Review: ‘Umma’ (2022), starring Sandra Oh

March 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Fivel Stewart and Sandra Oh in “Umma” (Photo by Saeed Adyani/Stage 6 Films)

“Umma” (2022)

Directed by Iris K. Shim

Some language in Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed part of the U.S., the horror film “Umma” features a cast of Asian and white characters representing the working-class ad middle-class.

Culture Clash: A single mother, who works as a beekeeper/honey merchant, is haunted by memories of her abusive mother. 

Culture Audience: “Umma” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Sandra Oh, whose talent is wasted in this boring and predictable horror movie.

Tom Yi and Sandra Oh in “Umma” (Photo by Saeed Adyani/Stage 6 Films)

In the forgettable and formulaic horror flick “Umma,” the main character is a beekeeper with mother issues. Bees in a hive have more purpose and intelligence (and can scare more people) than this silly mess of a film. So much of “Umma” is a waste: A waste of a talented cast. A waste of a potentially good idea for a horror story. And a waste of time to anyone who watches this disappointing flop.

Written and directed by Iris K. Shim, “Umma” gets its title from the Korean word for “mother.” That’s because “mother issues” are at the center of a Korean American family haunted by abuse. “Umma” takes place in an unnamed part of the U.S. but was actually filmed in the Canadian province of British Columbia.

In “Umma,” Amanda (played by Sandra Oh) is the only child of Korean immigrants, who are now deceased. Amanda is a single mother to a daughter named Chris (played by Fivel Stewart), nicknamed Chrissy, who’s about 17 years old. Amanda is a beekeeper/honey maker who owns a small business called Chrissy’s Honey Bees, where Amanda and Chris are the only workers.

Most of their honey is sold online, with help from Amanda’s friend Danny (played by Dermot Mulroney), who owns a hardware store not too far away and who manages the website and social media for Chrissy’s Honey Bees. Business has recently been doing so well for Chrissy’s Honey Bees, many of the products are selling out. Danny tells Amanda that she might have to hire more people to help her keep up with customer demand.

Later in the movie, it’s revealed that Amanda started this business only because Chris became obsessed with bees, and Amanda wanted a way to have a closer bond with her daughter. Amanda previously had a less risky and more financially stable job as an accountant, and she had to overcome her fear of bees to start this business. Because of this personal sacrifice, Amanda expects Chris to work with her in the business as long as possible.

Amanda is extremely protective and controlling of Chris, who has been homeschooled her entire life and has no friends. Chris’ father is never seen or mentioned in the movie, and he’s never been involved in raising her. Later in the movie, when someone asks Amanda where her husband is, she replies defiantly that she’s never felt the need to have a husband.

Amanda is deeply fearful of electrical appliances and distrustful of modern technology—so much so that she doesn’t allow Chris to have a smartphone. Chris has to make do with an outdated mobile flip phone. And needless to say, there are no TVs or computers in their house, which is an isolated, rural area. Of course it’s in a remote area. This is a horror movie, but the scares in “Umma” are underwhelming.

The opening scene of “Umma” shows why Amanda has a fear of electrical appliances: As a child, Amanda’s domineering mother would physically abuse her with heated electrical wires. This abuse is not shown in graphic detail in the movie’s flashbacks, but enough is shown for viewers to know what’s happening. Hana Marie Kim portrays Amanda as a child in these flashbacks.

Amanda’s family history is revealed in bits and pieces through conversations and flashbacks. Amanda’s parents had a happy marriage until they moved from Korea to the United States. Amanda’s mother (played by MeeWha Alana Lee) became depressed and difficult to the point where Amanda’s father couldn’t take it anymore, and he abandoned his wife and daughter. (Amanda’s father is never shown in the movie.)

Amanda’s mother then became increasingly paranoid that Amanda would leave her. In the flashback shown in the movie’s opening scene, a young Amanda can be heard wailing in fear, “Umma, I promise I won’t run away again,” before she can be heard screaming as her mother inflicts some violent abuse on her. Expect to see several scenes of Amanda waking up from nightmares.

You know where all of this is going, of course. Amanda is afraid that she’ll end up just like her mother. Amanda has lied to Chris about her family background, by telling Chris that she was raised by two people named Gloria and Bill, who died before Chris was born. The movie shows whether or not Chris finds out the truth. Amanda is also upset that Chris intends to apply for admission to West Mesa University, which is in another state.

In the meantime, Amanda unexpectedly gets a visit from someone she doesn’t want to see: Her mother’s brother (played by Tom Yi), who does not have a name in the movie. However, he knows Amanda by her Korean birth name: Soo-Hyun, which is a name that Amanda hasn’t used since her very unhappy childhood.

What’s the reason for this unannounced visit from Amanda’s uncle? After he scolds her for not being in touch with the family and for making it difficult to find her, he tells Amanda that Amanda’s mother died a few months earlier. He’s there to deliver a small trunk that has her mother’s ashes and several of her mother’s most treasured belongings. One of these items is a Hahoetal, which is a Korean death mask.

It’s at this point in the movie that you know the ghost of Amanda’s mother will begin haunting Amanda’s home and the surrounding property. But does this ghost really exist? Or is she a figment of Amanda’s imagination? The movie wastes a lot of time with predictable jump scares in a weak attempt to confuse viewers over what’s real and what might be Amanda’s delusions.

And it should come as no surprise that it’s yet another horror movie where the main character’s mental stability is questioned because this person claims to be seeing an evil spirit. But what other people see is Amanda having blackouts while sometimes wearing her mother’s clothes. And predictably, Amanda becomes increasingly disturbed.

There’s nothing truly scary or unpredictable about anything that’s presented in “Umma.” Yes, there are violent attack scenes and people screaming when things get out of control, but too much of it is shown in a very stale manner that’s been done many times already in better horror movies. And for a movie that takes place mostly on a beekeeping farm, there’s surprisingly very little use of the bees in the movie’s terror scenes.

“Umma” has a somewhat time-wasting subplot about Chris becoming friendly with Danny’s teenage niece River (played by Odeya Rush), who gives Chris confidence-boosting pep talks about how it’s okay to be a weirdo and a misfit. Unfortunately, everyone in the movie, except for complicated and confused Amanda, is written as bland, two-dimensional characters. The movie also badly mishandles mental health issues.

The technical aspects of “Umma” are competent, except for an almost laughable visual-effects scene involving a very fake-looking fox with multiple tails. This creature is supposed to be terrifying, but looks like it belongs in a kiddie cartoon, not a horror movie. And with the manifestation of Amanda’s mother, “Umma” tritely uses the Hahoetal death mask as a symbol for how people sometimes hide their true selves from the world, since it’s implied that Amanda’s mother was able to keep her child abuse crimes a secret.

“Umma” missed some big opportunities to have quality depictions of generational trauma. The movie also has a very limited view of Korean heritage, which is mostly used in “Umma” as a plot device to invoke fear in the characters. “Umma” is just a series of half-baked jump scares and underdeveloped characters, with a rushed ending that leaves some important questions unanswered and audiences feeling like “Umma” is a just another ripoff horror movie.

Stage 6 Films released “Umma” in U.S. cinemas on March 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Turning Red,’ starring the voices of Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, Orion Lee and Tristan Allerick Chen

March 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

Abby (voiced by Hyein Park), Miriam (voiced by Ava Morse), Priya (voiced by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and Mei (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) in “Turning Red” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar Animation Studios)

“Turning Red”

Directed by Domee Shi 

Culture Representation: Taking place in Toronto in 2002, the animated film “Turning Red” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Asian, white and a few black people and Latinos) portraying the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Due to an inherited family trait, a 13-year-old girl finds out that she can turn into a giant red panda when she gets very emotional, and she has to decide if she will keep or get rid of this family trait.

Culture Audience: “Turning Red” will appeal primarily to people interested in entertaining but somewhat predictable animated films that are stories about coming of age and about mother-daughter relationships.

Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh) and Mei (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) in “Turning Red” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar Animation Studios)

The comedic animated film “Turning Red” can at times get too one-note and formulaic in its themes of identity and self-discovery, but the movie has enough offbeat charm to make it a memorable coming-of-age story. The movie explores issues that are familiar to movies about children who are descendants of immigrants, such as whether to follow “old country” traditions or “current country” lifestyles. It’s a story that people of many generations and cultures can enjoy.

“Turning Red” is the feature-film debut of director Domee Shi, who won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short, for her 2018 film “Bao.” According to the “Turning Red” production notes, “Turning Red” (which was co-written by Shi and Julie Cho) is based on a lot of Shi’s real-life experiences as a Canadian child in a Chinese immigrant family. The story, which takes place in Toronto in the spring of 2002, is about a 13-year-old girl who finds her own identity, even when she has people telling her who she should be and what she should do.

The 13-year-old protagonist of “Turning Red” is Meiling “Mei” Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), a smart, obedient and admittedly dorky eighth grader at Lester B. Pearson Middle School in Toronto. Mei is the only child of domineering, overprotective mother Ming Lee (voiced by Sandra Oh) and laid-back and mild-mannered father Jin Lee (voiced by Orion Lee), who both moved to Canada before Mei was born. Ming is the boss of the Lee Family Temple, which is a tourist attraction in Toronto’s Chinatown district. Jin appears to be a stay-at-home father. Mei works part-time as an assistant temple keeper at the Lee Family Temple, where she does menial tasks such as cleaning.

Mei is a self-described overachiever who’s not very popular at school, but she has a tight-knit trio of friends who are students at the same school. Miriam (voiced by Ava Morse) is tomboyish and goofy. Priya (voiced by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) is bookish and sarcastic. Abby (voiced by Hyein Park) is feisty and hot-tempered. All four girls are somewhat obsessive fans of a boy band named 4*Town, which will be performing an upcoming concert at the Toronto SkyDome, a stadium that can seat 40,000 to 50,000 people. (In real life, the Toronto SkyDome name was changed to Rogers Centre in 2005.)

Because Ming is very strict and suspicious of anything that she thinks could lead Mei to rebel, she won’t let Mei go to the concert. Ming tells Mei that 4*Town’s inoffensive pop music is “filth.” It’s around this time that Mei finds out that the women in her family have inherited a trait where they turn into giant red pandas when they get emotional. When Mei is a panda, she’s about 8 feet tall. Mei discovers this family gene when she wakes up as a giant panda. And later, she predictably turns into a panda when she’s in school, which leads to a humiliating experience.

Mei’s parents tell her that the red panda trait can be suppressed/cured with an ancient ritual during the next red moon, which takes place the following month, on May 25. Meanwhile, Mei finds out that her schoolmates actually like when she transforms into Red Panda Mei, because she’s more spontaneous and fun-loving as a panda. And so, Mei and her three pals come up with a scheme to get enough money to go to the 4*Town concert, which will cost them $200 a ticket. The red panda ritual and the concert are part of a “race against time” aspect to this movie.

“Turning Red” infuses this somewhat simplistic comedic story with more complex commentary about generational traditions and mother-daughter relationships, especially toward the end of the film. Ming expects Mei to put family duties above Mei’s social life, which is why Mei doesn’t hang out with her friends after school as much as she would like to because Mei often has to work at the temple. “Turning Red” has many nods to Eastern culture (which puts emphasis on family/community) and Western culture (which puts emphasis on individuality), as well as the conflicts that can arise when someone, such as Mei, is caught between the contrasts of these cultures.

For example, Ming tells Mei that the red panda trait originated from an ancient female ancestor named Sun Yee, who was a warrior, scholar and poet at a time when women rarely had those roles. During a war, when most of the men were off fighting in the war, Sun Yee prayed to the gods to give her a way to defend her daughter and their village. The gods answered her prayer by giving her the ability to turn into a giant red panda. This ability was passed on to all of Sun Yee’s female descendants. This inherited trait could be considered a blessing for those who see it as good for a community, or it could be seen as a curse for those who see it as bad for an individual.

In the movie’s opening scene, Mei makes a comment that shows how she’s conflicted between the need to get the approval of her family (namely, her mother) and her need to be her own person who can make her own decisions. She says in a voiceover as a montage of her life flashes on screen: “The No. 1 rule in my family: Honor your parents … The least you can do is everything they ask. Honoring your parents is great, but if you take it too far, you might forget to honor yourself.”

Other parts of the movie repeat scenarios where Mei would like to think that she’s independent and free to do what she wants, but then something happens (usually involving Mei’s mother Ming) where Mei is made to feel guilty or pressured to do things that will make her parents proud and honor the family. Ming already has Mei’s life mapped out for her and expects Mei to have a career as secretary-general of the United Nations. Ming is also extremely judgmental and wants to control every aspect of Mei’s life.

For most of the movie, Ming is a caricature of a “helicopter mom,” who hovers and often interferes with Mei’s life to the extent that it causes a series of embarrassments for Mei. For example, when Mei wakes up one morning to find out that she has turned into a giant red panda, Mei is so confused and frightened, she won’t let her parents in her bedroom, but she wails through the door: “I’m a gross red monster!”

Ming misinterprets Mei’s “gross red monster” comment as Mei getting her menstrual period for the first time. That misunderstanding leads to a scene where Ming shows up unannounced at Mei’s school to deliver sanitary pads to her. Much to Mei’s understandable mortification, Ming gets into a fight with a security guard over it in front of Mei and her classmates, while Ming shouts that she just wants to deliver sanitary pads that Mei forgot at home. Of course, Ming eventually finds out the truth, and that’s when Mei’s parents tell Mei about their family’s red panda secret.

It isn’t until the last third of “Turning Red” that Ming stops being a caricature and starts being more of a fully developed character, as some of her human frailties and vulnerabilities emerge. This gradual reveal of Ming’s true character is one of the best aspects of “Turning Red,” which skillfully shows how physical appearances aren’t the only traits that can be passed down through generations. Parenting habits and the ways that parents teach children how to interact with others can also be inherited.

The movie falters a bit in how it introduces a few potential storylines for Mei’s peers, and then just lets those storylines dangle unresolved. There’s a 17-year-old boy named Devon (voiced by Addie Chandler), who’s a heartthrob to Mei, her friends and some of the other girls at Mei’s school. Devon works as a clerk at a convenience store called Daisy Mart. And when Ming finds that Mei has drawn some romantic (non-sexual) fantasy illustrations about Devon in Mei’s sketchbook/journal, Ming goes on a rampage by yelling Devon at his job and wrongfully accusing him of taking sexually advantage of Mei. And then, Devon and his storyline are completely dropped, as if his only purpose in the movie was to be a target of Ming’s misguided parental rants.

Ming also hugely disapproves of Mei’s friend Miriam, for reasons that aren’t made very clear and should have been given better explanation or context. The only explanation put forth in the movie is that Miriam, who likes to skateboard and is comfortable with herself, is perceived by Ming as a threat to Ming’s idea that Mei should be a prim and proper girl. Even though Miriam is a nice person and a supportive friend, Ming has this unsubstantiated idea that Miriam is a troublemaker who’s a bad influence on Mei. At one point in the movie, Miriam briefly mentions that Miriam’s parents aren’t very strict, which could be another reason why Ming doesn’t trust Miriam.

One of the biggest flaws of “Turning Red” is that Miriam, Priya and Abby are underdeveloped characters overall. The movie gives no sense of who these three friends are outside of any context of reacting to Mei’s emotions, offering to help Mei with any problems that she has, or discussing things that they have in common with Mei. Teenage girls talk to their close friends a lot about their personal hopes/goals and their families, but that kind of talk is very absent in this movie for Miriam, Priya and Abby. It makes Mei’s friendship with them look more one-sided than it should be.

Every movie with a school of underage children inevitably has a character who’s a school jerk/bully. In “Turning Red,” this character is Tyler (voiced by Tristan Allerick Chen), a spoiled and privileged kid, who likes to taunt Mei for being nerdy. Not much else is revealed about Tyler. That lack of information about Tyler is a missed opportunity for “Turning Red” to give better context for why school bullies like this exist and why they target certain people. The way that the movie handles the bully storyline is a little problematic, because it’s oversimplified and has a morally questionable message of buying friendships with cash, when the lesson should be that real friendships can’t be bought.

A montage near the beginning of the movie shows what a few people at the school think of Mei. A teacher says, “She’s a very enterprising, mildly annoying young lady.” A female student says that Mei is a “major weirdo.” A male student describes Mei as “an overachieving dork narc.” Mei is then seen commenting cheerfully, “I accept and embrace all labels.” Viewers of “Turning Red” are left to speculate, with nothing shown in the movie, why some students have such hostile feelings toward Mei that they would call her a “narc” (in other words, a snitch) and a “major weirdo.”

The music group 4*Town is meant to be a parody of boy bands that were popular in the early 2000s. The five members of the group—don’t ask why they’re called 4*Town, because there’s no explanation—also mirror the stereotypes of boy bands: One or two members of the group are the most popular heartthrob lead singers, while the other members are more forgettable and tend to fade in the background.

In 4*Town, the two most popular members are Robaire (voiced by Jordan Fisher) and Jesse (voiced by Finneas O’Connell), who overshadow the group’s other members: Tae Young (voiced by Grayson Villanueva), Aaron T. (voiced by Topher Ngo) and Aaron Z. (voiced by Josh Levi). All of the members of 4*Town are not in the movie long enough for them to show distinctive personalities, even though the group’s concert is at the center of the movie’s climactic action.

In real life, O’Connell is the Grammy-winning producer/songwriter who’s best known for his work with his younger sister, Billie Eilish. O’Connell and Eilish wrote three original 4*Town songs for the “Turning Red” soundtrack: “1 True Love,” “Nobody Like U” and “U Know What’s Up.” These songs are meant to sound “boy-band generic,” so don’t expect this music to win any prestigious awards. Ludwig Göransson (who won an Oscar and a Grammy for his 2018 “Black Panther” movie score) composed the musical score for “Turning Red,” which is a serviceable score but not Göransson’s best work.

All of the voice cast members are perfectly fine in their roles, while the visuals are very good but not exceptional. Many parts of the movie are predictable, but “Turning Red” is ultimately satisfying for anyone who can enjoy animated entertainment that hits all the expected notes when the protagonist is a plucky teenager.

Disney+ will premiere “Turning Red” on March 11, 2022, the same date that Disney will release the movie for a limited engagement in select U.S. cinemas.

Review: ‘Raya and the Last Dragon,’ starring the voices of Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina and Gemma Chan

March 5, 2021

by Carla Hay

Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) and Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina) in “Raya and the Last Dragon” (Image courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios)

“Raya and the Last Dragon”

Directed by Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Paul Briggs and John Ripa

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional world of Kumandra, the animated film “Raya and the Last Dragon” features a predominantly Asian voice cast of characters (with some white people) representing different cultures in this fantasy world.

Culture Clash: After a terrible plague has turned her father into a stone statue, a teenage girl named Raya goes in search of a mysterious dragon and missing pieces of a magical gem in war-torn Kumandra, in order to restore peace and safety to Kumandra.

Culture Audience: “Raya and the Last Dragon” will appeal primarily to people who enjoy visually stunning, well-written animation adventures that are family-friendly and have positive themes.

Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina) and Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) in “Raya and the Last Dragon” (Image courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios)

Walt Disney Animation has become the premiere studio for animated movies about princesses who are more like warriors than damsels in distress. And with “Raya and the Last Dragon,” Disney has delivered another instant classic. The movie’s voice cast is predominantly Asian, which is a big step forward for diversity in American-made animated films. The ethnicity of the characters is not the main focus of the story, nor does it have to be, since “Raya and the Last Dragon” has an overall theme of compassion in understanding people’s differences.

Four people are credited with directing “Raya and the Last Dragon”: directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada and co-directors Paul Briggs and John Ripa. Fortunately, the results don’t look like “too many cooks in the kitchen,” since this well-cast and gorgeously filmed movie has a consistent tone throughout the story. The movie’s protagonist is a girl named Raya, pronounced “ry-ah” (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran), who explains in a voiceover intro about how her world of Kumandra has been torn apart by tribal feuding and a mystical plague called the Druun, which turns living beings into stone.

“Raya and the Last Dragon” is one of those movies where it’s best not to miss the first 10 minutes, because that beginning of the film packs in a lot of necessary information in order to understand what’s going on for the rest of the movie. Raya, who appears to be about 16 or 17 for most of the story, explains that Kumandra was a harmonious world, filled with dragons that brought water and rain and peace. But about 500 years ago, the Druun (pronounced “droon”) arrived (it looks like purple mist), and turned most living beings into stone, except for one dragon.

That last dragon is a female named Sisu, pronounced “see-soo” (voiced by Awkwafina), who “concentrated all of her magic in a Dragon Gem and blasted the Druun.” This gem (which looks like a large diamond) is the only known way to fight off the Druun, so it’s become the most valuable object in Kumandra. Because of Sisu’s actions with the Dragon Gem, everyone that was turned to stone came back to life, except for the dragons. Besides the Dragon Gem, the only other way to stop the Druun is to be surrounded by a large body of water.

Sisu then became a mythical hero in Kumandra, with some people believing that Sisu might still be alive. Meanwhile, Sisu’s magical Dragon Gem became highly coveted, and various people in Kumandra began feuding to get possession of the Dragon Gem, which was secretly hidden. Borders were drawn for five different lands, and the tribes in each land have been enemies of each other for the past 500 years.

Raya describes these five lands:

  • Tail, “a sweltering desert of sneaky mercenaries who fight dirty.” The Tail tribe wears a lot of yellow.
  • Talon, “a floating market with fast deals and fighters with even faster hands.” The Talon tribe wears a lot of purple.
  • Spine, “a frigid bamboo forest guarded by large warriors and their giant axes.” The Spine tribe wears a lot of green.
  • Fang, “our fiercest enemy, a nation protected by angry assassins and even angrier cats.” The Fang tribe wears a lot of off-white.
  • Heart, the land where Raya and her father Benja live, is the most neutral and prosperous of the five lands. The Heart tribe doesn’t really have a color-coordinated way of dressing.

The story continues with a flashback of when Raya was about 10 or 11 years old. Her widower father Benja (voiced by Daniel Dae Kim), who is the chief of Heart, has been the secret guardian of the Dragon Gem, which is kept in a remote part of a cave. Raya knows this secret, and she passes her father’s physical test to see if she would be able to reach the Dragon Gem if necessary.

Benja has a bold plan to reunite all the feuding tribes of Kumandra. He invites the people of Tail, Talon, Spine and Fang to Heart. And he gives a speech asking everyone to try to get along with each other. His speech is met with a lot of ridicule, until Raya and Benja mention all the free food that’s available at the gathering. Some of the other tribes are scarce on resources, such as food.

Raya makes eye contact in the crowd with a girl from Fang who’s about the same age as she is. They smile at each other, as an indication that they’re open to becoming friends. Raya steps into the crowd and begins talking to the girl. The other girl is Fang’s princess Namaari (voiced by Gemma Chan), who is the daughter of Fang’s calm and calculating leader Virana (voiced by Sandra Oh).

The other tribes see how Raya and Namaari have started to amicably interact with each other, so they gather in an area that’s set up to look like Kumandra’s version of a family-friendly cocktail party. Raya and Namaari have an instant friendship connection, when they find out that they are both superfans of Sisu. The two girls also found out other things that they have in common are that they both want to be warriors and they both have single parents who tell terrible jokes.

Namaari has a Sisu necklace that Raya admires, and Raya is flattered and surprised when Namaari gives the necklace to Raya. This act of generosity prompts Raya to to impulsively show Namaari the secret location where the Dragon Gem is kept. However, Raya is in for a betrayal and a rude awakening, when Namaari sends a signal to the people in her tribe that she’s found the Dragon Gem.

Other members of the Fang tribe, including Namaari’s mother Virana, rush inside the cave and begin to try to get the gem. Meanwhile, members of the Tail, Talon and Spine tribes have followed them inside the cave to see what all the fuss is about. And when they all see the Dragon Gem, all hell breaks loose.

Benja and Raya bravely try to prevent the Dragon Gem from being taken, but Raya and Benja are outnumbered. People begin fighting to take possession of the gem, which ends up dropping on the ground and shattering into five pieces. The Tail, Talon, Spine and Fang tribes each take one piece and scatter back to their lands, while a fifth piece is left behind at Heart.

The shattering of the Dragon Gem causes the Druun to come back with a vengeance, so there are many people in all tribes who get turned into stone. One of them is Benja, who valiantly throws Raya off a bridge to save her from being in the Druun’s path. She falls into the water (which is protection from the Druun), and she is able to survive.

The story then fast-forwards to six years later. Raya is now a lonely teenage orphan who’s been wandering through the now-devastated Kumandra, on a quest to find all of the pieces of the Dragon Gem to put them back together. Accompanying Raya on this quest is a creature called Tuk Tuk, which is part pill bug and part pug. Tuk Tuk, which is Raya’s closest companion, has grown considerably since her childhood, from being small enough to fit in the palm of her hand to currently being large enough to transport her like a giant snail.

Raya is grieving over the loss of her father, and she’s consumed with bitterness over how she was betrayed by Namaari. Throughout the movie, it’s repeated how this betrayal has caused Raya to not trust anyone. And she wants to get revenge on Namaari and the Fang tribe the most.

Because being near a large body of water is a form of protection against the Druun, Raya has been seeking out all the rivers in Kumandra. When she gets to the last river, Raya calls out to the spirit of Sisu to help her. Just then, Sisu appears, to Raya’s shock. Sisu then transforms herself into a human, as a teenager with multicolored hair.

Raya is awestruck but she doesn’t lose focus on her mission. She tells Sisu about her plan to find all the missing pieces of the Dragon Gem. Sisu agrees to help her and mentions that her best magical ability is that she’s a “really strong swimmer.”

And so, Raya, Sisu and Tuk Tuk go on this adventure that’s fraught with danger but also filled with wonder and hope. Along the way, they meet some memorable characters. One of them is Boun (played by Izaac Wang), pronounced “boon,” a wisecracking 10 year-old boy who’s the captain of his own rickety-looking wooden ship. He calls himself Captain Boun, and he invites Raya, Sisu and Tuk Tuk to ride on the ship to wherever they need to go.

During this journey they also encounter a giant named Tong (voiced by Benedict Wong); Talon’s chief Dang Hai (played by Sung Kang); and Dang Hu (voiced by Lucille Soong), an elderly guide. For the “cute and cuddly factor” that’s a staple of Disney animated movies, there are some innocent-looking characters that commit some not-so-innocent acts: Noi (voiced by Thalia Tran) is a toddler with a habit of stealing items (and she steals lots of scenes too), and she hangs out with three Ongis, which are con-artist creatures that are part monkey, part catfish. And, of course, Namaari shows up again and finds out what Raya is planning to do.

“Raya and the Last Dragon” has overtones about world peace without being too preachy about it. It’s also a story about the capacity to forgive and how difficult it can be to overcome grudges when revenge for death, as well as hatred of a certain group of people, have become ingrained in someone’s soul or someone’s culture. A lot of these messages are wrapped up in the vibrant adventure aspect of the story, but these themes are constant throughout the entire film.

The movie has some commentary about hero worship and the dangers of exalting others to a degree that’s not always healthy or realistic. Sisu reveals some secrets about herself that give a different perspective on her mythical hero status. Awkwafina is a personality that people either seem to love or hate, but her raspy-voiced portrayal of Sisu suits the character well, considering that this dragon has lived for centuries.

Sisu is older and wiser than Raya, and offers some advice about forgiveness that Raya thinks is too naïve. This difference of opinion leads to some mild conflicts between Raya and Sisu, but they remain united in their goal to find the missing pieces of the Dragon Gem. Tran’s portrayal of Raya is relatable and engaging, while Chan also shines in her role as Raya’s enemy Namaari, whose loyalty to her Fang tribe is her greatest motivation and her greatest blind spot.

One of the main themes of Disney princess movies is how girls who seem ordinary can find something extraordinary in themselves during their journeys of self-discovery and while they learn some of life’s biggest lessons. “Raya and the Dragon” falls right in line with this theme. And because this is a Disney animated film, the visuals and the story are top-notch.

Is it a completely perfect movie? No. One of the things that isn’t adequately explained is how Raya and her father Benja seem to be the only people in Heart who are shown in the movie. There’s no real sense of what type of community Raya grew up in and what type of community she would go back to if she returned to Heart. It would have been a little better if the movie showed more of this social context in Heart, instead of making it look like Raya and Benja were the only people who mattered in Heart.

And the way the story is structured, viewers really do need to be paying full attention during the first 10 minutes, or else they’ll miss the informative descriptions of the different lands. (However, for very young kids or people who don’t care about world building, these descriptions won’t matter as much as the adventure story.) Sometimes when a movie has a lot of voice narration in the beginning to explain the plot, it doesn’t work. But fortunately, it works for “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Any of the movie’s minor flaws are far outweighed by this captivating story that is sure to inspire repeat viewings.

Walt Disney Animation Studios released “Raya and the Last Dragon” in U.S. cinemas and for a premium additional price on Disney+ on March 5, 2021.

2019 Golden Globe Awards: Andy Samberg and Sandra Oh named as hosts

December 5, 2018

Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg
Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg at the 70th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards  at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on September 17, 2018. (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

The following is a press release from Dick Clark Productions and NBC:

Sandra Oh, star of the critically acclaimed BBC America drama series “Killing Eve,” and Andy Samberg, star of NBC’s Golden Globe-winning comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” will co-host the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards.

The three-hour telecast will air live on NBC coast to coast Sunday, January 6 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT from The Beverly Hilton.

The Golden Globes serve as the official kickoff to the 2019 awards season. Winners in 25 categories — 14 in film and 11 in television — are voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA).

“Sandra and Andy are the perfect choices to host this world-class event,” said Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks, Co-Chairmen, NBC Entertainment. “They bring wit, charm and style to a room filled with the very best of film and television. It’s sure to be another unforgettable fun-filled night.”

“We’re excited to welcome Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg as co-hosts of Hollywood’s Party of the Year,” said HFPA President Meher Tatna. “Both Golden Globe Award recipients have continually showcased their talents in film and television, and we can’t wait see what their undeniable chemistry will bring to the Golden Globes stage.”

“We are thrilled to have Sandra and Andy co-hosting the Golden Globes,” said Mike Mahan, Executive Producer and CEO, dick clark productions. “This innovative pairing sets the perfect tone for the most entertaining awards celebration of the year.”

Oh currently serves as co-executive producer and earned an Emmy Award nomination for Lead Actress in a Drama for BBC America’s “Killing Eve” as Eve Polastri, an MI5 officer who hunts down and becomes entangled with a cold-blooded female assassin. Previously, Oh starred as Dr. Cristina Yang on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” for which she won a 2006 Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television, a Screen Actors Guild Award for Female Actor in a Drama Series and five Emmy nominations for Supporting Actress in a Drama. Oh’s film credits include “Sideways,” “Under the Tuscan Sun,” “Catfight” and “Meditation Park,” and she produced the animated film “Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming” as well as voicing the title character.

In 2014, Samberg was a two-time Golden Globe winner for “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” winning Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy and as a producer on the show for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy.  Prior to that, Samberg was a cast member on “Saturday Night Live” from 2005-12.  His work on NBC’s iconic late night franchise earned him an Emmy Award and six additional Emmy nominations for his work with The Lonely Island and their digital shorts. The Lonely Island has also been nominated for three Grammys. In 2015, Samberg hosted the 67th annual Primetime Emmy® Awards and in 2013, hosted the Film Independent Spirit Awards.

The new season of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” begins Thursday, Jan. 10 at 9 p.m. on NBC.

The Golden Globe Awards, often referred to as “Hollywood’s Party of the Year,” is one of the biggest nights on the calendar for live viewing. It’s also one of the few awards shows that combine the honorees of both film and television.

The 2018 Golden Globe Awards telecast averaged a 5.0 rating in adults 18-49 and 19 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, putting it ahead of every show on television from the previous 10 months in total viewers, since the prior year’s Academy Awards. The Golden Globes led NBC to the nightlong win in total viewers despite NFL playoff competition.

Produced by dick clark productions in association with the HFPA, the Golden Globe Awards are viewed in more than 210 territories worldwide.

Meher Tatna is President of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Allen Shapiro, Executive Chairman of dick clark productions, Mike Mahan, CEO of dick clark productions and Barry Adelman, Executive VP of Television at dick clark productions, will serve as executive producers.
 
About the Hollywood Foreign Press Association
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) was founded in 1943 as the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association (HFCA) by a group of entertainment journalists representing world media in Hollywood, who realized the need to unite and organize to gain the recognition and access to studios and talent accorded to the domestic press. All qualified journalists were accepted, with the bold goal of “Unity Without Discrimination of Religion or Race.” A year later, the HFCA created the Golden Globe Awards which, to this day, the entire membership selects, votes on and awards every year for outstanding achievements in motion pictures and television. This year marked the 75th anniversary of the Golden Globe Awards. Members of the HFPA represent 56 countries with a combined readership of 250 million in some of the world’s most respected publications. Each year, the organization holds the third most watched awards show on television, the Golden Globe® Awards, which has enabled the organization to donate more than $33 million to 80 entertainment-related charities, scholarship programs and humanitarian efforts over the last 25 years. For more information, please visit www.GoldenGlobes.com and follow us on Twitter (@GoldenGlobes), Instagram (@GoldenGlobes), and Facebook (www.facebook.com/GoldenGlobes).

ABOUT DICK CLARK PRODUCTIONS
Dick Clark Productions (DCP) is the world’s largest producer and proprietor of televised live event entertainment programming with the “Academy of Country Music Awards,” “American Music Awards,” “Billboard Music Awards,” “Golden Globe Awards,” “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest” and the “Streamy Awards.” Weekly television programming includes “So You Think You Can Dance” from 19 Entertainment and dcp. dcp also owns one of the world’s most unique and extensive entertainment archive libraries with over 60 years of award-winning shows, historic programs, specials, performances and legendary programming. For additional information, visit www.dickclark.com.

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