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.

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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.

Sense8 (Season 2, 2017)

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

Will and Riley are on the run. So is Nomi and her girlfriend, Neets. Lito has been publicly outed after confronting a friend’s abusive ex. Kala has gone ahead and married her fiancĂ©, Rajan. Capheus, having done the unthinkable by standing up to a local warlord, is now hailed as a hero. Wolfgang is reunited with his best friend, Felix. And Sun, poor Sun, is still trapped in solitary confinement. But not for long. Because things are moving, and faster than you might think.

Sense8 is a show I really enjoyed when it first came out. I liked the concept of people becoming psychically linked. I liked the international cast and setting. I liked the fact that it touched upon relevant social issues, such as gender, sexuality, and identity. But, as much as I liked it, I was more than willing to admit it had problems. Hokey dialogue, underdeveloped plot threads, illogical character choices; these were just a few of the bigger flaws I noticed. And yet, I still recommended the first season to everyone, and was excited to see what the creators, Lily and Lana Wachowski, would do with the second. Well, season 2 is finally here, and this is what I have to say about it.

A lot of the problems from season 1, such as on-the-nose dialogue and stupid character choices, carry over. So does the show’s reliance on racial and national stereotypes. And yet, the funny thing is, when you’re watching the show, you don’t really care. Seriously. Maybe its because the dialogue is less hokey than before, or because the stereotypes–like the idea of the white savior and Asian martial artist–are actually addressed this time around. But, honestly, I think its because the show has so much heart, and so many great character moments, that you forgive its weaker aspects. There are so many great beats in the first episode alone –like when Sun is reassuring kala that sex is something to enjoy, and not be afraid of, or when Lito’s boyfriend, Hernando, gets outed during a lecture, and handles it with grace and dignity–that I have to recommend you all see it.

To put it bluntly, Sense8, season 2 is silly, but its the best kind of silly. Its fun, its inoffensive, and it leaves you feeling warm inside. You really love these characters, and you love following them on their journey. Does that journey make sense, or follow any kind of narrative logic? No. But who cares. The show is still beautiful, and I still think you should give it a look.

Get Out (2017)

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

Chris and Rose are in love. They’ve been going out for close to five months, and they’re about to make one of the biggest steps in their relationship, meeting each other’s parents. This, of course, is nerve-wracking for everyone, but the situation is made doubly awkward by the fact that Rose’s family, who are White, don’t know that Chris is Black. Chris informs Rose of his concerns, and she tells him that there’s nothing to worry about. Her family are nice. They’ll love him. Chris isn’t convinced, having spent a lifetime facing micro aggressions from “nice” people, but he goes along anyway. And, at first, everything is fine. Rose’s family are nice, micro aggressions not withstanding. They do seem to like him. But, as time goes by, Chris starts to notice some things that aren’t quite right. The family’s Black servants, Georgina and Walter, are inhumanly polite and docile, almost as though they’ve had their personalities drained. And Rose’s mother, Missy, a psychiatrist, is strangely adamant about submitting Chris to hypnosis. Tension builds as the family’s friends, each one whiter and more oblivious than the last, show up for an annual get together, and submit Chris to a tidal wave of awkward statements and pho compliments. Finally, Chris decides he can take it no more, and tells Rose that they need to leave, but, much to his horror, finds that he can’t.

Get Out is a movie that I really didn’t know what to expect with. The premise seemed interesting, and I liked the actors I recognized in the trailer, like Skins’ Daniel Kaluuya, and Being John Malkovich’s Catherine Keener. At the same time, though, I was worried that the film’s social commentary would wind up being too heavy-handed, and I didn’t know how successful a comedian, Jordan Peele, would be at directing a horror movie. Amazingly successful, as it turns out, because this movie is AWESOME! It’s well-acted, well-written, ripe with tension, and manages to deftly ride the line between humorous and horrifying, and all while subtly making its viewers aware of their own innate prejudices. I’m not joking when I say that at no less than four points in this movie, me and everyone else in my theater cheered with delight at something that just happened. It’s rare for a film to impact me on such a visceral level, and I’ve got to give it up to Jordan Peele, the cast, and everyone involved for making a film that got to me the way this one did. But by far the best part of this entire movie was Lil Rel Howery, whom plays Chris’s best friend, Rod. I’m not joking when I say that he stole EVERy scene he was in. There wasn’t a moment he was on screen where I wasn’t laughing my butt off. He NEEDS to be in more stuff, because he is AWESOME. Something else I want to give Get Out credit for is the fact that I legitimately had no idea where it was going. When I finally learned what was happening beneath the surface, I actually turned to my girlfriend and said “Shit! I did not see that coming.” And she actually said to me afterwards, “You need to write stories like that; stories where you can’t guess what’s going on.”

Guys, what else can I say? Get Out is awesome. It’s smart, funny, scary, and an amazing directorial debut from Jordan Peele. Give it a look!

Superman: Red Son (Comic Review)

Written by: Mark Millar.

Penciled by: Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett.

Inked by: Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong.

We all know the basic origins of Superman–in the dying moments of a distant world, a lone space craft carrying a baby is sent off into the void. This ship ends up crashing on Earth, where the boy, re-named Clark by his adopted parents, slowly discovers that he has extraordinary powers, including flight, super strength, near invulnerability, and heat vision. Deciding he is morally obligated to use his powers for good, Clark embarks on a life of crime fighting, and adopts the alter-ego of Superman. All this is more or less common knowledge to most people. But what if, instead of crashing in Kansas and being raised on Mid-Western values, Superman landed in the Soviet Union, and was raised to be a champion of Communism? This is the question that Mark Millar seeks to answer in Superman: Red Son.

Set at the height of the Cold War, the graphic novel begins with Stalin unveiling a new weapon to the World; Superman, a being with near god-like powers. Realizing that nuclear weapons are more or less obsolete when compared to a guy who can fly, shoot lasers from his eyes, and pick up buildings, the US government asks Doctor Lex Luther, a scientist of impossible brilliance, to develop a means of combating Superman. Over the next several years, the two engage in various battles, with Lex eventually becoming President of the United States, and Superman becoming supreme dictator of the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death. Luther devises several strategies for defeating the latter, including making a deformed clone of Superman, and using a Green Lantern ring recovered from a crashed alien space craft, but all to no avail. Superman, for his part, uses his powers to bring the rest of the world under Communist control, and, with the help of the alien robot Brainiac, ensures equality and good living for everyone.

Eventually deciding that America, too, must be perfected, Superman launches a full-scale invasion of the continental United States, only to be stopped by a simple piece of paper that Luther’s wife, Lois Lane, holds out to him. On it is written the simple question, “Why don’t you just put the whole world in a bottle, Superman?” This query destroys him, as he now sees that he is no different from Brainiac. Both of them are just aliens bullying less-developed species. Neither one was born on Earth, and neither one has the right to interfere with the affairs of creatures they don’t know or understand. Realizing that he must leave for good, Superman destroys Brainiac and vanishes. Many centuries pass, and Luther’s descendent, Jor-El, discovering that the sun is about to explode, sends his son, Kal-El, back in time, where his pod crash-lands in Kansas, starting the whole saga anew.

There’s a lot to admire with this comic. The story is compelling, the artwork is, for the most part, brilliant, and I personally love it when writers are able to re-imagine classic characters in new settings. Something that this book does very well–and that a LOT of other re-imaginings don’t seem to understand–is the fact that, even though the characters are occupying different positions than the ones they have in ordinary continuity, they are still very much the same people. They have the same personalities, the same interests, and the same goals. Superman in this book is still an overgrown boy scout who wants nothing more than to do the right thing. This universe’s Luther is still a narcissistic asshole with nothing more on his mind than destroying the man of steel. By keeping the characters and their choices consistent, Millar is able to make the story, as a whole, more believable, and the re-interpretation of the material more acceptable to die-hard readers, like myself. There’s never a point in it where I put the comic down and say, “Oh, bullshit! Superman would never do that!” Which is always a good sign. I also like the fact that you get to see the fictional characters interacting with real historical figures, like JFK and Stalin. I don’t know why, but whenever I see real people walking around in a work of fiction, I feel happy. I guess it’s because it gives a whole new level of depth and texture to the narrative. But perhaps the greatest strength of this work is its setting, the Cold War. I thought it was absolutely brilliant of Millar to have the conflict between Luther and Superman be emblematic of the real-life conflict between the United States and Soviet Union. It’s impossible for most people to understand the complex social, historical and economic factors that drive countries to fight one another, but we can understand fights between individuals. And in the case of Luther and Superman, that conflict does mirror the one that actually took place. Luther in the book, like the United States following World War 2, wants to show off his intelligence and strength, and eliminate anyone whom he views as a threat to maintaining authority. Similarly, Superman’s naive desire to foist prosperity and equality on everyone without their consent mirrors the doctrine of Global revolution practiced by the USSR and other Communist states. I thought it was a clever metaphor, and an effective means of educating the readers about how, very often, it is people wanting to do the same thing, just in different ways, that causes conflict. Wonderful stuff! Wonderful stuff!

Now, with all that said, the graphic novel does still have problems. First of all, as much as I praised the artwork earlier, there are certain places where I don’t think it looks all that good. The design for Batman, for instance–yes, Batman is also in this story–is kind of odd-looking. He has this weird little Ushanka–that’s the flappy, fur-lined hat you see Soviet officers wearing in old photographs–on at all times that looks a little silly. I mean, he’s supposed to be dark and menacing. He’s supposed to strike fear in the hearts of his enemies. Having him wear big wooly hat just makes him look cold, and I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot less scared when I see my assailant shivering in the breeze. The second major problem with the graphic novel is the inclusion of other superheroes, like Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. Each of them is only featured for a brief amount of time, and none of them really has any bearing on the plot, so I don’t think their appearances were necessary. Not only this, but if the whole idea here is that Superman’s existence is enough to change the course of the Cold War, doesn’t the presence of other super-powered people lower the stakes? I mean, if America has access to individuals with the same level strength and speed as Superman, why get scared? Why talk to Lex Luther? The theory of mutually assured destruction still stands. In my humble opinion, the story would have been stronger if it had just included characters from Superman’s mythology, like Luther, Lois, Brainiac and Jimmy Olson, and nothing else. But, for me, the absolute biggest problem with the book is the ending. I mean…really? If you’re going to go through all the trouble of writing a story that re-imagines the Superman mythos and creates new rules, why throw it all away at the end just to give the readers stuff that they already know? Doesn’t that make everything you just did pointless? I don’t know. For me, the ending just felt tacked on. It felt like Mark Millar was trying to be clever. The book would have been perfect if it just ended with Superman leaving Earth for good after realizing how horrible he had become.

But, all these flaws aside, I do still think the book is a strong piece of work, and would highly recommend it to you comic readers out there. It’s smart. It’s well-written. It’s a re-imagining that truly understands the mythology that it’s adapting. It’s an 8 out of 10. If you love the man of steel, or re-imaginings of classic stories, give this comic a look.

Why You All MUST Watch “Master Of None!”

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

And, until recently, I didn’t think telepathy or ESP were real. Then I saw Master Of None, the new Netflix series created by, and starring, Aziz Ansari, and, well, now I’m a believer. Seriously! As I was watching it, all I could think was that Aziz and series co-creator Alan Yang had somehow hijacked my brain, because the show literally contains everything I’ve ever said or written about race, technology, the media, sexism, and even the entertainment industry. It’s brilliant! And what makes it even better is that it never comes off as preachy. The show is a comedy, and in many, many instances, the jokes are as funny, and thoughtful, as it’s possible for them to get.

But, for those of you who want to actually know what the heck this show is about, Master Of None tells the story of Dev, a struggling actor living in New York. Each episode of the first season deals with a different issue–ranging from parenting, to marriage, to the immigrant experience, to the limited roles available for non-white actors and women, to aging, even. It manages to combine a surprising amount of heart with really funny, really thoughtful jokes. To give you an idea, in one episode, Dev is talking to his friends about a racist e-mail that a producer of a show he auditioned for sent around. His friend Denise, who is Black, suggest he should leak the e-mail to the press. Dev is hesitant to do so, saying, “I don’t know. I feel like you only really risk getting people angry if you say something anti-Black or anti-gay. Like, if Paula Dean had said, ‘I won’t serve Indian people,’ no one would have gotten upset.” Denise retorts by saying that Paula Dean didn’t really get into trouble, “she gave some fake ass apology, and then went right back to making fatty foods.” Dev responds by saying,”Yeah, but at least she had to give an apology. She had to meet with Al Sharpton, and have tea with him or whatever. That was her punishment. Who do Indian people have for you all to apologize to? Deepak Chopra?” The fact that lines like that are being included, and laughed at, in a mainstream American TV show gives me so much hope for the future. Add to that the fact that there is another, highly-acclaimed comedy series starring a predominantly Asian-American cast–Fresh Off The Boat–on a major television network right now, and I’m one happy camper.

The bottom line is, Master Of None is awesome. Everyone I’ve showed it to–my classmates, my roommates, my girlfriend–loves it. It’s funny. It’s thoughtful. It’s not too long. If you’re looking to laugh hard and learn a lot, give this series a look! It’s a 9 out of 10.

Freeheld

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

This isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t a good one either. It’s trying to be progressive–to tell a touching, and socially relevant story–but it ultimately comes off as generic, and even somewhat banal.

For those of you who are wondering what the hell I’m talking about, I just sat down and watched an early screening of Freeheld, a new drama film starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page. The movie, which comes out in theaters tomorrow, is based on the true story of Laurel Hester, a Lesbian Police Officer from New Jersey, who, when she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, was unable to transfer her pension benefits to her partner, Stacie. The film chronicles her friends and loved ones attempts to overdue the court’s ruling, and get Stacie her pension.

Now, I’ll be honest, when I heard this film’s premise, I was hopeful. I love “call to social action” films, like Blood Diamond, Philadelphia, and Dallas Buyers Club. I thought that, maybe, this movie would be another worthy addition to the list of socially conscious motion pictures that have come out in the last 30 years. Unfortunately, when I actually sat down and watched it, I was treated to a fairly generic “fight the power” drama, with no real tension, and nothing particularly new in the way of storytelling. Every cliched character you’d expect to see in a movie about gay rights–the butch lesbian, the flamboyantly gay man, the homophobe who grows a heart and does the right thing–is present here. No one’s really given any backstory, and some of the performances are a bit cartoonish. On top of that, this whole movie feels like White Guilt Oscar Bait. You all know what I’m talking about–movies that are hoping to get critical acclaim by talking about something important, like racism, sexism, homophobia, or historical tragedies. It’s practically a joke among actors that, if you want to win an Oscar these days, you’ve got to either pretend to be gay, pretend to be dying, or pretend to be disabled. Well, this film is about homophobia, and its star, Julianne Moore, is both pretending to die, AND pretending to be gay. At this point, the filmmakers are practically giving their acceptance speeches.

Now, to be fair, I know that the directors and the actors intentions here were good, but, honestly, the whole thing just feels exploitative. I’m a disabled person, and I don’t like it when I see non-disabled actors–like Eddie Redmayne in Theory Of Everything, Al Pacino in Scent Of A Woman, and Cliff Robertson in Charly–using our conditions as easy springboards to critical success. Similarly, I don’t like it when I see heterosexual actors giving flamboyantly over-the-top portrayals of gay people, like Steve Carrell does here, just to win awards.

So, to sum it all up, Freeheld is a well-intentioned movie that doesn’t bring anything new to the “fight the power,” social activism genre of filmmaking, and ultimately suffers because of that. It’s a 6 out of 10. Don’t go see it if you’ve already watched films like Philadelphia or Dallas Buyers Club.