Game Night (2018)

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

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are an incredibly competitive couple. They met in college, where they bonded over the fact that they had to win at just about everything. And they still do. Every week, they invite all their friends over for a game night, where they play pictionary, charades, and other such party favorites. And, as you might imagine, they take it way too seriously. Bateman, especially, as he’s incredibly jealous of his brother, Kyle Chandler, a wealthy Wall Street broker who joins them from time to time. One night, Chandler decides to spice things up a notch, and so hires a group of actors to “kidnap” one of the guests as part of a murder-mystery scenario. Unbeknownst to Bateman and company, however, the guys who come in and take Chandler away aren’t actors, and the danger they find themselves in is real. Now, if they want to make it through the night, they’re going to have to find Chandler, and unravel the mystery of what’s really going on.

Game Night is a perfectly fun, perfectly competent bit of escapism. It’s well-shot, the leads have a good rapport with one another, and, unlike a lot of other comedies that come out these days, it is genuinely funny. I saw it in a theater full of people, and they were having the time of their lives. I didn’t laugh much, but that’s more because I’m a person who doesn’t really laugh at films, even if they’re funny. The only movie I ever really laughed at in a theater was Get Out, but that’s another story. Game Night is funny, and if you want to just go to the theater and laugh, you’ll probably be satisfied. And I wasn’t lying when I said the movie was well-shot. The cinematography in this film is actually quite impressive. There’s one sequence in a house where Bateman and McAdams are being chased through all these rooms that’s done in one, continuous shot, and when I saw it, I thought to myself, “wow, that’s good filmmaking right there.” This picture is written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the writing duo responsible for Spiderman: Homecoming, and the upcoming Flashpoint, and watching this flick gave me hope for the latter. So, yeah. Game Night is fun.

But it’s not perfect. I did have problems with the movie. Probably the biggest one I had is Bateman and McAdams themselves. It’s not that they weren’t funny. They were. It’s the fact that that’s pretty much all they were. There really wasn’t anything else to their characters than “competitive couple who make quips.” Yes, there’s a subplot involving her wanting to have kids, and him not being ready, but that’s such a common detail for these kinds of films that it almost doesn’t count. They also do this thing where, no matter what situation they’re in, they act like it’s no big deal. And I understand that that’s kind of the underlying joke, the fact that they don’t understand the danger they’re in, but, after a certain point, they can’t keep doing that. They need to acknowledge the gravity of their situation, and take things seriously. But they never really do. There are several points in this movie where they know that they’re in real danger, and yet, they still make jokes and act like it’s all a game. In one scene, for instance, McAdams literally has to dig a bullet out of Bateman’s arm, and the two are acting like it’s nothing. Why? Why are they so calm? For me to properly express what I’m talking about, I have to compare this to another movie; Date Night with Tina Fey and Steve Carell. In that film, they play a married couple who, hoping to reignite the passion that’s been lost in their relationship, go to a fancy restaurant in the city, get mistaken for some criminals, and get pulled into a crazy, action-crime caper. As funny as they both are, there are moments where they show genuine emotion, crying, being scared, and even being tender with one another. There’s a scene in a car where they really let out their feelings, and, to this day, it still gives me chills. Every time I watch it I think, “wow, that was a lot deeper, and considerably better acted, than I would have expected from this kind of a comedy.” There’s no scene like that in Game Night. There are scenes that are like that here, but, either because of the writing, or the fact that McAdams and Bateman just aren’t as good actors as Fey and Carell, don’t carry nearly as much pathos. There are also some annoying secondary characters, like this dumb guy who brings an Irish woman to the party, and who has an obsession with Fight Club, who just got on my nerves. I was dreading whenever he would appear, and I couldn’t wait for the film to cut away from him. That’s not good.

In the end, however, I do think the good in Game Night outweighs the bad. No, it’s not deep or profound, and, no, it’s not particularly memorable. But the cast are funny, and it’s well-made enough to keep you invested for the whole thing. For that reason, I say, give it a look.

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GLOW (Season 1, 2017)

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

It’s 1985, and Ruth Wilder is a struggling actress in Los Angeles. Desperate for money, she answers an ad for “unconventional women,” and finds herself at a gym with several other, equally-confused ladies. Two guys, B-movie director Sam Sylvia and pampered rich boy Sebastian Howard, then come out, and explain that they are looking to put together an all-female wrestling show, GLOW, or the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling. Ruth, like everyone else, is shocked to hear this, but decides she’s willing to give it a try. Unfortunately, Sam doesn’t “like your ass. Or your face, and dismisses her straight off the bat. Ruth, however, isn’t taking no for an answer, and after putting on an elaborate show, including an unscripted fight with a friend who’s husband she’s been sleeping with, lands the job. And, from that point on, the story just gets bigger and more ridiculous.

GLOW has a lot of things going for it. It’s got good acting, a premise with a lot of comedic potential, and some nice period decor. I also really like the fact that it features an almost entirely female cast, and that it passes the Bechdel Test. And yet, despite all this, I can’t really say if I like GLOW or not.

A lot of it comes down to personal taste. First off, I’m not a big fan of the 80s. The poofy hair styles, the huge shoulder pads, the annoying synthesizer music; it all gets on my nerves. I also don’t like how casually racist and homophobic movies and TV shows from that era are, and how, nowadays, when we fetishize the Reagan years, we neglect to mention the negative aspects of the time. If you read my review of Stranger Things, a show that I really loved, you saw that I didn’t like how it failed to touch on the darker facets of 80s culture. This show does a slightly better job at highlighting the racism and sexism of the time, but, still. The period in which this show is set kind of annoys me, so maybe I went in somewhat biased. On top of this, I didn’t grow up with wrestling, so the series doesn’t hold any nostalgic charm. Literally the only two things I know about professional wrestling are the scene from the original Spider-Man film, where Toby Maguire has to fight Macho Man Randy Savage,  and the VH1 reality show, Hogan Knows Best, which was on when I was a kid. So, yeah.

But by far the biggest thing I had a problem with was the writing; specifically, the humor. It’s very, very dark. If you are easily offended, then don’t watch this show. Because they go places I wasn’t expecting them to. Every taboo topic you can think of–racism, incest,dead babies–gets touched upon. There’s a whole episode devoted to making miscarriages funny, and the season finale includes a substantial father-daughter incest subplot. It’s really kind of creepy. Now, look, I don’t want to sound like I think gallows humor can never work. I think In Bruges is one of the most underrated films of all time, and it features tons of offensive jokes. But there, the tone was a whole lot darker. Here, the show is pretty light-hearted and upbeat. But then, out of nowhere, it’ll throw in these very macabre bits of humor that, one, aren’t funny, and, two, don’t feel as earned. Another aspect of the writing I didn’t think worked were the characters. Oh sure, the four main people–Ruth, her friend, the director, the trainer–are all pretty fleshed out and interesting. But everyone else kind of just fades into the background. Yes, that’s to be expected in an ensemble piece, but here, it’s very noticeable. Two characters in particular, an Indian-American wrestler played by Sunita Mani, and a Cambodian-American wrestler played by Scott Pilgrim vs The World‘s own Ellen Wong, get the shaft when it comes to background and personality. We know next to nothing about them–Sunita’s grandma likes wrestling, Ellen likes birthday parties–and they are treated the worst when it comes to stereotypes. The wrestling personas they are given are, and I swear I’m not making this up, Beirut the MadBomber, and Fortune Cookie. Yes, Fortune Cookie. And the racist jokes don’t stop there. At every single opportunity, the writers throw in a “Asians can’t speak English” jab, or an “Asians know Kung Fu” barb. And, yes, they have characters comment on how offensive these  stereotypes are, but most of the time, someone else in the scene will say “shut up” or “get over it.” This is actually a very old writing technique, referred to as “ironic lamp shading,” where a character in a work of fiction will point out how stupid, illogical, or offensive something is, but then go right ahead and do it anyway. It’s meant to keep us, the audience, from questioning the tropes we’re seeing, but I’m not taking the bait here. Just because you know something is offensive doesn’t excuse you from doing it. If anything, that makes it worse. It shows us that you lack moral fiber, since you know something is wrong, but chose to go ahead and do it anyway. If you want to comment on racism or sexism, have there be negative repercussions for all the bigotry. Or, and here’s a novel idea, don’t write racist jokes, or characters who are racial cliches. Just a thought.

Guys, I really don’t know what to say. There’s enough good in GLOW to keep you invested, I finished all 10 episodes, but the dark humor, offensive characterization, and inconsistent tone are also quite off-putting. I don’t know if I can recommend this to you all. But if anything in the review spoke to you, maybe go and give it a look. You might find something in it that I didn’t.

Logan Lucky (2017)

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

When he’s laid off for liability reasons, West Virginia coal miner Jimmy Logan decides, “screw looking for a new job and getting my life back on track, I’m gonna rob NASCAR.” So he assembles a motley crew of other hillbillies and hicks, including his brother, Clyde, his sister, Mellie, explosives expert Joe Bang, and a bunch of other people whose names I can’t remember. Together, they plan a huge, ridiculous heist, which hinges upon several things going exactly right (don’t they always), and set things in motion on the biggest race of the year. Will they pull it off? Well, if you actually care, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

Logan Lucky is well-acted, well-shot, and reasonably well-written. And it’s kind of a bore. Seriously. There were several points in this movie where I checked my watch, and even asked the screen, “come on! What are you waiting for?” And that’s sad, because this is a movie that has the potential to be great. It’s got a super-talented director, Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Magic Mike, Ocean’s 11) behind the camera, and an equally talented cast in front of it. And yet the film feels about 20 minutes too long, and isn’t sufficiently funny, or exciting enough, to make up for that.

Part of this is due to Soderbergh’s direction. He’s a filmmaker known for taking pretty mainstream ideas–an FBI agent hunting a crook, a group of guys trying to rob a casino–and making them artsy with things like drawn out scenes of dialogue, stylistic photography, and nonlinear editing. Here, he takes a very basic premise–hillbillies trying to rob NASCAR–and injects unnecessary side characters and subplots, like a child’s beauty pageant, or someone learning to drive stick, which just hurt the pace. Seriously, if you took Seth McFarlane and Sebastian Stan’s characters out of the movie, it’d be about 15 minutes shorter, and the plot would be effected in no way whatsoever. I was also kind of confused by why they decided to rob NASCAR. Oh sure, they give an explanation for why they chose that particular target, but what I was left wondering was why they just jumped straight into stealing. Wasn’t any consideration given to finding real jobs? Do they need the money now? Every character seems financially stable. It’s not like they risk losing their homes if they don’t pay a certain amount by a certain date. As such, it just kind of feels like they’re doing this on a whim. Which doesn’t work for a movie. Characters’ choices have to be motivated in fiction. And the characters in this movie just seemed like they were doing stuff for shits and giggles. Which is not good.

Guys, if it sounds like I hated this movie, I really didn’t. I’ve always said, the only question you should ask yourself after you watch a film is, “do I regret going to see that?” And I don’t regret going to see this. Is it great? No. Is it terrible? Not really. Its somewhere in the middle. Funny, but not that funny. Exciting, but not that entertaining. If you’re a fan of the director, the cast, or heist films in general, you might like this. But go in expecting a slower pace, and a little bit of boredom.

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.