Maniac (2018 Miniseries)

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In an oddball future, a future where you can avoid paying for things by listening to a certain number of ads, and where tiny robots patrol the streets, looking for poop to scoop, two broken people enter an experimental drug trial. One, Owen, is the neglected, schizophrenic son of a wealthy Manhattan family. He is being forced to lie under oath to prevent his brother from going to jail. Another, Annie, is a selfish, mean-spirited drug addict, who still feels guilt over having contributed to her sister’s death. Owen is there for the money. Annie is there for the drugs. But regardless of why they came, the head of the program, Dr. James Mantleray and his partner, Dr. Azumi Fujita, are confident that their drugs will solve ALL, yes, all, of their patients’ personal problems. But what happens when the computer administering the trial develops emotions and begins messing with the process? James and Azumi will be forced to bring in the former’s awful mother, whom the computer is modeled off of, while the patients will have to contend with a series of strange visions and increasingly surreal simulations. Continue reading

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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.

La La Land (2016)

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

What can I say about La La Land, the modern musical that’s won the hearts of millions? Well, I could tell you that it’s entertaining, optimistic, and very impressive when you consider all the work that went into crafting certain sequences. But I’d be remiss if I failed to mention my overall dislike for the picture, and how I honestly have no desire to ever see it again.

Hate me yet? Good. Because I’m not done.

Now before I go on, I just want you to know that I don’t despise this movie. I recognize how good the acting, cinematography and dialogue are. I’m not trying to say that I think this is a bad film. I’m saying, it’s not a movie I enjoyed. You all might, and I’m happy if you do. But, for me, this isn’t a film I think I’ll ever revisit.

Now, with all that said, La La Land tells the story of two struggling artists, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who meet and fall in love in LA. And that’s really it. It’s just a movie about two people trying to get by, and their relationship. Theres no big super villain plot. The world is not at stake. There’s not even a real sense that if they were to break up, they’d be all that unhappy. And, spoilers, they do break up by the end, and are just fine. This honestly was one of the main reasons I didn’t care for this picture, the fact that it never got me invested. I never got the sense that something was at stake in this picture. If the characters broke up, I knew that they’d be fine, because the movie shows them being fine. If they got fired from their jobs, I knew they’d find other, better ones, because the movie shows them doing that. I never once believed that Emma Stone would end up selling herself just to stay alive, or that Ryan Gosling would hang himself if he couldn’t start his own jazz club. Now I’m not trying to say that the movie had to go that dark. I’m saying, at least in other Musicals, like Oliver and Miss Saigon, both of which I’ve acted in, there are real stakes. The threat of death, poverty and trauma is ever present in them. You know that these characters could, and probably will, die, or have something bad happen to them if they don’t act right. And that gets you to care more about the story. In La La Land, you know that both these characters have back up plans if they’re musical or theatrical careers go south. And while I, as an artist, don’t want anyone to give up on their dreams, as a spectator, I kept asking myself, “why should I care about you? You’ll be fine, either way. Where are the stakes?”

Another thing that bugged me about this movie was how overly nostalgic it was. Now before any of you call me a hypocrite, I had the same problem with Stranger Things, one of my favorite new shows. In that series, the creators show off their deep love for the 1980s, while never once commenting on the negative aspects of that time period. Similarly, La La Land acts as a huge love letter to both Jazz music and classic Hollywood, even going so far as to recreate whole sequences from movies like An American In Paris. And while these recreations are impressive, as are all the dance and musical numbers in this film, I found myself asking, at multiple points, “what is this doing for your story? I get that you love jazz, and old movies, but that’s not enough to support a plot. When are things with consequences going to happen?” Nostalgia can only carry a movie so far, and I honestly think there was too much of it in this picture.

But, in the end, I know that audiences won’t care about either of those things. Because this movie has made tons of money, and won even more awards. It’s actually set a record for the movie with the most Oscar nominations in history. Clearly, this film has spoken to a lot of people, and that’s fine. I’m glad that they enjoy it. I just didn’t. So, if you want to see it, go ahead. More power to you. If, on the other hand, you’re like me, and you want there to be stakes in your film, don’t. It’s up to you.