Chi-Raq: Be Weary As You Watch It

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

Today I’d like to do something a little bit different. I’d like to talk to you all about a film that hasn’t yet come out.┬áThe film in question–Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq. A modern reinterpretation of Aristophane’s classic comedy, Lysistrata, in which a group of women withhold physical affection from their husbands as punishment for fighting in war, the film seeks to tackle the issue of gang-violence and crime in Chicago’s South Side. There are many reasons why I don’t like it–not least of which is that I am a proud son of the Windy City, and believe that this film negatively exaggerates the level of crime in my hometown–but that’s not what I want to talk to you about today. What I want to do is urge you all to take the film and it’s message with a grain of salt when you see it. Yes, Chicago has crime. Yes, murders do take place there, as they do in all major American cities. But this film is a work of satire. It is intentionally over-the-top so as to get it’s message across. I don’t want people to see this film and think of Chicago as a never-ending slum where you can’t walk down the street without kicking aside a crack vile to the sound of gunfire in the background. I have never felt unsafe in Chicago. My grandmother, who has lived in the city for 52 years, doesn’t lock her door. When I think of Chicago, I think of Navy Pier, Lou Malnati’s Pizza, Lincoln Park Zoo, Wriggley Field, and the countless fond memories that I created there with my family. I would like it if the people who go see this film do so with the knowledge that there is more to Chi-town than gang members shooting each other in back alleys. The Windy city is NOT a war zone. If gang-violence in a couple bad neighborhoods deems a city as being worthy of that classification, then we should refer to New York as New Baghdad, and Los Angeles as Los Sicarios. But, with all that said, I’m NOT going to tell you to boycott this picture–that would be an infringement of the filmmaker’s freedom of speech–but I will ask you to not judge Chicago and the millions of people who live there unfairly because of it. If you really want to get to know Chi-town, then come by and see it for yourself.

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Twinsters

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

You ever heard the expression, “this is stranger than fiction?” Well, I have, and it was what kept repeating in the back of my mind while I was watching Twinsters, the 2014 documentary about adoption, social media, separation, and most importantly, love.

The true story of two identical twins from Korea, Samantha Futerman and Anais Bodier, who were separated at birth, the documentary chronicles their journey as they discover each other, meet, and try to find out more about their shared past and family. It begins with Anais, who was adopted by a French family, seeing a video that Samantha, who is both American and an actress, is in, and noticing that she looks startlingly like her. Anais then friends Samantha on Facebook, and the two of them begin talking, eventually meet, and, through DNA tests, discover that they are, in fact, identical twins. This story is absolutely incredible, and made all the more so by the fact that, in all likelihood, it couldn’t have happened in any other time. The world has become so interconnected thanks to the internet that we can see, speak to, and learn about, people in parts of the globe that we’d likely never have heard of otherwise. It was thanks to YouTube that Anais discovered Samantha existed. It was through Facebook and Skype that they were able to talk to each other. DNA testing, something that flat out didn’t exist a few short decades ago, was what proved that they were family. I might complain to my friends sometimes about how our generation is too technology dependent, and how social media has drawn us out of the real world, but stories like this remind me that good can come from constantly being connected to others. It allows us to interact, form bonds with, and help people, and even gives us opportunities that we might not otherwise get.

Now, in terms of pure filmmaking, I don’t really have much to say with this picture. It’s a documentary. You can’t judge it the way you judge narrative features. You can’t talk about the acting, the script, or anything of that nature. And unlike other documentaries–like Ken Burns The Civil War, Bill Guttentag’s Nanking, or Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man–this true story doesn’t have an ending. The subjects, Samantha and Anais, are not only still alive, but in their 20s. We don’t know how their stories will conclude. In those other documentaries I mentioned, the subjects were things that had all taken place in the past, and therefore had beginnings, middles, and ends. Films made about them could, therefore, have rising action and climaxes, because, guess what, the real life things did too. Twinsters doesn’t have either of those features. There’s no final confrontation or battle. There’s no neat and tidy ending for Samantha and Anais. The conclusion, if you can call it that, is extremely open. The final shot is of the two women writing a letter to their birth mother, asking her to contact them. It’s powerful and poignant, but also inconclusive. We don’t know if their mother ever does talk to them, or what the two of them do for the rest of their lives. IF this were a narrative feature, I’d have a problem with it. But, since this isn’t a narrative feature, since it’s a documentary about real people who’s stories haven’t ended yet, I don’t mind.

And, with all that said, I did still really love this picture. The story is both powerful and up-lifting. It pulls you in, and gets you to care about Samantha and Anais. It teaches you about the hardships of growing up as an adoptee. And, at the end of the day, there are no structural problems with it. It’s well shot, well edited, and its score is superb. What can I say, it’s an 8 out of 10. Don’t hesitate to watch it on Netflix.

 

PS–If you’re interested in seeing what films Samantha Futerman is in, she has supporting roles in Memoirs Of A Geisha, 21 And Over, and The Motel.

Why We NEED Frank Capra And Superman

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

In light of the recent bombings in Paris, I felt it was necessary to sit down and write something positive–something up-lifting. I felt that this was necessary because, in recent years, I’ve noticed that people seem to have lost faith, and I don’t just mean in God, or the government. I mean they’ve lost faith in the idea of faith itself. They’ve stopped believing that there is anything worth believing in. And when a tragedy like the one that took place in Paris happens, it becomes necessary for us to be reminded that there is some goodness left in the World.

Now, on the off chance you think I’m making too broad a generalization about society, I’d like to ask you all to take a step back, and examine the pop culture of the past decade. If you do that, then you’ll notice that the movies, TV shows, and music that my generation has grown up on is overwhelmingly negative and pessimistic. House Of Cards, Breaking Bad, True Detective, Hannibal, Dexter: these are works of art that very often showed evil–or, at the very least, morally ambiguous people–doing evil and morally ambiguous things with little to no repercussions, and all while justifying their actions with a shrug and the statement, “Hey! Life’s not fair. Get used to it.” And rather than be disgusted by these characters and their abhorrent acts, we love them. We hail them and their creators as visionary–as brilliant minds who have captured and accepted the bleak realities of life. But, the question we never seem to ask is, have they really? Have they captured the despair that awaits us at the end of our existence, or have they simply created an unrealistic, overly negative version of the world that should be questioned or done away with?

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of wretched, unfair, and even downright evil things that happen in the World. 9/11, the Paris attacks, the Rape of Nanking, the Holocaust–the list goes on. But so often we get caught up in the negative that we forget that there are lots and lots of good people out there who do good things every day. The Peace Core, Habitat For Humanity, The Gates Foundation–these are organizations devoted solely to helping others. People like Dan Habib, Nicolas Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn and Li Yinhe have devoted their lives to ensuring that everyone–regardless of their gender, sexuality or disability–get treated fairly. And if all that seems too broad or vague for you, I’d like to remind you that there are tons of good deeds done on a smaller scale almost constantly. Take what happened to me last Thursday as an example. I was feeling sad, and a classmate of mine–someone I don’t really know that well–reached out to me and asked me if I was okay. She didn’t need to do this. She probably had other, more important things to do than see how I was feeling. And yet, in that instance, she tried to make me feel better. She showed me kindness–showed me basic human decency. And even though it wasn’t much, that simple question, “Are you okay?” made me feel better than I had in ages. It reminded me that this life is worth living, because there are people in it worth meeting, people who will help you, and who will need to be helped.

But, of course, when you bring up such things to people of my generation, they more often than not laugh at you. They say you’re naive, that you have an unrealistic view of the World. My girlfriend even tells me this. “Life isn’t sunshine and rainbows. The Knight doesn’t slay the Dragon, and he and the Princess don’t live happily ever after.” This is what she says to me when I bring this topic up. And it’s not just her that thinks this way. This is a view that’s reflected all the time in the pop culture I listed earlier. Very often, characters in movies and TV shows who are religious, have a moral compass, or who believe that life is worth living are portrayed as stupid, weak, or naive, and are usually patronized by the “wiser, more grounded souls” who have accepted the World for the bleak place that it is. If you don’t believe me, look at how Matthew McConaughey treats Woody Harrelson in True Detective, and how Hugh Laurie treats, well, everyone in House.

The problem with this mindset, and the recent trend to not give stories happy endings is that it teaches us to give up. It teaches us that, because life is so dark, miserable and unfair, we shouldn’t even bother trying to do good. The bad guys–the Jordan Belfort’s, Frank Underwood’s and Hannibal Lecter’s of the world–will just win in the end, so don’t concern yourself with anyone or anything else. This strain of pessimistic nihilism that has become so popular nowadays–the one that we think makes us stronger–actually makes us weaker. It teaches us to be apathetic. It enables us to detach ourselves from the world. It tells us that it’s smart–that it’s “cool”–to whine and complain, and not care about anyone else.

I don’t accept this. Good people do good things everyday, and we need to be reminded that those good things are worth doing. Make movies and TV shows with happy endings. Show the virtuous and the kind being rewarded for their efforts. Don’t laugh at It’s A Wonderful Life or Superman for being optimistic. The truth is, we need things like them! We need the hope that they give us. They teach us to care. They give us a reason to help and get involved in this world. They are what’s going to carry us through the bleaker moments of life, not the whiney nihilists who say it’s all pointless. To quote the Man of Steel, “there’s nothing funny about truth, justice and the American way.” And we’d all be happier, and better off, if we were reminded of that every once in a while.

Why You All MUST Watch “Master Of None!”

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

And, until recently, I didn’t think telepathy or ESP were real. Then I saw Master Of None, the new Netflix series created by, and starring, Aziz Ansari, and, well, now I’m a believer. Seriously! As I was watching it, all I could think was that Aziz and series co-creator Alan Yang had somehow hijacked my brain, because the show literally contains everything I’ve ever said or written about race, technology, the media, sexism, and even the entertainment industry. It’s brilliant! And what makes it even better is that it never comes off as preachy. The show is a comedy, and in many, many instances, the jokes are as funny, and thoughtful, as it’s possible for them to get.

But, for those of you who want to actually know what the heck this show is about, Master Of None tells the story of Dev, a struggling actor living in New York. Each episode of the first season deals with a different issue–ranging from parenting, to marriage, to the immigrant experience, to the limited roles available for non-white actors and women, to aging, even. It manages to combine a surprising amount of heart with really funny, really thoughtful jokes. To give you an idea, in one episode, Dev is talking to his friends about a racist e-mail that a producer of a show he auditioned for sent around. His friend Denise, who is Black, suggest he should leak the e-mail to the press. Dev is hesitant to do so, saying, “I don’t know. I feel like you only really risk getting people angry if you say something anti-Black or anti-gay. Like, if Paula Dean had said, ‘I won’t serve Indian people,’ no one would have gotten upset.” Denise retorts by saying that Paula Dean didn’t really get into trouble, “she gave some fake ass apology, and then went right back to making fatty foods.” Dev responds by saying,”Yeah, but at least she had to give an apology. She had to meet with Al Sharpton, and have tea with him or whatever. That was her punishment. Who do Indian people have for you all to apologize to? Deepak Chopra?” The fact that lines like that are being included, and laughed at, in a mainstream American TV show gives me so much hope for the future. Add to that the fact that there is another, highly-acclaimed comedy series starring a predominantly Asian-American cast–Fresh Off The Boat–on a major television network right now, and I’m one happy camper.

The bottom line is, Master Of None is awesome. Everyone I’ve showed it to–my classmates, my roommates, my girlfriend–loves it. It’s funny. It’s thoughtful. It’s not too long. If you’re looking to laugh hard and learn a lot, give this series a look! It’s a 9 out of 10.