Set It Up (2018)

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

Charlie and Harper are too over-worked assistants. Harper works for a former Sports Reporter named Kirsten, and Charlie works for a guy named Rick, who does… something. Whatever the case, they meet one night while desperately trying to procure food for their bosses, and commiserate over the fact that neither of them has time for a social life. Deciding that the only way to improve their existences is to get their superiors laid, and, in so doing, off their backs, Charlie and Harper devise a scheme wherein they’ll manipulate Rick and Kirsten into falling for each other. Things don’t go  quite according to plan, however, as  the two realize that it takes more then serendipity to keep a couple together.

I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that the Western has become something of a lost genre. With hindsight, I’d say the romantic-comedy has as well. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, rom-coms were everywhere, with films like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle and Pretty Woman absolutely killing it at the box office. Directors like Richard Curtis, and actors like Hugh Grant, were able to build tremendous careers off the strength of this one genre alone. And rom-coms didn’t just make money. They were critically respected as well. In 1977, Annie Hall, a film that has since become a quintessential rom-com, won Best Picture at the Oscars. So it’s not an exaggeration to say that rom-coms were a big deal. But as time wore on, they started to lose their charm. People became acutely aware of the tropes, and more and more feminist critics started to question the genre’s portrayal, and treatment, of women. As such, rom-coms stopped becoming a reliable box-office draw. Oh, studios never stopped making them. There were plenty of rom-coms made in the new millennium, The Notebook, 500 Days Of Summer, that did well financially, but they were either critically-derided, as with the former, or were intended to be deconstructions of the genre, as with the latter. My point is, it’s been a while since we’ve seen a traditional, true-blue rom-com do well on the big screen. Perhaps that’s why Set It Up, which absolutely falls into that category, was released straight to Netflix, a place now regarded as a dumping ground for films no one wants. And that’s a damn shame, because this movie is really, really charming.

I watched Set It Up on a whim. I saw that Lucy Liu was in it, and I always want to support Asian-American actors, so I decided to give it a chance. And when I finished watching this movie, I had a huge smile on my face. This is a movie that doesn’t just work as a rom-com, it works as a genuinely-entertaining film. It’s well-acted, well-paced, well-shot, and, above all, funny. Really, really funny. There’s so many great moments of awkward humor in here, like when Harper hears that Rick only dates women who get waxed, and she awkwardly tries to convince Kirsten to “lose the bush,” that had me in stitches. The actors who play Charlie and Harper, Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch, are so likable, and have absolutely amazing chemistry. And the film is actually a lot better written than I expected. One of my favorite films of last year was Their Finest, a period romance that acted as a meta-commentary on rom-coms. Now, as much as I enjoyed the flick, I was annoyed by how closely it adhered to certain romantic comedy tropes, such as the lead starting out in a relationship, meeting someone new, and then their initial love-interest cheating on them so its okay for them to be with the new person. Set It Up starts out in a similar manner, with the character of Charlie being in a relationship before he meets Harper, but the film isn’t so lazy as to have his first girlfriend cheat on him, or have Charlie sleep with Harper behind her back. He just realizes that him and the girl don’t have anything in common, and they split up, like actual people do. There’s also a minor character, Becca, who you think is going to be a bitchy best friend that Harper can feel envious of because she’s getting married, but the film doesn’t go that route. Becca actually winds up being super awesome and supportive, like real friends are. But by far my favorite thing about this movie is the scene where Charlie, in true rom-com fashion, rushes to the airport. Except a few things are different here. One, he’s not rushing to talk to his love interest, Harper. He’s there to see her boss, Kirsten. And two, the filmmakers manage to poke fun at the cliche by having him get there four hours before the plane is supposed to take off, and be really bored by all the waiting. My point is, Set It Up is an utterly charming film that I’m kind of sad didn’t get a wide release. Critics really like this movie, it currently has a 90% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and I genuinely think it could’ve done well, had the studio given it a chance. As things are, though, all I can say is that, if you have Netflix, and are in the mood for something sweet and charming, give this a look. It’s definitely worth your time.

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Love, Simon (2018)

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

Simon is an average, upper-middle-class White High School kid. He’s got friends, a family who loves him, and, you know, a nice house, good clothing, his own car, and all the other things that come with being an upper-middle-class White kid. Anyway, his life seems perfect, except for one thing. Simon’s actually gay, and he doesn’t know how to tell anybody. One night, he learns from an anonymous social media post that there’s another closeted kid at his school, “Blue,” and he decides to reach out to him using the alias “Jacques.” The two exchange messages, with Simon doing his best to find out Blue’s true identity, but things get complicated when Martin, an annoying classmate who likes one of Simon’s friends, discovers their communications, and blackmails Simon into getting him into his friend’s good graces.

Love, SImon is a movie I was really looking forward to seeing. It’s the directorial debut of Greg Berlanti, the creator of such shows as Arrow and The Flash, both of which I’m a fan of, and it’s really cool to see a big budget studio comedy be about a gay teen. It really shows how far we’ve come as a society that films like this not only get made, but are widely distributed, and even critically-acclaimed. And, having seen the movie, I can tell you, it’s pretty darn good. This is a sweet, well-written, well-acted coming-of-age story with some good dialogue, and a good message. If you’re a fan of Berlanti, or mysteries, or teen films, or, really, just sweet stories in general, you should like this movie. It may be about one person’s very specific struggle, but it’s actually very universal in terms of its themes of not feeling comfortable with who you are, or not being able to get what you want. And in a time where whole sub-sections of the American population are being told, “you’re not welcome in our country, or in certain bathrooms, or in certain businesses because of who you are,” to have a film like this, which ends happily, and features a gay teen whose parents are actually supportive, is pretty refreshing. So, for that reason, I say, go give it a look.

That said, this flick isn’t perfect. As you could probably tell from my first paragraph, Simon’s constant claim throughout the film that he’s just like everyone else is somewhat undercut by the fact that he comes from a place of extreme privilege. That’s not a problem, per se, I grew up in a privileged household, but if the whole point of this movie is to make a gay teen’s struggle more universal, maybe don’t constantly remind us that you don’t speak for everyone. But that’s just personal preference. It doesn’t have anything to do with the actual filmmaking, which does actually have flaws in it. One of the biggest being two, surprisingly annoying side characters, a vice principal, and Martin, the guy who blackmails SImon. The Vice Principal is one of those middle-aged men who tries to act cool by using modern slang and acting like he’s friends with the students, and there were points where I was dreading seeing him again. And martin is just obnoxious. I understand that he’s supposed to be, since he’s the film’s primary antagonist, but it does get to a point where he goes from being just annoying to downright cruel. Seriously, he does something towards the end that goes beyond just bothering Simon, and enters the territory of “you could ruin someone’s life if you did that in reality.” But, in the end, neither of those things is enough to detract from my overall enjoyment of the picture. Yes, there are some annoying characters, but they don’t take away this film’s funny dialogue, good performances, and sweet tone. So, keeping that n mind, I still recommend you go see 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.

Their Finest (2017)

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

It’s 1940, and Britain is in serious need of a morale boost. Food is scarce, cities are being blitzed, and the British Army has just been driven off the continent at Dunkirk. Life, to put it bluntly, is shit. So, to give their country the shot in the arm it so desperately needs, the government begins churning out propaganda films, and because all the young men are off fighting, they hire women to write the scripts. Enter Catrin Cole, a novice screenwriter whose been given the task of adapting a “true” story to the big screen. She’s new to the business, and as she goes about bringing this story to life, she encounters all the typical roadblocks a screenwriter does; truth not lending itself to a traditional dramatic structure; producers demanding last minute changes to the script; cast members being difficult on set, etc. And yet, as hard as her job is, as difficult as her colleagues can be, Catrin finds herself falling in love with the business, and discovers a freedom in her work that she never experienced beforehand. Will it last? Well, you’ll just have to watch the film to find out.

Their Finest is a sweet, utterly charming movie. It’s funny, moving, beautifully-shot, and exceptionally well-acted. It is the total inverse of Dunkirk in every way. Dunkirk is a spectacle. Their Finest is a story. Dunkirk is about the war. Their Finest is about the home front. Dunkirk has no characters. Their Finest has several, very well-realized ones. But beyond simply providing a pleasant, alternate perspective on this period in British history, Their Finest is also just an all-around engaging film. You like these characters. You enjoy watching this picture get made. And because this is a movie about movie-making, the screenwriters are able to throw in some clever commentary on the tropes of the romance genre. Also, unlike many other films set during this era, Their Finest holds nothing back when it comes to portraying the devastating sexism that these women faced everyday. Yes, It’s difficult to watch, but it also makes you appreciate these ladies’ strength even more. And that’s always a good thing in my book.

That said, as charming as Their Finest is, it is still, ultimately, a romantic comedy, and comes with all the tropes and baggage that that entails. True, most of the cliches are addressed in the film within a film, and the screenwriters do come up with a clever way of not giving you the ending you expect. Still, there are several plot points in this movie that feel very familiar, like the main character starting off in an unhappy relationship, her meeting a new man, her significant other cheating on her, which makes it okay for her to be with the new guy, etc. But, like I said before, the film is well-written enough to recognize those cliches as cliches, and it does come up with interesting ways of subverting them. So it doesn’t bother me too much.

Guys, all I can say is this; Their Finest is a charming, well-written, well-acted little romance film, which does feature some cliches, but is also entertaining, and clever enough, to overcome them. I love it, and I think you’d love it too if you watched it. Please give it a look.

The Mermaid (2016)

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

When playboy businessman Liu Xuan purchases the Green Gulf Wildlife Reserve, he uses a sonar device to clear the area of fish. Unbeknownst to him, the Gulf is actually home to a small community of mer people, many of whom have been made sick by his company’s activities. To save themselves, the mer people send one of their own, Shan, a mermaid who can walk on her fins, to assassinate him. But, as is always the case with such stories, Shan ends up falling in love with Liu, and things get complicated from there.

The Mermaid is a very weird film, with very many aspects to it. It’s got romance. It’s got fantasy. It’s got cartoonish, slapstick comedy. It’s got very blatant environmental messages, and its got surprisingly horrific violence. When I first saw it back in 2016, I really didn’t know what to think. On the one hand, I appreciated what the filmmakers were going for, as far as messages were concerned, and I liked the fact that a Chinese picture had become a global hit, with it actually out-grossing Hollywood blockbusters like X-Men: Apocalypse and Batman V Superman. On the other hand, I wasn’t a fan of the over-the-top acting, cartoonish slapstick comedy, and surprisingly gory climax. When I expressed my confusion to Chinese friends, they told me that all these things–the clashing tones, big acting, broad comedy–were just part of the director, Stephen Chow’s, style. Maybe so, but that didn’t help me make up my mind.

Well, having thought about it for a few months now, I think I can safely say that I didn’t enjoy The Mermaid. I didn’t like how silly and unrealistic the comedy got, with one character literally spending an entire scene whizzing around a room on a jet pack, and I was really turned off by the climax, which involves the gruesome murder of an entire family. And as broad as the humor might be, there are some jokes in it that really only make sense if you speak Chinese, or are well-versed in Chinese pop culture. Some movies, like In Bruges and Trainspotting, can deftly ride the line between humorous and horrifying, and even hit you with pathos when they’re done. The Mermaid is not one of those movies. It’s heavy-handed when it comes to conveying messages, and it never manages to make the transition between silly and sorrowful seem natural.

And yet, with all that said, I would, in a weird way, recommend this movie to you all. As I mentioned earlier, it was one of the highest grossing films of 2016, so, clearly, there’s enjoyment to be had in it. And I know for a fact that there are many people, like the fans of Baz Luhrman and the Tom & Jerry shorts, who like extremely cartoonish acting and humor. So, if you’re one of those people, or are a fan of Stephen Chow’s other works, give this film a look. You’ll probably have fun.

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.

Why Woody Allen’s Moonlight Is Anything But Magical

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After sitting through writer-director Woody Allen’s latest romantic comedy, Magic in the Moonlight, all I could ask myself was, “how in the hell has this man managed to stay in the good graces of audiences for nearly fifty years?” I mean, forget about hating him for marrying his own daughter, this film by itself should give you reason to dislike him. It’s junk; plain and simple. Worse still, its recycled junk. Unoriginal junk. Now you might make the argument that no movie ever made is original, that elements of preexisting works can be found in every new picture, but you see, Magic in the Moonlight is not simply unoriginal as a film. It is unoriginal as a Woody Allen film. The movie, which tells the story of one magician’s attempts to expose a self-declared psychic as a fraud, has so many characteristics of his earlier work–its set in France, the main character is an annoyingly nihilistic nebbish, there’s a romance involving magic, metaphysics and moral outlooks on life–that its not even funny. Look at almost any other movie made by him–Annie Hall, Whatever Works, Midnight in Paris–and you’ll find these exact same features. As one critic writing in the Washington Post so eloquently put it, “Allen shows us here that he’s as good at recycling plots as he is bottles and cans.”

But of course, on its own, banality is not a good enough reason to hate a picture. Forced dialogue and gaping plot holes, on the other hand, are. Good writers will tell you, “show, don’t tell,” and almost every single sentence that a character utters in this movie is telling us something. For instance, in one scene, a man is talking to his wife and he TELLS her the exact character of Stanley, the magician whose been sent to debunk the supposed psychic. Why not simply have Stanley’s actions SHOW us who he is as opposed to having someone TELL us? BUt what bothered me about the movie even more than the dialogue was the romance between Stanley, the magician, and Sophie, the girl he’s trying to prove a fraud. It just didn’t make any sense. Its made painfully clear why Stanley is attracted to her–he’s a rational man whose bleak, unexciting outlook on life is shaken up and made more interesting by her mercurial and mystical lifestyle–but you never understand why she is attracted to him. He’s older, overweight, not that attractive, and harangues her , and what she does, at every opportunity. I don’t know about you, but he doesn’t seem like that good a catch to me. But, for all its flaws, I will give the film credit for a few things. It’s costumes, sets and soundtrack are both beautiful and appropriate to the 1920s, the era in which the film takes place. It certainly does a much better job of representing that period than Buzz Luhrman’s Great Gatsby. (shutter) Good god that was bad!

But, anyway, I wouldn’t recommend this film to anybody, whether their a fan of Mr Allen or not. It’s clunky, cliche, and just not that enjoyable to watch. 6 out of 10, if you ask me. Don’t waste your time on it.