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Quick Reviews

Haven’t finished anything to review lately, so just have some quick partial reviews:

The Scapegoat by Daphne Du Maurier: Am about halfway through the book and it’s pretty much the same as the movie, except it takes place in France instead of England. Enjoying Du Maurier’s writing as usual, but I think the main character comes across as a lot more charming in the movie. The other characters seem all the same. The film makers did a good job at adapting the story. I already know what’s going to happen, but am super curious about how the endings are different.

Peanut Butter Sandwich: This Japanese romantic comedy just wasn’t my cup of tea. Made it to episode 4 and just realized I was very bored. The story was neither funny nor romantic, though I was impressed at the government rookie being able to fit into so many service jobs without a hiccup. She’s got skills. The middle-aged woman obsessed with PB sandwiches was creepy and the guy agent looked dazed half the time. As for the other characters and their storylines–meh. Also, who wants the government investigating our love lives? None of their business.

Lookout: This Korean drama is a second watch for me. With hopping music, dynamic characters, and plenty of intrigue, I think I’m enjoying it even more this time around. The show stars Lee Si Young (Boys of Flowers) and Kim Young Kwang (Pinocchio), both of whom I think were born for these roles. Kim is especially on the money and enjoying acting his character and his character acting. The episodes are only half hour ones, so the plot and action moves relatively quickly.

Your Name: Also a second watch. Some of the best animation out there. Although I didn’t care for the Garden of Words, Makoto Shinkai hit this one out of the park. Definitely best to watch on a big screen if you can. It’s difficult to imagine an American cartoon or even CGI production that can touch what Japan can do with anime. Can’t wait to watch Weathering with You again later this fall.

The Garden of Words: A Mis-step

With the highly anticipated digital and DVD release of writer-director Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering with You just around the corner, I thought it might be fun to check out another of his anime films, The Garden of Words. Although on the one hand Garden can be considered a great story, it’s also a giant mis-step in storytelling and knowing one’s audience. Spoilers and much negativity ahead.

As with Weathering with You and also, Shinkai’s previously popular Your Name, the artistry in Garden is amazing. Rain, storms, any sort of weather, really, gives the illustrators the chance to really show off what they can do. It is a feast for the eyes. The trouble here is the story, or rather the ages of the people in the story, or rather that it involves a high school student and an older woman…who works at his school.

Let me explain, and I’m by no means the final opinion on this, but sometimes one has to know the waters into which they are dipping their toes. Maybe Japan embraced this storyline and didn’t think anything of it, but for American audiences, this story is a turn off due to not only the age gap, but to the fact that the 27-year-old woman works at the teenager’s high school. Why does she end up leaving her job? Accusations–wrong, but still–accusations of inappropriate behavior with the students. Talk about a storyline in which you are all but assured you’ll be misunderstood.

People are often uncomfortable with relatively harmless stories like Big starring Tom Hanks, a comedy where a kid gets to experience being grown up for a time. Despite the funny, rather endearing story, there’s a serious creep factor involved in having any sort of relationship that’s not a family relationship between a child or teenager and an older person. It’s a truth that cannot be avoided. In the past, sometimes teenagers were thought of as adults, but for many countries they are now considered children, no matter how mature they may be for their age. Artists today continually pick at this boundary, trying to make something palatable in the main stream which should not be. Quite a lot is at stake regarding this. Great harm can come to children and teenagers because of it. Monsters prey on teenagers and children precisely because they are too young to truly understand how they are being manipulated.

Even one of my favorite dramas, High School King of Savvy starring Seo In Guk, weirds people out, though in that he’s the American equivalent of 18, pretends to be ten years older for much of the story, and great pains are taken to show how mature and responsible he his. It would just be a more comfortable story if the character was, say, in college, but then it wouldn’t be as funny. Although the romance was done well, it’s just an uncomfortable story all around.

In the teenage world, even a year can be a big difference. When dealing with teenagers having any sort of relationship with an older stranger, one must consider first that this will be a turn off to the audience, and rightly so. Making the character as young as 15 is not a wise choice. It’s a mis-step, because the likelihood that you and your story will be misunderstood is very high. Again, I don’t know a whole lot about Japan or Japanese culture, but the director here doesn’t help himself in the slightest. He very much makes their relationship romantic–a beautiful rainy garden, facing a storm together, quoting poetry, him tracing her feet, the boy mistaking what they have for romantic love, and so on.

It’s a story meant to show a connection between two strangers. Sometimes when one is extremely lonely, it is a complete stranger who fills that void and becomes a badly needed companion, but due to the age gap of the characters and the fact that she works at his school–I think she’s a counselor or something–it’s just, again, a great mis-step. To his credit, the young man gets rightly angry when he finds out she works at his school and didn’t tell him. Shinkai may think that what he’s asking of his audience is to appreciate a connection of companionship between strangers, but in reality, that’s just not what he presented. A lonely, alienated from both friends and family teenager is exactly who adult pedophiles pray on, and women commit this sin just as men do. I talk about this more a bit further on.

Let me take a break to give some background involving a newer phenomenon surrounding pedophilia and what the media calls conspiracy theory. To me, the term conspiracy theory is a made up term created to stop people questioning certain things. One of those things that people really need to start questioning, is what the rich and powerful do with all that money and time. Because many are involved in human trafficking and the sex slave trade.

Have you heard of Q-anon? That whole Q thing is entirely about good people battling the pedophiles. Supposedly President Trump and certain people in military intelligence are breaking up pedophile networks around the world. This is something you can actually look up. Since Trump took office, there have indeed been a very high number of people caught doing these things and there have been many, many children saved, all around the world.

Believe that’s Trump’s aim or not, I thought it pertinent to mention, because the other aspect of this is the still-under-the-radar slow push to make pedophilia ok in the mainstream. This follows on the transgender push for teens–these people know exactly what they are doing. The slow push manifests itself not only in films like this, but continual pedophilia jokes from celebrities and comedians on Twitter, the demanding that young children have the right to choose their gender (and thus consent to sex, right?), and the growing number of articles about the poor pedophiles and their plight. The crimes of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislane Maxwell are only the tip of the iceberg of what’s going on here.

For those who followed Pizza Gate, which was actually not debunked, and now for those who follow Q, there is evidence that those in power, politicians, celebrities, a staggering amount of people, are all involved in human trafficking of minors–and using our money to do it. You don’t have to take my word on that, but if you’re curious, there’s plenty of research to find online–well, the stuff that the “masters of the universe” tech companies haven’t censored yet. I warn you, though, it’s not a happy place to go. The only comfort in the knowledge of the bad going on is the knowledge that whether it’s Trump or the Q team or not, some people with the power to do it have been slowly bringing these monsters to justice.

Back to the film: All that above is probably something that the director wasn’t aware of, but it’s just another angle to the whole age gap that reveals what a poor choice making the main character a teenager, and even a young teenager at that, was, at least for an American audience. Again, I am not sure how the film was received in Japan, but I do know that the director’s other films are wildly popular.

The creepiest part of the story is the fact that the woman works at the boy’s school and the accusations against her. At least in America, we have a very real problem with teachers and school workers preying on their students in a sexual way, specifically female teachers. In the past ten years there’s been way too many new stories about yet another 30+ year old woman teacher having sexual relations with her male students. These true incidents are why a story of this sort is a really difficult sell for Americans specifically: The audience is being bated to some degree to say this is ok. In a story like this, we are being asked to agree that it’s ok for a teenager and older adult to have a friendship like this.

But in reality even a friendship is not ok, because even if the adult sets appropriate boundaries, the teenager is likely to confuse things, just like he did in this story. Teenagers are just figuring out love and the opposite sex, and it’s up to the adults to not put them in situations in which we confuse them more, something the female character absolutely did in this story. She withheld information from him and it speaks volumes for her character that instead of facing her troubles, she goes to the park to drink beer, eat chocolate, and spend time with a student, eerily close to what she’s being accused of. I’m not sure any audience should be feeling sympathetic towards this woman. She’s completely clueless to a degree in which one has to question if she actually is clueless.

I’m sure I’ve now overstated my case twenty times over, but the choices made in this film, visual amazingness aside, were such a mis-step that it begs incredulity. Again, what exactly is the audience being asked to condone and why? It’s hard to believe that the creators of the movie are actually that naive. For those who love the film, perhaps just as I love High School King of Savvy, these stories are really flawed, and maybe it would be better not to admire them–for the children’s sake.

The Scapegoat review (Spoilers)

To watch the movie first or read the book first? This was a tough call for me, but since I was certain the movie would lose some impact if I did read the book first, I went ahead and watched The Scapegoat starring Matthew Rhys. Now I’m chomping at the bit to read the book, but that probably won’t happen for awhile as there’s much on my plate as far as both reading and writing projects.

The Scapegoat (2012) is an adaptation of the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Recently, I have become a big fan of du Maurier and her amazing, atmospheric writing. She has great skill in writing in just about any time period and sounding relatively authentic, plus has a great affinity for thrilling plots. The Scapegoat is a doppelgänger tale, two strangers switch places and their lives are never the same after. The plot immediately brought to mind the works of Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley), whose Strangers on a Train is also on my reading and eventual watch list.

Two identical strangers meet coincidentally in a pub. One’s rich, the other poor. Shades of Prince and the Pauper, and they do exchange places, though the poor, out of work schoolteacher gets tricked into it. John continues the charade of playing Johnny because he’s rather thrilled with the aspect of being rich for awhile: Cool car, big house, etc. After meeting Johnny’s family, however, he realizes that his twin isn’t a very nice person, keeping mistresses, continually cheating on his wife, lying, and generally being careless with the welfare of his family and company. It quickly becomes clear that a company deal Johnny was supposed to have brokered did not happen, and he’s placed John in a position to take the fall.

The schoolteacher’s character quickly becomes clear: He’s very kind to all of Johnny’s family, especially his very precocious, annoying daughter, nicknamed Piglet. Since John is more bookish and intelligent than Johnny, he even finds a way to remedy the company situation and ends up getting the deal done, anyway. Throughout the film, which takes the place over maybe a week or so, we see how John affects Johnny’s family in positive ways, hearing out their troubles, getting his mother (Eileen Atkins) to forgo her morphine addiction and get out and among people again, comforting his sister (Jodhi May) who is still in mourning for the loss of a loved one, and giving real hope to his brother and a chance for him to move forward career wise.

Johnny is placed firmly in the villain camp. He comes back to find John settling quite nicely into his rather great life, and is so jealous, especially of John’s connection with his wife (Alice Orr-Ewing), that Johnny actually manipulates her into committing suicide. Fortunately, due to the precocious yet very smart Piglet, John is alerted and gets there just in time to save her. It is heavily implicated that Johnny was the cause of the suicide of Rose, whom his sister loved, and that he likely manipulated her in the very same way. Despicable does not even begin to describe this person.

As Johnny would now like his life back, now that the schoolteacher has fixed everything, John finds that he must literally fight for his life in order to oppose him. It is only the housekeeper/nanny (Phoebe Nicholls) who calls John out as not actually being Johnny, and it’s something she does as a last resort to get the better man to stay, stay and keep doing good for the family. I think it likely the rest of the family members suspect something–how could they not–but like this new Johnny so much, they prefer not to question. This is truly a happy ending: The villain is dead and has gotten his just desserts, and a much better man is installed in his place.

The term scapegoat comes from the Bible’s Old Testament. The sins of all the Israelites were symbolically placed on a goat by a high priest and the goat was sent off into the desert to die. This concept of someone or something else punished in one’s place is found throughout the Bible, because Jesus the Savior, though he was innocent, took on all of the sins of the world, and the punishment and death for them. He also conquered death from rising from the dead, something that Christians celebrate every Easter.

Another story connected with this idea, is The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, in which a poor boy is whipped or punished whenever the rich boy does something wrong. In this story, the boys also swap identities. In effect, that is what a scapegoat means, taking on the identity of another person.

A great watch, and I can’t wait to read the book. Next week I will be back to reviewing Korean dramas. Just started Two Weeks starring Li Joon-Gi from the popular Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. It’s about a falsely accused man trying to prove in innocence and make it time to donate bone marrow for his daughter dying of leukemia. I’m also reading and immensely enjoying the book The Lies of Lock Lamora. I heard about the book from perusing reviews of Six of Crows, which I loved. This is also a fantasy heist/con artist story, and although I never got into the Game of Thrones TV series, I think fans of that would like this.

Remembering Outbreak

Sadly, I don’t own the movie anymore, but for awhile Outbreak (1995) starring Dustin Hoffmann, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman, was my favorite disaster movie. Contagion, made in 2011 I thought kind of meh in comparison. Hoffmann’s really not much of a leading man, in my opinion, but I think he shines in the role, especially as it’s not so much a story about a worrisome viral outbreak, as it is a tale about corruption.

I think with the current Coronavirus outbreak going on, we can all see just how many of our politicians use situations like this to gain more power and money, often with little care for their citizens. With their mouths they say they care, but their actions often go against that.

In the film, a deadly virus escapes from Africa in the form of a cute monkey being sold on the black market. The monkey ends up in California, escapes, and subsequently starts infecting the people he comes across. One of the best scenes in the movie, comes with Patrick Dempsey, clearly sick, on an airplane with other passengers. Germaphobes everywhere will have nightmares, as they also will from a movie theater scene where they show how the droplets from coughs and sneezes spread everywhere.

Offhand, I don’t remember how deadly the disease in the movie is, but am pretty sure it is many orders of magnitude higher than the current virus we are dealing with. In Outbreak, panic is truly justified, both from the CDC and from the average person. Despite that, though, the fictional Americans in this movie would hardly recognize the Americans of today. I think they would be baffled at putting the whole country–whole countries–on lockdown for something with symptoms not much different than the yearly flu. For the town that gets put in military lockdown and quarantine, those who are still healthy would be scratching their heads at how quickly we current Americans all acquiesced to a much wider quarantine. These days are strange days, and I wonder if all flu seasons hereafter will be different. If people will now actually stay home when they are sick and if employers will mandate them to do so. Hey, maybe we’ll all get more sick days to use. Maybe, though, it will be a mandated yearly loss of freedom of movement, gathering together, and the like. Many people are worried this will be the end result.

The best thing about the movie is that they find a cure, not a vaccine, which oddly people seem to equate to a cure, but an actual cure. Here we all are being encouraged to wait on a vaccine that will be ready well after we’ve all been exposed, when the virus has multiplied into many different strains, and, well, you get the idea. For many, this seems like a fear psy-op initiated by the media. I tend to agree. The numbers just don’t seem to justify the response, and there’s almost no analyzing of the data: For example for Italy, how many were and are older and already had compromised immune systems and underlying health issues? This matters because these are people who should already be self-quarantining almost all the time, but especially during times of the year when sickness tends to go around. Does it really make sense to restrict the movements of everyone who has a healthy immune system? Our current “science” will tell us it makes sense, just like they tell us the only way to protect these people from other diseases like measles is to vaccinate everyone, no matter any adverse effects of immunization on otherwise healthy people. Another thing I’m curious about from Italy: How many infected and/or dead are actually Chinese workers from Wuhan? I have heard they imported quite a lot of workers from there in the past year or so.

I have been waiting for the numbers of infected to rise, for hospitals to be overwhelmed and the like, because I don’t want this to be a psy-op, I would rather it be real. Awful as it sounds, it’s far more frightening to me if it’s fear pushed on us to get more power. I would much rather deal with a truly deadly virus than a hoax fomented by people salivating to bring the world to its knees. Real or not, the panicked reaction is almost impossible to go against. This is peer pressure at its finest, a real-life Stanford Experiment playing out right in front of us.

At the end of the movie, Dustin Hoffmann saves the quarantined town from getting annihilated off the face of the earth. Thankfully, we are nowhere near calling for the deaths of sick people, yet we are almost callously sentencing quite a few of our fellow citizens–healthy and sick–to very dire straights should we let this forced economic collapse continue. Every year there’s a dangerous disease out there, spread like a cold or flu–sometimes it just is a bad cold or flu. Are we really going to stop our lives every time flu season hits? With something like Ebola that has a very high death rate, to stop everything would be justified, but this… We didn’t do this for Ebola. We didn’t do this for SARS or Zika, or swine flu, or any other outbreak from recent memory.

Whatever the truth is, I know God’s in control, but sometimes I’m not sure what to pray for: An end to disease or that we wake up from this spell we’ve been put under? Probably, it should be both.

For a different perspective on this whole outbreak–I am not the only skeptic–checkout Del Bigtree’s Highwire show and Amazing Polly, both on Youtube. Del, especially, in his most recent show from yesterday goes through quotes from many doctors who also think the freakout just isn’t warranted. Also weird that the freakout continues despite clear forms of treatment showing quick results. If this is a bioweapon, as some claim, it’s not a super effective one, but that wouldn’t be the point, would it? No, if it were a bioweapon, manufactured by the evil people of the world, it’s just enough, just enough to keep that fear going, for the next time. A next time that may never happen, but now will always be a collective fear until it fades and a new fear trends.

This all reminds me of a couple of short stories I wrote considering Totalitarianism. They are below. Happy reading.

A Society of Health (written in 2010)

“Aaachoooiee!!”  Alyssa Taylor sneezed mightily into a tissue from the box on her desk.

“Bless you.”  Raymond Bins, her coworker said as he tapped away on a computer spreadsheet.  “Coming down with something?”

“I think it’s allergies.  Ever since we moved here––”

“Who sneezed?”  Ariana Blight stepped ferociously around the office partition.  She looked a bit like a crow with her tiny, birdlike frame, black sweater and pants.  Her dull gray hair was pulled tightly back into a bun that rested heavily on top of her little, wobbling head.  

Alyssa raised her hand.  “Guilty,”  She smiled sheepishly.  “Sorry, I know my sneezes are so loud.  My daughter always says I sound like a firecracker.”  She drew back into her chair as the older woman stepped up to her, the woman’s beady eyes bright with anticipation.  

“Do you have a cold?”

“It’s…just allergies.”  Alyssa exchanged a glance with Raymond who had stopped typing.  “This building is so full of dust…”  Ariana continued to inspect her, bending low enough to look up her nostrils.  “Is everything all right, Ariana?”

“You have mucus,”  She pointed to the left nostril.  “There.  It appears yellow, not clear.  Blow into this.”  The small woman brought forth a crisp handkerchief from the bowels of her sweater.  Laughing a little, Alyssa obliged.  Raymond rolled his eyes and made crazy signs that the old woman couldn’t see.  It had never been clear to them what exactly Ariana’s job at the company was, but she always seemed to know everything about everyone.  Ariana fearlessly opened the handkerchief and proceeded to inspect the leavings.  “As I thought. Yellow, going on green.  You, Ms. Alyssa Taylor, have the beginnings of a very bad cold, an infection.”

Alyssa shrugged.  “You know, I did feel a bit off yesterday, but I thought it was the weather.  And my allergies get so bad this time of year…”  She trailed off when she saw the glinting triumph in the older woman’s eyes.  “Is there a problem?”

Ariana Blight pulled a small flip-top notebook out of a sweater pocket.  She proceeded to read:  “United States Code, Title Forty-Two, Chapter Two, Section Eight Thousand Four Hundred and Nineteen:  All persons shall take precautions to prevent the spreading of the common cold.  Subsection D, Four:  Any person expectorating or sneezing in a public place shall be examined for infection.  If infection is found, said persons are duty-bound to report to the nearest Health Center and receive treatment.  Upon refusal to do so within one hour of infection report, said person may be subjected to a fine of One Hundred Dollars or up to Thirty days in the local quarantine cell.  Subsection D, Twenty:  Any and all persons failing to comply with this Chapter shall be labeled as a Spreader of Disease and a criminal under this Title Forty-Two.”  

“What?”  Alyssa blinked up at her.  “I don’t…I’ve never heard…”

“They didn’t publish it, you see,”  Ariana whispered softly, leaning over her.  “Only passed it, our wonderful…New Congress.  Now, let’s come along down to the office Health Center, shall we?”  Alyssa sat there blankly.  “Ah, and Raymond…”  The crow-like woman filled out a yellow slip from her pad of paper, ripped it off, and handed it to him.  “The citation number, should you wish to pursue legal action in the near future.  Being around her nine hours out of the day, you are the likeliest to suffer from her…negligence.”  Raymond took the paper and paled at its contents.  “Of course, should you also come down with said infection and fail to address it immediately, you will be issued a citation as well.”

Mottle Knows Best (from 2010)

Mrs. Mottle scurried after her neighbor, Rose.  Rose stopped abruptly on the sidewalk and turned around with a grimace.  “Following me again, Mrs. Mottle?”  She put one hand on her hip.  “Let me guess, block party meeting this evening?”

“We are a social group.”  Mrs. Mottle said, taken aback at Rose’s fierceness.  “We get together and talk about the happenings in the neighborhood.”

“Gossips, the lot of you.”  Rose tapped her heels impatiently.  “I’m due at the office in twenty minutes.  If I arrive late and someone else grabs up the spot, I’m blaming you.”

“Me?”  Mrs. Mottle’s heart fluttered.  “Rose, you are so irritated at me when I’m only trying to help you…for your own good!  They may take you away!”

“What?”  Rose’s eyes narrowed and she stepped forward.  “What did you say?  What have you been telling the block party, Mrs. Mottle?  Only too happy to ‘report,’ aren’t you?”

Mrs. Mottle realized she’d said too much.  “N-no, of course not, dear.  We’re only here to help!  I would never get you…in trouble, but for your own good, it––”

“Then what is it?  What did I do this time?”

“Rose, you must understand that I have your best interests at heart.  This morning,”  She sighed, “Now prepare yourself…this morning your shower was seven minutes.”  Mrs. Mottle looked up hopefully only to find Rose staring down at her open-mouthed.  

Rose crossed her arms.  “And?  I’m waiting for the punch line…”

The younger woman laughed shortly.  “Oh, Rose, why, you’ve forgotten!  The new edict!  Now let me see if I remember it straight, ‘all citizens are responsible for their water use.  To go beyond the recommended five minutes for a shower is shameful and a waste.’ So you see––”

“Oh, shut up!”  Rose pulled her handbag up higher on her shoulder.  “What does it matter if I take a seven-minute shower?  What does it matter if I take a twenty-minute shower? I’m paying for it!  We have entire oceans at our disposal, and, apparently you haven’t noticed because you’ve been too busy spying on people, it has rained cats and dogs every evening for the last eight days!  Oh, and another thing!  You think the Higher-Ups really care about these things?  You think the block party does?  Damn it, Mrs. Mottle!  Can’t you see what they’re doing?”

“Of course, Rose, but Practical Science states––”

“Ha!  As if PS is ever practical!  Or right!  One day eggs are good for you, the next they’re bad!  Why, I saw an article just the other day on the evils of fruit!  Fruit!  You know what it is, don’t you?  They want us to eat only that dog food for humans they keep manufacturing, while the Higher-Ups feed on steak and wine!  Oh, I can’t believe I let you rile me up this early in the morning!  Good day, Mrs.  Mottle!”  Rose tromped off in her heels.

Her neighbor looked sorrowfully after her.  Little did Rose know the danger she was in.  Two more strikes and she would have to be put in rehabilitation…for the common good, of course.  Mrs. Mottle didn’t like her task, but the important thing was that the laws be kept.  Rose was always going off about the “stupid, ridiculous, impractical laws that made real living impossible!”  Mrs.  Mottle didn’t think that was for them to judge.  That was for the Higher-Ups, the people who knew better.  She wasn’t sure at that moment why they did know better, but surely they must, as they were in charge.  She must inform the party of Rose’s seven-minute shower.  The young lady puffed out her chest.  They would talk it through.  They would come up with a solution and show Rose how her thinking was wrong.  It was only a matter of time.  

More Movie Reviews

The fun of reading and watching stories for me often is reviewing and analyzing them, it’s not just about the enjoyment of watching and reading. Thus, I am always eager to have a new opportunity to do reviews. Lately, I’ve been writing some reviews of ancient films for my friends at tardy critic.com

If you like my writing and want to read more of my stuff, check out their site. A movie gets reviewed once it’s ten years old, or even twenty or thirty, far away from all of the hype and fanfare of when it first came out in theaters. So far I’ve written reviews of 10 Things I Hate about You, Confessions of a Shopaholic, and Sherlock Holmes.

Happy reading! Also, who is totally watching Trains, Planes, and Automobiles and Pieces of April for Thanksgiving this year?

Split: A hit

Ever since M. Night Shyamalan’s surprise success with The Sixth Sense and the twist ending that no one saw coming, his movies have been both highly anticipated and also scorned. For an artist, success on a first project is both a blessing and curse. The blessings are obvious, future projects will be funded and you already have an audience waiting for them. The curse is that whatever you create in the future won’t be same as that initial project, and future projects are more likely to be seen as worse, not better. It’s basically the “one-hit wonder curse,” and many bands, especially, have found it’s probably better to be moderately successful at the start and grow from there.

Much of the hype around Shyamalan has disappeared over the years, which is only good for him, I think. Twist endings work one time, and then the next time everyone’s expecting it and trying to outthink the writer or director, and if they correctly guess the ending, they somehow think they “beat” the artist and sometimes even declare the work as no good, simply because they were able to guess the ending. We’ve all probably been guilty of this mentality at least once in our lives, and it really makes no sense, as the audience isn’t supposed to be competing with the artist. At least most of the time.

That all being said, Shyamalan still loves his twist or surprise endings, but it has definitely garnered mixed reviews, sadly, much of them negative. I thoroughly enjoyed Signs, The Village, Devil, and Unbreakable, but thought The Last Airbender was one of the worst movies I’d ever seen. Other films like The Lady in the Water and The Happening, seemed as if they were meant to be clever, but didn’t deliver on that promised cleverness. Even though there’s been many of his films I don’t enjoy, I do try to give him a chance when I can.

(Spoilers ahead) The other day I borrowed Split from the library. Not only is it a Shyamalan film, it also stars James McAvoy who is a master of the acting craft. I’d previously seen trailers for the movie and knew it involved someone with a split personality, but not much else. It also looked scary, so I wasn’t sure if I was in for a ghost story like The 6th Sense or if it would be more of a general thriller.

Split is about a person with multiple personalities, all stemmed from child abuse, as is often the case. It’s a psychological disorder that some think is really demon possession or hallucinations, and some think just isn’t real. Real or not, this disorder has been used time again onscreen often to great effect, like in Identity starring John Cusack. Knowing Shyamalan’s love of twist endings, I wondering if the movie would end along similar lines.

The story starts right away, with little introduction to the characters. Three teenaged girls are being given a ride home by one of their dads, but someone comes up and knocks him out and gets into the driver’s seat. It is “Barry,” James McAvoy’s character, or as we come to find out his true name: Kevin. The man abducts the girls and locks them up in a basement somewhere. The plot follows a basic thriller of this type, with the girls making plans to escape and Barry threatening to assault them. A twist comes pretty quickly when the girls realize this man appears to have multiple personalities, one of them a woman, one of them a nine-year-old boy. Casey, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, immediately starts trying to outthink their abductor. She seems to know that ordinary ways of escaping aren’t going to work here. It’s mentioned that Casey’s a bit of a loner and through out the movie we see flashbacks of her life, memories with her dad and uncle that slowly bring us to the understanding that she was abused when she was younger.

Kevin’s personalities are at war with each other. One of them repeatedly sends pleas for help over email to his current psychologist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley). She is a woman who firmly believes that multiple personality or dissociative identity disorder does exist, and most of her patients seem to share this affliction.

While watching, I noticed a lot of unusually angled shots and close shots that seemed vaguely familiar. It also seemed as if Casey had a slightly doe-like appearance, which was interesting considering all of her flashbacks on her abuse were about going hunting. Near the end, her hunting skills come in handy as the story takes a more supernatural turn: Kevin has a 24th personality: An indestructible animal-like person. It turns a bit slasher film once this “animal” show up. Casey is the only one to survive and it’s because the animal sees the marks of abuse on her body. Because of this, he considers her pure, like him, and even under her own trauma-induced supernatural transformation.

With all the animal talk, I did start to think that the girls were being held at a zoo, so was pleasantly surprised to have guessed that correctly. I didn’t guess the twist at the end, though, but found it awesome. We’re shown an average diner with a TV playing the news and talking about how this man killed people, and because of his disorder has been nicknamed The Horde. As a couple people are talking about it, they say it sounds a lot like Mr. Glass, a bad man from a few years ago and also the villain in Unbreakable. And there he is, Bruce Willis’s hero from Unbreakable sitting next to them.

Unbreakable is my favorite Shyamalan movie, though many find it slow. The ending of that film reveals it to be a comic book origin story. I’m not a huge fan of comic books and rarely read them, but I love movies based on the superheros from them, and it was great to see how such a story could play out in a not so cartoony world. Something about Bruce Willis’s quiet strength in the movie is thrilling. Split is now part of this same world and I understood why some of the shots and angles in the film seemed familiar–they were to look like comic book panels.

For me, Split was definitely a hit and I hope that Shyamalan continues to make more films of this nature. James McAvoy did a superb job playing Kevin, and much of the time I forgot it was him, so engrossed in his character was he. Like Mr. Glass, since Kevin believes he has super abilities, he therefore does. Thankfully, this isn’t how the real world operates, but it’s interesting that these two characters who have had such a hard life use that to justify their villainy. Now that does happen often in the real world. I’ve noticed in Korean dramas that there is also this tendency to portray characters who undergo trauma as developing special abilities. It works well for stories, but the message it’s sending is dubious, perhaps glorifying trauma and abuse to a status it doesn’t deserve. Victimhood isn’t something to crow about, it’s something to heal and recover from, a view which I think Shyamalan shares, as so far the victims of circumstance have chosen to become villains rather than heal.

Looking forward to eventually watching Glass, another of Shyamalan’s films in this comic book world. Sadly, looks like it’s promos call it the final chapter in this series.

The Lady Vanishes: Thrilling

Growing up, and having a love of mysteries, the story of The Lady Vanishes was always somewhere in the corner of my mind as something I wanted to watch. A few years ago I was thrilled to find the Alfred Hitchcock version on Netflix, but as there was no proper context to what was going on and the heroine seemed situated at the hotel for a very, very long time, I gave up on it, certain there was a thrilling tale in there somewhere but that I just didn’t have the patience to watch it through.

As I was certain the newer, 2013 version by the BBC would be faster paced, I decided to give it a try, and watched it twice because it was so enjoyable. Now I’m plowing through the book by Ethel Lina White and loving that even more! Want to read all her stuff now.

The BBC’s The Lady Vanishes stars Tuppence Middleton as Iris Carr, a young, wealthy orphan who spends her days partying and traveling with her friends. In this version, too, there is time at the hotel before the mystery on the train ride home begins, and it is so because that’s how White wrote it. The group is vacationing somewhere in Eastern Europe and happen to upset a couple of spinster sisters and a Reverend and his wife that are also from England. As someone who has lived and traveled abroad, it is somewhat disconcerting to find either yourself or your countrymen behaving badly elsewhere. We like to think we can be taken as individuals, but all too often our behavior is lumped in with all Americans, or wherever you come from, even if it’s just big city vs. little city. At any rate, Iris soon tires of her friends, sends them off ahead of her, and that is where the real story begins.

Although the movie was very exciting, there wasn’t as much background for some of the minor characters that I would have like to see and I’m happy to report that the book has a lot more on them, including explaining some actions that can’t be fully grasped by watching the movie. I say this in especial consideration of the two spinster sisters. After hearing their side in full, I am very sympathetic to their point of view not to interfere, wrong as it may have been.

Middleton did a great job playing Iris and was Iris rather than having to stretch to act as her at all. Too, Tom Hughes was very suited to play Max Hare, Iris’s helper and romantic interest, and Alex Jennings made a great professor, though the movie never really gets into his fear of hysterical females, which is quite amusing in the book. One wants to know just what he’s experienced with his students at Cambridge. The only false step in casting was perhaps making the possible villains too obvious, but then the book makes them rather obvious as well, though from Iris’s standpoint.

As to the vanishing lady, the story is simply better if you know nothing about the mystery or where it’s going, at least the first time watching. I found the film riveting a second time as I like train settings as well as movies set in the 30s and 40s, and really even if you know the truth you do wonder if Iris is really going mad. It’s fun to imagine what one would do in such a situation, how you would convince doubters to your point of view and all that. It’s funny also to think that often we don’t care about helping strangers until suddenly we do and find we will move heaven and earth if necessary. Sometimes we do act as God’s hands in saving others, even if the rest of the time we’re rather selfish.

High recommendations on both the film and the book (originally called The Wheel Spins), but I haven’t yet read the ending of the book and am curious to see if the film changed the ending. Sometimes screenwriters change the ending for no apparent reason and it irks me to no end.

Dilwale: Big Heart in Name, Small Heart in Storytelling

Once upon a time my favorite actor was Shahrukh Khan, or SRK. I didn’t love Bollywood so much as I loved him, and I’ve seen many of his movies and once in awhile take the time to catch up on the ones I’ve missed. Happy New Year, for example, was quite entertaining. This time around I decided to give Dilwale a try, and I have to say it was disappointing. For all of its ambition, it wasn’t ambitious enough. “Dilwale” means big hearted, but despite all of the flashy cars and settings, there was little “heart” in the film.

Dilwale‘s adequate if one just wants something vaguely Bollywood to watch, but the story, a mild takeoff of Romeo and Juliet, leaves little room for either the audience or the actors to breathe. We jump from one thing to the next with little to no transition time and zero time to let the love stories sink in. Love at first sight can work, but it doesn’t here. And the use of tropes from Love Actually and Romeo + Juliet just feel hokey, stale, and not heartfelt at all. I don’t believe any of these gangsters are actually Catholic or religious at all. By far, the worst thing about the film is the editing, which appears to be done with no skill at all. The best parts come from Shahrukh Khan and Kajol, who are an onscreen dynamo and saved this film from being totally throwaway. Their chemistry and devastating stares kept me watching, but only just, as their romance wasn’t allowed to bloom. The other two leads, although attractive, had zero charisma or chemistry.

Some bits I really liked–the car chase scenes and some fights scenes were pretty good, as was the five-minute date. “Five minutes of heart” actually describes the film well. That seemed to be all the time the director could allow for between showing off the gorgeous locations, cars, and trying-so-hard-to-be-cool action scenes. It was nice to see SRK onscreen, though. With the actors one has really liked, seeing them again is like watching an old friend. He is an entertainer like no other, as is Kajol. She’s beautiful all while still rocking that unibrow. How fun would it have been if her character actually was the bad guy? How awesome would it have been if the film was set in India where the characters had real roots and real consequences to deal with from their actions? Dilwale seemed like a large-scale production, but it was all for visuals disconnected to both storytelling and meaning. If they had gone for pure fun, like the last song at the end, at least it would have been entertaining. Oh well. Sometimes you hit it out of the park, sometimes you don’t.

The Legend of Cambria: Ad Review

Sometimes one surfs the internet and just comes across something so random yet so amazing that one has to share. I live in Minnesota and we have a great company here called Cambria that makes kitchen countertops and the like. I’ve never visited one of their stores, but their buildings are always impressive and the main campus off of Hwy 169 in LeSueur always has impressive Christmas lights.

Please note that although I think Cambria is an awesome company, this is not an ad for them and I am not affiliated with them, nor have I had the opportunity to work with them. One kind of needs a house or office in which to purchase and install countertops.

Anyway, I was looking at their website today, which is cambriausa.com. On it, they have this movie called The Legend of Cambria and I thought, oh it’s a fun little ad based on medieval legends or something, and then I started to watch it and realized, A) it’s actually about 40+ minutes long, and B) is amazing in its production quality. I literally could not keep my mouth from hanging open. The scenery itself just makes one want to jump into the screen. It is the fantasy lover’s fantasy world.

The story is told in voiceover and has a Lord of the Rings appeal to it. There was a lot of magical elements thrown in that I didn’t really get, but they looked cool, and I’m thinking the plot’s based off of a Welsh legend of some kind, but will have to do more research to find that out for sure.

The Legend of Cambria is advertising, really long advertising that goes beyond being just an ad. It talks heavily about the fight of good versus evil, in a more pagan sort of way, but it makes one think: What’s really important? Just the thought of how much money and work went into producing it is mind boggling. Since I don’t really watch the Oscars anymore, I didn’t know they actually played this at the Oscars and Colin Farrell is the narrator.

I’m just still reeling and thinking, “It’s just a commercial, an ad.” Also, in considering my book series, a stunt like this is something that Sandra Vale of Vale Studios in Trolls for Dust would try to pull off. In thinking of future advertising endeavors for my series, The Legend of Cambria will definitely stick in my mind. You can also watch it on YouTube, and you’ll notice in the comments that people are thinking this is an actual series. Now that’s a compliment of the highest order. That’s my ultimate goal for Trolls for Dust, that it be so good that people would wish it was an actual TV show.

Alright, back to my whittling away at my next fairy tale story and TfD Season 3. Plan to have notecard #9 out for “The Stolen Necklace” tomorrow, but the ideas have to simmer a bit tonight. Happy Friday!

5 Quick Drama and Movie Reviews

As has become my viewing habit, I tend to bounce around between shows and stories rather like a pinball.  One plot line captures my attention, and then a song or actor in the story leads me to another movie or drama that I start right away, and then something in that work will inspire me to look into a similar story or a different writer, director or actor, and so on.

This happens with books, too, and I find it hard to just stick with one story, drama, or movie straight through and am usually reading or watching up to twenty stories at the same time. Hopefully, this means I simply have a busy mind. 🙂  In any care, here are a few quick reviews of recent dramas or movies that I’ve watched.

  1. Till the End of the World.

This is a Chinese movie about a millionaire and a scientist that survive a plane crash in Antarctica and have to survive the elements. The CGI leaves a bit to be desired, and the movie’s not super dedicated to realism, but it’s a fun and a sweet love story at that. Mark Chao as the rich man Wu Fu Chun really wins the audience over as he braves the elements over and over, coming to love his environment at the same time. He also has uncannily resemblance to Korean heartthrob Choi Si Won (recently in Revolutionary Love) in parts. The female scientist, played by Yang Zi Shan, doesn’t have a lot to do, but her knowledge is instrumental in instructing Wu’s continual expeditions out into the cold and ice.

2. Our Town.

Our Town is a Korean movie from a few years ago. This story is extremely disturbing, with graphic levels of violence that had me covering my eyes half the time. So I probably missed a lot of the visual cues in the story due to that.  Our Town is essentially a study into the criminal murder’s mind, specifically those murders that do so in connection to a childhood trauma.  It has a slow feel like many noir films, and the environment is dirty and gritty and leaves you wanting to scrub away the filth after. The story has no positive light in it, except to say that trauma begets trauma, and is forthright about just how disturbed the minds of serial killers actually are.

I like murder mysteries and especially detective stories where they have to hunt a serial killer because I love the unfolding of the mystery. I like to watch the detectives put everything together. While that is fine and good, most murder mysteries often make murder into something mundane–the physical aspect and the horror of the killings are often glossed over to focus on the mystery. Our Town really plays up just how repulsive these killers actually are, and how sick of mind, and how tortured their inner soul. It is a mirror for the viewer: These people are truly ill and depraved, so why do we like watching these kinds of stories in the first place? Is it the mystery aspect? Is it so we can tell ourselves we are better than them? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t recommend this film unless you are calm of mind and have a very strong stomach.

That being said, the direction and acting are all outstanding, and I am disappointed to find that this appears to be director Jung Gil Young’s only work. If you know actor Ryu Deok Hwan only from shows like Faith (The Great Doctor), you will be dumbfounded by how scary he is in this. While the other lead character, played by Oh Man Seok (Squad 38) and Lee Sun Hyun (Pasta), are clearly haunted by their collective past, Ryu’s character copes by thriving from it.

3. Dating Agency: Cyrano.

This is from a few years ago as well and if you love romantic comedies, this is it. Episode one is great in showing how matchmaker Gong Min Young (a delightful Choi Soo Young, so dour and subdued in Squad 38) is initiated into treating her profession as James Bond-style missions. It is based on a similarly titled Korean movie, which I haven’t seen. It’s fun to see how all of the various love stories play out and frustrating how reluctant the male lead (Lee Jong Hyuk from Chuno [talk about epic story]) in showing his feelings or any passion whatsoever. We get a taste of what their romance could have been right at the very end, and it boggles the mind that the writer did not think to play it up more in the entire series. Maybe the James Bond plots were too much of the focus? The first half of the series is very enjoyable and reminiscent of romantic comedies past, but the second half veers off into a jumble of parts that may work separately, but don’t work together. The songs, specifically by Baby Cab Driver, are addicting. Altogether, the series is fun, but not a satisfying yarn.

4. Lawless Lawyer.

2018 seems to be the Kdrama year for procedurals and legal/detective plots. I am about halfway into Lawless Lawyer, about a young lawyer taking unorthodox measures to bring officials to justice for their crimes past. I haven’t seen Lee Joon Gi (Fly, Daddy, Fly) in many dramas, but he is outstanding as rebel lawyer Bong Sang Pil, and sells the action scenes really well. Bong Sang Pil is also unexpectedly funny in parts, bringing a bit of levity to the otherwise downer of a story. Seo Ye Ji (Hwarang) as his accomplice is great as well, with her low voice and no-nonsense personality.

What to watch it for, though, are the villains: Corrupt Judge Cha Moon Suk (played by Lee Hye Young of Boys Over Flowers fame), and her lackey An O Joo (peerless Choi Min Soo (Sandglass). That both these actors are good at playing the bad guys is an understatement. Choi, in particular, is one of those actors who always becomes a different character for his roles. The downside, and why I’m only halfway through, is that the writing is stuck in the power play between the judge and her lackey and seems to be on temporary repeat. Even the best actors cannot overcome this, and I’m seeing both Cha and Choi becoming bored with their characters. I will continue watching in the hope that the loop stops, but find everything else about the series refreshing and very watchable.

5. High School King of Savvy.

This was a second watch for me, and I found the second time even more enjoyable than the first, as I could really watch how masterful Seo In Guk (Shopping King Louis) and Lee Ha Na (Voice) are in creating their characters. They sold the age gap in a way few other actors can or will. “Noona” romances, or those with older women and younger men are fairly common in Korean dramas, but Savvy walks right up to the line, making their man, Lee Min Suk, an eighteen-year-old high school student (he would be seventeen in Western ages), falling in love with someone ten years his senior. Student Lee Min Suk finds himself in a rock and a hard place having to take on a double life pretending to be his corporate hawk of a brother.

Similar plots have certainly been done both in Hollywood and Korean dramaland, but Savvy takes it to another level as the Noona romance ends up being somewhat of a surprise, so awkward is Lee Ha Na’s Jung Soo Young compared to her streetwise younger sister, that at first we can’t imagine anything beyond a sweet friendship between her and Lee Min Suk.

If you’re stuck on the age gap, Savvy will be a hard watch and unbelievable; if not, you’ll see a masterful writer, director, and actors all slowly building the cases of Min Suk’s and Soo Young’s characters and how they are right for each other, because they aren’t right for anyone else. Min Suk is clearly bored by the high school girl chasing him, and bored by being a high schooler in general, except for his passion for hockey. Soo Young, in her innocence, doesn’t realize that though we all feel for him, Yoo Jin Woo’s (Lee Soo Hyuk) trauma, cynicism, and loneliness, would simply become her trauma, cynicism, and loneliness. Soo Young only begins to shine under the steady love and affection of Min Suk, and it is only her experiencing that real love, that she can shake off her embarrassment at being manipulated by Jin Woo.

High School King of Savvy also has a great soundtrack, minor characters, like Min Suk’s dad and grandpa, that will melt your heart, some of the best kissing scenes ever, and some of the funniest commentary on office life in South Korea. What to watch it for, though, is the acting of the leads, especially Seo In Guk. Seo is currently my favorite Korean actors, so I’m a bit biased, but, like Choi Min Soo, he has the ability to become another person onscreen, a feat few, more experienced actors, can accomplish. He sells the coming-of-age Min Suk in a way no one else could have, making him half in childhood, half in adult. For contrast, watch Big with Gong Yoo. As much as I love Gong Yoo in other works, Big was a misstep for him, as his teenager thrown into an adult life often acts as if he’s in elementary school instead of high school.

It’s also interesting to see Min Suk in contrast to Soo Young’s sister, Yoo Ah. Yoo Ah is just a little younger, but there’s a few scenes inserted into the story indicating that an “Oppa” (older man) romance wouldn’t work as well or be seen in the same light. There is a different standard when it comes to men and women in this area. Men are often seen as being far more sexually mature in their latter teenage years, despite the women often physically developing faster. What a person is ready for, I think really depends on the person (and of course the laws of the country), but it’s an interesting male-female contrast that the story notes, and a contrast that wouldn’t be as well accepted in other cultures where men and women (rightly or wrongly) are shown, or at least said to be equal, in every way, shape, or form. Having been a been a teenage girl, the contrast and male-female difference make sense to me, but I’m sure there are many who would disagree. In any case, Min Suk is clearly more mature than his male friends his age as well, so the difference with him in this story is largely relevant to his personal character, and not a statement that all boys in their late teens are ready for all of what adulthood entails. Savvy took on the controversy and committed to it, which is to the credit of both the characters and story, even it turns some viewers away.

Okay, back to proofreading Trolls for Dust, Season Two, and working on the next notecard for my notecard story. Happy reading, everyone!  –Pixie B.