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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Detective Chinatown 2 (2018)

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

Two years after the caper in Bangkok, young Qin Feng is reunited with his uncle in New York. The two have been summoned, along with the rest of the world’s greatest detectives, to solve a series of Feng Shui themed murders that have been taking place in Chinatown. If they find the killer, they win $5 million, and will be listed as the Earth’s greatest sleuths on the International Detective App. (Because that’s a thing, apparently). So, with the stakes in place, the genius/dumb-ass duo set out to solve the murders, make some cash, and, hopefully, find love along the way.

Detective Chinatown 2 is not a movie I was planning on seeing. I never watched the first film, and the trailers didn’t really pique my interest. But my girlfriend, who liked the original, suggested we watch it, and I decided, “hey, why not?” So I saw it, and, well…

I’m just gonna say it, this movie’s not for everyone. It’s an over-the-top, highly cartoonish comedy, whose plot doesn’t really make sense. In terms of style and tone, it’s very similar to the works of Stephen Chow and Baz Luhrmann. Nothing about it is even remotely realistic, and, to be perfectly honest, I’m not a fan of that sort of thing. I do, however, recognize that there are people who like exaggerated humor, and that, regardless of what I say, this movie will make a lot of money. Even so, I didn’t care for it. Like, at all. The acting is terrible–Wang Baoqiang, who plays the Uncle, seems to think that if you say every line as loud and high-pitched as possible, the funnier it will be–there are scenes that go absolutely nowhere, and for a film marketed as a family-friendly comedy, there’s a lot of shockingly dark stuff in it. A dude slits his throat open with a switch blade, a woman gets her heart removed, and there are more than a few racist gags that truly made me uncomfortable. In one scene, for instance, a guy is teaching Chinese to a classroom full of black people, and then, when someone comes in and starts giving him shit, they all pull out guns. Seriously. The portrayal of non-Chinese in this film is kind of disturbing. Granted, I don’t suppose it’s any worse than how Americans have traditionally shown the Chinese in our cinema, but, still. It made me feel weird.

Now I don’t want to give you the impression that I hated this film. I didn’t.  There were some bits where I legitimately laughed. In one scene, for instance, a dude gets kicked in the balls while “Billie Jean” is playing in the background, and the way he hops around looks like Michael Jackson grabbing his crotch. That got a genuine chuckle out of me. And even though I didn’t like Wang Baoqiang, Michael Pitt, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, or any of the other actors’, work in this film, I did enjoy seeing them onscreen. It made me want to go back and watch their other flicks, particularly Wang’s A World Without Thieves, an action movie that I would highly recommend to you all. As for this film, though, it’s not my cup of tea. If you liked the first Detective Chinatown, or are a fan of ridiculous, cartoonish comedies, maybe you’ll enjoy it. If not, maybe try to avoid this. It’s up to you.

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (2017)

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

While stuck in detention, four high schoolers, nerd Spencer, jock Fridge, antisocial Martha, and phone-addicted Bethany, discover a mysterious video game called Jumanji. Figuring, “hey, we’ve got nothing better to do,” the four decide to play the game, and choose avatars. When they do so, however, they find themselves transported to the jungle world of Jumanji, and the bodies of their respective characters. Now, if they want to make it home alive, they’ll have to win the game, and avoid all the danger getting thrown their way.

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle is a film I had absolutely no expectations for. I wasn’t even planning on seeing it, until my girlfriend suggested we give it a watch. And I am so happy she did, because this is a really fun movie. Seriously. This is probably the most fun I’ve had in a theater in almost two years. Which is weird, because, 2017 saw the release of a ton of great blockbusters–Logan, Wonder Woman, The Last Jedi, etc. But, the truth is, with each of those films, there was always something that held me back from just having a good time with them. With The Last Jedi, for instance, it was the knowledge that this was a Star Wars movie, and that there’d inevitably be angry fanboy backlash. With Wonder Woman, it was the knowledge that this was a female-led tentpole film with a lot riding on it, so please, please, please let it be good. And so on, and so forth. With Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, however, I had no expectations. There was no baggage. As such, I could just sit back and enjoy the ride. And did I ever!

What works in this film is the humor, the chemistry between the leads, some very inventive action set-pieces, and the fact that these are actually very likable characters. Which is surprising. When I hear that the protagonists of a movie are going to be a nerd, a jock, a prissy girl, and a misanthrope, I instantly think, “Oh god, I know exactly how this’ll go down. The’ll be insufferable.” But they really weren’t. Each of them had distinct voices, personalities, interests, and each, in their own way, was very funny. I liked them as teenagers. I liked them as characters in a video game. And the actors playing them were perfectly cast. Jack Black steals the show as Bethany’s avatar in the game. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart are comedy gold when they’re on screen. And Karen Gillan manages to be  fierce, sexy, and adorably awkward all at the same time. I laughed out loud at several points in this movie, and there were moments of action where I was legitimately on the edge of my seat. For this reason, I’d say, give Jumanji a look. It is a fun, fast-paced time at the movies. Is it deep? No. Is it groundbreaking? Not really. But the characters are likable. The action is exciting. The humor hits 90% of the time, and it’s just a great ride to be on.

The Disaster Artist (2017)

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

Greg and Tommy are wannabe actors, trying to make it in LA. Unfortunately, no one will hire them, because, well, they suck. This depresses Tommy, who has been told by everyone that he will never make it, or if he does, it will only be as a villain. Greg tells him not to worry, that things will get better, and even suggests that they make their own movie. Tommy loves this idea, and writes a bizarre, Tennessee Williams style script, and sets about assembling a cast and crew. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Tommy, who wants to direct, and produce, and star in the film, doesn’t know what he’s doing. Will he prove them wrong? Will he and Greg deliver a cinematic experience for the ages? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

The Disaster Artist is a decently-acted, decently-written showbiz comedy. And it’s the sort of film that only true fans of the source material can appreciate. In case you couldn’t tell from my description, the movie documents the making of The Room, one of the most infamous “so bad it’s good” flicks of all time. Now, for people like me, who have seen The Room, and are familiar with all the in-jokes, and the writer-/director/star, Tommy Wiseau’s, odd accent and mannerisms, it’s fun. But for people who haven’t seen it before, like my parents, or my sister, it won’t be quite as enjoyable. And for people who aren’t in the film industry, or huge film buffs, there are cameos, and references, and lines of dialogue that just won’t make sense. So, for that reason, I don’t know if I can recommend it to you all. Is it enjoyable? Sure. Did I laugh? Absolutely. But I’m a screenwriter. I’m a film nerd. I’m the sort of person this is made for. Anyone else, I don’t know.

A good way for me to describe this is to talk about another movie; Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. Like The Disaster Artist, Ed Wood tells the story of a notoriously bad filmmaker, Edward D Wood Jr, who, in the 1950s, made some of the most iconically horrendous films of all time. But unlike The Disaster Artist, which just assumes you know The Room and are in on all the private jokes, Ed Wood goes into the main character’s world, tells you his story, and really humanizes him. You like him. You sympathize with him, because, even though he’s clearly not talented enough to make good films, he loves what he does, he’s loyal to his cast and crew, and he never gives up. Another, very significant, thing to consider is the fact that, in Ed Wood, you see the main character struggle. He doesn’t have money. He doesn’t have props. So a big question becomes, how can he make movies? In The Disaster Artist, Tommy is shown as having a massive personal fortune, so, already, some of the urgency is gone. On top of this, Tommy is shown as such a selfish, narrow-minded jerk that you kind of lose interest in him after a while. Then there’s the actual filmmaking to consider. The Disaster Artist is kind of ugly, with most of the shots being hand-held and shaky. Ed Wood, by contrast, looks amazing, being shot in black and white, and having some absolutely exquisite period costumes and decor. What I’m saying with all this is, there are ways to make showbiz films for the general public, and I don’t think The Disaster Artist does that. Make of this what you will.

Justice League (2017)

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

Superman is dead, Wonder Woman is apathetic, and Batman isn’t as strong as he used to be. As such, the world has become vulnerable to all kinds of attacks, including those from the New God Steppenwolf, who, centuries ago, tried to destroy the Earth by combining three “Mother Boxes,” objects of immense power. Recognizing that the Earth now has no one to protect it, Steppenwolf returns from his long exile to collect the cubes, and in true villain fashion, take his vengeance upon the world of men. But he might have a little more trouble with that than previously thought. For while Wonder Woman and Batman might not be able to repel him on their own, they just might be able to with the help of a few other, super-powered friends; specifically, Barry Allen, aka The Flash, Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, and Victor Stone, aka Cyborg. They’ve never met, or worked with each other, before this. But with the fate of the world literally on the line, they just might have to.

Justice League is a flawed film. The first 30 minutes are very crowded, the CGI is highly noticeable, and the villain, while effective, is extremely bland. And, in the end, none of that really matters. This is a funny, action-packed, fast-paced thrill ride with likable characters, and I want to see it again. It’s probably the second best film in the DCEU, after Wonder Woman. And unlike other DC films, like Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad, which I did initially like, there’s nothing in this picture that jumps out at me as glaringly bad. (No Jared Leto’s, if you get my meaning).

A lot of it has to do with the fact that the movie really gets the League members right. Over the course of the film, you learn their personalities and pasts, and see them interact with each other, with some of them, in a few cases, coming to blows. And unlike BVS and Man Of Steel, this film has a much lighter tone. There’s a lot more humor, the color palette is brighter, and the heroes act like heroes. They smile. They save people. They do their best not to cause collateral damage. And unlike DC’s other cinematic offerings, which were each over two hours long, this movie is much shorter, and moves much faster. So there’s no risk of boredom here. There’s also a ton of fan service for people who like that sort of thing. Danny Elfman’s 1989 Batman theme is played at a couple points, as well as the John Williams Superman score. There are some great references to other superheroes in this flick, and the film even manages to address some questions viewers had about previous movies. And, most importantly, for me, anyway, this flick really gets Superman right. When he returns, which we all know he is, since it’s in the trailer, and on the poster, it is beyond satisfying. People in my theater were cheering and clapping with delight when he shows up, and for good reason. Unlike in Man Of Steel and BVS, he’s not a total downer here. He smiles, he tells jokes, and, shock of all shocks, he saves people. There’s actually two, really funny, bits with him saving people, one involving a blog, the other involving a big building in Russia. I also love the friendly rivalry he has with the Flash over whose faster, and the post credit scenes in this movie are awesome. They are definitely worth waiting for.

Guys, all I have to say about Justice League is this. It’s not perfect. The CGI is noticeable, the villain, while effective, is forgettable, and the first 30 minutes are a bit crowded. But as soon as the League gets together, the movie kicks into high gear, and you don’t really care about those other flaws. You’re having so much fun that you just sit back, enjoy the ride, and leave the theater with a smile on your face. And if you don’t believe me, check out the reviews for this film from Jeremy Jahns, Chris Stuckman, the Schmoes, Doug Walker, Roger Ebert.com, the LA Times, Village Voice, Variety, IGN and Forbes. All of them think, like me, that this flick is a fun ride worth taking. Be sure and give this a look.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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

When his father Odin dies, Thor’s sister, Hela, the goddess of Death, is released from her prison. And seeing how she’s stronger than every other god, she quickly takes over all of Asgard. Thor himself is banished to a distant planet, Sakaar, where he is forced to fight in gladiator-style battles with none other than the Hulk. Determined to get home, Thor teams up with the jolly green giant, a fellow Asgardian named Valkyrie, and Loki, who was also stranded on Sakaar, and, together, the four start a revolution, return home, and smash a whole lot of CGI stuff.

Remember how I said in my review of Happy Death Day that it was a crowd pleaser? Scratch that. This movie here is a crowd pleaser. It’s big, loud, funny, and completely undemanding. It is a quintessential movie. Now what I mean by that is, motion pictures can generally be clumped into two categories; movies and films. Movies are meant to be enjoyable. You watch them to have fun and kill time. Films, on the other hand, are generally made with more artistic integrity,  and try to talk about more serious issues. That’s not to say that movies can’t be well-written, or that films can’t be enjoyable. But you understand my point. You don’t go into Thor: Ragnarok expecting Oscar-worthy performances or groundbreaking social commentary. You go in expecting big action, light comedy, and colorful, made-up worlds. And you get all that here, so you walk out of the movie feeling happy. I certainly did.

Which is not to suggest that this flick is free of flaws. It actually has quite a few. First of all, the main villain, Hela, is pretty weak. She’s unique in the sense that she’s the MCU’s first female bad guy, but, other than that, she’s not that interesting. She basically has two roles in this movie, provide exposition, and kill people while cackling. Other than that, there’s really nothing to her character. Likewise, the film feels the need to tell us her back-story about four different times; once from Odin, once from Hela herself, once in animated form, and once in flashback. She also isn’t in the movie as much as you’d think. There’s a good 20-minute section in the middle where we don’t see her, or Asgard, at all. Which brings me to my biggest gripe, the fact that this film feels kind of weightless. Even though it’s about the destruction of Asgard, you never really feel like there’s any real danger. Part of this is due to the fact that so much of the film, even the deaths, are played for laughs. Another part is the fact that about 95% of this movie’s action and scenery  are animated, so the threats never feel real. In fact, I wouldn’t even call this a live-action movie. I would call it a cartoon, with bits of live-action thrown in.

All that said, the film is still fun. I’m not a Marvel fan, and I still laughed quite a lot while watching this movie. Which says a lot. So if you want a good time, give it a look.

Happy Death Day (2017)

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

Tree Gelbman is a sorority girl, and an all-around terrible person. She’s petty, shallow, condescending and dismissive. And she sleeps with her professors to pass her courses. On the evening of her birthday, she is murdered by an assailant dressed like her school’s mascot, only to wake up the next morning, and realize that she’s in a time loop. At the behest of a classmate, who reasons that she’s basically got unlimited lives, Tree sets about trying to find her killer, resulting in her dying several more times. Sometimes in hilariously over-the-top fashion. With each death, however, she gets closer to uncovering the truth, and with each loop, she learns a little bit more about herself, and how horrible she’s become. Will she solve her own murder? Will she live to see tomorrow? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Happy Death Day is a crowd-pleaser. That’s the best way for me to describe it. It’s fun, light-hearted and, for the most part, inoffensive. It doesn’t ask any difficult, or profound questions, but it’s well-acted, and well-shot, and it moves at a quick pace, so you’re never bored. It’s also a lot funnier than I thought it would be. What I mean is, when I saw the trailers, I thought this was a straight-forward horror film. But, having watched it, I wasn’t scared at all. It’s really more of a comedy. So much of this film, even the kills, are played for laughs, that you can’t really take it seriously. For instance, there’s a whole montage, set to Demi Lovato’s “Confident” wherein we see Tree getting murdered over and over and over again. And while violence against women is never something I like to see in movies, it’s all shot in such a comedic manner, with the music being so jarringly happy, that I couldn’t help but chuckle while watching it. So, yeah. If you’re worried that this will be a gory, terrifying fright fest, never fear. This movie is PG-13, and more of a comedy than anything else.

If I have any complaints, they’re the opening scenes, where we’re introduced to Tre’s daily routine, and the final reveal of the killer, and his/her motivation. Tree is so obnoxious in those first few scenes, with her making some very off-color remarks about disabled and large people, that you’re really rooting for her to get killed. And as for the ending, when you do realize who the killer is, and why he/she is doing what he/she is doing, you wind up rolling your eyes and going “Really? That’s the dumbest motivation I’ve ever heard.” Fortunately, the film is smart enough to recognize said motivation as dumb, and they do make a joke out of the final reveal.

So, overall, I do think Happy Death Day is worth watching. It’s funny, well-acted, and entertaining enough to keep you invested. Just don’t expect too much depth.