Collateral (2004)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views AreMyGame.

Max is a cab driver, saving up to start his own company. He knows LA like the back of his hand, and even though his job is fairly thankless, he takes pride in his work. One night, he picks up a gray-haired man named Vincent, who tells him, “I’ve got five stops to make. You get me to all of them on time, I’ll pay you $600.” Max agrees, and brings Vincent to his first stop. Everything seems fine, until a dead body falls on the cab, smashing the windshield to bits. Things get worse when Vincent returns, and reveals that not only did he kill the man, but he’s an assassin who’s been hired to take out 4 more targets. Now, if Max wants to survive, he’ll have to help Vincent evade capture, and finish his jobs, which means contributing to the deaths of four more people. Can he do it? Will he make it through the night? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out

Collateral is the definition of a well-made thriller. It’s suspenseful, superbly -acted (seriously, Jamie Foxx earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as Max) and very well-written. I’d actually like to take a minute to talk about the writing, because it is really, really good. Not only does every character have a distinct voice and backstory, the dialogue is really witty, and oddly thought-provoking. There are so many exchanges in this film that are funny, frightening and philosophical all at the same time that I’m honestly kind of surprised that Stuart Beattie, whom penned the script, didn’t get an Oscar nod. Like, in the scene right after Max learns that Vincent is a hit man, he’s freaking out, and Vincent starts talking about Rwanda. He tells Max how more people were killed at once there than in the past 50 years, and yet, he, Max, didn’t get upset when he heard about the genocide. He didn’t join the peace corps. He didn’t contribute to any charities. But now, when one fat guy dies in front of him, he turns into a bleeding heart? How hypocritical. That’s a brilliant exchange right there. It not only shows us how Vincent views morality, but it also gets us, the spectators, to think. It calls us out on our own hypocrisies, like how we care about some lives, but not about others. And the movie is full of awesome moments like that, where characters are talking about their pasts, or their morals, and it’s super engaging and funny. In one scene, Max asks Vincent, “You killed him?” to which Vincent responds, “No. I shot him. The bullets and the fall killed him.” And in another scene, Vincent has a gun pressed up against Max’s head, and forces him to tell his boss to “shove this yellow cab up your fat ass.” It’s wonderful.

If I have one complaint about Collateral, it’s the camerawork. It’s almost all hand-held, so the images are very shaky, and the shots are super noisy. If you don’t know what that last part means, “noise” is a film term for elements in cinematography that ruin an image, like lens flares, blurry lines, or pixels. Collateral’s director, Michael Mann, is infamous for not minding “noise” in his films. As such, a lot of his movies, even if they’re big-budget period pieces, like Public Enemies, feel like they’re shot on home video. Now, as annoying as I find shaky cam and lens flares, both actually kind of work for this movie. You’re telling a story that’s very gritty and real, and the sloppy-looking camerawork does kind of contribute to a sense of realism. Kind of. But in case you can’t get over the cinematography, the film’s gorgeous color palette more than makes up for it. Every image is black, contrasted with neon blues, greens or pinks; i.e. the color of LA at night. If, like me, you love films with saturated color schemes, which help create mood and atmosphere, you’re gonna love this movie. It is a feast for the eyes.

Guys, what can I say that hasn’t already been said? Collateral is a fast-paced, superbly acted, brilliantly-written thriller. I love it, and I’m sure you would to if you saw it. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

Animal Kingdom (2010)

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

When his mother dies of a heroin overdose, 17-year-old J goes to live with his estranged Grandmother and Uncles, a family of petty criminals in Melbourne, Australia. There’s his Grandma, Smurf, who seems loving and doting. There’s his volatile Uncle Craig, who deals drugs to get by. There’s his other Uncle, Darren, who’s just a few years older than him. And, finally, there’s Pope, the oldest brother, who is in hiding from the police. The film is set during a period in Australian history when bank robbery is out of control, as is the police force, who will kill criminal’s at the drop of a hat. And that, essentially, is what this film is about; waiting for that hat to drop. Because, on the surface, everyone is nice, and everything is going just fine. But there’s always an undercurrent of menace and tension. And when something inevitably goes wrong, the family comes apart, and, as the title suggests, the animals start eating each other.

Animal Kingdom is a very unusual film. It’s a crime thriller with very little violence–except for a few, highly effective, moments–a slow pace, and a greater emphasis on character. It’s the sort of movie that if it was made in America, where pictures tend to move faster and have more bloodshed, probably wouldn’t be as good or interesting. And that’d be a shame, because if there are two words that can aptly summarize Animal Kingdom, they are “good” and “interesting.”

This is a taught, well-acted, well-written family drama,with some fascinating characters, and some very disturbing moments. What it honestly reminded me of was the works of Harold Pinter. If you’ve never heard of him, he was a British playwright, known for penning so-called “comedies of menace.” These were stories set in mundane locations, like a suburban living room, or a dinner party where everyone’s acting nice, but you’re always uneasy, because you suspect that something bad is about to happen. And, most of the time, something bad does happen. Animal Kingdom has that same feel, because there are several points where you’re not sure if you’re supposed to like the main family or not. On the surface, they seem nice and normal. They eat dinner together. They take care of each other. In one scene, J’s uncle chastises him for not washing his hands. And yet, in a heartbeat, they’ll pull a gun on someone, or ask J to do something violent and illegal. And that is what keeps you invested; the uncertainty; the not knowing whether or not you can trust these people. For this reason, and the stellar performances, particularly from Ben Mendelsohn, whom plays Pope, and Jackie Weaver, whom plays Smurf, I would highly recommend Animal Kingdom to you all. It is a well-written, well-acted crime drama with great tension, and I think you all would enjoy it if you saw it.

The Age Of Shadows (2016)

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

When the Japanese learn that a resistance group is smuggling explosives into Seoul, they send Officer Lee Jung-Chool to stop them. An ethnic Korean with a history of selling out his countrymen, Lee is initially eager to bring the rebels down. But when one of the insurgents he has a hand in killing turns out to be his old classmate, he starts to have second thoughts about the whole affair.

The Age Of Shadows is a brilliantly-shot, beautifully-acted, solidly entertaining spy film. It’s got period-accurate sets, gorgeous costumes, and a nice-sounding score. And unlike Lust, Caution, which is set during the same era, and deals with similar themes of espionage, Age Of Shadows doesn’t put you to sleep. It’s got some great chases, and some spectacular scenes of suspense. Two sequences in particular, one in the beginning where a group of police officers are chasing a man across some rooftops, and one on a train where the Japanese are trying to find rebels, really stick out. They help elevate this film beyond a predictable, patriotic thriller, to something more exciting, and more universally appealing.

That said, I have no desire to watch this movie again. The biggest reason is the runtime. This movie is about 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and there are points where the pacing really does drag. Granted, those moments are quickly replaced with exciting sequences, like the ones I just mentioned, but, still, those slow bits definitely left a sour taste in my mouth. On top of that, as good as the acting in this movie is, there is little to no characterization. You get to know Officer Lee and the chief rebel a bit, since they’re given the most screen time, and have the most to say. But everything we know about everyone else is told to us in voice over, and we’re never really shown who these people are. We’re never given a scene where they all sit down, talk, and act like regular people. And that was a little disappointing.

Still, at the end of the day, I don’t regret having watched this movie, and would even recommend it to you all. If you’re a fan of spy films, Korean movies, or the director, Kim Jee-Woon, give this flick a look. You’ll probably wind up enjoying yourself.

Three (2016)

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

When a gang leader is cornered, he injures himself so as to force the cops to take him to the hospital. There, he refuses to be treated, citing his right to die. The cop who brought him in, however, urges the doctors to go ahead with the operation, believing that this “right to die” nonsense is nothing more than a stalling tactic. This confuses the attending physician, who finds herself caught between the law on one side, and her duties as a doctor on the other. And with the gangsters closing in, she has to make a decision quick. Otherwise, she, and everyone in the hospital, could wind up dead.

Three is a film with superb acting, gorgeous cinematography, and distinct characters. And I absolutely hate it. It’s one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something. It takes a basic premise that’s worked in the past–people in one location, waiting for something bad to happen–and sucks all the life and energy out of it. There’s no tension. There’s no urgency. Even the climatic final shoot out, which you have to wait over an hour and twenty minutes to get to, is a bore, with it all being done in slow motion, and the music accompanying it being so soft and gentle that it puts you to sleep.

As I said before, this film is well-acted, well-written, and well-shot. But dialogue and cinematography are only part of a film. How you put those things together–what music you decide to use, which order you place the clips in–can drastically alter the tone and meaning of the content. There are tons of videos on youtube where people take shots from horror films, and re-edit them with jaunty music so that they’re no longer scary. The same principle holds true with Three. What you essentially have is a suspense story, with characters being trapped in one location, waiting for a monster to finally show itself. As such, you should edit the film in a manner that conveys how anxious the characters are feeling. You could have a clock ticking loudly in the background, or maybe have certain scenes feature an ominous, slowly building score. Instead, what we are given is a dull, subdued film, with restrained performances, long-lasting shots of people just sitting and talking, almost no background music, and a cool, blue color palette. These things sap all the energy out of what should be a tense situation, and leave us feeling bored and frustrated. If certain shots had been cut off sooner, or a bit of ominous music had been added to emphasize the importance of particular moments, I might have enjoyed Three more. As it stands, though, I was left seriously disappointed, and can’t recommend this picture to you all.

The Chaser

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

If you like stories about kind, good-hearted people, you’ll probably want to avoid The Chaser. Because this film has exactly none of those in it. The story of a pimp trying to find his missing prostitutes, and thereby uncovering the crimes of a serial killer, the film is absolutely disgusting. And completely amazing.

This movie is INCREDIBLE! It’s riveting, well-acted, and actually has a very compelling story and characters. You see the pimp grow. You see him change and become more compassionate. You care about him. You care about Mi-Jin, the prostitute he’s so desperate to find. You care about Mi-Jin’s daughter, Eun-Ji, whom the pimp befriends and becomes a surrogate father to. This film takes a disgusting premise, and despicable characters, and gives them both weight and pathos. You’ve got to commend the director, Na Hong-Jin, and especially the screenwriter, Shino Lee, for being able to do that. And, wouldn’t you know it, this film got great reviews and made a crap ton of money when it came out, precisely because of its ability to do those things. It was so successful that Hollywood has already bought the remake rights, and is thinking of doing an American version with Leonardo DiCaprio starring, and Martin Scorses directing. If that’s not an indicator of this film’s quality, I don’t know what is.

I actually have a very personal connection to this film, since the man who wrote it, Shinho Lee, was my screenwriting professor at NYU. He’s a very kind, very insightful man, who told me some fascinating stories about this film’s production. Like how he had to write the script in less than three weeks, like how this story was based off the actions of a real serial killer, Yoo Young-Chul, like how the real pimp who caught the serial killer sued the producers of the movie, and how the director, Na Hong-Jin, is kind of crazy. I’m not even kidding with that last one. Shinho told me that the heads of the studio that funded Na’s most recent film, The Wailing, forced him to go to counseling after shooting wrapped, because of his violent and erratic behavior on set. If that’s not crazy, I don’t know what is. Still, it was super cool to hear these things, these little backstage secrets, from a working professional who’d written a film as successful as The Chaser. It gave me a good idea of what to expect in the film industry, as well as the kinds of characters I’ll be encountering there.

Now before anyone accuses me of grading this film on a curve because I know the guy who wrote it, I do have some problems with it. For starters, I’m not a fan of the camera work. It’s almost all hand-held, and very shaky. I understand that this is a gritty, realistic movie, and that the handheld technique was used to enhance the realism of the story, but it gets really distracting after a while. Every time we get a close up on a character’s face, the image is super wobbly. There’s also a lot of cutting in this picture. In one scene, for instance, the pimp is talking on the phone, and we get four different shots of his face from various angles in a row. I understand that frequent cutting is used to keep audience’s engaged, but there just wasn’t any reason for them to include so many there. He’s only on the phone for about 5 seconds. I’m assuming we can look at a single image for that long. Also, there’s a lot of misogynistic violence and language in this film, which, while it may be realistic, is something I never like to see or hear. Shinho actually said that he was nervous people would brand the film as hateful towards women, given its content, and the fact that it was written, directed and produced by men. But, trust me, if you’ve ever met Shinho, you know that he is anything but a misogynist. Most of his other films, like My Mighty Princess, have female protagonists, and he was always adamant in writing class that we should include deeper, more varied roles for women in our scripts. “Don’t just have them be girlfriends, wives, or mothers,” he’d say, “Let them be characters with interests and jobs.” So, yeah. The film has misogynistic content, which I don’t like, but its necessary to the story, and the guy who wrote it doesn’t hate women. But I’m getting off track. The final problem I have with The Chaster is that there’s a point in the middle of the film, after the serial killer has been caught, and the pimp is trying to find Mi-Jin, where I got kind of bored. Nothing super exciting happens during this period, we just see him going around and trying to find clues, and it kind of slows the rest of the movie down. But its not very long, and as soon as its over, the film kicks right back into high gear with a super intense, super suspenseful sequence in a convenience store.

So, in the end, if you want to watch a gritty, well-acted, super suspenseful thriller with a great arc and an engaging narrative, give The Chaser a look. It is definitely worth your time.

Sicario

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

Someone once said that Sicario was a beautifully crafted movie with little to no replay value. Having seen it for myself, I can understand why they’d think that. The film’s brilliant acting, gorgeous cinematography, and eerie soundtrack all work together to make it a truly suspenseful thriller. And at the same time, the painfully slow pacing, simultaneously bleak and conventional storyline, and odd sound design make it a slog to get through, and leaves you feeling kind of empty inside.

The story of an FBI hostage retriever, Emily Blunt, getting called on board a joint DOD-CIA task force to bring down a drug cartel responsible for a horrific bombing, the film offers very little in the way of hope or redemption. Child murder, torture, opening fire in crowds filled with civilians, these are but a sampling of the horrific things that happen in this movie. Now I suppose that the film’s bleaker tone and lurid subject matter make it a more realistic look at the drug war, but still. The last 20 minutes are guaranteed to leave you feeling completely hollow. On top of that, the picture moves at a snails pace, with there being several long, unbroken shots of landscapes and cars, which, honestly, just feel like filler. Now I recognize that in a suspense film, you need to build up the tension, to make the audience wait for the bomb to go off, but I honestly lost interest in this film after a while because of how slow everything was moving. In addition to this, the sound design is really weird. In most films, they use special microphones to blot out background noises so that all you can hear are the actors. But in this film, you can often hear background noises, like people talking, phones ringing, radio static, or the echoes from the walls. I suppose this was done to make the story feel more grounded and real , but it was honestly kind of distracting for me.

As you can probably tell, I didn’t care for this movie, but I do recognize the skill and precision with which it was made. And I know that some people will admire the story for its darker tone and bleaker ending. So for that reason, I do think people should watch it. I just don’t think I will ever again.