For a re­view of “Al­pha,”

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You know Sheila the SheWolf from “Glow” on Net­flix? “Al­pha” would be her fa­vorite movie. She’d watch it ev­ery day on a VHS tape, mem­o­riz­ing each line of Cro-Magnon di­a­logue, fash­ion­ing her cos­tumes in trib­ute to the fur­trimmed Hot Topic looks sported by the char­ac­ters, adopt­ing a Czech wolf dog like the one in the movie.

It’s sweet, re­ally, to imag­ine the kind of de­vo­tion “Al­pha” might in­spire, a film that’s very sim­ple, kind of strange, but will melt any dog-lover’s heart. It’s the story of a young boy liv­ing in Europe’s last Ice Age, his fight for sur­vival and the spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with a wolf that keeps him alive.

When it comes to sheer spec­ta­cle, “Al­pha” is a stun­ning pro­duc­tion, es­pe­cially in 3D IMAX. Di­rec­tor Al­bert Hughes and cin­e­matog­ra­pher Martin Gschlacht recre­ate the un­touched vis­tas of pre-civ­i­liza­tion Europe shoot­ing on lo­ca­tion in Canada, while en­hanc­ing with vis­ual ef­fects. The cam­era soars and swoops across the prairies, fields and glaciers, creat­ing the sense of flying for the au­di­ence. When the land­scape be­comes im­pacted with snow, it is epic, but less visu­ally stim­u­lat­ing.

Kodi Smit-McPhee stars as Keda, the son of a tribal chief Tau (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhan­nes­son), em­bark­ing on his first big hunt. Tau is filled with pride to have his son learn­ing how they pro­vide for their tribe, teach­ing him lessons along the way about self-sacrifice and lead­er­ship.

For­tu­nately, the sen­si­tive and shy Keda is cut from a dif­fer­ent hide, and he’s the film’s true hero. Dur­ing the hunt, ev­ery­thing goes hay­wire, and Keda is thrown off a cliff by an an­gry bi­son. The tribe must leave him be­hind, un­able to lose their chief Tau to a risky res­cue mis­sion. He’s racked with grief, but he must do what’s best for the tribe and leaves his pre­sumed-dead son be­hind, mark­ing his place of death with stones.

Here sets off Keda’s re­mark­able sur­vival mis­sion, which he does his own way. All he takes from his fa­ther is his map home, a tat­too on his hand of the Big Dip­per con­stel­la­tion. He’s no great hunter, but he’s a sweet and gen­tle soul: a healer, not a killer. When a pack of wolves goes after him, he in­jures the al­pha wolf, then nurses it back to health. Soon Al­pha is by his side, through bliz­zards and preda­tor at­tacks, as Keda makes the ar­du­ous jour­ney home.

“Al­pha” is an epic ad­ven­ture tale that tells the story of how hu­mans and dogs came to have the re­la­tion­ship they do, one of de­voted com­pan­ion­ship and mu­tual sup­port. It’s hard to sur­vive out there with­out a lov­ing, warm­blooded crea­ture by your side, whether it’s the Ice Age or the 21st cen­tury. The­mat­i­cally, “Al­pha” nails the idea that our sur­vival is de­pen­dent on the love and sup­port of oth­ers, and the idea emerges from the haze of faux fur and war paint in which “Al­pha” is coated.

“Al­pha,” a Sony re­lease, is rated PG-13 for some in­tense peril. Run­ning time: 96 min­utes.


“Crazy Rich Asians”

Love and its com­pli­cated dy­nam­ics have been largely out of style in film­mak­ing since the witty, ma­ture hey­day of No­rah Ephron (“When Harry Met Sally”) and Richard Cur­tis (“Four Wed­dings and a Fu­neral”). But now it’s re­vived by “Crazy Rich Asians,” a take on the mori­bund genre that’s leaps and bounds above any­thing we’ve seen for years.

Adapted from Kevin Kwan’s 2013 best­seller, the film is a fan­tasy tour of Sin­ga­porean high so­ci­ety. Rachel Chu (fetch­ing Con­stance Wu of ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat”), a young eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor at New York Univer­sity who has never been east of Queens, takes her first trip to Asia as she ac­com­pa­nies her boyfriend back to his home, where he’ll serve as best man at a friend’s wed­ding.

De­spite her ex­per­tise in fi­nance, she has never de­tected that mod­est, adorable Nick Young (Henry Gold­ing in his movie de­but) has been con­ceal­ing an im­por­tant fact from her: His fam­ily is 12 times richer than God. Once in­side his ex­trav­a­gant Pa­cific Rim never-never land of high fash­ion, spoiled so­cialites, de­bauched scions and mar­riage-threat­en­ing scan­dals, Nick’s sin­cere de­vo­tion may come at a cost Rachel can’t af­ford.

“Crazy Rich Asians” gives us a smooth, pol­ished take on Cin­derella in a con­text look­ing at cul­tural clashes that reach beyond eth­nic sim­i­lar­i­ties. Rachel, a first-gen­er­a­tion Chi­nese-Amer­i­can, speaks Can­tonese as well as any­one in Nick’s fam­ily, and most of the all-Asian cast speaks a plummy Queen’s English from their days in elite British board­ing schools.

But there’s much Rachel doesn’t have in com­mon with Nick’s kin, who fol­low an­cient codes of duty to fam­ily, not al­lAmer­i­can per­sonal ful­fill­ment and pur­suit of hap­pi­ness. As much as she tries to re­spect them, their tra­di­tions feel ar­ti­fi­cial, turn­ing her re­la­tion­ship with Nick into an East-West snarl-up.

It’s told with a good deal of hu­mor. As word of Rachel’s place in Nick’s heart spreads over the in­ter­net, there’s a great vis­ual mo­saic of the gos­sip spread­ing like an un­end­ing tide. Rachel be­gins fir­ing cul­ture clash jokes as soon as their flight ar­rives. And as Rachel’s strange old col­lege roommate and lo­cal tag-along, Awk­wa­fina is a one-woman riot.

In this uni­verse, the men are largely eye candy to be shown shirt­less when­ever pos­si­ble or serve as comic re­lief, with Ken Jeong ham­ming it up and Nico San­tos go­ing wry, dry and very out. As in a real-life wed­ding, the power roles go to the women. They’re all writ­ten with spe­cial care and given the cam­era time they need to make their char­ac­ters well de­tailed.

Wu, who is in­her­ently lik­able, covers a lot of feel­ings with­out over­selling. When she over­hears some rich glam­our girls snip at her nat­u­ral beauty, her rue­ful look says ev­ery­thing. They re­gard her as an im­mi­grant gold dig­ger, and when they threaten her with an act of bed­room bel­liger­ence straight out of “The God­fa­ther,” Wu de­liv­ers pre­cisely the right re­sponse. She cre­ates a clas­sic good girl in a poised, self-as­sertive and vul­ner­a­ble way that doesn’t feel clichéd.

Michelle Yeoh is a trea­sure as Nick’s chilly, re­gal mother, Eleanor. What a rich char­ac­ter she is, dom­i­nant yet de­tached and high-minded, un­tainted by hu­man pet­ti­ness. A Hong Kong film su­per­star for decades, Yeoh han­dles the part with the serene con­fi­dence of a born em­press.

Eleanor rarely ex­presses crit­i­cism; im­pli­ca­tion is so much more el­e­gant. She ex­am­ines Rachel like a mildly both­er­some mosquito to be waved away, too unim­por­tant to swat. She’s cer­tain Rachel lacks the re­fined cul­tural sen­si­tiv­ity needed to en­ter her lofty cir­cle, let alone join her fam­ily. She ex­pects Rachel to fly back to vul­gar New York City, and Nick to re­turn to his proper home with his mother.

With a mi­nor glance or a sub­tle acous­tic change in her voice, she’s as deadly as a tor­pedo. And yet she can be kind and in­clu­sive as she tries to send Rachel pack­ing, invit­ing her to make bao dumplings and chat about ba­bies. Eleanor is dif­fi­cult, but no Me­dusa.

The film has won a good deal of at­ten­tion as the first U.S. stu­dio fea­ture with an en­tirely Asian en­sem­ble since “The Joy Luck Club” was re­leased a quar­ter cen­tury ago. It’s great to see a per­pet­u­ally un­der­rep­re­sented group claim the spot­light stereo­type-free, and the suc­cess of hits such as “Black Pan­ther” surely prove au­di­ences are ea­ger for more di­ver­sity in fa­mil­iar gen­res.

But the film’s strong­est sell­ing point isn’t that, or its dressed-to-kill cos­tum­ing or its use of chic lo­ca­tions and ap­petite-ex­cit­ing food porn. Its ben­e­fit is fil­ter­ing all those el­e­ments through an old Ca­pulets-and-Mon­tagues story line and creat­ing a deft, in­tel­li­gent charmer as ir­re­sistibly fizzy as the cham­pagne its char­ac­ters quaff round-the-clock. It gives ro­mance the royal treat­ment.

“Crazy Rich Asians,” a Warner Bros. re­lease, is rated PG-13 for some sug­ges­tive con­tent and lan­guage. ★★★★


“Crazy Rich Asians” tells the story of a young eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor who ac­com­pa­nies her boyfriend to his home where he’s best man in a friend’s wed­ding, and she finds that he’s rich many times over.

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