy panned out.

‘Hellboy’ Reboot Blazing to Home Video in July

Lionsgate will release the Hellboy reboot digitally July 9, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc July 23.

Based on the Dark Horse comic book created by Mike Mignola, the film finds the half-demon superhero Hellboy (David Harbour) called to the English countryside to battle a trio of rampaging giants and finds himself confronting an ancient sorceress (Milla Jovovich). The film also stars Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim and Thomas Haden Church.

The film earned $21.9 million at the domestic box office.

The home video editions will include deleted scenes and previsualizations. The Blu-ray and digital versions will also include the three-part making-of documentary “Tales of the Wild Hunt: Hellboy Reborn.”

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray will include Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio.

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