Blade Runner: 2049 (2017)

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

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.

When I first heard they were making a sequel to Blade Runner, I really didn’t know what to think. Anytime a sequel comes out more than 10 years after the release of a particular film, the chances that it will be terrible increase 20 fold. On top of that, I wasn’t a huge fan of the first Blade Runner. Oh sure, it looks amazing, it’s themes and ideas are intriguing, and the influence that it’s had on the sci-fi genre cannot be overstated. At the same time, though, it’s extremely long, kind of boring, and there’s a scene in it where the protagonist more or less rapes his love interest. Anyone who’s actually seen the first Blade Runner will tell you that it has these flaws. So, going into Blade Runner: 2049, I had mixed feelings. And now, having seen it, I still have mixed feelings.

On the positive side, Blade Runner: 2049 is a superbly crafted audio-visual experience. If you want to see what film, as an art form, is capable of, you have to watch this movie. Everything about it, from the set design, to the cinematography, to the music, to the lighting and the CGI, is euphoric. Very few films can make a fictional world feel lived-in and real, and this one does that in spades. So, for that reason–for creating a world, and showing off the full potential of cinema–I say go out and see this movie. It is the kind of film that demands to be watched on a huge screen, with loud speakers.

On the other hand, Blade Runner: 2049 suffers from many of the same problems that plagued its predecessor, particularly with regards to pacing. There are an absurd number of long, silent sequences in this movie, where characters are just walking down hallways, staring at things, and reaching out and touching stuff. It really gets quite dull after a while. I’m not joking when I say that this movie could have been about 20 minutes shorter, and the story wouldn’t be effected in any way. On top of this, there are quite a few scenes that serve no purpose to the story other than as callbacks to the original film; like when Ryan Gosling talks to Edward James Olmos, or when Harrison Ford meets a clone of Sarah Young. Nothing important, plot-wise, happens in these scenes, and they are quickly forgotten, so they all come off as needless padding. Something else that kind of bugged me with this movie was something that also kind of bugged me with the original film. And that is the female characters. They all seem to exist for the pleasure of men. They’re either sex slaves, like the replicant prostitutes who seem to be on every corner, or scantily-clad enforcers, like Love, the main villain’s henchwoman. There are a ton of scenes where we see replicants–who, of course, are all beautiful young women–being born, or where the camera pans over to holographic billboards of naked ladies. Even Gosling’s boss, Robin Wright, who, for the most part, is a gruff, non-stereotypical figure, is put in a scene where the camera pans up her legs, and where she asks him if he’d like to sleep with her. It’s kind of disappointing, that, both in the future, and in 2017, we haven’t been able to get rid of the male gaze. For my part, I intend to go against this in my work. But I’m getting side-tracked.

Concerning Blade Runner: 2049, it is a superbly crafted audio-visual experience. If you want to see the best that film can offer in terms of sight and sound, go see this movie. It will not disappoint. But if you want a compelling story that moves quickly, and that doesn’t have stereotypical female characters, this might not be for you. Make of this what you will.

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They Live (1988)

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

When the cops destroy his shantytown, drifter John Nada decides to get out of LA. So he packs up his bindle, dons a pair of sunglasses he found, and sets off. As he walks, however, he starts to realize that something is wrong. Whenever he has the glasses on, he is able to see the world differently. Billboard advertisements become blank slates with simple commands like “obey” and “consume” written on them. And more disturbing than that, some people no longer look like people. They look like hideous alien monsters. Realizing that the Earth has been infiltrated, and that no one will believe him, Nada does what any sane, rational person would do; steal a shot gun and go on a killing spree. This, of course, doesn’t sit well with his alien overlords, who send hordes of minions after him. Can Nada evade them? Can he help others see the truth? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

They Live is a goofy, didactic mess, with huge plot holes, and some questionable acting. And I kind of love it. Not in a “so bad it’s good” sort of way. In a, “this is original, stylish and funny” sort of way. When I first watched it, I really didn’t know what to think. I certainly appreciated its creativity, and anti-consumerist message. But I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. The acting is subdued, the pace is slow, and the world the movie creates feels grounded and believable. And yet, there are tons of moments where characters will say ridiculous, campy lines, and the violence will get so over the top that you can’t help but laugh. But, after a while, even that odd dichotomy develops a certain charm, and it gets to a point where you just start thinking, “wow! This is nothing like I’ve ever seen before.” The movie is also really exciting. It’s got some great shootouts in it, like the final one in a TV studio, where Nada and Keith David are trying to disrupt the alien’s signal. This scene actually reminded me of another film; John Woo’s Hard Boiled. In that flick, Tony Leung and Chow Yun-Fat are trapped in a hospital, and they have to fight their way out. And so they just forge ahead, mowing down wave after wave of bad guys. They Live’s climax is almost identical in terms of its staging and cinematography, and the fact that it involves two guys moving between levels of a building. I wonder if Hard-Boiled, which was made four years after They Live came out, was in any way influenced by the latter. Either way, both films are awesome, and definitely worth watching.

That said, I whole-heartedly acknowledge that They Live has flaws. Some of the acting, particularly of the female lead, is wooden, and there are quite a few plot holes, also with regards to her character. She undergoes several, unexplained changes in-between scenes, and the movie never tries to justify how or why she shows up at convenient times. If you’re an aspiring screenwriter, looking to learn how to write good dialogue, and create stories that make sense, maybe go watch something else. But if you want to watch something campy, creative and politically subversive, give this flick a look. I guarantee you’ll have a good time.

A Cure For Wellness (2017)

Greetings Loved ones! Liu is The Name, And Views Are My game.

When his superiors catch him stealing, ambitious banker William Lockhart is blackmailed into retrieving a colleague from a wellness center in Switzerland. The big shots explain that if the colleague in question, Mr. Pembroek, fails to take responsibility for the irregularities in their books, then not only will they be unable to perform a major merger, but they’ll all be up for criminal charges. So with no other options, Lockhart sets off for the Alps, eager to get back as soon as possible. But when he arrives at the wellness center, and begins interacting with the patients, he realizes that there’s something sinister going on, and that he might not be able to leave.

A Cure For Wellness is one of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen. I can’t say that I love it, or even that I like it. But I do think that this movie is well-made, and that there is something very special about it. See, there are some films out there that, even if they aren’t critically or commercially successful, have unique qualities that make them ideal for cult status. These are movies like Demolition Man, Idiocracy, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Heathers. Maybe its their visual style, or unconventional narratives. Maybe its just how strange they are. Whatever the case, they stay in people’s minds, and are given life, long after they’ve left theaters. I truly believe that A Cure For Wellness is destined to be a cult film. Because even though its very long, even though it gets very surreal and disturbing towards the end, there is something hypnotic about it. This movie is 2 and a half hours long, and yet, for the entire runtime, I was never bored once. Something about it, and I couldn’t tell you what that thing was, kept me engaged. Maybe it was the gorgeous shots and camera movement. Maybe it was the exquisite costume and set design. Maybe it was the damn near perfect sound mixing, and eerie musical score. Whatever the case, that thing kept me hooked, and kind of makes me want to recommend this movie to you all. Kind of.

See, as fascinating as I think A Cure For Wellness is, there’s also a lot of things working against it. It’s very long, the main character is kind of a jerk, and there are several scenes in it that are extremely gross. At no less than three points in this movie, Lockhart is strapped down and tortured, and I honestly had to look away during those scenes. In addition to this, some of the film’s subject matter is highly disturbing. If you read my review for Mother, you know that I liked the movie, but was put off by its implications of incest and pedophilia. Well, in Mother they were just implications. In A Cure For Wellness, they are openly discussed facts,and they are two of the flick’s major themes. If that sort of thing bothers you, avoid this film like the plague.

And yet, in spite of all that, A Cure For Wellness’s exquisite production design, and odd-ball charm make it stand out. So, in a way, I would recommend it. If you want to watch something original, and off-kilter, give this flick a look. But go in knowing that what you’re watching is weird and messed up.

Chronicle (2012)

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

When an accident grants them telekinetic powers, three Seattle teens–bullied Andrew, slacker Matt, and popular Steve–find themselves drawn together. Initially, they use their abilities for harmless pranks, like moving people’s cars without them realizing, or levitating teddy bears to frighten little girls. But when Andrew, whose abusive home life has left him mentally scarred, begins exhibiting increasingly aggressive behavior, Matt and Steve realize that they might have to take him down.

Chronicle is well-written, well-acted, and visually-stunning. It’s got to be one of the best superhero films I’ve ever seen, and having grown up with franchises like The Dark Knight Trilogy and the MCU, that’s really saying something. Part of this is due to the fact that Chronicle does a superb job of creating that sense of awe that you should feel when you see characters doing incredible things. We’ve seen a man fly. But filmmakers have stopped showing us how cool–how utterly liberating and joyful–that is for him. Chronicle reminds us of how truly awesome it’d be to have superpowers; of all the incredible, and fun, things you could do with them. By far the best scenes in this movie are the ones where Steve, Matt and Andrew are just hanging out, and fooling around with their powers. Not only do these moments show off creative ways to use telekinesis, but they also give us a real sense for who these characters are, and make us like them as people. Andrew does some truly heinous things in this film, and yet, because the screenwriter tok the time to develop him, I never once lost faith. That, right there, is a sign of good writing.

Something else Chronicle does a really good job of is overcoming its genre and budget limitations. Shot in the “found footage” style on roughly $12 million, Chronicle offers up as many, if not more, thrills as big budget blockbusters. They’re able to do this by coming up with some really creative ways to get in complex, moving shots, like having the characters use their telekinesis to fly the camera around. Yes, there are moments where you notice some of the cheap-looking effects, but they are usually drowned out by how awesome what you’re seeing is. The “found footage” gimmick also works to the film’s advantage because, since this is ostensibly being shot by one person on a cheap camera, you feel like you’re actually witnessing a real thing that a real person is experiencing. And that makes all the incredible superhero stuff more plausible.

Guys, I really don’t have anything bad to say about this movie. It’s a low budget, “found-footage” film, which occasionally suffers from that genre’s limitations. But the strong performances, smart script, and excellent direction more than make up for those flaws, and deliver an original, visually-stunning, highly innovative superhero film. Give it a look as soon as you can.

Okja (2017)

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

To end world hunger, the Mirando corporation creates a new breed of genetically-enhanced super pigs. These animals, which look like a combination between hippos, dogs and elephants, eat less, have more meat, and produce fewer excretions. In short, they’re the ideal food source. As part of a PR campaign, Mirando sends several super pigs to farms across the globe, ostensibly to find out which is the best environment to raise them in. One of the super pigs, Okja, is sent to a farm in Korea, where she and her owner, 14-year-old Mija, become inseparable. So much so that, when Mirando tries to collect their property, and bring her back to a slaughterhouse, Mija follows them, and even busts Okja out in one of the most chaotic, destructive, and oddly funny sequences in film history. Throw in some eco terrorists, and an insane Steve Irwin rip off, and you’ve got yourself a movie.

Okja is funny, original, thought-provoking and entertaining. I’m not lying when I say that there was never a point in this movie where I felt bored, or that the pace was lagging. And unlike other summer blockbusters, it really tugs on your heart strings. There was a point about halfway through that I was crying over how Okja was being treated, and any time a movie can get you to care about a made-up, CGI animal, you know its done something right. For these reasons, and the fact that it isn’t a sequel, remake, spin-off or adaptation, I would urge you all to watch it. You won’t regret it if you do.

That being said, the movie does have problems. The biggest, by far, is Jake Gyllenhal. He plays one of the two main villains, and his performance is painfully over-the-top. His voice is distractingly high-pitched. And there’s hardly a moment where he’s not screaming at the top of his lungs. It got to the point that I was dreading whenever he’d reappear. I understand that this was deliberate–that the director, Bong Joon-ho, wanted to contrast the evil, over-the-top villains with the good, more down to earth Mija. But it’s still annoying, and it pulls you out of the movie. The second problem I have is the fact that you have to suspend a whole lot of disbelief to buy this premise. The character Mija does so many insanely dangerous, improbable things–like jumping through a wall of glass, landing on a moving truck, and holding on while it speeds through traffic–that you can’t help but shake your head and say, “that’s bullshit. There’s no way she wouldn’t die.” And finally, the film has a hard time balancing its tone. If you know Bong Joon-ho, you know that sudden shifts in tone are a trademark of his style. But here, the transitions between tones felt a bit less controlled, and a bit more jarring. Even though I liked Baby Driver less than this movie, it, at least, was more consistent with its tone. Here, you’ll go from sweet and innocent to horrifically violent in less than a minute. And I know that that will be off-putting to some people.

Nevertheless, Okja’s originality, quick-pacing, social commentary and emotional depth more than make up for whatever flaws it might have. I love it, and want to see it again. And I’m sure you’d all feel the same way if you saw it too.

Black Mirror (Seasons 1-3)

Greetings loved ones. Liu is the name, and views are my game.

What if you could build a man, based on his social media posts? What if you could watch memories, like movies, on a screen? What if a signal was sent out that turned half the world into passive spectators, and the other half into murderous hunters ? These questions, and more, are what get asked and explored in Black Mirror, a British anthology series that’s streaming on Netflix. Each episode features a different cast, a different story, and a different reality. But all feature the recurrent motif of technology, and a dry, nihilistic sense of humor. The series might best be described as half science fiction, half satire.

In many respects, Black Mirror is the spiritual successor to The Twilight Zone, the classic sci-fi anthology series that ran for five seasons back in the 50s. Both feature episodes with different casts and story-lines. Both ask moral and philosophical questions, usually through a scientific or magical plot device. Both feature macabre twist endings, and both gave actors who would eventually become super famous their first big break. Seriously. Black Mirror has got way more famous British actors in it than I would have thought. You’ve got Domhnall Gleason, from The Force Awakens, The Revenant and Ex Machina. You’ve got Hayley Atwell, or as you may know her, agent Peggy carter from the MCU. You’ve got Tuppence Middleton from Sense8. You’ve got Daniel Kaluuya from Get Out. You’ve got Toby Kebbell, who’s starred in every major big budget flop that’s come out in the last four years. You’ve got Gugu Mbatha-Raw, from Belle, Beauty and the Beast, and Beyond the Lights. And, of course, you’ve got Benedict Wong, from Marco Polo, Doctor Strange, and The Martian. So much talent. And it was all before they were famous. But I’m getting sidetracked.

Black Mirror is a very smart, very well-written series. Even in its weaker episodes, the show is consistently entertaining. The acting is always top notch, as is the production design. And I really want to emphasize this, its original. Every single episode features a unique; thought provoking concept. And none of them are remakes of older stories, adaptations of preexisting material, or spin offs of other stuff. Do you realize how rare that is? Do you realize how virtually nothing that gets made these days is not a sequel, remake, adaptation or spin off? For that reason, I have to recommend you all watch this. Even if you don’t like sci-fi, you’ll appreciate the show for it’s emotional depth and it’s originality. Especially the latter.

But before you get the wrong idea, the series isn’t perfect. Where the show falters the most is its cynicism. Virtually all the episodes end in an extremely bleak manner, and, very often, those endings fly in the face of the world and the characters that have been established. I understand tragedy is seen as the highest, most respectable form of dramatic art, but forced tragedy is awkward and unrealistic. And it doesn’t hit you as hard when you know that the story shouldn’t have ended that way, not because you didn’t want it to, but because the ending was easily avoidable. And example of this “false tragedy” I’m talking about is the episode “Fifteen Million Merits.” In it, we see Daniel Kaluuya raging against the numb, media obsessed dystopia that he’s living in. He spends the entire episode telling us how much he hates it and how much he hates the people who have turned the world into thoughtless zombies. And yet, by the end of the episode, he joins the big media company and becomes part of the system he despises. And it comes out of nowhere. It’s not like the show builds up to this by throwing us little hints that maybe he actually likes the system. He hates it, and then, out of nowhere, when he’s given the chance to join it, he does. Why? It doesn’t make sense. And because of that, I don’t feel devastated. I just feel confused. And even in episodes that don’t include sci-fi elements, like the first episode of the series, “the national anthem,” the show’s harsh, mean-spirited tone is off-putting. In that episode, a royal princess gets kidnapped, and the only way to save her is if the prime minister fucks a pig. And we have to watch him do it. Why? What possible good can come from forcing us to watch an old man get pressured into committing bestiality. What does that say, other than that you hate politicians? I hate Donald trump, but I would never want to have to watch him fuck a gorilla. That’s just cruel and mean. And it doesn’t teach us anything. The only episode that has a happy ending is San Junipero, a sweet little love story about two women finally being able to be with each other in an artificial construct. And there, it comes as an all too welcome relief.

All I can say is that Black Mirror is a brilliantly-written, highly original, but deeply mean spirited and nihilistic show. I want to recommend it, but I feel I can’t do so without warning you of its content. Make of this what you will.

Snowpiercer (2013)

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

The world is a frozen wasteland. The last remnants of humanity are confined to a giant train, and forced into castes based on what car they live in. Those in the front lie in the lap of luxury, whilst those in the tail dwell in total squalor. Twice before, the inhabitants of the tail staged uprisings, only to be beaten back into submission. Now, though, the tail Enders are smarter. They’re better organized. They’ve got a charismatic leader in the form of Curtis Everett, and, this time, they’re going all the way to the front. They’re going to take control of the engine, and, by extension, the world. Will they succeed? Watch it, and find out.

Snowpiercer is a special film, for multiple reasons. Not only was it the most expensive Korean movie ever made, with a budget of about $40 million, it was also director Bong Joon-Ho’s English language debut, and cemented his status as a cinematic superstar. Because even though films like Memories of Murder earned him critical praise, and The Host, which I reviewed here recently, put him on Hollywood’s radar, Snowpiercer’s massive critical and commercial success guaranteed he would continue to be given high profile projects.

But why was the movie such a huge hit? Well, like The Host, it all comes down to superior craftsmanship. And I don’t just mean the acting or the script, both of which are excellent. I mean the way the movie looks, how its edited, the sound design. It’s all top notch. This really feels like a fully-fleshed out world, with each of the train’s cars having a distinct look and design. My favorite one, easily, is the sea food and aquatic life car. It is, to put it simply, gorgeous! The movie is also extremely exciting. There are two really great action scenes; one in the dark where the tail Enders are being attacked by guys with night vision goggles, and one involving a sniper, who’s trying to shoot the heroes from across the cars. If nothing else, you never feel bored while watching this movie. And that alone is enough to warrant a recommendation.

That being said, Snowpiercer does have flaws. The biggest, by far, is the fact that it doesn’t have much replay value. See, a lot of the movie rests on certain twists that get revealed towards the end, and when you uncover them, you can’t really look at the movie in the same way anymore. And unlike other films with twist endings, like The Sixth Sense or Fight Club, which demand that you watch them again, so you can see the clues, there really isn’t any such demand with Snowpiercer. Those earlier films are puzzles. You need to watch them multiple times to solve them. You really don’t have to with Snowpiercer. I watched it once, I got everything I needed to know, and have never seen it again. Even so, the film’s strong performances, unique premise, tight plot and impressive effects do make it worth watching. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.