The Art Of Self-Defense (2019)

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While walking home from the grocery store, mild-mannered accountant Casey Davies is beaten by a biker gang. This traumatizes him, and he begins desperately searching for some means to defend himself. First, he goes to a gun store, but when he learns about all the dangers associated with firearm ownership—an increased likelihood of suicide, and a greater chance of getting shot—he decides it’s not for him. Then, while walking through a rundown strip mall, he sees a karate class, taught by a charismatic, enigmatic figure known only as “sensei.” Sensei is everything Casey is not—confident, aggressive, charming—so naturally, Casey believes that he can become so as well by enrolling in courses. Over the next few months, Sensei molds him into his idea of manhood, not just by teaching him karate, but by instructing him on what music to listen to—Metal—and what language to learn—German. Desperate to please his new teacher, Casey goes along with everything the man says, even when the requests get much more violent, and considerably less legal. Continue reading

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

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

Seven months after her daughter is raped and murdered, Mildred Hayes, frustrated with the police department’s lack of results, rents out three billboards, on which she asks the question “raped while dying, and still no arrests, how come, Chief Willoughby?” This, naturally, upsets many of her neighbors, including the aforementioned Willoughby, who considers this an unfair attack on his character, seeing as how he’s dying of cancer. He and his racist, incompetent deputy, Dixon, demand that she take the posters down, but she refuses. This leads to them taking drastic actions, like arresting her co-workers, and threatening the man Mildred pays to rent the billboards. And, well, things get crazy, and I mean CRAZY, from there.

Have you ever watched a movie that was great for the first half, but then, somewhere along the way, it just lost you? Well, I have. And it’s exactly what I experienced with this picture. For the first 40 minutes or so, I was loving every second of it. The set-up was interesting, the performances were SUPERB, and the dialogue, as expected from writer-director Martin McDonagh, was sharp, interesting, and darkly comedic. There was even one point, where Mildred monologues to a Priest about the Crips and the Bloods, that I actually started thinking that this was his best film yet.

But then something happened, which I won’t say here, that totally changed the tone and direction of the movie. And while I was extremely shocked by it, I was still willing to give the picture the benefit of the doubt. Maybe McDonagh was experimenting. Maybe he was trying to take this story in a direction we’d never seen before. Then something else happened, something that I will say here, that caused me to completely tune out. At one point in this movie, Dixon, who is feeling sad about something, goes over to the office of the man Mildred rents the billboards from, beats him and his secretary to within an inch of their lives, and even throws the former out the window. At that point, I just stopped caring. I already hated Dixon, but when I saw him beating an innocent woman, and throwing a guy who was just doing his job out a window, and then stomping on his face, I lost all interest in his character. Which was bad for the movie, since it later does everything in its power to make him seem likable and sympathetic. I understand that it is very common in fiction to give characters arcs where they start off bad and become good, but there are times when you can take it too far, and the characters are shown as so unlikable that you don’t want to follow them. That is exactly what happened with this movie, and Dixon. But beyond simply going too far, this film also suffers from what I will refer to as “Full Metal Jacket Syndrome.” This is when a movie’s first half is tight, well-constructed, and building up to something, but then its second half is meandering and pointless. The first half of this movie, where Mildred and Willoughby are squaring off, is so damn good, that when the second half, which completely abandons that dynamic, rears its ugly head, you almost want to scream with frustration.

Guys, if it seems like I’m angry, it’s only because I loved the director, and the first half of this movie, so much. In Bruges is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s got some of the funniest, most mean-spirited, and thought-provoking dialogue I’ve ever heard. And this movie does too. But whereas In Bruges held back, never letting it’s dark humor become grating, here, McDonagh goes so far into making characters seem unlikable that you just don’t give a shit after a while. Yes, the acting is superb. Yes, the dialogue is great. Yes, the premise is interesting. But the characters are too despicable to follow, the violence is disturbing, and the second half loses a lot of narrative steam. If you’re a fan of McDonagh, maybe you’ll like it. Or maybe not. Either way, I won’t be watching this one again anytime soon.

Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes)

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

And I really don’t know what to say about today’s picture. I mean, from a structural standpoint, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s cinematography is superb, it’s dialogue is all right, and it’s acting is certainly serviceable. On top of this, it’s made nearly ten times its $3 million budget, and it’s been praised by nearly every critic whose seen it. Hell, it was even nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars! And yet, despite all this, there’s still something deeply unsettling about Wild Tales, or as it’s known in the original Spanish, Relatos Salvajes.

For those of you who don’t know, this Argentine Black Comedy is an anthology of five unrelated stories, all of which center around the theme of revenge. Each of these vignettes is extremely violent, and each, as you might expect, is highly unpleasant. In one, for instance, a man’s car gets towed, and so, in order to get back at the towing company for forcing him to miss his daughter’s birthday, he blows up the building. In another, two men are driving on the road, one of them flips the other the bird, and then that man urinates and defecates on the first man’s car. And, well, it really only gets worse from there on in.

I suppose the intention with this film was to take regular situations that bother most people, and then blow them out of proportion for comedic effect, which, to be fair, does make sense on a certain level. If you’re audience can relate to the circumstances you’re presenting to them–if they’ve gotten angry at the tow truck company for taking their car, or any of the other scenarios explored in this film–they’re far more likely to react positively when you show your characters taking revenge on the people who have wronged them. But, I don’t know, I personally found these vignettes to be far too gruesome and mean-spirited, and not at all cathartic. I mean, it’s bad enough having to watch two guys get into an argument over a parking spot in real life. No one really wants, or needs, to see them kill each other for it on screen. That, in my opinion, is taking it too far, which, coincidentally, is pretty much what this entire film does–take things too far! It takes its anger too far. It takes its violence too far. It even, in some cases, takes its jokes too far–did we really need to see a guy shit and piss on another person’s automobile? I can understand why some people might be drawn to this type of film–it gives them an opportunity to live out the fantasies they have about getting back at certain people–but I personally found its bloodshed and crass humor to be far too exaggerated and extreme.

And that, loved ones, is why I think this film is worthy of a mere 6 out of 10. There’s nothing wrong with it from a pure filmmaking perspective, but, yeah, it’s far too unpleasant for me. If you’ve seen it, and disagree, please, let me know what you think in the comment section below.

Thanks, and have a nice day!