Mandy (2018)

dfc452a14b2fe5bd064e54a63f12e188Deep in the wilderness of the Pacific North-West, Red, a humble woodcutter, lives a quiet, peaceful existence with his wife, Mandy. Their days consist of work, watching old sci-fi movies, and reading trashy fantasy novels while they snuggle in bed. In short, all the best things in life. But one day, as Mandy is walking home, she catches the eye of Jeremiah, a failed folk singer turned cult leader, who, thanks to his twisted interpretation of the gospel, believes that God has created everything on this Earth for his pleasure, including women, and so summons a gang of demonic bikers to bring her into his fold. When he tries to seduce her, however, she laughs at him, and, in a rage, burns her to death before Red’s own eyes. This destroys the man, who, now having nothing to lose, gathers weapons, and sets out to take vengeance upon the ones who murdered his love. Continue reading

Advertisements

First Reformed (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views are My Game. Continue reading

Mother! (2017)

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

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem are a married couple who live out in the woods. Javier Bardem is a poet struggling with writer’s block, and Jennifer Lawrence is a craftsman of sorts, having rebuilt their house from scratch after it burned down. All is well, until an obnoxious couple, both of whom are zealous fans of Bardem’s work, come barging in, and make themselves at home. Lawrence is shocked by this, and disturbed that, rather than kick these intruders out, her husband welcomes them, and even encourages their destructive behavior. Things only get worse when even more acolytes to Bardem’s word appear, and Lawrence gets pregnant. Will the strangers leave? WIll Lawrence be able to raise her baby in peace? No, and no. I don’t care if that’s a spoiler. I don’t really think you should see this movie. Why? Simple.

Mother! is an aggressively unpleasant picture. And I don’t mean that in the sense of it being poorly made. The acting, special effects, music and cinematography are all fine. I mean, everything about it, from the story, to the characters, to the downright disturbing imagery, is unpleasant. There isn’t a single thing about it that makes you feel happy, optimistic or hopeful. And I know that there will be some people who say, “Well, I want challenging art that doesn’t spoon feed me the same easy crap I’m used to.” And that’s fine. You’ll probably get something out of it. But the truth is, it’s nothing that you haven’t seen before.

See, this whole film is just one big metaphor for religion. Javier Bardem is God. Jennifer Lawrence is the Earth. And all the people who come in and destroy their house in Bardem’s name are Christians. And I’m not just saying that. The first couple who appear have two sons, one of whom kills the other in an act of jealousy, so they are clearly meant to be Adam and Eve. Lawrence has a child who is killed by the zealots, who eat his flesh and drink his blood, all while Bardem claims they need to be forgiven for their sins; clearly a metaphor for  Jesus. And there are several scenes in this movie where the Christians are destroying the house and killing each other that are lifted directly from events like the Holocaust, the Crusades and the Intifada. This movie is as blatant a middle-finger to Christianity as Bill Maher’s Religulous. For people like my father, who hate organized religion, that fact alone will probably be enough to get them to see it. For others, like my mother, who are devoted to God, that will be enough of a reason not to. For people like me, who fall somewhere in-between, it’s just not interesting. I’ve seen this kind of blatant condemnation of organized religion before, and this film doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It doesn’t try to explore why people believe in God, or examine any of the good things that religion has done for human civilization. Nope. According to this movie, religion is evil. Pure and simple. Now look, I know that religion has been the justification for some of the worst, if not the worst, atrocities in human history. Religious violence happens every day in Israel/Palestine. Until very recently, it was not uncommon for Catholics and Protestants to murder each other in Northern Ireland. But the vast majority of people who are religious aren’t psychopaths, or serial killers. They’re just ordinary, decent people, who use their religion as a moral framework by which to live their lives. So to have a film come out and tell all those people that the thing they were brought up with, the thing that probably hasn’t hurt them, or anyone they know, in any way, is evil, and makes them evil too, is kind of unfair, and even a little bit cruel.

For this reason, and the fact that the story and characters are so unpleasant, I really can’t recommend this movie to you all. If you like the director, Darren Aronofsky, the stars, or just hate religion, maybe you’ll like this one. Me, I’m not interested, and I have no intention of ever seeing it again.

Master Of None (Season 2, 2017)

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

After spending six months in Italy, mastering the art of pasta making, Dev returns to New York, where he reunites with his friends, and has wacky misadventures involving love, technology, race, and, of course, food. Lots and lots of food.

Now, if you’ve read my blog, you know that I absolutely adored the first season of Master of None. I thought it was very funny, and a lot of what it had to say about modern technology, the immigrant experience, and the limited roles available for Asian actors really spoke to me. And, for the most part, Master Of None, season 2 maintains a lot of what made that first season so great. The series regulars are awesome, there’s some biting social commentary, and, of course, it’s funny. Very funny. In fact, I laughed a lot more at this season than I did at the first one. I still like the first season better, but that’s mostly because I like what it has to say. But, if you don’t care about commentary, and just want to laugh, I would recommend this season to you. And, in general, I would recommend the season to everyone. It’s a fine example of modern television.

That being said, I do have problems with it. The biggest, for me, is the season long romantic arc between Dev and the show’s new female lead, Francesca. I… hated it. Seriously. I hated it. I hated Francesca’s character. She’s a bland, uninteresting bore. I hated how Dev’s constant complaining about how he likes her, but can’t be with her, ground the comedy to a halt. This whole scenario, liking someone who’s already in a relationship, was dealt with beautifully in one, 20 minute episode in the first season. We don’t need a four episode arc to tell this story. Another thing that works against this season is all the cutaways to food. Yes, food is a huge part of Dev’s character, and the first season did feature it, but there it was kept to a gracious minimum. It never got in the way of the story. Here, the cutaways override the story. There were many moments while I was watching where I was certain that the only reason they were showing this was that Aziz Ansari wanted to eat something, and he told the crew, “film it.” And, finally, part of what made the first season special was how it thoughtfully dealt with social issues. The second season does have a few episodes, like “Religion,” “Thanksgiving,” and the finale, “Buona Notte,” which deal with faith, coming out to one’s parents, and sexual harassment in the workplace, but, for the most part, food and mother of all bores, Francesca, take center stage here.

Still, I did like the season overall, and I would recommend it to you. It is funny, and it does have a lot of what made season 1 great. Just go in with tempered expectations.

The Wailing

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

2016 was, if nothing else, a magnificent year for Korean cinema. Train To Busan, The Handmaiden, Age Of Shadows, these were FANTASTIC thrillers that made HUGE splashes on the festival circuit, and drew attention to an area of the world often overlooked. The subject of today’s review, The Wailing, was another popular Korean export, with many critics placing it on their top 10 lists, and it currently holding a 99% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Now, if you know me, you know that I don’t place much stock in critical reviews, or Rotten Tomatoes, since I think giving a film a numerical score creates a majority opinion, and prevents people from making their own decisions, and what critics like and audience’s enjoy don’t often overlap. In this case, however, I decided to give the critics the benefit of the doubt, and The Wailing a look, and holy crap!

The story of a small town detective trying to solve the mystery surrounding a series of bizarre deaths, all of which seem connected to this weird Japanese hermit, the film mixes a lot of different genres and tones. At once a mystery, police procedural, supernatural horror film, and comedy, the picture shifts from silly to gruesome on an almost scene to scene basis. In one moment, the protagonist’s daughter will catch him and his wife banging in their car, and in another, a deranged man in a hospital will be shown disemboweling himself. It’s an odd dichotomy, to be sure. There’s also a lot of inconsistency with the characterization here. What I mean by that is, in one scene, the protagonist will be shown as doubting there’s any supernatural cause for the deaths, then, in the next scene, he’ll be more than happy to let a clearly crazy woman walk through an active crime scene and tell him stories about satanic rituals, and then, immediately afterwards, he’ll be acting all skeptical again. It’s weird, to say the least. And yet, for all the inconsistency with characterization and tone, for all the idiotic choices the protagonist makes, for all the blending of genres and motifs, I was consistently riveted by The Wailing, and would honestly recommend it to you all.

This is one of those rare films that breaks so many rules, and shifts its genre and tone so many times, that it actually kind of works. And when I say that, I’m not trying to paint this as a “so bad it’s good” type picture. The gorgeous cinematography, stellar acting, and eerie, atmospheric lighting make it clear that this film was made by people with talent. No, what I mean when I say that is, this film plays with various genre conventions–it knows that the audience is expecting certain things when they see this type of movie–and it inverts them. It gives you something new, something unexpected. The writer/director, Na Hong-Jin, stated in an interview with The Playlist that he believes there are three types of audience members, those who make random guesses, those who absorb the plot, and those who just can’t catch up. This film, he explained, was meant to appeal to all three groups, and by god, it does.

So if you’re looking for something unique, something out of the ordinary and interesting, give The Wailing a look. It won’t disappoint.

Love, Hate, And Vengeance: An Analysis Of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives

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

I won’t lie, the first time I saw Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, it really pissed me off. It wasn’t just the frequent use of racial slurs, and protracted, highly gory torture scenes that bothered me. It was, well, everything. The one-dimensional characters, bizarre dream sequences, unsatisfying ending, and heavily implied incestuous relationship between the main character and his mother all added up to an utterly unpleasant viewing experience. The first time I saw it, I sympathized 100% with the half of the audience at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival who either walked out or booed when this movie was shown. To put it bluntly, I hated it, and told myself that I would never watch, or even speak of, it again.

And yet, as much as I despised the picture, I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was like a tiny piece of gum stuck to my trousers–try as I might, it just wouldn’t go away. And the longer I thought about the movie, the more I came to appreciate it. I was drawn to it, particularly to its vibrant colors, haunting visuals, narrative subtlety and strong mythological undertones. With every mental revisitation, I uncovered something new to appreciate until, without realizing, I found myself liking–yes, liking–it. It’s not that I’d forgotten about all my old complaints, if anything, my newfound appreciation for the picture made me pick at those aspects I didn’t like more, but at least now I had some good with which to balance the bad. I could finally understand why, when it was screened at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, half the audience, the half that wasn’t booing it, gave it a standing ovation. I had stumbled upon one of those rare pieces of cinema which left it’s spectators with absolutely no middle ground. Either you loved it, or you hated it with a passion so great, so burning, as to melt the ice caps.

But what is Only God Forgives? What, in the end, does this divisive piece of cinema really boil down to?

Thematically, it boils down to a story of a broken man wanting to take vengeance on God for making him suffer so greatly, but, in doing so, finding redemption. Literally, though, it’s the story of Julian, an American ex-pat living in Bangkok. He owns a Muy THai club, but it’s quickly revealed that that’s just a front for a drug-smuggling operation. Julian doesn’t talk much, and his interactions with other people are pretty much limited to his sessions with Mai, a prostitute who he seems to have some feelings for, and his conversations with Billy, his brother, who’s a sadistic pervert. How sadistic and perverse is he? Well, at the start of the movie, he rapes and kills a thirteen-year-old girl. Yeah. Charming. Don’t worry, though. We don’t have to deal with him for long, because he is quickly apprehended by the Thai police, and the mysterious Inspector Chang is brought in to investigate the matter. Upon seeing what Billy has done, Chang allows the girl’s father to beat him, but he ends up getting killed in the process. Chang, however, doesn’t care about Billy’s death. What he does care about is the fact that the girl’s father knew that she was a sex worker, and did nothing to stop it. For this, he cuts off the man’s forearm and leaves.

Upon hearing of Billy’s death, Julian tracks down the father and confronts him about why he killed his brother. When he learns that the man was simply avenging his daughter, however, he decides to let him go. Julian and Billy’s mother, Crystal, arrives in Bangkok to identify the body. She demands that Julian find and kill the men who killed Billy, but he refuses—believing that the man had some justification for seeking retribution for the killing of his daughter—infuriating her. Julian has several visions of meeting Chang in a dark room, where Chang cuts Julian’s hands off.

Julian brings Mai to meet Crystal, posing as his girlfriend. Crystal sees through the ruse, hurls insults at Mai, and demeans Julian, pronouncing him sexually inferior to his dead brother. Julian humbly accepts all of Crystal’s abuse, but afterward turns on Mai, viciously humiliating her, then regretting it. At Crystal’s request, one of the fighters at Julian’s boxing club assassinates the man who killed Billy. Later, the police arrive at Julian’s club, but Chang concludes that Julian is not the father’s killer. Julian recognizes Chang from his visions and follows him from the boxing club, but Chang seems to disappear into thin air.

After learning that Chang was involved in Billy’s death, Crystal meets with an associate, Byron, to arrange Chang’s assassination. Three gunmen on motorbike are sent to kill Chang at a restaurant with machine guns, and two of Chang’s men are killed in the shoot-out. Chang kills two of the gunmen, follows the third on foot, and beats him with a frying pan. The gunman leads Chang to his boss, Li Po, who is feeding his young crippled son. Chang then kills the third gunman, but spares Li Po after seeing him show affection for his son. Li Po points Chang to Byron, who ordered the hit. Chang finds Byron in a club and tortures him to get answers. Byron reveals the reasoning behind the hit, but refuses to give a name. Chang continues to torture Byron.

Julian confronts Chang and, after challenging him, they fight on the bare concrete floor of Julian’s boxing venue. Chang, an experienced boxer, easily beats Julian, who does not land any blows. Afterwards, Crystal tells Julian that Chang has figured out she ordered the hit on him. Fearfully, she pleads with Julian to kill Chang to protect her, the same way she asked Julian to kill his own father for her. She promises that after Julian kills Chang, they will go back home and she will be a true mother to him.

Julian shoots the guard outside Chang’s home, and he and his associate Charlie Ling enter Chang’s house, intent on ambushing him when he returns. Charlie informs Julian that he was instructed to execute Chang’s entire family. Charlie murders the nanny of Chang’s daughter as she enters the home, but Julian shoots Charlie before he can kill Chang’s young daughter.

Chang and a police officer visit Crystal. She blames everything on Julian, and Chang cuts her throat. Julian returns to the hotel and finds his mother’s corpse. In silence, he approaches her body and cuts open her abdomen. Julian slowly places his hand inside of the wound. After leaving and having several surreal visions, Julian stands in a field with Chang, who appears to cut off both of Julian’s hands with his sword. The final scene returns to Chang singing at a karaoke bar with an audience of attentive police officers.

Now, if you’re anything like me, at this point, you’re probably thinking, “What the hell? What did all that mean? Did that mean anything? Why did I just sit through that movie? Why do I feel so confused?” Well, if you are feeling that way, don’t worry. It’s perfectly normal to. I certainly did when I first saw this movie. But, unlike me, you all have someone who can explain this bizarre picture to you–who can help you get through all the confusion. And, if you’ll do me the great pleasure of reading onward, I shall strive to do both.

Now, as I stated earlier, I believe that this movie is about faith, about a man’s struggle’s with God given all that has happened to him. There are several reasons why I view the film this way. Firstly, the character of Inspector Chang. He is truly divine. Seriously! Never once in this film does anyone hit him, shoot him, or hurt him in anyway, which suggests that he’s invulnerable. In addition, there are several scenes in this movie where he just seems to teleport around. One minute he’s in one place, and then, in another, he’s somewhere totally different. On top of this, he appears to be the utmost authority in the land, passing judgment and dealing out punishment with total impunity, in much the same way that God does. But perhaps the greatest reasin why I see him as God is that, in an interview with the press, Vithaya Pansringram, the actor who played him, stated that Winding Refn directed his sequences with the following sentence, “You are God in this world.” So, yeah, it’s clear that we have a divine figure in this film, and that Chang is it.

The second reason why I view this movie as a damaged man’s struggle with the divine is the character of Julian. When you watch him, it is clear that he is just a broken shell. His quietness, his violent outbursts, the fact that he can’t actually have sex–yeah, whenever he goes to see Mai, he just sits there and watches her touch herself–all indicate that he’s not completely sane, and that he’s suffering greatly. And yet, there is still some hope fort him. He feels guilt after exploding at Mai. He refuses to kill Chang’s young daughter, and the man who murdered Billly. This all indicates that he does still possess some semblance of a moral compass, and the fact that he keeps following Chang, and has visions about him, suggests that maybe, like the prodigal son, he is looking for some forgiveness, some divine guidance. This, I think, is why the title of the movie is Only God Forgives–because it is about someone looking to be forgiven for his crimes.

“But how,” you might ask, “does Chang forgive Julian? I mean, doesn’t he cut off his hands?” Well, if you really analyze the film, you come to realize that that is actually a form of forgiveness.

See, hands are a recurring motif in the movie. Chang cuts off several people’s hands, Julian has a vision in which he sees himself washing blood off them, he has his hands tied whenever he visits Mai, Crystal says he killed his father with his bare hands, etc. Hands represent people’s guilt in this world. For most characters, having their hands cut off is a form of punishment, but for Julian, it is a kind of relief. See, it is highly implied that he was forced into having an incestuous relationship with his Mother, and that she then used this relationship to gain power over him and get him to do things for her, like kill his own father. This is all suggested by the fact that Crystal talks about the size of his penis, gropes his behind, and says to him, “if you do this for me, we can go back home, and I’ll be a true mother to you.” Julian’s stoicism, impotence, violent temper, and the fact that he keeps hallucinating that there is blood on his hands all indicates that he is traumatized by his past deeds, and that he wants to rid himself of them. So, when Julian lets Chang cut off his hands at the end of the movie, it is an act of catharsis. It is Julian finally being able to rid himself of the past. This is all indicated by the fact that Julian and Chang smile when they meet for the last time, as though this is a good thing, a form of therapy.

So, there you have it. Only God Forgives, a surreal, violent, racist, and utterly nonsensical crime thriller is actually a touching character study about a broken man looking for divine forgiveness. It’s excessive bloodshed and strange dialogue might not appeal to everyone, but the saturated neon color scheme, the gorgeous cinematography, and most of all, the themes, are what make it truly unique, and, in my opinion, worthy of an 8 out of 10. I honestly believe that this will be a picture that, down the line, film students and cinephiles will analyze and talk about. It’s beautiful, brutal, and brimming with life and subtext. And who wouldn’t want to see a film like that?