Blade Runner: 2049 (2017)

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

30 years after the events of the first Blade Runner, replicants have been successfully integrated into society. Or, at least, the newest breed has. Older models–those seen in the first Blade Runner–are regarded as obsolete, and therefore still subject to “retirement.” And now, the government deploys other replicants to hunt their kin down. K (Ryan Gosling) is one such synthetic Blade Runner. One day, while out performing a “retirement,” he discovers the body of Rachel, Harrison Ford’s love interest from the first movie. At first glance, it seems that this is nothing more than a call-back to the original film. But, as is always the way with such things, it’s not that simple. Her remains reveal that she was pregnant at the time of her death, and that the child may have even survived. Which is a big deal, seeing as Rachel was a replicant, and replicants aren’t supposed to be able to have children. K’s superiors are horrified to hear this, and instantly order him to find the replicant baby and kill it. K agrees, but, as he goes about his investigation, he uncovers some details that lead him to question his purpose, as well as his own identity. No surprises there.

When I first heard they were making a sequel to Blade Runner, I really didn’t know what to think. Anytime a sequel comes out more than 10 years after the release of a particular film, the chances that it will be terrible increase 20 fold. On top of that, I wasn’t a huge fan of the first Blade Runner. Oh sure, it looks amazing, it’s themes and ideas are intriguing, and the influence that it’s had on the sci-fi genre cannot be overstated. At the same time, though, it’s extremely long, kind of boring, and there’s a scene in it where the protagonist more or less rapes his love interest. Anyone who’s actually seen the first Blade Runner will tell you that it has these flaws. So, going into Blade Runner: 2049, I had mixed feelings. And now, having seen it, I still have mixed feelings.

On the positive side, Blade Runner: 2049 is a superbly crafted audio-visual experience. If you want to see what film, as an art form, is capable of, you have to watch this movie. Everything about it, from the set design, to the cinematography, to the music, to the lighting and the CGI, is euphoric. Very few films can make a fictional world feel lived-in and real, and this one does that in spades. So, for that reason–for creating a world, and showing off the full potential of cinema–I say go out and see this movie. It is the kind of film that demands to be watched on a huge screen, with loud speakers.

On the other hand, Blade Runner: 2049 suffers from many of the same problems that plagued its predecessor, particularly with regards to pacing. There are an absurd number of long, silent sequences in this movie, where characters are just walking down hallways, staring at things, and reaching out and touching stuff. It really gets quite dull after a while. I’m not joking when I say that this movie could have been about 20 minutes shorter, and the story wouldn’t be effected in any way. On top of this, there are quite a few scenes that serve no purpose to the story other than as callbacks to the original film; like when Ryan Gosling talks to Edward James Olmos, or when Harrison Ford meets a clone of Sarah Young. Nothing important, plot-wise, happens in these scenes, and they are quickly forgotten, so they all come off as needless padding. Something else that kind of bugged me with this movie was something that also kind of bugged me with the original film. And that is the female characters. They all seem to exist for the pleasure of men. They’re either sex slaves, like the replicant prostitutes who seem to be on every corner, or scantily-clad enforcers, like Love, the main villain’s henchwoman. There are a ton of scenes where we see replicants–who, of course, are all beautiful young women–being born, or where the camera pans over to holographic billboards of naked ladies. Even Gosling’s boss, Robin Wright, who, for the most part, is a gruff, non-stereotypical figure, is put in a scene where the camera pans up her legs, and where she asks him if he’d like to sleep with her. It’s kind of disappointing, that, both in the future, and in 2017, we haven’t been able to get rid of the male gaze. For my part, I intend to go against this in my work. But I’m getting side-tracked.

Concerning Blade Runner: 2049, it is a superbly crafted audio-visual experience. If you want to see the best that film can offer in terms of sight and sound, go see this movie. It will not disappoint. But if you want a compelling story that moves quickly, and that doesn’t have stereotypical female characters, this might not be for you. Make of this what you will.

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Battle Of The Sexes (2017)

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

It’s 1973, and Billie Jean King is the reigning champ of women’s tennis. But she’s not just interested in titles. No, sir. She also wants to change the way the tennis federation treats women. So when she learns that the female winners of a particular tournament will be paid 8 times less than their male counterparts, she decides, “Screw it! I’m making my own all-women’s tennis league.” And that’s exactly what she does. Meanwhile, Bobby Riggs, a washed up former tennis champ, upset at how uppity King has gotten, challenges her to an exclusive, one-on-one match; a “battle of the sexes,” if you will. He even offers her a lot of money if she wins. King is reluctant at first, but, realizing that the league can only survive if it has the funds to do so, she agrees, and begins training for the big, end-all, be-all match. Will she win? Well, you’ll have to watch the movie, or read a history book, to find out.

Battle Of The Sexes is a well-acted, decently directed comedy, with a good message, and that’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Which, in a way, is kind of a problem. We’ve seen these kind of social issue movies before. Hell, they crop up every year around Oscar season. Some, like Blood Diamond, Dallas Buyers Club, and 12 Years A Slave, are great, and able to transcend their well-meaning, if predictable, formulas. Others, like Stonewall, Golden Gate, and J Edgar, are bad, precisely because of their refusal to take risks with their storytelling. Battle Of The Sexes isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but, for a movie that’s seeking to tackle the gross sexism that Billie Jean King had to come up against, and that sadly is still present to this day, it all seems kind of safe. Say what you like about GLOW’s dark humor, at least it went places it needed to go to. It wasn’t afraid to offend people when it came to making us understand that women did, and do, face a lot of terrible shit. Yes, sometimes it went over-the-top, but it at least made its point. In Battle Of The Sexes, the misogyny is oddly tame. Yes, it’s still terrible seeing men objectify women, pay them less, and talk down to them. But the language they use isn’t that provocative. And the film even goes out of its way to make the sexist guys, particularly Riggs, kind of likable. We see him playing with his kid, cracking jokes,and generally enjoying life. Yes, it’s better to employ an even-handed approach when it comes to portraying heroes and villains, but, in this case, I believe it would have been better if Riggs had been slightly less lovable. See, very often in fiction, sexism in male characters is shown as an annoying, but forgivable, quirk. If you don’t believe me, just look at the Big Bang Theory, Revenge Of The Nerds, and even Their Finest, a film I really admired. In each of these works, other people scoff and roll their eyes when the male characters say or do sexist things, but they never try to change their minds, or punish them for their behavior. In fact, we’re meant to sympathize with these men. Deep down, they’re not bad guys. They’re just misunderstood. And whatever misogynistic behavior they might display, it’s more than made up for by their positive qualities. This trend in media has seriously normalized misogyny in many people’s minds. And I’m quite convinced that it at least played a part in the election of Donald Trump. Even after the infamous Access Hollywood tape, people voted for him, and they did so because, to them, his sexism is just a harmless part of who he is. If Battle Of The Sexes really wanted to comment on sexism, it should have made Riggs as ugly and disgusting a character as possible. He shouldn’t have had any redeeming qualities, and the reason he shouldn’t have is to show audiences that men who act like this lose, and are pathetic, worthless human beings.

But if, somehow, you don’t care about making a strong enough statement against sexism–though, really, why would you go to see this movie if you didn’t–the film isn’t all that good. It’s not bad, mind you. It’s just not memorably great. THe dialogue is fine. The cinematography is fine, though they do tend to use way too many close ups. And the acting, as I said, is fine. No one really stands out as superb. Everyone is just serviceably good. So when you combine all this together–the serviceable production values, and rather safe tone–what you’re left with is a well-meaning, but honestly kind of forgettable biopic. Should you go see it? Well, that’s up to you. As for me, I have no desire to watch it again.

Mother! (2017)

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

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem are a married couple who live out in the woods. Javier Bardem is a poet struggling with writer’s block, and Jennifer Lawrence is a craftsman of sorts, having rebuilt their house from scratch after it burned down. All is well, until an obnoxious couple, both of whom are zealous fans of Bardem’s work, come barging in, and make themselves at home. Lawrence is shocked by this, and disturbed that, rather than kick these intruders out, her husband welcomes them, and even encourages their destructive behavior. Things only get worse when even more acolytes to Bardem’s word appear, and Lawrence gets pregnant. Will the strangers leave? WIll Lawrence be able to raise her baby in peace? No, and no. I don’t care if that’s a spoiler. I don’t really think you should see this movie. Why? Simple.

Mother! is an aggressively unpleasant picture. And I don’t mean that in the sense of it being poorly made. The acting, special effects, music and cinematography are all fine. I mean, everything about it, from the story, to the characters, to the downright disturbing imagery, is unpleasant. There isn’t a single thing about it that makes you feel happy, optimistic or hopeful. And I know that there will be some people who say, “Well, I want challenging art that doesn’t spoon feed me the same easy crap I’m used to.” And that’s fine. You’ll probably get something out of it. But the truth is, it’s nothing that you haven’t seen before.

See, this whole film is just one big metaphor for religion. Javier Bardem is God. Jennifer Lawrence is the Earth. And all the people who come in and destroy their house in Bardem’s name are Christians. And I’m not just saying that. The first couple who appear have two sons, one of whom kills the other in an act of jealousy, so they are clearly meant to be Adam and Eve. Lawrence has a child who is killed by the zealots, who eat his flesh and drink his blood, all while Bardem claims they need to be forgiven for their sins; clearly a metaphor for  Jesus. And there are several scenes in this movie where the Christians are destroying the house and killing each other that are lifted directly from events like the Holocaust, the Crusades and the Intifada. This movie is as blatant a middle-finger to Christianity as Bill Maher’s Religulous. For people like my father, who hate organized religion, that fact alone will probably be enough to get them to see it. For others, like my mother, who are devoted to God, that will be enough of a reason not to. For people like me, who fall somewhere in-between, it’s just not interesting. I’ve seen this kind of blatant condemnation of organized religion before, and this film doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It doesn’t try to explore why people believe in God, or examine any of the good things that religion has done for human civilization. Nope. According to this movie, religion is evil. Pure and simple. Now look, I know that religion has been the justification for some of the worst, if not the worst, atrocities in human history. Religious violence happens every day in Israel/Palestine. Until very recently, it was not uncommon for Catholics and Protestants to murder each other in Northern Ireland. But the vast majority of people who are religious aren’t psychopaths, or serial killers. They’re just ordinary, decent people, who use their religion as a moral framework by which to live their lives. So to have a film come out and tell all those people that the thing they were brought up with, the thing that probably hasn’t hurt them, or anyone they know, in any way, is evil, and makes them evil too, is kind of unfair, and even a little bit cruel.

For this reason, and the fact that the story and characters are so unpleasant, I really can’t recommend this movie to you all. If you like the director, Darren Aronofsky, the stars, or just hate religion, maybe you’ll like this one. Me, I’m not interested, and I have no intention of ever seeing it again.

Death Note (2017)

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

While doing other people’s homework, angry nerd Light Turner stumbles across a mysterious book with the words “Death Note” written on it. And by “stumbled,” I mean it falls from the sky, and hits him on the head. Anyway, when he opens it, a strange, spiky-faced demon named Ryuk appears before him, and explains that if Light writes a person’s name in the book, and pictures their face while doing so, he’ll be able to kill the unlucky soul. Realizing that this gives him virtually unlimited power, Light uses the book to kill off bullies, murderers and terrorists, eventually creating a god-like persona for himself called Kira. Some people love him, since he’s basically ridding the world of evil. Others hate him, since he’s essentially deciding who is worthy of life and who isn’t. Either way, the police, led by an eccentric detective called L, are brought in, and begin investigating Kira’s identity. This puts the pressure on Light, and his bloodthirsty girlfriend, Mia, who start to realize that, shock of all shocks, maybe killing people off indiscriminately is bad.

The best thing I can say about Death Note is that it has an interesting concept. If you did have the power to decide who lived and who died, what would you do with it? Would you just settle personal scores? Or would you try to make the World a better place? And, perhaps more important than that, how would you know who to kill? Because, the truth is, “good” and “evil” are highly subjective terms. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. People can change for the better, even after they’ve made horrible choices. And in our social media dominated world, how do you know if the stories you’ve heard about someone are true? A guy you read about online could be a murderer, or he could just be a dude that someone didn’t like, and so they decided to ruin his life by spreading false rumors. The film’s premise opens up so many interesting questions, and, to it’s credit, the script does touch upon all of them briefly. But just about everything else is laughably bad. And I do mean laughably.

There are so many moments in this film that are unintentionally hilarious, like when Light is screaming at the top of his lungs, or when he and Mia are saying “I love you” to each other on a collapsing ferris wheel, that you can’t really take the movie seriously. This accidental comedy is due, in large part, to some weird stylistic choices the filmmakers made, like using a ton of 80s soft pop during dramatic or gruesome scenes. It’s extremely distracting, and really detracts from whatever serious tone the director might have been going for. There are also some weird hold-overs from the anime this film is based off of, (an anime I have not seen, by the way), that make it extremely hard to take the movie seriously. Like, why is he named Light? Who the hell names their kid Light? If you wanted to Americanize the property, you should have called him Luke, or Liam, or anything that a normal person would be named. And if, somehow, none of that bothers you, then the lackluster acting and gaping plot holes should get the job done, because this movie has plenty of both. The guy who plays Light seems to think that the way to convince a girl that you love her is to open your eyes really wide, and smile in as creepy a manner as possible. And L, as interesting and quirky as he is, makes some huge deductions based on virtually no evidence. And I do mean no evidence. Somehow, some way, he is  able to conclude that Light is in Seattle, and that he needs to see his victim’s faces, and know their names, in order to kill them. Yes, he’s right. But you don’t buy that he’s able to deduce this. And the fact that you don’t buy it is a plot hole.

Guys, I really don’t think you should watch Death Note (2017). I can’t  say whether or not it did the anime justice, but I can say that it’s questionable acting, gaping plot holes, and strange music choices work together to create a silly, unintentionally hilarious motion picture. So unless your in the mood for something campy and dumb, don’t waste your time with it.

The Beguiled (2017)

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

While out picking mushrooms, Amy, a student at an all girl’s school in Virginia, comes across a wounded Union soldier. Deciding she can’t just let him die, she brings him home, where the headmistress, Miss Farnsworth, and all the other students, take an instant shine to him. They bring him inside, clean his wounds, cook him food, and, as soon as they think no one else is looking, begin flirting with him. The Northerner, for his part, laps up their affection, flirting with each of them, and even requesting a permanent place in their midst. Things take a turn for the dark, however, when one of the women he’s been courting breaks his already damaged leg. This leads to Miss Farnsworth amputating the injured appendage, and to the Northerner, a previously kind and gentle man, becoming a violent drunk. Needless to say, tensions only rise from there.

The Beguiled is handsomely photographed, decently acted, and it boasts some absolutely stunning sets. And I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again. It’s not that I can’t recognize how well-made it is. It’s just not my kind of movie. It’s extremely slow, the characters aren’t particularly well-defined, and I’m not quite sure what it’s underlying message is. A remake of a 1971 film, starring Clint Eastwood, the movie never comes out as overtly pro, or anti, feminist. On the one hand, it could be read as an indictment of men, and how their lust, violence and selfishness ruin everything. And on the other hand, the film is also about a group of jealous, deceitful, and even murderous, women, who do nothing but talk about men, and fight over a man. So, yeah.

Granted, all this ambiguity was likely a deliberate choice. In the original film, the women are clearly the villains, and Clint Eastwood is clearly the one we’re meant to sympathize with. My guess is that Sofia Coppola, the director of this remake, wanted to tone down some of the older movie’s more misogynistic content. At the same time, however, there were certain aspects of the original–specifically, a disturbing bit of backstory concerning Miss Farnsworth’s love life–that were cut, and that I think would have added a little more depth, had they been included. As I mentioned earlier, none of the characters in this film really stand out. I couldn’t tell you what their personalities were if you asked. Had Coppola included some backstory from the original, I would have gotten a better sense for these women’s characters, and their motivations would have been a little more clear. As it stands, however, The Beguiled is a pretty, competently-crafted, but ultimately hollow and forgettable remake. I don’t see myself re-visiting it anytime soon. But if you’re a fan of Sofia Coppola, or the original, maybe you’ll get a kick out of it.

Atypical (Season 1, 2017)

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

Sam is 18, and he’s never had a girlfriend. This is due, in part, to the fact that he’s on the Autism spectrum, and has trouble reading social cues. Now, though, with only one year of High School left, and a newfound attraction to his therapist, Julia, he’s determined to get a “practice girlfriend,” so he can learn how to please a woman. This quest brings him into conflict with his mother, Elsa, whose whole life has been consumed by taking care of him, and whose confusion over not being able to micromanage his existence leads her to make some bold new choices of her own.

Atypical is funny, well-acted, and very well-written. Seriously. The dialogue alone should be enough to get you to watch this series. It’s sharp, witty, believable and specific to each individual character. And the characters themselves feel like real people. They have quirks, interests, show a wide range of emotions, and at times are lovable, and at other times, loathsome. From a pure story and dialogue perspective, I have no complaints about Atypical. It’s a well-written, well-acted sitcom, with only eight, half-hour episodes, so there’s no need to worry about it dragging. And if you’re like me, and want to see greater representation of Asian people in media, you’ll be happy to learn that several key supporting characters, such as Sam’s therapist, and unrequited love interest, Julia, and his best friend, Zahid, are Asian, and not at all stereotypical. They’re well-rounded, have personalities, arcs, and even some flaws. They’re some of the best aspects of the show, and its’ refreshing to see Asian characters like this in a mainstream series.

All that said, I do have some thoughts on Atypical. They’re not complaints, per se, just thoughts. First of all, I’m not sure how accurate the series is in it’s representation of Autism. As I’ve mentioned before, many films and TV shows exaggerate certain disabilities so as to make disabled characters more pitiful or sympathetic. As such, I’m always somewhat wary whenever a film or TV series comes out where the whole concept is that a character is mentally or physically challenged. And I’m sure that, to some people, Sam will come off as a stereotypical representation of Autism. Yes, he’s a likable, compelling character. And when you watch the show, you can tell that the writers did do research on the symptoms of Autism. But his condition is still somewhat exaggerated, and should not be seen as a be-all-end-all portrayal of the spectrum. In the show, Sam is extremely sensitive to bright light, and loud noises, and is virtually incapable of speaking about any topic other than Antarctica; his obsession. I’ll tell you right now, not all Autistic people are like that. My best friend has Aspergers, a high-functioning form of Autism, and he isn’t sensitive to light, or loud noises,  and he can talk for hours about virtually everything. Autism, as I’ve mentioned before, is a spectrum, with varying degrees of severity specific to each individual person. There probably are people like Sam out there. And they might be very happy to see themselves represented on the small screen. But for people who don’t have as severe a condition as he does, or who want to know what Autism is really like, this might not be the perfect portrayal to watch.

The second thought I have on Atypical is really more of a nitpick, but one that I think is worth bringing up. And that is the character of Paige. She joins the show about two episodes in, and ends up becoming Sam’s “practice girlfriend.” She’s sweet, understanding, sympathetic, and I don’t buy her character for a second. I don’t buy that, A, she would ever be attracted to Sam, and, B, that she would be able to put up with him when they start going out. For starters, she’s way too attractive. She’s the classic Hollywood beauty; tall, blonde, and thin. She legitimately looks like a model, and yet she’s chasing after a guy who looks like the love child of Michael Cera and Dobby the House Elf. And if that’s not ridiculous enough, her character is supposedly the smartest girl in school. Between her brains and her looks, she could have literally anyone she wanted. So why is she so determine to get with this kid who, initially, doesn’t even recognize that she likes him, and then, later on, acts like a total dick to her? And not in a “he doesn’t know any better” way, but in a legitimately mean-spirited, jerky kind of way. I would have believed her character more if she were also disabled, less attractive, or just less perfect in general. As it stands, though, she’s too nice and too pretty, and she just doesn’t feel like a real person. Maybe I’m being unfair here, and I do want to mention that the actress playing Paige does a great job, but I would like it if, for once, Hollywood cast, and forgive the pun here, atypical leading ladies. Older Women. Large Women. Disabled Women. Women Of Color. They’re all just as interesting, and capable of love, as blonde super models, and they exist in higher numbers than the latter group. I would like it if, in the future, female characters would be allowed to exist in all the shapes, sizes and colors that their real-life counterparts do.

But, in the end, those are both small nitpicks, and not any real harm to the show. Atypical is funny, well-acted, well-written, and the perfect length for a sitcom. If you’re looking for something fun and charming to watch, give this Netflix original a look. You will not regret it.

Moonlight (2016)

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

Chiron has a hard life. His dad is dead, his mom is a drug addict, the kids at school don’t like him, and he realizes when he’s young that he just might be gay. Which, in his neighborhood, is the equivalent of painting a bright red target on your back. His only friends are a drug dealer named Juan, Juan’s girlfriend, Teresa, and a boy named Kevin, whom Chiron is attracted to, and who just might have feelings for him as well. Will they wind up together? Will Chiron find some peace in life? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Moonlight is a very unusual film; not simply for being one of the few movies to openly address the Black gay experience, but also in terms of how its structured. It’s broken up into three distinct acts, each of which tackles a different stage in Chiron’s life. The first act discusses his time as a little boy. The second act explores his teenage years. And the third act chronicles his life as an adult. There’s not really an overarching plot. There isn’t really a climax. Most of the key events in his life happen off screen, in the years between scenes. In many respects, Moonlight mirrors the works of Wong Kar-Wai, in that its a colorful, atmospheric mood piece, with not much plot, and a huge emphasis on sorrow, longing, and love. And, indeed, Moonlight’s director, Barry Jenkins, has openly admitted that Wong was a huge influence on him. So that right there should give you a good idea of what to expect with this movie. You might not like it, but you’ll at least know what to expect.

For my part, I found Moonlight to be beautiful. Everything about it, from its performances, to its blue-tinted cinematography, to its actors, are gorgeous. And I found the ending, wherein Chiron and Kevin are reunited, to be deeply touching. I wholeheartedly believe that people should watch this movie, if not for the performances and the camerawork, than for the simple fact that it tells a story that is not often told; the story of a gay Black man in America.

And yet, even as I say this, I know that not everyone will share my opinions on this movie. There will be people who’ll watch this film and be frustrated, some for reasons that are understandable, and some for reasons that aren’t. For starters, the movie is very slow, there are whole sequences without dialogue, and, as I said before, there isn’t really an overarching plot. I can totally understand why some people might be bored by this movie. Mood pieces that break the rules of dramatic structure are all well and good, but most people grew up with plot-driven films with lots of dialogue, and, for the most part, they prefer those. Unfortunately, though, that won’t be the only reason why some people won’t like this movie. The other, and perhaps bigger, reason is the fact that it is about a gay Black man. In an ideal world, his story, and the stories of people like him, would be universally embraced. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where a racist, misogynist internet troll with no political or military experience can get elected President, where Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately the victims of police brutality, and where homophobia and transphobia can lead to people being thrown in jail, or even killed, just for being who they are. So if you are one of those narrow-minded idiots who can’t stand to see a person of a different race or sexuality onscreen, avoid this film like the plague. If, on the other hand, you are someone with a soul, and you don’t mind slower, more atmospheric films, give Moonlight a look. It will definitely pull on your heartstrings.