John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

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

After avenging his dog’s murder, and recovering his stolen car, retired hit man John Wick stumbles home, hoping to finally mourn the loss of his wife. But before he even has the chance to breathe, an old associate appears on his doorstep, asking him to perform one last hit. John refuses, saying he’s out of the game, but ultimately agrees when the associate in question reminds him that John owes him a favor. So, with a heavy heart, John sets off for Rome, hoping to finish this last job quickly, only to learn, once it’s far too late, that he’s in way over his head. What follows is a high octane, hard hitting action extravaganza, with amazing fight choreography, incredible stunt work, and the ever-present charisma of Keanu Reeves.

The first John Wick was a huge surprise, not simply for its astounding action sequences, and deliberate avoidance of shaky cam and quick cutting, but also for the unique world and mythology it set up. Audiences were fascinated by things like The Continental hotel, where assassins use special currency, and are not permitted to “conduct business.” Fans everywhere demanded a sequel with more breathtaking action, and more explorations of this mysterious underground society. And in John Wick: Chapter 2, you get both of those things, because not only does this movie have some of the best, most brutal action sequences I’ve seen in a long time, but it really expands upon the world that was set up in the first film. You learn more about the rules of this assassins universe, are shown some really cool places where hit men hang out and get their weapons, and you even see how “accounts” are put out on people. If you’ve read my reviews for films like The Chaser or Man From Nowhere, you know I’ll happily take a well-crafted thriller over an “artistic”, “Oscar-worthy” picture any day. John Wick Chapter 2 is precisely the kind of film I’m talking about when I say that. It’s a good time from start to finish, and avoids insulting your intelligence by having a smart script, good acting, and high production values.

Now, of course, no film ever made was entirely free of flaws, and John Wick: Chapter 2 does have a few. For starters, as amazing as the action is, there are times where it gets both excessive and unrealistic. John gets run over at least four times in this movie, and he somehow manages to survive each crash. There are also several scenes where he kills people in excruciatingly brutal fashion, and even I cringed when I was watching them. If you don’t have a high tolerance for violence, you probably won’t like this film. They also introduce a TON of new characters in this movie, who I honestly had trouble keeping track of after a while. But, in the end, those are the only problems I had with the film, and those are pretty minor when you think about it. So, really, there’s not much wrong with John Wick: Chapter 2. It’s fun, fast-paced, beautiful to look at, and expands upon the world of assassins established in the first film. Give it a look when you’ve got the time.

Changeling (2009)

 

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

On March 10, 1928, Christine Collins came home from work, and found that her son, Walter, was not in the house. She looked in every room, scoured the entire neighborhood, but it was all to no avail. Walter had vanished. For five agonizing months, Christine waited for the authorities to find something, anything, that would indicate where her boy had gone. Then, finally, the police claimed that they’d located him, but when she was presented with the child in question, she realized that it wasn’t Walter. The boy was three inches shorter than her son, circumcised, and lacked certain knowledge that Walter would just instinctively have, like what his teacher’s name was, or which desk he’d sat at in school. But when Christine pointed this out to the police, and urged them to keep looking for her son, they refused, insisting she was mistaken. They hired doctors to explain away the physical discrepancies between Walter and this new boy, and got reporters to write articles smearing her as an incompetent, neglectful mother. Then, when all this failed, they locked her away in an insane asylum, claiming she was hysterical, and that she needed to be restrained, “for her own good.” It wasn’t until a detective, working on a completely unrelated case, uncovered a connection between her boy and the crimes of a serial killer that Christine got released, and people started listening to her.

This horrifying true story forms the basis of Changeling, a 2008 drama film, directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Angelina Jolie. I’d never heard of it, or the events that inspired it, until I watched the movie this weekend, and now, with hindsight, I think that’s a shame. This is a well-made film, and it tells an incredible story from our past, which has far more relevance to the present than we might like to admit. The fact that a woman who spoke out against an authority figure was written off as hysterical, and even institutionalized, just so that she couldn’t threaten their position, is both terrifying, and not at all hard to believe. To this day, women around the world face huge amounts of backlash whenever they “rock the boat” by discussing mistreatment or abuse. That’s why so many rape cases go untried, the victims are too scared to speak out. For this reason, I highly urge everyone out there to watch Changeling. Because even though its set 89 years ago, what happens in it is still happening now. And if we want a better world, we need to learn from our past.

Now I realize that that statement will be enough to turn some of you off this film. After all, movies that are “important” aren’t always entertaining, or even well-crafted. I appreciate Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Dear White People for their messages, not because I’m gripped by their stories or performances. Likewise, Schindler’s List, City of Life and Death and 12 Years A Slave are so painful to watch, in spite of their craftsmanship, that most of us can’t bear to see them again. Changeling is neither of those things. It’s not so heavy handed that you can’t get invested in the story, and its not so painful that you feel tempted to look away. The movie is 2 and a half hours long, and I was never once bored while I was watching it. The acting in it is also very good, and, as with all Clint Eastwood films, it looks very nice, with the costumes and sets being downright exquisite. So if you’re afraid that Changeling will be a boring, or excessively brutal issue movie, don’t worry. This film does get you to think, but not without entertaining you all the while.

The Great Wall (2017)

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

What can you say about the Great Wall Of China? Well, It’s ancient, majestic, and truly breathtaking when you consider it was built entirely by hand. As someone who’s actually seen it, I can tell you, it is worthy of the title “Seventh Wonder Of The World.” When you’re standing on it, you really feel as though you’re in the presence of something spectacular; something that proves what mankind is capable of. And the craziest thing about it; it was built to keep out Space Dragons. Yes. You heard right. Space Dragons. At least, that’s what Ed Zwick and Marshall Hershkovitz, the writers of this movie, want you to think. As for me, I’m not buying it.

Now, I’ll admit, I was super excited to see this picture. Not only is it directed by one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Zhang Yimou, but its written by Ed Zwick, the man behind three of my most-beloved films; Glory, Blood Diamond, and The Last Samurai. It also has a huge budget, the largest one in Chinese cinematic history, and has some top-tier Chinese and American actors in it. All the ingredients for a truly spectacular motion picture are present. There’s no reason, or way, this can suck. Right?

Well, I wouldn’t say that this movie is terrible. I wouldn’t even say that it’s bad. But its definitely disappointing, especially when you consider what the director, screenwriters, and actors have done in the past. It’s basically just a series of elaborate fight sequences, with bits of dialogue thrown in. And while the sequences themselves are very impressive, proving once again that Mr. Zhang is an amazing visual craftsman, there’s just not enough in the way of plot or character to get you that invested. The movie’s story, what little there is, concerns two European mercenaries, Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal, who go to China to steal Gun Powder, only to get captured by soldiers patrolling the Great Wall. They then learn that there be dragons afoot, and decide to help fight them off. And that’s it. The rest of the movie is flying arrows, balls of fire, and flashing steel. And when it’s not those things, its focusing on characters who are so thinly-drawn, that I wouldn’t even call them characters. The acting in this movie is also very shaky at times. Matt Damon keeps trying to do an Irish accent, but he can never hold it for more than a few words, and he says everything in this grave, flat tone. I’m happy that he’s not a White savior, with him spending most of the movie in shackles, learning respect and humility from the Chinese, but he’s still really uninteresting.

Now, as I said before, this is not a terrible movie. It’s certainly entertaining, in a “turn your brain off” kind of way. There’s no pornographic shots of women’s bodies, or stupid, adolescent humor, like what you might find in a Michael Bay movie. And the level of detail that went into crafting some of the battle sequences, and divisions of the Chinese Army, like this all female brigade called the Cranes, is spectacular. There’s just not much in the way of story or character-development. But if that doesn’t matter to you, go ahead and watch this. You’ll probably have a good time. Even if you do want plot and character, you’ll probably be pleasantly distracted for about two hours.

La La Land (2016)

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

What can I say about La La Land, the modern musical that’s won the hearts of millions? Well, I could tell you that it’s entertaining, optimistic, and very impressive when you consider all the work that went into crafting certain sequences. But I’d be remiss if I failed to mention my overall dislike for the picture, and how I honestly have no desire to ever see it again.

Hate me yet? Good. Because I’m not done.

Now before I go on, I just want you to know that I don’t despise this movie. I recognize how good the acting, cinematography and dialogue are. I’m not trying to say that I think this is a bad film. I’m saying, it’s not a movie I enjoyed. You all might, and I’m happy if you do. But, for me, this isn’t a film I think I’ll ever revisit.

Now, with all that said, La La Land tells the story of two struggling artists, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who meet and fall in love in LA. And that’s really it. It’s just a movie about two people trying to get by, and their relationship. Theres no big super villain plot. The world is not at stake. There’s not even a real sense that if they were to break up, they’d be all that unhappy. And, spoilers, they do break up by the end, and are just fine. This honestly was one of the main reasons I didn’t care for this picture, the fact that it never got me invested. I never got the sense that something was at stake in this picture. If the characters broke up, I knew that they’d be fine, because the movie shows them being fine. If they got fired from their jobs, I knew they’d find other, better ones, because the movie shows them doing that. I never once believed that Emma Stone would end up selling herself just to stay alive, or that Ryan Gosling would hang himself if he couldn’t start his own jazz club. Now I’m not trying to say that the movie had to go that dark. I’m saying, at least in other Musicals, like Oliver and Miss Saigon, both of which I’ve acted in, there are real stakes. The threat of death, poverty and trauma is ever present in them. You know that these characters could, and probably will, die, or have something bad happen to them if they don’t act right. And that gets you to care more about the story. In La La Land, you know that both these characters have back up plans if they’re musical or theatrical careers go south. And while I, as an artist, don’t want anyone to give up on their dreams, as a spectator, I kept asking myself, “why should I care about you? You’ll be fine, either way. Where are the stakes?”

Another thing that bugged me about this movie was how overly nostalgic it was. Now before any of you call me a hypocrite, I had the same problem with Stranger Things, one of my favorite new shows. In that series, the creators show off their deep love for the 1980s, while never once commenting on the negative aspects of that time period. Similarly, La La Land acts as a huge love letter to both Jazz music and classic Hollywood, even going so far as to recreate whole sequences from movies like An American In Paris. And while these recreations are impressive, as are all the dance and musical numbers in this film, I found myself asking, at multiple points, “what is this doing for your story? I get that you love jazz, and old movies, but that’s not enough to support a plot. When are things with consequences going to happen?” Nostalgia can only carry a movie so far, and I honestly think there was too much of it in this picture.

But, in the end, I know that audiences won’t care about either of those things. Because this movie has made tons of money, and won even more awards. It’s actually set a record for the movie with the most Oscar nominations in history. Clearly, this film has spoken to a lot of people, and that’s fine. I’m glad that they enjoy it. I just didn’t. So, if you want to see it, go ahead. More power to you. If, on the other hand, you’re like me, and you want there to be stakes in your film, don’t. It’s up to you.

Split (2016)

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

What if someone kidnapped you? That’d be scary, right? Well, what if the person who kidnapped you also had Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID, meaning every time you spoke to them, you were talking to someone different? That’d be downright terrifying, wouldn’t it? M Night Shyamalan certainly thought so, and thus made the subject of today’s review, Split.

A contained thriller revolving around three young women, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula, who get kidnapped by a man with DID, James McAvoy, Split is a movie I’ve heard nothing but good things about. People have told me it’s Shyamalan’s best work in years; that it is one of James McAvoy’s greatest performances ever. And, having seen it for myself, I can tell you that those claims aren’t wholly without substance.

The film is definitely effective in everything it wants to do. When it wants to be scary, its scary. When it wants to be funny, its funny. And much of the movie’s success is due to some very well-constructed scenes, and an absolutely astounding performance by James McAvoy. He has to play so many different characters in this movie, and he really pulls it off. Even though his face looks exactly the same every time he switches personalities, everything else about him, his posture, his mannerisms, his speech patterns, change. You really feel like you’re watching a different person, and that’s impressive. I think it’s a shame he didn’t get nominated this year, but, ah well. Can’t have everything.

But as effective and well-acted as the picture might be, I did still have problems with it. For starters, the dialogue is terrible. Shyamalan, who penned the screenplay, has been lampooned in the past for writing wooden, on-the-nose exchanges, which just don’t sound interesting or natural. Nowhere is this sentiment more true, and obvious, than in Split. Yes, the acting is good, but there were points in this film where I literally winced at how awkward sounding some of the sentences were. On top of this, the movie doesn’t really go out of its way to get you to care about the girls. Yes, you feel sorry that they’re in this bad situation. But you don’t really get to know their personalities or interests. As such, you don’t really feel attached to them. This is especially apparent with Jessica Sula’s character, who’s given the least amount to say. I knew nothing about who she was, or what she liked. I didn’t even know her name. I literally just thought of her as “the third girl,” and needed to look up who she was after the fact. That’s not good. As a filmmaker, you need to get the audience to care about your characters, and this film didn’t do that.

Still, I did enjoy Split overall, and would recommend it to you. If you’re a fan of Shyamalan, McAvoy, or contained thrillers, you’ll probably be engaged for the entire runtime.

Top Directors Self-Respecting Actresses Should NOT Work With

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

No one ever said that being an actor was easy. You’re constantly facing rejection, and your whole career can crumble in less than a minute. But, sometimes, even when you’ve got steady work, even when you’re on the set of a big budget movie with top tier talent, things can be difficult. Especially if you’re a woman. Directors can be verbally, or even physically, abusive, and the things you get asked to do can be extremely degrading. That is why I’ve decided to create a list for all you self-respecting actresses out there of the top directors you do NOT want to work with. Now, just to be clear, these are not being placed in any kind of order, and I’m not trying to say that these men are untalented, or that your careers wouldn’t be helped by working with them. I’m saying, if you want to be treated with respect on set, if you want to play complex, multi-faceted individuals who aren’t just victims or eye candy, these are not the people to audition for.

Michael Bay.

Transformers, The Rock, Pearl Harbor.

One of the most financially successful directors of all time, Michael Bay has made enemies with many, many groups over the years. These include film critics, the NAACP, and, of course, women. From the beginning of his career, Bay has been trashed for objectifying and degrading members of the fairer sex, and for good reason. Known for including unnecessarily long shots of women’s breasts, backsides and legs in his movies, Bay also makes a habit of mocking those who aren’t physically perfect, as he does in Pain and Gain and the Transformers film series. He’s even worse when it comes to representing women of color, who are often reduced to racial stereotypes. And the female characters in question are either dumb sluts, like Bar Paly in Pain and Gain, weepy, needy girlfriends, like Kate Beckinsale in Pearl Harbor, or eye candy, like Megan Fox in the Transformers film series. Bay is also known to be aggressive and uncompromising, being rude to both cast and crew members. A friend of mine actually worked as a PA on his film Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, and told me stories about how mean he was. Bottom line is, Bay is not a good director to work with if you’re a woman. If you’re attractive, he’ll objectify you. If you’re not white, he’ll turn you into a racial cliche. And if you’re just a crew member, he’ll shout at, and bully you.

Eli Roth.

Hostel, Cabin Fever, Knock, Knock.

Perhaps best known for playing “The Bear Jew” in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards, writer/director Eli Roth is widely credited with creating the “gorno” or “torture porn” sub genre of horror. But beyond simply spraying blood across the frames, Eli Roth is well-known for reducing women to their bodies. Seriously. All his films, Hostel, Cabin Fever, Knock, Knock, The Green Inferno, include sex and nudity, and the women getting naked are never really given any personality. Well, that’s not true. Most of the time, as in Hostel and Knock, Knock, the women turn out to be evil psychopaths who want to do harm to the male heroes. And if they aren’t that, they usually wind up being incredibly shallow, as in Hostel, where the only good female character decides she’d rather die than go in living disfigured. Roth might be the future of horror to some, but to women, he’s an absolute nightmare.

Takashi Miike.

Audition, Ichi The Killer, 13 Assassins.

With over 90 film and TV credits to his name, Takashi Miike has established himself as one of Japan’s most prolific directors. As well as one of its most controversial. For while Miike has made movies in a variety of genres, including family films, The Great Yokai War, road movies, The Bird People in China, and musicals, The Happiness of the Katakuris, he is best known for directing extremely violent, extremely bizarre horror and crime films. Pictures like Audition, Ichi The Killer, Visitor Q, and his black society trilogy, Shinjuku Triad Society, Rainy Dog, and Ley Lines, are infamous for including shocking scenes of high impact violence and sexual perversion. Rape, torture, necrophilia, slicing people in half from head to groin, these are but a few of the many cruelties Mike has show off in his work. And while he’s not above having men get maned and skewered, Miike’s bloody gaze does seem hyper focused on women. His film Ichi The Killer, for instance, begins with a prostitute getting violently beaten and raped. And this is not the only film of his to start in such a way. Ley Lines, which, for the most part, is pretty tame, includes several scenes, which don’t contribute to the movie’s overall narrative, that show the film’s female lead getting beaten by her pimp, beaten by her customers, and being tied up and tortured in a weird, non consensual BDSM scenario. Add to this the fact that almost all his female characters are either prostitutes or strippers, and the fact that one of his most famous movies, Audition, is all about sexist men holding fake auditions to find girls to bang, and you’ve got a laundry list of reasons why self-respecting actresses shouldn’t work with him.

Lars Von Trier.

Nymphomaniac, Melancholia, Antichrist.

A founding member of the Dogma 95 movement, Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier has seen more than his fair share of criticism over the years. For while many have found his movies’ examinations of depression, love, and sex both deep and refreshing, many more have taken issue with these pictures misogynistic content. Many of his early films, The Element of Crime, Europa, are about idealistic men being brought down by deceitful, fatal women, while several of his later pictures, Breaking The Waves, Dogville, Nymphomaniac, include very graphic, very violent rape scenes. And that’s not even getting into the general violence towards women his films exhibit, such as one scene in antichrist where the female lead cuts off her clitoris. There’s even a scene in this same movie where the character looks straight at the camera and says, “all women are evil.” Yikes. And as if this weren’t bad enough, Von Trier is notorious for mistreating his leading ladies, most notably Bjork , who starred in his movie Dancer in the Dark, and who was so upset by him that she wouldn’t speak to him for weeks. If that doesn’t convince you to not work with him, I don’t know what will.

Takashi Ishii.

Gonin, Freeze Me, Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend.

If you’ve never heard of this notorious director and manga artist before, that’s hardly surprising. He’s not nearly as successful as someone like Michael Bay, nowhere close to being as acclaimed as someone like Lars Von Trier, or even half as prolific, and varied in his work, as someone like Takeshi Miike. Why then am I including him on this list? Simple. Literally all his films include the rape, or repeated rape, of a woman. Let that knowledge sink in. Every single one of his films–several of which he also wrote–have rape scenes in them. Sometimes multiple rape scenes. He actually created a manga series, which was later adapted into a movie franchise, called Angel Guts, which is literally just about rape. This man shouldn’t be making movies. He should be in prison. Because it’s bad enough for him to be including rape in films at all, but to add insult to injury , he often shows the women enjoying the rape, and even falling in love with their rapists, like in his movie Original Sin. There’s also a ton of creepy, downright uncomfortable stuff in his films, like his movie Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend. It’s about this office rat who gets fired from his job, and so he assaults a stripper, insults a lesbian couple, who chase him into a nearby clothing store, where, after he witnesses them get raped and murdered by some criminals hiding behind the clothes racks, he finds and molests a manikin. This whole film is beyond exploitative. It’s beyond demeaning. If you have any respect for yourself as an artist, avoid this man like the plague.

Abdellatif Kechiche.

Blue Is The Warmest Color.

Much like Lars Von Trier, French director Abdelatif Kechiche has garnered great acclaim for his cinematic explorations of love and loss. And also like Von Trier, he has attracted a fair bit of criticism for his mistreatment of cast and crew members, and his overall representation of women. Several technicians on his 2013 film Blue Is The Warmest Color accused him of harassment, unpaid overtime and violations of labour laws. Likewise, the two main actresses, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, also complained about Kechiche’s behavior during the shooting. None of this was helped by the fact that, apparently, in one interview about the film, Kechiche said he filmed the actresses “like they were statues.” Ooh. Never a good sentence to utter. Kechiche might be talented, and you might win awards if you work with him, but all the awards in the world can’t make up for unpaid overtime and sexual harassment, both of which you’re bound to encounter on his films.