Following

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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. Continue reading

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Captain America: Civil War

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

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope that, wherever you are, whoever you’re with, you’re having a good time, and sharing the love. Because the characters in today’s movie, Captain America: Civil War, definitely aren’t doing either of those things.

Yes, instead of talking about a Holiday classic, like It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, or Miracle On 34th Street, I’ve decided to review a film wherein superheroes fight each other because of disagreements over regulatory oversight. Why? Simple; I didn’t see it in theaters, and it only came out on Netflix today. Yeah.

Anyway, concerning the film itself; this is a picture that I’ve heard nothing but good things about. Everyone I’ve ever talked to ever has told me that its the greatest superhero movie ever made. And hearing this instantly made me not want to go see it. See, I’m not a big fan of Marvel. Never have been. I find Captain America to be an outdated piece of racist wartime propaganda, and Iron Man to be an alcoholic, womanizing jerk. I do admire Spider-Man (thanks, in large part, to the Sam Raimi trilogy that came out when I was a kid), but, beyond that, I just don’t have any real emotional connection to the characters. And besides my own dislike of the Marvel brand, I’m also someone who likes to take the side of the underdog. I’ve been a diehard Cubs fan all my life, mostly because of their reputation as lovable losers, and fostered a deep-seated hatred for the Yankees since I was a kid, precisely because of the fact that they were always winning, and bragging about it. Marvel Studio’s repeated financial and critical success, and the fact that they haven’t exactly been humble about it, has made me resent them, and not want to watch their movies. But then again, every belief system I subscribe to–kindness, honesty, intersectional feminism, racial, religious and ethnic tolerance, and inclusion of the disabled–has been politically defeated this year, and every movie I wanted to be good–Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, Passengers–has turned out to be terrible. Maybe I should just give up on what I think, and join the winning team. That’s what I was thinking when I sat down to watch Civil War. Now that I’ve seen it, I have a few new thoughts.

In terms of the writing–meaning the dialogue, character motivation, and scene construction–I do think Civil War is more competently crafted than Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad. Those latter two films had tons of exposition in them, meaning long scenes where everyone’s thoughts and backstories get spelled out to the audience. There are scenes in Civil War where characters tell us what they think and feel, but it feels more earned, more appropriate, in this picture. The reason is that the characters in this movie bring up their feelings in conversation, as opposed to just turning to the audience and saying, “let me explain who X is.” The dialogue in Civil War also feels more natural, and specific to each individual character, than BVP and SS. If you’ve read my review of Suicide Squad, you know that I feel the characters in it sound too similar to one another, and that I think that’s a problem. If everyone sounds the same, how are the actors supposed to create compelling characters? How is the audience supposed to decide who to care about? I cared about the protagonists of BVP and SS when I first watched the movies, not because the films themselves did a good job of setting up their unique personalities and voices, but, rather, because I’d read the comics and watched the TV shows they came from. Imagine if I didn’t have that background with the mythology. How would I react then? But perhaps the biggest difference in terms of writing is the fact that the characters in Civil War have much clearer reasons for acting the way they do than the individuals in Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad. To this day, I’m still not quite sure why Lex Luthor hated Superman, why he made Doomsday, or why Enchantress wanted to blow up the Earth with a sky beam. That’s not good. If your characters’ reasons for acting aren’t clear, the audience won’t care about what they’re doing, and won’t want to watch your movie. Now, to be fair, Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad were only the second and third films in their cinematic universe, and therefore had to introduce lots of previously unestablished characters and plot threads. Civil war, by contrast, had over a dozen earlier films to build off of. It didn’t need to explain everything. Still, there are smooth, skillful ways of introducing new people and things in a movie, and Civil War used them to a greater degree than BVP and SS. Spider-Man and Black Panther didn’t exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe until Civil War, and yet, their introduction felt more natural, and the film spent enough time with them for me to care about them as characters. BVP and SS were never able to balance who and what got the most screen time, and this left me feeling kind of empty and wanting as a result.

I also think Civil War has much better acting than BVP and SS. Don’t get me wrong, Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Godot as Wonder Woman, Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, these actors are all superb in their respective roles. It’s just, in both BVP and SS, there are performers who stand out as being pretty terrible. Jessie Eisenberg as a twitchy, adolescent version of Lex Luthor, and Jared Leto as an over-the-top, Jim Carrey-like Joker are what come to mind when I say this. No one in Civil War stands out as “the bad one.” They’re all pretty good.

But, of course, just because something is better than another thing doesn’t mean that it’s without flaws. And Civil War certainly has flaws. For starters, the movie has these obnoxiously large title cards that pop up whenever the story changes location. These get really annoying to look at after a while. The action is also really hard to follow. True, the set pieces are creative, and the directors make good use of props and locations. But the way these scenes are shot is so incredibly ugly, with everything being super shaky, and frequent cuts making it very difficult to follow what’s happening. There are also certain characters who feel out of place and unnecessary. Hawk Eye, for instance, is only in the movie for two scenes, and doesn’t contribute to the plot at all. Honestly, for how little he matters to the overall narrative, you could have left him out entirely. The same could even be said of Baron Zemo, the film’s main villain. The heroes are already angry, and fighting each other, by the time he shows up. His overly complex plot
just hastens something that’s already happening. I also think its kind of a cheap cop out to have everything actually be the work of super villains. The comic the film was based off of didn’t do that. There, the heroes were angry at each other, and they fought one another because of that. Not because some grand puppeteer was pulling the strings from the shadows. I wish the movie had done the same thing. And that brings me to my final problem with the movie, the ending. For all the marketing hype about this being a “clash between heroes” that would “change everything,” nothing really did change. Yeah, a few more characters get added, but no one important dies, Captain America makes it clear to Iron Man that there are no hard feelings, and even the crippling of War Machine gets undone by the end with some BS technology. (As a disabled person who has a condition that there is no cure for, that last one kind of pissed me off for how it wrote off our pain and suffering as a mild inconvenience that can be fixed with some metal and wires). The film’s ending demonstrates a larger problem with Marvel; their unwillingness to take chances or go outside their established formula. You know going into a Marvel movie that no one is going to die, and that everything will be okay in the end. That’s because the franchise was created by TV writers, and in television, you need to return everything to the status quo by the end of the episode or season so that you can keep the story going. Take some chances, Marvel! Kill off Captain America. Have Iron Man die of alcohol poisoning. Do something edgy or unique.

Still, I did enjoy Civil War, and have decided to give it an 8 out of 10. If you haven’t seen it, give it a look.

Original Versus Remake: OldBoy

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

Remakes–they’re everywhere nowadays. Sometimes they’re interesting improvements over the original films, like the Coen Brothers’ interpretation of True Grit. And sometimes they’re incredibly pointless and stupid, like Jan De Bont’s take on The Haunting. Either way, remakes have been around for as long as there’s been cinema, and they don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

But what causes a remake to succeed or fail? Why did Martin Scorsese’s remake of Infernal Affairs win Best Picture, and William Friedkin’s re-imagining of 12 Angry Men go completely unnoticed? Why do most people regard John Carpenter’s The Thing as superior to the original, black-and-white movie, and Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes as inferior to the film that came before it? To find the answers to these, and several more questions, I’ve decided to introduce a new segment on my blog called Original Versus Remake, or OVR. In it, I’ll compare an older film to it’s remake, and try to unpack why one is regarded as superior to the other. And what better film to start this new segment off with than OldBoy, a movie that has not only been remade, but I’ve also already reviewed here on this blog? (Well, okay, there are probably several others that would be just as good, but this is my blog, and I want to begin with OldBoy.)

Anyway, in case you haven’t heard of it, OldBoy is a 2003 South Korean revenge film. The basic plot goes like this; a drunken businessman is kidnapped on his daughter’s fifth birthday, and imprisoned in a cell that resembles a hotel room for fifteen years. During this time, he learns that, out in the real world, his wife has been murdered, and the police believe he’s the one who killed her. Then, after more than a decade behind bars, he is released, and sets out on a quest to prove his innocence, and find the one who locked him up. His searching leads him to a former classmate, who explains that he locked the businessman away because, when they were in high school, the businessman saw him having incestuous sex with his sister, and told everyone about it. The sister killed herself because she couldn’t endure all the slut-shaming she was being put through, and this, in turn, caused her brother/lover to go crazy with revenge. The businessman apologizes for what he did, but says that the classmate should kill himself, as he’s had his revenge. The classmate then reveals what his true revenge was, getting the businessman to unwittingly commit incest with his daughter. See, while searching for the man who locked him up, the businessman met, and slept with, a young woman, who was actually his daughter. This revelation shocks and horrifies the businessman, who cuts out his own tongue as a sign of penance. The film ends ambiguously, with the businessman getting a hypnotist to alter his memories so he doesn’t know the truth, but the audience not being able to tell if the procedure actually worked.

OldBoy was a critical and commercial success when it came out back in 2003, grossing $15 million against a $3 million budget, and many American newspapers and critics hailing it as the greatest Korean movie ever made. So, naturally, with Hollywood being the soulless money machine that it is, an American remake was inevitable. And, wouldn’t you know it, in 2013, one such remake came out. Directed by Spike lee, and starring Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen, the American version was a failure in every respect, making a mere $4.9 million against a $30 million budget, and critics slamming it as a pale, shallow imitation of the original. But was it? Well, let’s compare the two films, and find out.

First off: the acting. Both the Korean and American casts do superb jobs. They convey the rage, sorrow, confusion and anguish that these characters are enduring beautifully. I honestly don’t think there’s a bad actor in either film. But, in the end, the acting in the Korean original does stand slightly above that in the American remake, and for one major reason; the portrayal of the main antagonist. In the Korean version, the villain is played by Yoo Ji-tae, who’s performance can best be described as suave, yet deadly. He always seems calm and in control, constantly talking with a smug little smile on his face. He really seems like he’s ten steps ahead of you, because, guess what? He is ten steps ahead of you. He never loses his cool, or flies into a stereotypical villainous rage, except for one time in an internet cafe, but, even then, it’s brief, and he quickly regains his composure. All in all, Yoo’s smugness and icy exterior make him a more formidable opponent, because he does seem like a guy who’s got his shit together, and won’t slip up and let you win. That’s the kind of guy who’s got enough control and foresight to plan something this elaborate and devious. That’s a worthy opponent. The villain in the American version, by contrast, is emotionally unstable, whiney, and kind of cartoonish. He’s portrayed by South African actor Sharlto Copley, who screams, cries, and twitches a lot. Also, he does a really bad British accent, which just gets annoying after a while. His version of the character does seem like the type of guy who’d lose his shit and give you the chance to win, because he kind of does that in the movie. He doesn’t seem like he’d have the foresight to plan something as elaborate and devious as what’s portrayed in the film. He doesn’t seem like a worthy opponent. And that’s the main reason why the acting in the original OldBoy is superior to the acting in the remake, the villain is played in a more subtle and nuanced manner.

But acting is just one part of a film? What about the directing? Well, both versions of OldBoy were helmed by established directors with distinct visions and artistic styles. 2003’s OldBoy was directed by Park Chan-Wook, a man famous for making ultra-violent, morbid revenge films, usually on small budgets. His movies have immaculately framed shots, dark color pallets, and elements of black comedy mixed in with all the bloodshed. 2013’s OldBoy, by contrast, was directed by Spike Lee, a man most famous for making movies about race relations, and issues within the Black community. His movies tend to have exaggerated color pallets, over-the-top acting and dialogue, lots of slanted shots, and perfectly centered extreme close ups. I was honestly quite shocked when I heard that he was going to be directing the new OldBoy, because, none of his movies, before or since, have been as dark or violent as Park’s film. The closest he’s come to anything like it is his movie Inside Man, which is a crime thriller. But, even then, the whole conceit of Inside Man is that everything is a ruse. No one actually gets hurt or killed. So how was he supposed to remake a movie with some of the most gruesome fight and torture scenes ever? But, hey, just because someone hasn’t done something before doesn’t mean they can’t be good at it. Martin Scorsese hadn’t made a kid’s film before Hugo, and it turned out to be great. So, who was I to say that Spike Lee wasn’t up to the task of making an ultra-violent revenge film with themes of incest and child abuse? Someone who was absolutely right in that assumption, because the way he directed his film doesn’t hold a candle to the way Park directed his movie. 2013’s OldBoy feels very much like a Hollywood movie, with complicated, moving shots, elaborate sets, and highly choreographed fight sequences. It also tones down, or flat out removes, lots of the original’s odder moments. If you’ve ever seen 2003’s OldBoy, you know that there’s some weird shit in it, like people eating live octopus, people fantasizing about riding the train with man-sized insects, and people getting down on all fours and acting like dogs. You don’t see any of that in Spike Lee’s film. And while I can understand the desire to get rid of the weirder elements that wouldn’t play well to an American audience, shooting the movie the way he did, and removing much of the darker, more bizarre content, kind of undermines the story. OldBoy is supposed to be really dark, really gritty, and really weird. Park was able to achieve a greater feeling of realism by having whole scenes be shot in one take, and using lots of hand-held camera, and his inclusion of those odd scenes really helped set OldBoy apart from other, generic revenge flicks. And while I don’t usually like hand-held camera, because I think it makes the movie hard to watch, it served a purpose here, and I believe that, by removing it, and using more elaborate, hollywood type shots, Spike Lee removed much of what made OldBoy unique to begin with. So, all in all, the directing in the original is also superior.

But what truly makes or breaks a movie is the story; how its told, how it ends, etc. You can have a great idea, but execute it in a horrible manner, just as you can have a horrible idea, but convey it with enough style and wit to make it great. Both versions of OldBoy have the same basic plot; asshole gets locked up, seeks revenge, unwittingly commits incest with daughter, etc. But these films tell that story in two drastically different manners. And the manner in which 2003’s OldBoy tells that story is unquestionably superior. For starters, it presents the protagonist in a more positive, and, by extension, relatable, light. He’s still an asshole, but not as much of an asshole as in the 2013 version. The only real scene in which he behaves like a jerk is at the beginning, where he drunkenly acts out in a police station. But, even then, the dialogue in this scene makes it perfectly clear that the reason he’s acting out is that he’s trying to get home to celebrate his daughter’s birthday. So, already, we have a reason to care about him. Yes, he’s a drunken buffoon, but he’s a drunken buffoon who loves his daughter. This makes it easier for us to care about him when things go wrong, and give us a reason to want to see him prevail. In 2013’s OldBoy, by contrast, we aren’t given any reason to like, or care about the protagonist. The first fifteen minutes are just a series of scenes in which he acts like a dick to everyone. He insults his boss, hits on his client’s wife, refuses to go to his daughter’s birthday, and calls the mother of his child a “bitch.” By the time he gets locked up, we really hate him, and it’s kind of cathartic to watch him get his comeuppance. We don’t want to see him prevail, and are therefore uninterested in watching the rest of the plot unfold. Another poor storytelling choice that the American version made was to change the villain’s motivation. As I said before, the reason why the villain in the Korean version locked the protagonist up was the fact that, when they were younger, the protagonist saw him having incestuous sex with his sister, and told everyone about it. The sister then committed suicide, and the villain vowed revenge. This explanation makes sense, because the villain was in love with his sister, and was therefore heartbroken to lose her. We can understand this. We can understand someone being angry over losing a person they love. What we can’t understand is the explanation the villain gives us in the American version. There, rather than have the protagonist see the villain having sex with his sister, he sees her having sex with some random dude. The dude, as the villain explains, was their father, who was having sex with both of them, and who eventually decided to kill everyone in his family to avoid potential embarrassment. But this explanation doesn’t make sense. The protagonist didn’t know who the man was. Why, then, would anyone care if he told people about seeing some random girl having sex with some random guy? There’s nothing scandalous, or worth committing suicide over in that statement. It’s a lot less interesting to say “hey, I saw so and so having sex with a random dude,” than to say, “hey, so and so is banging his sister.” Plus, this explanation barely includes the villain, and fails to give him a valid reason for acting. He’s not the one the protagonist saw. He’s not the one in love with the girl who died. Why, then, does he hate the protagonist so much? This new explanation is so complicated, and so flimsy, that if you stop to think about it at all, it collapses in on itself. But by far the worst storytelling choice that the American remake made was to change the ending. In the Korean version, the protagonist gets a hypnotist to alter his memories. He embraces his daughter, who says that she loves him, though we’re not sure whether she means that as a father, or as a lover, and the protagonist smiles, only to have his expression change to one of sorrow, leading us to question whether or not the procedure worked. It’s powerful. It’s ambiguous. It’s the perfect way to end a twisted and warped story, where we’re constantly questioning what’s going on. What isn’t perfect is the ending in the American version. There, instead of consulting a hypnotist (because, lord knows, that’s way too silly for an American movie), the protagonist pays the same people who locked him up to do so again, so that he never has to tell his daughter the truth. The final shot is of him smiling contentedly. He’s not traumatized. He’s not insane. He’s genuinely happy. This ending has none of the ambiguity, or tragedy, of the Korean original, and is the final, and conclusive, piece of evidence proving that the story is told better in that film.

Thank you all for reading my first installment of OVR, or Original Versus Remake. I’ll have my reviews of recent releases, like Finding Dory, and The Neon Demon, up very soon.

I hope you all are having wonderful summers. If you like what you’ve read, please like this post, and follow my blog.

Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice

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

And, I’m just going to go ahead and say it, I really enjoyed this movie. I think it’s exciting, well-acted, and well-shot. On top of that, if you’re a fan of comic books, or the Justice League animated series, you’re going to have the biggest orgasm ever at the sight of the holy trinity–Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman–finally teaming up on the big screen. I’m really hoping that, despite all the negative reviews this movie has gotten, it’ll make enough money for Warner Brothers to Green Light the rest of the movies in the DC Cinematic Universe. I want there to be a Wonder Woman movie. I want there to be a Flash movie. I want to see the Justice League make their cinematic debut. And, if the jam-packed theater I was sitting in tonight indicates anything, it’s that, all of those dreams just might come true.

Now, with all that said, I’ll be the first to admit that this movie has problems. Most of them are story-related. Others have to do with certain choices the filmmakers made with regards to representing these characters. But, if you ask me, the biggest problem with Batman V Superman is that it doesn’t seem certain of what kind of movie it wants to be. Sometimes it comes off as a very mature, very thoughtful political thriller, just with superheroes in it. Other times, it feels like a great big sci-fi spectacle, full of explosions and wanton property damage. And then, at other points, it seems like you’re watching an artsy indie film directed by Terrence Mallick, or Hou Hsiao-Hsien. A fine example of this latter phenomenon is the first five minutes of the movie. In them, we’re given Batman’s origins. We see the Waynes getting murdered, and young Bruce running away from their funeral, only to fall into a cave full of bats. On top of lasting way too long (thank you, slow motion), and looking far too much like the first five minutes of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, this scene is accompanied by some very melodramatic, very nonsensical sounding narration. The first line Bruce Wayne speaks in this film is something like, “There was a time before: a time above.” The hell does that mean? What does that have to do with, well, anything? I certainly don’t know, and I don’t think the filmmakers do either, because this whole opening narration never gets touched upon again.

Also, like its predecessor, Man Of Steel, this movie doesn’t seem to realize that what made these characters interesting was their moral code. Why would someone who could, very easily, conquer the whole Earth, choose not to? Why would he refrain from using his powers to bully others? Why would a man who witnessed his parents get murdered right in front of him, and who constantly gets tortured by sadistic serial killer clowns, not become a madman himself? Because they knew that that was the right thing to do, and that that fact alone was enough of a reason. All of that nuance, that moral complexity, is absent from this movie. Batman uses guns here. He kills LOTS of people. Same with Superman. He snapped General Zod’s neck in Man Of Steel, and stabs Doomsday to death in this one. If you’re a comic fan, and the idea of witnessing your heroes perform that level of violence bothers you, don’t go see this movie. It’ll probably traumatize you. Honestly, as I was watching this film, especially the Batman bits, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Frank Miller’s universally-reviled All-Star Batman And Robin series, in which the Dark Knight is a narcissistic, violence-loving asshole, who calls children “retarded,” and forces them to eat rats. Hell, the book’s most infamous line, “I’m the Goddamn Batman,” actually makes its way into this movie. I really don’t know how to feel about any film that gives homage to ASBAR.

But, all that aside, I did actually enjoy this movie. Yeah, some of the writing is bad, and yeah, it’s probably more violent than it should be, but it’s still well-acted, well-shot, and super exciting. And, more so than this, I want to see the other movies in the DC Cinematic Universe. I want to see Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern Corps. I want to see other artists, besides Zack Snyder, give us their interpretations of this material. There’s a lot of potential here, and I really hope audiences will let filmmakers unlock it by going to see this movie.

So, at the end of the day, though it does have flaws, I’d say that Batman V Superman is still a 7 out of 10. Please, please, please, go see it.

Young Justice (TV Review)

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

You ever heard the expression “jumping the shark?” In case you haven’t, it’s an idiom used to describe the moment when a brand, design, franchise, or creative effort begins to decline in quality. The saying originated with the sitcom Happy Days, in an episode where a character jumped over a shark while on a pair of water skis. This moment was a drastic shift from the show’s previously established tone and formula, and many people saw it as a sign of desperation on the writers’ part to keep viewers interested. But, here’s the thing. Happy Days had been on for five seasons by the time it “jumped the shark.” In all likelihood, the writers had run out of ideas by that time, and were at a loss for new ways to keep audience’s engaged. There, at least, they had an excuse for why they went silly. Other properties, by contrast, aren’t on for as long, and therefore don’t have as forgivable reasons for going bad as Happy Days. Just look at the subject of today’s review, Young Justice.

For those of you who don’t know, Young Justice is an animated TV series that ran for two seasons back in 2010. It’s basic premise is that the sidekicks of the DC Universe–Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad–have gotten tired of playing second fiddle to their adult counterparts–Batman, Flash, Aquaman–and have therefore decided to form their own team. They do so, and pick up three more members–Superboy, Artemis, Miss Martian–along the way. They then go on various missions, and have numerous run-ins with a criminal organization known as “The Light.”

The first season is simplistic, but highly entertaining, and holds an undeniable amount of charm. Because it’s a teen show, most of the drama derives from love triangles, secret crushes, and adolescent needs to get older people’s approval. But it never once feels as though it’s pandering to that demographic. There’s a fair amount of adult humor in this series, like a moment when the character Artemis says she feels naked, and “not in a good way.” And the characters themselves are very well realized. Every one of them has at least one episode devoted to their ark or backstory, and you see them grow and mature as the series progresses. To put it in basic terms, by virtue of simply being a teen superhero show, the first season of Young Justice isn’t for everyone. But, for what it is, it’s still highly entertaining.

The second season, by contrast, is everything that the first one isn’t, and not in a good way. Whereas the first season consists primarily of self-contained episodes, the second season is nothing more than a series of interrelated chapters. You don’t know what the hell’s happening unless you watch everything from the start. On top of this, whereas the first season has a relatively small number of protagonists, all of whom you get to see grow and develop as the series progresses, the second season dumps a whole lot of new characters on you–like Beast Boy, Blue Beetle, Wonder Girl, Bat Girl, Bumblebee, and Red Robin–none of whom you really get to know that well, or see mature. But perhaps worst of all, the second season drastically shifts its genre. The first season was a straight forward teen superhero show. You saw the protagonists go on adventures, fight bad guys, and so on. The second season, by contrast, is an overly convoluted sci-fi invasion thriller, which steals conventions and plot lines from franchises like The Terminator, V, and The Thing. You’ve got Aliens dressing up like people to steal our tech, evil organizations looking to harvest human beings and implant them with superpowers, dudes traveling back in time to prevent the apocalypse, and alien species coming to Earth, pretending to be friendly, but really wanting to subjugate us. It’s a mess.

And that’s disappointing to me. Because I really loved the first season of the show, and wanted to recommend it to you all. It’s animation is beautiful, the voice acting is good, and the writing, at least for the first season, is very strong. But, alas, because the second season is so bad, and the first season ends on a cliffhanger that requires you watch the next season, I can’t recommend it. I’m not going to give the show a number grade, because it’s a total mixed bag, but I think you get that I didn’t like where it went. Ah, well. Can’t have everything, I suppose.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu is The Name, ANd Views Are My Game.

How often do you come across people who say “I want to be wrong?” Not very, I’ll bet. And yet, that was exactly what I kept saying to myself as soon as I heard that Netflix and The Weinstein Company were making a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. See, I might not have mentioned it here before but, Crouching Tiger , Hidden Dragon is my favorite film of all time. It’s not only the first movie I ever saw, but it’s also the movie that inspired me to want to make films. Seriously! As soon as I saw it, I went out and made a short movie “Crouching Lion, Hidden Eagle” with my parent’s cam quarter. And, keep in mind, I was only six at the time I did this. Any movie that can inspire a six year old to want to go out and make movies, when he doesn’t even know what a camera is yet, is fucking amazing! And I’m not the only one who feels this way. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a huge critical and commercial success at the time of its release, taking home four Academy Awards, and, to this day, remains the highest grossing foreign language film in American history. Everything about it, from its direction, to its screenplay, to its cinematography and its score, were lauded. This was the film that made an international superstar out of Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, who went on to star in such acclaimed movies as Hero, House Of Flying Daggers, 2046, and Memoirs Of A Geisha. This was the picture that cemented director Ang Lee’s status as one of the all-time great filmmakers, and proved to Hollywood executives that, yes, non-English movies can make money, and are, in fact, worth producing.

This sequel, however–this sickening piece of filth that dares to carry the same name as the original, beloved masterpiece–is nothing but garbage. It is the total antithesis of everything the first film was, or stood for. Just to give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here, the original film was over three hours long, shot entirely in Mandarin, and was primarily a drama, but with fight scenes scattered throughout. The sequel, by contrast, is barely over an hour and a half long, shot entirely in English, and is just a series of fight sequences strung together by the loosest of plots. The original Crouching Tiger took its time before jumping into the action, with the first 20 minutes being devoted to character development and dialogue. The sequel barely waits 2 minutes before shoving us into one of many pointless, poorly shot, poorly edited fight scenes. The first film was done entirely in-camera, with actual people performing the stunts and choreography. The sequel has A LOT of CGI in it, and, half the time when you’re watching the movie, you can tell that those aren’t real people, backgrounds, or objects. I could go on forever, but I think you get the idea.

Now, to be fair, this sequel was doomed from the start. The original Crouching Tiger ended with all but one of the main characters dying. This, by itself, makes it very difficult for anyone to make a sequel without there being a huge shift in tone and style. Add to this the fact that the studios waited over 15 years to make the sequel, and you’ve got a project just begging to fail. Now, by itself, a delayed production and drastic shift in tone aren’t enough to doom a film. Aliens came out in 1986, a whole seven years after the release of Alien, and was an action film as opposed to a horror movie, and yet, it turned out to be great. But in that circumstance, you had a really talented group of filmmakers–James Cameron, Walter Hill–working behind the camera to make the movie the best that it could be. The sequel to Crouching Tiger, by contrast, lacks any such talented individuals on its crew. Just to give you an idea, the film’s director, Yuen Woo-Ping, isn’t even a director. He’s a fight choreographer. He gave us all the combat in The Matrix, Kill Bill, and the original Crouching Tiger, so we know that he’s good at getting people to punch, kick and strangle each other in an entertaining manner. But can he tell a good story? Can he create characters who are well-rounded, and that you want to see prevail? No, and no. Ang lee, the man behind the original Crouching Tiger, has one two Academy Awards for Best Director. He knows how to get good performances out of actors, and to build up worlds with subtlety and nuance. Yuen Woo-Ping is about as subtle as a bat to the head. Add to this the fact that the sequel was written by John Fusco–who penned such films as Thunderheart, The Forbidden Kingdom, and Spirit: Mustang Of The Cimarron–and you’ve got everything you need to know.

Guys, I’m going to make this very simple by stating that the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is absolute garbage. I award it a 0 out of 10! That’s right. I hate it more than Inglorious Bastards, the remake of Point Break, and 50 Shades Of Grey combined. DON’T WATCH IT!

Superman: Red Son (Comic Review)

Written by: Mark Millar.

Penciled by: Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett.

Inked by: Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong.

We all know the basic origins of Superman–in the dying moments of a distant world, a lone space craft carrying a baby is sent off into the void. This ship ends up crashing on Earth, where the boy, re-named Clark by his adopted parents, slowly discovers that he has extraordinary powers, including flight, super strength, near invulnerability, and heat vision. Deciding he is morally obligated to use his powers for good, Clark embarks on a life of crime fighting, and adopts the alter-ego of Superman. All this is more or less common knowledge to most people. But what if, instead of crashing in Kansas and being raised on Mid-Western values, Superman landed in the Soviet Union, and was raised to be a champion of Communism? This is the question that Mark Millar seeks to answer in Superman: Red Son.

Set at the height of the Cold War, the graphic novel begins with Stalin unveiling a new weapon to the World; Superman, a being with near god-like powers. Realizing that nuclear weapons are more or less obsolete when compared to a guy who can fly, shoot lasers from his eyes, and pick up buildings, the US government asks Doctor Lex Luther, a scientist of impossible brilliance, to develop a means of combating Superman. Over the next several years, the two engage in various battles, with Lex eventually becoming President of the United States, and Superman becoming supreme dictator of the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death. Luther devises several strategies for defeating the latter, including making a deformed clone of Superman, and using a Green Lantern ring recovered from a crashed alien space craft, but all to no avail. Superman, for his part, uses his powers to bring the rest of the world under Communist control, and, with the help of the alien robot Brainiac, ensures equality and good living for everyone.

Eventually deciding that America, too, must be perfected, Superman launches a full-scale invasion of the continental United States, only to be stopped by a simple piece of paper that Luther’s wife, Lois Lane, holds out to him. On it is written the simple question, “Why don’t you just put the whole world in a bottle, Superman?” This query destroys him, as he now sees that he is no different from Brainiac. Both of them are just aliens bullying less-developed species. Neither one was born on Earth, and neither one has the right to interfere with the affairs of creatures they don’t know or understand. Realizing that he must leave for good, Superman destroys Brainiac and vanishes. Many centuries pass, and Luther’s descendent, Jor-El, discovering that the sun is about to explode, sends his son, Kal-El, back in time, where his pod crash-lands in Kansas, starting the whole saga anew.

There’s a lot to admire with this comic. The story is compelling, the artwork is, for the most part, brilliant, and I personally love it when writers are able to re-imagine classic characters in new settings. Something that this book does very well–and that a LOT of other re-imaginings don’t seem to understand–is the fact that, even though the characters are occupying different positions than the ones they have in ordinary continuity, they are still very much the same people. They have the same personalities, the same interests, and the same goals. Superman in this book is still an overgrown boy scout who wants nothing more than to do the right thing. This universe’s Luther is still a narcissistic asshole with nothing more on his mind than destroying the man of steel. By keeping the characters and their choices consistent, Millar is able to make the story, as a whole, more believable, and the re-interpretation of the material more acceptable to die-hard readers, like myself. There’s never a point in it where I put the comic down and say, “Oh, bullshit! Superman would never do that!” Which is always a good sign. I also like the fact that you get to see the fictional characters interacting with real historical figures, like JFK and Stalin. I don’t know why, but whenever I see real people walking around in a work of fiction, I feel happy. I guess it’s because it gives a whole new level of depth and texture to the narrative. But perhaps the greatest strength of this work is its setting, the Cold War. I thought it was absolutely brilliant of Millar to have the conflict between Luther and Superman be emblematic of the real-life conflict between the United States and Soviet Union. It’s impossible for most people to understand the complex social, historical and economic factors that drive countries to fight one another, but we can understand fights between individuals. And in the case of Luther and Superman, that conflict does mirror the one that actually took place. Luther in the book, like the United States following World War 2, wants to show off his intelligence and strength, and eliminate anyone whom he views as a threat to maintaining authority. Similarly, Superman’s naive desire to foist prosperity and equality on everyone without their consent mirrors the doctrine of Global revolution practiced by the USSR and other Communist states. I thought it was a clever metaphor, and an effective means of educating the readers about how, very often, it is people wanting to do the same thing, just in different ways, that causes conflict. Wonderful stuff! Wonderful stuff!

Now, with all that said, the graphic novel does still have problems. First of all, as much as I praised the artwork earlier, there are certain places where I don’t think it looks all that good. The design for Batman, for instance–yes, Batman is also in this story–is kind of odd-looking. He has this weird little Ushanka–that’s the flappy, fur-lined hat you see Soviet officers wearing in old photographs–on at all times that looks a little silly. I mean, he’s supposed to be dark and menacing. He’s supposed to strike fear in the hearts of his enemies. Having him wear big wooly hat just makes him look cold, and I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot less scared when I see my assailant shivering in the breeze. The second major problem with the graphic novel is the inclusion of other superheroes, like Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. Each of them is only featured for a brief amount of time, and none of them really has any bearing on the plot, so I don’t think their appearances were necessary. Not only this, but if the whole idea here is that Superman’s existence is enough to change the course of the Cold War, doesn’t the presence of other super-powered people lower the stakes? I mean, if America has access to individuals with the same level strength and speed as Superman, why get scared? Why talk to Lex Luther? The theory of mutually assured destruction still stands. In my humble opinion, the story would have been stronger if it had just included characters from Superman’s mythology, like Luther, Lois, Brainiac and Jimmy Olson, and nothing else. But, for me, the absolute biggest problem with the book is the ending. I mean…really? If you’re going to go through all the trouble of writing a story that re-imagines the Superman mythos and creates new rules, why throw it all away at the end just to give the readers stuff that they already know? Doesn’t that make everything you just did pointless? I don’t know. For me, the ending just felt tacked on. It felt like Mark Millar was trying to be clever. The book would have been perfect if it just ended with Superman leaving Earth for good after realizing how horrible he had become.

But, all these flaws aside, I do still think the book is a strong piece of work, and would highly recommend it to you comic readers out there. It’s smart. It’s well-written. It’s a re-imagining that truly understands the mythology that it’s adapting. It’s an 8 out of 10. If you love the man of steel, or re-imaginings of classic stories, give this comic a look.