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.

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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.

Collateral (2004)

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Max is a cab driver, saving up to start his own company. He knows LA like the back of his hand, and even though his job is fairly thankless, he takes pride in his work. One night, he picks up a gray-haired man named Vincent, who tells him, “I’ve got five stops to make. You get me to all of them on time, I’ll pay you $600.” Max agrees, and brings Vincent to his first stop. Everything seems fine, until a dead body falls on the cab, smashing the windshield to bits. Things get worse when Vincent returns, and reveals that not only did he kill the man, but he’s an assassin who’s been hired to take out 4 more targets. Now, if Max wants to survive, he’ll have to help Vincent evade capture, and finish his jobs, which means contributing to the deaths of four more people. Can he do it? Will he make it through the night? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out

Collateral is the definition of a well-made thriller. It’s suspenseful, superbly -acted (seriously, Jamie Foxx earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as Max) and very well-written. I’d actually like to take a minute to talk about the writing, because it is really, really good. Not only does every character have a distinct voice and backstory, the dialogue is really witty, and oddly thought-provoking. There are so many exchanges in this film that are funny, frightening and philosophical all at the same time that I’m honestly kind of surprised that Stuart Beattie, whom penned the script, didn’t get an Oscar nod. Like, in the scene right after Max learns that Vincent is a hit man, he’s freaking out, and Vincent starts talking about Rwanda. He tells Max how more people were killed at once there than in the past 50 years, and yet, he, Max, didn’t get upset when he heard about the genocide. He didn’t join the peace corps. He didn’t contribute to any charities. But now, when one fat guy dies in front of him, he turns into a bleeding heart? How hypocritical. That’s a brilliant exchange right there. It not only shows us how Vincent views morality, but it also gets us, the spectators, to think. It calls us out on our own hypocrisies, like how we care about some lives, but not about others. And the movie is full of awesome moments like that, where characters are talking about their pasts, or their morals, and it’s super engaging and funny. In one scene, Max asks Vincent, “You killed him?” to which Vincent responds, “No. I shot him. The bullets and the fall killed him.” And in another scene, Vincent has a gun pressed up against Max’s head, and forces him to tell his boss to “shove this yellow cab up your fat ass.” It’s wonderful.

If I have one complaint about Collateral, it’s the camerawork. It’s almost all hand-held, so the images are very shaky, and the shots are super noisy. If you don’t know what that last part means, “noise” is a film term for elements in cinematography that ruin an image, like lens flares, blurry lines, or pixels. Collateral’s director, Michael Mann, is infamous for not minding “noise” in his films. As such, a lot of his movies, even if they’re big-budget period pieces, like Public Enemies, feel like they’re shot on home video. Now, as annoying as I find shaky cam and lens flares, both actually kind of work for this movie. You’re telling a story that’s very gritty and real, and the sloppy-looking camerawork does kind of contribute to a sense of realism. Kind of. But in case you can’t get over the cinematography, the film’s gorgeous color palette more than makes up for it. Every image is black, contrasted with neon blues, greens or pinks; i.e. the color of LA at night. If, like me, you love films with saturated color schemes, which help create mood and atmosphere, you’re gonna love this movie. It is a feast for the eyes.

Guys, what can I say that hasn’t already been said? Collateral is a fast-paced, superbly acted, brilliantly-written thriller. I love it, and I’m sure you would to if you saw it. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

To The Bone (2017)

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

Ellen has an eating disorder. She doesn’t want to chew, let alone swallow, anything with calories. As a result, she’s lost a truly frightening amount of weight, and there is a very real chance she might die. So, as a last ditch effort to save her life, Ellen’s stepmom signs her up for a special,eating disorder treatment program. She’ll have to live in a house, with other anorexic kids, and partake in therapy sessions with Dr. Beckham, played by Keanu Reeves. If all goes well, she’ll be cured, and allowed to go home. If it doesn’t, she’ll die. Those are the only options, and with the way the film starts out, either outcome is entirely plausible.

To The Bone is a sympathetic, socially-conscious movie, with some fine performances, and some witty dialogue. I watched it purely on a whim, seeing it on Netflix, and hearing some good things about it second hand. And even though I don’t like how it ended, and I wish it could have given me a little bit more insight into why Ellen developed this eating disorder, I am glad I saw it. This is the kind of small-budget indie film that really relies on its script and its lead actors, and it really delivers on both fronts. Everyone in the cast does a superb job, and the script gives all the characters a distinct voice and some funny lines. Which surprised me. For a story that is as serious as it is, there is a lot of good humor in here. THere’s some risky humor too–for instance, they make Holocaust and dead baby jokes, and it doesn’t always work. But, for the most part, the jokes really land, and I could totally see myself going back and watching this movie again, just for the dialogue.

I was also very impressed with how deftly the filmmakers handled the topic of eating disorders. See, you all probably don’t know this about me, but, back in high school, I had an eating disorder. There was a period, in my junior year, when I didn’t want to eat anything, and when I lost a lot of weight, about 15 pounds, in a very short time span. I’m talking two to three weeks. Of course, I didn’t know it was an eating disorder at the time. I just thought I was being health conscious. When I watched the film, however, and I saw all the things that these anorexic characters were doing, like fretting about how many calories were in their food, skipping meals, doing exercise, even at times when it wasn’t appropriate, held a mirror up to my own behavior, and helped me realize that there really was something wrong with me. For that reason, and the fine performances and dialogue, I would recommend you watch this Netflix original. It’s not a perfect film, as I said, the humor doesn’t always land, and the ending gets very weird and hallucinogenic, but, for the most part, it’s solid. And I’m sure you’ll enjoy it if you see it.

Their Finest (2017)

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

It’s 1940, and Britain is in serious need of a morale boost. Food is scarce, cities are being blitzed, and the British Army has just been driven off the continent at Dunkirk. Life, to put it bluntly, is shit. So, to give their country the shot in the arm it so desperately needs, the government begins churning out propaganda films, and because all the young men are off fighting, they hire women to write the scripts. Enter Catrin Cole, a novice screenwriter whose been given the task of adapting a “true” story to the big screen. She’s new to the business, and as she goes about bringing this story to life, she encounters all the typical roadblocks a screenwriter does; truth not lending itself to a traditional dramatic structure; producers demanding last minute changes to the script; cast members being difficult on set, etc. And yet, as hard as her job is, as difficult as her colleagues can be, Catrin finds herself falling in love with the business, and discovers a freedom in her work that she never experienced beforehand. Will it last? Well, you’ll just have to watch the film to find out.

Their Finest is a sweet, utterly charming movie. It’s funny, moving, beautifully-shot, and exceptionally well-acted. It is the total inverse of Dunkirk in every way. Dunkirk is a spectacle. Their Finest is a story. Dunkirk is about the war. Their Finest is about the home front. Dunkirk has no characters. Their Finest has several, very well-realized ones. But beyond simply providing a pleasant, alternate perspective on this period in British history, Their Finest is also just an all-around engaging film. You like these characters. You enjoy watching this picture get made. And because this is a movie about movie-making, the screenwriters are able to throw in some clever commentary on the tropes of the romance genre. Also, unlike many other films set during this era, Their Finest holds nothing back when it comes to portraying the devastating sexism that these women faced everyday. Yes, It’s difficult to watch, but it also makes you appreciate these ladies’ strength even more. And that’s always a good thing in my book.

That said, as charming as Their Finest is, it is still, ultimately, a romantic comedy, and comes with all the tropes and baggage that that entails. True, most of the cliches are addressed in the film within a film, and the screenwriters do come up with a clever way of not giving you the ending you expect. Still, there are several plot points in this movie that feel very familiar, like the main character starting off in an unhappy relationship, her meeting a new man, her significant other cheating on her, which makes it okay for her to be with the new guy, etc. But, like I said before, the film is well-written enough to recognize those cliches as cliches, and it does come up with interesting ways of subverting them. So it doesn’t bother me too much.

Guys, all I can say is this; Their Finest is a charming, well-written, well-acted little romance film, which does feature some cliches, but is also entertaining, and clever enough, to overcome them. I love it, and I think you’d love it too if you watched it. Please give it a look.

Seven (1995)

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Somerset is an apathetic detective, a week away from retirement. Mills is his idealistic partner, and brand new in town. They’ve got nothing in common, and they don’t particularly like each other. But for one week, Somerset’s last week on the job, they must work together. And it’s going to be the longest week of their lives, because there’s a killer on the loose, committing murders based on the Seven Deadly Sins, and he’s got his eye trained on them.

Seven is a film I’ve heard about for literally my entire life. It came out in 1995, the same year I was born, and in the two decades since then, it’s basically become a shorthand for anything super messed up and gross. And yet, as notorious as its reputation is, Seven is also considered to be quite a good flick. It’s strong performances, atmospheric cinematography, well-constructed story, and especially its ending, have all been lauded by critics over the years. This one film resurrected its director, David Fincher’s, career, and helped to cement the reputation of its stars, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. For this reason, and the fact that I’ll take a well-made thriller over an Oscar-winning drama any day, I decided to give Seven a look. And good lord!

Let me start off by saying that Seven is unquestionably a well-made movie. Everything about it, from the mirky cinematography, to the eerie soundtrack, to the believable performances, shows great talent and professionalism. This is a prime example of genre filmmaking at its best. On top of this, the story is considerably better written than most other thrillers, with there being a greater emphasis on character development, and lots of smaller, quiet moments. I also liked the fact that, even though the movie is about a serial killer who murders people in ultra gruesome ways, there’s very little onscreen violence. All the scares, all the suspense, come about through the power of suggestion. Which is good. This has got to be one of the few times where I’m actually glad a thriller was made in Hollywood, and not South Korea. Because even though I think that Korea produces much better thrillers overall, the films they make tend to be extremely violent. All we see in Seven are dead bodies. We don’t have to watch anyone get tortured or mutilated.

All that said, this is a hard movie to watch. If you have a weak constitution, or like stories to have happy endings, avoid this film like the plague. Even I, a person who loves books with unhappy endings, like Shanghai Girls and 19 Minutes, found this film hard to get through. And not just because of the subject matter. Seven is a movie that you can really only watch once. A large part of what keeps you engaged is the uncertainty; the fear that comes from not knowing what will happen in the next scene. Once you’ve seen this film, however, and you know everything that’s in store, the movie loses some of its power, and the story as a whole becomes a little bit of a slog to get through. Some mystery films, like Mother, Zodiac, and Broken Flowers, end ambiguously, and you can watch them over and over again to try to find clues. Seven isn’t like that. It ends quite definitively, and once you see that ending, you’re kind of numb to the rest of the story. The movie also has a weird opening credits sequence, which didn’t sit with me very well. It felt a little too much like something from television, and made the movie feel less like a gripping 2 hour thriller, and more like a 40 minute episode of Law & Order.

Nevertheless, Seven‘s smart script, strong performances, and brilliant atmosphere more than make up for its flaws, and cement its status as one of the all-time great thriller films. Watch it when you can.

 

Chronicle (2012)

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When an accident grants them telekinetic powers, three Seattle teens–bullied Andrew, slacker Matt, and popular Steve–find themselves drawn together. Initially, they use their abilities for harmless pranks, like moving people’s cars without them realizing, or levitating teddy bears to frighten little girls. But when Andrew, whose abusive home life has left him mentally scarred, begins exhibiting increasingly aggressive behavior, Matt and Steve realize that they might have to take him down.

Chronicle is well-written, well-acted, and visually-stunning. It’s got to be one of the best superhero films I’ve ever seen, and having grown up with franchises like The Dark Knight Trilogy and the MCU, that’s really saying something. Part of this is due to the fact that Chronicle does a superb job of creating that sense of awe that you should feel when you see characters doing incredible things. We’ve seen a man fly. But filmmakers have stopped showing us how cool–how utterly liberating and joyful–that is for him. Chronicle reminds us of how truly awesome it’d be to have superpowers; of all the incredible, and fun, things you could do with them. By far the best scenes in this movie are the ones where Steve, Matt and Andrew are just hanging out, and fooling around with their powers. Not only do these moments show off creative ways to use telekinesis, but they also give us a real sense for who these characters are, and make us like them as people. Andrew does some truly heinous things in this film, and yet, because the screenwriter tok the time to develop him, I never once lost faith. That, right there, is a sign of good writing.

Something else Chronicle does a really good job of is overcoming its genre and budget limitations. Shot in the “found footage” style on roughly $12 million, Chronicle offers up as many, if not more, thrills as big budget blockbusters. They’re able to do this by coming up with some really creative ways to get in complex, moving shots, like having the characters use their telekinesis to fly the camera around. Yes, there are moments where you notice some of the cheap-looking effects, but they are usually drowned out by how awesome what you’re seeing is. The “found footage” gimmick also works to the film’s advantage because, since this is ostensibly being shot by one person on a cheap camera, you feel like you’re actually witnessing a real thing that a real person is experiencing. And that makes all the incredible superhero stuff more plausible.

Guys, I really don’t have anything bad to say about this movie. It’s a low budget, “found-footage” film, which occasionally suffers from that genre’s limitations. But the strong performances, smart script, and excellent direction more than make up for those flaws, and deliver an original, visually-stunning, highly innovative superhero film. Give it a look as soon as you can.