Lust, Caution (2007)

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In 1938, a radical Chinese theater troupe decide to put on their most daring performance; the seduction, and assassination, of a high-ranking Japanese collaborator. The first thing they do is find their leading lady, a naive college student named Wang Chia-Chi. Next, they find their stage, a mansion in Hong Kong where Wang is to catch her prey. And, finally, they introduce her to her main opponent in this great drama, Mr. Yee, the collaborator they intend to kill. The stage is set. The pieces are in place. All that’s necessary is for someone to make the first move. But, just as in an old Greek Tragedy, nothing about their scheme goes according to plan. Continue reading

Get Out (2017)

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Chris and Rose are in love. They’ve been going out for close to five months, and they’re about to make one of the biggest steps in their relationship, meeting each other’s parents. This, of course, is nerve-wracking for everyone, but the situation is made doubly awkward by the fact that Rose’s family, who are White, don’t know that Chris is Black. Chris informs Rose of his concerns, and she tells him that there’s nothing to worry about. Her family are nice. They’ll love him. Chris isn’t convinced, having spent a lifetime facing micro aggressions from “nice” people, but he goes along anyway. And, at first, everything is fine. Rose’s family are nice, micro aggressions not withstanding. They do seem to like him. But, as time goes by, Chris starts to notice some things that aren’t quite right. The family’s Black servants, Georgina and Walter, are inhumanly polite and docile, almost as though they’ve had their personalities drained. And Rose’s mother, Missy, a psychiatrist, is strangely adamant about submitting Chris to hypnosis. Tension builds as the family’s friends, each one whiter and more oblivious than the last, show up for an annual get together, and submit Chris to a tidal wave of awkward statements and pho compliments. Finally, Chris decides he can take it no more, and tells Rose that they need to leave, but, much to his horror, finds that he can’t. Continue reading

Quiz Show (1994)

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

It’s 1958. Twenty One is ABC’s most popular quiz show, and Herb Stempel, a volatile nerd, is the reigning champion. Realizing that Herb’s popularity has plateaued, and that Charles Van Doren, a handsome young college professor, would bring in far more viewers, Producer Dan Enright rigs the show by feeding Van Doren the answers, and forcing Stempel to flub an easy question. Outraged, Stempel goes on the war path, suing Enright and ABC in federal court. His litigation catches the attention of Dick Goodwin, special counsel to the Legislative Oversight Subcommittee of the House Of Representatives (a position absolutely as boring as it sounds), and the two embark on a quest to expose the fraudulent nature of both Twenty One, and all game shows. And now we have a big courtroom drama, directed by Robert Redford, and starring John Turturro.

Quiz Show is a film I’d never heard of before. I only became aware of its existence after I stumbled upon it while idly scrolling through the “period pieces” section on Netflix. I was shocked, to say the least. I mean, a big budget movie, made by a famous director, with top tier talent, that got good reviews, which I’d never heard of before? Impossible. Surely there was a mistake. Surely this film, which currently holds a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, was some sort of unsung masterpiece; a diamond in the rough, if you will. I simply had to watch it. I had to spread the word; to make others aware of its brilliance. Well, having just sat down and watched Quiz Show, I can understand why no one remembers it, and why it bombed at the box office when it first came out.

IT’S SO BORING! I’m talking grass growing, paint drying, doing your taxes level dull. It’s about two and a half hours long, and a good chunk of it consists of scenes that add nothing to the overall narrative. Scenes like Dick Goodwin going to buy a car, Dick Goodwin having sex with his wife, Charles van Doren running into his father at a restaurant, and Charles Van Doren throwing his father a birthday party. I suppose they’re meant to build character, but they really, really don’t. They just come off as pointless padding, and they leave you scratching your head, and checking your watch. And just as with La la Land, you never feel invested in the story because there are no stakes. What the movie boils down to is a bitter man, Stempel, trying to prove that TV game shows are rigged. Who cares? Who cares if game shows are rigged? I just assumed everyone knew that going in. Next thing you know you’ll be telling me professional wrestling and reality television are staged. Besides, rigging a game show to make it more dramatic isn’t, technically speaking, illegal. And even if it was, the movie makes Stempel out to be such an unlikable character that you don’t want to see him prevail. You don’t want him to pull back the curtain. You don’t want the world to find out that game shows are fake. Also, I have to ask, who the hell watches game shows anymore? I understand this is a period piece, but Redford was making this film for modern audiences. He had to have known that people probably didn’t care about quiz shows anymore. Combine this–the slow pacing, pointless scenes, and very low stakes–with lackluster dialogue and some questionable acting–I’m referring, of course, to Rob Morrow’s awful Boston accent–and you’ve got a dull, pointless, and ultimately forgettable movie. I totally understand why no one went to go see this when it came out, and why history has largely forgotten it. It’s terrible. Don’t watch it.

Logan (2017)

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

The X-men are gone. The mutant race has all but vanished. And Earth’s greatest hero, Wolverine, is now a depressed alcoholic, eking out a meager living as a chauffeur. Every day is a battle for him; a battle to pay rent; to get Professor X his drugs before he has another psychic episode. And every night, he finds himself staring at a special, adamantium bullet, asking the dreaded question, “Should I do it?” But before he can find an answer, a woman and a little girl with remarkably similar powers to him show up on his doorstep, begging for help. A ruthless government agency is hot on their trail, and they mean to kill them both. Realizing he can’t let this girl die, Logan grabs his keys, and his friend Charles Xavier, and embarks on a major, cross country journey, both to get everyone to safety, and to provide himself with some overdue redemption.

Just as Christopher Reeve was the quintessential Superman for my parents’ generation, Hugh Jackman has been the quintessential Wolverine for me and everyone my age. So when I heard that Logan, the tenth film in the X-men franchise, was going to be his final outing as the character, I knew I had to watch it. I had to see what kind of closure the filmmakers would give the character, and whether Jackman’s run would go out with a bang, or end on a whimper. And, having just seen the movie, I can tell you, this is the best possible send off you could hope for. Logan is a fantastic picture, both as a piece of superhero escapism, and mature, emotional drama. I highly recommend you all watch it, and I’m tempted to see it again myself.

Something that sets this movie apart from all the other films in the X-men franchise, and most other superheor movies as well, is how grounded it is. It feels like real life, as absurd as that sounds. Characters say the F word in this picture. They get dirty. They bleed. There are real steaks in this film, because the heroes have gotten frail, and death is a very real possibility for them. And unlike some other movie franchises–cough, cough, the MCU, cough, cough–which don’t try to explore dark, adult subject matter, like death, survivor’s guilt, parenthood and responsibility, this movie jumps head first into those topics, giving us a refreshingly mature picture, which transcends the comic book genre.

But before any of you action lovers feel the urge to look away, know that Logan has some of the best, most imaginative superhero fight sequences I’ve ever seen. Two in particular, one in a Casino where Professor X is having a psychic seizure, and one on a mountain side where Wolverine is going full berserker, are imprinted on my brain, they’re that brutal and inventive. This film is rated R, and unlike some movies that probably shouldn’t have had that classification, Logan really earns that title. This is a brutal, exceedingly bloody movie. And like I said, there is no limit to foul language in this picture. And yet it never crosses the threshold into exploitation territory. This isn’t like the works of Mark Millar or Garth Ennis, which pretend to be mature by including gratuitous amounts of violence and profanity. This is a thoughtful, emotionally resonant drama, which has brutal, hard-hitting violence in it, because the world it creates is a dark and ugly one. And yet, you never reach that point where the film gets so bleak that you feel like looking away. You’re never turned off by the morbid subject matter. Rather, you’re engrossed in it. You’re captivated by it. And I am so happy about that.

Guys, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I really don’t have any complaints with Logan. It’s mature, emotionally resonant, and a really fun superhero movie as well. It’s the perfect send off to an actor and a character, and I really think you all should go see it.