Shazam! (2019)

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Everyone dreams of being a superhero. But what does it take to actually become one? Well, in the case of Billy Batson, a 14-year-old foster kid looking for his mom, all it takes is uttering a single word: Shazam! Doing so transforms him into a grown man, with flight, super strength, hyper speed, and the ability to shoot lightning from his fingers. And yet this grown-up version of Billy retains his childlike mind, so, naturally, he does all the things a teenager with superpowers would actually do. Namely, show off for girls and make money. But he’ll have to grow up fast because there’s a villain on the loose, and he’s looking to take Billy’s powers, and use them for things far less innocent and fun. Can Billy and his foster family stop him in time? Watch the movie to find out. Continue reading

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Dragged Across Concrete (2019)

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When they’re caught on tape crushing a handcuffed suspect’s face into the pavement, racist, corrupt police officers Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are put on unpaid leave. Enraged that “the entertainment industry, formerly known as the news” has treated them “unfairly,” and believing that they have “the skills and the right to acquire proper compensation” the men decide to follow a tip from one of their criminal connections and rip off a bank heist. Of course, everything goes south when the robbers kill the tellers and take a woman hostage so our “heroes” won’t have as easy of time stealing the gold they believe they’re entitled to. Will they make it out alive? Watch the movie to find out. (Or don’t. You’ll be fine if you skip this one). Continue reading

The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs (2018)

p15899689_v_v8_aaThree strangers, riding a coach to damnation. A grizzled prospector, mining for gold. A sad young woman, traveling to Oregon. An incompetent bandit, avoiding hanging once, only to be executed elsewhere. A disabled man, forced to read Shakespeare for money. A singing cowboy, laughing as he guns down his foes. What do these people have in common? Nothing, apart from the fact that they populate¬†The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, a new Netflix anthology film, and the latest flick from the Coen Brothers. Is it a rip-roaring good time? Well… 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

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.

Mother (2009)

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

When a young girl winds up dead, and a golf ball with a disabled man’s name written on it is discovered at the crime scene, the police think they’ve solved the case. But the suspect’s mother, a herb shop owner whose name we never learn, is unconvinced. Her boy couldn’t possibly have done it. So she tries to prove his innocence; by hiring a lawyer, handing out pamphlets, and, when those things inevitably fail to work, investigating on her own. In so doing, she uncovers a great many things; about the police, the victim, her son, and even herself. Specifically, the lengths she’ll go to to get him home.

Mother is an off-beat, idiosyncratic, always entertaining mystery. The film that Bong Joon-Ho made between The Host and Snowpiercer, it benefits from his dark sense of humor, keen attention to detail, and pension for telling stories with ambiguous endings. That, and some extraordinary performances by Kim Hye-Ja, whom plays the titular character, and Won Bin, whom plays her mentally-challenged son. Miss Kim, especially, deserves praise, since the film really rests on her shoulders. You see her go through so many emotional states, and you feel all the anxiety, frustration, fear and sorrow that she does. The editing of this picture is also something to behold. There’s one scene towards the beginning where she’s watching her son while cutting herbs, and it keeps moving back and forth between her face, her son, and the knife, and everything about it–the shot progression, the sound design, the acting– is perfect. For these reasons alone, along with the fact that it has some genuinely unexpected twists, I would recommend you all watch it. It is the best mystery I’ve seen in years.

That said, this is not my favorite Bong Joon-Ho film. Which is weird, because, even though I think it’s a better-crafted picture than Okja, overall, I like Okja more. Part of this has to do with some of the odder, sex-related content. For instance, Mother features some very disturbing implications about the titular character and her son, particularly about how they sleep in the same bed together, and it will definitely make some viewers uncomfortable. There’s also a sex scene between a 30-year-old man and his teenage girlfriend about halfway through that made me feel funny. No, he didn’t rape her. The dialogue makes it clear this was a consensual encounter. And no, the actress in the scene wasn’t underage. I checked, and found that she was 22 at the time the movie was shot. Still, she looks really young, her character is supposed to be 15, and the guy she’s having sex with looks a lot older than her. All this makes it kind of hard to watch. But by far the biggest problem I had with the movie is the way it portrays mental disability. As a person who is legally blind, and whose best friend is on the autism spectrum, I’m always somewhat skeptical of onscreen portrayals of disability. Even when the writers and actors go in with good intentions, and a fair amount of research, their portrayals tend to be very over-the-top and caricatured, usually relying on tired cliches. One of those cliches is that mentally challenged people are dangerous, and don’t know when they’re hurting others. This is a trope that dates back to John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and that is featured prominently in Mother, with the son character being violent, and oftentimes being unaware that he’s doing anything wrong. This trope is not only tired, it’s dangerous. It leads to discrimination against mentally disabled people. And it ignores the fact that, in the real world, people with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of it. I was frankly disappointed to see a talented filmmaker like Bong Joon-Ho use these kinds of stereotypes in his work. I thought he was better than that. But, ah well.

Nevertheless, Mother’s strong performances, interesting story, and stellar editing make it an all-around engrossing mystery. I don’t think it’s perfect, but I do think it’s worth watching.

Hush

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

Imagine you’re out in the woods, miles away from any kind of help. Someone’s nearby, and that someone means to kill you. Now imagine that this killer, this boogieman in the dark, can’t be heard. Because you can’t hear. And the killer knows this. And he’s gonna use this to his advantage. If you can picture all this, then you’ll have a good idea of what to expect with Hush, the subject of today’s review.

A contained thriller set in an isolated cabin, Hush follows Maddie, a deaf author, as she gets stalked and taunted by a killer who likes to play with his food before he eats it. While hardly boasting an original premise, the film does move at a brisk pace, and offers up some very effective scares. I’ve always said I’ll take a well-crafted thriller over an “artistic,” “award-winning” movie any day, and this film is precisely the kind of thriller I’m talking about when I say that. The acting is good, the characters are given just the right amount of backstory for you to care about them, the cinematography is appropriately creepy, and the sound design is superb. This film doesn’t try to be anything but suspenseful and entertaining, and, by god, it manages to be both in every scene. The opening shot alone, which is accompanied by this loud boom, instantly sets you on edge, and keeps you weary for the rest of the picture. The film also does a really good job of visually conveying information to the audience. For instance, we learn that Maddie is deaf, not through someone telling us that she is, but by watching her cook. We hear her chopping vegetables, boiling water, and so on. But then the camera pans over to her ear, and, suddenly, there’s no more chopping, boiling, hissing or sizzling to be heard. It’s a clever and effective way to get out necessary information without needing a huge exposition dump.

I was also pretty impressed with the way the filmmakers represented this disabled character. So often in movies, people like me are shown as weak, childlike, or helpless. Usually, we’re just portrayed as pitiful objects you should feel sorry for. Here, though, Maddie is shown as being intelligent, self-sufficient, funny and social. Her disability doesn’t prevent her from living by herself, and that’s great, because its true. Most, if not all, disabled people are capable of living on their own. I just wish the movies would show that every once in a while. The only thing I would say about the representation of deafness in this film is that the actress playing Maddie never makes a sound. She keeps her mouth shut the entire movie, and signs everything. The truth is, that’s not really how it works. Most of my deaf friends do make noise when they sign, it just doesn’t sound like words. The reason is, they still have vocal chords, and even if they can’t hear the noises their making, they’re still capable of making them. And they do. They cry if they get hurt, they laugh if they think something’s funny, and so on. These are just natural human reactions to things, and people make them, whether they can hear them or not. Think of it this way, I can’t see my own facial expressions because I have poor eyesight, but I still know how to smile and frown, because those are just things that human beings instinctively do. This isn’t so much a criticism of the filmmakers, because, like I said, they did a good job of making this deaf character sympathetic and self-sufficient, it’s just something misleading I wanted to point out.

So, in conclusion, Hush is a well-paced, well acted, well-shot thriller, with some good scares, and good representation. If you want to be engaged and entertained for about 80 minutes, give this film a look.