Brightburn, And The Troubling Trend Of “Evil Superman” Stories

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So, in case you guys haven’t seen the trailer for Brightburn, the upcoming James Gunn sci-fi/horror flick, here’s the rundownIt’s basically “evil Superman.” No, they never say the name Superman in the trailer. But the story is about a little boy who lands on Earth, is raised by a kindly couple in the countryside, exhibits powers as he grows up, and wears a red cape. Except here, he kills people instead of saving them. Continue reading

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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.

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.