The Great Wall is Greatly Misunderstood

Expecting an Oscar contender when it’s just another Hollywood blockbuster.

Changchun, China. North of the wall. There are no Taoties here but I did manage to trek through 15°F temperature weather to watch The Great Wall in 3D at an official Wanda Cinema during the Spring Festival. Walking into the theater you’ll notice an aroma of sweetened popcorn, ticket machines that integrate WeChat, and a couple of Jing Tian posters.

The theater experience was great with attentive, professional, and uniformed staff keeping the place immaculate. After picking up our ¥37 RMB ($5.38 USD) tickets, we skipped the bar and concession stand that sold sweet popcorn, Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Red Bull, and Jia Duo Bao. We were presented 3D glasses and found our seats amongst ten other people.

Ads played featuring a wide range of products but most noticeably was an advertisement for IQIYI. The American equivalent for a Netflix ad playing at an AMC during the previews.

Prior to starting I kept in mind that the film already had a reputation for “whitewashing,” devaluing Chinese culture, and poor CGI (even though no one has seen it yet…) I’m certain the critics are revving their engines to tear this movie “a new one” during the US release but they’re all missing the point entirely.

The Great Wall is a blockbuster film no different than Transformers, TMNT, or some superhero movie. The plot can be vague, the characters aren’t fully developed, and there’s a lot of CGI explosions.

SPOILERS BELOW!

Matt Damon and Oberyn Martell travel from the west evading bandits and other baddies in order to find a mystical weapon, black powder. Their journey takes them to China, or rather the Great Wall of China, where they’re taken prisoner and then forced to fight against monsters (taoties). The monster’s origins come from an ancient Chinese folktale but US audiences will assume they came from outer space. A queen commands the colony-minded monsters which have eyes on their shoulders, killer teeth & claws, and don’t really die unless you jab out those shoulder eye things.

Matt Damon and Oberyn meet Willem Dafoe who has a plan to escape with a bunch of black powder as the Chinese armies defend against the monsters but Matt Damon decides to stop being a selfish mercenary and start valuing honor, loyalty, and trust (the themes of this movie). It also seems like he has a thing for the new commander, Lin Mae, but unlike in open and liberal western society, you can’t just sleep with the general of the army for the sake of a romantic plotline.

When they finally capture a monster, they realize magnets stop the transmissions from the drones to the queen. After a series of mindless attacks, the monsters go under the wall and threaten to kill the emperor and eat all the people in the capital which would apparently allow the queen to duplicate enough drone monsters to take over the world.

Oberyn is locked up after his getaway plan failed, Dafoe dies, and Matt Damon and Lin Mae ride giant sky lanterns to stop the monsters. All the wonderful side characters die in really sad ways and Matt and Lin stop the monsters just in time. I won’t tell you how because it’s actually fun to watch. I think Matt Damon gets some black powder in the end, but I stopped caring as I focused more on the whole monsters going to kill everyone stuff. He and Oberyn leave to travel back to the western being protected by official guards.

NO MORE SPOILERS!

Although it sounds like a terrible and crazy movie, it’s a lot of fun to watch. The monsters are pretty westernized looking (i.e. dumb and weird), but they have that World War Z zombie feel to them as they stack up on each other at the Great Wall which is a really cool visual to watch in 3D. The weapons were innovative and the different fighting styles were visually investing.

Being the most expensive film shot in China and most expensive co-production between the US and China, the visual budget worked out pretty well and the 3D effects were visually striking. The scenes inside of the Great Wall looked pretty cool, especially when they initiated some new weapon against the monsters.

Although the film doesn’t go far enough to portray more Chinese culture, it’s hard to ask that about a blockbuster film with monsters. The intention of this film, despite being in China with Chinese culture, isn’t to educate people about Chinese history but to show off ugly monsters getting killed in pretty cool ways in ancient China.

The plot and characters could use more common sense development but it’s easy to overlook the problems it has if only because it’s a rather neat film. It’s hard to say there are many like it, because they aren’t, so being overly picky only detracts your own personal experience of watching the film.

Go see The Great Wall if you’re looking for a visually appealing alternative historical blockbuster, don’t if you want to see something commenting about modern day politics or intricate plotlines and characters.

Bloodline Review

Netflix Originals are synonymous with quality but why the hell does everyone like Bloodline?

Bad things....Happen...And Stuff...
Bad things….Happen…And Stuff…

The pilot episode reveals this well-to-do southern family and their Inn/hotel estate…thing… and we find out the family has quite the dynamic. Oh boy!

Everyone tries to please the Mom (how relatable hehehehe!) and the dad is tired of his kids (Just like our dads amirite?), one brother is a fuck up, the other is a sheriff (ooooh!) and the other brother is actually a sister and she’s a woman. Or I forgot there is another brother who doesn’t like the fuck up for fucking up and is vocal about it but that’s about all we’ll see from him.

That's the chick from Grandma's Boy. What are they looking at?
That’s the chick from Grandma’s Boy. What are they looking at?

The fuck up dies because he… yup… fucks up… and the sheriff drags his body around. But hey if you like long boring scenes of a family reunion and every reminding us that the fuck up is going to fuck up then this “slow burn” is perfect for you. They say it’s like Breaking Bad but if Breaking Bad had a more mild and predictable climax at the end and a slower boring chase to the mediocre ending, then yes this would be Breaking Bad.

And that’s the first episode. Good night.

Oh wait people complained about these complaints already. That we’re not “smart enough” to understand it. Well you’re wrong, the pilot has no real plot it just showcases a bunch of quirky rich people screwing around. A murder happens but we don’t see but we can sure guess it rather easily who the murderer is.

Is the “magic” in the boring moments on beach? The attitudes the characters reasonably have towards predictable actions? Or is it just lifted from other “rich people dramas” that plague showtime, HBO, TNT, Fox, AMC, and so on? This was boring and it’s made for an audience that like soapy boring dramas, there’s nothing genius about it and it doesn’t “break the rules” or “change the game” you’re just their target audience.

“Struggle” “Conflict” “Drama” “Drama” “Other Words”

Green Room Review

Green Room is the kind of movie written by those McHipsters you see in Trader Joe’s who used be into hardcore-straight-edge-punk-rock and also want to be Wes Anderson on a shoestring budget.

But maybe with a mohawk and thicker glasses.

Either they spent their entire $5M paying off gullible, tasteless critics or they marketed to people who like movies featuring sensitive raspy-voiced tree-hugging ex-baristas who regret shooting unfathomably moronic neo-nazis that just walk around doing busy work.

This movie is so overhyped I can’t believe it was at cannes and not some kid’s make-shift drive-in theater projecting onto the side of their parent’s house. The tension really comes from anticipating whether someone is going to apologize for doing nothing then get killed, or if the antagonists will suddenly gain more intelligence than the voice-recognition systems you have to deal with when you call customer service.

“I’m sorry, can you please repeat that?”

NEO-NAZIS

Why does Patrick Stewart’s character, leader of some neo-nazi warehouse music scene-gang thing (what is this place anyway?), keep changing orders about killing the punks once the police leave? His greatest threat, the police, have left. Why does it matter if the punks get bit by dogs or “not shot in the bone” or whatever weird ways he randomly decides they shouldn’t die? I can answer that. Because it actually doesn’t matter since they try to just shoot them later anyway by sending in his top “assassin” who finds out his girlfriend was cheating on him or trying leave the gang, or whatever unclear mess that was…

Maybe I’m just stupid but that whole plot sounds a bit forced…

If you own a compound on many acres of land in some forest in Oregon (or Washington?) and it takes the police of a rural area 30 minutes to get there, why are you worried about their bodies? You could just do the woodchipper thing from Fargo, melt them like in Breaking Bad, and now you got some mulch for your weed crops or whatever Neo-Nazis farm on their weird cult compounds. And how come a wounded group of pathetic, half starved hipsters are able to kill so many of these neo-nazis, who could literally blow up half the country side if they wanted? Oh right, they stood around and DID NOTHING. They sent one or two guys in at a time, who then also DID NOTHING. They did nothing but suck and die. Why not send in like 5 dudes, with guns, and just shoot the place up? I think they’re turkeys…

Turkeys supposedly drown in the rain.

Hipster Punks

I can’t comprehend why so many people like a movie where the protagonists are literally TOO STUPID TO LIVE. Yes, this movie has a lot of suspense but it’s the sort of suspense where someone mindlessly walks into a war zone and everything start blowing up around them and you’re wondering ‘when are they going to die?’ From the beginning they realize they’re short on cash and have to take this neo-nazi gig. Now if you’re an average person with common sense, you’d probably realize you shouldn’t tell nazi punks to “fuck off” as one of your songs, especially if you’re surrounded by them at their own compound. Forget not getting paid for being a moron, what about their reputation for things like… violence?

The smart thing to do here is to tell these gentlemen to fuck off. Right?

Honestly the movie becomes a blur of stupidity and unbelievable acts of divine intervention at that point. It aimlessly progresses until the director realized it needs an ending somehow and thought he’ll just do the scene from Inglorious Bastard where the Americans shoot the Nazis in the theater.

Like this but very, very, very boring
VERDICT: UNACCEPTABLE WASTE OF TIME

The only respectable parts of this movie are the acting, the cinematography, and the marketing. I don’t know why people are marveled at the gore effects, they’re pretty basic expectations, it’s not the 1980’s anymore and audiences should have higher expectations for this stuff… The whole cut up arm thing was predictable and somehow duct tape fixes cut arteries and cartilage, I’ll tell surgeons they can quit because I’m going to Home Depot for now on. I don’t see any justifying this movie. Some people say it’s a tribute to other horror films, others say you have to say it’s good because one of the actors died this year, but personally I think it’s because they just don’t like Nazis and they love thinking that a Barista hipster could totally kill a bunch of baddies. In sum, the characters were spectacularly inept, and the plot looked like a five year old’s crayon drawing of a complex highway system.

Yea that looks like plot! Much better than architectural designers.

THE VVITCH & other Art-y Horror-esque Films

I saw The Witch in its full Arclight Cinema beauty this past week and it leaves many audiences either impressed or pissed off they saw another damn artistic “horror” film for $20.

There’s trend of these art-y horror-esque films lately including: Goodnight Mommy, The Babadook, It Follows, Under The Skin.

They’re all relatively low budget and place importance away from the usual tropes of horror and more on the mise-en-scene, cinematography, atmosphere, and generally have a slower pace. They sometimes include jumpscare scenes, though it’s not their focus, and they sometimes have a good bit of blood and slashing, but again, not their focus.

Instead these films seem to take a step back from things like Insidious, The Conjuring, Saw #33, and ask what other methods of storytelling and presentation could a horror film utilize?

These films each find their own little niche: Goodnight Mommy is that slow burn placing focus on emotional tension rather than thrills; The Babadook stresses that our own personal mental conflicts are actually the real monsters; It Follows is a very bright keystone as it’s the most apparent of the new horror-esque style films to present a conceptualized monster (It follows is really about STD’s/HIV if you’re not aware); Under The Skin was the most apparent post-modern style where the director tortures the audience by leaving out any hint of ‘reveal’ towards the plot until more than halfway through.

The Witch’s niche seems to be that it wants to be a very authentic period horror. Like really really badly.

I grew up in Connecticut where I was taught about that time period since Elementary School, having been on many field trips to open air museum & reenactment villages and such so I found that the film tries more to present itself more in a customary way than just an arty horror film with a neat concept.

I think it also tries to align itself to the manner of horror and storytelling to that time period as well whereas other films either run on jumpscares or try to present horror in a somewhat post-modern manner like Under The Skin.

The Witch eagerly wants the 1600/1700 horror story to come alive, and I think they did a great job of it. Storytelling back them wasn’t all chainsaws and torture porn, mostly because those didn’t exist in a Puritan New England settlement. It was more like the horror stories your childhood priest would tell the congregation about falling from God’s grace.

The drama that happens within the family is compelling enough to be it’s own movie outside of the horror/paranormal world as well. For that reason alone the film stands well on it’s own heels because it does have a good central conflict and doesn’t jump tent-pole some concept around stereotypical characters.

With all that said, I could see why many people hate The Witch and want their $20 back. It’s pretty, it’s slow, it’s not VERY scary (more just creepy), and really does feel old and antiquated in many ways.

I hated Under The Skin and personally think anyone who likes it is either a big fat pretentious liar or they enjoy post-modern art too much. Goodnight Mommy was okay but differently something for the euro-cinema crowd. It Follows should be the video middle school students have to watch in their Sex-education classes. The Babadook is why you should beat your kids and take proper medicine.

I would highly suggest watching The Witch and all these other fine and wonderful films.

True Detective S2 E1 Review (Spoilers, kind of)

Phonebooth16 starsky

Truly Boring Detective

I have to come clean officer, I could not finish the first episode, and if that’s a crime you’d better ask someone who isn’t Vince Vaughn or the scrubbing bubbles guy to lock me up.

Honestly though, I had high hopes and I don’t know who to blame for allowing the showrunners of every CSI franchise to ghostwrite this abomination. Maybe I feel betrayed by Cary Fukunaga (because he’s not directing), maybe I feel betrayed by whoever casted this thing (seriously they casted Owen Wilson’s undeveloped conjoined twin, I’m waiting for Ben Stiller to pop out), or maybe I feel betrayed by Nic Pizzolatto (who created the series) for writing 8 episodes the night before like my senior thesis.

Definitely all those things, but especially the latter. They replaced Fukunaga with the guy who directed Community… they have Vince “Not the sham-wow guy” Vaughn and Colin “1 in every 10 films I do is actually good” Farrell as leads… they cast some other people (Rachael McAdams who I think was in Mean Girls with Lindsey Lohan) who seem to be there to clutter up an already boring mess. If any of that is remotely tolerable, which it isn’t, the writing is pure 100% unadulterated expresso organic shite, and yes I mean to pronounce Shit like her majesty would have.

The version with Seth Rogen was better.
The version with Seth Rogen was better.

I’m starting believe that Nic Pizzolatto is one of those guys who was lucky in his career because I would call shenanigans if I heard anyone say they were personally able to convince HBO to let them write single handedly an 8 episode series after only writing two episodes for Kevin Bacon’s The Killing (and then quitting in a bitch fit) (Pizzalot also wrote a book that french people liked apparently…)

Pizza-lotto really wrote “Never do anything out of hunger, not even eat.” as dialogue in this episode and Vince Vaughn delivered it just as awkwardly as it sounds.

It looked sort of like this.
It looked sort of like this.

Let me recap this montage of Laguna Beach: Boring Detective: The Real OC/SVU/NCSI:Los Angeles

INTRO: Ah look the really neat detective noir intro, but wait somethings wrong. Rather than a fitting song by The Handsome Family like last season I hear some old man talking about getting screwed over at a lemonade stand or something? Weird. Okay maybe it’s just bad music choice.

OPENING: Huh, the dialogue with these characters is really… on the nose… This sounds like one of those scripts interns scrap the second they read page one. It’d be a good idea if they opened with Colin Farrell telling his pudgy ginger “son” that he worries about him getting bullied at school and that he loves him and to stay strong! Oh wait, he literally said that word for word… And it was a terrible idea…

Now this is where it gets confusing. There’s about 20 minutes of setup for more characters and we have no idea who’s important, what’s important, and why 10 of that 20 minutes is just tense orchestral music with more Laguna Beach-esque panoramas of LA highways. I won’t even go into Rachael McAdams character’s “Plot” which involves a kooky sister with blue hair who strips (good strong female plot, check!). Then something about a police guy getting a “favor” from some house-arrested actress he pulled over. Now everyone is just kind of looking at things like Ryan Gosling in Drive… OH SHIT HERE COMES THE SERIES PLOT, WHAT CAN IT BE?

newspaper2-700x340CITY CORRUPTION!!!

Yup. Season 2 is about city corruption. That happens in detective noir films about LA? Every cliche overdone detective film about LA involves police corruption? Oh right, it does that’s true… See at least last season I could feel scared that satanists or weirdos were going to come out of nowhere and abduct someone or mutilate something. What do I have to worry about this season? BJ’s and parking meter bribes apparently.

If Vaughn/Farrell did this the show would be saved.
The Parking Meter Fairy: If Vaughn/Farrell did this the show would be saved.

I can go on about all the particular and boring details like Al Gore on global warming, but there’s no point because everyone already knows the result, dirty acid rain from the sky- I mean cliche drama and boring characters. Nic Pizzalot is too far out of his element. At least season one was developed from his own experiences in Louisiana, this was like he just watched LA Confidential halfway through and came too close to a deadline.

Even Colin Farrell was disappointed, or fell asleep. Both work actually.
Even Colin Farrell was disappointed, or fell asleep. Either way…

Better Call Saul Season 1 Review (Spoilers)

 

better-call-saul-mike-

Better Call Slippin’ Jimmy

 

As a relatively casual fan of Breaking Bad, I was expecting a similar sense of danger from our protagonist (you know him as Saul in Breaking Bad and now Jimmy, Slippin Jimmy). The first episode really opened up hard in the future with Jimmy paranoid and reminiscing about his former lawyering it seems. I thought they’d end the season going back to this open but more likely they’ll end the series on it.

Anywho, this first season was pretty tame and slow, a lot slower than Breaking Bad’s first season (at least compared to it’s later seasons). I can sum it up pretty easily actually, Vince Gilligan runs Ally McBeal. I’m not trying to be mean but I certainly didn’t see any decapitated heads on turtles… instead we got 2 soccer moms complaining to Jimmy about totally not being criminals for stealing government money. But we get it, Vince Gilligan needed throwaway antagonists to let Jimmy’s character change into, well something… Wait, why did they have the Kettlemans as character forming antagonists and not someone more interesting and useful like Jesse Pinkman? Oh god is Slippin Jimjam going to start a meth lab with the Kettlemans?

kettlemans

You can easily assume Milton is the neutered one

And Mike? That badass old guy who assassinates bitches left and right in BB? He spends most of the time busting $9.00 an hour defense attorney Jimmy McGill’s balls for not having enough parking stickers.

So what were the highlights?

  • Same directing style and cinematography as BB
  • Saul is known as slippin’ Jimmy… (Sorry it’s not for his slip n’ slide collection)
  • Jimmy has a lawyer brother who’s not only a partner at the biggest legal firm in town but is afraid of electronic waves from absolutely everything (Jimmy did you ground yourself?) and lives in a dark house wrapped in foil as Jimmy does everything else for him. This unfortunately doesn’t pay off, his brother is an asshole.
  • Jimmy has a crime ridden past where the Bob Odenkirk plays a young, 40-something looking 20 year old I think? He scams and steals stuff which is why they call him slippin’ Jimmy rather than Jockey Jimmy, or Shyster Jimmy, or Quick Hands, or The Shadow, or Jim, or maybe “Hey that guy pulled a fast one on me!”
  • Jimmy was in the mailroom at his brother’s firm, somehow passed the bar, but his boss Hamlin denied him moving up in the world which makes Jimmy hate him years. (Turns out Hamlin’s a pretty cool and it was Jim’s bro being a craft backstabbing son of a….)
  • Nacho is a gang member who hangs around, eats some chips, makes some threats, but mostly just appears occasionally for no reason. Think of him as you’re unwanted cousin who stole your bike once when you were in grade school. Oh and Tuco makes an appearance. Neat.
  • Jimmy helps old people draft wills and he finds out their retirement home steals their medicare checks. It’s a big case that gets Jim’s brother (oh yea his name is Chuck), that gets Chuck out of bed and moving around. Too bad he steals the case, brings it to Hamlin & associates, then tosses Jimmy out like the mailroom clerk. ;_;
  • I think 2 dudes died somewhere in the season?

The point being, this isn’t Breaking Bad. There is nothing bad to break. The first third of the season is “Hey that guy was in BB!” The second third “Oh, the kettlemans, well they’re really stupid, Jimmy should tell them to fuck off or something.” And it leads to the season finale where Jimmy has the choice to “play the game” with Chuck & Hamlin (mostly Chuck) or flip the bird and drive off into season 2 the sunset. Yea it’s the last one. It really wasn’t that climatic, especially considering many of the season endings in BB.

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And the whole world waited to find out Who shot J.R.

tl;dr?

This isn’t Breaking Bad. Not even close. It’s an interesting and fun show to kill time and it’s certainly leading up to the good stuff, but it’s like a non-brand named diet soda bottle covered in dust. You know it’ll taste okay but it’s just not the same. Maybe with some vodka you won’t know the difference.

Well Game of Thrones is back, so yea…