Deadly Class (Season 1, 2019)

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It’s the late 80s, and Marcus is a homeless teen with a deep hatred for Ronald Reagan. See, Reagan closed the insane asylums, and let lots of mentally ill people, including one who killed Marcus’s mom and dad, out on the street. Now, all Marcus wants is revenge. That, and to avoid the police, since the boy’s home he lived in mysteriously burned down, and Marcus was the only survivor. This last fact is what attracts the attention of Master Lin, the principal of King’s Dominion, a private school that teaches the children of criminals and assassins on how to be the best killers. Lin offers Marcus a place at his institution, and Marcus accepts, learning things like how to brew poison, shoot guns, and other assassination vitals, and all while navigating bullies, girls, and all the other high school tropes. Continue reading

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Cold Pursuit (2019)

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When his son, Kyle, winds up dead from an apparent heroin overdose, Colorado snowplow driver Nel Coxman becomes depressed. He grows distant from his wife, Grace, and is contemplating suicide when one of his son’s co-workers, Dante, reveals that Kyle’s death wasn’t an accident. Kyle stole some drugs from the local kingpin, Viking, and Viking had him killed. Realizing the truth, Nel arms himself, and begins picking off Viking’s men, one by one. Unfortunately for him, Viking believes these murders to be the work of another, Native American gang, and soon a fullfledged turf war is in swing, with the outmatched Nel at the center. Continue reading

In The Miso Soup (Book Review)

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

How are you all this jolly January day? Are you comfortable? Are you warm? Are you snuggled up in bed with someone you love? If so, you might want to stop reading this review right now, because it’ll likely make you feel cold and empty inside. That’s certainly how I felt after I finished reading today’s novel. “What novel is that?” you ask. Why In The Miso Soup, a horror story from Japanese author Ryu Murakami.

Now, I’m just going to put it out there, I really, really, REALLY didn’t like this book. It’s dark, twisted, sexist, and thoroughly xenophobic. I feel that it’s my civic duty to warn you all about it. But, before I go any further, I feel I should provide some background.

So, for those of you who don’t know, the author of this book, Ryu Murakami, is fairly famous, or infamous, in his native Japan. His 1976 debut novel, Almost Transparent Blue, was a huge critical and commercial success, even winning that year’s Akutagawa Prize; the Japanese equivalent to the Pulitzer. It dealt with disillusionment, drug use, promiscuity, and the influence of Rock and Roll on young people. And even though it lacked a clear narrative, the book was praised for capturing the spirit of the time, and Murakami was hailed as a counterculture hero, and even likened to figures like Jack Kerouac and Hunter S Thompson.

As time went on, however, his writings grew consistently darker and less accessible. Novels like Piercing, Audition, Coin Locker Babies, and Popular Hits Of The Showa Era were either trashed by critics, or became lightning rods for controversy due to their extremely graphic violence and bizarre content. People also started to notice trends in his writing, like the fact that all the female characters in his books are either prostitutes, psycho, or both. In this respect, Murakami is not unlike the American comic book writer Frank Miller, who won tons of critical praise in the 70s and 80s for returning characters like Batman to their darker roots, but is now lambasted by most people for sexist portrayals of women, and excessive amounts of violence in his work.

But perhaps no single book encapsulates everything that Mr Murakami is, or was, than his 1997 novel, In The Miso Soup. It’s got sex. It’s got violence. It’s got characters whining about how messed up Japan is. It’s the story of Kenji, a 20-something Japanese man who takes foreigners on night tours through Tokyo’s red light district, and follows the same basic premise as the movie Collateral. There’s a guy who takes people to various places in the big city, no questions asked, one night he gets a client whom he finds suspicious, things start to get violent and crazy, and the story becomes one of survival, as the main character tries to get away from this dangerous individual. In the case of In The Miso Soup, the dangerous client is a fat American man named Frank, whom it is later revealed is a serial killer, occultist, rapist, and necrophile. How charming. And what makes this even worse is the fact that Frank, an absolute monster, is not the most disgusting character in the novel. See, you don’t really like Kenji, the main character and narrator, because it’s revealed early on in the book that he’s dating a 16-year-old girl. And while you could make the argument that he’s not a pedophile, because maybe the age of consent is different in Japan, he’s still really annoying and xenophobic. Every few pages he’ll stop and whine about how Japanese people are like robots, how, since the economic boom, they’ve lost all interest in things that are real, that they’re all lonely, walking corpses, blah, blah blah. He also talks about foreigners in a really condescending, bigoted manner. He says that the Chinese are stupid and dirty, that all Americans are naive, greedy assholes, and so on. He also uses the term gaijin, a fairly xenophobic slur, to refer to foreigners. (Sigh).

Look, I’ve read tons of books that are critical of America before, but none of them made me angry like this one. Maybe it’s because, more often than not, those other books are written BY AMERICANS. And even if they aren’t, like the last book I reviewed on this blog, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, they usually try to provide a more balanced portrayal of the US. The Reluctant Fundamentalist shows good Americans, and bad Americans. When you read it, you can tell that the author had actually visited, and maybe even lived in, the United States. In The Miso Soup doesn’t have any of that. Frank, a fat, sadistic, corpse-raping serial killer is the only American we get to see in the entire story. It’s clear when you read this book that Murakami has never visited the US, and doesn’t care who he offends. Looking back on this novel, I feel reminded of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series from the 1920s, books that are so casually racist and ignorant of fact that its not even funny. The only different here is that it’s the Asian people stereotyping Whites, instead of the other way around.

All I can say is that, unless you want to read a book where every woman is either a prostitute or a bitch, the main character is a xenophobic pedophile, and the antagonist is the most vile and disgusting American stereotype imaginable, don’t buy this novel. It’s a 4 out of 10. I hated it, and feel ashamed for having read it. Be smarter than I was, and avoid it like the plague.

Sense8

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

Sex, philosophy, and high octane thrills–these are the first things that come to mind when I think of Sense8, the latest Netflix original series to hit the small screen. Written and directed by the Wachowskis–most famous for their work on The Matrix Trilogy, V For Vendetta, and more recently, Cloud AtlasSense8 follows a group of eight strangers from various parts of the world who, one day, become psychically linked, and find themselves able to see, hear, smell, touch and taste what the others do. The eight in question are Will, a Chicago police officer, Riley, an Icelandic DJ, Nomi, a transgender hacker from LA, Lito, a closeted gay Mexican actor, Kala, a Mumbai pharmacist, Capheus, a Kenyan bus-driver, Wolfgang, a German locksmith, and finally, Sun, a South Korean businesswoman. Each of them quickly becomes aware of the others’ existence, acquiring skills and habits that they originally did not possess, and even learning how to communicate with one another, despite all speaking different languages. Things only get worse when a mysterious man named Jonas appears and tells them that they are all being hunted by an unknown organization that wants to kill them. And, well, the story just gets crazier from there on in.

Now, before I go any further, I just want to make a few things clear. First, I actually really like this show–it’s one of the few series that I couldn’t stop watching. And second, I would seriously recommend that most people give it a look–if forced to assign a fractional score, I’d probably give Sense8 a 7.5 out of 10. That said, I do have problems with the series, and would like to bring them up in this review, but only with the hopes that, if the filmmakers do get the chance to produce a second season, they can learn from their mistakes and make an even more awesome show. But, I digress. Back to the review!

I did some research, and found that Sense8 actually started off as a desire the Wachowski’s had to use sci-fi to comment on current events. With hindsight, this seems kind of obvious, seeing as the show touches upon a number of prominent social issues, such as gender, sexuality, identity, and even AIDS. And while I admire the series for that, and for its international setting and cast, I do still have some problems with it.

First of all, when you watch the show, it becomes very clear that certain story lines–specifically, the ones that address the issues I just listed–were given a lot more thought and care than others. You spend a whole lot more time with Nomi and Lito than anyone else. Hell, there are whole episodes where you don’t even see Capheus, Kala, or Sun. Now, on the one hand, I can understand why the Wachowskis would choose to do this. One of them, Lana, is a transgender woman, and I can totally see why she would want to talk about her own experiences and hardships through art. That’s all well and good, but if your primary goal was to discuss gender and sexuality, why include all these other characters? Why not have the show just be about Nomi and Lito? It would give you more time to develop them, and wouldn’t distract the audience from the series’ main objective.

The second issue I have with the show is the fact that, just as certain story lines are given more thought and care than others, so too are some narratives given little to no thought at all. Riley, for instance, is featured in every episode, and yet she does absolutely nothing. I’m serious! 90% of the time she’s on screen, she just sits there, listens to music, and looks sad. She barely talks, and she never initiates anything. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that interesting at all. So why are we spending so much time with her? This just goes to show you how poorly thought-out certain narratives in this series are.

The third problem I have with Sense8 is a problem I have with a lot of American films and TV shows set in other countries–that being that the depiction of those countries and their people is pretty stereotypical. Nairobi, for instance, is shown as a never-ending slum, overflowing with drugs, hookers, and warlords. Similarly, Berlin is portrayed as a grey, dreary, over-cast puddle where no one smiles. And as if the environments in which you see these characters interacting isn’t cliche enough, the characters themselves are more or less archetypes. Kala, for instance, is a “modern Indian woman” who doesn’t want to marry a man she doesn’t love. Sun, likewise, is an amalgamation of every stereotype Westerners have about East Asian Females–she stoic, knows martial arts, and is regularly abused by men. All I’m saying is, if you want to have your story be set in all different parts of the world, do your best to represent those parts accurately.

But, if you ask me, the biggest error that the creators of Sense8 made was having their characters be kind of stupid. What I mean by that is there are numerous points in the series where the characters wind up in unpleasant circumstances, and these circumstances are ones that the protagonists could easily have avoided. Kala, for instance, doesn’t want to marry a man named Rajan, but goes along with the wedding anyway. Why? It’s not like this is an arranged marriage. The series goes out of its way to explain how this is a consensual union, and how both her and Rajan’s families are super modern and progressive-minded. So, if Kala really didn’t want to marry him, she could just have easily said no, and then there’d be no problem. Similarly, Sun’s predicament is one that she could easily have gotten out of. See, she and her brother are executives in their father’s company, and after a while, you find out that her brother’s been embezzling money. So, Sun, being the gracious and loving older sister, takes the blame for all his crimes, and goes to prison. Just one small problem with this–in absolutely no way does she have to! The series shows numerous instances of her father and brother treating her like shit, and of her hating their guts in equal measure, so why would she go to prison for them? It just doesn’t seem logical. All I can think is that the creators were trying to ride the coat-tails of Orange Is The New Black’s success, which, as most of you probably know, is all about women in the prison system. But, either way, the choices that the characters in this series make are ridiculous, and when they get into trouble for making them, I don’t really feel much sympathy. Let’s just hope the writers come up with some better ideas next season.

But, all these criticisms aside, I do still think there’s a lot to admire with this show. It’s well acted, the premise is interesting, and there are a lot of touching and profound moments in it. All I can say is that, if the creators learn from their mistakes next season, they just might have themselves a perfect show. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.