American Crime: Season 2

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

If there’s anything I’ve learned after 21 years on this Earth, it’s that having expectations is never a good idea. All you’re doing is setting yourself up for disappointment. I bring this up because, I went into the second season of American Crime, a show that I reviewed on here, and really loved, with expectations, and wound up being highly disappointed. Now, I’m not trying to say that the second season was terrible, it just wasn’t quite to the same level that the first one was. And I wanted to tell anyone who might have been looking to watch it, be warned. It might not be what you expected, or hoped for.

For those of you who don’t know, American Crime is an anthology series, meaning each season revolves around a different plot and characters, created by John Ridley, the man who wrote 12 Years A Slave.  The first season centers around a murder in Modesto, California, and deals with themes like race and xenophobia. The second season revolves around a rape in Indianapolis, and seeks to examine homophobia and the stigma of sexual assault. Except it doesn’t. It starts out with you thinking that its going to be about those things, but quickly shoots off into a number of sub-plots, each dealing with a different issue. You’ve got one plot thread involving the principal of a public school, and tensions between Black and Latino communities. You’ve got another one focusing on a wealthy Black businesswoman, and her seeming dislike of other Black people. You’ve got the conflict between public and private schools, and how unfairly favored the wealthy are in terms of treatment. And there are a ton of other topics, like mental illness, cyber-security, teen drug dealing, divorce, child molestation, and even school shootings, which don’t get brought up until the last three episodes, and which honestly feel like they were just thrown in. Now, I do believe that each of those subjects deserves to be written about, and that the writers of American Crime did provide some interesting perspectives on them, but the series as a whole feels over-stuffed and scatter-brained. If they had just limited the show to the rape case, and all the issues that accompany that topic, I feel the season would have been more cohesive and thematically focused. As it stands, though, the season felt overwrought, and I feel like there were too many disparate elements that had nothing to do with each other.

Now, some of you might be thinking, “well, fine. It’s got a lot of story lines and topics. So what? Is it at least enjoyable?” Yes, and no. As with the first season, the acting is good, the dialogue is great, and there are a lot of gut-wrenching scenes and moments. At the same time, however, the fact that the show kept shifting perspective, and didn’t seem able to decide which issue it wanted to focus on, all made it harder for me to latch on to any one character. Because the show didn’t do that. People who you think you’re going to follow and care about, like the young man who says he got raped, end up becoming either secondary, or despicable. In his case, we find out pretty early on that it “wasn’t rape,” because he “wanted it,” a sentiment I find highly offensive to victims of sexual assault, and the show actually spends more time trying to get you to care about the kid who beat him. There are also a number of other characters, like this random hacker who just shows up in the eighth episode of this ten episode season, who are thrown in at the last possible second, and who suddenly become major players. This season honestly reminds me of films like Spider-Man 3, or The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which had an overabundance of plot threads and characters, and disappointed at the box office and with critics as a result. Now, granted, American Crime, Season 2 got much better reviews than those films when it came out. Still, there were points when I was watching it that I didn’t think I could go on, and that’s never a good sign for a TV series.

So, if you were a fan of the first season, maybe you’ll enjoy this. As for me, I don’t feel any need to watch it again.

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The Man From Nowhere

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

After I finished watching The Man From Nowhere, I found myself asking three simple questions. One, is this a perfect movie? Two, is it entertaining? And three, which matters more in the end? The answers I eventually came up with were “no,” “yes,” and “It depends on the viewer, but, for me, entertainment matters more here.” Because, let’s be clear, this film has flaws, but my god is it gripping. It’s got to be the most enjoyable movie I’ve seen in , well, a while. And after sitting through “artistic,” “critically-acclaimed” motion pictures, like Arrival and La La Land, neither of which I liked enough to watch again, I found this movie highly refreshing.

The Man From Nowhere tells the story of Cha Tae-Sik, a reclusive loner who runs a pawn shop in Seoul. A widower, Tae-Sik’s only friend is Son-Mi, a juvenile delinquent with a drug addict mother. The film actually begins with the latter stealing some heroin from a group of local gangsters, (always a good idea), and, as you might expect, the criminals wind up coming after her, and everyone she knows. This includes Tae-Sik, who, much to everyone’s surprise, displays incredible agility and combat skills, suggesting that there is more to him than meets the eye.

As unoriginal as its premise is, The Man From Nowhere benefits from a quick pace, good performances, and a well-written script. I’ve always said, its not the story itself that matters, its how its told. And even though The Man From Nowhere shares a similar narrative to The Professional, The Equalizer, and any number of other B-grade action films about bad-asses defending young children, it unfolds in an engaging and unique way. For instance, you don’t actually see Tae-Sik, or Son-Mi, until about seven minutes in, and information about the former is fed to you in a sparse, piece-meal fashion. There are also some really touching moments between the two of them, like when she goes to stay with him while her mother is shooting up, and she does his nails. These little scenes give the movie dramatic heft, and really make you care about these individuals. And, like I said, this film moves fast. So as great as the little moments I just mentioned are, they’re also that; little. They don’t bog down the narrative. You’re never left wondering, “Man, when is this movie gonna start?” And as I said at the top of this paragraph, the acting in this film is very good. Won Bin, whom plays Tae-Sik, does an incredible job here. He manages to convey the bitterness, sorrow, and icy precision of this lonely killer, while also displaying a great deal of tenderness. He’s very convincing in the fight scenes and chases, and is just an all around engaging presence in this movie. In many ways, he reminds me of Leonardo Dicaprio in either Blood Diamond or The Departed, films where the former teen heart throb got to show off his dramatic chops, as well as a more dangerous side. Won Bin has impressed me in all the films I’ve seen him in thus far–Mother, Taegukgi: The Brotherhood Of War–and The Man From Nowhere has guaranteed his status as one of my favorite Korean actors. It’s shocking when you realize that Man From Nowhere, which came out in 2010, is his last film to date. Maybe its because he’s married now, and is expecting a child, but still. I just hope he returns to the big screen soon. I’d also like to mention Kim Sae-Ron, whom plays Son-Mi, and who  does an absolutely terrific job. She’s cute, sassy, but also very vulnerable, and, unlike Natalie Portman in The Professional, whom everyone likes to claim gave the greatest child actor performance ever, she doesn’t say everything in a flat monotone. She’s got some great crying scenes, and some great comedic scenes. It’s no wonder that she is now one of Korea’s most sought after teen actors. So, yeah, The Man From Nowhere might not be original, but it’s got a good pace, a good script, and some really good acting. And all that adds up to a really enjoyable film.

The Keeping Room

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

“War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” This quote from William Tecumsah Sherman is what opens The Keeping Room, a contained, period-piece thriller that came out just last year. It also seems to be the film’s motto, since the movie is cruel, and it definitely leaves you wishing it were over sooner.

Set in “The American South” in 1865–seriously, that’s what they call it, not Alabama, or Georgia, or anywhere specific like that–the film focuses on three young women, two white sisters and their black slave, struggling to defend themselves from two marauding Union soldiers. While it boasts a talented cast, some realistic costumes and sets, a beautiful landscape, and passes the Bechdel test with flying colors–all things which I usually love to see in a movie–The Keeping Room is not a film I feel I can recommend to you all. The reason is simple: it is extremely boring.

This picture moves at a SNAIL’S pace. The first eight minutes, in addition to not having anything super important happen in them, have absolutely no dialogue. So straight off the bat, you’re left waiting, and wondering. On top of that, the film features tons of long, unbroken shots of characters just doing stuff, like chopping wood, or getting water. And when I say long, I mean just that. See, the average length for a shot in a movie is about 5 seconds. I counted, and the average length for a shot in this movie is eight seconds. That might not seem like much of a difference to you now, but, trust me, when you watch this film, it feels like an eternity. All my professors have told me the same thing, don’t linger on an image unless its important. Unless that swing, that broken wagon wheel, or that bowl, are somehow vital to the story, don’t just keep it on screen. Otherwise you’ll leave the audience wondering, “why am I staring at a swing, a broken wagon wheel, or a bowl?” That’s precisely what I thought when I watched this movie, and that is never a good sign.

In addition to the slow pacing, the film is frightfully serious, and wants you, the audience, to recognize how serious it is by having super long pauses with dramatic musical swells after anyone says or does something remotely important. In one scene, for instance, the younger sister, Louise, says that she doesn’t want to work in the fields anymore, declaring, “She [meaning Mad, the slave] is the n****r. Make her do it.” Everyone literally stops what they’re doing for about five seconds to stare at her, and then the older sister says in a super grave tone of voice, “We’re all n****rs now.” I honestly felt like laughing after I saw that. And the film is full of moments like it.

Now, I don’t want to be too hard on this movie, since, like I said, it does have merits. The acting is good. The costumes and the sets are nice. And the women do speak about subjects other than men, which is rare in most movies. But I honestly don’t feel like any of that matters, when you consider how boring it is, and also how horrific some of the violence gets. If, however, you don’t mind slower pacing, unnecessarily long shots, and rape in your entertainment, you might enjoy The Keeping Room. As for me, I don’t think I’ll ever watch this movie again.

The Chaser

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

If you like stories about kind, good-hearted people, you’ll probably want to avoid The Chaser. Because this film has exactly none of those in it. The story of a pimp trying to find his missing prostitutes, and thereby uncovering the crimes of a serial killer, the film is absolutely disgusting. And completely amazing.

This movie is INCREDIBLE! It’s riveting, well-acted, and actually has a very compelling story and characters. You see the pimp grow. You see him change and become more compassionate. You care about him. You care about Mi-Jin, the prostitute he’s so desperate to find. You care about Mi-Jin’s daughter, Eun-Ji, whom the pimp befriends and becomes a surrogate father to. This film takes a disgusting premise, and despicable characters, and gives them both weight and pathos. You’ve got to commend the director, Na Hong-Jin, and especially the screenwriter, Shino Lee, for being able to do that. And, wouldn’t you know it, this film got great reviews and made a crap ton of money when it came out, precisely because of its ability to do those things. It was so successful that Hollywood has already bought the remake rights, and is thinking of doing an American version with Leonardo DiCaprio starring, and Martin Scorses directing. If that’s not an indicator of this film’s quality, I don’t know what is.

I actually have a very personal connection to this film, since the man who wrote it, Shinho Lee, was my screenwriting professor at NYU. He’s a very kind, very insightful man, who told me some fascinating stories about this film’s production. Like how he had to write the script in less than three weeks, like how this story was based off the actions of a real serial killer, Yoo Young-Chul, like how the real pimp who caught the serial killer sued the producers of the movie, and how the director, Na Hong-Jin, is kind of crazy. I’m not even kidding with that last one. Shinho told me that the heads of the studio that funded Na’s most recent film, The Wailing, forced him to go to counseling after shooting wrapped, because of his violent and erratic behavior on set. If that’s not crazy, I don’t know what is. Still, it was super cool to hear these things, these little backstage secrets, from a working professional who’d written a film as successful as The Chaser. It gave me a good idea of what to expect in the film industry, as well as the kinds of characters I’ll be encountering there.

Now before anyone accuses me of grading this film on a curve because I know the guy who wrote it, I do have some problems with it. For starters, I’m not a fan of the camera work. It’s almost all hand-held, and very shaky. I understand that this is a gritty, realistic movie, and that the handheld technique was used to enhance the realism of the story, but it gets really distracting after a while. Every time we get a close up on a character’s face, the image is super wobbly. There’s also a lot of cutting in this picture. In one scene, for instance, the pimp is talking on the phone, and we get four different shots of his face from various angles in a row. I understand that frequent cutting is used to keep audience’s engaged, but there just wasn’t any reason for them to include so many there. He’s only on the phone for about 5 seconds. I’m assuming we can look at a single image for that long. Also, there’s a lot of misogynistic violence and language in this film, which, while it may be realistic, is something I never like to see or hear. Shinho actually said that he was nervous people would brand the film as hateful towards women, given its content, and the fact that it was written, directed and produced by men. But, trust me, if you’ve ever met Shinho, you know that he is anything but a misogynist. Most of his other films, like My Mighty Princess, have female protagonists, and he was always adamant in writing class that we should include deeper, more varied roles for women in our scripts. “Don’t just have them be girlfriends, wives, or mothers,” he’d say, “Let them be characters with interests and jobs.” So, yeah. The film has misogynistic content, which I don’t like, but its necessary to the story, and the guy who wrote it doesn’t hate women. But I’m getting off track. The final problem I have with The Chaster is that there’s a point in the middle of the film, after the serial killer has been caught, and the pimp is trying to find Mi-Jin, where I got kind of bored. Nothing super exciting happens during this period, we just see him going around and trying to find clues, and it kind of slows the rest of the movie down. But its not very long, and as soon as its over, the film kicks right back into high gear with a super intense, super suspenseful sequence in a convenience store.

So, in the end, if you want to watch a gritty, well-acted, super suspenseful thriller with a great arc and an engaging narrative, give The Chaser a look. It is definitely worth your time.

Hush

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

Imagine you’re out in the woods, miles away from any kind of help. Someone’s nearby, and that someone means to kill you. Now imagine that this killer, this boogieman in the dark, can’t be heard. Because you can’t hear. And the killer knows this. And he’s gonna use this to his advantage. If you can picture all this, then you’ll have a good idea of what to expect with Hush, the subject of today’s review.

A contained thriller set in an isolated cabin, Hush follows Maddie, a deaf author, as she gets stalked and taunted by a killer who likes to play with his food before he eats it. While hardly boasting an original premise, the film does move at a brisk pace, and offers up some very effective scares. I’ve always said I’ll take a well-crafted thriller over an “artistic,” “award-winning” movie any day, and this film is precisely the kind of thriller I’m talking about when I say that. The acting is good, the characters are given just the right amount of backstory for you to care about them, the cinematography is appropriately creepy, and the sound design is superb. This film doesn’t try to be anything but suspenseful and entertaining, and, by god, it manages to be both in every scene. The opening shot alone, which is accompanied by this loud boom, instantly sets you on edge, and keeps you weary for the rest of the picture. The film also does a really good job of visually conveying information to the audience. For instance, we learn that Maddie is deaf, not through someone telling us that she is, but by watching her cook. We hear her chopping vegetables, boiling water, and so on. But then the camera pans over to her ear, and, suddenly, there’s no more chopping, boiling, hissing or sizzling to be heard. It’s a clever and effective way to get out necessary information without needing a huge exposition dump.

I was also pretty impressed with the way the filmmakers represented this disabled character. So often in movies, people like me are shown as weak, childlike, or helpless. Usually, we’re just portrayed as pitiful objects you should feel sorry for. Here, though, Maddie is shown as being intelligent, self-sufficient, funny and social. Her disability doesn’t prevent her from living by herself, and that’s great, because its true. Most, if not all, disabled people are capable of living on their own. I just wish the movies would show that every once in a while. The only thing I would say about the representation of deafness in this film is that the actress playing Maddie never makes a sound. She keeps her mouth shut the entire movie, and signs everything. The truth is, that’s not really how it works. Most of my deaf friends do make noise when they sign, it just doesn’t sound like words. The reason is, they still have vocal chords, and even if they can’t hear the noises their making, they’re still capable of making them. And they do. They cry if they get hurt, they laugh if they think something’s funny, and so on. These are just natural human reactions to things, and people make them, whether they can hear them or not. Think of it this way, I can’t see my own facial expressions because I have poor eyesight, but I still know how to smile and frown, because those are just things that human beings instinctively do. This isn’t so much a criticism of the filmmakers, because, like I said, they did a good job of making this deaf character sympathetic and self-sufficient, it’s just something misleading I wanted to point out.

So, in conclusion, Hush is a well-paced, well acted, well-shot thriller, with some good scares, and good representation. If you want to be engaged and entertained for about 80 minutes, give this film a look.

Following

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

I’ve always been a fan of watching famous director’s early films. Partly because it humanizes them–they didn’t always have huge budgets and A-list actors at their disposal– but also because it shows how much, or how little, they’ve changed over the years. Sometimes, like with Martin Scorsese’s The Big Shave, there’s nothing in these early works that indicates who made them. Other times, as with the subject of today’s review, Christopher Nolan’s Following, it is extremely apparent who helmed these pictures, and that these filmmakers haven’t changed their style or subject matter that much over the years.

The story of a struggling writer who begins stalking people, ostensibly for inspiration, Following possesses many of Nolan’s trademark characteristics, including philosophical dialogue, non-linear narratives, morally ambiguous characters, and examinations of memory and perception. It also has a few moments that unintentionally predict the future. In one scene, for instance, the main character and his friend break into a house that has the Batman logo on the front door. They never comment on it, but the logo is extremely visible in the background throughout the entire scene, almost as though Nolan knew, back in 1998, that he would direct arguably the greatest series of Batman films a mere seven years later.

But beyond the simple novelty of it being a now famous directors early work, Following does stand on its own as an effective thriller. For starters ,the acting is very good. Everyone has energy. Everyone has passion. You can really tell that these performers are giving it their all. It’s even more impressive when you consider that none of the cast were professionals, and that they made this film for $6,000 while still working day-jobs. The pacing is also quite good. This is a quick, lean picture, with a running time of just about 70 minutes. Some people might think that’s too short, but, honestly, I believe movies should only go on for as long as they need to, and Following didn’t need to be any longer than it is. And, finally, the film looks really good. It’s entirely in black and white, which, apparently, was done as a cost-cutting measure, but it actually fits the genre and tone of the film. It helps bring to life the seety, noir-ish world that Nolan is trying to create, and I quite liked the way everything looked.

So if you want to see a small, well-crafted thriller, which just so happens to be made by a now famous director, give Following a look. I guarantee you’ll have a good time.

The Wailing

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

2016 was, if nothing else, a magnificent year for Korean cinema. Train To Busan, The Handmaiden, Age Of Shadows, these were FANTASTIC thrillers that made HUGE splashes on the festival circuit, and drew attention to an area of the world often overlooked. The subject of today’s review, The Wailing, was another popular Korean export, with many critics placing it on their top 10 lists, and it currently holding a 99% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Now, if you know me, you know that I don’t place much stock in critical reviews, or Rotten Tomatoes, since I think giving a film a numerical score creates a majority opinion, and prevents people from making their own decisions, and what critics like and audience’s enjoy don’t often overlap. In this case, however, I decided to give the critics the benefit of the doubt, and The Wailing a look, and holy crap!

The story of a small town detective trying to solve the mystery surrounding a series of bizarre deaths, all of which seem connected to this weird Japanese hermit, the film mixes a lot of different genres and tones. At once a mystery, police procedural, supernatural horror film, and comedy, the picture shifts from silly to gruesome on an almost scene to scene basis. In one moment, the protagonist’s daughter will catch him and his wife banging in their car, and in another, a deranged man in a hospital will be shown disemboweling himself. It’s an odd dichotomy, to be sure. There’s also a lot of inconsistency with the characterization here. What I mean by that is, in one scene, the protagonist will be shown as doubting there’s any supernatural cause for the deaths, then, in the next scene, he’ll be more than happy to let a clearly crazy woman walk through an active crime scene and tell him stories about satanic rituals, and then, immediately afterwards, he’ll be acting all skeptical again. It’s weird, to say the least. And yet, for all the inconsistency with characterization and tone, for all the idiotic choices the protagonist makes, for all the blending of genres and motifs, I was consistently riveted by The Wailing, and would honestly recommend it to you all.

This is one of those rare films that breaks so many rules, and shifts its genre and tone so many times, that it actually kind of works. And when I say that, I’m not trying to paint this as a “so bad it’s good” type picture. The gorgeous cinematography, stellar acting, and eerie, atmospheric lighting make it clear that this film was made by people with talent. No, what I mean when I say that is, this film plays with various genre conventions–it knows that the audience is expecting certain things when they see this type of movie–and it inverts them. It gives you something new, something unexpected. The writer/director, Na Hong-Jin, stated in an interview with The Playlist that he believes there are three types of audience members, those who make random guesses, those who absorb the plot, and those who just can’t catch up. This film, he explained, was meant to appeal to all three groups, and by god, it does.

So if you’re looking for something unique, something out of the ordinary and interesting, give The Wailing a look. It won’t disappoint.