Why Woody Allen’s Moonlight Is Anything But Magical

Greetings loved ones! Liu is the name, and views are my game!

After sitting through writer-director Woody Allen’s latest romantic comedy, Magic in the Moonlight, all I could ask myself was, “how in the hell has this man managed to stay in the good graces of audiences for nearly fifty years?” I mean, forget about hating him for marrying his own daughter, this film by itself should give you reason to dislike him. It’s junk; plain and simple. Worse still, its recycled junk. Unoriginal junk. Now you might make the argument that no movie ever made is original, that elements of preexisting works can be found in every new picture, but you see, Magic in the Moonlight is not simply unoriginal as a film. It is unoriginal as a Woody Allen film. The movie, which tells the story of one magician’s attempts to expose a self-declared psychic as a fraud, has so many characteristics of his earlier work–its set in France, the main character is an annoyingly nihilistic nebbish, there’s a romance involving magic, metaphysics and moral outlooks on life–that its not even funny. Look at almost any other movie made by him–Annie Hall, Whatever Works, Midnight in Paris–and you’ll find these exact same features. As one critic writing in the Washington Post so eloquently put it, “Allen shows us here that he’s as good at recycling plots as he is bottles and cans.”

But of course, on its own, banality is not a good enough reason to hate a picture. Forced dialogue and gaping plot holes, on the other hand, are. Good writers will tell you, “show, don’t tell,” and almost every single sentence that a character utters in this movie is telling us something. For instance, in one scene, a man is talking to his wife and he TELLS her the exact character of Stanley, the magician whose been sent to debunk the supposed psychic. Why not simply have Stanley’s actions SHOW us who he is as opposed to having someone TELL us? BUt what bothered me about the movie even more than the dialogue was the romance between Stanley, the magician, and Sophie, the girl he’s trying to prove a fraud. It just didn’t make any sense. Its made painfully clear why Stanley is attracted to her–he’s a rational man whose bleak, unexciting outlook on life is shaken up and made more interesting by her mercurial and mystical lifestyle–but you never understand why she is attracted to him. He’s older, overweight, not that attractive, and harangues her , and what she does, at every opportunity. I don’t know about you, but he doesn’t seem like that good a catch to me. But, for all its flaws, I will give the film credit for a few things. It’s costumes, sets and soundtrack are both beautiful and appropriate to the 1920s, the era in which the film takes place. It certainly does a much better job of representing that period than Buzz Luhrman’s Great Gatsby. (shutter) Good god that was bad!

But, anyway, I wouldn’t recommend this film to anybody, whether their a fan of Mr Allen or not. It’s clunky, cliche, and just not that enjoyable to watch. 6 out of 10, if you ask me. Don’t waste your time on it.

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A Chronicle of Carnage

Part 1: The Confession…

Nate: Hey, uh, Dad? Can I talk to you for a minute? Okay, cool, cool. Listen, uh, when I was outside—bringing the rakes back into the house—I accidentally scratched your car. Now, hold on! Before you get angry, before you overreact, just let me explain! It’s not a big scratch—I could barely see it when I was standing five inches away—and you don’t have to worry about cost. I’ll pay for the damages. Granted, I haven’t gotten my allowance in almost three months but, still, I promise I’ll get the money.

 

Part 2: The Aftermath…

Alex: Aw man! What happened to you?

Nate: I told my dad that I scratched his car with a rake.

Alex: And he gave you a black eye?

Nate: No, actually, I got that from my neighbor, Mrs. Ostrinski. Turns out it was her car after all.

 

 

 

 

District 9: An Homage To The Honorable FW de Klerk?

I’ve watched Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 several times over the past few years, and each viewing has elicited a completely different reaction from me. The first time I saw it, I enjoyed myself, but I didn’t give the movie much thought. Sure, I knew it was supposed to be an allegory for Apartheid and racism, but I personally felt that the director spent too much time on flashy fight sequences and special effects for any real social commentary to get through. The next time I viewed the picture, I absolutely hated it. To me, what had initially seemed a creative commentary on racism had instead become a disgusting display of racist stereotypes. The fact that the Aliens, who are supposed to represent South Africa’s Black population, were portrayed as stupid, ugly and easily provoked to violence, was very troubling to me. Worse still were the film’s actual Black characters, who were either shown as cannibal thugs (the Nigerian gangsters) or docile sidekicks frequently referred to as “boy.” But what really bothered me about the movie, and what I didn’t understand was, if the film was supposed to tell the story of Apartheid, why wasn’t there any Alien equivalent to Nelson Mandela, the ANC, the Truth Commission or any of the other people and parties involved during that period in South African history? Needless to say, I felt no strong urge to watch the movie again.

The third, and final time I saw the film, my feelings toward it were considerably warmer. I realized that, while the movie did show its fair share of racial stereotypes, that was most likely done deliberately as a means to illustrate how racist whites viewed non-white people. Also, if you think about it, its much more realistic, and even respectful, to show an oppressed people as being divided and flawed, and not simply noble, unified savages. Plus, the violence that we see the Aliens exhibiting towards each other could easily be seen as the tribal warfare among indigenous Africans wrought by European colonization. Anyone whose familiar with African history knows that several of the ethnic conflicts in the region–like the one between the Hutus and the Tutsis–were actually created, or else exacerbated by, the Europeans, who got them to hate one another as a means of keeping them subservient. But anyway, another thing that I liked was the fact that, this time when I watched the movie, I was able to find some fictional parallels to actual people. I saw the two main characters, Wikus van der Merwe and Christopher Johnson, as representations of presidents FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela respectively. Both van der Merwe and de Klerk are Afrikaners (Dutch South Africans), and both initially find themselves at the heart of the system that is oppressing people. While both do eventually end up helping those that they were oppressing, they do so out of self interest, and not moral conscience. This, while something I originally disliked, actually ended up being an aspect of the film that I most appreciated. See, very rarely do people do the right things just for the sake of doing them. They have to feel that they can benefit from their good deeds in some way. Otherwise, why go to all the trouble? Wikus helps the aliens because the idea of becoming one is so thoroughly repugnant to him that he’ll do anything to stop the transformation from occurring. Similarly, de Klerk only brought about the end of Apartheid because South Africa couldn’t hope to survive with international sanctions crippling its economy. Yes, he did end up doing the right thing, but for the wrong reasons, and having his fictional counterpart do so as well is both realistic and interesting. As for Christopher, District 9’s only Alien protagonist, I saw him as a very good thematic representation of Nelson Mandela. Both were trapped in places where they had no rights and no freedom. For Mandela, that place was Robben island. For Christopher, the prison is Earth. Both found themselves separated from their traditional culture and way of life–in District 9, the filmmakers illustrate this by having the Aliens be physically unable to reach their spaceship–but both manage to maintain their dignity and, eventually, find a way to work with those who are oppressing them. Both lay the groundwork for reform, but don’t magically bring about an end to the injustices that are occurring. In real life, Mandela’s presidency did mark a huge turning point in South African history, but it didn’t solve several issues, like mass poverty among Blacks, urban violence and crime, all of which are still present to this day. Similarly, Christopher does manage to regain control of the spaceship and to leave the Earth, but his actions don’t really effect the vast majority of Aliens, who are simply shepherded into a new ghetto and left to wait for change.

To me, having a film discussing race end on such an open-ended, ambiguous note was the best thing to do because, whether we like it or not, race will always be a part of our society and our lives. We might pass laws prohibiting discrimination, we might do our best to be respectful and open-minded, but we’ll never be able to escape certain thoughts or expectations we have about certain groups. For instance, some White person might be completely for equal pay, employment and educational opportunities for Blacks, and yet still feel nervous when riding a bus with them. Is it right for that White person to have such contradictory thoughts and feelings? Well, in a perfect world, I would say no. But, the fact is, we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where this kind of hypocritical thinking is quite common. See, contrary to what people like Karl Marx might think, equality, be it racial or otherwise, simply isn’t feasible in the unfair world we live in. The fact that one filmmaker, Neil Blomkamp, decided to have his fictional world be just as biased and unbalanced as the real one is promising to me. Why? Because if we, as a society, can accept our own limitations, even if it is just in a film, then maybe, just maybe, we can make the right choices for the future.

What A Bloody Mess Part 3: Eli Roth’s Hostel

Greetings loved ones! Liu is the name, and views are my game.

And welcome to the third, and final, installment in my What A Bloody Mess series.

There is a place, at the edge of the Earth, where all one’s darkest, sickest fantasies are possible. It is a place where the wealthy pay to watch the weak suffer. A place where the words “mercy” and “restraint” have no meaning. It is a place whose true name has never been uttered, but one that will, to those who were lucky enough to return from it, forever be known as “that cinema where they showed Eli Roth’s Hostel.” Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

Okay, I admit, that was a weird way to start off the essay, but actually quite appropriate given the subject of today’s review. Hostel, a 2005 film widely considered to have created the “gorno” sub-genre of horror, deals exclusively with the subject of paying to watch others feel pain. A gruesome tale of death and destruction, the film tells the story of a group of American backpackers who, after being lured to a remote Slovakian hostel by the promise of sex, are kidnapped by an organization known as Elite Hunting, which sells people to wealthy clients to be tortured. Easily one of the most unpleasant, and naively simplistic pictures to have hit the big screen in a while, Hostel was nevertheless hugely financially successful, raking in some $80 million worldwide from its modest $4.8 million budget. It even garnered critical acclaim, with many people seeing it as a biting critique of excessive consumerism. It won the 2006 Empire Award for “Best Horror Film,” and was even debated by a panel at Rider University’s 2010 Film Symposium. Yup! A movie who’s plot, characters and themes are about as sophisticated as the one sentence summary I gave earlier, was debated (DEBATED) by, not one, not two, but THREE doctors (Barry Seldes, Robert Good, and James Morgart). And what aspects of the film, you might be wondering, did the panel discuss? It’s Marxist and Nietzschean undertones. (Sigh)

I suppose that this just goes to show you how low our sensibilities have sunk, that three highly-educated individuals actually have to debate, on a University platform, no less, the moral and philosophical implications of torture porn. Now, don’t get me wrong, people have gone on far larger platforms, and discussed far stupider subjects than this, but its a little more disheartening here because colleges are supposed to be centers of higher learning and elevated conversation. But what, you might be wondering, is so appalling about this picture that I hate it to this level? Why, and please forgive the pun, am I so hostile towards Hostel? Several reasons, actually, and if you will do me the great pleasure of reading further, I will share them all.

Firstly, the story is just plain preposterous. To say that the plot is simple would be an understatement. The film opens with three backpackers, two Americans and an Icelandic, on holiday in Amsterdam. The trio doesn’t appear to have any interest in the art or culture of their Dutch surroundings, and instead looks only to smoke weed and sleep with prostitutes, both of which they are shown doing. In the middle of all this debauchery, they are approached by a mysterious stranger, who tells them about a hostel in Slovakia where all they’re wildest sexual fantasies are possible. The trio, being the horny idiots that they are, agree to go with the man, and set off for a place so obviously evil that it’s a wonder that it doesn’t have 666 written all over it. As you can imagine, things take a sharp turn for the worse after they arrive. One by one, the three get axed off, and in some of the nastiest, gnarliest ways imaginable–decapitation, slicing of achilles tendons, chainsawing of limbs, drilling of holes into ones chest and legs, etc. But, of course, in keeping with the “lone survivor” horror cliche, one of the protagonists, Paxton, does manage to escape, and he even tries to rescue another victim, a Japanese girl named Kana, but she decides she would rather die than live deformed, proving, once and for all, that if you’re not beautiful, you have nothing to live for. (Sigh). Where the hell do I begin? First off, who the hell goes all the way from the Netherlands to Slovakia just to get some booty? I mean, its 1,444 kilometers. That’s a 13 hour trip. You have to go through all of Germany and the Czech Republic just to get there. And as someone who’s actually been to that part of Europe myself, I can tell you, its not worth the trouble. Amsterdam is a much funner place to visit, especially if all your interested in doing is getting stoned and banging hookers. Prostitution and pot are legal there, and the movie even shows the protagonists taking full advantage of this fact. So, why the hell would they go all the way to Slovakia? Why couldn’t they just stay where they were and have all the fun they wanted? That would be the logical thing to do. But, then again, this is the horror universe we’re talking about here. It’s inhabitants aren’t exactly famed for they’re critical thinking. Also, how on Earth could a global human trafficking organization like Elite Hunting possibly go unnoticed by the UN? The film establishes that the group’s cliental are wealthy individuals from all over the world–we see Dutch, American, and German businessmen all taking part in the carnage–so tell me, if pretty much everyone who’s got cash knows about this company, how the hell has the US, or any other government, for that matter, not heard about it and done everything in their power to shut it down? I mean, in both the real and fictional world, the UN has signed numerous resolutions, and spent millions of dollars, trying to stop human trafficking in developing nations like Mexico and Cambodia, so why wouldn’t they extend that same courtesy to their own countries. In fact, I’ll bet you anything that they’d put more time, energy and resources into stopping an organization like Elite Hunting if they knew about it. After all, it’s operating within their borders and presents a more immediate threat. (Groan). But, once again, that would be far too logical for a horror movie. You can’t have governments and police forces that actually get involved on their citizens behalf. Better to have them turn a blind eye to all the illegal activities happening right under their noses, or else have them be so totally incompetent that they wouldn’t be much help if they did get involved. Either way, the bad guys get free range, and the victims have no one to rely on but themselves. (Rolls eyes). Anyway, on to the next area of weakness in this movie.

The “heroes” of Hostel are anything but fully developed. I stated in an earlier review that, if there’s anything more important to the success of a movie than having a good hero, its having a good villain. And while I still stand by that previous assertion, I would like to add that having only an interesting antagonist is not enough to carry the weight of a story. After all, it is the heroes who’s eyes we see this fictional world through, and they whom we are supposed to sympathize with. True, a well-rounded villain can also be sympathetic, but its the heroes who are supposed to win in the end, so you can’t have the bad guys be too likable. In Hostel, however, as it is in most horror films, the protagonists lack any depth or backstory. And unlike other movies, which at least have recognizable cliche characters–the whore, the virgin, the jock, the nerd, the token black guy–Hostel’s protagonists don’t really have any distinguishing characteristics. They’re all young. They’re all horny. They all just want to get stoned. There’s only two “good guys” who even slightly stand out–Kana, the Japanese girl, and Oli, the American backpacker’s Icelandic friend–and the only reason they’re even remotely memorable is because they’re just that; a japanese girl and an Icelandic friend. It’s not like they’re given unique, quirky personalities. You never learn how any of these people met each other or what their interests are–beyond booty and bongs, of course. Hell, the villains are given a lot more back story than the heroes. The Dutch bad guy wanted to be a surgeon, but could never pass the board’s tests, and so now is searching for a body to experiment on. The American bad guy has gotten bored with plain old drugs and hookers, and is now looking for some newer, more intense stimulation. True, these simplistic desires can’t form an entire personality, but they sure as hell are more than what our heroes have been given.

But, as a friend of mine once said, it’s easy to say what you didn’t like about a work of art without actually giving any suggestions of your own, so, without further ado, here are some changes that the director could have made to improve the quality of the movie. First of all, flesh out the characters. No, not literally! Emotionally. Personality-wise, I mean. Have one of the trio of backpackers be interested in Rembrandt or Van Gogh, as opposed to smoking pot and popping cherries. This more intellectually and culturally-grounded person could stay in Amsterdam when the other two leave for the hostel. Then, when his companions don’t return, he can do some research on the existence of said hostel, discover that its a front for a human trafficking organization, and then alert the Dutch authorities and the representatives at the Slovakian Embassy. These people, in turn, could send in police to bust up the operation. Also, explain why Kana and Yuki, a pair of Japanese tourists, are in a remote corner of Slovakia. Yes, they’re relatively minor characters, and yes, It’s not unusual to see large groups of Japanese in Europe these days but, seeing as they’re the only female protagonists, they deserve to be given a little more depth, and plus, you generally only find Asian travelers in pretty on-the-beaten-track-type places like Paris or Prague, and Slovakia is a relatively obscure country in the former Soviet block. Actually, that’s probably what happened. Kana and Yuki were taking a train through Slovakia to Prague, when their ride broke down, and they found themselves, completely, or not at all by accident, in the very town where Elite Hunting operates. Then Yuki, a more adventurous spirit, went out to explore this strange new environment, while Kana, a shallow soul obsessed with her appearance, stayed indoors to do her nails. This explains why Yuki was captured first, and why Kana would rather kill herself than live with a less than perfect face. These changes I’ve listed are small, I admit, but they’re all that’s necessary to give these naively simple characters in this naively simple story some three-dimensionality, and let me tell you, if either party had some of that, Hostel would be a much more enjoyable film to watch.

And that, dear friends, is what draws a curtain on my What A Bloody Mess series. I hope that, whether you’re a hardcore fan of horror, or simply someone who’s too terrified to see the movies I’m reviewing yourself, you had as much fun reading these essays as I had writing them. Good night and god bless!

To His Parents

Oh Father! Dear Father.
What a woe-filled song you’ve sung.
But now you’re banner’s flying high.
The war you’ve fought is won.

Your prize is near!
Your crowds are here!
Your people all exulting!

What say you then?
You son of men?
Deny you them their calling?

Oh Mother! Dear Mother.
For strength I’ve looked to you.
On stormy days you cleared the skies.
You made them bright and blue.

You sang the night!
You gave me flight!
Through dreams which clouds did cover!

What say you now?
You sullen sow?
Hate you still my lover?

I know you will not answer.
I know what’s in your head.
I know that you don’t want to think,
I’ve fallen, cold and dead.

What A Bloody Mess Part 2: Takashi Miike’s Ichi The Killer

Image result for ichi the killer

There are some movies out there that are so vile, so depraved, so unspeakably awful, that they actually transcend the realm of bad taste and, in the eyes of certain critics, become worth watching. No, I’m not talking about Flowers Of Flesh And Blood or The Human Centipede: Full Sequence. I’m referring to films such as Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and, of course, Takashi Miike’s Ichi The Killer. These movies not only sickened audiences to the point of vomiting, walking out and, in the case of Ichi The Killer, unconsciousness, they also got people praising their directors’ “artistic vision” and critics raving about their “social, cultural and political relevance.” Why? Well, at one point in the not to distant past, I would have said, “I have no idea,” or else, “as a means of self-defense.” I used to think that critics and cinephiles made cult classics out of these movies because they just didn’t want to believe that someone would put the time, money, and dare I say, effort, into making something so profoundly twisted. Now, however, I’m not so sure I can stand by that previous assertion. Yes, these movies are disgusting in every sense of the word, but the fact remains, some of these films were actually made with a specific social and/or political agenda in mind. A Clockwork Orange, for example, is a story about freedom, the freedom to do and think as we please, and how society strives to limit that freedom by forcing us all to conform to a certain standard of behavior. As for the others, they might not necessarily have been made with a specific message in mind, but they are just vague, and over the top enough, to have the potential to be profound. Case and point; Ichi The Killer. Continue reading

My Fifteen Favorite Underrated Films.

Image result for rosewood film\Image result for red belt david film poster

You ever come across a movie that you just loved, but no one else around you seemed to like or understand? I have, and on multiple occasions. So many times, in fact, that I’ve decided to compile a list of my fifteen favorite underrated films. Why fifteen? Because I like to give 150%. Anyway, my hope is that, by sharing the names of these pictures with the readers of my blog, I’ll be able to expose more people to their brilliance, and subsequently aid the talented artists who made them. Just to be clear, when I say “underrated” I’m referring to a well-acted, well-written, and well-produced film that, for whatever reason, was either critically or financially unsuccessful at the time of its release. It can have a large or small budget, be directed by a Hollywood A-lister, or an obscure Art House Intellectual. All it has to be is a good movie that wasn’t appreciated when it first came out. But, why waste any more time telling you about these pictures? Let me show them to you! Here are my fifteen favorite underrated films!

Continue reading