Happy Death Day (2017)

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

Tree Gelbman is a sorority girl, and an all-around terrible person. She’s petty, shallow, condescending and dismissive. And she sleeps with her professors to pass her courses. On the evening of her birthday, she is murdered by an assailant dressed like her school’s mascot, only to wake up the next morning, and realize that she’s in a time loop. At the behest of a classmate, who reasons that she’s basically got unlimited lives, Tree sets about trying to find her killer, resulting in her dying several more times. Sometimes in hilariously over-the-top fashion. With each death, however, she gets closer to uncovering the truth, and with each loop, she learns a little bit more about herself, and how horrible she’s become. Will she solve her own murder? Will she live to see tomorrow? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Happy Death Day is a crowd-pleaser. That’s the best way for me to describe it. It’s fun, light-hearted and, for the most part, inoffensive. It doesn’t ask any difficult, or profound questions, but it’s well-acted, and well-shot, and it moves at a quick pace, so you’re never bored. It’s also a lot funnier than I thought it would be. What I mean is, when I saw the trailers, I thought this was a straight-forward horror film. But, having watched it, I wasn’t scared at all. It’s really more of a comedy. So much of this film, even the kills, are played for laughs, that you can’t really take it seriously. For instance, there’s a whole montage, set to Demi Lovato’s “Confident” wherein we see Tree getting murdered over and over and over again. And while violence against women is never something I like to see in movies, it’s all shot in such a comedic manner, with the music being so jarringly happy, that I couldn’t help but chuckle while watching it. So, yeah. If you’re worried that this will be a gory, terrifying fright fest, never fear. This movie is PG-13, and more of a comedy than anything else.

If I have any complaints, they’re the opening scenes, where we’re introduced to Tre’s daily routine, and the final reveal of the killer, and his/her motivation. Tree is so obnoxious in those first few scenes, with her making some very off-color remarks about disabled and large people, that you’re really rooting for her to get killed. And as for the ending, when you do realize who the killer is, and why he/she is doing what he/she is doing, you wind up rolling your eyes and going “Really? That’s the dumbest motivation I’ve ever heard.” Fortunately, the film is smart enough to recognize said motivation as dumb, and they do make a joke out of the final reveal.

So, overall, I do think Happy Death Day is worth watching. It’s funny, well-acted, and entertaining enough to keep you invested. Just don’t expect too much depth.

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Mother! (2017)

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

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem are a married couple who live out in the woods. Javier Bardem is a poet struggling with writer’s block, and Jennifer Lawrence is a craftsman of sorts, having rebuilt their house from scratch after it burned down. All is well, until an obnoxious couple, both of whom are zealous fans of Bardem’s work, come barging in, and make themselves at home. Lawrence is shocked by this, and disturbed that, rather than kick these intruders out, her husband welcomes them, and even encourages their destructive behavior. Things only get worse when even more acolytes to Bardem’s word appear, and Lawrence gets pregnant. Will the strangers leave? WIll Lawrence be able to raise her baby in peace? No, and no. I don’t care if that’s a spoiler. I don’t really think you should see this movie. Why? Simple.

Mother! is an aggressively unpleasant picture. And I don’t mean that in the sense of it being poorly made. The acting, special effects, music and cinematography are all fine. I mean, everything about it, from the story, to the characters, to the downright disturbing imagery, is unpleasant. There isn’t a single thing about it that makes you feel happy, optimistic or hopeful. And I know that there will be some people who say, “Well, I want challenging art that doesn’t spoon feed me the same easy crap I’m used to.” And that’s fine. You’ll probably get something out of it. But the truth is, it’s nothing that you haven’t seen before.

See, this whole film is just one big metaphor for religion. Javier Bardem is God. Jennifer Lawrence is the Earth. And all the people who come in and destroy their house in Bardem’s name are Christians. And I’m not just saying that. The first couple who appear have two sons, one of whom kills the other in an act of jealousy, so they are clearly meant to be Adam and Eve. Lawrence has a child who is killed by the zealots, who eat his flesh and drink his blood, all while Bardem claims they need to be forgiven for their sins; clearly a metaphor for  Jesus. And there are several scenes in this movie where the Christians are destroying the house and killing each other that are lifted directly from events like the Holocaust, the Crusades and the Intifada. This movie is as blatant a middle-finger to Christianity as Bill Maher’s Religulous. For people like my father, who hate organized religion, that fact alone will probably be enough to get them to see it. For others, like my mother, who are devoted to God, that will be enough of a reason not to. For people like me, who fall somewhere in-between, it’s just not interesting. I’ve seen this kind of blatant condemnation of organized religion before, and this film doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It doesn’t try to explore why people believe in God, or examine any of the good things that religion has done for human civilization. Nope. According to this movie, religion is evil. Pure and simple. Now look, I know that religion has been the justification for some of the worst, if not the worst, atrocities in human history. Religious violence happens every day in Israel/Palestine. Until very recently, it was not uncommon for Catholics and Protestants to murder each other in Northern Ireland. But the vast majority of people who are religious aren’t psychopaths, or serial killers. They’re just ordinary, decent people, who use their religion as a moral framework by which to live their lives. So to have a film come out and tell all those people that the thing they were brought up with, the thing that probably hasn’t hurt them, or anyone they know, in any way, is evil, and makes them evil too, is kind of unfair, and even a little bit cruel.

For this reason, and the fact that the story and characters are so unpleasant, I really can’t recommend this movie to you all. If you like the director, Darren Aronofsky, the stars, or just hate religion, maybe you’ll like this one. Me, I’m not interested, and I have no intention of ever seeing it again.

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.

Death Note (2017)

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

While doing other people’s homework, angry nerd Light Turner stumbles across a mysterious book with the words “Death Note” written on it. And by “stumbled,” I mean it falls from the sky, and hits him on the head. Anyway, when he opens it, a strange, spiky-faced demon named Ryuk appears before him, and explains that if Light writes a person’s name in the book, and pictures their face while doing so, he’ll be able to kill the unlucky soul. Realizing that this gives him virtually unlimited power, Light uses the book to kill off bullies, murderers and terrorists, eventually creating a god-like persona for himself called Kira. Some people love him, since he’s basically ridding the world of evil. Others hate him, since he’s essentially deciding who is worthy of life and who isn’t. Either way, the police, led by an eccentric detective called L, are brought in, and begin investigating Kira’s identity. This puts the pressure on Light, and his bloodthirsty girlfriend, Mia, who start to realize that, shock of all shocks, maybe killing people off indiscriminately is bad.

The best thing I can say about Death Note is that it has an interesting concept. If you did have the power to decide who lived and who died, what would you do with it? Would you just settle personal scores? Or would you try to make the World a better place? And, perhaps more important than that, how would you know who to kill? Because, the truth is, “good” and “evil” are highly subjective terms. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. People can change for the better, even after they’ve made horrible choices. And in our social media dominated world, how do you know if the stories you’ve heard about someone are true? A guy you read about online could be a murderer, or he could just be a dude that someone didn’t like, and so they decided to ruin his life by spreading false rumors. The film’s premise opens up so many interesting questions, and, to it’s credit, the script does touch upon all of them briefly. But just about everything else is laughably bad. And I do mean laughably.

There are so many moments in this film that are unintentionally hilarious, like when Light is screaming at the top of his lungs, or when he and Mia are saying “I love you” to each other on a collapsing ferris wheel, that you can’t really take the movie seriously. This accidental comedy is due, in large part, to some weird stylistic choices the filmmakers made, like using a ton of 80s soft pop during dramatic or gruesome scenes. It’s extremely distracting, and really detracts from whatever serious tone the director might have been going for. There are also some weird hold-overs from the anime this film is based off of, (an anime I have not seen, by the way), that make it extremely hard to take the movie seriously. Like, why is he named Light? Who the hell names their kid Light? If you wanted to Americanize the property, you should have called him Luke, or Liam, or anything that a normal person would be named. And if, somehow, none of that bothers you, then the lackluster acting and gaping plot holes should get the job done, because this movie has plenty of both. The guy who plays Light seems to think that the way to convince a girl that you love her is to open your eyes really wide, and smile in as creepy a manner as possible. And L, as interesting and quirky as he is, makes some huge deductions based on virtually no evidence. And I do mean no evidence. Somehow, some way, he is  able to conclude that Light is in Seattle, and that he needs to see his victim’s faces, and know their names, in order to kill them. Yes, he’s right. But you don’t buy that he’s able to deduce this. And the fact that you don’t buy it is a plot hole.

Guys, I really don’t think you should watch Death Note (2017). I can’t  say whether or not it did the anime justice, but I can say that it’s questionable acting, gaping plot holes, and strange music choices work together to create a silly, unintentionally hilarious motion picture. So unless your in the mood for something campy and dumb, don’t waste your time with it.

A Cure For Wellness (2017)

Greetings Loved ones! Liu is The Name, And Views Are My game.

When his superiors catch him stealing, ambitious banker William Lockhart is blackmailed into retrieving a colleague from a wellness center in Switzerland. The big shots explain that if the colleague in question, Mr. Pembroek, fails to take responsibility for the irregularities in their books, then not only will they be unable to perform a major merger, but they’ll all be up for criminal charges. So with no other options, Lockhart sets off for the Alps, eager to get back as soon as possible. But when he arrives at the wellness center, and begins interacting with the patients, he realizes that there’s something sinister going on, and that he might not be able to leave.

A Cure For Wellness is one of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen. I can’t say that I love it, or even that I like it. But I do think that this movie is well-made, and that there is something very special about it. See, there are some films out there that, even if they aren’t critically or commercially successful, have unique qualities that make them ideal for cult status. These are movies like Demolition Man, Idiocracy, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Heathers. Maybe its their visual style, or unconventional narratives. Maybe its just how strange they are. Whatever the case, they stay in people’s minds, and are given life, long after they’ve left theaters. I truly believe that A Cure For Wellness is destined to be a cult film. Because even though its very long, even though it gets very surreal and disturbing towards the end, there is something hypnotic about it. This movie is 2 and a half hours long, and yet, for the entire runtime, I was never bored once. Something about it, and I couldn’t tell you what that thing was, kept me engaged. Maybe it was the gorgeous shots and camera movement. Maybe it was the exquisite costume and set design. Maybe it was the damn near perfect sound mixing, and eerie musical score. Whatever the case, that thing kept me hooked, and kind of makes me want to recommend this movie to you all. Kind of.

See, as fascinating as I think A Cure For Wellness is, there’s also a lot of things working against it. It’s very long, the main character is kind of a jerk, and there are several scenes in it that are extremely gross. At no less than three points in this movie, Lockhart is strapped down and tortured, and I honestly had to look away during those scenes. In addition to this, some of the film’s subject matter is highly disturbing. If you read my review for Mother, you know that I liked the movie, but was put off by its implications of incest and pedophilia. Well, in Mother they were just implications. In A Cure For Wellness, they are openly discussed facts,and they are two of the flick’s major themes. If that sort of thing bothers you, avoid this film like the plague.

And yet, in spite of all that, A Cure For Wellness’s exquisite production design, and odd-ball charm make it stand out. So, in a way, I would recommend it. If you want to watch something original, and off-kilter, give this flick a look. But go in knowing that what you’re watching is weird and messed up.

Black Mirror (Seasons 1-3)

Greetings loved ones. Liu is the name, and views are my game.

What if you could build a man, based on his social media posts? What if you could watch memories, like movies, on a screen? What if a signal was sent out that turned half the world into passive spectators, and the other half into murderous hunters ? These questions, and more, are what get asked and explored in Black Mirror, a British anthology series that’s streaming on Netflix. Each episode features a different cast, a different story, and a different reality. But all feature the recurrent motif of technology, and a dry, nihilistic sense of humor. The series might best be described as half science fiction, half satire.

In many respects, Black Mirror is the spiritual successor to The Twilight Zone, the classic sci-fi anthology series that ran for five seasons back in the 50s. Both feature episodes with different casts and story-lines. Both ask moral and philosophical questions, usually through a scientific or magical plot device. Both feature macabre twist endings, and both gave actors who would eventually become super famous their first big break. Seriously. Black Mirror has got way more famous British actors in it than I would have thought. You’ve got Domhnall Gleason, from The Force Awakens, The Revenant and Ex Machina. You’ve got Hayley Atwell, or as you may know her, agent Peggy carter from the MCU. You’ve got Tuppence Middleton from Sense8. You’ve got Daniel Kaluuya from Get Out. You’ve got Toby Kebbell, who’s starred in every major big budget flop that’s come out in the last four years. You’ve got Gugu Mbatha-Raw, from Belle, Beauty and the Beast, and Beyond the Lights. And, of course, you’ve got Benedict Wong, from Marco Polo, Doctor Strange, and The Martian. So much talent. And it was all before they were famous. But I’m getting sidetracked.

Black Mirror is a very smart, very well-written series. Even in its weaker episodes, the show is consistently entertaining. The acting is always top notch, as is the production design. And I really want to emphasize this, its original. Every single episode features a unique; thought provoking concept. And none of them are remakes of older stories, adaptations of preexisting material, or spin offs of other stuff. Do you realize how rare that is? Do you realize how virtually nothing that gets made these days is not a sequel, remake, adaptation or spin off? For that reason, I have to recommend you all watch this. Even if you don’t like sci-fi, you’ll appreciate the show for it’s emotional depth and it’s originality. Especially the latter.

But before you get the wrong idea, the series isn’t perfect. Where the show falters the most is its cynicism. Virtually all the episodes end in an extremely bleak manner, and, very often, those endings fly in the face of the world and the characters that have been established. I understand tragedy is seen as the highest, most respectable form of dramatic art, but forced tragedy is awkward and unrealistic. And it doesn’t hit you as hard when you know that the story shouldn’t have ended that way, not because you didn’t want it to, but because the ending was easily avoidable. And example of this “false tragedy” I’m talking about is the episode “Fifteen Million Merits.” In it, we see Daniel Kaluuya raging against the numb, media obsessed dystopia that he’s living in. He spends the entire episode telling us how much he hates it and how much he hates the people who have turned the world into thoughtless zombies. And yet, by the end of the episode, he joins the big media company and becomes part of the system he despises. And it comes out of nowhere. It’s not like the show builds up to this by throwing us little hints that maybe he actually likes the system. He hates it, and then, out of nowhere, when he’s given the chance to join it, he does. Why? It doesn’t make sense. And because of that, I don’t feel devastated. I just feel confused. And even in episodes that don’t include sci-fi elements, like the first episode of the series, “the national anthem,” the show’s harsh, mean-spirited tone is off-putting. In that episode, a royal princess gets kidnapped, and the only way to save her is if the prime minister fucks a pig. And we have to watch him do it. Why? What possible good can come from forcing us to watch an old man get pressured into committing bestiality. What does that say, other than that you hate politicians? I hate Donald trump, but I would never want to have to watch him fuck a gorilla. That’s just cruel and mean. And it doesn’t teach us anything. The only episode that has a happy ending is San Junipero, a sweet little love story about two women finally being able to be with each other in an artificial construct. And there, it comes as an all too welcome relief.

All I can say is that Black Mirror is a brilliantly-written, highly original, but deeply mean spirited and nihilistic show. I want to recommend it, but I feel I can’t do so without warning you of its content. Make of this what you will.

Tag (2015)

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

Mitsuko has a problem. Everywhere she goes, someone, or something, inevitably winds up trying to kill her. First it’s a gust of wind, which slices all her classmates in half. Then it’s one of her teachers, who inexplicably opens fire on her students. And if that’s not bad enough, every time Mitsuko escapes one ordeal, she finds herself transported to a different reality; she starts off as a school girl in class, then changes to a bride on her wedding day, and ends as a runner in a marathon. Things come to a head when Mitsuko realizes that everything, all her existences, are just a video game being played by someone in another dimension, and that, if she wants to save herself and her friends, she’s going to have to do something unthinkable. Will she do it? Well, you’ll have to watch the film to find out.

Tag is a movie I watched purely on a whim. I was browsing through the “Asian Horror” section of Netflix, and since films in that genre tend to be far more creative than your typical American slasher, I thought I’d give it a look. And while the picture certainly is innovative and out there, I was not prepared for the nightmarish insanity that is this movie. Perhaps if I’d been familiar with the writer/director, Sion Sono, before watching this, I’d have been less surprised. As it is, I was left both shaken and perplexed.

Now, in case you’ve never heard of him, Sion Sono is a Japanese director who is, in many respects, the brainy twin of Takashi Miike. Like Miike, Sono churns out tons of films, most of them violent, exploitative B movies. Also like Miike, most of Sono’s work is adapted from books and manga. And, finally, like Miike, Sono has gained a cult following outside Japan, particularly among fans of extreme cinema. But whereas Miike has made films in a variety of genres, including kid’s movies, musicals and period pieces, Sono tends to stay with the sick and bizarre. And unlike Miike, who tries to keep messages and politics out of his work, Sono always has something to say about Japanese society, or the relationship between men and women, in his films. His movies Suicide Club and Noriko’s Dinner Table both act as commentaries on social alienation, the gap between generations, and the influence of the internet. His most famous film, Love Exposure, tackles themes like religion, lust and family. And Strange Circus… No. No, that has no broader political message. It’s just fucked up. The point is, Sono likes to make statements with his films, and Tag is no exception. It has a lot to say about the way men view women, the way men treat women, and the way men portray women in media. And that’s all good. It’s just, well…

The film wants to be feminist. And, in concept, it is. It’s about a woman trapped in a world designed by men, standing up and saying, “fuck you! I’m not going to be your play thing anymore.” That idea is feminist, through and through. It’s just that, in terms of how that concept is executed, its slightly less “girl power,” and slightly more “girls gone wild.” There are several up skirt shots of the main characters’ panties. There are more than a few scenes where we watch her and her friends get undressed for no reason. The film does pass the bechdel test, with the girls talking about subjects other than men, but the subjects they do talk about–pillow fights, ice cream, sex–are so cliched, and so clearly the product of male imagination, that you can’t help but roll your eyes in certain moments. Also, for a movie that professes to empower and support women, it does seem to relish killing them in extremely gruesome, and sexual, ways. There’s one scene where a girl gets butchered by a crocodile, which jumps out of the water and bites through her vagina. And that’s one of the milder deaths. Now, maybe this is all deliberate. Maybe all the sexual violence, fan service cinematography, and stereotypical “girly” dialogue are there to let us know that we’re in a man’s fantasy of what women are like. Maybe. And maybe Sion Sono, no matter how hard he tries, has fucked up fetishes that he can’t help but inject into his films. That might sound harsh, but when you consider how much of his filmography–Strange Circus, Love Exposure, Guilty Of Romance–involves rape, murder, torture and pedophilia, you start to question whether a man like him is capable of feminist thinking. For that reason, I can’t recommend this movie to you all.

Now, on the off chance that you don’t care about sexism, and just want to know if this is an enjoyable, well-made film, I have to say no. The special effects are extremely cheap looking. The acting is over the top. And because the main character keeps switching realities, you never get a true sense for her, or any of her other identities. You’re too busy trying to make sense of watts’ going on. Now, that being said, the film has potential. The concept of a video game character realizing that he or she is stuck in a destructive reality he or she has no control over, and deciding to fight back, is both fascinating and original. The fact that the movie wants to talk about the way men treat and portray women is to be admired. And, as cheap as some of the effects are, the film does, on the whole, look good, with there being some nice cinematography, and cool visual metaphors. Still, I don’t think any of this is enough to warrant a recommendation. If you want to watch the grind house pretend to be the art house, go ahead. Me; I’m not interested.