Wonder Woman (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snowpiercer (2013)

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

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

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

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

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

The Host (2006)

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

When a huge amount of formaldehyde is dumped down the drain, strange things start happening in Seoul’s Han River. First, all the fish in the area mysteriously die off. Next, pedestrians start noticing something big, and creepy, skulking below the surface. Then, after four years of waiting, a giant monster bursts from the water, eager to eat, and kidnap, humans. One of those taken is Park Hyun-Seo, the daughter of a neglectful Snack Shop Owner, who, with the help of his aging father, alcoholic brother, and athlete sister, sets out to bring her home. But things get complicated when the American military, the group responsible for creating the monster, block off the river, and release a poison, Agent Yellow, into the air. WIll the Parks save their daughter in time? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

When it came out back in 2006, The Host was a smash hit. Not only did it become the highest grossing Korean film of all time, it also garnered glowing reviews, and launched its director, Bong Joon-Ho, from a popular local filmmaker to a global talent that Hollywood was eager to work with. Because of this, and the upcoming release of Okja, Bong’s newest film, I decided to give The Host, and a few of his other movies, a look. See, It’s very rare for Asian directors to become big in Hollywood. There are exceptions, like Ang Lee and John Woo, but, for the most part, Asian filmmakers are relegated to the periphery of the popular conscience. So what about The Host is so special? Why does Hollywood know this film, and its director, and not others? Simple; its entertaining and well-made.

The Host takes a very basic premise–family tries to save daughter from monster–and tells it with just enough skill, and heart, to keep you engaged. And unlike many foreign films, which feature jokes that really only make sense in the original language, The Host is completely universal in its characterization and humor. I don’t speak a word of Korean, and the first time I watched this movie, it was without subtitles. And yet, I still knew what was going on, and who everyone was. That’s because Bong did a brilliant job of using costumes, hair styles, and other bits of visual shorthand to establish who the characters were. The film also looks amazing. Seriously! Anyone hoping to direct great monster movies should give this flick a look. It is a masterclass in how to shoot a blockbuster. Now, with regards to complaints, I do have a few. I think that the film, which is over two hours long, could have been shortened. I also couldn’t get over the fact that the Monster kidnapped Hyun-Seo, and didn’t just kill her. I understand that she needs to stay alive, because otherwise the story won’t happen, but, still. That seemed like a logical error. Granted, most people probably won’t care, and, even for me, its a nitpick. Beyond that, though, I have no comments. The Host is an entertaining, well-crafted monster movie, which transcends linguistic barriers to deliver high thrills and huge laughs. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

Mifune: The Last Samurai (2015)

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

Toshiro Mifune; if you know anything about Japanese cinema, or cinema in general, really, you’ve heard that name before. Not only was he Japan’s biggest movie star in the 50s and 60s, but his films went on to inspire the likes of George Lucas, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, and Martin Scorsese. To quote this documentary, “Without Mifune, there wouldn’t be a Magnificent Seven, Clint Eastwood wouldn’t have a Fist Full Of Dollars, and Darth Vader wouldn’t be a samurai.” And that’s true. Many of Mifune’s most popular films–Seven Samurai, Yojimbo–were remade in the States as Westerns. George Lucas openly admits that the original Star Wars was modeled after Mifune’s Hidden Fortress. And Darth Vader’s outfit is, indeed, highly reminiscent of a samurai’s armor. But who was he in real life? What was he like behind closed doors? Those are the questions that this documentary seeks to, and, in my opinion, manages, to answer. Because this is a highly engaging, deeply entertaining film.

I learned so much from this picture, not simply about Mifune, the man, but also about the Japanese film industry, and the impact that his work has had on the world. There were so many things that I found out about him that I never would have suspected. For instance, did you know that he was actually born and raised in Qingdao, China? Yeah, until he was 20 years old, he never set foot on Japanese soil. Not only that, he was also Christian. His parents were Methodist missionaries, and that’s why they were living in China to begin with. And as if that’s not crazy enough, he was originally supposed to play Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars, but he turned it down because his agent thought the movie would be a flop. This documentary is full of fascinating little tidbits like that, and with interviews from his children, actors and stuntmen who worked with him, and filmmakers who were inspired by him, including the likes of Spielberg and Scorsese, you get a real well-rounded portrait of the man. You see his strengths, like his charisma, strong work ethic, and loyalty to friends and colleagues, and his flaws, like his pride, drinking, and pension for womanizing. And the film, in a shockingly short runtime–just about 80 minutes–manages to paint a thoroughly detailed picture of what japan was like at the time he came on the scene.

If you like movies, if you like history, if you like to learn and be entertained in general, give this film a look. I guarantee that you will enjoy yourself. Because I did. And unlike other documentaries I’ve seen, such as The Act Of Killing and The Last Days, I actually do want to watch this again. And that says something.

Colossal (2017)

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

Gloria is an out-of-work writer, struggling with alcoholism. When she is unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend, she returns to her hometown in the Midwest, hoping to get her life back on track. There, she reunites with her childhood friend, Oscar, who helps her move in, and even offers her a job waiting tables at his bar. While settling in, Gloria sees news reports of a giant, Godzilla-like monster terrorizing Seoul, South Korea. And as if this weren’t strange enough, Gloria finds, to her horror and amusement, that when she walks through a park at 8:05 in the morning, she can control the creature. How? Why? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie, and find out for yourself.

In a world where every film is either a sequel, remake, spin-off or adaptation, a movie like Colossal, which is none of those things, and whose premise has honestly never been done before, stands out. The concept alone–a random person in America somehow being able to control a giant monster halfway around the world–should be enough to get you in the theater. And that’s not even considering how the concept itself is executed. This is an extremely well-acted, highly compelling movie, with some very impressive visual effects, especially when you consider how small the budget is. The dialogue is also very good, with each character having a specific, individual voice, and there being some very fun exchanges in the first half of the movie. I really think that more people should see this film, and I’m hoping that good reviews and a strong enough box office gross will convince studios to start making original content again.

That being said, Colossal does have problems; the foremost of which is an inconsistent tone. See, the movie is marketed as a comedy, and, for the first half, it’s just that; a comedy. The set-up is pleasantly absurd, and there are jokes a plenty. But around the 50 minute mark, the film stops being plain silly, and shifts into drastically darker territory. And when I say dark, I mean just that. Murder, drug addiction, emotional and physical abuse; these are just a few of the thinks that get brought up halfway through this movie, and that end up taking the spotlight. And the transition between the two tones is not handled well. The film also tries to throw you for a loop by having certain characters who you think will be good turn out to be bad, and other characters who you imagine will be important just kind of vanish without explanation. And while I normally love it when movies try to avoid cliches, and play with your expectations, I don’t like it when they don’t provide you with any kind of build up, and just go “You see this character who we’ve spent 30 minutes establishing is one way? Uh, yeah, he’s actually not like that at all. Sorry!”

That being said, I do believe that the film’s performances, its effects, and, above all, it’s originality, make up for whatever flaws it might have, and I do highly recommend you go see it. Go out and give it a look.

Get Out (2017)

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

Chris and Rose are in love. They’ve been going out for close to five months, and they’re about to make one of the biggest steps in their relationship, meeting each other’s parents. This, of course, is nerve-wracking for everyone, but the situation is made doubly awkward by the fact that Rose’s family, who are White, don’t know that Chris is Black. Chris informs Rose of his concerns, and she tells him that there’s nothing to worry about. Her family are nice. They’ll love him. Chris isn’t convinced, having spent a lifetime facing micro aggressions from “nice” people, but he goes along anyway. And, at first, everything is fine. Rose’s family are nice, micro aggressions not withstanding. They do seem to like him. But, as time goes by, Chris starts to notice some things that aren’t quite right. The family’s Black servants, Georgina and Walter, are inhumanly polite and docile, almost as though they’ve had their personalities drained. And Rose’s mother, Missy, a psychiatrist, is strangely adamant about submitting Chris to hypnosis. Tension builds as the family’s friends, each one whiter and more oblivious than the last, show up for an annual get together, and submit Chris to a tidal wave of awkward statements and pho compliments. Finally, Chris decides he can take it no more, and tells Rose that they need to leave, but, much to his horror, finds that he can’t.

Get Out is a movie that I really didn’t know what to expect with. The premise seemed interesting, and I liked the actors I recognized in the trailer, like Skins’ Daniel Kaluuya, and Being John Malkovich’s Catherine Keener. At the same time, though, I was worried that the film’s social commentary would wind up being too heavy-handed, and I didn’t know how successful a comedian, Jordan Peele, would be at directing a horror movie. Amazingly successful, as it turns out, because this movie is AWESOME! It’s well-acted, well-written, ripe with tension, and manages to deftly ride the line between humorous and horrifying, and all while subtly making its viewers aware of their own innate prejudices. I’m not joking when I say that at no less than four points in this movie, me and everyone else in my theater cheered with delight at something that just happened. It’s rare for a film to impact me on such a visceral level, and I’ve got to give it up to Jordan Peele, the cast, and everyone involved for making a film that got to me the way this one did. But by far the best part of this entire movie was Lil Rel Howery, whom plays Chris’s best friend, Rod. I’m not joking when I say that he stole EVERy scene he was in. There wasn’t a moment he was on screen where I wasn’t laughing my butt off. He NEEDS to be in more stuff, because he is AWESOME. Something else I want to give Get Out credit for is the fact that I legitimately had no idea where it was going. When I finally learned what was happening beneath the surface, I actually turned to my girlfriend and said “Shit! I did not see that coming.” And she actually said to me afterwards, “You need to write stories like that; stories where you can’t guess what’s going on.”

Guys, what else can I say? Get Out is awesome. It’s smart, funny, scary, and an amazing directorial debut from Jordan Peele. Give it a look!

Logan (2017)

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

The X-men are gone. The mutant race has all but vanished. And Earth’s greatest hero, Wolverine, is now a depressed alcoholic, eking out a meager living as a chauffeur. Every day is a battle for him; a battle to pay rent; to get Professor X his drugs before he has another psychic episode. And every night, he finds himself staring at a special, adamantium bullet, asking the dreaded question, “Should I do it?” But before he can find an answer, a woman and a little girl with remarkably similar powers to him show up on his doorstep, begging for help. A ruthless government agency is hot on their trail, and they mean to kill them both. Realizing he can’t let this girl die, Logan grabs his keys, and his friend Charles Xavier, and embarks on a major, cross country journey, both to get everyone to safety, and to provide himself with some overdue redemption.

Just as Christopher Reeve was the quintessential Superman for my parents’ generation, Hugh Jackman has been the quintessential Wolverine for me and everyone my age. So when I heard that Logan, the tenth film in the X-men franchise, was going to be his final outing as the character, I knew I had to watch it. I had to see what kind of closure the filmmakers would give the character, and whether Jackman’s run would go out with a bang, or end on a whimper. And, having just seen the movie, I can tell you, this is the best possible send off you could hope for. Logan is a fantastic picture, both as a piece of superhero escapism, and mature, emotional drama. I highly recommend you all watch it, and I’m tempted to see it again myself.

Something that sets this movie apart from all the other films in the X-men franchise, and most other superheor movies as well, is how grounded it is. It feels like real life, as absurd as that sounds. Characters say the F word in this picture. They get dirty. They bleed. There are real steaks in this film, because the heroes have gotten frail, and death is a very real possibility for them. And unlike some other movie franchises–cough, cough, the MCU, cough, cough–which don’t try to explore dark, adult subject matter, like death, survivor’s guilt, parenthood and responsibility, this movie jumps head first into those topics, giving us a refreshingly mature picture, which transcends the comic book genre.

But before any of you action lovers feel the urge to look away, know that Logan has some of the best, most imaginative superhero fight sequences I’ve ever seen. Two in particular, one in a Casino where Professor X is having a psychic seizure, and one on a mountain side where Wolverine is going full berserker, are imprinted on my brain, they’re that brutal and inventive. This film is rated R, and unlike some movies that probably shouldn’t have had that classification, Logan really earns that title. This is a brutal, exceedingly bloody movie. And like I said, there is no limit to foul language in this picture. And yet it never crosses the threshold into exploitation territory. This isn’t like the works of Mark Millar or Garth Ennis, which pretend to be mature by including gratuitous amounts of violence and profanity. This is a thoughtful, emotionally resonant drama, which has brutal, hard-hitting violence in it, because the world it creates is a dark and ugly one. And yet, you never reach that point where the film gets so bleak that you feel like looking away. You’re never turned off by the morbid subject matter. Rather, you’re engrossed in it. You’re captivated by it. And I am so happy about that.

Guys, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I really don’t have any complaints with Logan. It’s mature, emotionally resonant, and a really fun superhero movie as well. It’s the perfect send off to an actor and a character, and I really think you all should go see it.