You Were Never Really Here (2018)

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

Joe is a veteran, and hired gun. He’s not a hit man, per se. But if you need a guy to beat someone up, or retrieve something or someone, he’s the one to do it. He doesn’t talk much, and is exceptionally brutal, preferring to use a hammer to accomplish his objectives. He is frequently haunted by nightmares from his time in combat, and can’t outrun the face of a young Asian woman, which often appears before him whenever he’s alone. Anyway, he is hired by a Senator to retrieve his daughter, who’s been kidnapped by a sex trafficking ring. Joe does so, only to learn that the Senator has committed suicide, and that there may be more to this story than meets the eye. No surprises there.

You Were NEver Really Here is a gritty, urban thriller in the tradition of movies like Taxi Driver, and Drive. Like the former, it tells the story of a veteran who uses violence to save an under-aged girl from life as a prostitute, and, like the latter, the main character is an unhinged, hammer-wielding maniac who barely speaks. Also like Drive, this film prefers to do most of its storytelling visually. There’s barely any dialogue, and what little there is is often mumbled, and incoherent. For some people, tired of films where characters literally explain the plot, that will be refreshing. For individuals like myself, who are visually impaired, and often rely on that expository dialogue to understand what’s going on, it’ll be frustrating. Because I was often left uncertain as to what was happening, why it was happening, and who it was even happening to. And a large part of this didn’t even have to do with the lack of dialogue. It had to do with how the film was shot. Very often, the director, Lynne Ramasy, will shoot scenes entirely in close-up, or with the camera focused on unconventional subjects, like a lamp, a mirror, or someone’s foot. In some scenes, like when Joe is assaulting people, these choices make sense, since they allow Ramsay to not show us all the depravity that is taking place. In other scenes, however, like when we’re getting flashbacks of Joe’s time in Afghanistan, or when we’re learning about his past with this Asian girl, whose identity we never actually uncover, it would be nice if, on occasion, we got a wide shot to see what the hell was happening. With the Afghanistan flashbacks, for instance, all we ever see is a barbed wire fence, a person’s shoe, and the barrel of a gun. What does that mean? Why do these particular items have such relevance to Joe? I don’t know, and that’s not good.

Now, in case it sounds like I hated this movie, I didn’t. My feelings are actually pretty mixed. On the one hand, the acting, particularly from Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, is superb, and the lack of dialogue allows Ramsay to visually develop her characters. Throughout the film, for instance, we see aspects of Joe’s personality manifest through actions; digging through a pile of jelly beans to find the green ones, getting off by strangling himself, etc. If Ramsay had just had Joe tell us, “I like green jelly beans,” or “I get off by strangling myself,” it wouldn’t have been as interesting, and his character wouldn’t have felt as defined. Anyone can say they are a certain way. It’s only when we see them do stuff that we know who they are. So, in that respect, the lack of dialogue actually improved the storytelling. On the other hand, the fact that I didn’t know what was going on, partly because no one bothered to explain what was going on, and because the cinematography was either too close, or focused on the wrong subjects, made the film kind of impenetrable. I’m not lying when I say that I actually had to go read the wikipedia page for this movie to get a full sense for what I’d just watched. That’s not good. A film’s story should be clear as soon as you watch it. You shouldn’t have to go and do a bunch of reading afterward. So, in the end, do I think you should go see this movie. It depends on who you are. If you like artsy movies, thrillers, are tired of big blockbusters, or just want to support female filmmakers, give it a watch. If you like clarity in your stories, though, and aren’t a fan of mumbled, incoherent dialogue, this movie’s not for you. Make of this what you will.

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Horsemen (2008)

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

Estranged from his children after the death of their mother, hardened homicide detective Aiden Breslin (Dennis Quaid) is called in to investigate a series of ritualistic murders. His search brings him into contact with Kristen Spitz (Zhang Ziyi) the daughter of one of the victims. She pleads with him to find the killers, but then, five minutes later, reveals herself to be one. She explains that she is part of a group who model themselves after the four horsemen of the apocalypse (War, Famine, Pestilence and Death), and that there will be more murders. And, well, shit gets crazy from there.

The best way for me to describe Horsemen is as “Seven for Dummies.” Like Seven, this film is a mystery involving brutal, religiously themed murders. But unlike Seven, where there is very little onscreen violence, this movie has several torture scenes in it. And whereas Seven’s characters were compelling and well-defined, the characters in Horsemen are one-note, and even kind of annoying. In other words, they’re the kind of characters you expect to see in a Michael Bay production, which, unfortunately, is what this is. But before I delve into my many criticisms, I do want to list some things I liked about the movie. First of all, it looks great. The cinematography is beautiful, and the use of color is very effective. Second, the film moves at a quick pace, so I was never bored while watching it. And third, the acting, for the most part, is solid. So, in terms of pure craftsmanship–acting, cinematography, sound design–this movie is perfectly competent.

It’s a shame, therefore, that the script is not. As I mentioned earlier, the characters are not well-defined. All you really know about them is their type–neglectful father, angry son, etc–and their motivations don’t make sense. Well, that’s not entirely true. Zhang Ziyi’s motivation does make sense. She was sexually-abused by her parents, and wanted revenge. That I can understand. But for some of the other people, like Cory, aka Death, the reasoning behind their actions makes no sense at all. And even though I understand why Zhang Ziyi wants revenge, I have no idea why she just decides to give herself up. She doesn’t feel guilty about the murder, and the police aren’t making any progress when she does confess, so there’s no reason for her to. Well, that’s not true. If she didn’t come forward, the plot wouldn’t be able to advance, because the police in this film are beyond inept. Seriously. Every time Quaid finds out something in this movie, it’s because someone tells him. He never deduces anything on his own. Ugh.

Guys, all I can say about Horseman is this. It’s a competently-crafted, but poorly-written murder mystery. It’s got some good cinematography, and some solid leads. But unless you’re already a fan of the actors, or this particular brand of thriller, you probably shouldn’t watch it. It’s not worth your time.

The Commuter (2018)

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

Michael McCauley is a former cop, struggling to get by. He’s got a wife, a son about to start college, two mortgages, and a less than well-paying job as an insurance salesman. Everyday, he commutes to the city, getting to know the passengers and conductors who ride with him. One day, however, after being unceremoniously fired from his job, a mysterious woman called Joanna sits down across from him, and starts up a conversation. She claims to be a psychoanalyst, studying how different people react to different circumstances. She gives Michael the chance to prove what kind of a man he is by posing him a question. If he were told that there was $25,000 hidden on the train, and that, if he found a passenger who didn’t belong, a passenger who’d stolen something, he’d get that money, what would he do? Michael is skeptical, until he finds the aforementioned money in the bathroom, and realizes that he’s just gotten pulled into something much bigger, and more dangerous, than previously thought.

The Commuter is the fourth collaboration between Liam Neeson and Spanish director Juame Collet-Serra, who previously teamed up on Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night. Now, if you’ve seen any of those movies, or perhaps the directors other flicks, like The Shallows, you know what to expect here. You can expect good acting, good camerawork, and enough visceral thrills to keep you invested, despite a preposterous, and, in many cases, predictable, storyline. In other words, you can expect a good, but somewhat forgettable, time at the movies. And that’s what I had with The Commuter; a good time.

It’s thoroughly predictable, with me being able to guess who the mystery passenger and the main bad guy were about halfway through, and the dialogue is very on the nose. There’s a conversation between Liam Neeson and his former partner, played by Patrick Wilson, in a bar, where they literally just spell out each other’s backstories to the audience. And yet, the cast, which includes so many amazing character actors, like Jonathan Banks, Vera Farmiga, and Sam Neil,  is so good, the camerawork is so slick, and the pace is so quick that you wind up not caring. This is genre filmmaking at it’s best. The plot is by-the-numbers, and the characters are stock, but the actors playing them are all so talented, the action sequences are so gripping, and the overall production values are so good, that you can just sit back, and enjoy the ride. I certainly did. Will I remember this flick in a few weeks? Probably not. But, for a movie that’s just trying to tell a fun, fast-paced story, with good actors, it more than delivers. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

The Foreigner (2017)

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

When his daughter is killed in a terror attack, Chinese immigrant Ngoc Minh Quan (Jackie Chan) sets out to find the culprits. His search leads him to the doorstep of Liam Hennesey (Pierce Brosnan), a British politician and former IRA member. Quan asks Hennesey to tell him the names of the bombers, but Hennesey claims not to know who’s behind the attack. Quan, correctly, assumes that this is bullshit, and begins tormenting Hennesey, blowing up his bathroom, attacking his staff, and more or less making his life a living hell. This, naturally, places a great deal of stress on the former terrorist, who decides to do some research on Quan, and discovers some disturbing facts about him. What are those facts? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Guys, I’m not lying when I say that The Foreigner was one of my most anticipated movies of this year; right up there with Logan and Wonder Woman. I’ve loved Jackie Chan literally my whole life, and the idea of seeing him in a darker, more dramatic role was beyond appealing. I also thought it’d be fun to finally hear Pierce Brosnan, an Irishman from County Louth, use his native accent in a film. So i’m not lying when I say that, when I sat down in the theater last night, I was pumped. I was ready to be blown away. And now, having seen the movie, I can safely say, it’s not as good as I thought it would be, but it’s still a damn fine film.

Starting off with the positives; the performances are all superb. Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan are both given the chance to play against type here, with Brosnan playing a smarmy, cowardly weasel, and Chan playing a subdued, slightly unhinged man, and both of them really deliver. But I would be remiss if I overlooked the supporting cast, all of whom do terrific jobs. Even people who are only in one or two scenes, like Chan’s daughter, played by Cho Chang herself, Katie Leung, really shine here. So if you’re looking for one reason to see this movie, you’ve got the performances. Another reason to watch this film is the action. It’s brutal, visceral, and beautifully shot. There’s one sequence in the woods, where Chan is attacking Brosnan’s guards, that had the audience in my theater wincing, and going “ooh!” It’s really impressive that, even now, in his 60s, Chan can still punch, kick, and flip with the best of them. Another thing I liked about the movie were the characters. They were well-rounded, believable, and, for the most part, I could understand where they were coming from. I didn’t necessarily condone their actions, but I could understand. Each of them, even those characters who, in other movies, would just be throwaway victims or henchmen, like Brosnan’s wife and nephew, were given a bit more depth and backstory. And I really appreciated that, since it made the whole thing feel more realistic. So, from a technical standpoint–the acting, the cinematography, the sound design–the film is expertly crafted. Why then am I not totally in love with it?

Well, it all comes down to the fact that, for a movie that advertises itself as a Jackie Chan revenge flick, The Foreigner doesn’t actually have that much Jackie Chan. Oh, he’s in it, and he does do a fair bit of stuff. But a great deal more screen time is devoted to Pierce Brosnan’s love life, and IRA infighting. I’m not joking when I say that there’s a good 20 minutes, about halfway through, where Chan just disappears. Which is disappointing. Jackie Chan is the main reason I went to go see this movie, and I’m certain it’s why most other people will as well. Now, granted, when we do see Jackie kicking ass and blowing stuff up, it’s very satisfying. But, the truth is, we have to wade through a ton of baggage to get there. This movie has an extremely convoluted storyline, with so many subplots, from Pierce Brosnan’s affair with a younger woman, to his wife’s affair with his nephew, to how and why the IRA did this attack,that it gets a little boring at times. Now, as I said before, whenever the film does get boring, something usually happens to get you invested again, like Jackie Chan strapping on a bomb, or digging a bullet out of his chest with a knife. But still. A film with this basic of a premise shouldn’t be so complicated. We don’t need to see all this backdoor stuff with the IRA. We don’t care who masterminded the attack. What we do care about is whether or not Jackie Chan will get revenge for his daughter’s death. That’s it. I honestly think that if Martin Campbell, the director, had cut out all the political stuff, and just made this a straight forward revenge film, the movie would have been tighter, cleaner, and considerably more enjoyable. But, then again, Campbell got his big break directing Edge Of Darkness, a 6-hour-long BBC Miniseries about political corruption and conspiracy, so, what do you expect?

Guys, all I can say about The Foreigner is this. If you’re looking for a darker, more serious Jackie Chan, you will get that in this movie. And you’ll probably enjoy the film as a whole. But go in knowing that there’s a lot of added baggage. And sometimes the pacing can get a bit slow.

American Made (2017)

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

It’s 1978, and Barry Seal is a pilot for TWA. He’s good at his job. Great at it, actually. Which is probably why he’s so agonizingly bored. Anyway, when a CIA agent approaches him in a hotel bar, and offers him the chance to fly over South America and take pictures of Communist Insurgents, he, of course, says “yes.” But it doesn’t take long for his knew life to get derailed. While flying over Colombia, he is approached by none other than Pablo Escobar, who offers to pay him a crap ton of money if only he’ll fly cocaine into the US. Seal, again, says “yes,” not seeming to know, or care, about the consequences. These consequences being too much money to possibly spend or hide, Nicaraguan rebels trying to kill you, and every single law enforcement agent in the country coming after your ass. Will he survive? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

American Made has a strong cast, a big budget, and a fascinating, fact-based story. All the ingredients for a great film are here. So why did I spend most of the film in a state of boredom? Well, part of it could be the fact that I saw this movie at a very late showing, and was extremely tired at the time. It’s certainly possible that that had an effect on my opinion. But what I really think caused my boredom, what I truly believe held this movie back, were its light-hearted tone, and bad characterization.

What I mean by this is, American Made is a comedy. Yes, it’s a story about drug dealers and CIA agents. Yes, it has violence and scenes of suspense in it. But, for the most part, all the high-stakes antics are played for laughs. We’re meant to find all the dangerous, ridiculous situations that Seal gets into as just that; ridiculous. In this way, it is similar to another, fact-based film, I Love You, Phillip Morris, which tells the true story of a con-man who managed to escape prison several times. In that film, the writers knew that if they tried to play the absurd things the character did straight, the audience wouldn’t buy it. So they made it a comedy. The filmmakers do that in American Made too, but what they don’t seem to realize is that their story is much, much darker than the one in I Love You, Phillip Morris. This is a story about Nicaraguan death squads, and drug dealers who kidnapped and murdered people’s families. And yet, despite all that, we’ve got brightly-colored cartoon exposition scenes, and a protagonist who cracks jokes, even when someone has knocked his teeth out, and is pointing a machine gun in his face. The fact that he, and by extension, the filmmakers, don’t take any of what’s happening seriously leads us, the audience, to not take it seriously either. Even with stuff that we should. It gets to the point where someone gets killed by a car bomb, and we’re meant to find it comical. The characters in this film are also kind of weak. Oh sure, they have personalities and voices. But we don’t know much about them. We don’t know anything about Seal’s wife, other than that she used to work at KFC. For that matter, we don’t really know anything about Seal, other than that he’s a gifted pilot. He’s also an extremely passive protagonist. Everything he does in this film is because someone else tells him to, unlike the real Barry Seal, who, in several cases, initiated the illegal acts he took part in. The best protagonists are the ones who are active; who drive the plot forward with their choices. American Made’s protagonist does make choices, but, for the most part, the choices get made for him, and you wind up caring about him less overall as a result.

Guys, if it sounds like I hated this film, I didn’t. I liked the story, and the cast, and I think it had a lot of potential. But the super silly tone held me back from taking it seriously, and the thin characterization kept me from caring. If you like Tom Cruise, maybe you should give it a watch. As for me, I have no desire to see it again.

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.

Collateral (2004)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views AreMyGame.

Max is a cab driver, saving up to start his own company. He knows LA like the back of his hand, and even though his job is fairly thankless, he takes pride in his work. One night, he picks up a gray-haired man named Vincent, who tells him, “I’ve got five stops to make. You get me to all of them on time, I’ll pay you $600.” Max agrees, and brings Vincent to his first stop. Everything seems fine, until a dead body falls on the cab, smashing the windshield to bits. Things get worse when Vincent returns, and reveals that not only did he kill the man, but he’s an assassin who’s been hired to take out 4 more targets. Now, if Max wants to survive, he’ll have to help Vincent evade capture, and finish his jobs, which means contributing to the deaths of four more people. Can he do it? Will he make it through the night? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out

Collateral is the definition of a well-made thriller. It’s suspenseful, superbly -acted (seriously, Jamie Foxx earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as Max) and very well-written. I’d actually like to take a minute to talk about the writing, because it is really, really good. Not only does every character have a distinct voice and backstory, the dialogue is really witty, and oddly thought-provoking. There are so many exchanges in this film that are funny, frightening and philosophical all at the same time that I’m honestly kind of surprised that Stuart Beattie, whom penned the script, didn’t get an Oscar nod. Like, in the scene right after Max learns that Vincent is a hit man, he’s freaking out, and Vincent starts talking about Rwanda. He tells Max how more people were killed at once there than in the past 50 years, and yet, he, Max, didn’t get upset when he heard about the genocide. He didn’t join the peace corps. He didn’t contribute to any charities. But now, when one fat guy dies in front of him, he turns into a bleeding heart? How hypocritical. That’s a brilliant exchange right there. It not only shows us how Vincent views morality, but it also gets us, the spectators, to think. It calls us out on our own hypocrisies, like how we care about some lives, but not about others. And the movie is full of awesome moments like that, where characters are talking about their pasts, or their morals, and it’s super engaging and funny. In one scene, Max asks Vincent, “You killed him?” to which Vincent responds, “No. I shot him. The bullets and the fall killed him.” And in another scene, Vincent has a gun pressed up against Max’s head, and forces him to tell his boss to “shove this yellow cab up your fat ass.” It’s wonderful.

If I have one complaint about Collateral, it’s the camerawork. It’s almost all hand-held, so the images are very shaky, and the shots are super noisy. If you don’t know what that last part means, “noise” is a film term for elements in cinematography that ruin an image, like lens flares, blurry lines, or pixels. Collateral’s director, Michael Mann, is infamous for not minding “noise” in his films. As such, a lot of his movies, even if they’re big-budget period pieces, like Public Enemies, feel like they’re shot on home video. Now, as annoying as I find shaky cam and lens flares, both actually kind of work for this movie. You’re telling a story that’s very gritty and real, and the sloppy-looking camerawork does kind of contribute to a sense of realism. Kind of. But in case you can’t get over the cinematography, the film’s gorgeous color palette more than makes up for it. Every image is black, contrasted with neon blues, greens or pinks; i.e. the color of LA at night. If, like me, you love films with saturated color schemes, which help create mood and atmosphere, you’re gonna love this movie. It is a feast for the eyes.

Guys, what can I say that hasn’t already been said? Collateral is a fast-paced, superbly acted, brilliantly-written thriller. I love it, and I’m sure you would to if you saw it. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.