Game Night (2018)

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

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are an incredibly competitive couple. They met in college, where they bonded over the fact that they had to win at just about everything. And they still do. Every week, they invite all their friends over for a game night, where they play pictionary, charades, and other such party favorites. And, as you might imagine, they take it way too seriously. Bateman, especially, as he’s incredibly jealous of his brother, Kyle Chandler, a wealthy Wall Street broker who joins them from time to time. One night, Chandler decides to spice things up a notch, and so hires a group of actors to “kidnap” one of the guests as part of a murder-mystery scenario. Unbeknownst to Bateman and company, however, the guys who come in and take Chandler away aren’t actors, and the danger they find themselves in is real. Now, if they want to make it through the night, they’re going to have to find Chandler, and unravel the mystery of what’s really going on.

Game Night is a perfectly fun, perfectly competent bit of escapism. It’s well-shot, the leads have a good rapport with one another, and, unlike a lot of other comedies that come out these days, it is genuinely funny. I saw it in a theater full of people, and they were having the time of their lives. I didn’t laugh much, but that’s more because I’m a person who doesn’t really laugh at films, even if they’re funny. The only movie I ever really laughed at in a theater was Get Out, but that’s another story. Game Night is funny, and if you want to just go to the theater and laugh, you’ll probably be satisfied. And I wasn’t lying when I said the movie was well-shot. The cinematography in this film is actually quite impressive. There’s one sequence in a house where Bateman and McAdams are being chased through all these rooms that’s done in one, continuous shot, and when I saw it, I thought to myself, “wow, that’s good filmmaking right there.” This picture is written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the writing duo responsible for Spiderman: Homecoming, and the upcoming Flashpoint, and watching this flick gave me hope for the latter. So, yeah. Game Night is fun.

But it’s not perfect. I did have problems with the movie. Probably the biggest one I had is Bateman and McAdams themselves. It’s not that they weren’t funny. They were. It’s the fact that that’s pretty much all they were. There really wasn’t anything else to their characters than “competitive couple who make quips.” Yes, there’s a subplot involving her wanting to have kids, and him not being ready, but that’s such a common detail for these kinds of films that it almost doesn’t count. They also do this thing where, no matter what situation they’re in, they act like it’s no big deal. And I understand that that’s kind of the underlying joke, the fact that they don’t understand the danger they’re in, but, after a certain point, they can’t keep doing that. They need to acknowledge the gravity of their situation, and take things seriously. But they never really do. There are several points in this movie where they know that they’re in real danger, and yet, they still make jokes and act like it’s all a game. In one scene, for instance, McAdams literally has to dig a bullet out of Bateman’s arm, and the two are acting like it’s nothing. Why? Why are they so calm? For me to properly express what I’m talking about, I have to compare this to another movie; Date Night with Tina Fey and Steve Carell. In that film, they play a married couple who, hoping to reignite the passion that’s been lost in their relationship, go to a fancy restaurant in the city, get mistaken for some criminals, and get pulled into a crazy, action-crime caper. As funny as they both are, there are moments where they show genuine emotion, crying, being scared, and even being tender with one another. There’s a scene in a car where they really let out their feelings, and, to this day, it still gives me chills. Every time I watch it I think, “wow, that was a lot deeper, and considerably better acted, than I would have expected from this kind of a comedy.” There’s no scene like that in Game Night. There are scenes that are like that here, but, either because of the writing, or the fact that McAdams and Bateman just aren’t as good actors as Fey and Carell, don’t carry nearly as much pathos. There are also some annoying secondary characters, like this dumb guy who brings an Irish woman to the party, and who has an obsession with Fight Club, who just got on my nerves. I was dreading whenever he would appear, and I couldn’t wait for the film to cut away from him. That’s not good.

In the end, however, I do think the good in Game Night outweighs the bad. No, it’s not deep or profound, and, no, it’s not particularly memorable. But the cast are funny, and it’s well-made enough to keep you invested for the whole thing. For that reason, I say, give it a look.

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Detective Chinatown 2 (2018)

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

Two years after the caper in Bangkok, young Qin Feng is reunited with his uncle in New York. The two have been summoned, along with the rest of the world’s greatest detectives, to solve a series of Feng Shui themed murders that have been taking place in Chinatown. If they find the killer, they win $5 million, and will be listed as the Earth’s greatest sleuths on the International Detective App. (Because that’s a thing, apparently). So, with the stakes in place, the genius/dumb-ass duo set out to solve the murders, make some cash, and, hopefully, find love along the way.

Detective Chinatown 2 is not a movie I was planning on seeing. I never watched the first film, and the trailers didn’t really pique my interest. But my girlfriend, who liked the original, suggested we watch it, and I decided, “hey, why not?” So I saw it, and, well…

I’m just gonna say it, this movie’s not for everyone. It’s an over-the-top, highly cartoonish comedy, whose plot doesn’t really make sense. In terms of style and tone, it’s very similar to the works of Stephen Chow and Baz Luhrmann. Nothing about it is even remotely realistic, and, to be perfectly honest, I’m not a fan of that sort of thing. I do, however, recognize that there are people who like exaggerated humor, and that, regardless of what I say, this movie will make a lot of money. Even so, I didn’t care for it. Like, at all. The acting is terrible–Wang Baoqiang, who plays the Uncle, seems to think that if you say every line as loud and high-pitched as possible, the funnier it will be–there are scenes that go absolutely nowhere, and for a film marketed as a family-friendly comedy, there’s a lot of shockingly dark stuff in it. A dude slits his throat open with a switch blade, a woman gets her heart removed, and there are more than a few racist gags that truly made me uncomfortable. In one scene, for instance, a guy is teaching Chinese to a classroom full of black people, and then, when someone comes in and starts giving him shit, they all pull out guns. Seriously. The portrayal of non-Chinese in this film is kind of disturbing. Granted, I don’t suppose it’s any worse than how Americans have traditionally shown the Chinese in our cinema, but, still. It made me feel weird.

Now I don’t want to give you the impression that I hated this film. I didn’t.  There were some bits where I legitimately laughed. In one scene, for instance, a dude gets kicked in the balls while “Billie Jean” is playing in the background, and the way he hops around looks like Michael Jackson grabbing his crotch. That got a genuine chuckle out of me. And even though I didn’t like Wang Baoqiang, Michael Pitt, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, or any of the other actors’, work in this film, I did enjoy seeing them onscreen. It made me want to go back and watch their other flicks, particularly Wang’s A World Without Thieves, an action movie that I would highly recommend to you all. As for this film, though, it’s not my cup of tea. If you liked the first Detective Chinatown, or are a fan of ridiculous, cartoonish comedies, maybe you’ll enjoy it. If not, maybe try to avoid this. It’s up to you.

Horsemen (2008)

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

Estranged from his children after the death of their mother, hardened homicide detective Aiden Breslin (Dennis Quaid) is called in to investigate a series of ritualistic murders. His search brings him into contact with Kristen Spitz (Zhang Ziyi) the daughter of one of the victims. She pleads with him to find the killers, but then, five minutes later, reveals herself to be one. She explains that she is part of a group who model themselves after the four horsemen of the apocalypse (War, Famine, Pestilence and Death), and that there will be more murders. And, well, shit gets crazy from there.

The best way for me to describe Horsemen is as “Seven for Dummies.” Like Seven, this film is a mystery involving brutal, religiously themed murders. But unlike Seven, where there is very little onscreen violence, this movie has several torture scenes in it. And whereas Seven’s characters were compelling and well-defined, the characters in Horsemen are one-note, and even kind of annoying. In other words, they’re the kind of characters you expect to see in a Michael Bay production, which, unfortunately, is what this is. But before I delve into my many criticisms, I do want to list some things I liked about the movie. First of all, it looks great. The cinematography is beautiful, and the use of color is very effective. Second, the film moves at a quick pace, so I was never bored while watching it. And third, the acting, for the most part, is solid. So, in terms of pure craftsmanship–acting, cinematography, sound design–this movie is perfectly competent.

It’s a shame, therefore, that the script is not. As I mentioned earlier, the characters are not well-defined. All you really know about them is their type–neglectful father, angry son, etc–and their motivations don’t make sense. Well, that’s not entirely true. Zhang Ziyi’s motivation does make sense. She was sexually-abused by her parents, and wanted revenge. That I can understand. But for some of the other people, like Cory, aka Death, the reasoning behind their actions makes no sense at all. And even though I understand why Zhang Ziyi wants revenge, I have no idea why she just decides to give herself up. She doesn’t feel guilty about the murder, and the police aren’t making any progress when she does confess, so there’s no reason for her to. Well, that’s not true. If she didn’t come forward, the plot wouldn’t be able to advance, because the police in this film are beyond inept. Seriously. Every time Quaid finds out something in this movie, it’s because someone tells him. He never deduces anything on his own. Ugh.

Guys, all I can say about Horseman is this. It’s a competently-crafted, but poorly-written murder mystery. It’s got some good cinematography, and some solid leads. But unless you’re already a fan of the actors, or this particular brand of thriller, you probably shouldn’t watch it. It’s not worth your time.

The Commuter (2018)

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

Michael McCauley is a former cop, struggling to get by. He’s got a wife, a son about to start college, two mortgages, and a less than well-paying job as an insurance salesman. Everyday, he commutes to the city, getting to know the passengers and conductors who ride with him. One day, however, after being unceremoniously fired from his job, a mysterious woman called Joanna sits down across from him, and starts up a conversation. She claims to be a psychoanalyst, studying how different people react to different circumstances. She gives Michael the chance to prove what kind of a man he is by posing him a question. If he were told that there was $25,000 hidden on the train, and that, if he found a passenger who didn’t belong, a passenger who’d stolen something, he’d get that money, what would he do? Michael is skeptical, until he finds the aforementioned money in the bathroom, and realizes that he’s just gotten pulled into something much bigger, and more dangerous, than previously thought.

The Commuter is the fourth collaboration between Liam Neeson and Spanish director Juame Collet-Serra, who previously teamed up on Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night. Now, if you’ve seen any of those movies, or perhaps the directors other flicks, like The Shallows, you know what to expect here. You can expect good acting, good camerawork, and enough visceral thrills to keep you invested, despite a preposterous, and, in many cases, predictable, storyline. In other words, you can expect a good, but somewhat forgettable, time at the movies. And that’s what I had with The Commuter; a good time.

It’s thoroughly predictable, with me being able to guess who the mystery passenger and the main bad guy were about halfway through, and the dialogue is very on the nose. There’s a conversation between Liam Neeson and his former partner, played by Patrick Wilson, in a bar, where they literally just spell out each other’s backstories to the audience. And yet, the cast, which includes so many amazing character actors, like Jonathan Banks, Vera Farmiga, and Sam Neil,  is so good, the camerawork is so slick, and the pace is so quick that you wind up not caring. This is genre filmmaking at it’s best. The plot is by-the-numbers, and the characters are stock, but the actors playing them are all so talented, the action sequences are so gripping, and the overall production values are so good, that you can just sit back, and enjoy the ride. I certainly did. Will I remember this flick in a few weeks? Probably not. But, for a movie that’s just trying to tell a fun, fast-paced story, with good actors, it more than delivers. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

Murder On The Orient Express (2017)

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

It’s 1934, and Hercule Poirot is the greatest detective in the world. No detail escapes his eye, and he’s almost compulsively devoted to justice. As you can imagine, both of these things make him a sought-after commodity. So much so that he barely has any time for himself. But not anymore. He’s just solved a major case in Jerusalem, and he’s setting off from Istabmul for some much-needed R and R. But, what’s this? One of the train’s passengers has been murdered, and no one knows who did it? Well, it looks like that R and R will have to wait, because there’s a mystery that needs solving, and there’s only one man to solve it.

I’ve been a fan of Kenneth Branagh for years; ever since I saw him as Professor Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets. Then, when I got older, and I watched his directorial efforts, particularly his Shakespeare adaptations, my respect for him grew ten-fold. So when I heard that he was directing a period-mystery-thriller, I knew I’d have to give it a look. And, last night, I did just that. How was it, you ask? Well…

On the positive side, the movie looks amazing. And I don’t just mean the costumes and sets. The cinematography in this film is gorgeous. There are so many beautiful tracking shots, wherein the camera just glides down the train, pausing every once in a while to linger on a particular person or thing, that it makes you want to drool. And the acting, as you expect from a Branagh-helmed film, is superb. Everyone, even people who are only in a few scenes, does a terrific job. And that’s because every single character is played by a world-class actor. And lastly, and most importantly, the film is never boring. The pace is quick, and there are more than enough twists to keep you invested. So, if you’re just looking to watch a well-made mystery, you won’t be disappointed. This film definitely delivers on that front.

That said, I left the theater feeling somewhat let down. Not because of any technical shortcomings, mind you. The story just felt, for lack of a better word, silly. When you learn what’s actually going on, and how stupidly and conveniently connected everything is, you find yourself rolling your eyes. What? This person was actually faking his accent, because he’s really banging this person, who’s actually the ill-legitimate daughter of that person? That’s the kind of silly, overly convoluted nonsense this picture throws at you. If you’ve ever seen Clue, or, better yet, Murder By Death, which directly parodies Hercule Poirot, you know the kind of exaggerated, one-note characters that exist in this film. But unlike those movies, which are comedies, this film plays all the silliness straight, and, in so doing, kind of shoots itself in the foot. Yes, this movie is based off of a book written in the 1930s. But, the thing is, we don’t live in the 1930s. I think that perhaps they should have updated the story a bit; maybe omitted a few of the sillier twists.

Still, I’d be lying if I told you that this was a bad film, or that I wasn’t consistently engaged by it. So, for that reason, I would recommend you all go see it. I put it in the same category as films like The Foreigner; good premise, good production values, but less than stellar execution. Make of this what you will.

LA Confidential (1997)

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

In 1950s Los Angeles, Ed Exley, Bud White and Jack Vincennes are three police officers with drastically different lives. Exley, the son of a famous detective, is a no-nonsense, by-the-book politician, hoping to climb the LAPD’s ranks. White, a heavy drinker, is a violent, plainclothes officer with a pension for punishing wife beaters. And Vincennes; oh Vincennes. Vincennes is a celebrity cop, who acts as a consultant on a popular TV Show, and who makes extra cash by feeding tips to a gossip mag. These men have nothing in common, and would never even dream of working together. But when White’s partner, whom Exley had a hand in firing, winds up dead, and an item that Vincennes found on one of his raids is discovered at the crime scene, they wind up doing just that. And the more they dig, the more they realize how deep the conspiracy goes.

On paper, LA Confidential is the perfect movie for me. It’s a fast-paced thriller, with high production values, and a strong cast. It’s even a period piece. All my interest boxes are ticked. So why am I not crazy about it? Well, the simple answer is that every single aspect feels extremely familiar. All the main characters and plot points have been used before, in other, older noir films. In fact, if you took out the more explicit violence and language, and made it black and white, LA Confidential would be indistinguishable from those earlier movies. Now, as I’ve always said, there is nothing inherently wrong with a story being unoriginal. Every narrative in existence takes ideas from works that have proceeded it. But the best stories are the ones that are able to take those ideas, and make them their own. They change the setting, alter the tone, or break the rules by not giving you the ending you expect. Or, as in the case of movies like Deadpool and Their Finest, they openly acknowledge how cliched their narratives are, and so make fun of them. LA Confidential does none of those things. It is not parodying, drawing from, or even deconstructing the noir genre. It is just a noir film. It is a mystery, set in the 50s, in LA, involving corruption, murder, a flawed protagonist, or protagonists, in this case, and a femme fatale. That’s it. It doesn’t shock you with its ending, like Seven or Mother. It doesn’t have witty dialogue, like The Big Lebowski or The Nice Guys. It’s story, its cinematography, its score and its costumes are all very standard for the noir genre. And because everything about it is so familiar, you find yourself not caring as much.

Now before you get the wrong idea, I don’t think this is a bad film. The acting is superb, the costumes and sets are period accurate, and the tight pacing never allows for a dull moment. I whole-heartedly acknowledge that this is a competently crafted movie. But I’m also quite convinced that the reason it was so acclaimed when it first came out back in 97 was nostalgia. Critics who grew up with classic noir were most likely just happy to see something that reminded them of when they were young, and so declared the film to be better than it was. But, like I said, it’s not terrible. Just unoriginal. So if that doesn’t bother you, give it a look. You’ll probably like it.

Seven (1995)

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

Somerset is an apathetic detective, a week away from retirement. Mills is his idealistic partner, and brand new in town. They’ve got nothing in common, and they don’t particularly like each other. But for one week, Somerset’s last week on the job, they must work together. And it’s going to be the longest week of their lives, because there’s a killer on the loose, committing murders based on the Seven Deadly Sins, and he’s got his eye trained on them.

Seven is a film I’ve heard about for literally my entire life. It came out in 1995, the same year I was born, and in the two decades since then, it’s basically become a shorthand for anything super messed up and gross. And yet, as notorious as its reputation is, Seven is also considered to be quite a good flick. It’s strong performances, atmospheric cinematography, well-constructed story, and especially its ending, have all been lauded by critics over the years. This one film resurrected its director, David Fincher’s, career, and helped to cement the reputation of its stars, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. For this reason, and the fact that I’ll take a well-made thriller over an Oscar-winning drama any day, I decided to give Seven a look. And good lord!

Let me start off by saying that Seven is unquestionably a well-made movie. Everything about it, from the mirky cinematography, to the eerie soundtrack, to the believable performances, shows great talent and professionalism. This is a prime example of genre filmmaking at its best. On top of this, the story is considerably better written than most other thrillers, with there being a greater emphasis on character development, and lots of smaller, quiet moments. I also liked the fact that, even though the movie is about a serial killer who murders people in ultra gruesome ways, there’s very little onscreen violence. All the scares, all the suspense, come about through the power of suggestion. Which is good. This has got to be one of the few times where I’m actually glad a thriller was made in Hollywood, and not South Korea. Because even though I think that Korea produces much better thrillers overall, the films they make tend to be extremely violent. All we see in Seven are dead bodies. We don’t have to watch anyone get tortured or mutilated.

All that said, this is a hard movie to watch. If you have a weak constitution, or like stories to have happy endings, avoid this film like the plague. Even I, a person who loves books with unhappy endings, like Shanghai Girls and 19 Minutes, found this film hard to get through. And not just because of the subject matter. Seven is a movie that you can really only watch once. A large part of what keeps you engaged is the uncertainty; the fear that comes from not knowing what will happen in the next scene. Once you’ve seen this film, however, and you know everything that’s in store, the movie loses some of its power, and the story as a whole becomes a little bit of a slog to get through. Some mystery films, like Mother, Zodiac, and Broken Flowers, end ambiguously, and you can watch them over and over again to try to find clues. Seven isn’t like that. It ends quite definitively, and once you see that ending, you’re kind of numb to the rest of the story. The movie also has a weird opening credits sequence, which didn’t sit with me very well. It felt a little too much like something from television, and made the movie feel less like a gripping 2 hour thriller, and more like a 40 minute episode of Law & Order.

Nevertheless, Seven‘s smart script, strong performances, and brilliant atmosphere more than make up for its flaws, and cement its status as one of the all-time great thriller films. Watch it when you can.