Downsizing (2017)

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

To fight global warming, scientists develop the means to shrink humans down. The idea is that, if people are smaller, they’ll produce less waste, use less energy, and, overall, leave a smaller footprint on the environment. It doesn’t take long, however, for people to catch on that there are other benefits to being little, like the fact that money is worth a lot more in shrunken communities. One individual hoping to escape financial woes by “downsizing” is Paul Safranek, a physical therapist drowning in debt. He and his wife visit “Leisure Land,” the most prosperous shrunken community, and decide, “screw it! Let’s get small.” Unfortunately for Paul, however, his wife gets cold feet at the last minute, and leaves him just as he’s undergoing the procedure. And seeing as downsizing is irreversible, he’s pretty much left to fend for himself in this new, miniature world. Will he survive? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Downsizing is a quintessential “idea” movie. What I mean by that is, there are some films that get made solely because of the uniqueness of their central premise, as opposed to how tight their plot is, or how developed their characters are. Probably the most famous example of a film like this is M Night Shyamalan’s The Village, where the whole concept is that there is an isolated community in the woods, where the elders teach their children that it is the 1800s, when it’s actually modern times. It’s a fun idea, with a lot of potential, but the film itself doesn’t really have a lot to offer when it comes to story or character development. That’s pretty much the case with Downsizing. The premise of people shrinking down, and forming new, miniature communities, is fascinating, and original. But when you watch the movie, you can tell that Alexander Payne, the writer/director, didn’t really have a story to go along with this idea. Because after Paul shrinks down, there is a long, long stretch where nothing really happens. He gets a job, starts seeing a woman, only to have her dump him, and goes to a party. None of these things matter in the end, so they’re really just there to pad out the runtime. There’s also a ton of characters who get introduced in the start of the movie, like Paul’s wife, his mother, his wife’s father, and his friend, all of whom just kind of vanish by the end. As a result, you’re left feeling like you’ve just been told a very long, very convoluted joke with no punch line.

Now, all that said, I didn’t hate this movie. In fact, I kind of liked it. It definitely has things to admire. The central idea, as I said, is very original. The design of these new, small communities is very creative. The characters are  well-defined, and the acting is good. The stand-out, easily, is Hong Chau, whom plays Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese dissident who befriends Paul, and pulls him out of his depression. She has the funniest dialogue, she’s likable, and her performance is great. Seriously. Hong Chau has been nominated for a Golden Globe for her work in this film, and I can understand why. She feels very real, which is odd for me to say because, when I saw the trailers, I thought to myself, “Oh god. Here’s another Asian woman in an American movie speaking broken English, and pining after a White dude.” But the movie is actually a lot more sophisticated and sensitive than that when it comes to her character. Her religious fervor, determination to keep going, even when she’s exhausted and in pain, and her brutal honesty really reminded me of Asian immigrants I know, like my grandfather, and my mother’s friend, Mihua. And I’ve got to give the movie props for that.

So, between her performance, the beautiful production values, and a very interesting premise, Downsizing actually has some good things to offer. Yeah, it’s a little bit boring in places, and you can tell the writer didn’t really have a full plot thought out when they started shooting. But, if you don’t mind that, give this flick a look. You’re bound to be engaged on some level.

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The Great Wall (2017)

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

What can you say about the Great Wall Of China? Well, It’s ancient, majestic, and truly breathtaking when you consider it was built entirely by hand. As someone who’s actually seen it, I can tell you, it is worthy of the title “Seventh Wonder Of The World.” When you’re standing on it, you really feel as though you’re in the presence of something spectacular; something that proves what mankind is capable of. And the craziest thing about it; it was built to keep out Space Dragons. Yes. You heard right. Space Dragons. At least, that’s what Ed Zwick and Marshall Hershkovitz, the writers of this movie, want you to think. As for me, I’m not buying it.

Now, I’ll admit, I was super excited to see this picture. Not only is it directed by one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Zhang Yimou, but its written by Ed Zwick, the man behind three of my most-beloved films; Glory, Blood Diamond, and The Last Samurai. It also has a huge budget, the largest one in Chinese cinematic history, and has some top-tier Chinese and American actors in it. All the ingredients for a truly spectacular motion picture are present. There’s no reason, or way, this can suck. Right?

Well, I wouldn’t say that this movie is terrible. I wouldn’t even say that it’s bad. But its definitely disappointing, especially when you consider what the director, screenwriters, and actors have done in the past. It’s basically just a series of elaborate fight sequences, with bits of dialogue thrown in. And while the sequences themselves are very impressive, proving once again that Mr. Zhang is an amazing visual craftsman, there’s just not enough in the way of plot or character to get you that invested. The movie’s story, what little there is, concerns two European mercenaries, Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal, who go to China to steal Gun Powder, only to get captured by soldiers patrolling the Great Wall. They then learn that there be dragons afoot, and decide to help fight them off. And that’s it. The rest of the movie is flying arrows, balls of fire, and flashing steel. And when it’s not those things, its focusing on characters who are so thinly-drawn, that I wouldn’t even call them characters. The acting in this movie is also very shaky at times. Matt Damon keeps trying to do an Irish accent, but he can never hold it for more than a few words, and he says everything in this grave, flat tone. I’m happy that he’s not a White savior, with him spending most of the movie in shackles, learning respect and humility from the Chinese, but he’s still really uninteresting.

Now, as I said before, this is not a terrible movie. It’s certainly entertaining, in a “turn your brain off” kind of way. There’s no pornographic shots of women’s bodies, or stupid, adolescent humor, like what you might find in a Michael Bay movie. And the level of detail that went into crafting some of the battle sequences, and divisions of the Chinese Army, like this all female brigade called the Cranes, is spectacular. There’s just not much in the way of story or character-development. But if that doesn’t matter to you, go ahead and watch this. You’ll probably have a good time. Even if you do want plot and character, you’ll probably be pleasantly distracted for about two hours.

The Martian

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

And I’m really not sure if it’s worth me going through the trouble of writing this review. I mean…this is for The Martian. THE MARTIAN! Everyone loves this film–critics, audiences, even me. I just feel like, whatever I end up saying, it’ll already have been said before. Whatever thoughts, or opinions I might have on the picture, they’ll probably just sound redundant.

But, then again, when have I ever been one to not share my thoughts or opinions on a subject? Never. That’s when. And I’m not going to make an exception here. So, with all that out of the way, here are my thoughts, both good and bad, on The Martian.

Let’s start off with the good. First of all, this movie has a lot of great humor in it. Yeah, the story of an astronaut getting stranded on Mars might not sound like a particularly laugh out loud situation, but there are actually several extremely hilarious moments in this film. This is due, in no small part, to Matt Damon’s portrayal of Mark Watney, the astronaut trapped on Mars. He brings an energy and a wit to the role that are just brilliant. The second thing that’s great about this movie is the acting, period. Everyone in this film–from the people back on Earth, to Matt Damon’s old crew–deliver terrific performances. And, in case you didn’t know already, this movie has a completely star-studded cast. Sean Bean, Chiwatel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastane, Kristen Wig, Michael Pena, Benedict Wong, Donald Glover–these are just a few of the familiar faces that pop up in this movie, and that do terrific jobs. The third thing that’s great about this film is the effects. There were points in this movie where I legitimately thought that the crew had gone to Mars to shoot. In reality, they shot everything on a sound stage in Hungary, and a desert in Jordan, but that’s not the point. The point is that the filmmakers were able to successfully craft, and sustain, an illusion, and for that, I think they deserve praise.

Now let’s go for the bad. What? There are actually things that I don’t like a bout this movie? Yes, believe it or not, there are. For starters, other than the decision to set this film on Mars, there’s nothing particularly original about it. It’s a generic “stranded man in shark infested waters” story that’s been told a million times before, in Films like Cast Away, Life Of Pi, and Gravity. In addition, as much as I liked seeing all these stars in one movie, it did get a little overwhelming at points. I lost track of who was supposed to be who, and it honestly felt like the filmmakers were trying to squeeze in as many celebrities as possible, and without giving any real thought as to what these people should be doing. But perhaps the greatest problem I have with this picture is something that most people–or at least, people who aren’t as sensitive to issues of race as me–would be able to pick up on. That is the fact that the story revolves around an entire planet, Earth, working to save the life of a White man, Damon. I hate to say this, but, had Damon’s character been any other race–had he been Black, Latino, or especially Asian–the studio would never have green lit this project. And that infuriates me. Why is it that, in media, the lives of Whites are seen as more important than others? Why is it that Hollywood deems Mark Watney more worthy of saving than Mark Wong, Mark Sanchez, or Mark Patel? Why is it that, in a movie with so many talented non-White actors–Chiwatel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong, Naomi Scott–all the focus is placed on a White star? Have Hollywood executives never read online comments? Have they never seen the countless posts, blogs, and videos lampooning them for their racism?

(Pauses and takes a breath.)

But, all that aside, I did still enjoy The Martian, and I would still recommend you go see it. I’ve come to learn that most people just don’t care as much about originality or racial sensitivity as me, so, odds are, if you watch the Martian, you won’t be put off by those things. And, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t really that put off by them either when I was watching the film. It’s still very enjoyable. It’s an 8 out of 10. Give it a look.