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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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 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.

Pirates of the Caribbean 5 (2017)

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

Years have past in the Pirates of the Caribbean universe. Will and Elizabeth’s son, Henry, has grown up, and is now looking for a way to lift his father’s curse. Captain Barbosa has become the world’s wealthiest pirate, commanding a massive fleet, and wearing fine silks and jewelry. And Captain Jack Sparrow? Oh, Captain Jack Sparrow. Captain Jack Sparrow has become a washed up parody of his former self, unable to walk straight, let alone raid, pillage and plunder. But things aren’t over for any of them just yet, as a young astronomer, Karina, appears, claiming to know where Poseidon’s Trident is hidden. And if that weren’t enough to keep everyone on their toes, an evil ghost, Captain Salazar, emerges from the Devil’s Triangle, looking to exact vengeance on a certain dreadlocked buffoon. (Gee, I wonder which one).

The best way for me to describe Pirates of The Caribbean 5 is like this; it’s not groundbreaking, but it is enjoyable, and I don’t regret going to see it. Like Alien: Covenant, Pirates 5 sticks to its franchise’s formula–young lover’s on a quest, aided by Captain Jack, hunted by some supernatural monster–and boasts some cool sets, some impressive effects, and some super fun action. Neither one pushes the envelope that hard, or possesses very original, or fleshed out, characters. But unlike Alien: Covenant, which is considerably darker, and doesn’t have much humor in it, Pirates has a much lighter tone, and features a lot more jokes. Granted, some of those jokes don’t land. But, for the most part, the lighter tone and greater emphasis on slapstick won me over. Like I said, I don’t regret having taken a few hours out of my day to see this movie, and I kind of do with Alien: Covenant. That says something.

Now, before you get the wrong idea, I don’t think this picture is flawless. The jokes don’t always land, there are way too many side characters, and I don’t like the way the script portrayed Captain Jack. In the first few films, he behaved like an idiot, but you kind of got the sense he was putting on an act. It was almost like he was trying to convince everyone he was a fool, so that they wouldn’t expect it when he pulled off an impossible escape, or beat fifty guys in a sword fight. In this movie, though, he really does come off as an idiot, and whenever he does something, it honestly feels like he just got lucky. That’s sad. Captain Jack was one of my favorite movie heroes growing up, and I don’t like seeing him neutered like this. At least Wolverine got to go out with a bang.

Guys, all I can say is this; Pirates of the Caribbean 5 is harmless fun. Its got some good humor, and some very creative action scenes. You probably won’t remember it, but I don’t think you’ll regret going to see it either.

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.

Boy, Snow, Bird (Book Review)

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

Don’t you just hate it when adaptations of beloved stories take huge liberties with their source material? No? Well, some people must, because critics everywhere went nuts over the fact that the subject of today’s review, Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird, a supposed re-telling of the Snow White story, didn’t follow the plot of the original fairy tale. But, here’s the thing: if you actually read this book, you realize that it’s not really Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Sure, it’s got elements of the Snow White mythos in it–there’s a “wicked” stepmother who dislikes her beautiful, fair-skinned step-daughter, and frequent references to mirrors and apples–but it is ultimately its own animal. It’s got its own story, its own universe, and its own resolution. I honestly think that the only reason it got marketed as a Snow White re-telling is that the publishers didn’t know what to make of this surreal, highly original work, and decided to give potential buyers a categorization they could understand.

But, all that aside, you’re probably wondering what this book is about, and more importantly, if it’s any good. Well, concerning plot, the novel begins with a young blonde white woman named Boy–trust me, the color of her hair and skin are actually important–running away from her abusive father in New York, and moving up to a small town in New England. There she meets Arturo, a jewelry maker with a daughter from a previous marriage, they court, fall in love, and get married. Everything seems hunky dory until Boy has their baby, a little girl named bird, who is born Black. Boy doesn’t know what to make of this until Arturo explains to her that he and his whole family are actually fair-skinned African Americans who have been passing for White in order to avoid discrimination. This whole story takes place back in the 1960s, so race is a huge deal here. Now, at this point, you’d think the story is going to be about Boy overcoming her prejudices, and learning to love her husband and step-daughter, Snow, who, like her father, is White passing. BUt it isn’t. We just jump ahead 12 years, and find ourselves being told the story from the perspective of Bird. Apparently, Boy sent Snow away to live with her Black family, and Bird doesn’t know her sister because her mother doesn’t let Snow come back. All this seems like good material for conflict–maybe Bird will run away to be with her sister, maybe Snow will come back and kill Boy–but, once again, the author does nothing with it. We just read some of Bird’s diary entries, as well as some letters she and Snow exchange, and then the narration switches back to Boy, who explains that Snow is living with them again, and that she and her step-daughter have made up. But what is perhaps the most infuriating about this novel, besides its wasted dramatic potential, is the last fifteen pages. They throw in a brand new story element that, while it does, admittedly, explain some weird aspects from earlier in the book, changes the tone and themes of the novel completely. Imagine if you were reading a book that, up until the last ten pages, seemed like a straightforward murder-mystery, but then, in the very last section, was revealed to actually be an Alien invasion thriller. If you can imagine the amount of shock and frustration you’d feel at something like that, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of how nonplused I was at the end of “Boy, Snow, Bird,” because that’s basically what the author, Helen Oyeyemi, did. She took a seemingly straight-forward drama about race and identity, and just flipped it on its head.

Now, before I go any further, I just want to be clear and say that I don’t think this novel is all bad. The characters are interesting, and you get to know the three women of the title pretty well. In addition to this, Oyeyemi has a unique and quirky voice that I find very enjoyable to read. The problem is that, very often, it feels like she is focused more on showing us how quirky, off beat and original she is than telling a story that makes logical sense. For instance, there are several scenes in the novel where characters describe not being able to see their reflections in the mirror, as well as conversations they had with spiders. (I’m not kidding about that latter part.) And while you could make the argument that the mirror bit is in keeping with the overall theme of identity being a fluid concept that isn’t always clear, the spider part contributes nothing to the overall narrative, and never gets explained. So, when you combine these odd, unexplained story elements, with the completely out-of-left-field ending, you get a novel that is entertaining to read, but ultimately frustrating.

For that reason, I have decided to give Boy, Snow, Bird a 6 out of 10. It’s not the best thing out there, but it isn’t half bad either. If you can accept the strangeness, you’ll probably like it. If you can’t, well, do your best to avoid it.