Gotham

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game!

And it’s official–DC Comics should just stick to television!

What? You think that statement requires an explanation? Well, all right. I’ll do my best to provide you with one.

So, in case you’ve been living under a rock you’re whole life, there are two major comic book companies in the United States, DC Comics, which is owned by Warner Brothers, and Marvel Comics, which is owned by Disney. DC is famous for such characters as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and the most notorious villain of all time, the Joker. Marvel is known for characters like Spider Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and Wolverine. The two companies have been rivals, basically since the day they were established, and have sought to out due each other in everything from comic book sales to movie profits. Now, as far as live-action films go, Marvel has been far more financially successful in recent years, with the company’s cinematic universe–consisting of The Avengers, Iron Man, and Captain America movies–raking in absurd amounts of dough. DC, by contrast, has been a bit less fortunate. Yes, they’ve had some critical and financial hits–like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, and V For Vendetta–but, overall, their track record has been a bit less consistent in terms of greatness. This, of course, is excluding their TV shows.

DC Comics has produced some of the longest-running, most critically-acclaimed TV shows, both animated and live-action, to ever hit the screen. Do the names Smallville, Arrow, Justice League, and Batman: The Animated Series ring any bells? Of course they do! They’re classics! But, that’s not the point. The point is, DC has a more or less perfect track record when it comes to television, and this record has, in my opinion, been upheld by the small screen adaptation of the Batman legend, Gotham.

First airing in 2014, and continuing to run up till this day, Gotham takes the characters and places of the Batman comics, and puts them in a cop show. Since it’s set right after the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and doesn’t skip ahead to the time when he’s Batman, no actual superhero-ing occurs in this series. You won’t find any gadgets, explosions, or caped crusaders dealing out justice here. What you will find is a dark, twisted, thoroughly gripping police procedural that positively oozes style and atmosphere. The basic premise is that Detective James Gordon has been assigned to find the man who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents, and in so doing, he finds himself getting pulled into a world of corruption, violence and intrigue.

There’s a lot to admire with this series. As I stated earlier, the style and aesthetic of the show are just fantastic. Every set and environment has a specific color scheme. All blacks, grays, and whites. No primary colors here. On top of that, all the buildings you see in the background have a very run-down feel to them, which is appropriate, seeing as Gotham is supposed to be a corrupt, crime-ridden hell hole. And finally, and I cannot emphasize this enough, the show is very dark, very violent, and very twisted. Those are three things that a Batman story should always be. The creators of the Batman Universe, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson, always intended for Batman to be a darker, more mature comic book character. I actually got a chance to meet the late Mr Robinson before his passing, and he told me as much in person. “Gotham is supposed to be a dark, hellish version of New York,” he said. And, well, if you ask me, this series has captured that vision PERFECTLY with regards to its tone, plot and aesthetic.

Now, of course, no series ever created was without its share of flaws, and Gotham certainly has a few. Some of the acting–particularly that of Donal Logue and Jada Pinkett Smith–is hammy and over-the-top. In addition, the plot of the show starts off as fairly straight forward–the Wayne’s get murdered, Gordon has to find out who did it–but then becomes rather convoluted and hard to follow as the series progresses. And, as much as I admire Gotham for maintaining the dark tone and gritty violence of its source material, those things can also serve to alienate some people. But, if you don’t mind that, or are simply a die hard Batman fan, I still think you’ll enjoy the series. In my opinion, its a 7 out of 10. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

Dear White People

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

If Spike Lee and Wes Anderson had a baby, and that baby grew up and decided to make a movie incorporating both its daddies’ visual styles and political views, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect with Justin Simien’s Dear White People. Yes indeed! In addition to explorations and indictments of racism, this movie has a very quirky, colorful, off-beat aesthetic. Perfectly symmetrical shots, sets with pastel color schemes, whip pans–these are some visual tricks featured in Dear White People that you might expect to find in, say, Moonrise Kingdom, or the Grand Budapest Hotel. And while these techniques are perfectly fine, and work in those latter films, which are intentionally weird and silly, they don’t necessarily lend themselves to a discussion of race relations on a college campus. And that, loved ones, is just one reason why I didn’t much care for Dear White People. There are others, to be sure, but I’ll get to those in a minute.

For those of you who don’t know, Dear White People is an independent comedy-drama that came out in 2014. It’s a movie that’s garnered a great deal of acclaim, and criticism, since its release at the Sundance Film Festival. And after watching it on Netflix, I can understand why. It’s witty, it’s well-acted, and it seeks to address the issue of race in a modern context. The problem is, it doesn’t seem to know what kind of movie it wants to be. It drastically shifts its tone several times–moving from the sharply funny, to the sentimental, to the downright messed up. And, as if the inconsistent narrative voice and inappropriately light-hearted visuals weren’t confusing enough, the movie even gets its morals mixed up.

See, the film centers around a controversial “African-American themed” Halloween party thrown on a college campus, and the events that lead up to it. The climax is not unlike the one in Do The Right Thing. The college’s Black students, outraged at the party, trash the building where it is being held, and start a fight with the people who threw it. The conflict gets so bad that the police have to be called in. And yet, after all that, no one gets punished, or arrested. No one learns ANYTHING. And as if that weren’t outrageous enough, in the movie’s epilogue, the school President is shown making a deal with a reality TV company to make a documentary about the incident.

The hell, man?

Look, I understand the need for a discussion of race. I really do. I’ve written about it here on my blog, and it features in most of my creative work. On top of that, I feel that things like the film’s “African-American” Halloween Party are all too common on school campuses, and should be addressed. Just look at where I go–NYU. This year, the faculty actually had to cancel a production of “The Mikado,” because the cast consisted entirely of White actors in Yellow Face. The fact that stuff like this is still happening tells you how much some people need sensitivity lessons. And yet, with all that said, if you’re going to make a serous drama about racism, make a serous drama about racism. Don’t have the visuals be happy and colorful. Don’t have the movie be a laugh-out-loud comedy one minute, and an intense, gritty drama in another. And, while I understand the need for ambiguity and nuance in a discussion of race, don’t let the perpetrators of racism in your film go completely unpunished. Have some moral clarity.

Loved ones, I didn’t care for Dear White People at all, and yet, I can’t help but recommend you all go see it. There’s some really good acting and dialogue in here, and when you watch this movie, you can tell that a lot of thought and effort was put into it. It’s the kind of film that’s designed to be controversial–that’s designed to provoke discussions and differences of opinion–so, to that end, I have to recommend that you all see it. I didn’t enjoy it, but that’s just me. Maybe you will. Maybe you’ll disagree with me. Maybe you’ll find it very relevant, and very profound. I don’t know. You have to see it for yourself. For me, though, it’s just a 6.5 out of 10.

Hawaii Five-O

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Today I’d like to talk to you all about Hawaii Five-O, or as I like to think of it, what Law & Order would look like if it were set in Oahu, and had more bullets, and fewer braincells. Yes indeed! This 2010 reboot of the popular 1970s TV show is more fast-paced, action-packed, and stylishly-violent than anything else, but it still manages to be a lot of fun, and in a way that doesn’t make you feel guilty. Now, before any of you ask, no, I haven’t actually seen the original series, so I’m not going to make any comparisons in this review. This will be a strict evaluation of the 2010 reboot, and the 2010 reboot alone.

But what, you might be wondering, is Hawaii Five-O, and more specifically, the reboot, about? Well, it’s a series that follows an elite task force within the Honolulu Police Department, formed by the governor, which deals with special cases and crimes. The group consists of four members–Steve McGarrett, a former Navy SEAL and Hawaii native, Daniel “Danno” Williams, a cop from the mainland who came to the island to be with his daughter, Chin-Ho Kelly, a retired HPD detective and High School friend of Steve’s, and Kono Kalakaua, a recent graduate from the Police Academy, and Chin-Ho’s cousin. Because it was created by the governor, the group answers specifically to her, and is granted full immunity when performing its duties. This allows them to get away with a number of questionable acts, such as beating up and threatening suspects, and entering locations without a warrant. But before you get worried that this show is just another Wire–meaning it’s a depressing, meandering chronicle of the lives of corrupt cops–I’d like to point out that the characters here never step too far outside the limits of the law, and their immunity gets revoked later on in the series. So, yeah. Don’t worry. They are still the good guys.

Anyway, despite its classification as a “police procedural,” Hawaii Five-O feels much more like a straight up action-adventure series. Nearly every episode features a chase scene, shoot out, explosion, and choreographed hand-to-hand combat. On top of this, the cinematography is not unlike what you’d expect to see in a Michael Bay movie. Slow motion, whip pans, shots from, and of, helicopters, 360 degree turns, low angle shots of people getting out of their cars–these are just a few of the things featured in the series that give it its slick, fast, action-movie feeling. Now, like I said before, Hawaii Five-O is not a deep series at all. There’s no thought-provoking commentary on current events or racism, as with Law & Order, and no intricate plotting, as with the Wire. Still, the series has good action, good pacing, good character development, and it’s very enjoyable to watch. Plus, it’s refreshing to see a TV series that features a largely Asian cast.

As I’ve made it clear in such posts as “Why Colorblind Casting Works,” and my reviews of Sense8, Ex Machina, and Agents Of Shield, the portrayal of non-whites in mainstream media, particularly Asians and Asian-Americans, is very important to me. I feel that the roles available for Asian actors are very limited, and that those that are available are highly stereotypical. I’m therefore always on the lookout for movies and TV shows that not only feature lots of Asian characters, but that have those characters be fleshed out and well-rounded. That’s why I watch Fresh Off The Boat, and that’s also why I initially got into Hawaii Five-O. See, two of the main protagonists–Kono and Chin Ho–are Asian, as are several of the minor characters featured in most episodes. This choice to have so many Asian characters might seem odd to people who have never been to Hawaii, but, trust me, it makes sense to do this. Hawaii is a state with a predominantly Asian and Happa (mixed-race) population, so it would look weird if you had all the characters be White, Black or Hispanic. But that’s not the point. The point is that, while the main focus of the series is still the two White men–Steve and Danno–the most interesting characters are easily Kono and Chin-Ho. Both of them have quirks, personalities, and backstories. Kono is a huge football fan, an avid surfer, and a sharp shooter. Chin-Ho is an ex-quarterback, a loving, protective family man, and someone who has issues with the Honolulu Police Department. By contrast, the two white protagonists, Steve and Danno, are kind of bland. Steve, especially, failed to inspire me. Maybe it’s because the actor playing him–Alex O’Loughlin–has to work hard to overcome his native Australian accent, but, I don’t know, his performance is pretty monotone, and Steve, as a character, lacks personality. He’s big, muscular, and good-looking. And, well, that’s about it. He doesn’t express a wide range of emotion, and isn’t all that interesting. Kono, by contrast, is extremely cool! I was actually kind of nervous about her character at first, because, when I saw the trailers, she was pretty much wearing a bikini the whole time. I thought that, maybe, she’d just be a sexual object. However, when I actually got the chance to see her an action, I was satisfied as both a Feminist and a Chinese-American. She’s witty, self-reliant, shows a wide range of emotions, has a distinct personality and interests, and doesn’t adhere to any of the stereotypes White people have about Asians–other than that she knows martial arts, but, seeing as her character is a cop, I can forgive that.

So, to sum it all up, Hawaii Five-O is a slick, fast-paced action series that isn’t deep, but isn’t insultingly stupid either. It’s a fun way to spend an hour–or several, if you’re watching it on Netflix–and it’s got some of the best, most well-rounded Asian characters on television right now. It’s a 7.5 out of 10. If you want to watch it from the beginning, go to Netflix or Hulu. If you want to just dive right in, it’s still on CBS, and has a brand new season coming out September 25th. However you choose to view it, I can guarantee that you’ll enjoy yourself if you do so.