The Foreigner (2017)

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

When his daughter is killed in a terror attack, Chinese immigrant Ngoc Minh Quan (Jackie Chan) sets out to find the culprits. His search leads him to the doorstep of Liam Hennesey (Pierce Brosnan), a British politician and former IRA member. Quan asks Hennesey to tell him the names of the bombers, but Hennesey claims not to know who’s behind the attack. Quan, correctly, assumes that this is bullshit, and begins tormenting Hennesey, blowing up his bathroom, attacking his staff, and more or less making his life a living hell. This, naturally, places a great deal of stress on the former terrorist, who decides to do some research on Quan, and discovers some disturbing facts about him. What are those facts? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Guys, I’m not lying when I say that The Foreigner was one of my most anticipated movies of this year; right up there with Logan and Wonder Woman. I’ve loved Jackie Chan literally my whole life, and the idea of seeing him in a darker, more dramatic role was beyond appealing. I also thought it’d be fun to finally hear Pierce Brosnan, an Irishman from County Louth, use his native accent in a film. So i’m not lying when I say that, when I sat down in the theater last night, I was pumped. I was ready to be blown away. And now, having seen the movie, I can safely say, it’s not as good as I thought it would be, but it’s still a damn fine film.

Starting off with the positives; the performances are all superb. Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan are both given the chance to play against type here, with Brosnan playing a smarmy, cowardly weasel, and Chan playing a subdued, slightly unhinged man, and both of them really deliver. But I would be remiss if I overlooked the supporting cast, all of whom do terrific jobs. Even people who are only in one or two scenes, like Chan’s daughter, played by Cho Chang herself, Katie Leung, really shine here. So if you’re looking for one reason to see this movie, you’ve got the performances. Another reason to watch this film is the action. It’s brutal, visceral, and beautifully shot. There’s one sequence in the woods, where Chan is attacking Brosnan’s guards, that had the audience in my theater wincing, and going “ooh!” It’s really impressive that, even now, in his 60s, Chan can still punch, kick, and flip with the best of them. Another thing I liked about the movie were the characters. They were well-rounded, believable, and, for the most part, I could understand where they were coming from. I didn’t necessarily condone their actions, but I could understand. Each of them, even those characters who, in other movies, would just be throwaway victims or henchmen, like Brosnan’s wife and nephew, were given a bit more depth and backstory. And I really appreciated that, since it made the whole thing feel more realistic. So, from a technical standpoint–the acting, the cinematography, the sound design–the film is expertly crafted. Why then am I not totally in love with it?

Well, it all comes down to the fact that, for a movie that advertises itself as a Jackie Chan revenge flick, The Foreigner doesn’t actually have that much Jackie Chan. Oh, he’s in it, and he does do a fair bit of stuff. But a great deal more screen time is devoted to Pierce Brosnan’s love life, and IRA infighting. I’m not joking when I say that there’s a good 20 minutes, about halfway through, where Chan just disappears. Which is disappointing. Jackie Chan is the main reason I went to go see this movie, and I’m certain it’s why most other people will as well. Now, granted, when we do see Jackie kicking ass and blowing stuff up, it’s very satisfying. But, the truth is, we have to wade through a ton of baggage to get there. This movie has an extremely convoluted storyline, with so many subplots, from Pierce Brosnan’s affair with a younger woman, to his wife’s affair with his nephew, to how and why the IRA did this attack,that it gets a little boring at times. Now, as I said before, whenever the film does get boring, something usually happens to get you invested again, like Jackie Chan strapping on a bomb, or digging a bullet out of his chest with a knife. But still. A film with this basic of a premise shouldn’t be so complicated. We don’t need to see all this backdoor stuff with the IRA. We don’t care who masterminded the attack. What we do care about is whether or not Jackie Chan will get revenge for his daughter’s death. That’s it. I honestly think that if Martin Campbell, the director, had cut out all the political stuff, and just made this a straight forward revenge film, the movie would have been tighter, cleaner, and considerably more enjoyable. But, then again, Campbell got his big break directing Edge Of Darkness, a 6-hour-long BBC Miniseries about political corruption and conspiracy, so, what do you expect?

Guys, all I can say about The Foreigner is this. If you’re looking for a darker, more serious Jackie Chan, you will get that in this movie. And you’ll probably enjoy the film as a whole. But go in knowing that there’s a lot of added baggage. And sometimes the pacing can get a bit slow.

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Their Finest (2017)

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

It’s 1940, and Britain is in serious need of a morale boost. Food is scarce, cities are being blitzed, and the British Army has just been driven off the continent at Dunkirk. Life, to put it bluntly, is shit. So, to give their country the shot in the arm it so desperately needs, the government begins churning out propaganda films, and because all the young men are off fighting, they hire women to write the scripts. Enter Catrin Cole, a novice screenwriter whose been given the task of adapting a “true” story to the big screen. She’s new to the business, and as she goes about bringing this story to life, she encounters all the typical roadblocks a screenwriter does; truth not lending itself to a traditional dramatic structure; producers demanding last minute changes to the script; cast members being difficult on set, etc. And yet, as hard as her job is, as difficult as her colleagues can be, Catrin finds herself falling in love with the business, and discovers a freedom in her work that she never experienced beforehand. Will it last? Well, you’ll just have to watch the film to find out.

Their Finest is a sweet, utterly charming movie. It’s funny, moving, beautifully-shot, and exceptionally well-acted. It is the total inverse of Dunkirk in every way. Dunkirk is a spectacle. Their Finest is a story. Dunkirk is about the war. Their Finest is about the home front. Dunkirk has no characters. Their Finest has several, very well-realized ones. But beyond simply providing a pleasant, alternate perspective on this period in British history, Their Finest is also just an all-around engaging film. You like these characters. You enjoy watching this picture get made. And because this is a movie about movie-making, the screenwriters are able to throw in some clever commentary on the tropes of the romance genre. Also, unlike many other films set during this era, Their Finest holds nothing back when it comes to portraying the devastating sexism that these women faced everyday. Yes, It’s difficult to watch, but it also makes you appreciate these ladies’ strength even more. And that’s always a good thing in my book.

That said, as charming as Their Finest is, it is still, ultimately, a romantic comedy, and comes with all the tropes and baggage that that entails. True, most of the cliches are addressed in the film within a film, and the screenwriters do come up with a clever way of not giving you the ending you expect. Still, there are several plot points in this movie that feel very familiar, like the main character starting off in an unhappy relationship, her meeting a new man, her significant other cheating on her, which makes it okay for her to be with the new guy, etc. But, like I said before, the film is well-written enough to recognize those cliches as cliches, and it does come up with interesting ways of subverting them. So it doesn’t bother me too much.

Guys, all I can say is this; Their Finest is a charming, well-written, well-acted little romance film, which does feature some cliches, but is also entertaining, and clever enough, to overcome them. I love it, and I think you’d love it too if you watched it. Please give it a look.

The Constant Gardener (2005)

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

While serving at the British embassy in Kenya, soft-spoken Justin begins to suspect his wife, Tessa, is having an affair. She’s always going off with her African colleague, Dr. Blum, and she and Justin have been somewhat estranged since their child was stillborn. When Tessa winds up dead, and Blum, the man she was supposed to be with, is nowhere to be found, all of Justin’s fears seem confirmed. But when he looks through her belongings, and discovers some incriminating documents hidden away, he realizes that Tessa was working on something big, and that her death might not have been an accident.

The Constant Gardener is a slow-paced, by-the-numbers thriller, whose strong performances, African setting, and sharp social commentary help elevate it above the many other conspiracy stories out there. Adapted from the novel by John Le Carre, the writer behind such espionage books as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the film offers up simple, undemanding entertainment. It’s highly predictable, and its politics are beyond blatant, but that never gets in the way of the story. For the two hours and ten minutes I watched it, I was never bored, which is always a good thing. And like all of Le Carre’s works, there is a great emphasis on character development here. See, he’s never been interested in gun fights, explosions, or any of the heightened, fantastical things that one might find in the works of other spy writers, like Ian Fleming. Instead, his stories are highly grounded, with the violence being minimal, and most of the stories focusing on the personal lives of the spies. That’s pretty much the case here too. The first 40 minutes are almost all character development, and there’s very little actual onscreen violence. Instead, the spies in this picture act like real spies. They’re subtle. They cover their tracks. They get things done through indirect networks of people. And that was quite refreshing to see.

It was also, in many ways, the film’s greatest weakness. For while it was nice to see these characters be thoroughly fleshed out, there was a point during the first 40 minutes where I asked myself, “Okay, are we ever going to get back to the murder mystery?” And the mystery itself, like I said before, is highly predictable. I could tell, straight off the bat, who the villains were, and there were at least three points in the film where it stopped and reminded us “hey, these are the bad guys,” as if we’d somehow forgotten. That kind of bugged me, as did the camerawork. It was almost all handheld, and there were a TON of extreme close ups where all we could see were people’s faces. Anytime I saw one, I thought to myself, “Come on, guys. You’re in an incredible location. Use it!” Sigh.

But, overall, The Constant Gardener’s fine acting, sharp commentary, and rich character development do balance out its flaws, and make it worth watching. Give it a look when you’ve got the time.

Black Mirror (Seasons 1-3)

Greetings loved ones. Liu is the name, and views are my game.

What if you could build a man, based on his social media posts? What if you could watch memories, like movies, on a screen? What if a signal was sent out that turned half the world into passive spectators, and the other half into murderous hunters ? These questions, and more, are what get asked and explored in Black Mirror, a British anthology series that’s streaming on Netflix. Each episode features a different cast, a different story, and a different reality. But all feature the recurrent motif of technology, and a dry, nihilistic sense of humor. The series might best be described as half science fiction, half satire.

In many respects, Black Mirror is the spiritual successor to The Twilight Zone, the classic sci-fi anthology series that ran for five seasons back in the 50s. Both feature episodes with different casts and story-lines. Both ask moral and philosophical questions, usually through a scientific or magical plot device. Both feature macabre twist endings, and both gave actors who would eventually become super famous their first big break. Seriously. Black Mirror has got way more famous British actors in it than I would have thought. You’ve got Domhnall Gleason, from The Force Awakens, The Revenant and Ex Machina. You’ve got Hayley Atwell, or as you may know her, agent Peggy carter from the MCU. You’ve got Tuppence Middleton from Sense8. You’ve got Daniel Kaluuya from Get Out. You’ve got Toby Kebbell, who’s starred in every major big budget flop that’s come out in the last four years. You’ve got Gugu Mbatha-Raw, from Belle, Beauty and the Beast, and Beyond the Lights. And, of course, you’ve got Benedict Wong, from Marco Polo, Doctor Strange, and The Martian. So much talent. And it was all before they were famous. But I’m getting sidetracked.

Black Mirror is a very smart, very well-written series. Even in its weaker episodes, the show is consistently entertaining. The acting is always top notch, as is the production design. And I really want to emphasize this, its original. Every single episode features a unique; thought provoking concept. And none of them are remakes of older stories, adaptations of preexisting material, or spin offs of other stuff. Do you realize how rare that is? Do you realize how virtually nothing that gets made these days is not a sequel, remake, adaptation or spin off? For that reason, I have to recommend you all watch this. Even if you don’t like sci-fi, you’ll appreciate the show for it’s emotional depth and it’s originality. Especially the latter.

But before you get the wrong idea, the series isn’t perfect. Where the show falters the most is its cynicism. Virtually all the episodes end in an extremely bleak manner, and, very often, those endings fly in the face of the world and the characters that have been established. I understand tragedy is seen as the highest, most respectable form of dramatic art, but forced tragedy is awkward and unrealistic. And it doesn’t hit you as hard when you know that the story shouldn’t have ended that way, not because you didn’t want it to, but because the ending was easily avoidable. And example of this “false tragedy” I’m talking about is the episode “Fifteen Million Merits.” In it, we see Daniel Kaluuya raging against the numb, media obsessed dystopia that he’s living in. He spends the entire episode telling us how much he hates it and how much he hates the people who have turned the world into thoughtless zombies. And yet, by the end of the episode, he joins the big media company and becomes part of the system he despises. And it comes out of nowhere. It’s not like the show builds up to this by throwing us little hints that maybe he actually likes the system. He hates it, and then, out of nowhere, when he’s given the chance to join it, he does. Why? It doesn’t make sense. And because of that, I don’t feel devastated. I just feel confused. And even in episodes that don’t include sci-fi elements, like the first episode of the series, “the national anthem,” the show’s harsh, mean-spirited tone is off-putting. In that episode, a royal princess gets kidnapped, and the only way to save her is if the prime minister fucks a pig. And we have to watch him do it. Why? What possible good can come from forcing us to watch an old man get pressured into committing bestiality. What does that say, other than that you hate politicians? I hate Donald trump, but I would never want to have to watch him fuck a gorilla. That’s just cruel and mean. And it doesn’t teach us anything. The only episode that has a happy ending is San Junipero, a sweet little love story about two women finally being able to be with each other in an artificial construct. And there, it comes as an all too welcome relief.

All I can say is that Black Mirror is a brilliantly-written, highly original, but deeply mean spirited and nihilistic show. I want to recommend it, but I feel I can’t do so without warning you of its content. Make of this what you will.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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

Yes, this movie is sappy. Yes, it’s rather silly. Yes, it’s a sequel that was clearly made for the sole purpose of milking more money out of a surprise hit. And yet, I’ll be the first person to say that I enjoyed The Second Exotic Marigold Hotel. It’s well acted, it’s charming, and it’s completely harmless. And unlike some other films that try to fall into that last category, it doesn’t insult its audience’s intelligence. The movie does deal with some more mature issues, albeit in a rather simplistic way. But, none of this probably makes sense to you all, so I’ll do my best to elaborate.

For those of you who are uninitiated, this film, The Second Exotic Marigold Hotel, is a sequel to the 2012 British comedy, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which told the story of a group of retirees deciding to spend their twilight years in a home for the elderly in Jaipur, India. The plot was simple, yet sweet. The characters were one note, but, nevertheless, quirky and memorable. And on top of that, all of the leads–Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel–played well off of one another. So, despite having very little advertising, the film ended up becoming a big hit, raking in over $130 million at the box office, more than ten times its budget. As a result, the studios decided to make a sequel, featuring the same characters, the same setting, and all but one of the same cast. And, surprisingly, the sequel isn’t actually all that bad. True, it’s no masterpiece, but neither was the first one. It’s just a sweet, quirky story about sweet, quirky people.

Probably the greatest factor in ensuring that this film isn’t a failure is the fact that it’s not just a retread of the first movie. It is actually advancing the story in some way. See, whereas the original movie primarily focused on establishing who the characters were, why they were in India, and their reactions to their new surroundings, this latest installment in the Merigold franchise deals with their lives now that they’ve become settled. And, well, beyond that, I can’t really say anything else. It’s an ensemble piece with a lot of characters, all of whom have their own personal arcs. So, as you might imagine, the film’s plot does get fairly convoluted at some points. But don’t worry, everything works out in the end.

The second thing this film has going for it is the fact that the performances are all very strong. Everyone seems to care about their character, and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. One thing you tend to see in a lot of sequels to popular movie franchises–and that you don’t see here–is the actors becoming apathetic. With the Blade and X-men film series, for instance, by the third installments, you can tell that Wesley Snipes and Hugh Jackman are just there to pick up checks. Not in this movie. Everyone here is passionate. Everyone does a terrific job.

And that, I think, is partially what pulls this cash grab sequel up to a 6.5 out of 10. By no means perfect, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a light-hearted, well acted film that is bound to make you chuckle, and distract you from the darker aspects of your life for a while. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.