IT (2017)

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

Something is rotten in the town of Derry, Maine. Every 27 years, people go missing, or die horrible, gruesome deaths. And whenever that happens, a mysterious, demonic clown can be seen lurking in the shadows. Now, in 1988, a young boy, Georgie Denbrough, has vanished, and his brother, Bill, is determined to get him back. So he assembles a group of other “losers”–including hypochondriac Eddie, trash mouth Richie, abused Beverly, Jewish Stan, Fat Ben, and Black Mike–to find, and kill, Pennywise, the dancing clown. And I know that it’s demeaning to describe characters by their size, their religion, or their race, but the film honestly doesn’t give them many other traits beyond these things. Anyway, will our young heroes succeed? Will they vanquish Pennywise? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

By itself, IT is a perfectly-entertaining retro-horror film. And as an adaptation of the Stephen King novel, which I have read, by the way, the movie is also very watchable. The young cast all do a superb job, there’s plenty of funny dialogue, and there’s a ton of creatively creepy imagery. I think it’d be wrong to describe this film as scary–I never once felt horrified, though that could be due to the fact that I can’t see very well–but it is definitely suspenseful, and definitely engaging. So, for those reasons, I would recommend you go see it. It’s fun, undemanding, and, for the most part, inoffensive.

That said, I don’t know if I necessarily like the movie. Most of it has to do with the changes the filmmakers made when adapting the source material. Most are fine, and could even be viewed as improvements on the original, like the screenwriters’ decision to omit a certain, rather bizarre sex scene. And yet, the film feels considerably shallower than the original text. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the novel IT is over 1000 pages long, and the movie is only 2 hours and 15 minutes. In 1000 pages, you can really delve deep into character’s backstories, personalities, and fears. In a 2 hour and 15 minute movie, however, with no less than 7 main characters, some things inevitably get cut, and some characters inevitably get the shaft. And in the case of this movie, the characters who are given the least amount of personality are, unfortunately, the only ones who represent any kind of diversity in this group. Details from the book, like Stan’s love of birds, and Mike’s love of history, are absent in the movie, and, without anything else to identify them by, you are left thinking of them as “the Jew” and “the Black kid.” Which is sad. No one should be reduced to a token minority. I was also somewhat disappointed with the way they portrayed Pennywise. Bill Skarsgard, whom plays the titular clown, does this really annoying, high-pitched voice, which I’m sure is supposed to be frightening, but I found kind of funny. He sounded like a dog owner telling his or her puppy “You’re such a good boy!”  And whereas in the book the kids defeat Pennywise in a psychic game of wits, where they win through their teamwork, and love for one another, in the film, they just kick and stab him a few times, and he falls into a hole. And that’s probably my biggest gripe with the movie; the fact that it is much more action-heavy than the book. See, in the novel, the horror is very psychological. Pennywise torments these kids by showing them what their most afraid of. He never attacks them in broad daylight, and weapons don’t really hurt him, so they have to use other means, like hope, and courage, and the things that make each of them unique. In the movie, by contrast, he attacks them in the daytime, all the time, and he bleeds the same as they do, which is why they kick him so much. As a result, he becomes a little less frightening. Which is sad. Because Pennywise is one of my favorite villainous characters, right up there with The Joker, Captain Hook, and Chigurh. I was disappointed with how silly they made him. But, ah well.

Guys, if it sounds like I hated this movie, I didn’t. I actually quite enjoyed it. I thought the cast did a great job, the dialogue was funny, and the plot was consistently entertaining. If you want to go to the movies and have a good time, this is the film for you. I’m just nitpicking because I read the book. But if you haven’t, or you just don’t care about differences between source material and adaptation, you probably won’t have any problems with it. So, yeah. Go ahead and give this movie a look.

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GLOW (Season 1, 2017)

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

It’s 1985, and Ruth Wilder is a struggling actress in Los Angeles. Desperate for money, she answers an ad for “unconventional women,” and finds herself at a gym with several other, equally-confused ladies. Two guys, B-movie director Sam Sylvia and pampered rich boy Sebastian Howard, then come out, and explain that they are looking to put together an all-female wrestling show, GLOW, or the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling. Ruth, like everyone else, is shocked to hear this, but decides she’s willing to give it a try. Unfortunately, Sam doesn’t “like your ass. Or your face, and dismisses her straight off the bat. Ruth, however, isn’t taking no for an answer, and after putting on an elaborate show, including an unscripted fight with a friend who’s husband she’s been sleeping with, lands the job. And, from that point on, the story just gets bigger and more ridiculous.

GLOW has a lot of things going for it. It’s got good acting, a premise with a lot of comedic potential, and some nice period decor. I also really like the fact that it features an almost entirely female cast, and that it passes the Bechdel Test. And yet, despite all this, I can’t really say if I like GLOW or not.

A lot of it comes down to personal taste. First off, I’m not a big fan of the 80s. The poofy hair styles, the huge shoulder pads, the annoying synthesizer music; it all gets on my nerves. I also don’t like how casually racist and homophobic movies and TV shows from that era are, and how, nowadays, when we fetishize the Reagan years, we neglect to mention the negative aspects of the time. If you read my review of Stranger Things, a show that I really loved, you saw that I didn’t like how it failed to touch on the darker facets of 80s culture. This show does a slightly better job at highlighting the racism and sexism of the time, but, still. The period in which this show is set kind of annoys me, so maybe I went in somewhat biased. On top of this, I didn’t grow up with wrestling, so the series doesn’t hold any nostalgic charm. Literally the only two things I know about professional wrestling are the scene from the original Spider-Man film, where Toby Maguire has to fight Macho Man Randy Savage,  and the VH1 reality show, Hogan Knows Best, which was on when I was a kid. So, yeah.

But by far the biggest thing I had a problem with was the writing; specifically, the humor. It’s very, very dark. If you are easily offended, then don’t watch this show. Because they go places I wasn’t expecting them to. Every taboo topic you can think of–racism, incest,dead babies–gets touched upon. There’s a whole episode devoted to making miscarriages funny, and the season finale includes a substantial father-daughter incest subplot. It’s really kind of creepy. Now, look, I don’t want to sound like I think gallows humor can never work. I think In Bruges is one of the most underrated films of all time, and it features tons of offensive jokes. But there, the tone was a whole lot darker. Here, the show is pretty light-hearted and upbeat. But then, out of nowhere, it’ll throw in these very macabre bits of humor that, one, aren’t funny, and, two, don’t feel as earned. Another aspect of the writing I didn’t think worked were the characters. Oh sure, the four main people–Ruth, her friend, the director, the trainer–are all pretty fleshed out and interesting. But everyone else kind of just fades into the background. Yes, that’s to be expected in an ensemble piece, but here, it’s very noticeable. Two characters in particular, an Indian-American wrestler played by Sunita Mani, and a Cambodian-American wrestler played by Scott Pilgrim vs The World‘s own Ellen Wong, get the shaft when it comes to background and personality. We know next to nothing about them–Sunita’s grandma likes wrestling, Ellen likes birthday parties–and they are treated the worst when it comes to stereotypes. The wrestling personas they are given are, and I swear I’m not making this up, Beirut the MadBomber, and Fortune Cookie. Yes, Fortune Cookie. And the racist jokes don’t stop there. At every single opportunity, the writers throw in a “Asians can’t speak English” jab, or an “Asians know Kung Fu” barb. And, yes, they have characters comment on how offensive these  stereotypes are, but most of the time, someone else in the scene will say “shut up” or “get over it.” This is actually a very old writing technique, referred to as “ironic lamp shading,” where a character in a work of fiction will point out how stupid, illogical, or offensive something is, but then go right ahead and do it anyway. It’s meant to keep us, the audience, from questioning the tropes we’re seeing, but I’m not taking the bait here. Just because you know something is offensive doesn’t excuse you from doing it. If anything, that makes it worse. It shows us that you lack moral fiber, since you know something is wrong, but chose to go ahead and do it anyway. If you want to comment on racism or sexism, have there be negative repercussions for all the bigotry. Or, and here’s a novel idea, don’t write racist jokes, or characters who are racial cliches. Just a thought.

Guys, I really don’t know what to say. There’s enough good in GLOW to keep you invested, I finished all 10 episodes, but the dark humor, offensive characterization, and inconsistent tone are also quite off-putting. I don’t know if I can recommend this to you all. But if anything in the review spoke to you, maybe go and give it a look. You might find something in it that I didn’t.

Stranger Things

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

And if ever there was a work of art that could only be described as “nostalgia porn,” it would have to be the new Netflix original series, Stranger Things. Set during the 80s, in a fictional town in Indiana, the show follows an ensemble cast as they deal with the disappearance of a young boy, and a number of strange and horrifying events at night. It features a ton of 80s music, pop culture references, and nods to the works of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg. It’s basically just the show runners’, Matt and Ross Duffer’s, big love letter to the Reagan era. Which is fine for two men going through a mid-life crisis, but does it make for good television?
Well, with such a lackluster title, and unoriginal premise, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t enthusiastic about watching this series at all. Now, however, having actually sat down and binged the entire show, I can tell you, I was 100% wrong about Stranger Things. This is one of the best shows on Netflix, and that’s saying a lot, when you consider that the likes of Breaking Bad, Master Of None, Orange Is The New Black, Lost, and Broadchurch are also available on the streaming service.
But what makes this show so good, you ask? The writing. Hands down, it’s the best part of this series. Every character is so fleshed out and well-rounded, that you can’t help but fall in love with them. And that’s saying a lot, when you consider that, on the surface, most of these characters are archetypes. You’ve got the drunken police chief with a troubled past, the strong, but struggling single mother, the rebellious teenage daughter, the bland boy protagonist and his two token friends, token fat kid and token black kid, and many others. And yet, the filmmakers were able to give these characters enough good dialogue, enough personality traits, and enough scenes where they grow and develop that you can’t help but love them. And the acting, especially of the four main kids–Mike, Lucas, Dustin and Eleven–is very impressive. Their performances are easily the best part of this series. Caleb McLaughlin, whom plays Lucas, especially impressed me. I could easily see him going on to become a big star, and play main roles like that of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Seriously. His character is the cynical loner of the group. he’s got lots of gadgets and gizmos. He gets into lots of arguments with his friends about being “naive” and “overly optimistic.” He really is the Batman of this world’s mini Justice League, and I’d love it if he went on to play the Dark Knight in the real JLA. Now, of course, no one can say for certain whether he will, or even whether he’ll continue to act after this series ends, but the bottom line is, he’s great, and I loved watching him.
Now, of course, no work of art is without its flaws, and Stranger Things certainly has a few. One is Winona Ryder. She plays the mother of the boy who’s gone missing, and is the one who gets top billing on all the advertisements. She’s also the most annoying character in the whole show. I understand that her son has gone missing, and that she’s under a lot of psychological stress, but there’s barely a scene in this series where she’s not crying, or speaking in a really shaky voice. And that really starts to grate on your nerves after a while. On top of this, the show fails the Bechdel test. Hard. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s a game you play when watching a movie or TV show. It consists of you asking three questions; 1) is there more than one female character? 2) Do these female characters talk to each other? And 3) About something other than a man? If the answer to each of these questions is “yes,” then the movie is progressive and unique in its portrayal of women. If not, well, you get what most Hollywood productions are. And, sadly, Stranger Things, as good as it is, doesn’t allow it’s female characters to talk about topics other than men, so, no new ground being broken there. And that brings me to my last gripe with the series, it’s damn near fetishization of the past. See, every few years, a movie or TV show will come out that really romanticizes a certain time period. For years, the era that everyone seemed determined to drool over was the 1950s. Back To The Future, Diner, Stand By Me, these are just a few of the movies that basically serve as love letters to this decade. And while each of these films is great, and the people who worked on them are all very talented, the pictures themselves very often neglect to portray the negative aspects of that time period. The 1950s were when Jim Crow segregation was at its strongest. They were the decade before the women’s liberation movement. They were an era when people lived in constant fear of nuclear annihilation, and when “the red scare” led to thousands of innocent, or simply liberal-minded, people losing their jobs and getting blacklisted. So, yeah. The 50s were a simpler time, provided that you were a straight, white, heterosexual Christian male, with an Anglo-Saxon last name, and a near blinding level of patriotism coursing through your veins. Nowadays, we recognize this fact, and so we have decided to fetishize another era; the 1980s. Tons of YouTube personalities, like the Nostalgia Critic, the Angry Video Game Nerd, and Linkara, have made videos tributing the films and pop culture of this era. Stranger Things does this as well. But what they all fail to recognize is that the 80s weren’t perfect either. Homophobia was at a record high due to fear of AIDS and HIV. Crack cocaine was everywhere. And let’s not forget a little group in Afghanistan called the Mujahideen (aka the Taliban) that America felt the need to support in their fight against the Soviets. Yes, it’s cool to see a work of art reference things like Risky Business, and John Carpenter’s The THing. But it should at least acknowledge that the time period in which those movies and songs came out was imperfect.
Still, with all that said, I did really enjoy Stranger Things, and have decided to give it an 8 out of 10. Please, please watch it! I promise you, it will be worth your time.