GLOW (season 2, 2018)

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

After months of hard work, the ladies of GLOW have finally done it. They’ve gotten their show picked up by a TV station, and are pumping out new episodes every week. But all is not well, as they face a variable cornucopia of new challenges, such as keeping the ratings up, making sure their sponsors don’t leave them, and personal demons, such as divorce, AIDS, and the possibility of getting deported.

If you read my review for the first season of GLOW, you’d know that I thought the series had a lot of strong qualities–such as an all-female cast, an intriguing premise and some good acting–but I was put off by some of its more offensive jokes, and inconsistent tone. I mentioned how the show was, for the most part, pretty light-hearted and up beat, but then, out of nowhere, it’d throw in these really macabre gags, like someone pretending to have a miscarriage to make fun of someone else, or having one of the main characters try to fuck his daughter. And, of course, there were all the racial stereotypes, and the fact that the supporting characters, particularly the Asian ones, were just there to be ethnic punch lines. Well, someone must have read my review, because GLOW, season 2, just about addresses all my concerns. The tone is much more consistent, there are considerably fewer racial jokes this time around, and the show runners actually manage to give the Asian characters some depth. Sunita Mani’s character, in particular, becomes much better rounded. We learn that she used to be a medical student, there’s an episode that shows her being uncomfortable with her wrestling persona, and trying to change it, and she even gets a love-interest in the form of Yolanda, one of the new wrestlers. The season also does a good job of introducing queer elements into the story, and addressing homophobia in the 80s. There’s a season-long subplot where Bash is trying to find his butler, Florien, only for him to realize that Florian was gay, and died of AIDS. The way he reacts to this information–with disgust and disdain–is heartbreaking, but also very accurate to how people did back then. So, for all of these reasons, I have to give GLOW, season 2, props.

That said, the show still has problems. The biggest is the fact that there’s not really one, overarching story this time around, so there are moments where the pacing drags, and the show feels kind of listless. In the first season, there were subplots, but they all tied into the larger narrative of trying to get the show picked up by the network. This time around, there’s not really that one, master goal for the characters to pursue, so you wind up with smaller side-quests, like Ruth wanting to go out with a guy, but feeling she can’t, one of the wrestlers not wanting her son to see her on TV, Bash trying to find his butler, and one of the wrestlers worrying that she might get deported back to the UK. And as much as the show runners did for Sunita Mani, they still did nothing for Ellen Wong, who might as well have not been in the season, that’s how little she has to do. The show also has a bad habit of introducing complicating factors very late into the narrative, such as the aforementioned fear of deportation, which doesn’t materialize until the second to last episode, and Justine’s mother, who wants to bring her home, and who, again, doesn’t show up until the very end. If they’re so important, and are such big sources of conflict, why didn’t you introduce them earlier? Ugh. But, like I said, this season is, in many ways, an improvement over the first. Does it have problems? Sure. But I still think you’ll have fun if you watch

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Bright (2017)

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

In an alternate reality where Humans, Orcs and Elves all live side by side, the LAPD, hoping to appear more diverse, hires it’s first Orcish police officer, Nick Jacobi. Jacobi is paired with veteran beat cop Scott Ward, who dislikes Nick because he’s an Orc, and because he didn’t protect him when somebody shot at them. This leads to Ward taking a deal with the Feds, wherein he’ll wear a wire, and get Jacobi to confess that he’s more loyal to his race than to the law. But all that takes a back seat when the two find a young Elf, Tikka, who possesses a magic wand. Wands, as you might imagine, are super, super powerful, and a lot of people, including a gang leader, an Elf cult, and a couple of corrupt cops, want this particular wand very, very badly. So much so that they’ll kill to get it. So it’s up to Ward and Jacobi to protect the wand, avoid the people coming after them, and, of course, save the world in so doing.

Guys, I won’t lie, when I saw the first trailers earlier this year, I was intrigued. I thought the idea of melding a police procedural with high fantasy was both original and inventive, and the make up and effects I saw looked genuinely cool. But, even so, I was weary. The trailers stressed that this flick was being directed by David Ayer, the man behind Suicide Squad, Fury, and End Of Watch. And while those latter two flicks are good, and I did initially enjoy Suicide Squad, until I realized how stupid it was, the fact that Ayer was involved made me nervous. As I’ve said before, he’s a writer/director known for making gritty, hard-hitting crime films, full of profanity, macho man posturing, violence, and racial stereotypes. Seriously, his directorial debut, Street Kings, begins with a scene where Keanu Reeves insults two Korean gangsters with every single Asian racial slur under the sun. And, to be honest, even his good films, like Training Day and End Of Watch, are full of cliched non-white characters, like Latino men who call each other “homes” and Black men who call each other “dog.” So when Bright finally hit Netflix, I was weary, but hopeful. And now, having seen it, I can safely say, yeah, it’s bad.

Now, I do want to be fair, so I’ll start off by saying that there are elements of this film that I liked. I liked the world that this flick created. I liked the creature designs for the Orcs, Elves, and Fairies. There’s some good action in here, even if it is a bit choppily edited, and I liked the fact that this was an original story. It’s not an adaptation, spin-off, or sequel to anything, which is always a plus in my book. And, again, the lore of this world is genuinely cool. I hope someone out there decides to explore this world further, maybe by going to different cities, or countries, and examining how they treat magical creatures, because it has potential. But, beyond that, this movie is pretty much awful.

Every single negative Ayer-ism you can think of–the choppy editing, the stupid, tough guy stand offs, the racial stereotypes–is on full display in this movie. And unlike his best flicks, where you can overlook those things because the characters are interesting and the dialogue is funny, this film’s protagonists are unappealing and underdeveloped, and the dialogue is terrible. Seriously! It’s awful. Here are some actual lines spoken in this movie: “It’s bullshit.” “No, human shit.” “If you’re gonna play stupid games, you’re gonna win stupid prizes.” “If you act like my enemy, you become my enemy.” What the hell, man? The lines in this movie feel like Place-Holder Dialogue, stuff you write in a first draft to give readers the feel of what the characters are talking about, but abandon and polish when you go back and revise. And, like I said, the characters are terrible. If you asked, I couldn’t tell you one thing about them. That’s because the movie never bothers to set up their personalities. In the best buddy cop films, Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, you get opening scenes where you’re able to watch the characters live their lives, and get a sense for who they are. And then, after you’ve gotten to know them, you get to watch them meet. In this movie, you don’t get either of those things. You don’t get to see their lives beforehand. You don’t get to watch them meet each other. Ward and Jacobi are already partners at the start of the flick, and everything about them is told to us in painfully awkward, exposition-heavy exchanges. It’s really, really bad.

Guys, don’t watch Bright. Or if you do, go in knowing that it’s not very good. It’s got a cool premise, and I would love it if other, better artists would explore its world on their own, but, by itself, this film is not worth your time.

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.

Atypical (Season 1, 2017)

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

Sam is 18, and he’s never had a girlfriend. This is due, in part, to the fact that he’s on the Autism spectrum, and has trouble reading social cues. Now, though, with only one year of High School left, and a newfound attraction to his therapist, Julia, he’s determined to get a “practice girlfriend,” so he can learn how to please a woman. This quest brings him into conflict with his mother, Elsa, whose whole life has been consumed by taking care of him, and whose confusion over not being able to micromanage his existence leads her to make some bold new choices of her own.

Atypical is funny, well-acted, and very well-written. Seriously. The dialogue alone should be enough to get you to watch this series. It’s sharp, witty, believable and specific to each individual character. And the characters themselves feel like real people. They have quirks, interests, show a wide range of emotions, and at times are lovable, and at other times, loathsome. From a pure story and dialogue perspective, I have no complaints about Atypical. It’s a well-written, well-acted sitcom, with only eight, half-hour episodes, so there’s no need to worry about it dragging. And if you’re like me, and want to see greater representation of Asian people in media, you’ll be happy to learn that several key supporting characters, such as Sam’s therapist, and unrequited love interest, Julia, and his best friend, Zahid, are Asian, and not at all stereotypical. They’re well-rounded, have personalities, arcs, and even some flaws. They’re some of the best aspects of the show, and its’ refreshing to see Asian characters like this in a mainstream series.

All that said, I do have some thoughts on Atypical. They’re not complaints, per se, just thoughts. First of all, I’m not sure how accurate the series is in it’s representation of Autism. As I’ve mentioned before, many films and TV shows exaggerate certain disabilities so as to make disabled characters more pitiful or sympathetic. As such, I’m always somewhat wary whenever a film or TV series comes out where the whole concept is that a character is mentally or physically challenged. And I’m sure that, to some people, Sam will come off as a stereotypical representation of Autism. Yes, he’s a likable, compelling character. And when you watch the show, you can tell that the writers did do research on the symptoms of Autism. But his condition is still somewhat exaggerated, and should not be seen as a be-all-end-all portrayal of the spectrum. In the show, Sam is extremely sensitive to bright light, and loud noises, and is virtually incapable of speaking about any topic other than Antarctica; his obsession. I’ll tell you right now, not all Autistic people are like that. My best friend has Aspergers, a high-functioning form of Autism, and he isn’t sensitive to light, or loud noises,  and he can talk for hours about virtually everything. Autism, as I’ve mentioned before, is a spectrum, with varying degrees of severity specific to each individual person. There probably are people like Sam out there. And they might be very happy to see themselves represented on the small screen. But for people who don’t have as severe a condition as he does, or who want to know what Autism is really like, this might not be the perfect portrayal to watch.

The second thought I have on Atypical is really more of a nitpick, but one that I think is worth bringing up. And that is the character of Paige. She joins the show about two episodes in, and ends up becoming Sam’s “practice girlfriend.” She’s sweet, understanding, sympathetic, and I don’t buy her character for a second. I don’t buy that, A, she would ever be attracted to Sam, and, B, that she would be able to put up with him when they start going out. For starters, she’s way too attractive. She’s the classic Hollywood beauty; tall, blonde, and thin. She legitimately looks like a model, and yet she’s chasing after a guy who looks like the love child of Michael Cera and Dobby the House Elf. And if that’s not ridiculous enough, her character is supposedly the smartest girl in school. Between her brains and her looks, she could have literally anyone she wanted. So why is she so determine to get with this kid who, initially, doesn’t even recognize that she likes him, and then, later on, acts like a total dick to her? And not in a “he doesn’t know any better” way, but in a legitimately mean-spirited, jerky kind of way. I would have believed her character more if she were also disabled, less attractive, or just less perfect in general. As it stands, though, she’s too nice and too pretty, and she just doesn’t feel like a real person. Maybe I’m being unfair here, and I do want to mention that the actress playing Paige does a great job, but I would like it if, for once, Hollywood cast, and forgive the pun here, atypical leading ladies. Older Women. Large Women. Disabled Women. Women Of Color. They’re all just as interesting, and capable of love, as blonde super models, and they exist in higher numbers than the latter group. I would like it if, in the future, female characters would be allowed to exist in all the shapes, sizes and colors that their real-life counterparts do.

But, in the end, those are both small nitpicks, and not any real harm to the show. Atypical is funny, well-acted, well-written, and the perfect length for a sitcom. If you’re looking for something fun and charming to watch, give this Netflix original a look. You will not regret it.

To The Bone (2017)

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

Ellen has an eating disorder. She doesn’t want to chew, let alone swallow, anything with calories. As a result, she’s lost a truly frightening amount of weight, and there is a very real chance she might die. So, as a last ditch effort to save her life, Ellen’s stepmom signs her up for a special,eating disorder treatment program. She’ll have to live in a house, with other anorexic kids, and partake in therapy sessions with Dr. Beckham, played by Keanu Reeves. If all goes well, she’ll be cured, and allowed to go home. If it doesn’t, she’ll die. Those are the only options, and with the way the film starts out, either outcome is entirely plausible.

To The Bone is a sympathetic, socially-conscious movie, with some fine performances, and some witty dialogue. I watched it purely on a whim, seeing it on Netflix, and hearing some good things about it second hand. And even though I don’t like how it ended, and I wish it could have given me a little bit more insight into why Ellen developed this eating disorder, I am glad I saw it. This is the kind of small-budget indie film that really relies on its script and its lead actors, and it really delivers on both fronts. Everyone in the cast does a superb job, and the script gives all the characters a distinct voice and some funny lines. Which surprised me. For a story that is as serious as it is, there is a lot of good humor in here. THere’s some risky humor too–for instance, they make Holocaust and dead baby jokes, and it doesn’t always work. But, for the most part, the jokes really land, and I could totally see myself going back and watching this movie again, just for the dialogue.

I was also very impressed with how deftly the filmmakers handled the topic of eating disorders. See, you all probably don’t know this about me, but, back in high school, I had an eating disorder. There was a period, in my junior year, when I didn’t want to eat anything, and when I lost a lot of weight, about 15 pounds, in a very short time span. I’m talking two to three weeks. Of course, I didn’t know it was an eating disorder at the time. I just thought I was being health conscious. When I watched the film, however, and I saw all the things that these anorexic characters were doing, like fretting about how many calories were in their food, skipping meals, doing exercise, even at times when it wasn’t appropriate, held a mirror up to my own behavior, and helped me realize that there really was something wrong with me. For that reason, and the fine performances and dialogue, I would recommend you watch this Netflix original. It’s not a perfect film, as I said, the humor doesn’t always land, and the ending gets very weird and hallucinogenic, but, for the most part, it’s solid. And I’m sure you’ll enjoy it if you see it.

Okja (2017)

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

To end world hunger, the Mirando corporation creates a new breed of genetically-enhanced super pigs. These animals, which look like a combination between hippos, dogs and elephants, eat less, have more meat, and produce fewer excretions. In short, they’re the ideal food source. As part of a PR campaign, Mirando sends several super pigs to farms across the globe, ostensibly to find out which is the best environment to raise them in. One of the super pigs, Okja, is sent to a farm in Korea, where she and her owner, 14-year-old Mija, become inseparable. So much so that, when Mirando tries to collect their property, and bring her back to a slaughterhouse, Mija follows them, and even busts Okja out in one of the most chaotic, destructive, and oddly funny sequences in film history. Throw in some eco terrorists, and an insane Steve Irwin rip off, and you’ve got yourself a movie.

Okja is funny, original, thought-provoking and entertaining. I’m not lying when I say that there was never a point in this movie where I felt bored, or that the pace was lagging. And unlike other summer blockbusters, it really tugs on your heart strings. There was a point about halfway through that I was crying over how Okja was being treated, and any time a movie can get you to care about a made-up, CGI animal, you know its done something right. For these reasons, and the fact that it isn’t a sequel, remake, spin-off or adaptation, I would urge you all to watch it. You won’t regret it if you do.

That being said, the movie does have problems. The biggest, by far, is Jake Gyllenhal. He plays one of the two main villains, and his performance is painfully over-the-top. His voice is distractingly high-pitched. And there’s hardly a moment where he’s not screaming at the top of his lungs. It got to the point that I was dreading whenever he’d reappear. I understand that this was deliberate–that the director, Bong Joon-ho, wanted to contrast the evil, over-the-top villains with the good, more down to earth Mija. But it’s still annoying, and it pulls you out of the movie. The second problem I have is the fact that you have to suspend a whole lot of disbelief to buy this premise. The character Mija does so many insanely dangerous, improbable things–like jumping through a wall of glass, landing on a moving truck, and holding on while it speeds through traffic–that you can’t help but shake your head and say, “that’s bullshit. There’s no way she wouldn’t die.” And finally, the film has a hard time balancing its tone. If you know Bong Joon-ho, you know that sudden shifts in tone are a trademark of his style. But here, the transitions between tones felt a bit less controlled, and a bit more jarring. Even though I liked Baby Driver less than this movie, it, at least, was more consistent with its tone. Here, you’ll go from sweet and innocent to horrifically violent in less than a minute. And I know that that will be off-putting to some people.

Nevertheless, Okja’s originality, quick-pacing, social commentary and emotional depth more than make up for whatever flaws it might have. I love it, and want to see it again. And I’m sure you’d all feel the same way if you saw it too.

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.