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good indie flick
This dramedy follows a callow young man's experience as keyboardist in an avant-garde band headed by a guy who never removes the big puppet-head that covers his face. In spite of what some people say, it's not really all that weird by indie-film standards, but it is quite entertaining, with a deservedly praised performance by Fassbender and an excellent, overlooked one by Maggie Gyllenhaal as his fierce theremin player.
While a lot of people complain about a shift in tone as the movie progresses, describing it as a wacky comedy that inexplicably turns dark, to me the movie feels all of a piece. It's not all *that* funny in the first part and not all *that* dark in the last, and really, if you are surprised that the movie delves into mental illness then I feel you weren't really paying attention to the story.
The movie has a lot to say about art and artists, but what it's saying isn't explicit, and the movie leaves the viewer with questions. Not questions you need to answer, but questions to ponder.
The Big Sick (2017)
fun little movie
I enjoyed this offbeat romantic comedy, which is smart and filled with good performances and clever banter. But I didn't *love* it the way a lot of people did. Definitely glad to have watched it though.
Let It Be (1969)
mediocre documentary, but what a band!
Let It Be wasn't much as a Beatles album, so it's perhaps appropriate that this isn't much as a documentary.
The director was a specialist in making music videos rather than making documentaries, and one wishes this had been filmed by someone more experienced in cinema verite like D.A. Pennebaker. Some things are borderline incompetent, like the almost complete absence of Billy Preston during the rooftop concert, where part of his head sometimes pops out from behind McCartney (there's only one decent shot of him there, although he's in another scene).
The film also suffers from the control of the Beatles, who insisted that most of the dissension caught on film stay off the screen.
On the bright side, the music is good. Besides the Beatles originals, which varied in quality but include some gems, a considerable chunk of the movie is the band performing oldies, including McCartney doing a very funny version of Besame Mucho. There are also nice little moments like Lennon and his wife waltzing (badly) to I Me Mine.
If you want to see the Beatles sing, well, that's what you get. But if you want a documentary that conveys anything in particular you will not be satisfied.
terrific film, packed full of genres!
In this New Zealand comedy/horror/thriller/mystery, a minor criminal is sentenced to a few months of house arrest to be served at her mom's. Surly and unrepentant, she sits around and mopes or yells at her mom until she's distracted by mysterious sounds in the walls that her mother is convinced are part of a haunting.
This starts off as comedy and then seamlessly zigs and zags through other genres. It is a movie that can ramp up the tension and then toss in a little slapstick, and it works beautifully. The movie spends half its' time leading the audience in a particular direction and the other half confounding audience expectations, yet at the end it all makes (reasonably) perfect sense.
The lead isn't especially personable, but that is appropriate for the character so I can't complain that much. Her mother is lovely and often very funny.
A Hard Day's Night (1964)
often brilliant comedy with great songs
A Hard Day's Night is a largely plotless romp with the Beatles telling jokes and running around. It's also a hugely influential work by Richard Lester that brought New Wave ideas into a more entertaining framework and created much of the grammar for future music videos. The film represents one of the few times a rock band movie had a genuinely talented director in charge, and it's a must-see for anyone who likes the Beatles or is interested in film history.
Filmed in a pseudo-documentary style, not much happens. Paul's uncle gets in trouble, Ringo gets out of sorts, and girls scream. The Beatles' Liverpool accents and breezy personas were unusual in films of the time, and while you can't necessarily say any of them can act except Ringo, they are utterly charming.
A youth-against-the-man theme runs throughout the movie, starting with an encounter with an obnoxious train passenger (who is probably in the right) and reaching its apex in the movie's best scene, where George gently mocks a corporate trend manipulator.
The songs are, of course, wonderful. Some musical numbers are little more than the Beatles sitting and playing, but the opening of Hard Day's Night is an extended chase and Can't Buy Me Love is a lot of joyful hijinks that is a classic of its kind.
The weakest part of the movie is the last section, in which the Beatles perform in a studio before an audience of screaming girls. The hysteria is somewhat entertaining, but for the most part this is just the Beatles performing songs that were already played earlier in the movie.
If you like this movie, check out other Richard Lester films like The Knack and How to Get It.
more avant-garde than comic
This odd short was so beloved by The Beatles that they chose its director, Richard Lester, to direct their movie, A Hard Day's Night. Damned if I know why.
Basically this is a bunch of people running around in a field. While billed as a comedy, I was half-way through its 10-minute run before I laughed at anything. It wasn't just that there wasn't anything funny; there wasn't anything that indicated to me that it was supposed to be a comedy. It was more like an experimental avant-garde short.
Eventually there are a couple of funny gags, but those ten minutes crawled by. I don't know what the Beatles saw in it, but it escapes me.
Atomic Blonde (2017)
not much fun
There are two main sorts of spy movies; colorful, over-the-top romps like the James Bond movies and gritty dramas about betrayal like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Atomic Blonde represents a melding of the two, an increasingly common sub-genre that I rarely enjoy.
The movie is filmed in the cold, antiseptic style of the cold war drama and there is a general grimness to the characters. Yet Charlize's bottle-blonde spy and some big action scenes are far removed from John Le Carre.
The movie is full of twists, some of which directly contravene what has come before, and Theron's character says things as though they're sharp and witty that really aren't. 45 minutes in, I had zero interest in what was going on and started skipping forward to check out the vaunted action scenes, although I still wound up watching big, generally uninteresting chunks.
The action scenes are interesting. The movie is *reasonably* convincing in showing how a small woman can take out several larger men, which involves a mix of ingenious use of props and a lot of gunplay.
The best scene is easily a trip down the stairs in which Theron takes on quite a few villains. The scene is notable for showing how utterly exhausting fighting is, which I rarely see in films. I found the scene admirable yet still not all that entertaining.
This movie is generally spoken of as a distaff John Wick, but since I haven't seen the John Wick films this movie brought to mind my very vague recollections of the first Jason Bourne movie, which featured a bland hero and an unengaging story.
It's a well-filmed movie, but for me it's simply not an enjoyable one.
dumb but very funny
In this buddy comedy about two suburban guys trying to fake their way through the criminal underground, Key and Peele prove themselves just as funny (although considerable less edgy) as in their TV series.
The premise is utterly ridiculous: a really cute kitten disappears and the friends have to join a drug ring to get it back. Once you get past that it basically makes sense except for one incredibly unpersuasive face-off near the end.
Key & Peele are two funny guys with great chemistry. Anna Faris has a hilarious cameo as a bats**t crazy version of herself, and the script is consistently funny. If you want something fun that requires no brainpower whatsoever, this is a great choice.
Years and Years (2019)
interesting conceptually but also kinda boring
The first two episodes of this series are a persuasive portrayal of a political descent that many progressives see coming. As such, it is a harrowing portrayal of a dark future that highlights how bad things can get over time.
At the same time, I was pretty bored. I didn't care about the characters, although I found the "digital consciousness" one interesting, and they plotting wasn't that engaging. Yes, there were moments, like the end of the first season, that were horrific and really drew you in, but most of this is a show about people I have little interest in.
My girlfriend, on the other hand, is fascinated, drawn in by the overall and seemingly inevitable horrific arc of the future. But while I'm curious how it will all turn out, I can't slog through any more of it.
Babylon Berlin (2017)
Didn't quite grab me
Watched a couple of episodes, couldn't get into. Some people here say the dubbed version makes the series less enjoyable, so I'll specify that's what I saw. It had its moments, but between those moments I couldn't generate interest.
Always Be My Maybe (2019)
bland rom-com with a few hilarious minutes in the middle
In Always Be My Maybe, two childhood friends who once hooked up reconnect. She's become famous, he not so much. They sort out their feelings. That's pretty much the story.
The series is directed by Nahnatchka Khan, who created the TV series Fresh Off the Boat, and there are more laughs in one episode of that show than in this entire movie. Most of those laughs happen in a burst of hilarity at a chi-chi restaurant and directly after. These scenes, both of which feature Keanu Reeves playing a really awful version of himself, could be the basis of a much better movie.
So that's the Com, but what about the Rom? Well, that's an issue too. Sasha dates jerks, but when a friend tells her she should go for Marcus and she says he's a "stealth jerk" she's absolutely right. And because we see how jerky he is it's really hard to hope those two wind up together. Also, while Randall Park and Ali Wong have an easygoing chemistry, it's very much friends chemistry. I never felt this were two people who really *should* be together. Comfortable chemistry would be fine if it seemed like they'd make a good couple, but as I say, he's a jerk, so you need really electric chemistry to make it seem like they should be together in spite of that.
It's all perfectly watchable and pleasant enough, but it's definitely a second-tier rom-com.
Unfortunate combo of last season's finale & this season's start is a hot mess
Apparently some idiot TV exec decided to cut the last episode of season 1 and use it as the start of season 2. This was really bad in the season structure, but it also created a bad individual episode that was required to both end one story arc and start another.
It all started off fine. The heroes are one-by-one sucked into their dark places. It looked, after a half hour, that Trigon would be the main villain for a overly grim season.
Then in about five minutes everything was fixed and Trigon was defeated. It was like, what?
Then there was the sort of thing you do at the end of season 2, where everyone says goodbye and acts like now that's all over so let's get back to our regular lives. Then you spend a few minutes with a mysterious guy who has a super suit. This is clearly how the episode would have ended if it had been done as a season ender.
But since this was a season premier, they kept going, with a chat with Batman and everyone moving into a nice apartment that was once the home of the supergroup The Titans. Apparently Dick has decided to start a new Titans with his friends, although HE DOESN'T ASK ANY OF THEM IF THEY WANT TO DO THAT.
In the future, the issue of waiting for months for a let-down finale won't matter, because all the episodes will be available. But the wonkiness of this episode is forever. If this has been a proper premier it wouldn't have been quite so rushed. If this had been a proper premier it would have set up something that made me look forward to this season.
Instead, we got this mess. The people responsible for this mess should hang their heads in shame.
Dark Phoenix (2019)
lesser X-men but still entertaining
There are two sorts of X-Men movies. Really great ones, like Days of Future Past and First Class, and okay ones, like Apocalypse, The Wolverine, and Dark Phoenix. There aren't any X-Men movies I haven't enjoyed at all, so while a lot of people are down on this one, my own feeling is that while I can see the problems, I still like it.
In Dark Phoenix, Jean Grey absorbs a weird energy that cracks her mind her gives her god-like powers. She wreaks havoc and the rest of the X-Men go after her. Meanwhile, aliens have come to earth and have use for Jean.
The result is typical X-Men angst and a bunch of fast-paced action. The angst felt a bit rote and under baked, but the action was generally fun and well done.
Much of the dislike of this movie seems related to disappointment based on the original comic book series, which was said to be more interesting than either this or The Last Stand, which used the same premise and which I apparently like better than a lot of people.
I read an essay on Dark Phoenix that helped me understand why people are frustrated with it, and I don't disagree. There are issues with motivation, and Jean's character doesn't have so much an arc as a random ping-ponging around. Symptomatic is her final line in the movie. It's a line that's been used before, but here it doesn't come out of anything in the movie or Jean's story; it's just a line the writers hoped would lend significance to the moment.
So yes, the writing is lazy, and I found Jean's story less affecting than in The Last Stand. But there's explosions, superpowers, and aliens, so I'm good.
Life After Beth (2014)
Recently I wondered, what else did that guy who wrote I Heart Huckabees do? Turns out a decade later he started writing and directing movies. They all had middling IMDB ratings, but one had an interesting premise and starred the always-entertaining Aubrey Plaza, so I watched that one.
The story begins with the death of Beth;. Most of the first half hour is a melancholy slog through boyfriend Zach's mourning process, which involves sitting around or hanging out with her parents. Then her parents stop talking to him and he peeks through their window and sees ... Beth!
Plaza plays Beth, and she fully commits to a portrayal that gets stranger and stranger. She's quite good, but this is more Beth's movie than Zach's. Dane DeHaan plays Zach as a bland everyman, and the things you want from a lead, like personality or personal growth, are sadly missing.
Still, the story is generally interesting as events ramp up, and there are good moments. If you push through the tedious beginning, it's a reasonably entertaining movie that suffers from poor pacing and a weak lead.
The last half hour is the craziest part, but by the end it feels like not enough has happened to justify a movie. The movie would have worked better if Zach had learned something from it all. Alternately, the movie would have worked better if the script were the first half of something that got really, really crazy by the end. Instead, it's all rather underwhelming.
The movie makes one wonder if writer-director Baen could have pulled off I Heart Huckabees. As a director he's workmanlike, and based on Life After Beth I wonder if perhaps those who worked on the film with him helped make a better movie than existed on paper. Because Life After Beth seems like a rather lazy movie.
I don't really have a recommendation on this one. It's entertaining more often than not, and sometimes quite funny. Plaza is quite good, as is Matthew Gray Gubler as Zach's hyped-up brother. Yet at the end it feels like a ramble to nowhere.
The Thief and the Cobbler (1993)
Recobbled version show the brilliant epic that could have been
The Thief and the Cobbler was 30 years in the making, was released in a couple of different chopped up forms, then someone took all the footage they could find to try and create a version of the director's original vision, called the Recobbled Cut. There are a few versions of this fan-edited version; I saw the most recent, Mark 4, and that's the version I'm reviewing.
The film is made up of finished animation pulled from video, some 35mm finished footage, some work prints, test animations, half done sequences, and still sketches. In spite of this miscellany, the story of a kingdom under threat from a thief, a one-eyed warlord, and Vincent Price, has a fairly coherent and engaging story.
The quality varies from moment to moment. Some scenes are fully finished, but many look like there are details missing, and color and quality vary from moment to moment. But much of what is there is truly stunning. There are wonderfully clever effects, like a top down, shot of a chase over a tiled floor that reveals an optical illusion. Parts have a Fleischer Brothers surrealist aspect, while the finale, the wildly elaborate destruction of a vast war machine, would have been one of the greatest animated sequences of all time had it been fully finished. Even in its current form it's incredibly impressive.
It's hard to know how the final film would have looked. The director was apparently constantly changing and reanimating sequences (which lead to cost and time overruns that got him thrown off the project), so even the "finished" parts might not have been final. But I salute the guy who put this together and hope that someday he or perhaps Disney (who may have more footage in a vault) will create something even closer to the director's vision.
Well worth watching for animation fans who can deal with the flawed presentation.
Choyonghan kajok (1998)
more dark than humorous
The Quiet Family is a dark comedy in which a family opens a bed and breakfast and the guests keep dying. It's an amusing premise, and I kind of liked it at first, but ultimately I didn't think it worked.
To me, this premise would work best if the family seemed innocent but trapped by fate, but this family is actually kind of awful and it doesn't feel like they're so much forced into bad things as that they are taking the path of least resistance. The premise could also work if they were just all ridiculously terrible, but ultimately they're just not very good people. Nor are they very interesting people.
The movie relies on a continual build. Something bad happens, is dealt with, something else bad happens, is dealt with, and the bad things begin to build on and clash with each other into a crescendo of hilarity. It's like a series of jokes that build on the first. And this movie is like a comedian tries to build a whole routine on one joke that fell flat.
Director Jee-woon Kim went on to make better movies, like The Good, The Bad, and the Weird, and the screenplay was loosely remade as the vastly superior Japanese movie The Happiness of the Katakuris. But somehow this director with this script did not make magic.
The Boys (2019)
Well done in its glum way
The Boys seems like the perfect superhero series for an era in which trust in institutions is dying. In this series, our protectors are only pretending to be heroes as they live lives of casual corruption and a disdain for their fellow men.
The first episode of The Boys begins with a horrific, superhero-caused tragedy that is so ingeniously shot that I admired it even as I knew I would have trouble shaking it. Certainly one of the most disturbing things I've seen for a while, but I will acknowledge that the premise requires some horror.
That premise is that the most famous Superheroes, a group known as the Seven, is made up of psychopaths supported by a vast conglomerate that relies on merchandising and media. These superheroes mix the arrogance of celebrity with the monstrousness of unchecked power, but a small group of normal people are determined to bring them down for past crimes.
The one good superhero is Starlight, who looks like an Iowa beauty queen and has always dreamed of saving the world. She wins a role as one of the Seven and finds herself in a pit of snakes. She is harassed and objectified, but is too caught up her dream of doing good to walk away.
The series has a gritty, sour quality to it that made me uncomfortable. It's just such an awful world and even the human heroes are not necessarily the best of people. Starlight's degradation is disheartening, and Hugh's tragedy is heartbreaking and relentless.
What I'm saying is, as Superhero series go, this one isn't a lot of fun.
There are some clever visual ideas, an interesting plot, and good actors. But I couldn't get into it. The first episode is overshadowed by the opening tragedy. The second episode was better, although still dark and disturbing. By the third episode the unpleasantness became too much for me and I stopped halfway through.
I'm not saying don't watch it. I might have liked this series when I was younger and more open to grim experiences. But it's not the series for me.
(Funny thing; one of the other user reviews says the series starts slow but gets really good around episode 5. Someone else said the series started strong but was terrible by episode 5. So go figure on that one!)
Gloria Vane (1993)
failed pilot that I watched for some reason
I don't know why I watched this. I bookmarked it on YouTube for some reason. Did I just like the premise? Was there an actor in it I was curious about?
Whatever the reason, the pilot for this series about a 40s movie star is, in spite of the somewhat unusual setting, a very conventional sitcom. It did have the occasional cute moment, as in the scene where Gloria makes the little boy cry, but mainly it's that sort of loud, obvious sitcom that wasn't good in the 90s and looks even worse today.
JoBeth Williams is persuasive, however, as Gloria, and actually rather impressive imitating a 40s tearjerker scene. But she wasn't enough to keep me watching to the end.
Lou Grant: Hooker (1978)
Dee Wallace gives an amazing performance in this memorable episode
I recently discovered I could watch episodes of Lou Grant on Hulu, and the first one I watched was Hooker, because I remember so distinctly being blown away by the girl who played The Hooker. That girl, Dee Wallace Stone (the mom on E.T.), is wonderful because her performance feels so real. She completely confirms the point of the episode, which is that prostitutes are not cartoon characters but actual people.
Stone is wonderful at conveying the sort of translucent emotion I associate with Jennifer Jason Leigh in which you feel you can see deeper into the character's emotional character than she wants you to. She is wonderfully affecting, and her offhand description of her early traumas is far better than a more typically dramatic delivery.
The episode itself is, like most of the early ones, fantastic. As with many much of Lou Grant, there can be a little too much time spent teaching the audience IMPORTANT THINGS, and, especially in the early scenes the dialogue can feel a little artificial, but overall it's great.
It's a shame that one of the best performances ever on TV is in an episode of a fairly forgotten TV series.
Perpetual Grace, LTD (2019)
Glum and tedious
From what I read from critics, I was expecting Perpetual Grace, LTD to be a noirish, darkly humorous series, maybe like Hugh Laurie's excellent Chance. But the first episode of this series was decidedly not that.
Instead, the show is a bleak, slow-moving slog through a world of mildly quirky characters and occasional failed attempts at mild humor.
When I checked the IMDB user reviews I found this series is from the guy behind Patriot, another series with a pilot so dull that I didn't make it to the end. Since that show has its fans, I suppose this is just me not liking this creator's particularly style, in the way I don't like David Kelley in spite of his huge success.
This series actually reminded me less of Patriot than it did of True Detective, which was similarly slow and bleak. But I guess I'd say if you like either of those maybe this is worth checking out. It's definitely not the series for me though.
painfully mediocre, except for the dance numbers
Aladdin was, as best I can recall after all these years, a movie that didn't really get going until the genie appeared. The same can more-or-less be said for the sequel, although I'm inclined to say the movie never really gets going at all.
The first half hour is pretty bad. The young leads, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott, seem like solid touring company actors who aren't notable but can sing a little and dance a little and deliver their lines with a semblance of attitude. Marwan Kenzari is another dinner theater actor who imbues Jafar with all the ominous power of a testy assistant manager at The Gap.
There are also several new songs in that first half hour; they are all drab and mildly irritating.
And then the genie comes, and the songs from the original movie come, and it's ... mildly entertaining. Will Smith is okay as the genie, but neither he nor filmmakers manage to create the manic hilarity Robin Williams supplied.
The movie is surprisingly workmanlike coming from director Guy Ritchie, who one would have expected to at least shake things up a little. But while generally watchable, the only thing that really stands out is the dancing in several musical numbers. Choreographed by Leah Hill, they deserve to be in a much better movie.
Passing Strange (2009)
great filmed musical
This filming of a Broadway play both shows how good live theater is and how effectively a filmmaker can capture that very experience. It probably would have been better to see this funny, insightful rock opera live, but the movie beautifully captures the experience.
The play follows a young musician as he goes to Europe and falls in with other artists. It's very much the life I would have liked, but alas, I never was embraced by a group of crazy artists. So I must admit to envy for this semi-autobiographical guy's life.
The cast is absolutely terrific, headed by co-creator Stew. The performer I found the weakest was the young lead, who was terrific performing songs but who came across as rather bland as a character.
The set is very minimalist, being mainly chairs, yet it's beautifully staged. This never really sounded that interesting to me based on the description I'd read, and I only watched this because my girlfriend wanted to. I wish I'd watched it much earlier!
big, flashy, intermittently good and bad
I almost gave up on Evita early on. It begins with a long, bombastic number that throws a bunch of melodic scraps in the mix while never resolving into a song. It is very melodramatic and is followed by some equally pretentious musical numbers.
And then, just as I was about to ask my girlfriend if we should just give up on it, there was an actual song. This was about a half hour in, but there was a song, and it was pretty good. And it was followed by another.
Meanwhile, the story became more engrossing as Eva Peron crawled her way out of the gutter and became a cultural icon.
Towards the end, the music declined and the drama became almost painfully maudlin. The movie also portrays Eva as unredeemable cynical for an hour and then asks you to feel for her. It's as though they wanted to portray a complex character of dark and light but the dark and light just separated like oil and vinegar and pooled in different parts of the movie.
Antonio Banderas is terrific as the everyman Che, and Madonna is very solid as Eva; she worked so hard on her singing for the film that afterward she put out the first really good albums of her pop career (the first time I heard Ray of Light I thought, "who is this startling new singer?).
I'm only familiar with three Andrew Lloyd Weber musicals. Musically this is weaker than Jesus Christ Superstar but far better than Phantom of the Opera.
A day after watching this I watched Passing Strange, a filmed performance of a Broadway play that was minimalist and electrifying. If you would like to see an amazing minimalist rock opera in which the set is basically actors on chairs and the band is a quartet, I'd highly recommend it. But if you want sturm und drang, Evita is definitely the musical for you.
exciting although surprisingly un-scary
Like the miniseries Stranger Things, It hearkens back to 80s filmmaking, falling somewhere between Stand By Me and Poltergeist. While ostensibly a horror movie, in spirit it is more a coming-of-age drama with a monster.
The movie is not particularly scary, even by Poltergeist standards, but it is quite exciting, particularly in the final, thrilling confrontation. The movie also does a lovely job of reminding us that not all evil dwells in the sewer, with some of the most disturbing scenes being purely human; I was ultimately more scared of Bev's father than of Pennywise.
The kid's are all excellent. I like how little they fit to typical stereotypes; the stuttering kid is the brave one, the kid with glasses is a sex hound rather than a nerd, and the chubby kid is a scholar.
I don't have strong feelings about Pennywise. He is probably most effective in that first disturbing scene, but unfortunately I had already seen the SNL/Kellyanne Conway parody of that scene which was so dead-on that it impacted how seriously I could take the movie Pennywise (it's not the movie's fault, of course, that Kate MacKinnon captured the role so well). The actor doesn't have as strong a personality as Tim Curry did in the previous version of It, and ultimately seems like more a vehicle for evil rather than a distinct character.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
everything Blade Runner did right, done wrong
Imagine Blade Runner without a strong directorial vision, and interesting story, or engaging characters. If you find that impossible to imagine, just watch the forgettable sci-fi flick Blade Runner 2049.
Instead of the distinct '40s-noir of the original, 2049 offers scale without purpose and a dusty color palette. Instead of riveting, distinct, excellently-acted characters, you've got sturdy but unforgettable people. Blade Runner was full of amazing moments and places, such as the room of living toys and Rutger Hauer's every word, but 2049 has nothing but a bland lead and a bunch of characters whose motives can't be looked at too closely.
Scenes come not out of the story but out of a desire to have something happened, resulting in pointless interactions like the tormenting of a naked replicant. There aren't so much huge plot holes as poor motivations and small inconsistencies that make everything in the movie feel false.
If you don't compare this to Blade Runner, it's a mediocre but almost-watchable movie with the occasional interesting idea (the talking, naked ad, the memory designer's creation of a birthday party), but as a sequel to a classic, this movie is a travesty.
And how is it that a futuristic L.A. heavily influenced by Japanese culture has no Asians in the entire city? It's as though there's no detail so big or small that the filmmakers won't ignore it.