Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)

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

Years ago, Janet Van Dyme, the original Wasp, shrank to a level so small that there was no way for her to return to normal size. As such, she was presumed dead, and her husband and daughter went on without her. Now, though, there’s some (tenuous) evidence to suggest that she may still be alive, and trying to get back to the real world. So it’s up to Hank, Hope, and, of course, Scott, to shrink down, and find their missing teammate. But it won’t be easy, since there’s a gangster, an FBI agent, and a super villain with the power to walk through walls coming after them for various, somewhat silly, reasons.

Ant-Man and The Wasp is pure cinematic fluff. That is both the most accurate, and the most polite, way of describing it. If you don’t believe me, ask Marvel Studios marketing department. After Infinity War, they advertised this movie as being more light-hearted and fun. And when it first came out, critics praised it for that very reason. But the truth is, 10, or 20, or even 30 years in the future, no one is going to care that it came out after a (relatively) dark film in the franchise. They’ll just look at it as a movie. And, as a movie, it’s got quite a few problems. But before I launch into them, I do want to list some positives. It’s very quick-paced, the action sequences are inventive and fun, and there were some genuinely sweet moments, like a bit in the beginning where we see Scott playing with his daughter. There are scenes later on, like when Hank and Janet reunite, that are supposed to be super emotional and impactful that don’t land, but this one in the beginning did. This is a perfectly fun, disposable action movie. It’s the type of film you can watch on cable when you’ve got nothing to do, or if you’ve had a couple of beers with your buddies. Like I said, it’s pure cinematic fluff. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

(Phew! Can I go on now? Great). So, the biggest problem I had with this movie was the humor. It’s extremely forced. And I’m not the only one who thinks that. I saw this movie in a packed theater with my roommate, who loves Marvel, and there was barely a peep from anyone. It feels like the director was so determined to make a movie that was lighter in tone than Infinity War that he just decided to cram as much humor in as possible, regardless of whether or not it made sense. There’s a whole gag regarding truth serum that went on for way too long, and that just got annoying after a while, and, as with just about every Marvel movie, they undercut all potentially serious moments with jokes. There’s a scene where they’re explaining Ghost, the (ostensible) main villain’s, back story, but they keep interrupting it with texts from Scott’s daughter. Why? Why would you undercut a potentially powerful moment with silly humor? Especially when you consider that the filmmakers try so hard to get you to care about Ghost, with the heroes not killing her, and even trying to find a cure for her condition (her molecules break apart and reform every few seconds). I’ve got nothing against humor in movies. Hell, I even like it in Marvel movies, like Thor: Ragnarok. But I don’t like movies where the filmmakers don’t allow the audience to sit in any serious moments, for fear that they might be labelled cheesy. This film does that A LOT. Another thing I didn’t care for in this film is the fact that there’s no clear antagonist. What I mean by that is, the heroes have a goal, get Janet back to normal size, but they keep getting waylaid by annoying side characters who don’t really have anything to do with that story. There’s an FBI Agent, played by Randall Park, who wants to keep Scott from violating his house arrest. There’s a gangster, played by Walton Goggins, who wants to steal their tech so he can sell it on the Black Market. And there’s Ghost, a girl with a painful condition who wants to use their tech to make herself whole again. Notice how none of these characters have anything to do with the Janet storyline. They’re really just annoyances meant to distract the heroes long enough for the film to reach feature length. It’s like the screenwriters wrote a treatment, where they gave the heroes a goal, then realized that there wasn’t really anything stopping them from achieving that goal, so, to beef the script up to two hours, they added all these annoying, superfluous characters who only had the most superficial reasons for being there. But something else that kind of bugged me about this movie were the performances, particularly those of Paul Rudd and Michael Pena. Now look, I love these actors. I love Michael Pena in End of Watch, Crash, and The Martian. And I’ve been a fan of Paul Rudd since he appeared on Friends as Phoebe’s boyfriend, Mike. But in this film, neither of them really has any depth. They’re both basically just bumbling joke machines. It’s like the director told them, “this is a comedy, so say all your lines really fast, and upbeat, and make everything sound like a joke.” As a result, they’re performances both felt kind of hammy. And I hate to say that, because I love both of these actors, and have seen them do good work in the past, but, here, they’re trying way too hard to come off as funny for me to like them.

Guys, I didn’t hate this movie. It’s too fast-paced, and too well-directed from a visual standpoint, for me to hate. But the forced humor, annoying, pointless villains and somewhat hammy performances bring it down to a rental level. Don’t go and see it in theaters.

Advertisements

Black Panther (2018)

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

Thousands of years ago, a meteor containing the precious metal vibranium crash-landed in Africa, and, upon finding it, five tribes banded together to create the nation of Wakanda, and used their discovery to become the most technologically advanced civilization on Earth. But, rather than share their knowledge with the world, or help other African peoples when they were being colonized and enslaved, the Wakandans kept to themselves, and even went so far as to kill those who tried to cross their borders. For centuries, the Black Panthers, the rulers of Wakanda, have kept up this tradition. Now, though, the new Black Panther, T’Challa, must decide whether or not he will continue to uphold this practice, as their is an outsider, an American of Wakandan descent, who is challenging him for the throne, and who believes Wakanda should use its technology to help Black people across the globe rise up and take control.

Black Panther is a movie I was very excited for. Not only is it directed by one of my favorite new filmmakers, Ryan Coogler, it’s starring some of my favorite actors, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, and its a genre film that touches upon social issues. You might not have noticed, but I’m kind of a sucker for those. So when I sat down in the theater today, I was pumped. I was there. And when I walked out, I was very satisfied. Black Panther is a lot of fun, and I do think you all should see it. In terms of pure craftsmanship, acting, cinematography, costumes, music, I have no complaints whatsoever. This is a gorgeous looking, and sounding, movie. And everyone in the film gives it their all. The stand-outs, for me, are Michael B Jordan as the ruthless, but highly sympathetic villain, Eric, and Danai Gurira as the Wakandan general Okoye. Both give highly memorable, highly charismatic performances. I also like the world this film created, with Wakanda looking absolutely stunning, and I really enjoyed the questions it raises. For all these reasons, I definitely think Black Panther is worth a watch.

That said, I do have problems with the movie. And I realize that, by saying that, I just earned the ire of a substantial portion of the internet. But I don’t care. I want to make movies, and the best way to do that is to learn from the flaws of others, and this film has a few. For starters, there is a long, long stretch where nothing of much import happens. There are a lot of scenes where we basically get told the history of Wakanda, and, while they are necessary to understanding the world, they don’t really advance the plot in any way. Hell, the main plot, Eric coming to Wakanda to claim the throne and begin a global revolution, doesn’t really materialize until about an hour in. That’s a pretty long wait. Now, I do want to be clear and say that that first hour isn’t boring, but, if you cut several subplots out, including a whole sequence in Korea where the heroes chase down Andy Serkis, the movie would be tighter, and more interesting. The conflict between Eric and T’Challa, between new and old, globalism and isolationism, is fascinating, and considerably more compelling than Andy Serkis wanting money. On top of this, T’Challa, the main character, is kind of bland. Part of this has to do with the fact that all of the supporting characters are so interesting, with his sister, Shuri, his general, Okoye, and mother, Ramanda, all being highly charismatic and fun, but it also has to do with the fact that he’s a very passive protagonist. What I mean by that is, in most films, a character actively tries to accomplish a real, tangible thing, like winning a contest, finding a killer, or finishing an art project. In so doing, they realize that they possess a certain flaw, and change. Now when I say they “actively” pursue the goal, I mean they make the first moves, as opposed to just reacting to things. It’s the difference between Raiders Of The Lost Ark, where Indie chooses to go after the ark, and devises several of the strategies for getting it, and Superman: The Movie, where Clark Kent only decides to be a superhero after the ghost of his father tells him to. For a substantial portion of Black Panther, T’Challa doesn’t have a goal. He doesn’t want any one, tangible thing, like an arc, a grail, or the meaning of the word “rosebud.” He just walks around, and responds to what other people tell him. And then, when the main plot does kick in, he still remains highly reactive. Yes, he undergoes a change, realizing after fighting Eric that Wakanda needs to share its technology with the rest of the world, but he himself doesn’t really want anything. And, finally, as impressive as the film is in terms of its acting, cinematography  and music, there are moments here where the CGI is surprisingly bad. In one scene, for instance, Eric and T’Challa are fighting on a train track, and there were moments where they were flipping around that took me out of the picture because of how fake everything looked. And in another scene, T’Challa is gazing up at this cliffside where all these various Wakandan tribes are standing, and it looked like elements that were just copied and pasted onto the frame. Which is disappointing. This film had such a huge budget, and so many talented people working on it that I’m honestly kind of shocked it had such shoddy CGI.

All that said, the good in Black Panther far outweighs the bad. This is a well-acted, beautiful-looking, highly thought-provoking superhero film, which does what I don’t think any superhero film has done before, and that’s tell its story from a distinctly black, distinctly African perspective. For that reason, coupled with some superb performances, I say, go out and see this. You won’t regret it.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

Captain America: Civil War

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

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope that, wherever you are, whoever you’re with, you’re having a good time, and sharing the love. Because the characters in today’s movie, Captain America: Civil War, definitely aren’t doing either of those things.

Yes, instead of talking about a Holiday classic, like It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, or Miracle On 34th Street, I’ve decided to review a film wherein superheroes fight each other because of disagreements over regulatory oversight. Why? Simple; I didn’t see it in theaters, and it only came out on Netflix today. Yeah.

Anyway, concerning the film itself; this is a picture that I’ve heard nothing but good things about. Everyone I’ve ever talked to ever has told me that its the greatest superhero movie ever made. And hearing this instantly made me not want to go see it. See, I’m not a big fan of Marvel. Never have been. I find Captain America to be an outdated piece of racist wartime propaganda, and Iron Man to be an alcoholic, womanizing jerk. I do admire Spider-Man (thanks, in large part, to the Sam Raimi trilogy that came out when I was a kid), but, beyond that, I just don’t have any real emotional connection to the characters. And besides my own dislike of the Marvel brand, I’m also someone who likes to take the side of the underdog. I’ve been a diehard Cubs fan all my life, mostly because of their reputation as lovable losers, and fostered a deep-seated hatred for the Yankees since I was a kid, precisely because of the fact that they were always winning, and bragging about it. Marvel Studio’s repeated financial and critical success, and the fact that they haven’t exactly been humble about it, has made me resent them, and not want to watch their movies. But then again, every belief system I subscribe to–kindness, honesty, intersectional feminism, racial, religious and ethnic tolerance, and inclusion of the disabled–has been politically defeated this year, and every movie I wanted to be good–Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, Passengers–has turned out to be terrible. Maybe I should just give up on what I think, and join the winning team. That’s what I was thinking when I sat down to watch Civil War. Now that I’ve seen it, I have a few new thoughts.

In terms of the writing–meaning the dialogue, character motivation, and scene construction–I do think Civil War is more competently crafted than Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad. Those latter two films had tons of exposition in them, meaning long scenes where everyone’s thoughts and backstories get spelled out to the audience. There are scenes in Civil War where characters tell us what they think and feel, but it feels more earned, more appropriate, in this picture. The reason is that the characters in this movie bring up their feelings in conversation, as opposed to just turning to the audience and saying, “let me explain who X is.” The dialogue in Civil War also feels more natural, and specific to each individual character, than BVP and SS. If you’ve read my review of Suicide Squad, you know that I feel the characters in it sound too similar to one another, and that I think that’s a problem. If everyone sounds the same, how are the actors supposed to create compelling characters? How is the audience supposed to decide who to care about? I cared about the protagonists of BVP and SS when I first watched the movies, not because the films themselves did a good job of setting up their unique personalities and voices, but, rather, because I’d read the comics and watched the TV shows they came from. Imagine if I didn’t have that background with the mythology. How would I react then? But perhaps the biggest difference in terms of writing is the fact that the characters in Civil War have much clearer reasons for acting the way they do than the individuals in Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad. To this day, I’m still not quite sure why Lex Luthor hated Superman, why he made Doomsday, or why Enchantress wanted to blow up the Earth with a sky beam. That’s not good. If your characters’ reasons for acting aren’t clear, the audience won’t care about what they’re doing, and won’t want to watch your movie. Now, to be fair, Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad were only the second and third films in their cinematic universe, and therefore had to introduce lots of previously unestablished characters and plot threads. Civil war, by contrast, had over a dozen earlier films to build off of. It didn’t need to explain everything. Still, there are smooth, skillful ways of introducing new people and things in a movie, and Civil War used them to a greater degree than BVP and SS. Spider-Man and Black Panther didn’t exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe until Civil War, and yet, their introduction felt more natural, and the film spent enough time with them for me to care about them as characters. BVP and SS were never able to balance who and what got the most screen time, and this left me feeling kind of empty and wanting as a result.

I also think Civil War has much better acting than BVP and SS. Don’t get me wrong, Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Godot as Wonder Woman, Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, these actors are all superb in their respective roles. It’s just, in both BVP and SS, there are performers who stand out as being pretty terrible. Jessie Eisenberg as a twitchy, adolescent version of Lex Luthor, and Jared Leto as an over-the-top, Jim Carrey-like Joker are what come to mind when I say this. No one in Civil War stands out as “the bad one.” They’re all pretty good.

But, of course, just because something is better than another thing doesn’t mean that it’s without flaws. And Civil War certainly has flaws. For starters, the movie has these obnoxiously large title cards that pop up whenever the story changes location. These get really annoying to look at after a while. The action is also really hard to follow. True, the set pieces are creative, and the directors make good use of props and locations. But the way these scenes are shot is so incredibly ugly, with everything being super shaky, and frequent cuts making it very difficult to follow what’s happening. There are also certain characters who feel out of place and unnecessary. Hawk Eye, for instance, is only in the movie for two scenes, and doesn’t contribute to the plot at all. Honestly, for how little he matters to the overall narrative, you could have left him out entirely. The same could even be said of Baron Zemo, the film’s main villain. The heroes are already angry, and fighting each other, by the time he shows up. His overly complex plot
just hastens something that’s already happening. I also think its kind of a cheap cop out to have everything actually be the work of super villains. The comic the film was based off of didn’t do that. There, the heroes were angry at each other, and they fought one another because of that. Not because some grand puppeteer was pulling the strings from the shadows. I wish the movie had done the same thing. And that brings me to my final problem with the movie, the ending. For all the marketing hype about this being a “clash between heroes” that would “change everything,” nothing really did change. Yeah, a few more characters get added, but no one important dies, Captain America makes it clear to Iron Man that there are no hard feelings, and even the crippling of War Machine gets undone by the end with some BS technology. (As a disabled person who has a condition that there is no cure for, that last one kind of pissed me off for how it wrote off our pain and suffering as a mild inconvenience that can be fixed with some metal and wires). The film’s ending demonstrates a larger problem with Marvel; their unwillingness to take chances or go outside their established formula. You know going into a Marvel movie that no one is going to die, and that everything will be okay in the end. That’s because the franchise was created by TV writers, and in television, you need to return everything to the status quo by the end of the episode or season so that you can keep the story going. Take some chances, Marvel! Kill off Captain America. Have Iron Man die of alcohol poisoning. Do something edgy or unique.

Still, I did enjoy Civil War, and have decided to give it an 8 out of 10. If you haven’t seen it, give it a look.

Should You Be Watching Agents of SHIELD?

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

 

Loved ones, I have a confession to make. I…am a nerd. There! I said it. I’m a nerd. And not just a little one, mind you. A HUGE one. I read comic books and manga, watch anime, write fan-fiction, go to comic-con, and wait in line to see whatever new superhero movie is out. One of my all-time goals as a Screenwriter is to write and produce my own original Superhero movie, and to make an adaptation of Batman set in Red China. Just about the only thing I haven’t yet done is Cosplay, and honestly, these days I’m starting to give it some serious consideration.

 

Anyway, the reason I’ve confessed my geekdom to you all is to help you understand why I recently started watching Agents of SHIELD. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a Superhero/Espionage series that aired on ABC in 2013, and has continued running up to the present. Based on the Marvel Comics spy agency SHIELD (which either is an acronym for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division, or Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division), the series focuses on a team of six agents traveling around the world, fighting crime, and solving mysteries, all against the backdrop of such Superhero movies as Iron Man, Thor, and The Avengers, with frequent references made throughout the series to the latter picture. It’s simple, but highly entertaining. Too many shows start off with a great general premise, but then get bogged down with too much over-arching plot or character drama. Not this one! It is, in many ways, very much like the 1970s Western Kung-Fu, in that the only thing that remains constant about the series are the characters, who in every episode must face a new, unrelated challenge to the one’s they’ve previously encountered. It’s well-acted and well-written, with some truly funny dialogue in it, and better yet, it’s directed by Joss Whedon. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he’s widely referred to as the Feminist God of the Geeks. He created and wrote for a number of highly successful action/sci-fi series in the late 90s and early 2000s, such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, and more recently, has worked on films like The Cabin In The Woods and The Avengers. He’s known for writing strong, well-rounded female characters , and stories that focus on diverse groups working together and achieving great things. Basically, he’s the kind of writer I aspire to be.

 

But, I digress, as much as I enjoy this series, and as many merits as I see in its craft, I do still have some problems with it. First of all, if you’re not a geek, there’s going to be a lot that you won’t understand. The show is banking on the fact that its viewers have seen the other movies in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, specifically The Avengers. Not only does it make frequent reference to these other works, in many cases, characters or plot elements from those movies actually play a part in some episodes. So, if you’re new to Marvel or the whole Superhero/Comic Book mythology, I’m sorry, but you probably shouldn’t watch this. Also, unlike other Joss Whedon projects, which usually have some kind of underlying message, like teamwork or open-mindedness, this series has none. It’s just pure escapism. And lastly, as hard as the writers of this show have tried to give each of their characters depth and personality, the characters themselves are still pretty cliched. There’s Agent Phil Coulson, who appeared in many of the other Marvel movies, and who acts as the tough, but tender-hearted leader. There’s Agent Grant Ward, the stereotypical pretty-boy spy. There’s the hacker Skye, who’s obviously just there to be Ward’s love interest. There’s the Scotsman Fitz, and the Englishwoman Simmons, who both serve as the series’ nerdy comic relief. And finally, there’s Agent Melinda May, who, I’m sad to say this but, is clearly just a female version of Bruce Lee’s character Kato in The Green Hornet, in that she’s the stoic Asian driver who dresses in black and knows Kung-Fu. Seriously. That’s all she does. She’s given the least amount of personality, and dialogue, out of any of the main characters, and when she does say something, her sentences are short and clipped, and she rarely emotes. As both a Chinese-American and a hardcore Feminist, I was truly saddened to see this stereotypical role for an Asian woman, especially in a Joss Whedon production. This character is just more evidence that people in the entertainment industry are completely okay with typecasting Asian people, and exploiting Asian stereotypes. If you don’t believe me, then ask yourself: when was the last time that you saw a movie or show where the Asian men weren’t Kung-Fu masters or wimpy nerds, and the Asian women weren’t demure, butterfly girlfriends or Dragon-Lady Assassins? As both a writer, and an actor who experienced a great deal of typecasting, I would love to write stories with strong, well-rounded, and most importantly, non-stereotypical roles for people of color, particularly women, and if there are any women out there who have comments or would like to give me advice, I would greatly appreciate it.

 

But, alas, I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the show! In spite of all its flaws, I still really like it and would give it an overall rating of 7 out of 10. It’s witty, well-acted, and just entertaining enough to get you to overlook its weaker aspects. Plus, I like the fact that there are an equal number of men and women in the lead, and that there isn’t one main protagonist. And as much as I dislike the character of Melinda May, I was both pleased and impressed with Whedon’s decision to cast Ming Na Wen of The Joy Luck Club, Mulan, and ER in the role. Why? Because, despite the fact that Ms. Wen is extremely talented and still very beautiful, she’s now well into her fifties, and these days it is extremely rare for a TV show, much less an action series, to cast a middle-aged woman as one of the leads. So, in conclusion, if you’re a fan of the Marvel Universe, or are simply willing to go back and watch a bunch of movies before you see this show, I guarantee you that you’ll enjoy yourself. You’ll laugh, cheer, and be hanging on the edge of your seat, hoping for the Agents of SHIELD to prevail.