Steve Jobs

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

As many of you already know, my all-time goal is to work as a screenwriter. And as some others among you might also be aware, in order to hone my craft and achieve this objective, I enrolled in the Dramatic Writing Program at NYU Tisch. I’ve had a great time here, and learned a lot, and today, I’d like to share one of the many valuable pieces of information I gathered with you all. That being that all drama is conflict.

In a dramatic work, be it a play, TV show, or movie, there has to be some kind of disagreement or dissatisfaction. Without it, there is no story. If characters are agreeing with each other, or are completely happy with their state in life, they have no reason to act. They have no reason to embark on dangerous, life-changing adventures. Walter White would never cook Meth if he weren’t poor and dying of cancer. John McLane would never go to the Nakatomi Plaza and fight those terrorists if he and his wife weren’t at odds with one another. Even in comedies, like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the characters are acting out of some kind of pain. Steve Carrell’s character has never had sex, and now he has to take action in order to address his own feelings of dissatisfaction. The bottom line is, if there’s no conflict, there’s no story.

But, with all that said, stories can’t just be conflict. There also have to be consequences in order for a narrative to be both compelling and realistic. No one likes watching people yell at each other endlessly. It’s much more interesting to have two people get into an argument, and then have one of them storm out of the room, or get convinced by the other’s point. The reason is that, in those cases, the character’s actions yielded consequences. Which is far more realistic. In real life, when we yell at, or hurt, our friends and loved ones, they get angry at us, and we suffer as a result. We experience the consequences of the conflict we created. So, if you want to make your plot and characters believable, have your protagonists act out of some form of dissatisfaction, have there be some kind of conflict between them and other characters, and finally, have that conflict yield some kind of consequence.

The reason I’ve given you all this brief lesson in drama is that, I just watched Steve Jobs, the latest film from acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and it is literally nothing but conflict without consequence. It’s a story about the late Apple Inc creator, Steve Jobs, launching three different products on three different occasions, and all the backstage drama between him, his ex-wife, his boss, and his old colleagues. There’s lots of yelling, lots of arguing, and lots of conflict, but there are absolutely no consequences, no repercussions, to it all. He argues with his ex about whether or not their daughter is even his, and rather than have the girl be outraged and saddened by the fact that her own father doesn’t want her, Sorkin has her constantly hanging out with Steve, saying she loves and wants to live with him, and asking him important life lessons. Jobs is shown disavowing his old boss and business colleagues, and yet, for some odd reason, Sorkin has these people he betrayed come to each of his launches, and wish him good luck. I’m honestly kind of shocked that such a talented writer made such a basic story-telling error. In most of his earlier works, such as The Social Network and Charlie Wilson’s War, the characters suffer as a result of their choices. Mark Zuckerberg is left alone and friendless because of his selfish actions, while Charlie Wilson is forced to watch Afghanistan be consumed by radicalism because of his short-sighted policies. Here, there are no consequences to Steve Jobs’ actions. He behaves like a jerk, and yet, still has all his friends and loved ones by the end of the movie.

The hell, man?

Look, I realize that maybe Sorkin was trying to be respectful since Steve Jobs passed away recently, but come on! There’s no drama here! None of the character’s actions make sense. Yes, the dialogue is still snappy, and the performances are great, but the story makes so little sense in terms of realism, and is so painfully boring, and utterly lacking in tension in some places, that I can’t give the movie anything higher than a 6.5 out of 10. And that makes me sad. I’m a writer, and a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s. I wanted to like this movie. But, alas, Steve Jobs was not all that it was built up to be. Such a shame. Such a waste.

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Crimson Peaks

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

When I heard that Guillermo Del Toro–director of such masterworks of dark fantasy as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone–was making a new Ghost film, I was absolutely pumped! I mean, if there’s anyone out there who knows how to make a monster movie, it’s him. The level of detail that goes into his sets, costumes, and especially his creature designs, is amazing. Aesthetics are of the utmost importance in horror films, since much of the tension and fear derives from the atmosphere and environment being created, and Del Toro’s visuals are always immaculate. So, yeah, when it comes to horror, he can do no wrong…

…except for when he can’t.

See, in recent years, Del Toro has been making movies that are just as visually striking as ever, but somewhat lacking in emotional depth, or complexity of plot. Take Pacific Rim, his most recent picture. It’s a movie about giant, man-driven robots, which fight giant, man-eating monsters. Yeah, it’s as stupid as it sounds, and it’s made all the worse by the fact that this obvious B-movie had an enormous budget, and several extremely talented actors in it–such as Academy Award-nominee Rinko Kickuchi, and Golden Globe-winner Idris Elba–who didn’t really have much to do. Now, don’t get me wrong, Pacific Rim is a lot of fun to watch–it’s giant robots punching monster’s in the face; how can you not be entertained?–but it just doesn’t have the emotional heft or engaging narrative of his earlier works. That’s why, after I came down from my initial excitement, I was a little bit skeptical of his new project, Crimson Peaks. I knew that it would look gorgeous–that was obvious. What I didn’t know was if it would be more like Pan’s Labyrinth, a touching, narratively-engaging fantasy–or Pacific Rim–a two hour boxing match between Optimus Prime and Godzilla.

Well, having seen the movie for myself, I can tell you right now that it’s actually like both of them at once. Stylistically, Crimson Peaks is very close to Pan’s Labyrinth, lots of big arches, dark shadows, period costumes, and weird, supernatural monsters. Narratively, however, it’s not that far off from Pacific Rim, in that there isn’t much character development, and the plot is rather simple. Basically, it’s the story of this young writer (Mia Wasikowska) who marries this guy (Tom Hiddleston) and moves in with him and his sister (Jessica Chastain) to their really old, really creepy house. And, as you might expect, things start going bump in the night, and Mia embarks on a quest to solve the mystery that’s surrounding the place. The problem is, for a horror film, it’s not really that frightening. It’s actually kind of boring in places. And, for a movie that’s marketed as this creepy, supernatural thriller, the ghosts don’t play that big a part in the picture, and if you really stop and think about it, aren’t really necessary to the plot at all. You could just as easily tell this same story of a young bride uncovering some disturbing facts about her new husband WITHOUT the monsters. Why? Because the ghosts don’t really do anything. They don’t directly tell her anything useful. They just kind of float around, point at stuff, and hiss cryptically. On top of that, some of the dialogue is really corny. There’s this one scene in the movie where Mia has just seen ghosts. She’s really frightened, and really shaken. She tells her husband about it, and what does he say? “Don’t worry. Tomorrow, we’ll go to the post office.” WHAT? What does that have to do with anything? She just told you she saw ghosts. How is going to the post office going to solve anything?

(Sigh.)

But, in the end, I wouldn’t write Crimson Peaks off as a bad film. Yeah, it’s kind of boring. Yeah, it’s a ghost story where the ghost don’t really do anything useful. But, at the same time, you can’t help but admire the enormous amount of effort that went into the costumes, sets, and visuals of this picture. And even though the characters in the film aren’t great, the actors playing them still do their best and deliver fine performances. So, it might not be perfect, but it’s still a watchable 6.5 out of 10. If you’re wanting to give yourself a great visual treat for Halloween, this might be the thing you’re looking for.

The Martian

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

And I’m really not sure if it’s worth me going through the trouble of writing this review. I mean…this is for The Martian. THE MARTIAN! Everyone loves this film–critics, audiences, even me. I just feel like, whatever I end up saying, it’ll already have been said before. Whatever thoughts, or opinions I might have on the picture, they’ll probably just sound redundant.

But, then again, when have I ever been one to not share my thoughts or opinions on a subject? Never. That’s when. And I’m not going to make an exception here. So, with all that out of the way, here are my thoughts, both good and bad, on The Martian.

Let’s start off with the good. First of all, this movie has a lot of great humor in it. Yeah, the story of an astronaut getting stranded on Mars might not sound like a particularly laugh out loud situation, but there are actually several extremely hilarious moments in this film. This is due, in no small part, to Matt Damon’s portrayal of Mark Watney, the astronaut trapped on Mars. He brings an energy and a wit to the role that are just brilliant. The second thing that’s great about this movie is the acting, period. Everyone in this film–from the people back on Earth, to Matt Damon’s old crew–deliver terrific performances. And, in case you didn’t know already, this movie has a completely star-studded cast. Sean Bean, Chiwatel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastane, Kristen Wig, Michael Pena, Benedict Wong, Donald Glover–these are just a few of the familiar faces that pop up in this movie, and that do terrific jobs. The third thing that’s great about this film is the effects. There were points in this movie where I legitimately thought that the crew had gone to Mars to shoot. In reality, they shot everything on a sound stage in Hungary, and a desert in Jordan, but that’s not the point. The point is that the filmmakers were able to successfully craft, and sustain, an illusion, and for that, I think they deserve praise.

Now let’s go for the bad. What? There are actually things that I don’t like a bout this movie? Yes, believe it or not, there are. For starters, other than the decision to set this film on Mars, there’s nothing particularly original about it. It’s a generic “stranded man in shark infested waters” story that’s been told a million times before, in Films like Cast Away, Life Of Pi, and Gravity. In addition, as much as I liked seeing all these stars in one movie, it did get a little overwhelming at points. I lost track of who was supposed to be who, and it honestly felt like the filmmakers were trying to squeeze in as many celebrities as possible, and without giving any real thought as to what these people should be doing. But perhaps the greatest problem I have with this picture is something that most people–or at least, people who aren’t as sensitive to issues of race as me–would be able to pick up on. That is the fact that the story revolves around an entire planet, Earth, working to save the life of a White man, Damon. I hate to say this, but, had Damon’s character been any other race–had he been Black, Latino, or especially Asian–the studio would never have green lit this project. And that infuriates me. Why is it that, in media, the lives of Whites are seen as more important than others? Why is it that Hollywood deems Mark Watney more worthy of saving than Mark Wong, Mark Sanchez, or Mark Patel? Why is it that, in a movie with so many talented non-White actors–Chiwatel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong, Naomi Scott–all the focus is placed on a White star? Have Hollywood executives never read online comments? Have they never seen the countless posts, blogs, and videos lampooning them for their racism?

(Pauses and takes a breath.)

But, all that aside, I did still enjoy The Martian, and I would still recommend you go see it. I’ve come to learn that most people just don’t care as much about originality or racial sensitivity as me, so, odds are, if you watch the Martian, you won’t be put off by those things. And, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t really that put off by them either when I was watching the film. It’s still very enjoyable. It’s an 8 out of 10. Give it a look.

Beasts Of No Nation

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

As much as I’d like to give this film a perfect score, I just don’t feel that I can. And that drives me crazy. I mean, on the surface, this film has everything I’m looking for–an engaging narrative, realistic characters, stellar performances, gorgeous cinematography and a beautiful color scheme. Not only that, it stars an entirely non-White cast, and was written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, a fellow Asian American filmmaker and NYU Tisch alumni. Everything I need is present in Beasts Of No Nation, so why aren’t I crazy about it?

Well, one reason could be the pacing. See, for those of you who don’t know, this movie I’m writing about, Beasts Of No Nation, tells the story of Agu, a young boy in an unnamed West African nation going through a Civil War, who, after his family is killed, becomes a child soldier. In this respect, it is not unlike the Oscar-nominated Political THriller, Blood Diamond. But, whereas Blood Diamond  was primarily an action film, and therefore had quick pacing and high octane thrills, this movie takes its time, and in some places, lingers on scenes and images that aren’t entirely necessary. There are several, rather long, shots of characters playing soccer, playing tag, going to Church, sitting and dancing, and even of completely random things, like bugs on branches, and dripping faucets. I understand the necessity of building up atmosphere and ambiance, but come on! Move the plot forward! Have stuff happen! Blood Diamond has a running time of over 2 and a half hours, a good 10 minutes more than this movie, and yet, it doesn’t feel nearly as long as this. And you want to know why? Because stuff actually happens there! There aren’t any extraneous scenes of people riding in cars or watching the rain fall. Every cut and image in that film is necessary! I never realized how important pacing really was to the success of a picture until I saw Beasts Of No Nation.

Another possible reason why I’m not as crazy about this film as I probably should be is the ambiguity. What I mean by that is, we’re never told what country this is supposed to be, why the war is happening, or even what the moral center of the film is. Now, on some level, I can understand why Fukunaga probably did this. He probably wanted to tell a universal human story with a universal human center, and that doesn’t necessarily require specific details, like a national identity, or a historical backdrop. But, at the same time, if we’re not given a specific conflict or country to latch on to, we’re not left with any real reason to care. I mean, even in completely fictional movies about war, like Star Wars and Lord Of The Rings, we’re told where we are, what the conflict is, and who the different sides are. We’re given context. We’re given something to grab on to. We don’t have that here. We don’t know what place this is. We don’t know who the good guys and the bad guys are. All we know is that there’s a kid, some bad things happen to him, he becomes a soldier, and he kills lots of people. What’s the purpose of that? To tell us that war is bad? Uh, I hate to break it to you Cary, but I think everyone in the world already knows that. At least Blood Diamond wanted to educate us about a specific issue–the illegal diamond trade–and give us an insight into the specific problems faced by a specific country–Sierra Leone. The lack of specificity in Beasts Of No Nation was likely done to make the film’s story and themes more universal, but, in the end, only managed to alienate the audience from what was happening, and unintentionally contribute to the homogenization of African cultures in the Western mind.

But, with all that said, I did still enjoy this movie, and have decided to give it a 7 out of 10. Yeah, it drags in some places. Yeah, it’s ambiguity can be a bit off-putting. But, overall, I do still think Beasts Of No Nation is a strong piece of filmmaking that should be watched and admired. If you’re a fan of Mr Fukunaga’s work–True Detective, Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre–or are simply looking to watch a well-shot, well-acted movie, give this film a look. It’s streaming on Netflix right now, and playing in some theaters.

Love, Hate, And Vengeance: An Analysis Of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives

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

I won’t lie, the first time I saw Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, it really pissed me off. It wasn’t just the frequent use of racial slurs, and protracted, highly gory torture scenes that bothered me. It was, well, everything. The one-dimensional characters, bizarre dream sequences, unsatisfying ending, and heavily implied incestuous relationship between the main character and his mother all added up to an utterly unpleasant viewing experience. The first time I saw it, I sympathized 100% with the half of the audience at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival who either walked out or booed when this movie was shown. To put it bluntly, I hated it, and told myself that I would never watch, or even speak of, it again.

And yet, as much as I despised the picture, I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was like a tiny piece of gum stuck to my trousers–try as I might, it just wouldn’t go away. And the longer I thought about the movie, the more I came to appreciate it. I was drawn to it, particularly to its vibrant colors, haunting visuals, narrative subtlety and strong mythological undertones. With every mental revisitation, I uncovered something new to appreciate until, without realizing, I found myself liking–yes, liking–it. It’s not that I’d forgotten about all my old complaints, if anything, my newfound appreciation for the picture made me pick at those aspects I didn’t like more, but at least now I had some good with which to balance the bad. I could finally understand why, when it was screened at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, half the audience, the half that wasn’t booing it, gave it a standing ovation. I had stumbled upon one of those rare pieces of cinema which left it’s spectators with absolutely no middle ground. Either you loved it, or you hated it with a passion so great, so burning, as to melt the ice caps.

But what is Only God Forgives? What, in the end, does this divisive piece of cinema really boil down to?

Thematically, it boils down to a story of a broken man wanting to take vengeance on God for making him suffer so greatly, but, in doing so, finding redemption. Literally, though, it’s the story of Julian, an American ex-pat living in Bangkok. He owns a Muy THai club, but it’s quickly revealed that that’s just a front for a drug-smuggling operation. Julian doesn’t talk much, and his interactions with other people are pretty much limited to his sessions with Mai, a prostitute who he seems to have some feelings for, and his conversations with Billy, his brother, who’s a sadistic pervert. How sadistic and perverse is he? Well, at the start of the movie, he rapes and kills a thirteen-year-old girl. Yeah. Charming. Don’t worry, though. We don’t have to deal with him for long, because he is quickly apprehended by the Thai police, and the mysterious Inspector Chang is brought in to investigate the matter. Upon seeing what Billy has done, Chang allows the girl’s father to beat him, but he ends up getting killed in the process. Chang, however, doesn’t care about Billy’s death. What he does care about is the fact that the girl’s father knew that she was a sex worker, and did nothing to stop it. For this, he cuts off the man’s forearm and leaves.

Upon hearing of Billy’s death, Julian tracks down the father and confronts him about why he killed his brother. When he learns that the man was simply avenging his daughter, however, he decides to let him go. Julian and Billy’s mother, Crystal, arrives in Bangkok to identify the body. She demands that Julian find and kill the men who killed Billy, but he refuses—believing that the man had some justification for seeking retribution for the killing of his daughter—infuriating her. Julian has several visions of meeting Chang in a dark room, where Chang cuts Julian’s hands off.

Julian brings Mai to meet Crystal, posing as his girlfriend. Crystal sees through the ruse, hurls insults at Mai, and demeans Julian, pronouncing him sexually inferior to his dead brother. Julian humbly accepts all of Crystal’s abuse, but afterward turns on Mai, viciously humiliating her, then regretting it. At Crystal’s request, one of the fighters at Julian’s boxing club assassinates the man who killed Billy. Later, the police arrive at Julian’s club, but Chang concludes that Julian is not the father’s killer. Julian recognizes Chang from his visions and follows him from the boxing club, but Chang seems to disappear into thin air.

After learning that Chang was involved in Billy’s death, Crystal meets with an associate, Byron, to arrange Chang’s assassination. Three gunmen on motorbike are sent to kill Chang at a restaurant with machine guns, and two of Chang’s men are killed in the shoot-out. Chang kills two of the gunmen, follows the third on foot, and beats him with a frying pan. The gunman leads Chang to his boss, Li Po, who is feeding his young crippled son. Chang then kills the third gunman, but spares Li Po after seeing him show affection for his son. Li Po points Chang to Byron, who ordered the hit. Chang finds Byron in a club and tortures him to get answers. Byron reveals the reasoning behind the hit, but refuses to give a name. Chang continues to torture Byron.

Julian confronts Chang and, after challenging him, they fight on the bare concrete floor of Julian’s boxing venue. Chang, an experienced boxer, easily beats Julian, who does not land any blows. Afterwards, Crystal tells Julian that Chang has figured out she ordered the hit on him. Fearfully, she pleads with Julian to kill Chang to protect her, the same way she asked Julian to kill his own father for her. She promises that after Julian kills Chang, they will go back home and she will be a true mother to him.

Julian shoots the guard outside Chang’s home, and he and his associate Charlie Ling enter Chang’s house, intent on ambushing him when he returns. Charlie informs Julian that he was instructed to execute Chang’s entire family. Charlie murders the nanny of Chang’s daughter as she enters the home, but Julian shoots Charlie before he can kill Chang’s young daughter.

Chang and a police officer visit Crystal. She blames everything on Julian, and Chang cuts her throat. Julian returns to the hotel and finds his mother’s corpse. In silence, he approaches her body and cuts open her abdomen. Julian slowly places his hand inside of the wound. After leaving and having several surreal visions, Julian stands in a field with Chang, who appears to cut off both of Julian’s hands with his sword. The final scene returns to Chang singing at a karaoke bar with an audience of attentive police officers.

Now, if you’re anything like me, at this point, you’re probably thinking, “What the hell? What did all that mean? Did that mean anything? Why did I just sit through that movie? Why do I feel so confused?” Well, if you are feeling that way, don’t worry. It’s perfectly normal to. I certainly did when I first saw this movie. But, unlike me, you all have someone who can explain this bizarre picture to you–who can help you get through all the confusion. And, if you’ll do me the great pleasure of reading onward, I shall strive to do both.

Now, as I stated earlier, I believe that this movie is about faith, about a man’s struggle’s with God given all that has happened to him. There are several reasons why I view the film this way. Firstly, the character of Inspector Chang. He is truly divine. Seriously! Never once in this film does anyone hit him, shoot him, or hurt him in anyway, which suggests that he’s invulnerable. In addition, there are several scenes in this movie where he just seems to teleport around. One minute he’s in one place, and then, in another, he’s somewhere totally different. On top of this, he appears to be the utmost authority in the land, passing judgment and dealing out punishment with total impunity, in much the same way that God does. But perhaps the greatest reasin why I see him as God is that, in an interview with the press, Vithaya Pansringram, the actor who played him, stated that Winding Refn directed his sequences with the following sentence, “You are God in this world.” So, yeah, it’s clear that we have a divine figure in this film, and that Chang is it.

The second reason why I view this movie as a damaged man’s struggle with the divine is the character of Julian. When you watch him, it is clear that he is just a broken shell. His quietness, his violent outbursts, the fact that he can’t actually have sex–yeah, whenever he goes to see Mai, he just sits there and watches her touch herself–all indicate that he’s not completely sane, and that he’s suffering greatly. And yet, there is still some hope fort him. He feels guilt after exploding at Mai. He refuses to kill Chang’s young daughter, and the man who murdered Billly. This all indicates that he does still possess some semblance of a moral compass, and the fact that he keeps following Chang, and has visions about him, suggests that maybe, like the prodigal son, he is looking for some forgiveness, some divine guidance. This, I think, is why the title of the movie is Only God Forgives–because it is about someone looking to be forgiven for his crimes.

“But how,” you might ask, “does Chang forgive Julian? I mean, doesn’t he cut off his hands?” Well, if you really analyze the film, you come to realize that that is actually a form of forgiveness.

See, hands are a recurring motif in the movie. Chang cuts off several people’s hands, Julian has a vision in which he sees himself washing blood off them, he has his hands tied whenever he visits Mai, Crystal says he killed his father with his bare hands, etc. Hands represent people’s guilt in this world. For most characters, having their hands cut off is a form of punishment, but for Julian, it is a kind of relief. See, it is highly implied that he was forced into having an incestuous relationship with his Mother, and that she then used this relationship to gain power over him and get him to do things for her, like kill his own father. This is all suggested by the fact that Crystal talks about the size of his penis, gropes his behind, and says to him, “if you do this for me, we can go back home, and I’ll be a true mother to you.” Julian’s stoicism, impotence, violent temper, and the fact that he keeps hallucinating that there is blood on his hands all indicates that he is traumatized by his past deeds, and that he wants to rid himself of them. So, when Julian lets Chang cut off his hands at the end of the movie, it is an act of catharsis. It is Julian finally being able to rid himself of the past. This is all indicated by the fact that Julian and Chang smile when they meet for the last time, as though this is a good thing, a form of therapy.

So, there you have it. Only God Forgives, a surreal, violent, racist, and utterly nonsensical crime thriller is actually a touching character study about a broken man looking for divine forgiveness. It’s excessive bloodshed and strange dialogue might not appeal to everyone, but the saturated neon color scheme, the gorgeous cinematography, and most of all, the themes, are what make it truly unique, and, in my opinion, worthy of an 8 out of 10. I honestly believe that this will be a picture that, down the line, film students and cinephiles will analyze and talk about. It’s beautiful, brutal, and brimming with life and subtext. And who wouldn’t want to see a film like that?

Uploading My Scripts Here (PLEASE REVIEW THEM!)

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

And it’s easy to talk the talk, but not necessarily to walk the walk.

What I mean by that is, here on this blog, I review movies, TV shows and screenplays, all while claiming to know what I’m talking about. But do i? Do I really have a clue? To find out, I have decided to share some of my scripts with you all. You guys are the ones who will be seeing, and commenting on, my work in the future, so I figure, it’s best to try to improve my craft now, and get a feel for what the masses want.

Each script will have its own page here, on this site. You’ll know what they are, because they’ll have the word “script” in the title.  PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, LEAVE COMMENTS! This is as much for my education as it is for your entertainment. Shoot me an e-mail (my address is nathan.liu@verizon.net). Find me on Facebook (my account name is Nathan Liu). Let me know what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s in-between for each of them. I want to improve, and I want to hear from you all.

So, please, let me have it! Let me hear your thoughts!

Freeheld

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

This isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t a good one either. It’s trying to be progressive–to tell a touching, and socially relevant story–but it ultimately comes off as generic, and even somewhat banal.

For those of you who are wondering what the hell I’m talking about, I just sat down and watched an early screening of Freeheld, a new drama film starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page. The movie, which comes out in theaters tomorrow, is based on the true story of Laurel Hester, a Lesbian Police Officer from New Jersey, who, when she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, was unable to transfer her pension benefits to her partner, Stacie. The film chronicles her friends and loved ones attempts to overdue the court’s ruling, and get Stacie her pension.

Now, I’ll be honest, when I heard this film’s premise, I was hopeful. I love “call to social action” films, like Blood Diamond, Philadelphia, and Dallas Buyers Club. I thought that, maybe, this movie would be another worthy addition to the list of socially conscious motion pictures that have come out in the last 30 years. Unfortunately, when I actually sat down and watched it, I was treated to a fairly generic “fight the power” drama, with no real tension, and nothing particularly new in the way of storytelling. Every cliched character you’d expect to see in a movie about gay rights–the butch lesbian, the flamboyantly gay man, the homophobe who grows a heart and does the right thing–is present here. No one’s really given any backstory, and some of the performances are a bit cartoonish. On top of that, this whole movie feels like White Guilt Oscar Bait. You all know what I’m talking about–movies that are hoping to get critical acclaim by talking about something important, like racism, sexism, homophobia, or historical tragedies. It’s practically a joke among actors that, if you want to win an Oscar these days, you’ve got to either pretend to be gay, pretend to be dying, or pretend to be disabled. Well, this film is about homophobia, and its star, Julianne Moore, is both pretending to die, AND pretending to be gay. At this point, the filmmakers are practically giving their acceptance speeches.

Now, to be fair, I know that the directors and the actors intentions here were good, but, honestly, the whole thing just feels exploitative. I’m a disabled person, and I don’t like it when I see non-disabled actors–like Eddie Redmayne in Theory Of Everything, Al Pacino in Scent Of A Woman, and Cliff Robertson in Charly–using our conditions as easy springboards to critical success. Similarly, I don’t like it when I see heterosexual actors giving flamboyantly over-the-top portrayals of gay people, like Steve Carrell does here, just to win awards.

So, to sum it all up, Freeheld is a well-intentioned movie that doesn’t bring anything new to the “fight the power,” social activism genre of filmmaking, and ultimately suffers because of that. It’s a 6 out of 10. Don’t go see it if you’ve already watched films like Philadelphia or Dallas Buyers Club.