Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot (2018)

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

When a car crash leaves him paralyzed from the waist down, alcoholic John Callahan decides to make a change in his life. He begins physical therapy, joins AA, and tries to find a new, more healthy, means of dealing with his various anxieties, including graphic illustration. This leads to him meeting the love of his life, finding a community that supports and understands him, and even getting a job as a cartoonist. Can he keep it together, though? Well, watch the movie and find out.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is  a movie I was excited to see. On top of having an absolutely stellar cast, including Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill and Jack Black, it’s directed by Gus Van Sant, the man behind some of my favorite films. Yes, he’s made a few flops, what director hasn’t, but one thing you can always say about his movies is that they’re terrifically acted, and considerably more sensitive than most hollywood fare. He’s made pictures about murderers, drug addicts and pimps, and somehow found a way to give them all humanity. So I was excited to see what he would do with this source material. And, having finally sat down and watched the movie, I’m happy to say that it’s very satisfying. It’s superbly acted, extremely sensitive in terms of how it deals with addiction, and surprisingly understated. What I mean by that is, movies like this–movies that are based on true stories about people overcoming adversity–are often very sappy and made for the sole purpose of winning actors Oscars. This movie isn’t like that. There isn’t a scene where Joaquin Phoenix mugs for the camera, or gives a big emotional speech. Everything is played very quietly, and very authentically. The best moments are the ones where he’s in group therapy. Everyone in these scenes is so down-to-Earth, unglamorous, and, for lack of a better word, real, that you forget you’re looking at actors. That’s terrific.  The movie’s also a lot funnier than you might think. The filmmakers find ways of infusing humor, particularly regarding his cartoons, into the story, and it really works. My audience was laughing their butts off. So between the rock-solid performances, sensitive storytelling and heartfelt humor, I think you’ve got more than enough reasons to go see this movie.

If I have any complaints at all, it’s the fact that the film, in its attempt to be unconventional, and not fall into the OScar-bait trap, is a bit uneven in terms of how it’s structured. It’s told out of order, with certain key details getting revealed perhaps a bit later than they should be, and certain characters who you think will be important, like Jack Black and Rooney Mara, not really showing up as much as you’d think. Rooney Mara, in particular, doesn’t have much personality, or purpose, in this film beyond being Joaquin’s girlfriend, which, coincidentally, she is in real life. But none of this detracts from this movie’s strong qualities. It’s acting, it’s humor and sensitive treatment of addiction are all rock-solid. So don’t hesitate to give it a look.

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Sorry To Bother You (2018)

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

In an alternate reality Oakland, Cash Green is a regular dude, struggling to get by. With no money, and few prospects, he takes a job in telemarketing, where he quickly learns that he’s far more likely to sell products if he uses his “white voice.” Doing so allows him to climb the corporate ladder, eventually getting promoted to the position of “power caller,” meaning he gets to sell weapons of mass destruction to dictators. All this success puts him into conflict with his girlfriend, Detroit, and co-workers, Sal and Squeeze, who want the telemarketers to unionize, and fear that Cash is selling out. Things only get worse when the head of WorryFree, a company that turns people into slaves by forcing them to sign life-long contracts, comes to Cash’s door with a frightening proposal.

Sorry To Bother You is a film I’ve been looking forward to seeing ever since the first trailers dropped. I love the cast–Tessa Thompson, LaKeith Stanfield and Steve Yeun are always fun to watch–and thhe premise seemed interesting–a Network-style satire about workers of color needing to adjust their behavior in order to get ahead in the world of telemarketing. Then the first reviews came out, and I just knew I had to see it. So when I sat down in the theater this week, I was super excited. And now, having actually watched the flick, I’m… something else.

Now, to just get this out of the way, this is actually a well-made movie. So don’t worry about that. The cast is superb, the pace never drags, and there’s some really good humor in here. There’s one moment in particular, where Cash and Sal are super mad at each other, but, rather than throw insults, they start trading fake compliments, like, “You smell great.” “You smell better.” “You wanna get drinks?” “Sure. It’s on me.” And something that I appreciate about this movie is the fact that it is truly original. I’ve never seen a film like this before, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that you have no idea where the story’s going. So, for all these reasons, I do think Sorry To Bother You is worth watching.

That said, the film isn’t perfect, and a large part of this has to do with the fact that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. The trailers make you think it’ll be a satire of racism in the workplace, but that’s not really what it’s about. Oh, those elements are in the film, to be sure–there’s one uncomfortable scene where Cash’s boss forces him to rap, and talk about the “gansta” lifestyle–but the movie has at least 12 more things to say besides that. It wants to talk about worker’s rights. It wants to comment on arms dealing. It wants to satirize the power of social media to turn random people into celebrities, and make a statement about how we’re so used to seeing shocking things that we don’t even care anymore. And on top of that, it wants to be a dystopian sci-fi parable. Yeah. I’m not joking at all when I say that this movie is science fiction. A major twist that gets revealed about halfway through involves a company using advanced technology to create… things. I’ll just leave it at that. And while that twist is genuinely shocking, and took me off guard, I can definitely see it alienating a lot of people. There were members of my audience who got mad at the direction the film took. And, finally, the movie introduces a lot of elements that you think will be important, like Cash using a “white voice,’ and this radical leftist group called “The Left Eye,” which more or less get abandoned after that twist I was talking about. So if you’re expecting a light-hearted farce, which follows a clear narrative, go watch something else, because you won’t find that here.

In the end, though, I do think the film’s humor, it’s strong performances, and unabashed originality do make it worth watching. Just go in with tempered expectations.

GLOW (season 2, 2018)

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

After months of hard work, the ladies of GLOW have finally done it. They’ve gotten their show picked up by a TV station, and are pumping out new episodes every week. But all is not well, as they face a variable cornucopia of new challenges, such as keeping the ratings up, making sure their sponsors don’t leave them, and personal demons, such as divorce, AIDS, and the possibility of getting deported.

If you read my review for the first season of GLOW, you’d know that I thought the series had a lot of strong qualities–such as an all-female cast, an intriguing premise and some good acting–but I was put off by some of its more offensive jokes, and inconsistent tone. I mentioned how the show was, for the most part, pretty light-hearted and up beat, but then, out of nowhere, it’d throw in these really macabre gags, like someone pretending to have a miscarriage to make fun of someone else, or having one of the main characters try to fuck his daughter. And, of course, there were all the racial stereotypes, and the fact that the supporting characters, particularly the Asian ones, were just there to be ethnic punch lines. Well, someone must have read my review, because GLOW, season 2, just about addresses all my concerns. The tone is much more consistent, there are considerably fewer racial jokes this time around, and the show runners actually manage to give the Asian characters some depth. Sunita Mani’s character, in particular, becomes much better rounded. We learn that she used to be a medical student, there’s an episode that shows her being uncomfortable with her wrestling persona, and trying to change it, and she even gets a love-interest in the form of Yolanda, one of the new wrestlers. The season also does a good job of introducing queer elements into the story, and addressing homophobia in the 80s. There’s a season-long subplot where Bash is trying to find his butler, Florien, only for him to realize that Florian was gay, and died of AIDS. The way he reacts to this information–with disgust and disdain–is heartbreaking, but also very accurate to how people did back then. So, for all of these reasons, I have to give GLOW, season 2, props.

That said, the show still has problems. The biggest is the fact that there’s not really one, overarching story this time around, so there are moments where the pacing drags, and the show feels kind of listless. In the first season, there were subplots, but they all tied into the larger narrative of trying to get the show picked up by the network. This time around, there’s not really that one, master goal for the characters to pursue, so you wind up with smaller side-quests, like Ruth wanting to go out with a guy, but feeling she can’t, one of the wrestlers not wanting her son to see her on TV, Bash trying to find his butler, and one of the wrestlers worrying that she might get deported back to the UK. And as much as the show runners did for Sunita Mani, they still did nothing for Ellen Wong, who might as well have not been in the season, that’s how little she has to do. The show also has a bad habit of introducing complicating factors very late into the narrative, such as the aforementioned fear of deportation, which doesn’t materialize until the second to last episode, and Justine’s mother, who wants to bring her home, and who, again, doesn’t show up until the very end. If they’re so important, and are such big sources of conflict, why didn’t you introduce them earlier? Ugh. But, like I said, this season is, in many ways, an improvement over the first. Does it have problems? Sure. But I still think you’ll have fun if you watch

Damsel (2018)

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

Parson Henry isn’t a real preacher. He isn’t even a man of God. He’s just a sad widower, looking for a fresh start, who was given a preacher’s clothes while journeying out West. How unfortunate for Henry when young Samuel, thinking that he is a real parson, recruits him to go out into the wild and wed him and his fiancé, Penelope, whom he claims was kidnapped. Henry is reluctant, but, seeing as he’s got nowhere else to go, and Samuel has offered to pay, agrees. When they reach Penelope’s cabin, however, and shoot her supposed kidnapper, Henry realizes that not all is as it seems to be, and things spiral out of control from there, with the line between good and evil, sanity and insanity, getting blurred.

Damsel is not a film I was planning on seeing. At least, I wasn’t at first. I went to the theater to watch Hearts Beat Loud, the new Nick Offerman movie, found out it wasn’t playing, and decided to give this a try. And I am so happy I did, because this is an original, subversive, darkly-comedic gem that I’m praying more people will go see. What is it, exactly? Well, that’s actually kind of hard to say. Is it a comedy? Is it a Western? Is it a thriller? Is it all of them at once? You spend the first 30 minutes or so being led to believe that this is going to be a sweet, old-fashioned Western with a comedic twist, but then, out of nowhere, things get super dark, and super violent. And the best part is, it feels earned. The transition doesn’t feel abrupt, or out of place. See, there are some films, Audition, Psycho, that switch their genre about halfway through, and it feels appropriate. Part of that has to do with how they set up tone. In Damsel, the filmmakers do a great job of making the world around Henry seem strange and menacing, so that when we find out that Samuel lied about Penelope getting kidnapped, it feels in keeping with what we’ve seen so far. Something else that I love about this movie is the fact that it truly is subversive with regards to how it presents the Western. See, many, many films have tried to approach the Western from a deconstructive or revisionist stance, but ultimately wind up becoming the very thing they were trying to satirize. Unforgiven is perhaps the best example of this phenomenon. It spends the first two-thirds telling you that the heroic Western is a myth, that gunslingers were selfish, violent, disgusting men without conscience or honor. And yet, it ends with the main character avenging his friends death, and freeing a town from the clutches of a ruthless, tyrannical sheriff. It basically becomes the very thing it spend the first half of the story telling you didn’t exist. Damsel doesn’t do that. It starts off by giving you a Western you’d expect, a heroic man and his bumbling sidekick going to save a woman, but then pulls the rug out from under you by having it get revealed that the “hero” in question is a delusional stalker who murdered a man for no reason. And far from being a damsel in distress, Penelope is easily the most active, most competent and most aggressive character in this movie. I’m actually kind of sad that she wasn’t the main character the whole way through, but,  you can’t always get what you want.

Now, if I have any complaints at all, it’s the fact that the movie is very slow. It spends a long time setting up the world, and showing Henry and Samuel journeying through the wilderness together. I understand why those scenes were there, to give us a false sense of security and familiarity, so that, when the reveal happens later on, it’s more shocking, but I can definitely see some people being bored by them. On top of this, the film’s humor is very eccentric. A lot of it derives from the characters meeting people, or seeing things, that are just super weird, like a fat man, dressed in a barrel, who never stops laughing. I found it endearing, but, again, I can see people being put off by it. Still, none of those things take away from the fact that this movie is original, funny, subversive, and very well-acted. It’s an eccentric gem that stands out in the midst of all the franchise mayhem we get this time of year, and I think you’d all like it if you gave it a chance.

Set It Up (2018)

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

Charlie and Harper are too over-worked assistants. Harper works for a former Sports Reporter named Kirsten, and Charlie works for a guy named Rick, who does… something. Whatever the case, they meet one night while desperately trying to procure food for their bosses, and commiserate over the fact that neither of them has time for a social life. Deciding that the only way to improve their existences is to get their superiors laid, and, in so doing, off their backs, Charlie and Harper devise a scheme wherein they’ll manipulate Rick and Kirsten into falling for each other. Things don’t go  quite according to plan, however, as  the two realize that it takes more then serendipity to keep a couple together.

I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that the Western has become something of a lost genre. With hindsight, I’d say the romantic-comedy has as well. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, rom-coms were everywhere, with films like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle and Pretty Woman absolutely killing it at the box office. Directors like Richard Curtis, and actors like Hugh Grant, were able to build tremendous careers off the strength of this one genre alone. And rom-coms didn’t just make money. They were critically respected as well. In 1977, Annie Hall, a film that has since become a quintessential rom-com, won Best Picture at the Oscars. So it’s not an exaggeration to say that rom-coms were a big deal. But as time wore on, they started to lose their charm. People became acutely aware of the tropes, and more and more feminist critics started to question the genre’s portrayal, and treatment, of women. As such, rom-coms stopped becoming a reliable box-office draw. Oh, studios never stopped making them. There were plenty of rom-coms made in the new millennium, The Notebook, 500 Days Of Summer, that did well financially, but they were either critically-derided, as with the former, or were intended to be deconstructions of the genre, as with the latter. My point is, it’s been a while since we’ve seen a traditional, true-blue rom-com do well on the big screen. Perhaps that’s why Set It Up, which absolutely falls into that category, was released straight to Netflix, a place now regarded as a dumping ground for films no one wants. And that’s a damn shame, because this movie is really, really charming.

I watched Set It Up on a whim. I saw that Lucy Liu was in it, and I always want to support Asian-American actors, so I decided to give it a chance. And when I finished watching this movie, I had a huge smile on my face. This is a movie that doesn’t just work as a rom-com, it works as a genuinely-entertaining film. It’s well-acted, well-paced, well-shot, and, above all, funny. Really, really funny. There’s so many great moments of awkward humor in here, like when Harper hears that Rick only dates women who get waxed, and she awkwardly tries to convince Kirsten to “lose the bush,” that had me in stitches. The actors who play Charlie and Harper, Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch, are so likable, and have absolutely amazing chemistry. And the film is actually a lot better written than I expected. One of my favorite films of last year was Their Finest, a period romance that acted as a meta-commentary on rom-coms. Now, as much as I enjoyed the flick, I was annoyed by how closely it adhered to certain romantic comedy tropes, such as the lead starting out in a relationship, meeting someone new, and then their initial love-interest cheating on them so its okay for them to be with the new person. Set It Up starts out in a similar manner, with the character of Charlie being in a relationship before he meets Harper, but the film isn’t so lazy as to have his first girlfriend cheat on him, or have Charlie sleep with Harper behind her back. He just realizes that him and the girl don’t have anything in common, and they split up, like actual people do. There’s also a minor character, Becca, who you think is going to be a bitchy best friend that Harper can feel envious of because she’s getting married, but the film doesn’t go that route. Becca actually winds up being super awesome and supportive, like real friends are. But by far my favorite thing about this movie is the scene where Charlie, in true rom-com fashion, rushes to the airport. Except a few things are different here. One, he’s not rushing to talk to his love interest, Harper. He’s there to see her boss, Kirsten. And two, the filmmakers manage to poke fun at the cliche by having him get there four hours before the plane is supposed to take off, and be really bored by all the waiting. My point is, Set It Up is an utterly charming film that I’m kind of sad didn’t get a wide release. Critics really like this movie, it currently has a 90% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and I genuinely think it could’ve done well, had the studio given it a chance. As things are, though, all I can say is that, if you have Netflix, and are in the mood for something sweet and charming, give this a look. It’s definitely worth your time.

First Reformed (2018)

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

Ethan Hawke is the pastor of a small, upstate New York Church. He’s a veteran, a recovering alcoholic, and a man slowly dying of cancer. One day, he is asked by one of his parishioners, Amanda Seyfried, to counsel her husband, a radical environmental activist. The man is depressed, and she believes talking to a pastor would be good for him. Hawke agrees to do so, but finds himself unable to console the man, who believes that humanity’s damage to the Earth is irreversible, and that it’s not worth bringing life into an existence this shitty. Things only get worse when the man kills himself, and Hawke finds a suicide bomber’s vest in the former’s garage. Hawke slowly unravels from there, becoming radicalized into the dead man’s cause, and even planning to blow himself up and kill every member of his congregation in the process. Will he do so? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

First Reformed is a film I hadn’t heard of until my roommate mentioned it to me. Then, when I learned that it was written and directed by Paul Schrader, the writer of such classics as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, I knew I had to go see it. And, having seen it, I can tell you that this is a beautifully-acted, meticulously crafted, haunting, unnerving movie. Now, let me be clear, It’s not the kind of film that you watch to enjoy and feel good about yourself. It’s the kind of film that’s designed to provoke you, to make you uneasy. Which is no surprise, given that many of Schrader’s other movies, Taxi Driver, Last Temptation Of Christ, Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters, were controversial at the time of their releases. And if you’re a person who doesn’t like the idea of watching a man of God suffer, act violently, and mentally and physically deteriorate, I can totally see why you’d hate this movie. As for me, I found the whole thing strangely hypnotic. It’s a very quiet movie–literally, there’s no score for most of the film–and there are several scenes of Hawke just living his life, and talking to the various members of his congregation. All of this makes both him, and the other characters in the movie, feel more real, and makes you empathize with him, even after he starts to deteriorate. The camerawork is also very interesting. Movement is used very effectively to emphasize both shifts in character, and key plot points. In the first half of the movie, shots are static, wide, and scenes play out in single, unbroken takes. As Hawke unravels, however, the camera begins to move, and not in the sense that it starts shaking, but in the sense that it’ll glide away from him, as if to mirror his sanity slowly leaving his body. All of this, coupled with truly excellent performances from Hawke, and all the supporting cast, definitely make First Reformed worth watching, regardless of its provocative subject matter.

Now, if I have any critiques of the film, apart from the fact that it will no doubt offend many people, it’s that it very much feels like a Paul Schrader joint. Almost all his films, Taxi Driver, American Gigolo, Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters, tell the stories of people falling from grace. In many cases, the characters will plan to murder others, as part of some grand political statement, only to chicken out at the last minute, and turn the gun (Taxi Driver) or knife (Mishima) on themselves. This film follows that formula to a T, with it even lifting shots from Schrader’s other movies. At one point , Hawke looks down into his glass as the liquid inside sloshes about (if you’ve seen Taxi Driver, you know what I’m getting at). Now, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with a writer having certain quirks and recurring themes–mine include having the main character be Asian, and telling a story set in the past–but it does get to be a problem when the writer in question just recycles those quirks without trying to do anything new. And, the thing is, for the first half of the movie, it did feel like Schrader was trying to do something new. He was making a quiet drama about a pastor helping others, a refreshing change of pace from the dark and gritty crime-dramas he’s known for. But then, the second half rolls around, and I realized, “oh no. Schrader’s just doing what he always does.” And, because of that, I almost feel like some of the things that the film has to say about God, and the Environment, and the commercialization of spirituality, don’t really resonate anymore, because this is just another story about a crazy person who wants to kill people. And the thing is, the movie even knows this. When Hawke finds the suicide vest in the dead man’s garage, he tells Amanda Seyfried to not let anyone know about this, because, to use his own words, “His cause was just. Best not to sully it with disrepute.” It was like Schrader was trying to remind himself that if he went ahead and told the kind of stories he usually does, all the points he’s making would be rendered moot. Alas, he went ahead and told that story anyway.

But, if I’m being honest with myself, I still think this is a good movie. It’s very well-acted, and very well-crafted with regards to it’s cinematography and sound design. For that reason, I would recommend you all go see it. If it’s in your area, give it a look.

Deadpool 2 (2018)

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

Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, has a problem. His girlfriend is dead, and, thanks to his healing factor, he can’t join her in heaven. Not until his heart is in the right place. But what does that mean? Well, Wade interprets that as a call to protect a young mutant boy, Russell, from the time-traveler Cable, who has journeyed back from the future to assassinate him. And if that sounds like the plot to a Terminator movie, never fear. Deadpool most certainly comments on that fact. So now, the race is on to assemble a new super team, X-Force, and save Russell before it’s too late. Will they do both in time? Well, you’ll just have to watch to find out.

Deadpool 2 is a movie I watched purely on a whim. I wasn’t a huge fan of the original. I mean, I liked it well enough, and I could certainly understand why people appreciated it, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. A little too much profanity, and childish humor, for my taste. Still, the reviews for this film came in, they were good, and I decided to sit down in a movie theater and give Deadpool 2 a try. And, having done so, I found myself walking out rather satisfied.

This movie is more or less exactly what the original was–lots of violence, profanity, and meta-textual humor–but with a bigger budget. A lot more explosions and car chases this time around. Like the last one, there are some jokes that really hit, and some jokes that don’t. Also like the last one, the acting, particularly from Ryan Reynolds, is quite good, though Reynolds does chew the scenery a bit too much for my taste. There’s one moment in particular, which parodies overlong, dramatic death scenes, that I found a bit grating. But, to be fair, that’s entirely a matter of personal taste. As I mentioned in my Death Of Stalin review, comedy is one of the few genres that is truly subjective. If you aren’t into a particular type of humor, you won’t like certain movies. So, for that reason, I can’t really knock Deadpool 2 down for not having jokes that I liked. What I can comment on is the filmmaking, which, for the most part, is solid. As I said, the acting is good, the action is well-staged, with everything being shot in clear, long takes, and the film moves at a brisk enough pace that you’re never bored. I also liked the introduction of new characters into the universe, particularly Domino, who has the power to be lucky, and Yukio, who is Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s girlfriend. That last fact is actually a pretty big deal, because Yukio and Negasonic are now officially the first openly queer couple in a mainstream blockbuster. That’s huge. I also really like the woman who plays Yukio, Australian actress Shiori Kutsuna, who, fun fact, was in a movie that one of my professors, Shinho Lee, wrote. It’s called While The Women Are Sleeping, and I think you all should check it, and her other work, particularly the Japanese remake of Unforgiven, out. Unfortunately, neither she nor Negasonic are really in the movie for that long. And even though it’s great to see an openly queer Asian woman in a mainstream blockbuster, she’s kind of a Japanese stereotype. She giggles, waves, and the only thing she really gets to say is “Hi Wade” and “bye Wade” throughout the movie. I just hope that in the next film, she gets a little more to do. But my biggest gripe, by far, is the fact that, as impressive as the action is, it’s all so big and frenetic that it gets exhausting after a while. It kind of reminds me of The Last Jedi. If you read my review for that film, you’d know that I liked the movie, but I found all the action in it so big and bombastic that no single beat felt more important or impactful than another. The same principle holds true with Deadpool 2. Virtually every action scene involves an explosion, ten cars flipping over each other, and at least 100 people getting killed. And those are supposed to be the smaller, warm-up beats leading to the big climax.

In the end, though, I do think Deadpool 2‘s strengths outweigh its weaknesses. It’s got good acting, well-filmed action and a brisk pace. Maybe some of the humor doesn’t land, and maybe it could have given Yukio and Negasonic more to do, but those are both matters of personal taste. I do think it’s fun, and definitely worth a watch.