Atypical (Season 1, 2017)

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

Sam is 18, and he’s never had a girlfriend. This is due, in part, to the fact that he’s on the Autism spectrum, and has trouble reading social cues. Now, though, with only one year of High School left, and a newfound attraction to his therapist, Julia, he’s determined to get a “practice girlfriend,” so he can learn how to please a woman. This quest brings him into conflict with his mother, Elsa, whose whole life has been consumed by taking care of him, and whose confusion over not being able to micromanage his existence leads her to make some bold new choices of her own.

Atypical is funny, well-acted, and very well-written. Seriously. The dialogue alone should be enough to get you to watch this series. It’s sharp, witty, believable and specific to each individual character. And the characters themselves feel like real people. They have quirks, interests, show a wide range of emotions, and at times are lovable, and at other times, loathsome. From a pure story and dialogue perspective, I have no complaints about Atypical. It’s a well-written, well-acted sitcom, with only eight, half-hour episodes, so there’s no need to worry about it dragging. And if you’re like me, and want to see greater representation of Asian people in media, you’ll be happy to learn that several key supporting characters, such as Sam’s therapist, and unrequited love interest, Julia, and his best friend, Zahid, are Asian, and not at all stereotypical. They’re well-rounded, have personalities, arcs, and even some flaws. They’re some of the best aspects of the show, and its’ refreshing to see Asian characters like this in a mainstream series.

All that said, I do have some thoughts on Atypical. They’re not complaints, per se, just thoughts. First of all, I’m not sure how accurate the series is in it’s representation of Autism. As I’ve mentioned before, many films and TV shows exaggerate certain disabilities so as to make disabled characters more pitiful or sympathetic. As such, I’m always somewhat wary whenever a film or TV series comes out where the whole concept is that a character is mentally or physically challenged. And I’m sure that, to some people, Sam will come off as a stereotypical representation of Autism. Yes, he’s a likable, compelling character. And when you watch the show, you can tell that the writers did do research on the symptoms of Autism. But his condition is still somewhat exaggerated, and should not be seen as a be-all-end-all portrayal of the spectrum. In the show, Sam is extremely sensitive to bright light, and loud noises, and is virtually incapable of speaking about any topic other than Antarctica; his obsession. I’ll tell you right now, not all Autistic people are like that. My best friend has Aspergers, a high-functioning form of Autism, and he isn’t sensitive to light, or loud noises,  and he can talk for hours about virtually everything. Autism, as I’ve mentioned before, is a spectrum, with varying degrees of severity specific to each individual person. There probably are people like Sam out there. And they might be very happy to see themselves represented on the small screen. But for people who don’t have as severe a condition as he does, or who want to know what Autism is really like, this might not be the perfect portrayal to watch.

The second thought I have on Atypical is really more of a nitpick, but one that I think is worth bringing up. And that is the character of Paige. She joins the show about two episodes in, and ends up becoming Sam’s “practice girlfriend.” She’s sweet, understanding, sympathetic, and I don’t buy her character for a second. I don’t buy that, A, she would ever be attracted to Sam, and, B, that she would be able to put up with him when they start going out. For starters, she’s way too attractive. She’s the classic Hollywood beauty; tall, blonde, and thin. She legitimately looks like a model, and yet she’s chasing after a guy who looks like the love child of Michael Cera and Dobby the House Elf. And if that’s not ridiculous enough, her character is supposedly the smartest girl in school. Between her brains and her looks, she could have literally anyone she wanted. So why is she so determine to get with this kid who, initially, doesn’t even recognize that she likes him, and then, later on, acts like a total dick to her? And not in a “he doesn’t know any better” way, but in a legitimately mean-spirited, jerky kind of way. I would have believed her character more if she were also disabled, less attractive, or just less perfect in general. As it stands, though, she’s too nice and too pretty, and she just doesn’t feel like a real person. Maybe I’m being unfair here, and I do want to mention that the actress playing Paige does a great job, but I would like it if, for once, Hollywood cast, and forgive the pun here, atypical leading ladies. Older Women. Large Women. Disabled Women. Women Of Color. They’re all just as interesting, and capable of love, as blonde super models, and they exist in higher numbers than the latter group. I would like it if, in the future, female characters would be allowed to exist in all the shapes, sizes and colors that their real-life counterparts do.

But, in the end, those are both small nitpicks, and not any real harm to the show. Atypical is funny, well-acted, well-written, and the perfect length for a sitcom. If you’re looking for something fun and charming to watch, give this Netflix original a look. You will not regret it.

Advertisements

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.

Dear White People (Season 1, 2017)

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

After an ill-conceived blackface party reignites lingering racial tensions, the students of the fictional Winchester University air their grievances in specific, unique ways. Some, like local provocateur Sam, do so by protesting major events, and shouting obscenities over the radio. Others, like shy journalism student Lionel, do so by investigating the causes of the party, and writing stories for the college paper. There are those who try to work with the administration. There are those who try to manipulate it to their own advantage. And, in the end, they all come together in this 10 episode adaptation of the acclaimed drama film from 2014.

Now, if you’ve read my blog, then you know that I wasn’t actually a big fan of the original Dear White People. I thought that it had trouble balancing its tone, and that the overly quirky aesthetic–perfectly symmetrical shots, pastel colored backgrounds, whip pans–was jarring when set against the serious subject matter. Well, someone must have read my review, and shown it to the director, because Dear White People the series is simply spectacular. I enjoyed it immensely, and consider it vastly superior to its feature length predecessor. Certain elements from the original film that didn’t add anything–the Reality TV Crew, Troy’s relationship with a White girl–got cut, while other elements–the back stories of Sam and Coco, Lionel’s struggle with his sexuality–got considerably more fleshed out. And all the stuff from the original film that was good–the witty dialogue, the strong performances–carried over. It was the best of both worlds, and I’m very happy about that. Part of what I think helps this series stand above the film its based off of is the fact that the creators have 10 episodes to tell their story, as opposed to just two hours. As such, they have a lot more time to go back and develop various characters and plot threads. Like I said, Coco and Sam, who, in the original film, just didn’t like each other because the latter was taking attention away from the former, get a much more nuanced, and fairly tragic, history with one another in the series. Characters who weren’t that important in the original movie, like Sam’s radical friend Reggie, get whole episodes devoted to them. Hell, his episode, which, incidentally, was directed by Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins, was probably my favorite one in the entire show.

Put simply, Dear White People the series is a masterclass in adaptation. It omits weaker elements from the source material. It expands upon aspects that need to be expanded upon. It maintains the best aspects of its predecessor, and manages to be highly entertaining all the while. If you want to laugh, cry, and, best of all, think, give this show a look.

The Chaser

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

If you like stories about kind, good-hearted people, you’ll probably want to avoid The Chaser. Because this film has exactly none of those in it. The story of a pimp trying to find his missing prostitutes, and thereby uncovering the crimes of a serial killer, the film is absolutely disgusting. And completely amazing.

This movie is INCREDIBLE! It’s riveting, well-acted, and actually has a very compelling story and characters. You see the pimp grow. You see him change and become more compassionate. You care about him. You care about Mi-Jin, the prostitute he’s so desperate to find. You care about Mi-Jin’s daughter, Eun-Ji, whom the pimp befriends and becomes a surrogate father to. This film takes a disgusting premise, and despicable characters, and gives them both weight and pathos. You’ve got to commend the director, Na Hong-Jin, and especially the screenwriter, Shino Lee, for being able to do that. And, wouldn’t you know it, this film got great reviews and made a crap ton of money when it came out, precisely because of its ability to do those things. It was so successful that Hollywood has already bought the remake rights, and is thinking of doing an American version with Leonardo DiCaprio starring, and Martin Scorses directing. If that’s not an indicator of this film’s quality, I don’t know what is.

I actually have a very personal connection to this film, since the man who wrote it, Shinho Lee, was my screenwriting professor at NYU. He’s a very kind, very insightful man, who told me some fascinating stories about this film’s production. Like how he had to write the script in less than three weeks, like how this story was based off the actions of a real serial killer, Yoo Young-Chul, like how the real pimp who caught the serial killer sued the producers of the movie, and how the director, Na Hong-Jin, is kind of crazy. I’m not even kidding with that last one. Shinho told me that the heads of the studio that funded Na’s most recent film, The Wailing, forced him to go to counseling after shooting wrapped, because of his violent and erratic behavior on set. If that’s not crazy, I don’t know what is. Still, it was super cool to hear these things, these little backstage secrets, from a working professional who’d written a film as successful as The Chaser. It gave me a good idea of what to expect in the film industry, as well as the kinds of characters I’ll be encountering there.

Now before anyone accuses me of grading this film on a curve because I know the guy who wrote it, I do have some problems with it. For starters, I’m not a fan of the camera work. It’s almost all hand-held, and very shaky. I understand that this is a gritty, realistic movie, and that the handheld technique was used to enhance the realism of the story, but it gets really distracting after a while. Every time we get a close up on a character’s face, the image is super wobbly. There’s also a lot of cutting in this picture. In one scene, for instance, the pimp is talking on the phone, and we get four different shots of his face from various angles in a row. I understand that frequent cutting is used to keep audience’s engaged, but there just wasn’t any reason for them to include so many there. He’s only on the phone for about 5 seconds. I’m assuming we can look at a single image for that long. Also, there’s a lot of misogynistic violence and language in this film, which, while it may be realistic, is something I never like to see or hear. Shinho actually said that he was nervous people would brand the film as hateful towards women, given its content, and the fact that it was written, directed and produced by men. But, trust me, if you’ve ever met Shinho, you know that he is anything but a misogynist. Most of his other films, like My Mighty Princess, have female protagonists, and he was always adamant in writing class that we should include deeper, more varied roles for women in our scripts. “Don’t just have them be girlfriends, wives, or mothers,” he’d say, “Let them be characters with interests and jobs.” So, yeah. The film has misogynistic content, which I don’t like, but its necessary to the story, and the guy who wrote it doesn’t hate women. But I’m getting off track. The final problem I have with The Chaster is that there’s a point in the middle of the film, after the serial killer has been caught, and the pimp is trying to find Mi-Jin, where I got kind of bored. Nothing super exciting happens during this period, we just see him going around and trying to find clues, and it kind of slows the rest of the movie down. But its not very long, and as soon as its over, the film kicks right back into high gear with a super intense, super suspenseful sequence in a convenience store.

So, in the end, if you want to watch a gritty, well-acted, super suspenseful thriller with a great arc and an engaging narrative, give The Chaser a look. It is definitely worth your time.

Steve Jobs

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

As many of you already know, my all-time goal is to work as a screenwriter. And as some others among you might also be aware, in order to hone my craft and achieve this objective, I enrolled in the Dramatic Writing Program at NYU Tisch. I’ve had a great time here, and learned a lot, and today, I’d like to share one of the many valuable pieces of information I gathered with you all. That being that all drama is conflict.

In a dramatic work, be it a play, TV show, or movie, there has to be some kind of disagreement or dissatisfaction. Without it, there is no story. If characters are agreeing with each other, or are completely happy with their state in life, they have no reason to act. They have no reason to embark on dangerous, life-changing adventures. Walter White would never cook Meth if he weren’t poor and dying of cancer. John McLane would never go to the Nakatomi Plaza and fight those terrorists if he and his wife weren’t at odds with one another. Even in comedies, like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the characters are acting out of some kind of pain. Steve Carrell’s character has never had sex, and now he has to take action in order to address his own feelings of dissatisfaction. The bottom line is, if there’s no conflict, there’s no story.

But, with all that said, stories can’t just be conflict. There also have to be consequences in order for a narrative to be both compelling and realistic. No one likes watching people yell at each other endlessly. It’s much more interesting to have two people get into an argument, and then have one of them storm out of the room, or get convinced by the other’s point. The reason is that, in those cases, the character’s actions yielded consequences. Which is far more realistic. In real life, when we yell at, or hurt, our friends and loved ones, they get angry at us, and we suffer as a result. We experience the consequences of the conflict we created. So, if you want to make your plot and characters believable, have your protagonists act out of some form of dissatisfaction, have there be some kind of conflict between them and other characters, and finally, have that conflict yield some kind of consequence.

The reason I’ve given you all this brief lesson in drama is that, I just watched Steve Jobs, the latest film from acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and it is literally nothing but conflict without consequence. It’s a story about the late Apple Inc creator, Steve Jobs, launching three different products on three different occasions, and all the backstage drama between him, his ex-wife, his boss, and his old colleagues. There’s lots of yelling, lots of arguing, and lots of conflict, but there are absolutely no consequences, no repercussions, to it all. He argues with his ex about whether or not their daughter is even his, and rather than have the girl be outraged and saddened by the fact that her own father doesn’t want her, Sorkin has her constantly hanging out with Steve, saying she loves and wants to live with him, and asking him important life lessons. Jobs is shown disavowing his old boss and business colleagues, and yet, for some odd reason, Sorkin has these people he betrayed come to each of his launches, and wish him good luck. I’m honestly kind of shocked that such a talented writer made such a basic story-telling error. In most of his earlier works, such as The Social Network and Charlie Wilson’s War, the characters suffer as a result of their choices. Mark Zuckerberg is left alone and friendless because of his selfish actions, while Charlie Wilson is forced to watch Afghanistan be consumed by radicalism because of his short-sighted policies. Here, there are no consequences to Steve Jobs’ actions. He behaves like a jerk, and yet, still has all his friends and loved ones by the end of the movie.

The hell, man?

Look, I realize that maybe Sorkin was trying to be respectful since Steve Jobs passed away recently, but come on! There’s no drama here! None of the character’s actions make sense. Yes, the dialogue is still snappy, and the performances are great, but the story makes so little sense in terms of realism, and is so painfully boring, and utterly lacking in tension in some places, that I can’t give the movie anything higher than a 6.5 out of 10. And that makes me sad. I’m a writer, and a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s. I wanted to like this movie. But, alas, Steve Jobs was not all that it was built up to be. Such a shame. Such a waste.