Ender’s Game (To Infinity Retrospective)

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ATTENTION! At ease, cadets. Welcome to the To Infinity Retrospective, a series created in preparation for Rise of Skywalker. Each month, you will receive reviews of different Space Operas, and it will be your job to read said reviews, like them, and share them with all your friends. Failure to do so will mean the end of the human race. This month, you’ll be looking at a critique of 2013’s Ender’s Game. What’s it about? Well… Continue reading

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The Perfect Date (2019)

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When a friend offers to pay him to take his cousin to homecoming, ambitious high schooler Brooks Rattigan gets an idea. What if he set up an app where girls who need escorts would hire him to be their “perfect date?” Not in the sense that he’d be having sex with them, seeing as that’s super illegal, but in the sense that they can tell him on the app how they want him to dress and behave. Brooks figures that if he makes enough money being a “stand-in” he can afford to pay for Yale, his dream college. But what happens when he winds up falling for one of his clients? Watch the movie and find out. Continue reading

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

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

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Lara Jean Covey is a sweet, but shy girl, whose never been able to tell anyone that she likes them. Instead, she writes them love letters, and hides the notes in a box, praying to God that no one will ever find them. Especially if the boy in question is involved with someone close to her, like her sister Margot. Unfortunately for Lara, someone steals her love letters, and sends them to her crushes, including the aforementioned boyfriend. So to convince everyone she’s not trying to steal her sister’s man, she convinces another one of the boys she wrote a letter to, Peter, to pretend to be in a relationship with her. Of course, things don’t go according to plan, as she and Peter wind up developing actual feelings for each other, and Josh, Margot’s boyfriend, ends up becoming a wee bit jealous.
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Tomorrow, When The War Began (2010)

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

After spending a weekend out in the bush, eight Australian teenagers return to their hometown, only to find it completely deserted. Their parents are gone. Their friends are gone. All their animals are either dead or missing. And no one can come up with a plausible explanation for why. Then, when they head further into town, they learn the horrifying truth; Australia has been invaded by some hostile foreign army, which has kidnapped their families, and is now holding them in concentration camps. Realizing that they must fight to free their nation, the teens take up arms, and begin waging a guerrilla campaign against the invaders. And that’s really all there is to it.

Tomorrow, When The War Began is perfectly watchable, popcorn entertainment. There’s some great action scenes, like when the kids sneak into town, and get spotted by the invaders, and the performances of the eight leads are all very good. They, by far, are the best part of this movie. Their chemistry is great, and they really commit to their roles, even though they’re given some absolutely atrocious dialogue. The whole opening sequence where we see them camping, as sappy and cliched as it is, does have a certain charm to it. We like these characters, and we want them to succeed. So, in that respect, the movie does work.

It’s just that, when it comes to everything else–dialogue, character development, consistency of tone–it really, really doesn’t. Tomorrow, When The War Began is actually based off a series of young adult novels from the 90s, and that is very apparent when you watch this movie. Even though the central conflict is between these kids and the invaders, much, much more screen time is devoted to relationship drama. And that would be fine, in another movie, but when people are literally trying to kill you, I think you should tone down the “how do I relate to my boyfriend?” talk. There’s actually a scene in this film where two of the main characters almost get shot, precisely because they’re spending too much time jabbering about their love interests. And as if that weren’t annoying enough, there’s a lot of pop music in this film. And I don’t just mean in the beginning, when the kids are hanging out. That I would understand. I mean, throughout the entire movie, even in dramatic scenes where characters are talking about death and betrayal, scenes that would normally be silent or have orchestral music in the background, the film blasts top 20 songs. It’s completely jarring, and really takes you out of the movie. But by far the worst aspect of the entire film is the characterization. The protagonists of this movie are one note archetypes; spoiled rich girl, religious fanatic, goof ball, stoner, token Asian guy with no personality, etc. And they never advance beyond that. Which is a real shame, considering that you have a very talented cast, and a very big budget to work with here. The film also relies heavily on racial stereotypes, with all the villains being nameless soldiers from an ambiguous Asian country, and the movie’s only Asian lead, Lee, being introduced in a scene where we see him playing piano in the background while his mother struggles to communicate with the main girl, Ellie. The latter scene is meant to be funny, but I honestly find it kind of cruel whenever someone mocks the fact that another person has an accent, or is misinterpreting certain words. To me, it’s like making fun of someone for having a disability. You have no control over whether or not you have an accent, or whether or not you struggle with a language. And neither of those things reflects your intelligence, o your ability to love or be a good friend. But, like I said, no one in this film is really given any depth, so there is some comfort in that.

Now, based on the description I’ve just given you, you’re probably wondering why I watched this movie. After all, it doesn’t really reflect my social or political views, and since it came out so long ago, and wasn’t that huge a success, there’s no reason for me to watch it. Well, the answer is kind of complicated. Tomorrow, When The War Began is a film I saw as part of a larger effort, from my end, to understand the appeal of nationalism and far-right thinking. Being a Liberal who spent most of his life outside the United States, I’ve never really felt any patriotic fervor, and I’ve never been able to understand how people can embrace the idea of a Border Wall, or banning certain religious groups from entering the country. But, seeing as my government is insistent upon adopting these principles, I decided to find out what, exactly, the appeal of this kind of thinking is. And what better way to do that than analyze art which espouses those ideals?

Well, having just seen Tomorrow, When The War Began, along with Red Dawn, Olympus Has Fallen, and other, similarly nationalistic films, I can kind of understand what the appeal of this type of thinking is. It strips away all the complexity of real life, all the nasty, mirky details that come from thousands of years worth of history, oppression, warfare, and economic necessity, and gives you a very simple “us versus them” story. And I’m not even joking when I say that. We never actually learn what country the kids are fighting, or why Australia has been invaded. That doesn’t matter. They’re just “the bad guys.” They’re “the other.” That’s all you need to know. And that simplicity caused a light to go off in my head. The appeal of fascism, or rightism, if you want to be “politically correct,” is its simplicity. You can draw a clear line through all of its chief tenants; government bad, military good, ethnic group above all else. And that simplicity is appealing. It’s easy to grasp. It’s easy to remember. People can get behind a simple idea. People can chant a simple idea. People can fight for a simple idea. Because, when you actually stop, and think about all the things that make up this world we live in, all the complicated facets of a government or a business, you realize that you can’t really do anything. Because before you can take one step forward, you have to take five other things into consideration. That’s the problem with Liberalism. It’s tenants are too complicated for large groups to chant. If someone were to ask me, right now, what Liberalism was, I wouldn’t know how to answer. Because there are so many different ideologies and subgroups that fall under that umbrella term–environmentalists, socialists, feminists, racial equality activists, disability rights activists, immigrant rights activists, criminal justice reformers–many of which are also divided, and even competing with one another, that it doesn’t have the means to unify into a solid front. Rightism also lends itself very well to dramatic art, which necessitates the existence of a clear protagonist and antagonist, an “us” and “them,” so, naturally, much more media with a right wing stance gets made. And because more media with a right wing stance gets made, precisely because its easier to make, more people get exposed to those viewpoints, and internalize them. Some of the most famous action movies of all time–Die Hard, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, True Lies–have extremely xenophobic and nationalistic narratives. And because so many people have watched them and like them, they start to accept the philosophies they espouse.

Now I realize that this has strayed very far from a discussion of Tomorrow, When The War Began, but, the truth is, this movie is symptomatic of a larger issue. It’s philosophy, it’s easy to grasp, us versus them thinking, is appealing to lots of people. My parents were shocked that Donald Trump could ever win the American Presidency, but they never stopped to ask what about him, and what he stood for, appealed to people. He made politics simple. He made it digestible and easy to get behind, much like how this film does. And while I can’t say I’d recommend this film to anyone, much as how I can’t say I’ll ever agree with right wing ideals, I do recommend that you learn from it. It gives you a crash course in what people like about the right, and, in this day and age, where the right is what’s in charge, that’s going to be an absolute must.

Young Justice (TV Review)

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

You ever heard the expression “jumping the shark?” In case you haven’t, it’s an idiom used to describe the moment when a brand, design, franchise, or creative effort begins to decline in quality. The saying originated with the sitcom Happy Days, in an episode where a character jumped over a shark while on a pair of water skis. This moment was a drastic shift from the show’s previously established tone and formula, and many people saw it as a sign of desperation on the writers’ part to keep viewers interested. But, here’s the thing. Happy Days had been on for five seasons by the time it “jumped the shark.” In all likelihood, the writers had run out of ideas by that time, and were at a loss for new ways to keep audience’s engaged. There, at least, they had an excuse for why they went silly. Other properties, by contrast, aren’t on for as long, and therefore don’t have as forgivable reasons for going bad as Happy Days. Just look at the subject of today’s review, Young Justice.

For those of you who don’t know, Young Justice is an animated TV series that ran for two seasons back in 2010. It’s basic premise is that the sidekicks of the DC Universe–Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad–have gotten tired of playing second fiddle to their adult counterparts–Batman, Flash, Aquaman–and have therefore decided to form their own team. They do so, and pick up three more members–Superboy, Artemis, Miss Martian–along the way. They then go on various missions, and have numerous run-ins with a criminal organization known as “The Light.”

The first season is simplistic, but highly entertaining, and holds an undeniable amount of charm. Because it’s a teen show, most of the drama derives from love triangles, secret crushes, and adolescent needs to get older people’s approval. But it never once feels as though it’s pandering to that demographic. There’s a fair amount of adult humor in this series, like a moment when the character Artemis says she feels naked, and “not in a good way.” And the characters themselves are very well realized. Every one of them has at least one episode devoted to their ark or backstory, and you see them grow and mature as the series progresses. To put it in basic terms, by virtue of simply being a teen superhero show, the first season of Young Justice isn’t for everyone. But, for what it is, it’s still highly entertaining.

The second season, by contrast, is everything that the first one isn’t, and not in a good way. Whereas the first season consists primarily of self-contained episodes, the second season is nothing more than a series of interrelated chapters. You don’t know what the hell’s happening unless you watch everything from the start. On top of this, whereas the first season has a relatively small number of protagonists, all of whom you get to see grow and develop as the series progresses, the second season dumps a whole lot of new characters on you–like Beast Boy, Blue Beetle, Wonder Girl, Bat Girl, Bumblebee, and Red Robin–none of whom you really get to know that well, or see mature. But perhaps worst of all, the second season drastically shifts its genre. The first season was a straight forward teen superhero show. You saw the protagonists go on adventures, fight bad guys, and so on. The second season, by contrast, is an overly convoluted sci-fi invasion thriller, which steals conventions and plot lines from franchises like The Terminator, V, and The Thing. You’ve got Aliens dressing up like people to steal our tech, evil organizations looking to harvest human beings and implant them with superpowers, dudes traveling back in time to prevent the apocalypse, and alien species coming to Earth, pretending to be friendly, but really wanting to subjugate us. It’s a mess.

And that’s disappointing to me. Because I really loved the first season of the show, and wanted to recommend it to you all. It’s animation is beautiful, the voice acting is good, and the writing, at least for the first season, is very strong. But, alas, because the second season is so bad, and the first season ends on a cliffhanger that requires you watch the next season, I can’t recommend it. I’m not going to give the show a number grade, because it’s a total mixed bag, but I think you get that I didn’t like where it went. Ah, well. Can’t have everything, I suppose.