Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014)

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We’ve all seen movies that advertise themselves as “based on a true story.” But what happens when someone actually believes that claim? Kumiko, a friendless, unmarried office worker in Tokyo, has convinced herself that the Coen Brothers film Fargo, wherein a criminal buries a suitcase full of money in the North Dakota snow, is real. So much so that she steals her boss’s credit card, abandons her apartment and pet rabbit, and journeys to the US to find the “treasure.” She barely speaks English, and has no real plan of how to find the fictional loot. But she’s determined, and won’t let anything, be it the cold, or the fact that the treasure isn’t real, stop her. What will happen? Watch the movie to find out. Continue reading

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Sorry For Your Loss (Season 1, 2018)

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Four months ago, Leigh’s husband, Matt, went for a walk; a walk that he never came back from. And ever since then, she, her sister Jules, her mother Amy, and Matt’s brother, Danny, have struggled to cope with his death. Some, like Amy, have put on a brave face, and acted as emotional support to others. Others, like Jules, have used this event as the catalyst to do things that they’ve always been meaning to; in her case, getting sober. And others, like Leigh and Danny, have resorted to lashing out, at friends, at family, and especially each other, for not knowing how to explain, or process, Matt’s loss. No matter how they do it, though, one thing is for certain; the road to recovery will be a long and hard one. Continue reading

Maniac (2018 Miniseries)

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In an oddball future, a future where you can avoid paying for things by listening to a certain number of ads, and where tiny robots patrol the streets, looking for poop to scoop, two broken people enter an experimental drug trial. One, Owen, is the neglected, schizophrenic son of a wealthy Manhattan family. He is being forced to lie under oath to prevent his brother from going to jail. Another, Annie, is a selfish, mean-spirited drug addict, who still feels guilt over having contributed to her sister’s death. Owen is there for the money. Annie is there for the drugs. But regardless of why they came, the head of the program, Dr. James Mantleray and his partner, Dr. Azumi Fujita, are confident that their drugs will solve ALL, yes, all, of their patients’ personal problems. But what happens when the computer administering the trial develops emotions and begins messing with the process? James and Azumi will be forced to bring in the former’s awful mother, whom the computer is modeled off of, while the patients will have to contend with a series of strange visions and increasingly surreal simulations. Continue reading

Tomorrow, When The War Began (2010)

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

After spending a weekend out in the bush, eight Australian teenagers return to their hometown, only to find it completely deserted. Their parents are gone. Their friends are gone. All their animals are either dead or missing. And no one can come up with a plausible explanation for why. Then, when they head further into town, they learn the horrifying truth; Australia has been invaded by some hostile foreign army, which has kidnapped their families, and is now holding them in concentration camps. Realizing that they must fight to free their nation, the teens take up arms, and begin waging a guerrilla campaign against the invaders. And that’s really all there is to it.

Tomorrow, When The War Began is perfectly watchable, popcorn entertainment. There’s some great action scenes, like when the kids sneak into town, and get spotted by the invaders, and the performances of the eight leads are all very good. They, by far, are the best part of this movie. Their chemistry is great, and they really commit to their roles, even though they’re given some absolutely atrocious dialogue. The whole opening sequence where we see them camping, as sappy and cliched as it is, does have a certain charm to it. We like these characters, and we want them to succeed. So, in that respect, the movie does work.

It’s just that, when it comes to everything else–dialogue, character development, consistency of tone–it really, really doesn’t. Tomorrow, When The War Began is actually based off a series of young adult novels from the 90s, and that is very apparent when you watch this movie. Even though the central conflict is between these kids and the invaders, much, much more screen time is devoted to relationship drama. And that would be fine, in another movie, but when people are literally trying to kill you, I think you should tone down the “how do I relate to my boyfriend?” talk. There’s actually a scene in this film where two of the main characters almost get shot, precisely because they’re spending too much time jabbering about their love interests. And as if that weren’t annoying enough, there’s a lot of pop music in this film. And I don’t just mean in the beginning, when the kids are hanging out. That I would understand. I mean, throughout the entire movie, even in dramatic scenes where characters are talking about death and betrayal, scenes that would normally be silent or have orchestral music in the background, the film blasts top 20 songs. It’s completely jarring, and really takes you out of the movie. But by far the worst aspect of the entire film is the characterization. The protagonists of this movie are one note archetypes; spoiled rich girl, religious fanatic, goof ball, stoner, token Asian guy with no personality, etc. And they never advance beyond that. Which is a real shame, considering that you have a very talented cast, and a very big budget to work with here. The film also relies heavily on racial stereotypes, with all the villains being nameless soldiers from an ambiguous Asian country, and the movie’s only Asian lead, Lee, being introduced in a scene where we see him playing piano in the background while his mother struggles to communicate with the main girl, Ellie. The latter scene is meant to be funny, but I honestly find it kind of cruel whenever someone mocks the fact that another person has an accent, or is misinterpreting certain words. To me, it’s like making fun of someone for having a disability. You have no control over whether or not you have an accent, or whether or not you struggle with a language. And neither of those things reflects your intelligence, o your ability to love or be a good friend. But, like I said, no one in this film is really given any depth, so there is some comfort in that.

Now, based on the description I’ve just given you, you’re probably wondering why I watched this movie. After all, it doesn’t really reflect my social or political views, and since it came out so long ago, and wasn’t that huge a success, there’s no reason for me to watch it. Well, the answer is kind of complicated. Tomorrow, When The War Began is a film I saw as part of a larger effort, from my end, to understand the appeal of nationalism and far-right thinking. Being a Liberal who spent most of his life outside the United States, I’ve never really felt any patriotic fervor, and I’ve never been able to understand how people can embrace the idea of a Border Wall, or banning certain religious groups from entering the country. But, seeing as my government is insistent upon adopting these principles, I decided to find out what, exactly, the appeal of this kind of thinking is. And what better way to do that than analyze art which espouses those ideals?

Well, having just seen Tomorrow, When The War Began, along with Red Dawn, Olympus Has Fallen, and other, similarly nationalistic films, I can kind of understand what the appeal of this type of thinking is. It strips away all the complexity of real life, all the nasty, mirky details that come from thousands of years worth of history, oppression, warfare, and economic necessity, and gives you a very simple “us versus them” story. And I’m not even joking when I say that. We never actually learn what country the kids are fighting, or why Australia has been invaded. That doesn’t matter. They’re just “the bad guys.” They’re “the other.” That’s all you need to know. And that simplicity caused a light to go off in my head. The appeal of fascism, or rightism, if you want to be “politically correct,” is its simplicity. You can draw a clear line through all of its chief tenants; government bad, military good, ethnic group above all else. And that simplicity is appealing. It’s easy to grasp. It’s easy to remember. People can get behind a simple idea. People can chant a simple idea. People can fight for a simple idea. Because, when you actually stop, and think about all the things that make up this world we live in, all the complicated facets of a government or a business, you realize that you can’t really do anything. Because before you can take one step forward, you have to take five other things into consideration. That’s the problem with Liberalism. It’s tenants are too complicated for large groups to chant. If someone were to ask me, right now, what Liberalism was, I wouldn’t know how to answer. Because there are so many different ideologies and subgroups that fall under that umbrella term–environmentalists, socialists, feminists, racial equality activists, disability rights activists, immigrant rights activists, criminal justice reformers–many of which are also divided, and even competing with one another, that it doesn’t have the means to unify into a solid front. Rightism also lends itself very well to dramatic art, which necessitates the existence of a clear protagonist and antagonist, an “us” and “them,” so, naturally, much more media with a right wing stance gets made. And because more media with a right wing stance gets made, precisely because its easier to make, more people get exposed to those viewpoints, and internalize them. Some of the most famous action movies of all time–Die Hard, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, True Lies–have extremely xenophobic and nationalistic narratives. And because so many people have watched them and like them, they start to accept the philosophies they espouse.

Now I realize that this has strayed very far from a discussion of Tomorrow, When The War Began, but, the truth is, this movie is symptomatic of a larger issue. It’s philosophy, it’s easy to grasp, us versus them thinking, is appealing to lots of people. My parents were shocked that Donald Trump could ever win the American Presidency, but they never stopped to ask what about him, and what he stood for, appealed to people. He made politics simple. He made it digestible and easy to get behind, much like how this film does. And while I can’t say I’d recommend this film to anyone, much as how I can’t say I’ll ever agree with right wing ideals, I do recommend that you learn from it. It gives you a crash course in what people like about the right, and, in this day and age, where the right is what’s in charge, that’s going to be an absolute must.

Ghost In The Shell (2017)

In a dystopian, futuristic Tokyo, the line between humanity and technology has blurred. Virtually everyone is “enhanced” in some way, possessing cybernetic limbs, eyes, or, in the case of the film’s protagonist, an entire body. She is the first of her kind; a human consciousness, or “ghost,” inside an entirely robotic body, or “shell.” As such, she is stronger, faster, and more intelligent than regular people, and has absolutely no fear of death or injury, since she can just be rebuilt after being destroyed. This makes her the ideal police officer, and that’s precisely what she is, a member of the elite Crime Fighting Unit, Section 9, which takes down terrorists that threaten this new world. But when several high-ranking scientists of a prominent robotics firm wind up dead, and she and her teammates start investigating, she learns that there is more to her origin, and the man perpetrating these murders, than meets the eye. Continue reading

American Crime: Season 1

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

And boy do I love being wrong! What? That doesn’t make sense? well, allow me to explain. I just finished watching the first season of American Crime, yet another anthology series looking to “examine race in our modern society.” And yet, despite its well-worn premise, and lackluster title, I ended up loving the show. It’s truly a fantastic piece of art. I highly recommend it to you all.

The story of a murder in Modesto, California, American Crime stars an ensemble cast, and examines how each of the people connected to the crime react to it. First, there are the people who were directly involved. There’s Antonio “Tony” Gutierez, a teenage boy who works at his father’s auto repair shop. There’s Hector Tontz, a drug dealer and illegal immigrant who rents cars from Tony. There’s Carter Nix, a meth head whom Hector drives around sometimes. And, finally, there’s Aubrey Taylor, Carter’s girlfriend, and accomplice. One night, something goes wrong, and a guy named Matt Skokie winds up dead, and his wife, Gwen, gets put in the hospital. By the end of the show, we’re not entirely sure what happened, or who’s really to blame, but, one thing we do know is that, somehow, Tony, Hector, Carter and Aubrey were involved, and they each get arrested as a result. Their family members then get called in, including Tony’s father, Alonzo, a strict disciplinarian who wants to keep his son on the straight and narrow, Carter’s sister, Aliya, a convert to Islam determined to get her brother off free, Matt Skokie’s divorced parents, Barb and Russ, and Gwen’s parents, Tom and Eve. Each of these people has serious issues, and they only get more messed up as the sordid details of the case come to light. Barb, a delusional racist, doesn’t want to accept that her son was selling drugs. Tom, an old-fashioned Christian, can’t stand the idea that Gwen, his little girl, was sleeping around. And Eve, well, she’s just trying to keep her sanity in check as everything crumbles around her. Needless to say, a great deal of drama unfolds over the course of this 11 episode series, and, if you want to find out what happens, you should give it a look.

As I stated earlier, I really enjoyed this show. As far as writing and acting are concerned, I have no complaints. Every character has depth and backstory. Every character changes over the course of the series. Seriously. I started off the show hating Barb and hector, and, by the end, they’d grown and changed so much that I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for them. And the casting could not have been better. See, very often when you watch a movie or a show, there’ll be that one person who, even if they were fine, just wasn’t up to the same level as the rest of the cast. Those of you who’ve read my review for Suicide Squad (HELL YEAH!) might remember that I praised all the actors, except Jared Leto, whom I believed was really hamming it up. I don’t have that problem here. There’s no single actor in this series who stands out as “bad,” or “just okay.” Everyone is great, and I appreciate that. And, for a show dealing with race and racism, the series does largely manage to avoid racist stereotypes. What I mean by that is, very often, movies that try to comment on racism will make their characters extremely stereotypical so as to make a point. Films like Do The Right Thing, Falling Down, and Crash are populated by individuals that feel more like cartoons than real people. These movies are especially bad when it comes to representing Asians and Asian Americans. See, race movies mostly tend to focus on the relationships between Black people, White people, and Latin people. If Asian people are brought up at all, they’re either a background element, or someone that the other characters can mock. Most of the time, they’re shown as being incompetent , rude, and, no matter what, incapable of speaking the most basic English. That’s not the case with American Crime. Yes, none of the main cast is Asian, but, Barb and Russ’s living son, Mark, is getting married to a woman named Richelle, who is Asian American, and is actually fairly non stereotypical. She speaks perfect English, is from Oklahoma, and is in the Army. It’s rare to see a character like her get written, especially in a show that’s directly addressing racism, and I was very impressed. Wish more writers would create characters like her. So, yeah, good writing, good acting, and good representation. Well done, American Crime.
With regards to filmmaking, though, I do have some comments. They’re not necessarily complaints, just observations. One is the fact that, this show is shot in a very odd way. What I mean by that is, most of the time, directors will shoot a conversation between characters as a series of close ups on the various speakers faces, or with a wide shot, where you can see both actors at the same time. American Crime doesn’t do that. Very often, whenever a conversation is being had, the camera will only focus on one person’s face, and either the other speaker will be off screen, or will be blurred out so that you can’t see them. What this does is make the conversations feel less like conversations, and more like long showcases of how particular characters are feeling. Which is fine, and maybe was the filmmaker’s intent, but, still, it’s hard to look at one person’s face, non-stop, for an entire seven minute conversation. The other comment I have with regards to filmmaking is that, while the musical score does its job just fine, accenting particular moments with proper amounts of pathos, it’s not particularly memorable. I honestly couldn’t hum it back to you if you asked me. And that’s fine, not every score needs to be as catchy as John William’s Superman theme, but, still. It’s better if your musical score can stand out.

All in all, though, I think American Crime is a very well done series, with strong writing, and strong performances. I highly recommend it, and have decided to give it a 9 out of 10. Give it a look.

List Of Awesome Asian-American Films

If you follow my blog, then you know that the inclusion and representation of Asians in mainstream media is something that’s very important to me. I’ve written at great length here about the limited roles that are available for Asian actors, and discussed the stereotypes that exist, and are still spread about us, in the West. But what I might not have mentioned is that, for all the bad that’s out there with regards to representation, there is also some good. There are films out there, made by Asians and non-Asian alike, that show us as nuanced, well-rounded individuals, and that tell our stories with respect and care. A few of them have even become critically and financially successful, and today, I’d like to share them with you all. Now, keep in mind, this list is entirely opinion based, and the films I discuss here are not being ordered from best to worst, or vice versa. Some are comedies. Some are dramas. Some are new. Some are old. Whatever their genre or time period, what’s consistent about each of them is that they tell the Asian American story with the level of respect and complexity that it deserves, and I truly believe that you all would enjoy yourselves if you gave them a look. With that said, let’s dive right in to my top 10 list of Awesome Asian-American films! Continue reading