To The Bone (2017)

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

Ellen has an eating disorder. She doesn’t want to chew, let alone swallow, anything with calories. As a result, she’s lost a truly frightening amount of weight, and there is a very real chance she might die. So, as a last ditch effort to save her life, Ellen’s stepmom signs her up for a special,eating disorder treatment program. She’ll have to live in a house, with other anorexic kids, and partake in therapy sessions with Dr. Beckham, played by Keanu Reeves. If all goes well, she’ll be cured, and allowed to go home. If it doesn’t, she’ll die. Those are the only options, and with the way the film starts out, either outcome is entirely plausible.

To The Bone is a sympathetic, socially-conscious movie, with some fine performances, and some witty dialogue. I watched it purely on a whim, seeing it on Netflix, and hearing some good things about it second hand. And even though I don’t like how it ended, and I wish it could have given me a little bit more insight into why Ellen developed this eating disorder, I am glad I saw it. This is the kind of small-budget indie film that really relies on its script and its lead actors, and it really delivers on both fronts. Everyone in the cast does a superb job, and the script gives all the characters a distinct voice and some funny lines. Which surprised me. For a story that is as serious as it is, there is a lot of good humor in here. THere’s some risky humor too–for instance, they make Holocaust and dead baby jokes, and it doesn’t always work. But, for the most part, the jokes really land, and I could totally see myself going back and watching this movie again, just for the dialogue.

I was also very impressed with how deftly the filmmakers handled the topic of eating disorders. See, you all probably don’t know this about me, but, back in high school, I had an eating disorder. There was a period, in my junior year, when I didn’t want to eat anything, and when I lost a lot of weight, about 15 pounds, in a very short time span. I’m talking two to three weeks. Of course, I didn’t know it was an eating disorder at the time. I just thought I was being health conscious. When I watched the film, however, and I saw all the things that these anorexic characters were doing, like fretting about how many calories were in their food, skipping meals, doing exercise, even at times when it wasn’t appropriate, held a mirror up to my own behavior, and helped me realize that there really was something wrong with me. For that reason, and the fine performances and dialogue, I would recommend you watch this Netflix original. It’s not a perfect film, as I said, the humor doesn’t always land, and the ending gets very weird and hallucinogenic, but, for the most part, it’s solid. And I’m sure you’ll enjoy it if you see it.

They Live (1988)

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

When the cops destroy his shantytown, drifter John Nada decides to get out of LA. So he packs up his bindle, dons a pair of sunglasses he found, and sets off. As he walks, however, he starts to realize that something is wrong. Whenever he has the glasses on, he is able to see the world differently. Billboard advertisements become blank slates with simple commands like “obey” and “consume” written on them. And more disturbing than that, some people no longer look like people. They look like hideous alien monsters. Realizing that the Earth has been infiltrated, and that no one will believe him, Nada does what any sane, rational person would do; steal a shot gun and go on a killing spree. This, of course, doesn’t sit well with his alien overlords, who send hordes of minions after him. Can Nada evade them? Can he help others see the truth? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

They Live is a goofy, didactic mess, with huge plot holes, and some questionable acting. And I kind of love it. Not in a “so bad it’s good” sort of way. In a, “this is original, stylish and funny” sort of way. When I first watched it, I really didn’t know what to think. I certainly appreciated its creativity, and anti-consumerist message. But I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. The acting is subdued, the pace is slow, and the world the movie creates feels grounded and believable. And yet, there are tons of moments where characters will say ridiculous, campy lines, and the violence will get so over the top that you can’t help but laugh. But, after a while, even that odd dichotomy develops a certain charm, and it gets to a point where you just start thinking, “wow! This is nothing like I’ve ever seen before.” The movie is also really exciting. It’s got some great shootouts in it, like the final one in a TV studio, where Nada and Keith David are trying to disrupt the alien’s signal. This scene actually reminded me of another film; John Woo’s Hard Boiled. In that flick, Tony Leung and Chow Yun-Fat are trapped in a hospital, and they have to fight their way out. And so they just forge ahead, mowing down wave after wave of bad guys. They Live’s climax is almost identical in terms of its staging and cinematography, and the fact that it involves two guys moving between levels of a building. I wonder if Hard-Boiled, which was made four years after They Live came out, was in any way influenced by the latter. Either way, both films are awesome, and definitely worth watching.

That said, I whole-heartedly acknowledge that They Live has flaws. Some of the acting, particularly of the female lead, is wooden, and there are quite a few plot holes, also with regards to her character. She undergoes several, unexplained changes in-between scenes, and the movie never tries to justify how or why she shows up at convenient times. If you’re an aspiring screenwriter, looking to learn how to write good dialogue, and create stories that make sense, maybe go watch something else. But if you want to watch something campy, creative and politically subversive, give this flick a look. I guarantee you’ll have a good time.

Rango (2011)

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

When his terrarium is dropped in the mojave desert, pet chameleon and wannabe actor Rango is left stranded. Upon the advice of a wise Armadillo named Roadkill, Rango makes his way to the Old-West town of Dirt, where, through his quick wit and “superior acting method,” he is able to convince them that he is a tough, gunslinging drifter. This impresses the town’s Mayor so much that he appoints Rango the new sheriff. This delights the latter, and, for a time, he lives in the lap of luxury, feeding off the adulation of the townsfolk. But then, as it always does, reality sinks in. Dirt’s water supply is running low, and, one night, Rango unintentionally helps some thieves steal the reserves. So now, if the town is to survive, he must stop talking the talk, and start walking the walk. Can he, though? Is he up to the task? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Rango is a frenetic, imaginative, and immensely entertaining movie. Not only is the animation amazing–with the tiniest details, like the dust particles floating in a ray of light, looking thoroughly realistic–but the story is creative and original as well. Yes, it borrows heavily from other, older Westerns, particularly the films of Sergio Leone, but it ends up doing something that is wholly its own. And unlike a lot of other animated kids movies, it’s not afraid to make smart, literary references, like to the works of Hunter S Thompson, and, perhaps more impressively, to get weird. And I don’t mean weird in the mild, animals are talking, sense. I mean, peyote-induced, cactus turning into rattlesnake tails, acid-trip weird. If you go into this thinking it’s another Pixar or Disney-style film, you’ll be in for a shock. Because this picture has got some odd, oftentimes unexplained stuff in it. In one scene, for instance, the characters are walking through a cave, and the wall their standing next to opens, revealing itself to be a giant eye. They never explain where it came from, what kind of animal its supposed to be a part of, and it never gets brought up again. And there’s a lot of stuff in this movie like that.

WHich, in a way, is the film’s biggest flaw. I say “in a way” because it doesn’t really bother me. This movie’s quick pace, distinct look, and odd, oftentimes macabre humor are just trademarks of the director, Gore Verbinski’s, style. In case you’ve never heard of him, he directed the first, and best, Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, and the American remake of The Ring. He likes telling odd, off-kilter stories, usually with heavy doses of gruesome black humor. And when I say gruesome, I mean gruesome. Many of the jokes in Rango involve dismemberment, or bodily mutilation. An armadillo sliced in half by a car. A gila monster’s face, burned to a crisp. No, it’s not gory. This is still a kid’s movie. But the humor is a bit more edgy, and certainly more physical, than in your average pixar film. And, like I said before, a lot of the references in this film are ones that young children won’t get. So if you’re thinking of watching an innocent, talking-critter flick with your five year old, maybe pick something else. ‘Cuz you’ll probably end up liking this movie more than him or her.

But even that, at the end of the day, is a compliment, and a deserved one. Because Rango is a smart, creative, immensely-watchable movie. I love it, and would highly recommend you all see it. Rent it when you’ve got the chance.

Finding Dory

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

And if this movie teaches us anything, it’s that Pixar knows how to make great spin-offs. Seriously! Toy Story 2, Monsters University; these are fantastic follow-ups/prequels to classic films. And now, the subject of today’s review, Finding Dory, can officially be added to that noble list of stellar spin-offs.

This is a fantastic movie! It’s beautifully animated, wonderfully acted, deeply heartfelt, and extremely well-written. The writing, especially, is something that I want to touch on. See, I don’t think people give Pixar enough credit for their writing, which is always superb. Nearly all their films–Inside Out, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Up, Toy Story--have been nominated for Best Original Screenplay. There’s a reason why their movies are always able to move us; they’re incredibly well-written. Pixar’s superb writing skills are especially evident in Finding Dory, where several new characters–including Dory’s parents, an Octopus named Hank, a Whale Shark named Destiny, a Beluga named Bailey, and two sea lions played by Idris Elba and Dominic West–get introduced, and you are still able to remember, and care about, all of them. That’s a true testament to good writing; when you are able to introduce no less than seven new, important characters, and yet, you are able to give them enough personality, and things to do, to the point where the audience cares about, and remembers, them all.

But enough about the writing. What, you’re probably asking, is this movie actually about? Well, Finding Dory picks up a year after the events of Finding Nemo. Dory, Nemo and Marlin are all living together happily. Marlin has gotten slightly less protective, actually letting his son go to school, and Dory even works as a teacher’s assistant. But something’s not right. Dory starts getting fragmentary memories of her parents, and her life before she met Marlin. She realizes that they’re still out there, and that she needs to find them. And thus, she, Marlin and Nemo set off on a great adventure, which takes them across the ocean and through some of the most fantastic landscapes and scenarios imaginable.

As I’ve already said, this is a fantastic film. It’s very exciting, very funny, and extremely fast-paced. The fast-paced nature of the film is something that I quite enjoyed, because, as much as I love Finding Nemo, it does drag in some places. Finding Dory, by contrast, never stops moving, and has some of the most spectacular action set-pieces ever put to celluloid. Another thing that I quite like about this movie is that, there really is no villain. There’s no wicked stepmother, evil dragon, or mad scientist that needs to be defeated by the end. The situation might be described as the antagonistic force, but that situation isn’t really anyone’s fault. A final thing that I want to praise this movie for is the fact that everything Dory does, or remembers, is justified. A common complaint regarding Finding Nemo was that Dory’s poor memory was inconsistent; that she was only able to remember things when it was convenient to the plot. Not with this film. Every time she remembers something, it’s because something she saw, or something someone said, triggered that memory. And I love that. Nothing is out of the blue here. Everything is within context, and logical.

So, all in all, Finding Dory is a great movie. It’s fast-paced, beautifully-animated, and very well-written. Does it have the lasting, emotional message of its predecessor? Maybe not. But it’s still a terrific film, and one that I think you should go see. It’s a 9 out of 10.

I hope you all are having wonderful summers. If you like what you’ve read, please like this post, and follow my blog.

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.