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.

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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.

Roman J Israel Esq. (2017)

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

Roman J Israel Esq. is a Civil Rights lawyer whose been fighting the good fight for decades. He’s brilliant with legal minutia, but terrible with people. Which is probably why, at his two person law firm, his partner makes all the court appearances, and he does all the behind-the-scenes research. But what happens when his partner dies, and he’s left with no money, and no real connections? Well, he finds himself going to work for a big evil law firm, and engaging in some less-than-savory practices to survive. Will there be any repercussions? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

If you know me in real life, you know that Denzel Washington is my favorite actor of all time. The dude is a maverick. He can take on any role–from a corrupt LAPD detective, to an alcoholic pilot, to a Civil Rights Leader, to an officer on a submarine–make it his own, and deliver an Oscar-worthy performance. And he’s not too shabby as a director as well. Just look at Fences, and you’ll see what I mean. So whenever I hear he’s got a new movie coming out, I’m hooked. I’m there. Doesn’t matter what it is–literally, the dude has been in every genre, from action, to drama, to sci-fi, to horror–I’ll go see it, as long as he’s there. That’s why I paid to watch Roman J Israel Esq.; Denzel Washington. Because, I’ll tell you, the trailers didn’t look that interesting, and word on the internet wasn’t leaving me too excited. Still, I decided to give it a chance. Maybe I’d be wrong. Maybe it’d be good. And now, having seen it, all I can say is… Meh.

Starting out with the positives; Denzel Washington. He’s terrific. I know that’s pretty much a-given, but, the man really is at the top of his game, all the time. His character is totally different from Malcolm X, Trip, Captain Whittaker, Alonzo Harris, or any of the other people I’ve seen him portray, and I genuinely bought him in the role. Really all the actors in this movie–Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo–do great jobs. And the film looks and sounds great. It’s a competently-crafted movie.

Beyond that, though, I can’t really recommend this movie. It’s extremely slow, and boring. The main plot– Roman revealing a criminal’s location to a mob in exchange for some money–doesn’t come about until  40 minutes in, and there are a ton of scenes, like Roman getting robbed, or him coming across a seemingly dead homeless man, that never get brought up again, and have no impact on the larger story at all. The film is also very inconsistent with regards to Colin Farell’s character; one minute, he’s the devil incarnate, the next minute, he wants to fight the good fight. It really threw me off, and took me out of the picture.

So, in the end, despite some good production values, and Denzel Washington, I can’t recommend this movie to you all. It’s just kind of boring.

Murder On The Orient Express (2017)

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

It’s 1934, and Hercule Poirot is the greatest detective in the world. No detail escapes his eye, and he’s almost compulsively devoted to justice. As you can imagine, both of these things make him a sought-after commodity. So much so that he barely has any time for himself. But not anymore. He’s just solved a major case in Jerusalem, and he’s setting off from Istabmul for some much-needed R and R. But, what’s this? One of the train’s passengers has been murdered, and no one knows who did it? Well, it looks like that R and R will have to wait, because there’s a mystery that needs solving, and there’s only one man to solve it.

I’ve been a fan of Kenneth Branagh for years; ever since I saw him as Professor Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets. Then, when I got older, and I watched his directorial efforts, particularly his Shakespeare adaptations, my respect for him grew ten-fold. So when I heard that he was directing a period-mystery-thriller, I knew I’d have to give it a look. And, last night, I did just that. How was it, you ask? Well…

On the positive side, the movie looks amazing. And I don’t just mean the costumes and sets. The cinematography in this film is gorgeous. There are so many beautiful tracking shots, wherein the camera just glides down the train, pausing every once in a while to linger on a particular person or thing, that it makes you want to drool. And the acting, as you expect from a Branagh-helmed film, is superb. Everyone, even people who are only in a few scenes, does a terrific job. And that’s because every single character is played by a world-class actor. And lastly, and most importantly, the film is never boring. The pace is quick, and there are more than enough twists to keep you invested. So, if you’re just looking to watch a well-made mystery, you won’t be disappointed. This film definitely delivers on that front.

That said, I left the theater feeling somewhat let down. Not because of any technical shortcomings, mind you. The story just felt, for lack of a better word, silly. When you learn what’s actually going on, and how stupidly and conveniently connected everything is, you find yourself rolling your eyes. What? This person was actually faking his accent, because he’s really banging this person, who’s actually the ill-legitimate daughter of that person? That’s the kind of silly, overly convoluted nonsense this picture throws at you. If you’ve ever seen Clue, or, better yet, Murder By Death, which directly parodies Hercule Poirot, you know the kind of exaggerated, one-note characters that exist in this film. But unlike those movies, which are comedies, this film plays all the silliness straight, and, in so doing, kind of shoots itself in the foot. Yes, this movie is based off of a book written in the 1930s. But, the thing is, we don’t live in the 1930s. I think that perhaps they should have updated the story a bit; maybe omitted a few of the sillier twists.

Still, I’d be lying if I told you that this was a bad film, or that I wasn’t consistently engaged by it. So, for that reason, I would recommend you all go see it. I put it in the same category as films like The Foreigner; good premise, good production values, but less than stellar execution. Make of this what you will.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

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

Seven months after her daughter is raped and murdered, Mildred Hayes, frustrated with the police department’s lack of results, rents out three billboards, on which she asks the question “raped while dying, and still no arrests, how come, Chief Willoughby?” This, naturally, upsets many of her neighbors, including the aforementioned Willoughby, who considers this an unfair attack on his character, seeing as how he’s dying of cancer. He and his racist, incompetent deputy, Dixon, demand that she take the posters down, but she refuses. This leads to them taking drastic actions, like arresting her co-workers, and threatening the man Mildred pays to rent the billboards. And, well, things get crazy, and I mean CRAZY, from there.

Have you ever watched a movie that was great for the first half, but then, somewhere along the way, it just lost you? Well, I have. And it’s exactly what I experienced with this picture. For the first 40 minutes or so, I was loving every second of it. The set-up was interesting, the performances were SUPERB, and the dialogue, as expected from writer-director Martin McDonagh, was sharp, interesting, and darkly comedic. There was even one point, where Mildred monologues to a Priest about the Crips and the Bloods, that I actually started thinking that this was his best film yet.

But then something happened, which I won’t say here, that totally changed the tone and direction of the movie. And while I was extremely shocked by it, I was still willing to give the picture the benefit of the doubt. Maybe McDonagh was experimenting. Maybe he was trying to take this story in a direction we’d never seen before. Then something else happened, something that I will say here, that caused me to completely tune out. At one point in this movie, Dixon, who is feeling sad about something, goes over to the office of the man Mildred rents the billboards from, beats him and his secretary to within an inch of their lives, and even throws the former out the window. At that point, I just stopped caring. I already hated Dixon, but when I saw him beating an innocent woman, and throwing a guy who was just doing his job out a window, and then stomping on his face, I lost all interest in his character. Which was bad for the movie, since it later does everything in its power to make him seem likable and sympathetic. I understand that it is very common in fiction to give characters arcs where they start off bad and become good, but there are times when you can take it too far, and the characters are shown as so unlikable that you don’t want to follow them. That is exactly what happened with this movie, and Dixon. But beyond simply going too far, this film also suffers from what I will refer to as “Full Metal Jacket Syndrome.” This is when a movie’s first half is tight, well-constructed, and building up to something, but then its second half is meandering and pointless. The first half of this movie, where Mildred and Willoughby are squaring off, is so damn good, that when the second half, which completely abandons that dynamic, rears its ugly head, you almost want to scream with frustration.

Guys, if it seems like I’m angry, it’s only because I loved the director, and the first half of this movie, so much. In Bruges is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s got some of the funniest, most mean-spirited, and thought-provoking dialogue I’ve ever heard. And this movie does too. But whereas In Bruges held back, never letting it’s dark humor become grating, here, McDonagh goes so far into making characters seem unlikable that you just don’t give a shit after a while. Yes, the acting is superb. Yes, the dialogue is great. Yes, the premise is interesting. But the characters are too despicable to follow, the violence is disturbing, and the second half loses a lot of narrative steam. If you’re a fan of McDonagh, maybe you’ll like it. Or maybe not. Either way, I won’t be watching this one again anytime soon.

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.

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.