Wonder Woman (2017)

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

Born from clay, and raised on an island of only women, Princess Diana has long dreamt of war and adventure. Her mother, Hippolyte, tells her to put such matters out of her mind; that bloodshed is cruel and pointless, that their lives are much better without the influence of men, and the war god, Ares, but Diana doesn’t listen. She trains with her Aunt, Antiope, becoming the most skilled warrior on the island, until, one day, a plane with a man, Captain Steve Trevor, crashes in the ocean. Rescuing him from the water, Diana learns that there is a massive conflict, World War 1, raging outside the island, and that millions have already perished. Believing that this is the work of Ares, and that if she kills him, the world will be at peace, Diana dons armor, picks up a sword and shield, and sets off for London. But when she gets to the World of Men, she realizes that things aren’t as simple as she thought.

Wonder Woman is a movie I was very excited to see. Not only is it the first big budget superhero film starring a woman, directed by a woman, but the reviews I’d read had been extremely positive. On top of that, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Wonder Woman character. See, Superman might be my favorite costumed hero of all time, but Wonder Woman is the first superhero whose comics I ever read. Seriously. When I was a kid, my parents got me a collection of Gold and Silver age comics, one of which was the original origin of Wonder Woman. So, from an early age, I’ve been exposed to her mythos and adventures, and I was very interested to see what the filmmakers would do with it. What would they change? What would they keep? But, most important of all, would the movie be any good? Would the dialogue sound natural? Would their be character development? Would the action be exciting, and would the performances be good?

Well, having just seen Wonder Woman, I can happily say that I was very, very satisfied with the picture. This is an extremely well-made movie. It’s exciting, there’s a lot of great humor in it, the acting is superb, with the chemistry between Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor deserving an extra special mention, and there’s great character development. Diana starts off very naive and optimistic, believing that she can end a global conflict by stabbing a dude in the face, and ends more mature and measured, understanding that life’s a bit more complicated than that. I also love the team that she and Steve assemble to help them fight the Germans. See, people have made comparisons between this film and Captain America: The First Avenger, where a superhero gathers up a team to fight in World War 2, but I don’t think that’s fair. The team in that movie isn’t given nearly as much screen time, or personality, as the team here, and they just aren’t as interesting. In Wonder Woman, by contrast, you’ve got three really cool guys to work with; Samir, an Arab con artist who speaks several languages, Charlie, a Scottish sniper with a knack for singing, and the Chief, a native American smuggler who uses the war as a way to avoid racism back home. And, finally, I actually really loved the fact that they changed the film’s setting. See, in the comics, Wonder Woman leaves her home to fight the Nazis in World War 2, and when I saw that they’d changed the time period, I was a little skeptical. Were they just doing it to avoid comparisons with Captain America? Having seen the film, though, I actually think that was a smart choice. See, Diana is very naive. She’s never seen a conflict like this before, and she believes that she can end it by killing a single man. That’s actually quite similar to the way soldiers and politicians viewed the First World War. They’d never seen a conflict of this scale, or with these kinds of weapons before, and they applied their outdated Victorian principles and battle tactics to it, resulting in catastrophic losses of life. The setting is a perfect mirror for Diana’s transformation as a character. Plus, there really aren’t enough movies made about World War 1. There are a few great ones, like Lawrence of Arabia and War Horse, but, for the most part, filmmakers don’t talk about it, which is sad, when you consider how devastating it was, and how important it is, historically. But I’m getting side tracked.

With regards to complaints, I really only have one. The first few minutes are very exposition heavy, with there being a lot of voice over, and Hippolyte telling young Diana stories that will factor in later. Because of that, the dialogue there feels a little bit stiff. But, really, that’s about it, because as soon as Steve Trevor crashes on the island, the movie kicks into high gear, and, trust me, it doesn’t let you go.

Guys, I had a ton of fun with this movie. It was exciting, it was funny, I loved the characters, and I honestly want to see it again. Go ahead and give it a look.

Snowpiercer (2013)

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

The world is a frozen wasteland. The last remnants of humanity are confined to a giant train, and forced into castes based on what car they live in. Those in the front lie in the lap of luxury, whilst those in the tail dwell in total squalor. Twice before, the inhabitants of the tail staged uprisings, only to be beaten back into submission. Now, though, the tail Enders are smarter. They’re better organized. They’ve got a charismatic leader in the form of Curtis Everett, and, this time, they’re going all the way to the front. They’re going to take control of the engine, and, by extension, the world. Will they succeed? Watch it, and find out.

Snowpiercer is a special film, for multiple reasons. Not only was it the most expensive Korean movie ever made, with a budget of about $40 million, it was also director Bong Joon-Ho’s English language debut, and cemented his status as a cinematic superstar. Because even though films like Memories of Murder earned him critical praise, and The Host, which I reviewed here recently, put him on Hollywood’s radar, Snowpiercer’s massive critical and commercial success guaranteed he would continue to be given high profile projects.

But why was the movie such a huge hit? Well, like The Host, it all comes down to superior craftsmanship. And I don’t just mean the acting or the script, both of which are excellent. I mean the way the movie looks, how its edited, the sound design. It’s all top notch. This really feels like a fully-fleshed out world, with each of the train’s cars having a distinct look and design. My favorite one, easily, is the sea food and aquatic life car. It is, to put it simply, gorgeous! The movie is also extremely exciting. There are two really great action scenes; one in the dark where the tail Enders are being attacked by guys with night vision goggles, and one involving a sniper, who’s trying to shoot the heroes from across the cars. If nothing else, you never feel bored while watching this movie. And that alone is enough to warrant a recommendation.

That being said, Snowpiercer does have flaws. The biggest, by far, is the fact that it doesn’t have much replay value. See, a lot of the movie rests on certain twists that get revealed towards the end, and when you uncover them, you can’t really look at the movie in the same way anymore. And unlike other films with twist endings, like The Sixth Sense or Fight Club, which demand that you watch them again, so you can see the clues, there really isn’t any such demand with Snowpiercer. Those earlier films are puzzles. You need to watch them multiple times to solve them. You really don’t have to with Snowpiercer. I watched it once, I got everything I needed to know, and have never seen it again. Even so, the film’s strong performances, unique premise, tight plot and impressive effects do make it worth watching. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

The Host (2006)

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

When a huge amount of formaldehyde is dumped down the drain, strange things start happening in Seoul’s Han River. First, all the fish in the area mysteriously die off. Next, pedestrians start noticing something big, and creepy, skulking below the surface. Then, after four years of waiting, a giant monster bursts from the water, eager to eat, and kidnap, humans. One of those taken is Park Hyun-Seo, the daughter of a neglectful Snack Shop Owner, who, with the help of his aging father, alcoholic brother, and athlete sister, sets out to bring her home. But things get complicated when the American military, the group responsible for creating the monster, block off the river, and release a poison, Agent Yellow, into the air. WIll the Parks save their daughter in time? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

When it came out back in 2006, The Host was a smash hit. Not only did it become the highest grossing Korean film of all time, it also garnered glowing reviews, and launched its director, Bong Joon-Ho, from a popular local filmmaker to a global talent that Hollywood was eager to work with. Because of this, and the upcoming release of Okja, Bong’s newest film, I decided to give The Host, and a few of his other movies, a look. See, It’s very rare for Asian directors to become big in Hollywood. There are exceptions, like Ang Lee and John Woo, but, for the most part, Asian filmmakers are relegated to the periphery of the popular conscience. So what about The Host is so special? Why does Hollywood know this film, and its director, and not others? Simple; its entertaining and well-made.

The Host takes a very basic premise–family tries to save daughter from monster–and tells it with just enough skill, and heart, to keep you engaged. And unlike many foreign films, which feature jokes that really only make sense in the original language, The Host is completely universal in its characterization and humor. I don’t speak a word of Korean, and the first time I watched this movie, it was without subtitles. And yet, I still knew what was going on, and who everyone was. That’s because Bong did a brilliant job of using costumes, hair styles, and other bits of visual shorthand to establish who the characters were. The film also looks amazing. Seriously! Anyone hoping to direct great monster movies should give this flick a look. It is a masterclass in how to shoot a blockbuster. Now, with regards to complaints, I do have a few. I think that the film, which is over two hours long, could have been shortened. I also couldn’t get over the fact that the Monster kidnapped Hyun-Seo, and didn’t just kill her. I understand that she needs to stay alive, because otherwise the story won’t happen, but, still. That seemed like a logical error. Granted, most people probably won’t care, and, even for me, its a nitpick. Beyond that, though, I have no comments. The Host is an entertaining, well-crafted monster movie, which transcends linguistic barriers to deliver high thrills and huge laughs. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

Pirates of the Caribbean 5 (2017)

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

Years have past in the Pirates of the Caribbean universe. Will and Elizabeth’s son, Henry, has grown up, and is now looking for a way to lift his father’s curse. Captain Barbosa has become the world’s wealthiest pirate, commanding a massive fleet, and wearing fine silks and jewelry. And Captain Jack Sparrow? Oh, Captain Jack Sparrow. Captain Jack Sparrow has become a washed up parody of his former self, unable to walk straight, let alone raid, pillage and plunder. But things aren’t over for any of them just yet, as a young astronomer, Karina, appears, claiming to know where Poseidon’s Trident is hidden. And if that weren’t enough to keep everyone on their toes, an evil ghost, Captain Salazar, emerges from the Devil’s Triangle, looking to exact vengeance on a certain dreadlocked buffoon. (Gee, I wonder which one).

The best way for me to describe Pirates of The Caribbean 5 is like this; it’s not groundbreaking, but it is enjoyable, and I don’t regret going to see it. Like Alien: Covenant, Pirates 5 sticks to its franchise’s formula–young lover’s on a quest, aided by Captain Jack, hunted by some supernatural monster–and boasts some cool sets, some impressive effects, and some super fun action. Neither one pushes the envelope that hard, or possesses very original, or fleshed out, characters. But unlike Alien: Covenant, which is considerably darker, and doesn’t have much humor in it, Pirates has a much lighter tone, and features a lot more jokes. Granted, some of those jokes don’t land. But, for the most part, the lighter tone and greater emphasis on slapstick won me over. Like I said, I don’t regret having taken a few hours out of my day to see this movie, and I kind of do with Alien: Covenant. That says something.

Now, before you get the wrong idea, I don’t think this picture is flawless. The jokes don’t always land, there are way too many side characters, and I don’t like the way the script portrayed Captain Jack. In the first few films, he behaved like an idiot, but you kind of got the sense he was putting on an act. It was almost like he was trying to convince everyone he was a fool, so that they wouldn’t expect it when he pulled off an impossible escape, or beat fifty guys in a sword fight. In this movie, though, he really does come off as an idiot, and whenever he does something, it honestly feels like he just got lucky. That’s sad. Captain Jack was one of my favorite movie heroes growing up, and I don’t like seeing him neutered like this. At least Wolverine got to go out with a bang.

Guys, all I can say is this; Pirates of the Caribbean 5 is harmless fun. Its got some good humor, and some very creative action scenes. You probably won’t remember it, but I don’t think you’ll regret going to see it either.

Should You Be Watching Agents of SHIELD?

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

 

Loved ones, I have a confession to make. I…am a nerd. There! I said it. I’m a nerd. And not just a little one, mind you. A HUGE one. I read comic books and manga, watch anime, write fan-fiction, go to comic-con, and wait in line to see whatever new superhero movie is out. One of my all-time goals as a Screenwriter is to write and produce my own original Superhero movie, and to make an adaptation of Batman set in Red China. Just about the only thing I haven’t yet done is Cosplay, and honestly, these days I’m starting to give it some serious consideration.

 

Anyway, the reason I’ve confessed my geekdom to you all is to help you understand why I recently started watching Agents of SHIELD. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a Superhero/Espionage series that aired on ABC in 2013, and has continued running up to the present. Based on the Marvel Comics spy agency SHIELD (which either is an acronym for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division, or Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division), the series focuses on a team of six agents traveling around the world, fighting crime, and solving mysteries, all against the backdrop of such Superhero movies as Iron Man, Thor, and The Avengers, with frequent references made throughout the series to the latter picture. It’s simple, but highly entertaining. Too many shows start off with a great general premise, but then get bogged down with too much over-arching plot or character drama. Not this one! It is, in many ways, very much like the 1970s Western Kung-Fu, in that the only thing that remains constant about the series are the characters, who in every episode must face a new, unrelated challenge to the one’s they’ve previously encountered. It’s well-acted and well-written, with some truly funny dialogue in it, and better yet, it’s directed by Joss Whedon. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he’s widely referred to as the Feminist God of the Geeks. He created and wrote for a number of highly successful action/sci-fi series in the late 90s and early 2000s, such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, and more recently, has worked on films like The Cabin In The Woods and The Avengers. He’s known for writing strong, well-rounded female characters , and stories that focus on diverse groups working together and achieving great things. Basically, he’s the kind of writer I aspire to be.

 

But, I digress, as much as I enjoy this series, and as many merits as I see in its craft, I do still have some problems with it. First of all, if you’re not a geek, there’s going to be a lot that you won’t understand. The show is banking on the fact that its viewers have seen the other movies in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, specifically The Avengers. Not only does it make frequent reference to these other works, in many cases, characters or plot elements from those movies actually play a part in some episodes. So, if you’re new to Marvel or the whole Superhero/Comic Book mythology, I’m sorry, but you probably shouldn’t watch this. Also, unlike other Joss Whedon projects, which usually have some kind of underlying message, like teamwork or open-mindedness, this series has none. It’s just pure escapism. And lastly, as hard as the writers of this show have tried to give each of their characters depth and personality, the characters themselves are still pretty cliched. There’s Agent Phil Coulson, who appeared in many of the other Marvel movies, and who acts as the tough, but tender-hearted leader. There’s Agent Grant Ward, the stereotypical pretty-boy spy. There’s the hacker Skye, who’s obviously just there to be Ward’s love interest. There’s the Scotsman Fitz, and the Englishwoman Simmons, who both serve as the series’ nerdy comic relief. And finally, there’s Agent Melinda May, who, I’m sad to say this but, is clearly just a female version of Bruce Lee’s character Kato in The Green Hornet, in that she’s the stoic Asian driver who dresses in black and knows Kung-Fu. Seriously. That’s all she does. She’s given the least amount of personality, and dialogue, out of any of the main characters, and when she does say something, her sentences are short and clipped, and she rarely emotes. As both a Chinese-American and a hardcore Feminist, I was truly saddened to see this stereotypical role for an Asian woman, especially in a Joss Whedon production. This character is just more evidence that people in the entertainment industry are completely okay with typecasting Asian people, and exploiting Asian stereotypes. If you don’t believe me, then ask yourself: when was the last time that you saw a movie or show where the Asian men weren’t Kung-Fu masters or wimpy nerds, and the Asian women weren’t demure, butterfly girlfriends or Dragon-Lady Assassins? As both a writer, and an actor who experienced a great deal of typecasting, I would love to write stories with strong, well-rounded, and most importantly, non-stereotypical roles for people of color, particularly women, and if there are any women out there who have comments or would like to give me advice, I would greatly appreciate it.

 

But, alas, I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the show! In spite of all its flaws, I still really like it and would give it an overall rating of 7 out of 10. It’s witty, well-acted, and just entertaining enough to get you to overlook its weaker aspects. Plus, I like the fact that there are an equal number of men and women in the lead, and that there isn’t one main protagonist. And as much as I dislike the character of Melinda May, I was both pleased and impressed with Whedon’s decision to cast Ming Na Wen of The Joy Luck Club, Mulan, and ER in the role. Why? Because, despite the fact that Ms. Wen is extremely talented and still very beautiful, she’s now well into her fifties, and these days it is extremely rare for a TV show, much less an action series, to cast a middle-aged woman as one of the leads. So, in conclusion, if you’re a fan of the Marvel Universe, or are simply willing to go back and watch a bunch of movies before you see this show, I guarantee you that you’ll enjoy yourself. You’ll laugh, cheer, and be hanging on the edge of your seat, hoping for the Agents of SHIELD to prevail.