First Man (2018)

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Most of the time when I write a review, I start off with a synopsis of the work I’m discussing. But since the film I’m critiquing, First Man is about the Apollo 11 Moon landing, an event that literally everyone on Earth knows about, I figured it’d be better to just save myself some time and launch into my thoughts on the filmmaking. Because, trust me, I have quite a few. Continue reading

Blade Runner: 2049 (2017)

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30 years after the events of the first Blade Runner, replicants have been successfully integrated into society. Or, at least, the newest breed has. Older models–those seen in the first Blade Runner–are regarded as obsolete, and therefore still subject to “retirement.” And now, the government deploys other replicants to hunt their kin down. K (Ryan Gosling) is one such synthetic Blade Runner. One day, while out performing a “retirement,” he discovers the body of Rachel, Harrison Ford’s love interest from the first movie. At first glance, it seems that this is nothing more than a call-back to the original film. But, as is always the way with such things, it’s not that simple. Her remains reveal that she was pregnant at the time of her death, and that the child may have even survived. Which is a big deal, seeing as Rachel was a replicant, and replicants aren’t supposed to be able to have children. K’s superiors are horrified to hear this, and instantly order him to find the replicant baby and kill it. K agrees, but, as he goes about his investigation, he uncovers some details that lead him to question his purpose, as well as his own identity. No surprises there. Continue reading

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

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A stuntman, struggling to provide for his family. A cop, grappling with corruption in his unit. A teenager, haunted by the death of his father. These men are flawed, but they all want to do the right thing. And each, in his own way, is trapped in the town of Schenectady, or The Place Beyond The Pines. Continue reading

La La Land (2016)

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La La Land tells the story of two struggling artists, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who meet and fall in love in LA. And that’s really it. It’s just a movie about two people trying to get by, and their relationship. Theres no big super villain plot. The world is not at stake. There’s not even a real sense that if they were to break up, they’d be all that unhappy. And, spoilers, they do break up by the end, and are just fine. Continue reading

The Nice Guys (2016)

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It’s the 1970s, and Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are two, down on their luck Private investigators, who come together on a case involving the death of a porn star, a big auto manufacturer, and a government official’s radical activist daughter. (Well, actually, Ryan Gosling is a private investigator. Russell Crowe is just a thug people hire to beat up guys who are bothering them). But that’s not important. What is important is the fact that they join forces, and embark on a funny, memorable adventure, with some great acting and good dialogue. Continue reading

The Big Short

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

And why is anyone going to see this movie? Seriously. Why is any person in their right mind forking over their hard-earned cash to pay to see a movie about racist, sexist, foul-mouthed rich guys who got even richer when the economy collapsed and millions of people lost their homes and jobs? Yeah, in case you were wondering, that’s what this film is about. It’s the true story of a group of Wall Street brokers and hedge fund managers who predicted that the economy was going to collapse back in 2008, and, rather than try to warn the government, or the thousands of people who stood to lose the most, just did some tricky buying and selling, and got super rich when everything went down the tubes. I HATE this movie. For several reasons!

For starters, the characters are all assholes. To give you an idea of how disgusting these people–the “good guys” of this movie–are, in one scene, Ryan Gosling is trying to convince Steve Carrell that the Housing Market is going to crash. When Steve Carrell asks how he can be sure, if his math is accurate, Ryan Gosling points to his numbers guy, an Asian-American man named Zhang, and says, “look at my numbers guy! Look at his face; his eyes! He doesn’t speak fucking English! He came in first place in a national Math competition in China! Yeah, I’m fucking sure my fucking math is right!” And as if their racial stereotyping isn’t bad enough, there’s a scene later on in the movie where two hedge fund managers, Charlie and Danny, realize that, by betting against the Housing Market, they’ve become super rich, and begin to celebrate. They’re so selfish and self-absorbed that they have to be reminded that, in order for them to get rich, millions of people have to lose their jobs, and their homes, and possibly even their lives. But do Charlie and Danny give a shit? Nope!

The second thing that bothers me about this movie is the cinematography. My god is it ugly! Virtually every shot in this film is taken from a hand-held camera, so all the images are shaky. And as if that’s not annoying enough, there’s also hardly any moments where the camera itself isn’t panning, zooming, tilting, or just making your eyes bleed with its sickening motion. Why don’t directors use steadicams, tripods, or wide shots anymore? Those things are all great! Filmmakers, you don’t need to set yourselves apart from other people by shoving cameras up your actors noses and jiggling them at every conceivable second.

The third thing I hated about this movie is the fact that it’s BORING, and unbelievably CONFUSING! It’s boring because there’s no rising action, and no climax. The economy is shown collapsing at about the halfway point, so it’s not like you can say that’s the climax. And the whole movie is just rich white guys in suits talking to each other. How riveting! Except no, no that isn’t riveting! Stuff needs to happen in a movie for audiences to be invested. Even The Wolf Of Wall Street, a movie about brokers that I really didn’t like, understood that. There, at least, the filmmakers showed the characters doing drugs, riding boats through storms, and lots of other crazy stuff that can be described as interesting. The Big Short doesn’t have any of those things. It’s just rich, racist, sexist assholes spewing financial jargon at each other. And though the filmmakers do try to make this all a little less confusing by having cut-aways to people like Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, and Selena Gomez, where they try to explain the terms, these cut-aways ultimately prove to be distracting, and just make things even more confusing.

The only things I can honestly say I like about this movie are Steve Carrell, and the soundtrack. Steve Carrell’s character is one of the few nice, likable people in the whole movie, though he does get a little annoying at points. And the soundtrack features lots of songs from the early 2000s that I really love, like Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” and Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.” But, beyond these two things, there’s nothing in this film that I like. This is a 5 out of 10. I’m honestly quite shocked that this movie about selfish, racist assholes has an 88% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and The Flowers Of War, a heartbreaking movie about sacrifice and redemption in The Rape Of Nanking, has a mere 42% approval rating. Guys, if you want to see a well-made, underrated picture with beautiful visuals, great performances, and well-rounded, likable characters who grow and mature as the story progresses, watch The Flowers Of War. As for this garbage, don’t give it a second thought.

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?