Black Panther (2018)

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Justice League (2017)

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

Superman is dead, Wonder Woman is apathetic, and Batman isn’t as strong as he used to be. As such, the world has become vulnerable to all kinds of attacks, including those from the New God Steppenwolf, who, centuries ago, tried to destroy the Earth by combining three “Mother Boxes,” objects of immense power. Recognizing that the Earth now has no one to protect it, Steppenwolf returns from his long exile to collect the cubes, and in true villain fashion, take his vengeance upon the world of men. But he might have a little more trouble with that than previously thought. For while Wonder Woman and Batman might not be able to repel him on their own, they just might be able to with the help of a few other, super-powered friends; specifically, Barry Allen, aka The Flash, Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, and Victor Stone, aka Cyborg. They’ve never met, or worked with each other, before this. But with the fate of the world literally on the line, they just might have to.

Justice League is a flawed film. The first 30 minutes are very crowded, the CGI is highly noticeable, and the villain, while effective, is extremely bland. And, in the end, none of that really matters. This is a funny, action-packed, fast-paced thrill ride with likable characters, and I want to see it again. It’s probably the second best film in the DCEU, after Wonder Woman. And unlike other DC films, like Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad, which I did initially like, there’s nothing in this picture that jumps out at me as glaringly bad. (No Jared Leto’s, if you get my meaning).

A lot of it has to do with the fact that the movie really gets the League members right. Over the course of the film, you learn their personalities and pasts, and see them interact with each other, with some of them, in a few cases, coming to blows. And unlike BVS and Man Of Steel, this film has a much lighter tone. There’s a lot more humor, the color palette is brighter, and the heroes act like heroes. They smile. They save people. They do their best not to cause collateral damage. And unlike DC’s other cinematic offerings, which were each over two hours long, this movie is much shorter, and moves much faster. So there’s no risk of boredom here. There’s also a ton of fan service for people who like that sort of thing. Danny Elfman’s 1989 Batman theme is played at a couple points, as well as the John Williams Superman score. There are some great references to other superheroes in this flick, and the film even manages to address some questions viewers had about previous movies. And, most importantly, for me, anyway, this flick really gets Superman right. When he returns, which we all know he is, since it’s in the trailer, and on the poster, it is beyond satisfying. People in my theater were cheering and clapping with delight when he shows up, and for good reason. Unlike in Man Of Steel and BVS, he’s not a total downer here. He smiles, he tells jokes, and, shock of all shocks, he saves people. There’s actually two, really funny, bits with him saving people, one involving a blog, the other involving a big building in Russia. I also love the friendly rivalry he has with the Flash over whose faster, and the post credit scenes in this movie are awesome. They are definitely worth waiting for.

Guys, all I have to say about Justice League is this. It’s not perfect. The CGI is noticeable, the villain, while effective, is forgettable, and the first 30 minutes are a bit crowded. But as soon as the League gets together, the movie kicks into high gear, and you don’t really care about those other flaws. You’re having so much fun that you just sit back, enjoy the ride, and leave the theater with a smile on your face. And if you don’t believe me, check out the reviews for this film from Jeremy Jahns, Chris Stuckman, the Schmoes, Doug Walker, Roger Ebert.com, the LA Times, Village Voice, Variety, IGN and Forbes. All of them think, like me, that this flick is a fun ride worth taking. Be sure and give this a look.

Logan (2017)

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

The X-men are gone. The mutant race has all but vanished. And Earth’s greatest hero, Wolverine, is now a depressed alcoholic, eking out a meager living as a chauffeur. Every day is a battle for him; a battle to pay rent; to get Professor X his drugs before he has another psychic episode. And every night, he finds himself staring at a special, adamantium bullet, asking the dreaded question, “Should I do it?” But before he can find an answer, a woman and a little girl with remarkably similar powers to him show up on his doorstep, begging for help. A ruthless government agency is hot on their trail, and they mean to kill them both. Realizing he can’t let this girl die, Logan grabs his keys, and his friend Charles Xavier, and embarks on a major, cross country journey, both to get everyone to safety, and to provide himself with some overdue redemption.

Just as Christopher Reeve was the quintessential Superman for my parents’ generation, Hugh Jackman has been the quintessential Wolverine for me and everyone my age. So when I heard that Logan, the tenth film in the X-men franchise, was going to be his final outing as the character, I knew I had to watch it. I had to see what kind of closure the filmmakers would give the character, and whether Jackman’s run would go out with a bang, or end on a whimper. And, having just seen the movie, I can tell you, this is the best possible send off you could hope for. Logan is a fantastic picture, both as a piece of superhero escapism, and mature, emotional drama. I highly recommend you all watch it, and I’m tempted to see it again myself.

Something that sets this movie apart from all the other films in the X-men franchise, and most other superheor movies as well, is how grounded it is. It feels like real life, as absurd as that sounds. Characters say the F word in this picture. They get dirty. They bleed. There are real steaks in this film, because the heroes have gotten frail, and death is a very real possibility for them. And unlike some other movie franchises–cough, cough, the MCU, cough, cough–which don’t try to explore dark, adult subject matter, like death, survivor’s guilt, parenthood and responsibility, this movie jumps head first into those topics, giving us a refreshingly mature picture, which transcends the comic book genre.

But before any of you action lovers feel the urge to look away, know that Logan has some of the best, most imaginative superhero fight sequences I’ve ever seen. Two in particular, one in a Casino where Professor X is having a psychic seizure, and one on a mountain side where Wolverine is going full berserker, are imprinted on my brain, they’re that brutal and inventive. This film is rated R, and unlike some movies that probably shouldn’t have had that classification, Logan really earns that title. This is a brutal, exceedingly bloody movie. And like I said, there is no limit to foul language in this picture. And yet it never crosses the threshold into exploitation territory. This isn’t like the works of Mark Millar or Garth Ennis, which pretend to be mature by including gratuitous amounts of violence and profanity. This is a thoughtful, emotionally resonant drama, which has brutal, hard-hitting violence in it, because the world it creates is a dark and ugly one. And yet, you never reach that point where the film gets so bleak that you feel like looking away. You’re never turned off by the morbid subject matter. Rather, you’re engrossed in it. You’re captivated by it. And I am so happy about that.

Guys, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I really don’t have any complaints with Logan. It’s mature, emotionally resonant, and a really fun superhero movie as well. It’s the perfect send off to an actor and a character, and I really think you all should go see it.

Captain America: Civil War

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

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope that, wherever you are, whoever you’re with, you’re having a good time, and sharing the love. Because the characters in today’s movie, Captain America: Civil War, definitely aren’t doing either of those things.

Yes, instead of talking about a Holiday classic, like It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, or Miracle On 34th Street, I’ve decided to review a film wherein superheroes fight each other because of disagreements over regulatory oversight. Why? Simple; I didn’t see it in theaters, and it only came out on Netflix today. Yeah.

Anyway, concerning the film itself; this is a picture that I’ve heard nothing but good things about. Everyone I’ve ever talked to ever has told me that its the greatest superhero movie ever made. And hearing this instantly made me not want to go see it. See, I’m not a big fan of Marvel. Never have been. I find Captain America to be an outdated piece of racist wartime propaganda, and Iron Man to be an alcoholic, womanizing jerk. I do admire Spider-Man (thanks, in large part, to the Sam Raimi trilogy that came out when I was a kid), but, beyond that, I just don’t have any real emotional connection to the characters. And besides my own dislike of the Marvel brand, I’m also someone who likes to take the side of the underdog. I’ve been a diehard Cubs fan all my life, mostly because of their reputation as lovable losers, and fostered a deep-seated hatred for the Yankees since I was a kid, precisely because of the fact that they were always winning, and bragging about it. Marvel Studio’s repeated financial and critical success, and the fact that they haven’t exactly been humble about it, has made me resent them, and not want to watch their movies. But then again, every belief system I subscribe to–kindness, honesty, intersectional feminism, racial, religious and ethnic tolerance, and inclusion of the disabled–has been politically defeated this year, and every movie I wanted to be good–Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, Passengers–has turned out to be terrible. Maybe I should just give up on what I think, and join the winning team. That’s what I was thinking when I sat down to watch Civil War. Now that I’ve seen it, I have a few new thoughts.

In terms of the writing–meaning the dialogue, character motivation, and scene construction–I do think Civil War is more competently crafted than Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad. Those latter two films had tons of exposition in them, meaning long scenes where everyone’s thoughts and backstories get spelled out to the audience. There are scenes in Civil War where characters tell us what they think and feel, but it feels more earned, more appropriate, in this picture. The reason is that the characters in this movie bring up their feelings in conversation, as opposed to just turning to the audience and saying, “let me explain who X is.” The dialogue in Civil War also feels more natural, and specific to each individual character, than BVP and SS. If you’ve read my review of Suicide Squad, you know that I feel the characters in it sound too similar to one another, and that I think that’s a problem. If everyone sounds the same, how are the actors supposed to create compelling characters? How is the audience supposed to decide who to care about? I cared about the protagonists of BVP and SS when I first watched the movies, not because the films themselves did a good job of setting up their unique personalities and voices, but, rather, because I’d read the comics and watched the TV shows they came from. Imagine if I didn’t have that background with the mythology. How would I react then? But perhaps the biggest difference in terms of writing is the fact that the characters in Civil War have much clearer reasons for acting the way they do than the individuals in Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad. To this day, I’m still not quite sure why Lex Luthor hated Superman, why he made Doomsday, or why Enchantress wanted to blow up the Earth with a sky beam. That’s not good. If your characters’ reasons for acting aren’t clear, the audience won’t care about what they’re doing, and won’t want to watch your movie. Now, to be fair, Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad were only the second and third films in their cinematic universe, and therefore had to introduce lots of previously unestablished characters and plot threads. Civil war, by contrast, had over a dozen earlier films to build off of. It didn’t need to explain everything. Still, there are smooth, skillful ways of introducing new people and things in a movie, and Civil War used them to a greater degree than BVP and SS. Spider-Man and Black Panther didn’t exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe until Civil War, and yet, their introduction felt more natural, and the film spent enough time with them for me to care about them as characters. BVP and SS were never able to balance who and what got the most screen time, and this left me feeling kind of empty and wanting as a result.

I also think Civil War has much better acting than BVP and SS. Don’t get me wrong, Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Godot as Wonder Woman, Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, these actors are all superb in their respective roles. It’s just, in both BVP and SS, there are performers who stand out as being pretty terrible. Jessie Eisenberg as a twitchy, adolescent version of Lex Luthor, and Jared Leto as an over-the-top, Jim Carrey-like Joker are what come to mind when I say this. No one in Civil War stands out as “the bad one.” They’re all pretty good.

But, of course, just because something is better than another thing doesn’t mean that it’s without flaws. And Civil War certainly has flaws. For starters, the movie has these obnoxiously large title cards that pop up whenever the story changes location. These get really annoying to look at after a while. The action is also really hard to follow. True, the set pieces are creative, and the directors make good use of props and locations. But the way these scenes are shot is so incredibly ugly, with everything being super shaky, and frequent cuts making it very difficult to follow what’s happening. There are also certain characters who feel out of place and unnecessary. Hawk Eye, for instance, is only in the movie for two scenes, and doesn’t contribute to the plot at all. Honestly, for how little he matters to the overall narrative, you could have left him out entirely. The same could even be said of Baron Zemo, the film’s main villain. The heroes are already angry, and fighting each other, by the time he shows up. His overly complex plot
just hastens something that’s already happening. I also think its kind of a cheap cop out to have everything actually be the work of super villains. The comic the film was based off of didn’t do that. There, the heroes were angry at each other, and they fought one another because of that. Not because some grand puppeteer was pulling the strings from the shadows. I wish the movie had done the same thing. And that brings me to my final problem with the movie, the ending. For all the marketing hype about this being a “clash between heroes” that would “change everything,” nothing really did change. Yeah, a few more characters get added, but no one important dies, Captain America makes it clear to Iron Man that there are no hard feelings, and even the crippling of War Machine gets undone by the end with some BS technology. (As a disabled person who has a condition that there is no cure for, that last one kind of pissed me off for how it wrote off our pain and suffering as a mild inconvenience that can be fixed with some metal and wires). The film’s ending demonstrates a larger problem with Marvel; their unwillingness to take chances or go outside their established formula. You know going into a Marvel movie that no one is going to die, and that everything will be okay in the end. That’s because the franchise was created by TV writers, and in television, you need to return everything to the status quo by the end of the episode or season so that you can keep the story going. Take some chances, Marvel! Kill off Captain America. Have Iron Man die of alcohol poisoning. Do something edgy or unique.

Still, I did enjoy Civil War, and have decided to give it an 8 out of 10. If you haven’t seen it, give it a look.

Should You Be Watching Agents of SHIELD?

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

 

Loved ones, I have a confession to make. I…am a nerd. There! I said it. I’m a nerd. And not just a little one, mind you. A HUGE one. I read comic books and manga, watch anime, write fan-fiction, go to comic-con, and wait in line to see whatever new superhero movie is out. One of my all-time goals as a Screenwriter is to write and produce my own original Superhero movie, and to make an adaptation of Batman set in Red China. Just about the only thing I haven’t yet done is Cosplay, and honestly, these days I’m starting to give it some serious consideration.

 

Anyway, the reason I’ve confessed my geekdom to you all is to help you understand why I recently started watching Agents of SHIELD. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a Superhero/Espionage series that aired on ABC in 2013, and has continued running up to the present. Based on the Marvel Comics spy agency SHIELD (which either is an acronym for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division, or Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division), the series focuses on a team of six agents traveling around the world, fighting crime, and solving mysteries, all against the backdrop of such Superhero movies as Iron Man, Thor, and The Avengers, with frequent references made throughout the series to the latter picture. It’s simple, but highly entertaining. Too many shows start off with a great general premise, but then get bogged down with too much over-arching plot or character drama. Not this one! It is, in many ways, very much like the 1970s Western Kung-Fu, in that the only thing that remains constant about the series are the characters, who in every episode must face a new, unrelated challenge to the one’s they’ve previously encountered. It’s well-acted and well-written, with some truly funny dialogue in it, and better yet, it’s directed by Joss Whedon. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he’s widely referred to as the Feminist God of the Geeks. He created and wrote for a number of highly successful action/sci-fi series in the late 90s and early 2000s, such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, and more recently, has worked on films like The Cabin In The Woods and The Avengers. He’s known for writing strong, well-rounded female characters , and stories that focus on diverse groups working together and achieving great things. Basically, he’s the kind of writer I aspire to be.

 

But, I digress, as much as I enjoy this series, and as many merits as I see in its craft, I do still have some problems with it. First of all, if you’re not a geek, there’s going to be a lot that you won’t understand. The show is banking on the fact that its viewers have seen the other movies in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, specifically The Avengers. Not only does it make frequent reference to these other works, in many cases, characters or plot elements from those movies actually play a part in some episodes. So, if you’re new to Marvel or the whole Superhero/Comic Book mythology, I’m sorry, but you probably shouldn’t watch this. Also, unlike other Joss Whedon projects, which usually have some kind of underlying message, like teamwork or open-mindedness, this series has none. It’s just pure escapism. And lastly, as hard as the writers of this show have tried to give each of their characters depth and personality, the characters themselves are still pretty cliched. There’s Agent Phil Coulson, who appeared in many of the other Marvel movies, and who acts as the tough, but tender-hearted leader. There’s Agent Grant Ward, the stereotypical pretty-boy spy. There’s the hacker Skye, who’s obviously just there to be Ward’s love interest. There’s the Scotsman Fitz, and the Englishwoman Simmons, who both serve as the series’ nerdy comic relief. And finally, there’s Agent Melinda May, who, I’m sad to say this but, is clearly just a female version of Bruce Lee’s character Kato in The Green Hornet, in that she’s the stoic Asian driver who dresses in black and knows Kung-Fu. Seriously. That’s all she does. She’s given the least amount of personality, and dialogue, out of any of the main characters, and when she does say something, her sentences are short and clipped, and she rarely emotes. As both a Chinese-American and a hardcore Feminist, I was truly saddened to see this stereotypical role for an Asian woman, especially in a Joss Whedon production. This character is just more evidence that people in the entertainment industry are completely okay with typecasting Asian people, and exploiting Asian stereotypes. If you don’t believe me, then ask yourself: when was the last time that you saw a movie or show where the Asian men weren’t Kung-Fu masters or wimpy nerds, and the Asian women weren’t demure, butterfly girlfriends or Dragon-Lady Assassins? As both a writer, and an actor who experienced a great deal of typecasting, I would love to write stories with strong, well-rounded, and most importantly, non-stereotypical roles for people of color, particularly women, and if there are any women out there who have comments or would like to give me advice, I would greatly appreciate it.

 

But, alas, I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the show! In spite of all its flaws, I still really like it and would give it an overall rating of 7 out of 10. It’s witty, well-acted, and just entertaining enough to get you to overlook its weaker aspects. Plus, I like the fact that there are an equal number of men and women in the lead, and that there isn’t one main protagonist. And as much as I dislike the character of Melinda May, I was both pleased and impressed with Whedon’s decision to cast Ming Na Wen of The Joy Luck Club, Mulan, and ER in the role. Why? Because, despite the fact that Ms. Wen is extremely talented and still very beautiful, she’s now well into her fifties, and these days it is extremely rare for a TV show, much less an action series, to cast a middle-aged woman as one of the leads. So, in conclusion, if you’re a fan of the Marvel Universe, or are simply willing to go back and watch a bunch of movies before you see this show, I guarantee you that you’ll enjoy yourself. You’ll laugh, cheer, and be hanging on the edge of your seat, hoping for the Agents of SHIELD to prevail.