In The Mood For Love (2000)

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

And Happy Valentine’s Day! Hope you all are with people you love. So to celebrate  the most romantic day of the year, I’ve decided to review one of my all-time favorite romance films, Wong Kar-Wai’s magnum opus, In The Mood For Love.

In 1962, Mr. Chow moves into an apartment right next door to Mrs. Chan, and, straight away, the two of them hit it off. And for good reason. They’re young, attractive, intelligent, and most importantly, often without their spouses. Both Mr. Chow’s wife and Mrs. Chan’s husband are frequently away on business, and it doesn’t take long for our heroes to realize that their spouses are cheating with each other. Devastated, the two become close, spending time re-enacting how their spouses might have met, and debating whether or not they should leave. As they do so, however, Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan find themselves falling for each other, but must resist the urge, not simply to prove that they are better than their spouses, but because of the social norms of the time.

In The Mood For Love is pure, unadulterated emotion. There is little to no plot, and 90% of the run-time is just two people sharing a conversation. And yet, it is riveting. You feel so deeply for these characters. You like them. You care about them. You feel their pain. And by the end of the movie, you find yourself longing for them to be together, almost as much as the characters themselves. It is beautiful, on so many different levels. Not only is Christopher Doyle’s cinematography gorgeous, with the use of light and color evoking every ounce of emotion imaginable, but the costumes, particularly the qipaos that Maggie Cheung wears, are exquisite, and the music by Shigeru Umebayashi still gives me chills. And, as if this needs saying, the acting is superb. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung have amazing chemistry, and you really do believe that they care for each other. And for a movie like this, that is vital. I’d actually like to talk about Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung for a minute. They deserve all the credit in the world for this movie, and I’ll tell you why. When they started shooting, the director, Wong Kar-Wai, didn’t have a finished script, and, very often, he’d come up with new scenes on the spot, or just have Maggie and Tony improvise with each other. If they hadn’t been the actors that they are, this film would have made no sense, the characters wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting, and you wouldn’t have cared half as much. In my opinion, they deserve a writing credit on this picture, seeing as how so much of the film is just the two of them playing off each other.

Now, as much as I love this movie, I can understand why some people might not like it. As I said before, there’s almost no plot, and 90% of it is just the two leads talking, and being sad. That could rub people the wrong way. Similarly, there are certain characters, like Mr. Chow’s co-worker who owes money to a prostitute, that get introduced, but never really come back into play. And, finally, for a romance film, there’s basically no romance in this movie at all. What I mean by that is, in most Western romance films, you’ll have characters kiss, and have sex.  Not here. There’s no sex, no kissing, and the most intimate act that gets performed on screen is Mr. Chow giving Mrs. Chan a hug. I personally love this, because, to me, it illustrates a fundamental difference between how “romance” is perceived in China and the West, but I can also understand why Western viewers might feel cheated by this film. Then again, that’s kind of the point. You are supposed to feel cheated, because the characters have been cheated. they’ve been cheated out of their marriages, and cheated out of true love by society’s expectations and taboos. You’re supposed to want more, and not get it. Because the characters didn’t get it either.

Guys, what can I say? In The Mood For Love is one of my favorite romance movies, and an all-around masterpiece. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

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Phantom Thread (2017)

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

In 1950s England, Reynolds Woodcock is the world’s most sought after dress maker. He and his sister, Cyril, make gowns for royals, movie stars, and millionaires. Over the years, Reynolds has slept with countless women, all of whom he discarded after they began to get on his nerves. Now, though, he has met someone new; Elsa, a maid from somewhere in mainland Europe. And even though they fight constantly, Reynolds can’t bring himself to leave her. And Elsa, for her part, won’t let him go.

Guys, I’m just gonna go ahead and say it; I didn’t care for this movie. As a matter of fact, at one point near the beginning, I almost fell asleep. This is a very long–it’s 130 minutes–very bland movie where not much happens. 90% of it is characters sitting at a table, eating in utter silence, or fitting people with dresses. And when something does happen, like when Reynolds decides to steal a dress he made back from a client, those things come so far out of left field that you’re left feeling totally perplexed. Now, granted, this is all very much in keeping with the writer/director, Paul Thomas Anderson’s, style. In case you don’t know who that is, he’s a director who made films like Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood. His pictures are notorious for being very light on actual plot, and very heavy on weird characters doing weird things. Phantom Thread continues that tradition. And if you are a fan of his, you will love this movie, and nothing I say will change your mind. As for me, I found this to be one of the dullest films of the year. And unlike other dull films I saw in 2017, like A Ghost Story, or Downsizing, there’s not at least a cool, out of the box concept to at least keep you invested. Here, it’s literally just a dude and a woman trying to have a relationship when both of them are kind of assholes. That’s it.

Now, I wanna be fair and talk about some good qualities in this flick, because there are some. The acting is good, the cinematography is beautiful, and the score is very nice. This is a competently-crafted movie. But the story is so boring, the characters are so bland, and the runtime is so long, that you just don’t care about any of those technical achievements. So, for that reason, I say, don’t go out and see this one. If you like artsy movies, or PT ANderson, you might get something out of this, but not me.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

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

Li Mu Bai has long led a warrior’s life. But now, after years of bloodshed, he’s determined to turn over a new leaf. So, to prove to everyone that he’s done killing, he gives his sword, the legendary Green Destiny, to Yu Shu Lien, a fellow warrior, and unrequited love interest. But when the Green Destiny is stolen, and Yu and Li’s investigation brings them to the home of a government official, they realize that there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a movie I have loved literally my entire life. Not only was it the first film I ever saw, but it was also the movie that made me want to make movies. Seriously. As soon as I watched this back in 2000, I got a camera, and made my own kung fu movie, Crouching Lion, Hidden Eagle. Any picture that can get a six year old who doesn’t even know what a camera is to want to make movies is doing something right. And I’m not the only one who thinks that. To date, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon remains the highest grossing foreign-language film in American history, as well as the most critically-acclaimed martial arts movie of all time; with a record four Academy Awards to its name, and ten nominations, including Best Picture. But why was it so beloved? Why do people still remember it after so many years? What, to put it bluntly, makes this movie so good?

Well, several things, actually. The first is it’s script. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a very well-written movie, with it actually getting nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, and for good reason. Every single character is given depth, personality, and pain. The film is almost three hours long, and it contains many quiet scenes where characters just sit and talk to each other about their dreams and desires. As such, the protagonists of this film are considerably more well-rounded than those in other martial arts movies. The second thing that makes this movie awesome is the camerawork. Crouching Tiger, Hidden dragon is beautifully shot, with every single frame dripping with life and color. Peter Pau, the cinematographer, won an Oscar for lensing this film, and I can totally see why. Every time I watch it, I feel like I’ve been transported to another world, and it’s all thanks to the images onscreen. The third thing that makes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon incredible is the acting. Everyone gives a subtle, restrained performance, not at all what you’d expect from a film like this, and, indeed, many members of the cast were nominated for BAFTA and Hong Kong Film Awards for their work. The standout, easily, is Zhang Ziyi, who steals the Green Destiny, and the whole damn show. She is magnetic on screen. She’s bold and fiery, and yet, vulnerable and sweet. By this point in her career, She’d already made somewhat of a name for herself back in China, but it was her work in Crouching Tiger that catapulted her into the stratosphere of stardom, not just in the East, but in the West as well. For the next five years, she was everywhere, appearing in big films like Hero, Rush Hour 2, Memoirs Of A Geisha, and House Of Flying Daggers. It is extremely rare for an Asian actress to become big in Hollywood, but Zhang Ziyi did, and it’s all thanks to her incredible performance in this movie. The fourth, and biggest, reason why Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is awesome is the action.  It is SUPERB. It’s exciting, well-shot, beautifully-choreographed, and inventive. The fight sequences in this movie hold up after 17 years, and for good reason. They’re real. Every single moment was done in camera, by real stuntmen. And you can tell. In the film’s most famous fight scene, where Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi duke it out in a courtyard, you hear the actresses panting, and see the sweat dripping down their faces. You really believe that this is a hard, brutal fight, and that it’s taking a serious toll on both their bodies. And whenever a film can convince you that a staged action sequence is real, it’s done something right.

Now, as much as I adore Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and, trust me, I could gush about it for ages, there are some aspects of it that I don’t enjoy as much, all these years later. The biggest, by far, is the flashback sequence, wherein we see Zhang Ziyi’s backstory. Yes, it’s necessary, and it helps you understand her character. But it’s also very long, and very, very slow. It goes on for about 40 minutes, and when you watch it, you just feel like you’re in a different movie. The whole thing really hurts the pace, and I honestly tend to fast-forward through it whenever I re-watch the film. Which brings me to another point, the fact that the movie’s plot is kind of scatter-brained. It starts out as a drama about a warrior trying to abandon his bloody past. Then it becomes a mystery, where they have to find the Green Destiny. Then it turns into a romantic drama, wherein Zhang Ziyi wants to escape her arranged marriage and go live in the desert. And then, in the last 30 minutes, it becomes a kind of road movie, where Zhang Ziyi is just roaming the land, taking what she wants and fighting whomever she pleases. Yes, everyone has an arc, and all the subplots do pay off. But, upon re-watch, it does feel like some of those subplots could have been omitted, and the movie, as a whole, would have become more focused.

But those are really the only negative things I have to say about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This is a well-shot, well-acted, emotionally-devastating character piece, with some amazing fight sequences and action. If you somehow haven’t seen this movie after all this time, go out and rent it RIGHT NOW!  You will love it.

The Post (2017)

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

It’s the early 70s. Richard Nixon is in office, and the Vietnam War is in full swing. For years, the American people have been told, “Don’t worry. We’re winning. It’ll be over in no time.” But, as it turns out, that was a lie. No less than three presidents knew that the war was un-winnable, but decided to keep it going, solely because they didn’t want to say they lost. Dan Ellsberg, an analyst for the RAND Corporation, decides he can’t live with this, and so leaks several thousand classified documents detailing these lies, the Pentagon Papers, to the press. The New York TImes snatches them up straight away, but the ink has barely dried before the White House shuts them down with a restraining order. So it’s up to the Washington Post, a small, privately-owned DC paper, to pick up the slack, get the word out to the American people, and hold the government accountable for their lies. Will they be able to? Well, you’ll just have to watch the film to find out.

The Post is directed by Steven Spielberg, scored by John Williams, and starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. Do I really need to tell you it’s good? Because it is.  It’s well-acted, well-shot, well-directed, and the story is compelling. Which is surprising. I mean, if you step back and look at it, it’s a talky drama about a newspaper leaking government documents. That’s a pretty dry premise. There’s no sex. There’s no drugs. There’s no action, though there is a brief, highly effective war scene at the start of the movie. This is a film that relies entirely on its dialogue and its actors to carry it along, and by God, both of those do so in spades. I was never bored once, and even though I knew where the story was going, since I’d learned about the Pentagon Papers in history class, I felt the pressure that these characters were experiencing. And any time a picture about events that happened over 40 years ago can make you feel invested in those events, it’s done something right.

That said, I do have a few complaints. The film is a bit slow in the first half, which is not to say it’s dull. It’s just, when The Post finally does get the papers, the movie becomes so much more vigorous and lively. So you’re left wondering why the first half couldn’t be as energetic. On top of this, the film does definitely play it safe. This is very much an Oscar-bait movie, trying to make a statement, while also not wanting to ruffle too many feathers. Granted, unlike other films like this, such as last year’s Battle Of The Sexes, which tried to talk about sexism while simultaneously making its sexist characters as likable as possible, this movie does at least pull no punches in the portrayal department. Still, it is an awards flick, and I know that some people will avoid it just because it’s that.

Nevertheless, The Post’s fine performances, tight script, and strong direction do make it worth watching. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

Downsizing (2017)

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

To fight global warming, scientists develop the means to shrink humans down. The idea is that, if people are smaller, they’ll produce less waste, use less energy, and, overall, leave a smaller footprint on the environment. It doesn’t take long, however, for people to catch on that there are other benefits to being little, like the fact that money is worth a lot more in shrunken communities. One individual hoping to escape financial woes by “downsizing” is Paul Safranek, a physical therapist drowning in debt. He and his wife visit “Leisure Land,” the most prosperous shrunken community, and decide, “screw it! Let’s get small.” Unfortunately for Paul, however, his wife gets cold feet at the last minute, and leaves him just as he’s undergoing the procedure. And seeing as downsizing is irreversible, he’s pretty much left to fend for himself in this new, miniature world. Will he survive? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Downsizing is a quintessential “idea” movie. What I mean by that is, there are some films that get made solely because of the uniqueness of their central premise, as opposed to how tight their plot is, or how developed their characters are. Probably the most famous example of a film like this is M Night Shyamalan’s The Village, where the whole concept is that there is an isolated community in the woods, where the elders teach their children that it is the 1800s, when it’s actually modern times. It’s a fun idea, with a lot of potential, but the film itself doesn’t really have a lot to offer when it comes to story or character development. That’s pretty much the case with Downsizing. The premise of people shrinking down, and forming new, miniature communities, is fascinating, and original. But when you watch the movie, you can tell that Alexander Payne, the writer/director, didn’t really have a story to go along with this idea. Because after Paul shrinks down, there is a long, long stretch where nothing really happens. He gets a job, starts seeing a woman, only to have her dump him, and goes to a party. None of these things matter in the end, so they’re really just there to pad out the runtime. There’s also a ton of characters who get introduced in the start of the movie, like Paul’s wife, his mother, his wife’s father, and his friend, all of whom just kind of vanish by the end. As a result, you’re left feeling like you’ve just been told a very long, very convoluted joke with no punch line.

Now, all that said, I didn’t hate this movie. In fact, I kind of liked it. It definitely has things to admire. The central idea, as I said, is very original. The design of these new, small communities is very creative. The characters are  well-defined, and the acting is good. The stand-out, easily, is Hong Chau, whom plays Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese dissident who befriends Paul, and pulls him out of his depression. She has the funniest dialogue, she’s likable, and her performance is great. Seriously. Hong Chau has been nominated for a Golden Globe for her work in this film, and I can understand why. She feels very real, which is odd for me to say because, when I saw the trailers, I thought to myself, “Oh god. Here’s another Asian woman in an American movie speaking broken English, and pining after a White dude.” But the movie is actually a lot more sophisticated and sensitive than that when it comes to her character. Her religious fervor, determination to keep going, even when she’s exhausted and in pain, and her brutal honesty really reminded me of Asian immigrants I know, like my grandfather, and my mother’s friend, Mihua. And I’ve got to give the movie props for that.

So, between her performance, the beautiful production values, and a very interesting premise, Downsizing actually has some good things to offer. Yeah, it’s a little bit boring in places, and you can tell the writer didn’t really have a full plot thought out when they started shooting. But, if you don’t mind that, give this flick a look. You’re bound to be engaged on some level.

The Shape Of Water (2017)

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

It’s 1962, and Elisa Esposito is a janitor at a high-tech lab. A mute, Elisa spends her days watching old movies, taking care of her roommate, Giles, and listening to her colleague, Zelda’s, marital woes. Her world is thrown into turmoil when a special asset, a humanoid Fish Creature, is brought to the facility. She becomes obsessed with it, visiting it when no one is around, playing it music, and, eventually, breaking it out, and bringing it to her apartment. This incurs the wrath of Strickland, the lab’s racist, sadistic director, as well as the Soviets, who want the creature for themselves. Will Elisa be able to outsmart them? Will she find a way to free her fish-faced love? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

The Shape Of Water is a well-acted, beautiful looking, richly-textured fairy tale. And I’m not sure how to feel about it. It’s not that I think it’s bad, per se. As a matter of fact, while I was watching it, I realized that it is, in many ways, the exact type of movie I love to write. A period piece, with a sci-fi or supernatural element, that also serves as a commentary on prejudice and disability? I’ve written about five scripts like that. And, again, on a technical level, this movie is perfect. It’s also not a sequel, remake, adaptation or spin-off, which is always a plus in my book.

That said, there are certain things you should probably know going in. They’re not complaints, per se; just some things to temper your expectations. For starters, the film is very slow. The first 20 minutes, which have almost no dialogue, just show us Elisa’s daily routine. Nothing important happens in them. And while they do give us a well-rounded portrait of her character, they do leave you wondering when the actual plot is going to kick in. On top of that, you don’t actually see Elisa and the Fish Man much. A lot more screen time is devoted to side characters, like her roommate, Giles, her colleague, Zelda, and even Strickland, the main villain. Yes, neither she nor the Creature can talk. But it’s never a good sign when your film’s leads are the least interesting part of the movie. And, finally, the romance in this story is not at all sugar-coated. What I mean by that is, in most romance films, particularly ones that involve a human and a supernatural creature, like King Kong or Beauty and the Beast, the filmmakers tend to keep sex out of it. Not here. There are several scenes where we watch Elisa and the Fish Monster banging. And, I’ll be honest, it made me uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, the sheer beauty, and originality, of The Shape Of Water make it worth watching. Is it slow? Yes. Are the two leads a little underdeveloped? Sure. But neither of those are enough to dampen the charm of this sweet, magical, and original fairy tale. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

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.