John Wick: Chapter 3 (2019)

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Picking up precisely where the last film left off, John Wick: Chapter 3 sees our stoic, dog-loving hit-man on the run from, well, everyone. He broke the rules of the assassins guild, and he now has a massive price on his head. But he’s not out of options. He does have some allies, including the director of a special ballet academy (Anjelica Huston), who grants him safe passage to Morocco. Once there, John seeks out the assistance of Sofia (Halle Berry), a woman whose daughter he saved years ago, and who knows the location of “The Elder,” the leader of the assassins guild who can hopefully remove the price from his head. But before he can get there, he’s going to have to shoot, stab, and even book, yes, book, hundreds of people to death. And, in the end, will it be worth it? Watch the movie to find out. Continue reading

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Underrated Directors Who Should Totally Helm A Blockbuster

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

Directors; to many casual film goers, they are the driving force behind all aspects of a movie. And while those of us who actually work in film, writing scripts, editing footage, mixing sound and so on, know that this isn’t true, it is true that directors can have a huge influence on a picture’s look, tone, and style. And that look and style can attract audiences, and make the pictures better as a whole. Now there are certain directors whose look and style have become well known to the public–the Spielbergs, the Burtons, the Tarantinos–but there are others whose talent is clear when you watch their films but, for whatever reason, they and their work have remained out of the spotlight. I’d like to remedy that today. Here is my list of awesome, underrated directors who should totally helm a blockbuster. Why a blockbuster? Because that’s what most people see, and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s the only way most of us will ever hear about these artists.

1. Bong Joon-Ho.

  • What They’ve Done: The Host, Snowpiercer, Okja.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Star Wars Movie.

Perhaps the best-known filmmaker on this list, Bong Joon-Ho is one of my all-time favorite directors, and a household name back in his native Korea. And yet, despite all his critical and commercial success in Asia, he remains relatively unknown in the West. Film nerds have probably watched a few of his flicks, but the vast majority of audiences aren’t familiar with his sumptuous visuals, dark humor, sudden shifts in tone, and biting social commentary, all of which make him ideal to helm a Star Wars movie. Just watch The Host, see how he shoots action, writes villainous characters, and uses creature effects, and tell me you couldn’t see him directing an episode in a galaxy far, far away.

2. Jaume Collet-Serra.

  • What They’ve Done: Non-Stop, The Shallows, Orphan.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A MIssion Impossible Movie.

Best known for his many collaborations with Liam Neeson, Spanish director Jaume Collet Serra has a habit of taking silly genre scripts, and turning them into much better films than they have any right to be. Seriously. If you take a hard look at the plots of any of his features–Unknown, Non-Stop, Orphan–they don’t really hold up. But the films themselves are so well-acted, so beautifully shot, and so viscerally entertaining that you don’t really care. Which makes him an ideal match for the Mission Impossible franchise, which, let’s be honest, isn’t  really famous for having the most believable story lines, but whose insane action set pieces more than make up for that. And let’s not forget, several of Collet-Serra’s flicks, like Unknown, have espionage elements to them. So it’s not altogether out of his wheelhouse.

3. Wes Ball.

  • What They’ve Done: The Maze Runner Trilogy.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Fast & Furious Movie.

Say what you like about the Maze Runner films–I, personally, am not a huge fan–they have amazing action sequences. Even these movies’ harshest critics agree that the chases, the fight scenes, and the stunt work are incredible, and that the director, Wes Ball, has a good eye for action. So what better franchise to put him in than the Fast & Furious, which we all can agree is extremely light on story, but very heavy on amazing set pieces? I have no doubt whatsoever that Mr. Ball could concoct some truly bonkers action scenes, and give this series’ fans the high octane thrills they crave.

4. Mike Flanagan.

  • What They’ve Done: Oculus, Hush, Gerald’s Game.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Batman Movie.

One of this generations true horror masters, Mike Flanagan’s films work, not just because they’re beautifully shot, and possess ghosts and serial killers, but because of their fascinating explorations of their characters’ pasts and psyches. Gerald’s Game and Oculus are all about people revisiting childhood trauma, and trying to work through it. And if there’s one blockbuster franchise that relishes horror, and childhood trauma, it’s Batman. He’s a tormented character, who just can’t let his past go, and several of his rogues, the Joker, Scarecrow, Two Face, are horrifying manifestations of various mental illnesses. So who better to helm a Batman film than a horror master with an interest in dissecting the minds of damaged people? Well, okay, I’m sure there are loads of filmmakers who’d be totally great for Batman, but Mike Flanagan is at the top of my list.

5. Takashi Miike.

  • What They’ve Done: 13 Assassins, Audition, Ichi The Killer.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Predator Movie.

A prolific and controversial director, whose work I’ve written about before, Takashi Miike is perfectly suited for the Predator franchise. Why? Because just like John McTiernan’s 1987 classic, which began as action, and ended as horror, many of Miike’s films blend genres and tones. Several of his features, like Yakuza Apocalypse and Ichi The Killer, synthesize elements of thrillers and horror. Many more, like Fudoh: The New Generation, Blade Of The Immortal, and Terra Formers, include insane, stylized characters with insane, stylized weapons i.e. the exact kind of fighters that the Predators would want to hunt. And, as if this needs mentioning, Miike is superb at crafting creative, bloody fight sequences, which are precisely what this franchise thrives off of.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

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

Li Mu Bai has long led a warrior’s life. But now, after years of bloodshed, he’s determined to turn over a new leaf. So, to prove to everyone that he’s done killing, he gives his sword, the legendary Green Destiny, to Yu Shu Lien, a fellow warrior, and unrequited love interest. But when the Green Destiny is stolen, and Yu and Li’s investigation brings them to the home of a government official, they realize that there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a movie I have loved literally my entire life. Not only was it the first film I ever saw, but it was also the movie that made me want to make movies. Seriously. As soon as I watched this back in 2000, I got a camera, and made my own kung fu movie, Crouching Lion, Hidden Eagle. Any picture that can get a six year old who doesn’t even know what a camera is to want to make movies is doing something right. And I’m not the only one who thinks that. To date, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon remains the highest grossing foreign-language film in American history, as well as the most critically-acclaimed martial arts movie of all time; with a record four Academy Awards to its name, and ten nominations, including Best Picture. But why was it so beloved? Why do people still remember it after so many years? What, to put it bluntly, makes this movie so good?

Well, several things, actually. The first is it’s script. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a very well-written movie, with it actually getting nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, and for good reason. Every single character is given depth, personality, and pain. The film is almost three hours long, and it contains many quiet scenes where characters just sit and talk to each other about their dreams and desires. As such, the protagonists of this film are considerably more well-rounded than those in other martial arts movies. The second thing that makes this movie awesome is the camerawork. Crouching Tiger, Hidden dragon is beautifully shot, with every single frame dripping with life and color. Peter Pau, the cinematographer, won an Oscar for lensing this film, and I can totally see why. Every time I watch it, I feel like I’ve been transported to another world, and it’s all thanks to the images onscreen. The third thing that makes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon incredible is the acting. Everyone gives a subtle, restrained performance, not at all what you’d expect from a film like this, and, indeed, many members of the cast were nominated for BAFTA and Hong Kong Film Awards for their work. The standout, easily, is Zhang Ziyi, who steals the Green Destiny, and the whole damn show. She is magnetic on screen. She’s bold and fiery, and yet, vulnerable and sweet. By this point in her career, She’d already made somewhat of a name for herself back in China, but it was her work in Crouching Tiger that catapulted her into the stratosphere of stardom, not just in the East, but in the West as well. For the next five years, she was everywhere, appearing in big films like Hero, Rush Hour 2, Memoirs Of A Geisha, and House Of Flying Daggers. It is extremely rare for an Asian actress to become big in Hollywood, but Zhang Ziyi did, and it’s all thanks to her incredible performance in this movie. The fourth, and biggest, reason why Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is awesome is the action.  It is SUPERB. It’s exciting, well-shot, beautifully-choreographed, and inventive. The fight sequences in this movie hold up after 17 years, and for good reason. They’re real. Every single moment was done in camera, by real stuntmen. And you can tell. In the film’s most famous fight scene, where Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi duke it out in a courtyard, you hear the actresses panting, and see the sweat dripping down their faces. You really believe that this is a hard, brutal fight, and that it’s taking a serious toll on both their bodies. And whenever a film can convince you that a staged action sequence is real, it’s done something right.

Now, as much as I adore Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and, trust me, I could gush about it for ages, there are some aspects of it that I don’t enjoy as much, all these years later. The biggest, by far, is the flashback sequence, wherein we see Zhang Ziyi’s backstory. Yes, it’s necessary, and it helps you understand her character. But it’s also very long, and very, very slow. It goes on for about 40 minutes, and when you watch it, you just feel like you’re in a different movie. The whole thing really hurts the pace, and I honestly tend to fast-forward through it whenever I re-watch the film. Which brings me to another point, the fact that the movie’s plot is kind of scatter-brained. It starts out as a drama about a warrior trying to abandon his bloody past. Then it becomes a mystery, where they have to find the Green Destiny. Then it turns into a romantic drama, wherein Zhang Ziyi wants to escape her arranged marriage and go live in the desert. And then, in the last 30 minutes, it becomes a kind of road movie, where Zhang Ziyi is just roaming the land, taking what she wants and fighting whomever she pleases. Yes, everyone has an arc, and all the subplots do pay off. But, upon re-watch, it does feel like some of those subplots could have been omitted, and the movie, as a whole, would have become more focused.

But those are really the only negative things I have to say about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This is a well-shot, well-acted, emotionally-devastating character piece, with some amazing fight sequences and action. If you somehow haven’t seen this movie after all this time, go out and rent it RIGHT NOW!  You will love it.

Is The Rose Storyline In The Last Jedi Really Pointless?

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

So I’ve been surfing the web recently, and I’ve been reading a lot of reviews for Star Wars: The Last Jedi which criticize my new favorite character, Rose, and her storyline. They all pretty much have the same thing to say, “her storyline is pointless. It adds up to nothing.”

Now, my instant, gut reaction is, “well fuck you. I liked her, and you all should be more supportive of an Asian American actress finally making it big in hollywood.” But then I took a step back, and started thinking. Was her storyline really pointless? After all, her plan to find a hacker fails, the hacker she does find betrays her, and she stops Finn from sacrificing himself to save the Resistance. In a sense, neither she nor Finn did anything that was relevant, plot wise. So, yes, the Rose storyline was, in that respect, pointless.

But the question I want to ask the world is, is that a bad thing? Is it bad for movies to have scenes and characters that don’t effect the overall plot? I would argue “no.”

The best films have characters and worlds that feel lived-in, and real, and one of the best ways to do that is to show characters just interacting with each other and their environments. Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino have made careers off of writing scenes that don’t really have an impact on the plot, and yet, are interesting, and flesh out the characters. Basically every conversation Jules and Vincent have in Pulp Fiction is like this. Their opening talk about hash bars never gets brought up again. Neither does their conversation in the diner about pork. The taxi driver Bruce Willis talks to doesn’t come back to play at all. And the discussion of pot bellies and blueberry pancakes serves no purpose whatsoever. If the film was to cut all of these “pointless” scenes, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting, and the characters wouldn’t be nearly as memorable.

Another great example of a “pointless” scene that actually makes the movie better is the gas station stand off in No Country For Old Men. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Javier Bardem plays a psychotic killer who decides whether or not to murder people by flipping a coin and giving them the chance to call it. If they get it right, he lets them go. If they don’t, he kills them. In one scene, he goes into a gas station, and the gas station owner tries to make small talk. Javier Bardem doesn’t like that, and so flips the coin. The gas station attendant gets it right, and Bardem leaves. Now, this is the one scene that everyone who’s watched the movie talks about and remembers. They say it has the best dialogue, and the best acting. But here’s the thing; it’s pointless. The gas station attendant never comes back into the picture. And, in the end, the scene was just a whole lot of build up to nothing. Bardem doesn’t kill him. He just leaves. In terms of plot progression, this whole stand off is dead weight. And yet, if you were to take away this “pointless” scene, you’d have lost one of the best moments in cinema.

So, yes, maybe Rose’s storyline in The Last Jedi is “pointless” in that it doesn’t effect the overall plot, but that doesn’t make it bad. It introduces us to a fun new character, who provides a different perspective on the conflict. It’s got some good humor with her and Finn. There’s a fun sequence where the two of them ride horse/kangaroo monsters through a Casino, tearing it to pieces. And, as I said before, it provides us with a non-stereotypical Asian character in a major blockbuster franchise. That’s huge. See, Cliff Chang, the artist on the comic series Paper Girls, told me something heartbreaking once. He said, “growing up, I never saw myself in the artwork that I loved. And, over time, I just grew to accept that.” But that doesn’t have to be the case anymore. Rose is proof that you can have Asian characters in big budget, blockbuster franchises, who don’t speak broken English, or know martial arts, and the world won’t fall apart. Millions of young Asian-Americans will see her and think, “that could be me one day” and not “I could never be in those movies,” which, sadly, is what many people of my parent’s generation, including my father, were taught. And the fact that they won’t think it can’t happen for them, the fact that they will be inspired, is wonderful. So, yeah, Rose’s storyline is pointless. But the movie, and the world, wouldn’t be better without it.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

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After avenging his dog’s murder, and recovering his stolen car, retired hitman John Wick stumbles home, hoping to finally mourn the loss of his wife. But before he even has the chance to breathe, an old associate appears on his doorstep, asking him to perform one last hit. John refuses, saying he’s out of the game, but ultimately agrees when the associate in question reminds him that John owes him a favor. So, with a heavy heart, John sets off for Rome, hoping to finish this last job quickly, only to learn, once it’s far too late, that he’s in way over his head. What follows is a high octane, hard-hitting action extravaganza, with amazing fight choreography, incredible stunt work, and the ever-present charisma of Keanu Reeves. Continue reading

American Crime: Season 2

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

If there’s anything I’ve learned after 21 years on this Earth, it’s that having expectations is never a good idea. All you’re doing is setting yourself up for disappointment. I bring this up because, I went into the second season of American Crime, a show that I reviewed on here, and really loved, with expectations, and wound up being highly disappointed. Now, I’m not trying to say that the second season was terrible, it just wasn’t quite to the same level that the first one was. And I wanted to tell anyone who might have been looking to watch it, be warned. It might not be what you expected, or hoped for.

For those of you who don’t know, American Crime is an anthology series, meaning each season revolves around a different plot and characters, created by John Ridley, the man who wrote 12 Years A Slave.  The first season centers around a murder in Modesto, California, and deals with themes like race and xenophobia. The second season revolves around a rape in Indianapolis, and seeks to examine homophobia and the stigma of sexual assault. Except it doesn’t. It starts out with you thinking that its going to be about those things, but quickly shoots off into a number of sub-plots, each dealing with a different issue. You’ve got one plot thread involving the principal of a public school, and tensions between Black and Latino communities. You’ve got another one focusing on a wealthy Black businesswoman, and her seeming dislike of other Black people. You’ve got the conflict between public and private schools, and how unfairly favored the wealthy are in terms of treatment. And there are a ton of other topics, like mental illness, cyber-security, teen drug dealing, divorce, child molestation, and even school shootings, which don’t get brought up until the last three episodes, and which honestly feel like they were just thrown in. Now, I do believe that each of those subjects deserves to be written about, and that the writers of American Crime did provide some interesting perspectives on them, but the series as a whole feels over-stuffed and scatter-brained. If they had just limited the show to the rape case, and all the issues that accompany that topic, I feel the season would have been more cohesive and thematically focused. As it stands, though, the season felt overwrought, and I feel like there were too many disparate elements that had nothing to do with each other.

Now, some of you might be thinking, “well, fine. It’s got a lot of story lines and topics. So what? Is it at least enjoyable?” Yes, and no. As with the first season, the acting is good, the dialogue is great, and there are a lot of gut-wrenching scenes and moments. At the same time, however, the fact that the show kept shifting perspective, and didn’t seem able to decide which issue it wanted to focus on, all made it harder for me to latch on to any one character. Because the show didn’t do that. People who you think you’re going to follow and care about, like the young man who says he got raped, end up becoming either secondary, or despicable. In his case, we find out pretty early on that it “wasn’t rape,” because he “wanted it,” a sentiment I find highly offensive to victims of sexual assault, and the show actually spends more time trying to get you to care about the kid who beat him. There are also a number of other characters, like this random hacker who just shows up in the eighth episode of this ten episode season, who are thrown in at the last possible second, and who suddenly become major players. This season honestly reminds me of films like Spider-Man 3, or The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which had an overabundance of plot threads and characters, and disappointed at the box office and with critics as a result. Now, granted, American Crime, Season 2 got much better reviews than those films when it came out. Still, there were points when I was watching it that I didn’t think I could go on, and that’s never a good sign for a TV series.

So, if you were a fan of the first season, maybe you’ll enjoy this. As for me, I don’t feel any need to watch it again.

It’s Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong

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

Have you ever sat in a big, open space, and found yourself listening to someone else’s conversation? If you have, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect with It’s Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong, a romantic comedy starring real-life couple Jamie Chung and Bryan Greenberg.

The story of two American expats meeting, and hanging out, in Hong Kong, the film doesn’t really have a plot. It’s just an hour and 18 minutes of these two people walking around, taking in the sights, and getting to know each other. Twice. Now, I realize that, with a description like that, this movie probably sounds super boring. But it does have its merits. The scenery is beautiful, there’s some very good dialogue, and the performances of the two leads are very strong. I’d actually like to take a minute to talk about the acting, because, both of these people, especially Jamie Chung, are very underrated. She’s been in a ton of really crappy movies–Sucker Punch, Dragonball Evolution, Grown Ups–where she gets cast as the hot, token Asian. But even when you’re watching her in those bad movies, you can tell that she’s very talented. She’s just not being given the right material to work with. Fortunately for her, other movies and shows she’s starred in–Eden, Big Hero 6, Once Upon A Time–have given her the chance to shine. It’s Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong does so as well, and she really steps up to the plate in it.

But, as I said in my Beasts Of No Nation review, good performances and pretty visuals aren’t enough to make you love a film. And, sad to say, I don’t love It’s Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong. Yes, the acting is good. Yes, the dialogue is believable. Yes, the characters are well-developed. But nothing happens. No one has a goal. No one has an arc. It’s just two people meeting, talking, and enjoying the Hong Kong night life. That’s it. This movie is like eavesdropping on a couple–you learn a bit about them, you hear them say some funny stuff, but, in the end, you’re not given any context, or reason to care. So, overall, I don’t know if I can recommend this to you all. In terms of pure craftsmanship–acting, cinematography, dialogue– I’d say its a 7 out of 10. In terms of story, and keeping the audience engaged, though, I’d say it’s a 5 out of 10. Make of this what you will.