A History of Violence: “The Battleship Island” and “A Taxi Driver” Revisit Pieces of Korea’s Tumultuous Past

From an infamous Japanese forced labor camp in 1945 to the Gwangju Democratization Movement – and subsequent massacre – in 1980.

Korean films are excellent at combining these three elements: humor, poignant acting, and historical relevance with emotional appeal. Both The Battleship Island and A Taxi Driver accomplishes all three things, although I believe one film is overall more superior than the other. First, let’s talk about The Battleship Island.

I’ve discussed the relationship between Korea and Japan before, so I won’t go into it again now, but the film takes place on Hashima Island during the twilight of World War II. The plot revolves around hundreds of forced labor workers planning a riveting prison escape with a couple of subplots thrown in for good measure.

In terms of humor, there isn’t all that much present here actually. Most of it comes in the form of actor Hwang Jung-min, who gets tricked into going to the island with his daughter instead of going to Japan. He’s a bandmaster who rises up in the ranks thanks to his musical talents (along with his band members) as well as his generally appealing – if initially morally dubious – personality.

Hwang is a phenomenal actor who I’ve actually seen before in a Korean drama called The Accidental Couple from 2009. It’s one of my favorites, actually, and I recommend it! Anyway, in terms of acting, Hwang carries a significant portion of the clout and is one of the main reasons why the film succeeds in the way it does.

On the other hand, the younger (and more popular tsk tsk) actor Song Joong-ki doesn’t do too well here. He’s a Korean Independence Movement resistance fighter who infiltrates the camp to rescue another independence fighter of great importance. I don’t know if it’s his pretty boy looks, or soft features, but I didn’t think it was a very good casting choice. Somebody more appropriate would have been a guy like Jang Hyuk, who is on another level as an actor, but more importantly, looks like he could actually be an effective and deadly soldier.

Soft.

Overall though, the acting was very good across the board. Thanks also to steady directing and the weight carried by Hwang Jung-min, I thought the pacing was decent as well. I read a review on IMDb that absolutely blasted this movie, but I thought it was way off after seeing the film for myself. It’s actually quite entertaining despite its serious subject matter (maybe “engaging” is a better word).

Honestly it was hard to watch this movie and not get a little emotional especially near the climactic scenes. It’s probably because I’m Korean, but seeing Korean people suffer strikes me extra hard. This movie is definitely guilty of playing up the emotional appeal as much as possible. They didn’t overdo it though. And that’s important.

All in all, I thought this was a solid movie. The climax was tremendous and emotional, but the journey was also a thrill to experience. The only thing I have left to say is that in a bizarre coincidence, the same song that gets used in a lot of Modelo ads was played during a particularly inspirational sequence. It’s nobody’s fault of course, but it made me thirsty!

A Taxi Driver plays out much more like a drama with random spurts of comedy mixed in for good measure. With the exception of one car chase sequence, this is a much calmer film than The Battleship Island and it chooses to focus on a more clinical approach regarding the atrocities committed by government troops as they faced off against mostly peaceful protesters in a city under lockdown.

Song Kang-ho leads the way as a widowed Seoul taxi driver who tries to make some easy money to pay his late rent and support his young daughter. He gets in way over his head, however, as he unknowingly takes on what is essentially an escort mission for a German journalist (Thomas Kretschmann) to infiltrate the city and record what is really happening.

Everybody’s acting was really strong, which is what you need in any good drama. There was a good variety of character types, from the taxi driver’s determined but relatively lighthearted personality to the journalist who initially appears to be very smooth and almost arrogant, only to break down from filming and witnessing the actions that take place over the course of a few days. Of course, the supporting cast was great too, including Yoo Hae-jin as a Gwangju taxi driver and Ryu Jun-yeol as a university student.

Like I said before, this film is much more of a drama than an action film and therefore relies less on heavy climactic sequences to get the point across. Having said that, I still thought there was almost too little emotional appeal here. On one hand, it made for a much more evenhanded film. On the other hand, I felt like something was missing as I walked out of the movie theater; it was similar to the feeling I had after I walked out of Dunkirk, actually.

Both A Taxi Driver and Dunkirk are strong films, but their lack of desire to approach the audience through a genuinely emotional angle was a mistake in my opinion. While this film still did it better than Dunkirk, it was negligible compared to the sweeping cinematography and music that one would find in The Battleship Island.

However, I did prefer A Taxi Driver over The Battleship Island. Action films are a dime a dozen, and although the historical importance of what Japan did to Korea can’t be denied, it’s harder to find films like A Taxi Driver that can combine both somber elements of history while getting the audience to laugh a lot. Even more impressive is that it doesn’t utilize satire or parody at all. It’s an accomplishment worth lauding… and so I’m doing it now!

For people relatively new to Korean cinema, I do recommend both films. They bring a lot to the table in their own ways and it’s always a treat to see the trifecta of humor, acting, and history competently brought together.

Tra La La Land: “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” Is a Guaranteed Pantheon Film

It may only be June, but I’m calling it: this movie will be inducted into my 2017 Movie Power Rankings Pantheon.

This is the first animated film I’ve seen in recent memory where it’s purely for kids, mature adults be darned. This is nothing like the multilayered Inside Out or Zootopia, or really most animated films that try to juggle the responsibility of entertaining kids while producing some kind of “moral of the story” that satisfies the parents.

Here, the entire premise revolves around two best friends named George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) and their cranky principal (Ed Helms) who accidentally gets hypnotized into believing he’s Captain Underpants, a fictional comic book hero created by the two mischievous pranksters.

Of course, Captain Underpants eventually becomes a real superhero thanks to some radioactive school lunch leftovers, which culminates in an expected boss battle between a disgruntled science teacher named Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) and the #1 fan of 100% cotton underwear. All in all, it’s about as straightforward of a plot as you can get.

I figure it’s worth pointing out that fans of the original “novel” series by Dav Pilkey will find this film to be a mostly spot-on replica of what would happen if those novels were turned into a movie. People who are just jumping into this blind may find the comedy to be absolutely primitive and juvenile – just a hectic compilation of slapstick, literal toilet humor, and over-the-top zany shenanigans.

Both groups are correct to be honest, but let me tell you something: if you can’t laugh at most of the jokes in this movie, you should lighten up before you end up like Principal Krupp! And speaking of the principal, one thing I actually found quite surprising was how funny they were able to make this tremendous asshat.

You have to understand, this man is pretty much a kid’s definition of evil – I wouldn’t be surprised if Principal Krupp was the son of Principal Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. That’s the kind of heinous monster poor George and Harold are up against for a good portion of time in the beginning of the film. But the way he expresses that evil is pure comedy, from the faces he makes when he’s furious, to the bizarrely staccato way he smiles when he knows he’s got dirt on George and Harold.

Somebody get this guy a stress ball jeez!

Although I can’t say I laughed at every joke, or found the movie completely engaging from beginning to end, I was blessed to get exactly what I expected (and a bit more than that to boot). I was a big fan of the voice acting – I know some people were distracted by the fact that the kids weren’t voiced by actual kids – but Kevin Hart in particular put in some solid work.

I did think the real standout was Ed Helms though, for his tremendous work as both the evil (but secretly sad) principal AND the dumb, friendly, overly enthusiastic Captain Underpants. Shoot, I might argue his voice work was comparable to Scarlett Johansson in Her. Does his Oscars campaign start now?

Just kidding, sheesh.

In terms of the animation, I enjoyed how clean and crisp it was. I also found it oddly adorable, which gave the whole film a really comforting vibe even during the times when the audience watched two little kids almost get permanent psychological trauma from their tenacious principal hell-bent on separating them forever.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is truly epic indeed and I can wholeheartedly say I’m looking forward to my newest favorite film franchise (fingers crossed). It appeals to every demographic possible in my opinion and anyone who doesn’t like this movie is probably a schmuck, a blockhead, a blowhard, a jerk, a knucklehead, a gabagool, a twerp, a sap, a stooge, or a professional critic who doesn’t know how to enjoy life.

There’s nothing wrong with silly and immature humor if it’s done well and it’s definitely done pretty darn well here. I’ve always loved Captain Underpants even though I forgot about that love as I got older, but this movie has brought back the passion I might have assumed was gone forever. Now I yell his catchphrase everywhere I go and nobody is safe from my impression. Not my parents, not my girlfriend, and certainly not any of my coworkers.

Shoot, I went to a prostate cancer seminar at the Chicago Botanic Garden with my parents recently and I got so bored I ended up drawing my own little comic sequence involving my favorite underwear superhero. Even my dad cracked a smile when he saw it and he’s a Korean dad with the personality of a Terminator.

I don’t think it’s even a question that this is my favorite superhero movie in a while and I would half-jokingly argue this is better than anything in DC’s current cinematic universe, although I haven’t seen Wonder Woman as of the end of this sentence…

Blunder Mifflin: “The Belko Experiment” Plays It Too Safe

For films in the “survivor of a fatal free-for-all amongst friends and/or family wins” genre, you either go big, or go home.

You know the type of person who just coasts through life and never bothers to hone their potential? That’s The Belko Experiment. It’s a movie that meets the minimum requirements to be entertaining – nothing more, nothing less. It has got very agile pacing and an abundance of violence, but its blatant conventionalism derails what is overall a decent ride.

Honestly, this is one of the rare movies that might have gotten a much needed jolt of energy if there were actually MORE disgusting deaths. I’m not saying there had to be any torture scenes, or close-up shots of someone’s intestines dangling out of their lower abdomen as they crawl around grasping at the increasingly elusive tendrils of life.

I’m just saying if there are eighty people in an enclosed office building and thirty of them need to die within two hours (in the name of a social experiment), I don’t need ninety percent of those deaths coming in a combination of an executive and his lackeys lining people up and shooting them in the back of the head, followed by explosive implants blowing out brain stems because not enough people were killed during the set amount of time.

There’s a disconcerting lack of creativity here, replaced only by an eerie sense of “realism” in how the test subjects in the experiment operate under duress. I’m not saying a bunch of white collar office workers should turn into MacGyver, but I would rather scratch my head and wonder how John C. McGinley made the chainsaw machine gun from Gears of War than see two separate sequences of clinical precision that sucks a lot of the fun out of the air.

Movies like this are a real opportunity to stray from the path of normalcy and show true madness. This should have been an event where people were sharpening the ends of brooms and impaling each other. It takes place in an office building for crying out loud – can someone explain how John Wick: Chapter 2 ended up with more stationary-related kills than this movie!?

A relentless pace and the convenience of guns and the explosive implants makes the death toll rise extremely quickly and before you know it, the movie has narrowed down the living to a handful of the “bigger” names in the cast. It’s a process that’s breathtakingly quick – if you blink you might miss a death – and for that, I’m thankful. The Belko Experiment‘s saving grace is how quickly things go from zero to a hundred (or should I say eighty to one, hehe).

I can’t be the only one who imagined a far more chaotic movie than this one, but for what it’s worth, The Belko Experiment is still a mostly enjoyable and occasionally suspenseful horror flick. I just think there was some serious potential here to think outside the box, and what we got was the opposite of that.

Monsters, Inc: “Kong: Skull Island” Knows What Its Strengths Are

Godzilla, this is most certainly not!

In 2014, Godzilla tried to be something deeper than most of the monster-based movies that came before it, only to waste valuable time failing at character development and trying to be cute by refusing to show Godzilla in his entirety for a good portion of the film in the name of building suspense and *blows raspberry*.

Kong: Skull Island goes almost the opposite direction, but the irony is that this movie has pretty much the same amount of character development while consistently maintaining at least twice the fun and excitement as the underwhelming Godzilla.

A talented cast (namely Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, and Samuel L. Jackson) does get criminally underutilized with the soaring exception of a phenomenal John C. Reilly, although who really cares when we can see a massive spider terrorizing Vietnam War soldiers, or Kong violently wrestling a monstrous lizard from the depths of hell into deadly submission?

This is a movie that wants us to ogle at its visual effects and in a world where we increasingly take CGI and the like for granted, it’s worth noting Kong: Skull Island absolutely nails its visuals. I don’t think there was a single shot that took me out of the movie, which is not a universal truth in films even now. Plus, unlike Godzilla, this takes place in a colorful tropical location as opposed to a drab and rainy urban environment.

If you’re gonna make a movie, this is one of the right ways to do it. Not every good movie needs to be a candidate for prestigious awards. It’s definitely better to know what your strengths are rather than trying to be something you’re not.

Does that mean it’s impossible to make a monster movie that has a strong story and solid character development? Of course not. But maybe that’s not what’s important for these types of films anyway.

In a lot of ways, I feel like Kong: Skull Island managed to “Marvel” itself – in a good way. You know, that magical balance of action, comedy, and pacing that doesn’t feel rushed, but – perhaps more importantly – doesn’t drag and drag. In those aspects, this movie absolutely nails it. It’s almost two hours long, but boy does it fly by.

It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes character development doesn’t matter. I mean, if we’re really being honest with ourselves here, do the humans actually matter in a budding franchise featuring gargantuan beasts like Godzilla and King Kong? Maybe, but maybe not. I think what’s more important here is that while Kong: Skull Island may have the same plot/character depth and technical accomplishments as an entry in the dreaded Transformers franchise, the difference between the two is that Kong: Skull Island is actually really fun to watch.

Plus, let’s not make the mistake of underselling this movie. It’s not just fun – there are some real moments of genuine tension and suspense here that comes from a combination of everything discussed above as well as a terrifying plethora of monsters… like the aforementioned giant spider. When I say giant, I’m saying this motherfucker was like multiple stories tall. So disturbing.

The atmosphere in this movie is very well done and overall it’s hard to argue against the idea that this is a legitimately entertaining movie. Despite its misuse of a very talented cast and a lame script, I will continue to put forth my argument that a film must prioritize its strengths based on its content. I don’t necessarily think it would have been a good thing if Kong: Skull Island had the same character depth as, say, Manchester by the Sea.

In the end, Kong has his fun and so do we. What else matters?

2016 Movie Power Rankings

A power ranking of my ten favorite films of the year – and the complete list of all the films that didn’t make the cut.

It’s that time again, can you believe it? Two quick reminders:

  1. I’m using release dates from IMDb. So if The Lobster falls between the cracks, don’t blame me.
  2. This is a ranking of the movies I personally saw. So don’t get uppity with me just because you can’t find a specific movie somewhere. Having said that, I don’t update these rankings after they’re published so even if I see a 2016 movie after the fact, oh well, it didn’t make the totally arbitrary deadline.
  3. If you can click on a movie title, it means I wrote a review for it. Go ahead and click away! What have you got to lose!?

That was three things, not two. Just making sure you’re paying attention.

Check here for 2015 and here for 2014.

HONORABLE MENTION

10. N/A

I’m sorry but I can’t even pick a tenth movie. It was up in the air between Captain America: Civil War, Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, Sausage Party, and The Neon Demon. There are serious flaws with each one in my opinion and I don’t think any of them deserve to make my list.

This was an off year for me. The number of films I saw didn’t differ much from previous years, but the overall quality of them definitely fell. Usually, creating this list isn’t too difficult, but everything below the Pantheon has been a struggle (as you’ll see).

Let’s hope 2017 isn’t the same.

9. The Accountant

This film’s greatest strength might be how good it is compared to the expectations most people probably had before seeing it. While it’s not a perfect product by any means, Ben Affleck delivers a nuanced performance that is accompanied by a nice blend of seriousness, humor, and unexpectedly badass action sequences, and it looks like there’s a genuine possibility this could end up being some kind of franchise.

Even though The Accountant doesn’t have the same adrenaline-filled high compared to a movie like Hardcore Henry or even John Wick, the added substance here is what makes this a superior film. Plus, the highly-functioning autistic protagonist could be the hero we need in this day and age – maybe more so than Affleck’s other 2016 hero in Batman v Superman: I Left the Movie Theater with the Worst Headache of My Goddamn Life.

8. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Look, any movie that drops a disconcertingly catchy song about a girl asking to get fucked like Bin Laden deserves to be on this list. Also, we’re talking about The Lonely Island, who have a certain method of approaching comedy that doesn’t change very much in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

This mockumentary about a singer/rapper named Conner4Real often goes over-the-top in parodying not only the music industry, but perhaps all of popular entertainment in itself. It also does a pretty funny job of showing the rise and fall of a pop star and it’s easy to see how someone like Justin Bieber might have served as inspiration for this kind of thing.

Andy Samberg leads the way with a typically charming performance, but the real stars of this movie are the original songs. They’re super catchy, super funny, and it’s a damn shame the aforementioned Bin Laden song hasn’t gotten traction during awards season.

The plethora of celebrity cameos in this movie round out a solid movie that succeeds in what it sets out to do, but doesn’t have the same resonance as other movies with similar goals. But that’s okay, because I see Popstar on my list, and not those other movies. Ha!

7. Sully

A quietly competent film buoyed by another strong performance from Tom Hanks and a steady directorial hand from Clint Eastwood. Sully is the equivalent of a Buick: reliable, subtly confident, and doesn’t take anything off the table any more than it needs to.

While some aviation-based films like Flight relish the gut-wrenching sequences in the air and milk them for all they’re worth, Eastwood and pilot Chesley Sullenberger (he consulted… for obvious reasons) decide to focus on the power of humanity rather than gratuitous special effects and cheap thrills.

It’s a move that pays off, giving us one of the year’s most sneakily satisfying films.

6. Deadpool

The most refreshing superhero experience since Guardians of the Galaxy comes from Ryan Reynolds, who also graciously provided us with one of the worst superhero experiences in 2011’s Green Lantern. Nevertheless, Deadpool is the character Reynolds was born to play and his performance has led to critical acclaim.

The R-rated adventure goes against the grain in a myriad of ways, with one common one being Deadpool breaking the fourth wall (addressing the audience or acknowledging there is an audience to begin with) and saying something snarky.

Really, the only losers here are the furious parents who chose to take their very underage children to see this movie, only to realize there’s literally a sex montage with each act taking place on a different holiday. Also, did I mention this is R-rated?

Sorry parents, it’s your loss. I can only imagine there’ll be a sequel. We can only hope future installments are just as good as this one.

THE PANTHEON

5. Zootopia

No joke, the hardest I laughed in a movie theater this year was during the DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles) scene in Zootopia with the sloths. Even when I think about it now, it’s maybe one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a movie. On a broader scale, Zootopia is an ambitious animated film that explores important – and timely – themes like stereotypes, discrimination, and determination.

Like most animated movies, it tries to serve both the kids and the adults in the audience, and in both cases it really delivers. The animation is excellent, the voice acting is engaging, and the characters are both fun and relatable. Most of the humor is easy to understand for kids, but there’s also a lot of more subtle opportunities to make jokes older audience members would appreciate.

It’s a genuinely fun movie to watch, no matter how old you are.

4. Hell or High Water

Chris Pine and Ben Foster deliver the best acting of their careers with a helping hand from a rumbling Jeff Bridges and a bemused Gil Birmingham in this modern Western heist drama. There’s a rough beauty to how the complex story is shown in such a well-crafted and efficient way, thanks to a phenomenal screenplay by Taylor Sheridan.

The storyline is tight and brisk and the cinematography is simply sublime. The pacing is balanced, allowing us to lean forward in tense anticipation during the heist scenes while also allowing us to fully appreciate the scenes where Bridges and Birmingham get to exchange some of the best banter of the year.

I suspect this movie slipped under a lot of people’s radars. That’s a shame, because despite its seemingly ho-hum marketing campaign (I remember thinking I wasn’t interested when I watched the trailers), it’s actually one of the best films of the year.

3. Sing Street

This feel-good, coming-of-age tale takes place in the delightful year of 1985 in Dublin, Ireland. We follow a boy named Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who transitions from private to public school. It’s rough at first before he sees a girl off in the distance. Lo and behold, he’s completely smitten and now he must somehow win her over. But how…?

I know, start a band!

Inspired by the likes of Duran Duran, The Clash, and other great bands of that time, Conor and his friends end up creating a band with undeniable potential. With a lovable cast and a story you immediately want to see end happily, Sing Street is a charming little flick with a big heart.

2. Arrival

Director Denis Villeneuve continues his strong run as one of the premiere directors of our time in a comprehensive piece of cinema that uses an alien “invasion” to lead the audience to places nobody could have seen coming. This is a movie that addresses a lot of deep and profound questions, juxtaposing the concept of extraterrestrial life with humanity’s existential ponderings.

The complex storyline is almost singlehandedly carried by my future bae, Amy Adams, as well as a throbbing, tense atmosphere and one of the best original scores of the year from composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. All those factors elevate the film’s twist from simply provocative to a complete emotional and mental experience.

Arrival is a can’t-miss film. So don’t miss it, jeez.

1. La La Land

It’s the only movie I saw in theaters twice this year and the second time was such a struggle because of how emotional everything is. After you’ve seen the infamous gut-wrenching ending sequence the first time, you can’t stop your heart from breaking into a million shimmering pieces as you watch everything all over again.

La La Land is the very definition of a memorable movie, filled with vibrant colors, glowing dreams, and the harsh slap of reality that says success can come at a hefty, hefty price. As an added plus, it’s a legitimately catchy original musical and I’ve heard lots of people say they’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat and letting themselves get caught up in the ensuing emotional rollercoaster.

Hell, it inspired me to take up the piano again so I can come closer to becoming a Korean Ryan Gosling (and finding my Emma Stone, um, without the [spoiler]).

Here’s to the fools who dream. Congratulations La La Land, you’re my Movie of the Year.

THE LEFTOVERS

Bad Santa 2

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Bleed for This

Captain America: Civil War

Central Intelligence

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Jason Bourne

Mechanic: Resurrection

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Ride Along 2

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Sausage Party

Suicide Squad

The Boss

The Brothers Grimsby

The Conjuring 2

The Do-Over

The Infiltrator

The Magnificent Seven

The Neon Demon

X-Men: Apocalypse

It’s Showtime: “La La Land” Is My Film of the Year

Shoot, now you know what’s going to be at the top of the Pantheon in my 2016 Movie Power Rankings.

What I’ll always remember even when I’m fifty and drooling away on my deathbed (I peak early) is the audience as La La Land‘s ending credits rolled. There were a bunch of old people and some teenage girls; weekday screenings during the daytime usually have a demographic that reliably leans towards older folks and I can only assume teenage girls were there because Ryan Gosling is the pinnacle of human perfection.

In any case, after a heartbreaking epilogue that stabbed at our very souls over and over and over again, there was nothing left to do but sit in an emotional haze, valiantly blink away tears, sniffle like a bunch of crack addicts, and tell ourselves everything would be okay. I saw old ladies literally suffocating themselves with tissues because they were so overcome with angst while the teenage girls sitting next to me kept gasping and muttering “oh no” as this tremendous musical ended in maybe the most bittersweet way possible.

Visually La La Land is one of the warmest films you’ll see all year. It’s easy to get distracted by the catchy and original musical numbers, stunning cinematography, intimate yet grandiose production design, and phenomenal chemistry between Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Gosling). You wouldn’t necessarily think of cynicism for something like this.

Yet it’s there nearly the whole time.

Damien Chazelle does a fantastic job in only his third directorial entry, somehow exceeding 2014’s excellent Whiplash, which one could argue is a significantly more aggressive version of this film. At the core, both films are about making it to the top, although La La Land chooses to wrap that core with a layer of romance while Whiplash flips off romance in the name of utter dedication to the craft.

There was certainly a fair amount of cynicism involved in Whiplash but one could argue there’s twice the amount here. It surrounds Mia, an aspiring actress making ends meet as a barista, and Sebastian, a musician who is passionate about a dying genre. She left college early to pursue her dreams and six years later she has nothing to show for it. He can’t hold down a steady job because he loves jazz so much he can’t stop himself from playing it even if it’s not what his boss wants.

It’s not a spoiler to say these two folks get together and they just click. They keep running into each other, which is crazy in a city as vast as Los Angeles, and eventually they end up in a great relationship. But, now you have to ask yourself what sacrifices are you willing to make for your own future… but also the future of your partner. The seductive tendrils of your dreams don’t ever go away, although Mia and Sebastian both struggle to reconcile with the reality of their situations.

Chazelle is a fucking savage though, because his idea of a resolution to this problem is to give us the worst-case scenario (that doesn’t involve death). And that’s where the second avalanche of cynicism comes in, particularly in the aforementioned epilogue.

Mia is happy. Sebastian is happy. But for the audience?

It’s devastating.

The genius of the whole thing is that the epilogue is essentially a sweeping retelling of history, a glorious case of what-could’ve-been, and that’s what makes it hurt so much more.

The violent intensity of Whiplash turned a lot of people off. They said it wasn’t realistic. I would say in this case, La La Land is one of the most sharply realistic movies of the year. To generate that type of reaction from the same movie that features spontaneous singing and dancing on a highway overpass, a posh party in the Hills, and a sequence involving outer space (!!) is not an easy accomplishment.

But, it’s the themes surrounding the story that make it so. It’s about sacrifice and love. Those two usually go together – sometimes your sacrifice is letting go of something or someone you love. It’s an eternally relevant fairytale with a sobering message at the end and it’s expertly packaged in a gorgeous original musical that is often breathtaking.

You should never forget La La Land is more than a musical, but you should also never forget how making this a musical instead of a traditional romantic comedy is part of why this is so good. For its technical excellence combined with a deeply nuanced emotional storyline (and other reasons I’ve discussed above), I’m declaring this movie my personal favorite of the year.

The Expendable: “Mechanic: Resurrection” and What We Actually Want from Jason Statham

Less clichés, more batshit craziness.

Jason Statham has a problem.

This might not be a fair thing to say, but almost every movie where he doesn’t get to go completely off the rails is either generically entertaining or a waste of his potential. We thrive off of his unstoppable kinetic energy and the unique set of traits he brings to the proverbial table (everything from his one-liners that sound even better with his accent to some of his fight scenes that requires such an elaborate use of props, even Jackie Chan is impressed).

The vast majority of his work blends in with each other; other than his roles in the Cranks and the Transporters of his filmography, his career has been pretty much one formulaic action flick after another. The only reason we enjoy them more than, say, any other typical action film is because each one usually comes equipped with a set of those classic “Statham moments” we’ve come to love, but almost none of them expand those moments to cover the length of an entire movie.

Sadly Mechanic: Resurrection doesn’t break that trend. Instead, it joins his increasingly bland list of action films, but like most of his work, it is also a mostly enjoyable experience on a superficial level and it does admittedly have a handful of Statham-esque moments. I would argue in the big picture, it’s probably an underwhelming film, but in terms of how it stacks up to Statham’s other work, I would say it’s a good fit in the top twenty percent.

Having said that, this is a movie that’s riddled with tired and cringeworthy clichés, including a forced and rushed romantic relationship with Jessica Alba and lame fight sequences that are somehow just bland enough to be mostly forgettable and just interesting enough to make this a movie worth watching once.

I guess that’s the most frustrating aspect of this whole thing: it comes so close to being a crazy Statham movie, but it keeps walking up to the edge and then backing down. It’s almost like they couldn’t decide whether to fully unleash him, so they tried to find a middle ground.

I say fuck that.

Either burn it all down or let the man be the definitive example of a bull in a china shop. I’ve said this a billion times at this point, but it’s better to either be atrocious or excellent. Being middling is the worst. That’s not quite the description I would use for this movie, however.

All in all, it’s carried by Statham’s energetic effort, as well as a relatively quick pace that keeps things moving. Tommy Lee Jones also rocks our socks off during those brief moments he’s onscreen. The swimming pool sequence (which we kind of see in the trailers) is pretty badass. Really, it’s a perfectly serviceable late summer action flick – the type that hits Amazon Prime or Netflix and ends up being popular for a while, overshadowing the more “prestigious” titles in people’s queues.

Who has time for Oscar-nominated dramas or critically acclaimed indies when Jason Statham is waiting to blow your mind, right?

It’s a shame, though, that people don’t seem to realize Statham’s best moments are when he gets to do fucking savage things like punting a head into a swimming pool, beating the shit out of someone while he’s on fire, or fighting off henchmen in a fight involving lots of lots of oil. His list of iconic cinematic moments is only rivaled by other masters we recognize through one word: Pacino, Denzel, Sandler.

We really don’t need any more half-assed movies starring Jason Statham. Hell, we don’t need any more semi-competent movies like this one. We need more movies like Crank and the Transporter trilogy (fuck off, Ed Skrein). Please, Hollywood. Don’t fuck this up for us. Or for Jason Statham.