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.

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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.

Justice League (2017)

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

Superman is dead, Wonder Woman is apathetic, and Batman isn’t as strong as he used to be. As such, the world has become vulnerable to all kinds of attacks, including those from the New God Steppenwolf, who, centuries ago, tried to destroy the Earth by combining three “Mother Boxes,” objects of immense power. Recognizing that the Earth now has no one to protect it, Steppenwolf returns from his long exile to collect the cubes, and in true villain fashion, take his vengeance upon the world of men. But he might have a little more trouble with that than previously thought. For while Wonder Woman and Batman might not be able to repel him on their own, they just might be able to with the help of a few other, super-powered friends; specifically, Barry Allen, aka The Flash, Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, and Victor Stone, aka Cyborg. They’ve never met, or worked with each other, before this. But with the fate of the world literally on the line, they just might have to.

Justice League is a flawed film. The first 30 minutes are very crowded, the CGI is highly noticeable, and the villain, while effective, is extremely bland. And, in the end, none of that really matters. This is a funny, action-packed, fast-paced thrill ride with likable characters, and I want to see it again. It’s probably the second best film in the DCEU, after Wonder Woman. And unlike other DC films, like Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad, which I did initially like, there’s nothing in this picture that jumps out at me as glaringly bad. (No Jared Leto’s, if you get my meaning).

A lot of it has to do with the fact that the movie really gets the League members right. Over the course of the film, you learn their personalities and pasts, and see them interact with each other, with some of them, in a few cases, coming to blows. And unlike BVS and Man Of Steel, this film has a much lighter tone. There’s a lot more humor, the color palette is brighter, and the heroes act like heroes. They smile. They save people. They do their best not to cause collateral damage. And unlike DC’s other cinematic offerings, which were each over two hours long, this movie is much shorter, and moves much faster. So there’s no risk of boredom here. There’s also a ton of fan service for people who like that sort of thing. Danny Elfman’s 1989 Batman theme is played at a couple points, as well as the John Williams Superman score. There are some great references to other superheroes in this flick, and the film even manages to address some questions viewers had about previous movies. And, most importantly, for me, anyway, this flick really gets Superman right. When he returns, which we all know he is, since it’s in the trailer, and on the poster, it is beyond satisfying. People in my theater were cheering and clapping with delight when he shows up, and for good reason. Unlike in Man Of Steel and BVS, he’s not a total downer here. He smiles, he tells jokes, and, shock of all shocks, he saves people. There’s actually two, really funny, bits with him saving people, one involving a blog, the other involving a big building in Russia. I also love the friendly rivalry he has with the Flash over whose faster, and the post credit scenes in this movie are awesome. They are definitely worth waiting for.

Guys, all I have to say about Justice League is this. It’s not perfect. The CGI is noticeable, the villain, while effective, is forgettable, and the first 30 minutes are a bit crowded. But as soon as the League gets together, the movie kicks into high gear, and you don’t really care about those other flaws. You’re having so much fun that you just sit back, enjoy the ride, and leave the theater with a smile on your face. And if you don’t believe me, check out the reviews for this film from Jeremy Jahns, Chris Stuckman, the Schmoes, Doug Walker, Roger Ebert.com, the LA Times, Village Voice, Variety, IGN and Forbes. All of them think, like me, that this flick is a fun ride worth taking. Be sure and give this a look.

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.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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When his father Odin dies, Thor’s sister, Hela, the goddess of Death, is released from her prison. And seeing how she’s stronger than every other god, she quickly takes over all of Asgard. Thor himself is banished to a distant planet, Sakaar, where he is forced to fight in gladiator-style battles with none other than the Hulk. Determined to get home, Thor teams up with the jolly green giant, a fellow Asgardian named Valkyrie, and Loki, who was also stranded on Sakaar, and, together, the four start a revolution, return home, and smash a whole lot of CGI stuff.

Remember how I said in my review of Happy Death Day that it was a crowd pleaser? Scratch that. This movie here is a crowd pleaser. It’s big, loud, funny, and completely undemanding. It is a quintessential movie. Now what I mean by that is, motion pictures can generally be clumped into two categories; movies and films. Movies are meant to be enjoyable. You watch them to have fun and kill time. Films, on the other hand, are generally made with more artistic integrity,  and try to talk about more serious issues. That’s not to say that movies can’t be well-written, or that films can’t be enjoyable. But you understand my point. You don’t go into Thor: Ragnarok expecting Oscar-worthy performances or groundbreaking social commentary. You go in expecting big action, light comedy, and colorful, made-up worlds. And you get all that here, so you walk out of the movie feeling happy. I certainly did.

Which is not to suggest that this flick is free of flaws. It actually has quite a few. First of all, the main villain, Hela, is pretty weak. She’s unique in the sense that she’s the MCU’s first female bad guy, but, other than that, she’s not that interesting. She basically has two roles in this movie, provide exposition, and kill people while cackling. Other than that, there’s really nothing to her character. Likewise, the film feels the need to tell us her back-story about four different times; once from Odin, once from Hela herself, once in animated form, and once in flashback. She also isn’t in the movie as much as you’d think. There’s a good 20-minute section in the middle where we don’t see her, or Asgard, at all. Which brings me to my biggest gripe, the fact that this film feels kind of weightless. Even though it’s about the destruction of Asgard, you never really feel like there’s any real danger. Part of this is due to the fact that so much of the film, even the deaths, are played for laughs. Another part is the fact that about 95% of this movie’s action and scenery  are animated, so the threats never feel real. In fact, I wouldn’t even call this a live-action movie. I would call it a cartoon, with bits of live-action thrown in.

All that said, the film is still fun. I’m not a Marvel fan, and I still laughed quite a lot while watching this movie. Which says a lot. So if you want a good time, give it a look.

IT (2017)

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

Something is rotten in the town of Derry, Maine. Every 27 years, people go missing, or die horrible, gruesome deaths. And whenever that happens, a mysterious, demonic clown can be seen lurking in the shadows. Now, in 1988, a young boy, Georgie Denbrough, has vanished, and his brother, Bill, is determined to get him back. So he assembles a group of other “losers”–including hypochondriac Eddie, trash mouth Richie, abused Beverly, Jewish Stan, Fat Ben, and Black Mike–to find, and kill, Pennywise, the dancing clown. And I know that it’s demeaning to describe characters by their size, their religion, or their race, but the film honestly doesn’t give them many other traits beyond these things. Anyway, will our young heroes succeed? Will they vanquish Pennywise? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

By itself, IT is a perfectly-entertaining retro-horror film. And as an adaptation of the Stephen King novel, which I have read, by the way, the movie is also very watchable. The young cast all do a superb job, there’s plenty of funny dialogue, and there’s a ton of creatively creepy imagery. I think it’d be wrong to describe this film as scary–I never once felt horrified, though that could be due to the fact that I can’t see very well–but it is definitely suspenseful, and definitely engaging. So, for those reasons, I would recommend you go see it. It’s fun, undemanding, and, for the most part, inoffensive.

That said, I don’t know if I necessarily like the movie. Most of it has to do with the changes the filmmakers made when adapting the source material. Most are fine, and could even be viewed as improvements on the original, like the screenwriters’ decision to omit a certain, rather bizarre sex scene. And yet, the film feels considerably shallower than the original text. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the novel IT is over 1000 pages long, and the movie is only 2 hours and 15 minutes. In 1000 pages, you can really delve deep into character’s backstories, personalities, and fears. In a 2 hour and 15 minute movie, however, with no less than 7 main characters, some things inevitably get cut, and some characters inevitably get the shaft. And in the case of this movie, the characters who are given the least amount of personality are, unfortunately, the only ones who represent any kind of diversity in this group. Details from the book, like Stan’s love of birds, and Mike’s love of history, are absent in the movie, and, without anything else to identify them by, you are left thinking of them as “the Jew” and “the Black kid.” Which is sad. No one should be reduced to a token minority. I was also somewhat disappointed with the way they portrayed Pennywise. Bill Skarsgard, whom plays the titular clown, does this really annoying, high-pitched voice, which I’m sure is supposed to be frightening, but I found kind of funny. He sounded like a dog owner telling his or her puppy “You’re such a good boy!”  And whereas in the book the kids defeat Pennywise in a psychic game of wits, where they win through their teamwork, and love for one another, in the film, they just kick and stab him a few times, and he falls into a hole. And that’s probably my biggest gripe with the movie; the fact that it is much more action-heavy than the book. See, in the novel, the horror is very psychological. Pennywise torments these kids by showing them what their most afraid of. He never attacks them in broad daylight, and weapons don’t really hurt him, so they have to use other means, like hope, and courage, and the things that make each of them unique. In the movie, by contrast, he attacks them in the daytime, all the time, and he bleeds the same as they do, which is why they kick him so much. As a result, he becomes a little less frightening. Which is sad. Because Pennywise is one of my favorite villainous characters, right up there with The Joker, Captain Hook, and Chigurh. I was disappointed with how silly they made him. But, ah well.

Guys, if it sounds like I hated this movie, I didn’t. I actually quite enjoyed it. I thought the cast did a great job, the dialogue was funny, and the plot was consistently entertaining. If you want to go to the movies and have a good time, this is the film for you. I’m just nitpicking because I read the book. But if you haven’t, or you just don’t care about differences between source material and adaptation, you probably won’t have any problems with it. So, yeah. Go ahead and give this movie a look.

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.