Series Review: True Detective Season 1

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Richly-developed, eerily-haunting, and at times edge-of-your-seat gripping, the first season of “True Detective” was definitely a breath of fresh air, a near genre-breaking achievement in cinematic television with terrific performances and a slow-burning plot that contains a handful of effective plot twists.

From the opening sequence, paired to perfection with the Handsome Family’s “Far from Any Road”, we knew that the series would be dark with very little humor.  But the show never crossed the line from darkness into dullness, as the main characters, played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, carried the darkness of the show with an enigmatic charisma that was always intriguing.

Cary Fukunaga directed the entire first season and did not return for the second (although Nic Pizzolatto did write both seasons) and it showed.  Season 1 was a showcase of excellent direction and cinematography.

The biggest regret I had with regards to watching this series was how much time it took me to finish it.  Not that the series was bad, just that I never got around to it.  The eight episodes probably took me about 6 months to finish.  I’m glad I did, though.  I’m sure if I had binged watched it, or at least watched it over a span of 3-4 weeks, that I might have enjoyed the show even more, particularly for its tone and atmosphere.  As it stands, “True Detective” Season 1 sits as one of my top 5 favorite television shows.

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

 

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One of the best comic book movies in recent years, as well as one of the best film of 2017 so far, “Wonder Woman” is a much-needed home run for the DC cinematic universe, after the critically-polarizing “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman.”

The plot is nothing ground-breaking; it’s an origin story of a superhero who overcomes adversity, adapts to the new world she encounters, and overcomes her first adversaries.  But the execution of the story was near perfection, and, most note-worthy of all, was the female-driven elements throughout the film.

Directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot, “Wonder Woman” elevates the female superhero, and female roles in films, to new heights..  Gadot portrays Princess Diana as an enigmatic and confused heroine as she struggled to comprehend the complexities of modern warfare during World War I.  Some of the best scenes of the film were those of when Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) explains the Great War to Diana.

The action sequences, many of which utilize the ultra-slo-mo methods made famous by “300”, takes the technique and improves upon it, making some of the most entertaining comic book fight scenes I’ve seen.  Note to “Man of Steel”: do you know make “having superheroes and villains throw and punch each other, and throwing large objects around while things explode” interesting? Watch “Wonder Woman.”

The film isn’t perfect: there are some plot elements that could have been explored further, as well as a villain that was fairly undeveloped.  But overall, “Wonder Woman” is an excellent film, and a must-watch for all comic book movie fans, as well as fans of entertaining films.

9 / 10

My City Is Dying [Series]

Episode #1: Worked To Death

The video below has inspired me. The entire thing is in Cantonese so I will provide translation and commentary at the same time. Although the video specifically refers to those working in the accounting industry for the “big 4” firms in Hong Kong, it speaks to a larger culture of work habits that is ruining office work in the city. This marks the beginning of a series of posts on what I see as the decay of a city I once loved.

The piece begins with ex-“Big 4” accountants talking about how working overtime without* extra pay as considered the norm. Bosses would say to his subordinates “when I was in your position, I worked OT and I didn’t get anything, so why should you?”

It then moves to a soliloquy by an anonymous accountant who reflects upon why he is working to 4 in the morning on a regular basis. The important thing to take away from this is that there is no sympathy on part of the superiors, who think that this kind of life-ruining work style is a fact of life that they just have to deal with. The anonymous accountant goes on to counter the notion that their hardships are compensated by salary with the deterioration of his health and relationships with his families and friends.

The next ridiculous phenomenon that the video talks about is that office people stick around in the office to “OT” even if they don’t have work to do. To paraphrase, “to leave early means that either that person is lazy or isn’t competent enough for more work, therefore everyone just sits in the office, waiting for the boss to leave.”

It doesn’t stop there. It is here that I’d like to remind readers once again that working ethos like this is not limited to just the Big 4 accounting firms in Hong Kong; similar things occur in banks, ad, and property management firms. The video then goes through the lives of some who have since left behind their grueling Big 4 days, and talks about how during busy times, they’d inhale lunches and dinners to save time, eventually leading to stomach issues that cause them to take sick days.

Quoting part of a larger sentence, “if we want to leave early, say, 9PM…”

The ex-accountant then talks about the culture of OT as a given thing, that if a worker leaves on time, that means that he is not given enough work, therefore piling on more work. He also talks about how he used to work until 5am, go home, take a shower, sleep for an hour or two, then hop on a taxi and back to work at 9am. He aptly points out that their big-4 counterparts in the West achieve similar business without its workers working the same number of hours. As the video cuts to a montage of him leaving just after 6 and having dinner with his family, his mom talks about how she worried for not just his physical but mental health as well, that she wanted him to get out of this ‘hell’ of a work place.

The next segment of the video interviews another man who used to work in Big 4 firms, during which 70-80 hour work weeks were commonplace. He currently is working with other accounting firms to address the issue of overworking. This is intercut with the previous interviewee, who now has more time on his hands (in his Big 4 days he’s had to work weekends) to do the things he likes or finds meaningful, such as caring for rescued dogs.

The video ends with some chilling statistics: Hong Kong workers top the world in work hours; concurrently, a university study has found that 83% of those interviewed finds life in Hong Kong difficult.

I have never worked in a Big 4 firm and I have never worked 70 hours in a week (there are 168 hours in a week, IF you count Saturday and Sunday, that’s almost half of your entire week). But I have interned at an ad firm that required me to stay at the office until 2am for a couple nights. This happens, a lot, in Hong Kong. And the people, many of whom lack either the courage or the knowledge to speak up about the wrongness that has been bestowed upon them, suck it up day in and day out, eventually leading to irreparable health and social issues.
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As a lead in to a future post: this type of work culture is not limited to the office work place in Hong Kong; it came from somewhere. The same type of people who run the accounting firms are the same ones who run the local education system. These are the people who believe more work for children means they become better test-scorers, which means better students. More on that later.

On top of shaky politics, mainland influence, a dying Disney (and the larger tourism appeal), a (largely) oblivious expat community, and a ruthless property-developing oligarch, the latter two of which make up the top >1% of the city’s population, the city to which I call home for two-thirds of my life is dying before my very eyes.

Reference:
Feature piece by rthk31. Thanks a million, for you guys made a piece that has finally pushed me over the edge and start a series to talk about this from my perspective.

Movie Review: The Purge Election Year

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“The Purge: Anarchy” was a surprise hit for me as it improved vastly from the first “Purge” film. “Election Year”, the third installment of the franchise, builds upon this concept aptly, with one of the two protagonists, Senator Roan (played by Elizabeth Mitchell) calling for an end to this annual night of mayhem.

The trailer basically shows the first half of the film, as the pro-Purge establishment (understandably) goes after Roan for campaigning to end their ways. Similar to “Anarchy”, the action scenes are by in large realistic and gritty, stylized just enough to reinforce the fantasy aspect of the Purge. Frank Grillo once again plays a sympathetic tough guy whom the audience cares about and can get behind. Finally, though the franchise is not known for its subtlety, the film is well-balanced in providing social commentary without being too preachy.

7.5 / 10

Movie Review: Suicide Squad (7.8/10)

Warner Brothers has churned out three films from the DC Extended Universe thus far: “Man of Steel” (2013), “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which came out in March, and “Suicide Squad,” which was released in Hong Kong on August 4.

I had the most fun with DC’s latest entry, by far.  The film was gritty yet retained a sense of humor throughout (you know how some movies start off really funny but gets really serious in the third act? This one has little humor moments from start to finish.)

The Squad itself was definitely the highlight of the film, as chemistry flourished between characters.  Joel Kinnaman was well cast as the no-BS military leader Rick Flag, tasked with leading this team of bad guys including Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) against, simply-speaking, a rogue villain.

Will Smith was… okay.  He did enough as the anchor of the Suicide Squad without hitting us with too many of his Will Smith-isms.

Also worth a mention is the Jared Leto’s Joker.  This is the first time ever where the Joker is featured in the film but is not the main villain / antagonist.  I think that is perhaps why I was not necessary underwhelmed, but left wanting more from that character.  I would definitely like to see more of him in feature films.

The standout of this film was Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, who packs just enough sexy and crazy into one of the most popular comic book characters of all time.  The film will likely be remembered for her performance, and I look forward to watching her on the big screen again.

The film could have been even better if it were not for a weak plot and a fairly CGI-driven third act (though some of the special effects were quite good).  I would really recommend this film as it shows the much-needed lighter side of the DC Universe.

Note* there is a mid-credit scene in the movie.

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Pets (7.9/10)

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A thoroughly enjoyable film from start to finish, “The Secret Life of Pets” boasts an interesting premise, exploring a question many of us asked as children, which was “what do our pets do when we’re not home?”  While interesting, I did wonder if the premise can sustain a feature length film.  The filmmakers succeeded in doing so by adding an adventure element for the two main characters,   Max and Duke, as they dash and tumble through New York City being chased by an array of sort-of villains including stray cats, anti-human animals, and animal control.

The film had plenty of laughs, and some of the visuals not necessarily the action animation, but the still frames, namely of the city skyline, were stunning.  I just might find a poster of it and make it my wallpaper.

The voice cast was very solid, with the main characters voiced by Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, and a stand-out performance by Kevin Hart, who voices one of the support characters.

The film doesn’t have quite the social relevance / commentary displayed by  “Zootopia” or “Inside Out”, but I think adults could still enjoy watching this film.  One thing that did catch my attention as the film’s soundtrack and score, composed y the prolific Alexandre Desplat, which elevated the film up a notch with dashes of liveliness.

A brief mention should  be given to the opening Minions short film.  Perhaps the makers of this short discovered what was wrong with the feature-length “Minions” film and rediscovered what worked for the minions in the “Despicable Me” films, but this was pretty much what I would’ve wanted the feature-length film to be.  I know it’s hard to turn this goofy and hilarious short into something that’s 90 minutes long, but I think it’s doable.

For those living in the U.S. / Canada, I haven’t see “Finding Dory” yet as it is not out here in Hong Kong, but I would still definitely recommend it!

Short Spoiler Review: Game of Thrones S06E10 “The Winds of Winter”

As many have already provided in-depth reviews this very fan-service-filled, feel-good episode where one feel-good moment happens after the next, I’m just going to provide some general thoughts.

I really loved this episode, as it finally progresses the grander story line of the battle of Westeros.  Almost every story line showed progress, and many were linked together.  For example, the scattered story lines of the Tyrells, the Martells in Dorne, the Greyjoys were linked with the grand story line of Daenrys Targaryen and her quest to claim the Iron Throne.  The quips between all these characters, led by Tyrion, is definitely something to look forward to.

This episode, along with the previous one (as I mentioned last review), were both incredibly well shot, utilizing so many techniques to create suspense and pay off, from holding the shot of the window to witness Tommen’s suicide, to the cut from baby Jon Snow to the now-revealed Jon Snow-Targaryen, it was all very well made.

There are for sure many things to look forward to for season 7.  The Night King and his white walkers did not make an appearance the last few episodes.  Also, how will Bran contribute to the story arcs of Jon and Sansa to Daenrys? How will King’s landing function under the reign of Cersei? What of the Hound and the servants of the Lord of Light? How about Arya?

Wish season 7 would start today!