The Mermaid (2016)

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

When playboy businessman Liu Xuan purchases the Green Gulf Wildlife Reserve, he uses a sonar device to clear the area of fish. Unbeknownst to him, the Gulf is actually home to a small community of mer people, many of whom have been made sick by his company’s activities. To save themselves, the mer people send one of their own, Shan, a mermaid who can walk on her fins, to assassinate him. But, as is always the case with such stories, Shan ends up falling in love with Liu, and things get complicated from there.

The Mermaid is a very weird film, with very many aspects to it. It’s got romance. It’s got fantasy. It’s got cartoonish, slapstick comedy. It’s got very blatant environmental messages, and its got surprisingly horrific violence. When I first saw it back in 2016, I really didn’t know what to think. On the one hand, I appreciated what the filmmakers were going for, as far as messages were concerned, and I liked the fact that a Chinese picture had become a global hit, with it actually out-grossing Hollywood blockbusters like X-Men: Apocalypse and Batman V Superman. On the other hand, I wasn’t a fan of the over-the-top acting, cartoonish slapstick comedy, and surprisingly gory climax. When I expressed my confusion to Chinese friends, they told me that all these things–the clashing tones, big acting, broad comedy–were just part of the director, Stephen Chow’s, style. Maybe so, but that didn’t help me make up my mind.

Well, having thought about it for a few months now, I think I can safely say that I didn’t enjoy The Mermaid. I didn’t like how silly and unrealistic the comedy got, with one character literally spending an entire scene whizzing around a room on a jet pack, and I was really turned off by the climax, which involves the gruesome murder of an entire family. And as broad as the humor might be, there are some jokes in it that really only make sense if you speak Chinese, or are well-versed in Chinese pop culture. Some movies, like In Bruges and Trainspotting, can deftly ride the line between humorous and horrifying, and even hit you with pathos when they’re done. The Mermaid is not one of those movies. It’s heavy-handed when it comes to conveying messages, and it never manages to make the transition between silly and sorrowful seem natural.

And yet, with all that said, I would, in a weird way, recommend this movie to you all. As I mentioned earlier, it was one of the highest grossing films of 2016, so, clearly, there’s enjoyment to be had in it. And I know for a fact that there are many people, like the fans of Baz Luhrman and the Tom & Jerry shorts, who like extremely cartoonish acting and humor. So, if you’re one of those people, or are a fan of Stephen Chow’s other works, give this film a look. You’ll probably have fun.

Wonder Woman (2017)

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

Born from clay, and raised on an island of only women, Princess Diana has long dreamt of war and adventure. Her mother, Hippolyte, tells her to put such matters out of her mind; that bloodshed is cruel and pointless, that their lives are much better without the influence of men, and the war god, Ares, but Diana doesn’t listen. She trains with her Aunt, Antiope, becoming the most skilled warrior on the island, until, one day, a plane with a man, Captain Steve Trevor, crashes in the ocean. Rescuing him from the water, Diana learns that there is a massive conflict, World War 1, raging outside the island, and that millions have already perished. Believing that this is the work of Ares, and that if she kills him, the world will be at peace, Diana dons armor, picks up a sword and shield, and sets off for London. But when she gets to the World of Men, she realizes that things aren’t as simple as she thought.

Wonder Woman is a movie I was very excited to see. Not only is it the first big budget superhero film starring a woman, directed by a woman, but the reviews I’d read had been extremely positive. On top of that, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Wonder Woman character. See, Superman might be my favorite costumed hero of all time, but Wonder Woman is the first superhero whose comics I ever read. Seriously. When I was a kid, my parents got me a collection of Gold and Silver age comics, one of which was the original origin of Wonder Woman. So, from an early age, I’ve been exposed to her mythos and adventures, and I was very interested to see what the filmmakers would do with it. What would they change? What would they keep? But, most important of all, would the movie be any good? Would the dialogue sound natural? Would their be character development? Would the action be exciting, and would the performances be good?

Well, having just seen Wonder Woman, I can happily say that I was very, very satisfied with the picture. This is an extremely well-made movie. It’s exciting, there’s a lot of great humor in it, the acting is superb, with the chemistry between Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor deserving an extra special mention, and there’s great character development. Diana starts off very naive and optimistic, believing that she can end a global conflict by stabbing a dude in the face, and ends more mature and measured, understanding that life’s a bit more complicated than that. I also love the team that she and Steve assemble to help them fight the Germans. See, people have made comparisons between this film and Captain America: The First Avenger, where a superhero gathers up a team to fight in World War 2, but I don’t think that’s fair. The team in that movie isn’t given nearly as much screen time, or personality, as the team here, and they just aren’t as interesting. In Wonder Woman, by contrast, you’ve got three really cool guys to work with; Samir, an Arab con artist who speaks several languages, Charlie, a Scottish sniper with a knack for singing, and the Chief, a native American smuggler who uses the war as a way to avoid racism back home. And, finally, I actually really loved the fact that they changed the film’s setting. See, in the comics, Wonder Woman leaves her home to fight the Nazis in World War 2, and when I saw that they’d changed the time period, I was a little skeptical. Were they just doing it to avoid comparisons with Captain America? Having seen the film, though, I actually think that was a smart choice. See, Diana is very naive. She’s never seen a conflict like this before, and she believes that she can end it by killing a single man. That’s actually quite similar to the way soldiers and politicians viewed the First World War. They’d never seen a conflict of this scale, or with these kinds of weapons before, and they applied their outdated Victorian principles and battle tactics to it, resulting in catastrophic losses of life. The setting is a perfect mirror for Diana’s transformation as a character. Plus, there really aren’t enough movies made about World War 1. There are a few great ones, like Lawrence of Arabia and War Horse, but, for the most part, filmmakers don’t talk about it, which is sad, when you consider how devastating it was, and how important it is, historically. But I’m getting side tracked.

With regards to complaints, I really only have one. The first few minutes are very exposition heavy, with there being a lot of voice over, and Hippolyte telling young Diana stories that will factor in later. Because of that, the dialogue there feels a little bit stiff. But, really, that’s about it, because as soon as Steve Trevor crashes on the island, the movie kicks into high gear, and, trust me, it doesn’t let you go.

Guys, I had a ton of fun with this movie. It was exciting, it was funny, I loved the characters, and I honestly want to see it again. Go ahead and give it a look.

Snowpiercer (2013)

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

The world is a frozen wasteland. The last remnants of humanity are confined to a giant train, and forced into castes based on what car they live in. Those in the front lie in the lap of luxury, whilst those in the tail dwell in total squalor. Twice before, the inhabitants of the tail staged uprisings, only to be beaten back into submission. Now, though, the tail Enders are smarter. They’re better organized. They’ve got a charismatic leader in the form of Curtis Everett, and, this time, they’re going all the way to the front. They’re going to take control of the engine, and, by extension, the world. Will they succeed? Watch it, and find out.

Snowpiercer is a special film, for multiple reasons. Not only was it the most expensive Korean movie ever made, with a budget of about $40 million, it was also director Bong Joon-Ho’s English language debut, and cemented his status as a cinematic superstar. Because even though films like Memories of Murder earned him critical praise, and The Host, which I reviewed here recently, put him on Hollywood’s radar, Snowpiercer’s massive critical and commercial success guaranteed he would continue to be given high profile projects.

But why was the movie such a huge hit? Well, like The Host, it all comes down to superior craftsmanship. And I don’t just mean the acting or the script, both of which are excellent. I mean the way the movie looks, how its edited, the sound design. It’s all top notch. This really feels like a fully-fleshed out world, with each of the train’s cars having a distinct look and design. My favorite one, easily, is the sea food and aquatic life car. It is, to put it simply, gorgeous! The movie is also extremely exciting. There are two really great action scenes; one in the dark where the tail Enders are being attacked by guys with night vision goggles, and one involving a sniper, who’s trying to shoot the heroes from across the cars. If nothing else, you never feel bored while watching this movie. And that alone is enough to warrant a recommendation.

That being said, Snowpiercer does have flaws. The biggest, by far, is the fact that it doesn’t have much replay value. See, a lot of the movie rests on certain twists that get revealed towards the end, and when you uncover them, you can’t really look at the movie in the same way anymore. And unlike other films with twist endings, like The Sixth Sense or Fight Club, which demand that you watch them again, so you can see the clues, there really isn’t any such demand with Snowpiercer. Those earlier films are puzzles. You need to watch them multiple times to solve them. You really don’t have to with Snowpiercer. I watched it once, I got everything I needed to know, and have never seen it again. Even so, the film’s strong performances, unique premise, tight plot and impressive effects do make it worth watching. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

The Great Wall (2017)

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

What can you say about the Great Wall Of China? Well, It’s ancient, majestic, and truly breathtaking when you consider it was built entirely by hand. As someone who’s actually seen it, I can tell you, it is worthy of the title “Seventh Wonder Of The World.” When you’re standing on it, you really feel as though you’re in the presence of something spectacular; something that proves what mankind is capable of. And the craziest thing about it; it was built to keep out Space Dragons. Yes. You heard right. Space Dragons. At least, that’s what Ed Zwick and Marshall Hershkovitz, the writers of this movie, want you to think. As for me, I’m not buying it.

Now, I’ll admit, I was super excited to see this picture. Not only is it directed by one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Zhang Yimou, but its written by Ed Zwick, the man behind three of my most-beloved films; Glory, Blood Diamond, and The Last Samurai. It also has a huge budget, the largest one in Chinese cinematic history, and has some top-tier Chinese and American actors in it. All the ingredients for a truly spectacular motion picture are present. There’s no reason, or way, this can suck. Right?

Well, I wouldn’t say that this movie is terrible. I wouldn’t even say that it’s bad. But its definitely disappointing, especially when you consider what the director, screenwriters, and actors have done in the past. It’s basically just a series of elaborate fight sequences, with bits of dialogue thrown in. And while the sequences themselves are very impressive, proving once again that Mr. Zhang is an amazing visual craftsman, there’s just not enough in the way of plot or character to get you that invested. The movie’s story, what little there is, concerns two European mercenaries, Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal, who go to China to steal Gun Powder, only to get captured by soldiers patrolling the Great Wall. They then learn that there be dragons afoot, and decide to help fight them off. And that’s it. The rest of the movie is flying arrows, balls of fire, and flashing steel. And when it’s not those things, its focusing on characters who are so thinly-drawn, that I wouldn’t even call them characters. The acting in this movie is also very shaky at times. Matt Damon keeps trying to do an Irish accent, but he can never hold it for more than a few words, and he says everything in this grave, flat tone. I’m happy that he’s not a White savior, with him spending most of the movie in shackles, learning respect and humility from the Chinese, but he’s still really uninteresting.

Now, as I said before, this is not a terrible movie. It’s certainly entertaining, in a “turn your brain off” kind of way. There’s no pornographic shots of women’s bodies, or stupid, adolescent humor, like what you might find in a Michael Bay movie. And the level of detail that went into crafting some of the battle sequences, and divisions of the Chinese Army, like this all female brigade called the Cranes, is spectacular. There’s just not much in the way of story or character-development. But if that doesn’t matter to you, go ahead and watch this. You’ll probably have a good time. Even if you do want plot and character, you’ll probably be pleasantly distracted for about two hours.

Captain America: Civil War

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

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope that, wherever you are, whoever you’re with, you’re having a good time, and sharing the love. Because the characters in today’s movie, Captain America: Civil War, definitely aren’t doing either of those things.

Yes, instead of talking about a Holiday classic, like It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, or Miracle On 34th Street, I’ve decided to review a film wherein superheroes fight each other because of disagreements over regulatory oversight. Why? Simple; I didn’t see it in theaters, and it only came out on Netflix today. Yeah.

Anyway, concerning the film itself; this is a picture that I’ve heard nothing but good things about. Everyone I’ve ever talked to ever has told me that its the greatest superhero movie ever made. And hearing this instantly made me not want to go see it. See, I’m not a big fan of Marvel. Never have been. I find Captain America to be an outdated piece of racist wartime propaganda, and Iron Man to be an alcoholic, womanizing jerk. I do admire Spider-Man (thanks, in large part, to the Sam Raimi trilogy that came out when I was a kid), but, beyond that, I just don’t have any real emotional connection to the characters. And besides my own dislike of the Marvel brand, I’m also someone who likes to take the side of the underdog. I’ve been a diehard Cubs fan all my life, mostly because of their reputation as lovable losers, and fostered a deep-seated hatred for the Yankees since I was a kid, precisely because of the fact that they were always winning, and bragging about it. Marvel Studio’s repeated financial and critical success, and the fact that they haven’t exactly been humble about it, has made me resent them, and not want to watch their movies. But then again, every belief system I subscribe to–kindness, honesty, intersectional feminism, racial, religious and ethnic tolerance, and inclusion of the disabled–has been politically defeated this year, and every movie I wanted to be good–Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, Passengers–has turned out to be terrible. Maybe I should just give up on what I think, and join the winning team. That’s what I was thinking when I sat down to watch Civil War. Now that I’ve seen it, I have a few new thoughts.

In terms of the writing–meaning the dialogue, character motivation, and scene construction–I do think Civil War is more competently crafted than Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad. Those latter two films had tons of exposition in them, meaning long scenes where everyone’s thoughts and backstories get spelled out to the audience. There are scenes in Civil War where characters tell us what they think and feel, but it feels more earned, more appropriate, in this picture. The reason is that the characters in this movie bring up their feelings in conversation, as opposed to just turning to the audience and saying, “let me explain who X is.” The dialogue in Civil War also feels more natural, and specific to each individual character, than BVP and SS. If you’ve read my review of Suicide Squad, you know that I feel the characters in it sound too similar to one another, and that I think that’s a problem. If everyone sounds the same, how are the actors supposed to create compelling characters? How is the audience supposed to decide who to care about? I cared about the protagonists of BVP and SS when I first watched the movies, not because the films themselves did a good job of setting up their unique personalities and voices, but, rather, because I’d read the comics and watched the TV shows they came from. Imagine if I didn’t have that background with the mythology. How would I react then? But perhaps the biggest difference in terms of writing is the fact that the characters in Civil War have much clearer reasons for acting the way they do than the individuals in Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad. To this day, I’m still not quite sure why Lex Luthor hated Superman, why he made Doomsday, or why Enchantress wanted to blow up the Earth with a sky beam. That’s not good. If your characters’ reasons for acting aren’t clear, the audience won’t care about what they’re doing, and won’t want to watch your movie. Now, to be fair, Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad were only the second and third films in their cinematic universe, and therefore had to introduce lots of previously unestablished characters and plot threads. Civil war, by contrast, had over a dozen earlier films to build off of. It didn’t need to explain everything. Still, there are smooth, skillful ways of introducing new people and things in a movie, and Civil War used them to a greater degree than BVP and SS. Spider-Man and Black Panther didn’t exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe until Civil War, and yet, their introduction felt more natural, and the film spent enough time with them for me to care about them as characters. BVP and SS were never able to balance who and what got the most screen time, and this left me feeling kind of empty and wanting as a result.

I also think Civil War has much better acting than BVP and SS. Don’t get me wrong, Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Godot as Wonder Woman, Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, these actors are all superb in their respective roles. It’s just, in both BVP and SS, there are performers who stand out as being pretty terrible. Jessie Eisenberg as a twitchy, adolescent version of Lex Luthor, and Jared Leto as an over-the-top, Jim Carrey-like Joker are what come to mind when I say this. No one in Civil War stands out as “the bad one.” They’re all pretty good.

But, of course, just because something is better than another thing doesn’t mean that it’s without flaws. And Civil War certainly has flaws. For starters, the movie has these obnoxiously large title cards that pop up whenever the story changes location. These get really annoying to look at after a while. The action is also really hard to follow. True, the set pieces are creative, and the directors make good use of props and locations. But the way these scenes are shot is so incredibly ugly, with everything being super shaky, and frequent cuts making it very difficult to follow what’s happening. There are also certain characters who feel out of place and unnecessary. Hawk Eye, for instance, is only in the movie for two scenes, and doesn’t contribute to the plot at all. Honestly, for how little he matters to the overall narrative, you could have left him out entirely. The same could even be said of Baron Zemo, the film’s main villain. The heroes are already angry, and fighting each other, by the time he shows up. His overly complex plot
just hastens something that’s already happening. I also think its kind of a cheap cop out to have everything actually be the work of super villains. The comic the film was based off of didn’t do that. There, the heroes were angry at each other, and they fought one another because of that. Not because some grand puppeteer was pulling the strings from the shadows. I wish the movie had done the same thing. And that brings me to my final problem with the movie, the ending. For all the marketing hype about this being a “clash between heroes” that would “change everything,” nothing really did change. Yeah, a few more characters get added, but no one important dies, Captain America makes it clear to Iron Man that there are no hard feelings, and even the crippling of War Machine gets undone by the end with some BS technology. (As a disabled person who has a condition that there is no cure for, that last one kind of pissed me off for how it wrote off our pain and suffering as a mild inconvenience that can be fixed with some metal and wires). The film’s ending demonstrates a larger problem with Marvel; their unwillingness to take chances or go outside their established formula. You know going into a Marvel movie that no one is going to die, and that everything will be okay in the end. That’s because the franchise was created by TV writers, and in television, you need to return everything to the status quo by the end of the episode or season so that you can keep the story going. Take some chances, Marvel! Kill off Captain America. Have Iron Man die of alcohol poisoning. Do something edgy or unique.

Still, I did enjoy Civil War, and have decided to give it an 8 out of 10. If you haven’t seen it, give it a look.

American Gods (Book Review)

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

And if you’re like me, you probably grew up reading Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson And The Olympians series. The epic story of a 12-year-old boy who discovers that he is actually the son of the Greek god Poseidon, the books are exciting, funny, filled with likable characters, and have introduced the people and places of Greek mythology to pre-teens everywhere. I loved them when I first read them, and they still hold a special place in my heart. One of my favorite aspects of the books is the whole idea that the old gods are still alive, and here in America. It’s a brilliant premise, and an extremely original one to boot.

Or is it? See, I recently discovered that, back in 2000, a whole five years before the release of the first Percy Jackson book, British graphic novelist Neil Gaiman wrote a story about the gods of old still being alive, and in this country. When I heard this, I knew that I had to give this earlier novel, American Gods, a look. Well, I did that, and today, I’d like to share my thoughts on it with you all.

So, for those of you who haven’t read it, American Gods is the story of Shadow, an ex-con who finds work running errands for the Norse god Odin, or Mr Wednesday, as he likes to be called. The novel’s basic premise is that, when people immigrate to the United States, they bring they’re beliefs and customs with them. As such, the mythological figures from these immigrants’ homelands follow them across the sea to the New World, and exist here as well. Now, however, the descendants of these first immigrants have stopped believing in the old gods, and, as a result, they’ve become frail and weak. Instead, new gods–ones of television, internet, and big business–have sprung up, and are looking to exterminate the old timers.

This is an extremely interesting idea–a war between new and old gods with our world as the battleground–and Gaiman develops some really good characters. His prose is also very conversational, and easy to get into. So, why am I not as crazy about American Gods as I am about Percy Jackson?

Well, one reason could be the fact that certain characters, and plot lines, feel either unnecessary, or out of place. For instance, there’s a character that Shadow gives a ride to named Sam Black Crow, who shows up a few more times in the book, has several pages devoted to her life and backstory…and she serves absolutely no purpose. Seriously. It’s not like she’s his love interest, or helper. She never really contributes to the main storyline–that being Shadow and Odin traveling across the continental United States, recruiting Old Gods to fight in the war against the New ones. She just shows up from time to time, talks to him, and in one scene, kisses him. And that’s it. And it’s not even like the kiss she gives him is out of attraction–Gaiman establishes pretty early on that she’s a lesbian–so she really doesn’t serve any purpose. The only reason I can think he’d bring her up more than once is the fact that she lives in this small town that Shadow hides in for a period. And speaking of, the whole section where Shadow hides in the small town of Lakeside Michigan feels completely out of place. When I was reading that section, I thought I’d picked up a completely different novel, a David Lynch-type murder mystery, instead of the epic fantasy adventure I was promised.

And that’s the other thing I didn’t like about American Gods–its inability to keep focus on one story. The Percy Jackson series has just one protagonist, who is also the narrator. You therefore see everything from his perspective, and never leave his side. This, in turn, makes the story as a whole easier to follow. American Gods does have a protagonist, Shadow, but Gaiman has several chapters and interludes where he’s not even mentioned. I guess the reason Gaiman did this was to build a universe, to weave a complete tapestry . But, in the end, these cutaways and interludes ultimately prove distracting. And remember how I mentioned that the small town section felt really out of place? Well, it does, and its distracting too. If you’ve ever read the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, you know that Frodo destroying the ring isn’t the end. There’s a whole section after that where he, Sam, Merry and Pippin go back to the Shire, find that it’s been taken over by Saruman, and organize a Hobbit uprising. This section always felt completely out of place to me, and I’m honestly quite glad that Peter Jackson chose to leave it out of his film adaptation. It felt like a totally new novel, one that had just been tacked on as an after-thought to a previous one. The reason I bring this up is that American Gods has a similar situation. There’s a big climactic battle between the new gods and the old ones, and when it’s over, you think the story’s finished. But it isn’t. The book doesn’t end there. Shadow then goes back to the annoying town from earlier, and picks up a plot-thread that had been introduced, but no one had really cared about. As I was reading it, I kept asking myself, “Why is this here? Why is this here? The main story is the war between the old and the new gods, which is done. So, why is this here?” All I can say is that, if Gaiman hadn’t spent so much time on universe-building interludes, and just kept the focus on one story, the book would have been a lot better.

But, as I said before, this isn’t a bad book. The characters are well-rounded and likable, the world is interesting, and the prose itself is easy to get in to, and enjoyable to read. So, as many gripes as I might have with this novel, I can’t really give it a bad review. It’s a 7 out of 10. If you do read it, feel free to skip the sections with Sam and the small town.