Maniac (2018 Miniseries)

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

In an oddball future, a future where you can avoid paying for things by listening to a certain number of ads, and where tiny robots patrol the streets, looking for poop to scoop, two broken people enter an experimental drug trial. One, Owen, is the neglected, schizophrenic son of a wealthy Manhattan family, who’s being forced to lie under oath to prevent his brother from going to jail. Another, Annie, is a selfish, mean-spirited drug addict, who still feels guilt over having contributed to her sister’s death. Owen is there for the money. Annie is there for the drugs. But regardless of why they came, the head of the program, Dr. James Mantleray and his partner, Dr. Azumi Fujita, are confident that their drugs will solve ALL, yes, all, of their patients’ personal problems. But what happens when the computer administering the trial develops emotions, and begins messing with the process? James and Azumi will be forced to bring in the former’s awful mother, whom the computer is modeled off of, while the patients will have to contend with a series of strange visions and increasingly surreal simulations.

Maniac is a TV show I never would have heard of were it not for my friend, the supremely talented actress and dancer Momoko Judy Abe. Earlier this year, she told me she had a supporting role on a Netflix show that Cary Fukunaga was directing, and that Emma Stone and Jonah Hill were starring in, but didn’t say anything else. (Not allowed to). Then, a few months later, I saw an ad for Maniac, which mentioned that it was from Cary Fukunaga, and showed Stone and Hill as the leads, and I realized that this was what Momoko was referring to. So as soon as it hit the streaming platform, I cued it up. I figured, even if it’s bad, I can at least say I know someone who was involved with it. And, I’ll be honest; it was a lot of fun seeing Momoko onscreen. She doesn’t have many lines, but she’s featured in all but one episode, standing behind Sonoya Mizuno, aka Dr. Fujita, as one of her assistants. Hopefully, this role will allow her to be in bigger projects, where she can show off her immense range, and fantastic dance skills. But I realize that I haven’t actually said anything about the show. That’s because my feelings on it are pretty mixed.

As a work of art, it’s definitely not without merit. The cinematography, the music, and especially the production design, are superb, working together to create a strange, but oddly believable vision of the future. There are so many weird little details in it, I already mentioned the ads, and poop scoop drones, that make this show’s reality feel off kilter and unique. There are services that offer “friends for hire,” you can play chess with mechanical koala bears, and everything in the labs looks like it was pulled straight out of an 80s anime. The drug trial setup also serves as a framing device to a series of vignettes, each of which acts as a parody or send-up of a particular genre. In one episode, for instance, while under the influence of anesthesia, Stone and Hill hallucinate that their in an 80s sitcom, trying to steal a monkey from some gangsters. In another, they dream that they’re in a fantasy movie, complete with elves, wizards and dragons. And as distracting and disjointed as some of these vignettes are, they’re all staged with such love and craft that they’re definitely enjoyable in their own right. All this, coupled with some fun, quirky performances from Justin Theroux as the sex-addicted Dr. Mantleray, and Sonoya Mizuno as the chain-smoking, hard-talking, Velma Dinkley-looking Dr. Fujita, do make Maniac an interesting, if not always enjoyable watch. I say “not always enjoyable” because, like some of its characters, the show doesn’t seem confident enough in its own story to stay focused on one thing for very long.

As I mentioned earlier, the whole drug trial setup is just a framing device for the filmmakers to make a bunch of parodies of other movies and TV shows. Several episodes take place within the patients’ fantasies, and have their own, entirely insular stories, so that, when the show does cut back to the real world of the drug trial, it’s jarring. And sometimes, within those various vignettes, the rules get broken. In the fantasy episode, for instance, Emma Stone’s character, who, for the first half, was doing a British accent, and behaving like an Elf, suddenly starts talking like an American and commenting on how “none of this is real.” I understand that, in the context of the episode, it’s meant to represent her character realizing that something is wrong with the trial, but it honestly comes off more like a cheap meta-textual joke that the writer’s threw in to prove how clever they were. Which raises the question, if you’re not confident in your recreation enough to stick with it, why do it at all? It honestly feels like, these days, writers are scared to commit to a single tone or idea, for fear that they’ll be labeled as “cheesy.” So, instead, they constantly disrupt their own stories to let us audience members know, “hey, it’s cool, we get that this is silly. No need to make fun of us. Look, we’re doing it already.” And speaking of disrupting the narrative, there are several instances where the filmmakers will throw in things that are meant to be jokes, but which just come off as awkward and painful. In one scene, for instance, Justin Theroux is using a VR device to have sex with a weird, CGI fish-lady, and it feels so out of place and made me so uncomfortable that I almost stopped watching. That’s this show in a nutshell; put off the main story for as long as possible with weird genre parodies and awkward humor. And, sadly, I can kind of understand why the filmmakers did that. Neither Stone nor Hill’s primary characters, Annie and Owen, are that appealing. Stone is just a mean, selfish junkie, and Hill is just a sad, pathetic mess, and the latter’s performance as Owen consists almost entirely of vacant stares and monotone whispers. Yes, I’m aware that he has schizophrenia, but the filmmakers never attempt to give him a personality beyond that. It’s as if they’re hoping that, by saying he’s disabled, we’ll instantly sympathize with him, but they never once tell us his interests, or hobbies, or anything that makes him worth following as a character. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Hollywood often uses disabled characters as cheap, pity props, and very rarely bothers to show them as anything other than their condition. Maniac does as well, and you can tell that they don’t know how to give Owen any real humanity by how quickly they replace him with his simulation counterparts, who aren’t disabled, and who instantly have more discernible personalities than he does. So when you take all this into account, the unlikable lead characters, the disjointed tone, and the fact that the writers spend far more time on parodies and side quests than the main story, you’re left with a visually interesting, occasionally engaging mess of a miniseries. Does it have strong elements? Sure. And I’m hoping my friend Momoko gets a career boost off of this. But, on its own terms, I can’t really recommend the show.


Hold The Dark (2018)

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

In the remote town of Keelut, Alaska, children are being taken. Not by humans, but by wolves. Two Yupik youngsters have already gone missing. And now, it seems, a little White boy has as well. As such, his mother, Riley Keough, summons Jeffrey Wright, an expert on the animals, to come and find the pack that killed her son. When Wright gets there, however, he finds that all is not as it seems to be. For starters, Keough seems slightly crazy. (In one scene, she climbs into bed with him, and tries to get him to strangle her). And when Wright looks in the basement, he finds that wolves didn’t eat the boy. Keough, his own mother, killed him. This revelation, coupled with Keough’s disappearance, sends her husband, Alexander Skarsgård, an unhinged Iraq War vet, on a killing spree to find her, and leaves Wright, and local sheriff James Badge Dale, completely in the dark as to what the hell’s happening. Or maybe that’s just the audience.

Guys, I like weird movies. If you’ve read my blog, particularly my analyses of Gozu, Only God Forgives, and Valhalla Rising, you know that. But that doesn’t mean I like all weird movies. I like weird movies where its clear that the filmmakers had intentions, and chose to convey those intentions visually, or with metaphor, as opposed to just telling us. As violent and surreal as Only God Forgives is, its meaning of “this is a man who feels guilty about past sins, and wants to be forgiven” is clear when you look at the imagery. The frequent shots of hands, for instance, particularly the shot of Gosling hallucinating blood on them, relates to his guilt over having killed his father with “his own hands,” as his mother explains. And him getting his hands chopped off at the end by Chang, who represents God, conveys him receiving forgiveness from a higher power. All the imagery is consistent, and supports a theme. This is as opposed to Hold The Dark, where there is surreal imagery, and strange, violent things occur, but none of it is consistent, or coherent enough, to suggest any kind of deeper meaning. And that’s frustrating, because this movie is directed by Jeremy Saulnier, the man behind Green Room, one of the best, most intense thrillers I’ve ever seen. I was hoping this movie would be great. But I realize I’m not making sense. Let me explain.

As I said, Hold The Dark has a lot of interesting imagery and motifs, which suggest a deeper meaning, but are used so inconsistently that whatever meaning Saulmier might have wanted to impart just vanishes. For instance, the film makes frequent reference to wolves. Wright is a wolf expert, Keough claims her son was taken by wolves, and both she and Skarsgård wear a traditional Yupik wolf mask when they’re going crazy. What this would seem to suggest is that wolves are malevolent entities, which have, somehow, infected this couple. A Yupik character claims that they’re possessed, Wright notes how Keough’s killing of her own son is like the wolf practice of “savaging,” wherein a pack will eat its young to survive, and Keough stops Skarsgård from killing her at the end by removing the mask, and seemingly ending the curse. But this theory of “the wolves have infected this town” falls apart when you go back and realize that most of the murders in this film occur when the characters aren’t wearing the mask, and the movie explicitly states that Skarsgård was always violent. In a flashback to his time in Iraq, we see him shooting a car full of insurgents, well past the point of them being dead, and in another flashback, we see him telling his son that killing isn’t wrong. So he was always crazy, which makes Keogh’s removal of the wolf mask at the end feel like a cop out, and also makes his actions throughout the rest of the movie feel random and inconsistent. See, he kills a lot of people to get to her. He kills the cops who were trying to find her for him, the Yupik neighbor woman, his friend, and basically everyone he comes across. Initially, the filmmakers give the justification that he wants to take revenge on Keough for killing their child, but if that were true, why would her taking off his mask stop that? He’d still want to kill her, regardless of what he has on his face. So the only explanation left is that he’s possessed, and that her removing the mask breaks the curse. But, again, the movie contradicts this theory by showing us that he was always a violent asshole. And none of this, none of it, explains why so many other, random ideas are tossed in.

In addition to wanting to be a supernatural mystery, Hold The Dark also strives, and fails, to say things about American society, particularly the American police force and military. In Skarsgård’s Iraq flashback, we see him kill a fellow soldier who’s raping an Iraqi woman. Does this ever factor into the narrative? Nope. It never gets mentioned, and when Skarsgård arrives in Alaska, he doesn’t seem to be bothered by it at all. So, other than to show us something horrible, and potentially comment on how savage the American military is, there’s absolutely no reason to include this scene at all. I, being someone who never, ever, ever likes seeing rape in movies, think that anyway, but even if you don’t mind seeing it, the scene has nothing to do with the overall story, and could easily be removed. Something else that the movie tries to comment on is how cops in the US care more about crimes committed against White people. Keough mentions that two other Yupik children have already gone missing, and Cheeon, her neighbor, and Skarsgård’s best friend, chastises James Badge Dale for not doing anything to help him when his child went missing. This is an idea that could be interesting, but it’s mentioned, in passing, so rarely that it doesn’t register. I literally forgot that other children had gone missing until I read the Wikipedia synopsis, which reminded me of that fact. That’s bad. And speaking of bad things, a lot of people get killed in this movie, seemingly for no reason. At one point, Cheeon, again, seemingly out of nowhere, whips out a machine gun and starts mowing down police officers in an excessively long, if well-staged, shootout. As I mentioned earlier, Skarsgård kills a lot of people, supposedly to stop them from getting in the way of him taking revenge on Keogh, but in the end, he doesn’t do that, making their deaths totally pointless. I’m not saying that there should never be violence in movies. What I’m saying is, violence should serve a purpose. It should convey character, reiterate themes, or, at the very least, be built up to. None of that can be found in this movie.

Guys, I realize this review has gone on for a long time, and that I probably haven’t left you with the best impression of this film, but, the truth is, as frustrating as this picture is, I can’t unequivocally call it bad. I was never, ever bored while watching it, and it’s too well directed from an audio and visual standpoint. There are some shots in here, particularly of Wright walking across the tundra, that are breathtaking, and the use of negative space is superb. The performances, particularly from Wright and Badge Dale, are great. There is enjoyment to be found in this flick, and it’s available on Netflix. So, in a weird way, I am recommending you go see it. But do so knowing that it doesn’t make sense, and that it will frustrate and disappoint you.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

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

Lara Jean Covey is a sweet, but shy girl, whose never been able to tell anyone that she likes them. Instead, she writes them love letters, and hides the notes in a box, praying to God that no one will ever find them. Especially if the boy in question is involved with someone close to her, like her sister Margot. Unfortunately for Lara, someone steals her love letters, and sends them to her crushes, including the aforementioned boyfriend. So to convince everyone she’s not trying to steal her sister’s man, she convinces another one of the boys she wrote a letter to, Peter, to pretend to be in a relationship with her. Of course, things don’t go according to plan, as she and Peter wind up developing actual feelings for each other, and Josh, Margot’s boyfriend, ends up becoming a wee bit jealous.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a teen rom-com in the vein of 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, and basically anything written by John Hughes. If you’re a fan of those types of movies, you’ll love it. If not, there’s nothing in this that’ll likely win you over. There’s nothing particularly deconstructive or subversive about it. A lot of the tropes people have criticized the genre for–such as the plot only being able to progress because of misunderstandings and characters refusing to speak in full sentences–are present here. So, again, if you don’t like the genre, this film isn’t for you. For my part, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie.

For all its clichés, the flick manages to be both charming and enjoyable, and a huge part of this is due to the performances. This is a perfectly cast movie. Lana Condor shines as Lara Jean, and Noah Centineo, whom plays Peter, is terrific. Their chemistry is effortless, and I could easily see this making them both big stars. I especially hope this happens for Lana Condor, since roles for Asian women like her are sadly still very scarce. And, you know what? I do think this movie could change things for her. This is 2018. Social media has amplified the calls for inclusivity in entertainment, and there’s a lot more outlets, like Youtube, Vineo and Netflix, for people to create diverse content. Plus, it’s hard not to fall in love with her when you watch the movie. Something else I liked about this film is its look. The cinematography is very reminiscent of Wes Anderson, with there being lots of perfectly symmetrical shots, and whip pans, which didn’t bother me here, because the movie is quirky, and the look matches it. The characters are also quite likable. This is something I was honestly kind of shocked by, because, on paper, everyone in this movie is an archetype. You’ve got the sassy little sister, the gay best friend, the dumb, but well-meaning dad, etc. And yet, when you watch the movie, they don’t feel like tokens. A large part of this has to do with the fact that the movie is surprisingly understated. Yes, you’ve got heightened situations, but it never gets to the point of impossibility. Unlike in other teen movies, like Mean Girls, where bullies, and everyone else, are written to be so over the top that it becomes kind of silly, here, everything is downplayed, which I found refreshing. This actually brings me to the thing I liked the most about this movie, the fact that it has an Asian American lead character, and that’s not a big deal. Lara Jean’s race is only touched upon twice, in passing, in a scene where her dad tries to make Korean food, and another where she and Peter watch 16 Candles, and she comments on how racist the film is. Other than those tiny moments, she could literally be any ethnicity under the sun. Which, in a weird way, is revolutionary. See, for a long time, if a Hollywood movie had a disabled person, or a person of color as the lead, there had to be some sort of justification for it. It had to be a movie about disability, or abut race. They couldn’t just be characters that happened to be Asian, or disabled. This thinking still holds up in some circles, as my writing professor’s at NYU regularly criticized me for making my characters Asian. “Unless it’s a story where that matters, don’t mention a characters race,” they’d say. Well, in both the book that To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is based on, and the film, Lara Jean is half Korean, and that impacts the plot in no way whosoever. And that’s kind of what makes this story great. It normalizes being Asian. It doesn’t paint our lives as tragic dramas wherein we’re constantly running away from our heritage, embodied by our parents, who came from far away lands where something horrible happened, or any of the other stereotypes that things like The Joy Luck Club have perpetuated. Lara Jean is just a teenage girl who likes boys, and has friends. That’s it. And that, coupled with the good performances, and more realistic characters, makes this movie kind of special.

So if you like teen rom-coms, or are looking for a good date movie, snuggle up with someone you love, and give it a watch. It’s definitely worth your time.

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

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.