movie reviews · tv review · Uncategorized

Reviews: A TV Show, A Movie, A Drama

For Beginners

Stranger Things season 2 was an inevitable thing considering the enormous popularity of the first season. As a whole, I think it succeeds but I have a few qualms. First of all, my feelings about the side characters are two fold. On the one hand, I struggle to see how they stand on their own throughout the season; I even question some of their significance such as Maxine’s stepbrother who is a dick for basically no other reason than being a dick. With that said, however, some of the success of Stranger Things is the fact that it juggles so many characters but gives each one their moment in the spotlight. It takes a while for some of the characters to show their true deal and sometimes I feel the side characters are just used to create tension in the plot like Bob.

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As conflicted as I feel about the side characters, I do like that the show continued to expand our core cast of characters with the exception of Will and Joyce. I wish Will hadn’t spent the entire season unconscious or confused or seeing visions. I think there wasn’t enough time for him to really develop as a character what with him being entirely missing in S1 and unconscious for much of S2. I also wish Joyce didn’t spend all season screaming. However, I feel as though the dynamics of the group are ever evolving in a good way. They are each trying to find their own identity outside of the group and because of that they spend a significant amount of time away from each other. Dustin discovers a new creature that he wants to keep despite the group’s skepticism. Mike is still trying to get Eleven back. Lucas is grappling with his feelings for Maxine. I’m very pleased with Eleven’s story arc as well even though the storyline with finding her mom was a little tedious. She finally figures out what her powers mean to her and how she wants to use them.

I have to say I was so very happy about what happened between Nancy and Jonathan, my OTP of this show. I like that Nancy really got to shine on her own. It was somewhat marred by the fact that Steve did not get any closure from this but I’ll take it and hope he gets some more development next season. And let me just say, I did not know I needed Steve as an unwilling babysitter till now. I completely love Steve as a character this season. He is an incredibly funny character and he plays it just right.

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The cliffhanger was unsatisfying to me because I thought the entire season was about just this thing (that I won’t spoil). The plot continued to be compelling and it definitely got pretty gruesome at parts for a family show but I’m all for it. But side note, what is up with all the cliche one-liners? B+

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Lady Bird is only one of a slew of coming of age movies that I’ve had the pleasure to watch in the past couple of years. It’s about a girl named Christine, or as she dubs herself, “Lady Bird”, in her final year of high school. I have to say it’s one of the most stylistically unique. It moves in vignettes and mere snapshots of Lady Bird’s life with no sense of beginning, middle, or even end. It just feels like you’re watching little video clips spliced together as she tries to figure out to get out of California and get into college to a school on the East Coast. She is misunderstood but that misunderstanding is as much a result of her own perception of herself as those of the perceived perceptions of her from the people around her such as her father, her brother, her friends, her love interests, and especially her mom. A hodgepodge of juxtapositions herself, she is romantic but crass, she is delusional but also very grounded in reality, she is an outcast but wants to fit in.

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She has a frustrating relationship with her mom and I like that they spend an equal amount of time focusing on all her relationships, romantic, familial, and friends.

No scene really begins with a clear purpose; no scene ends with a clear resolution. It could just be a clip of her and her mom shopping at the mall and then cutting to a scene of her at school. It is beautifully acted, often feeling more improv than scripted which is only a testament to the natural dialogue. Everything feels just well balanced. A lovely coming of age movie. A

For Beginners (2)

It is rare for me for me to have completed a kdrama and give it a B. Usually, I know it’s a B from the first few episodes and just quit it. You can see from my previous reviews of Descendants of the Sun, Age of Youth, Signal, and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo that I gave all of them A’s and if I didn’t, such as Tomorrow with You, I have already stopped watching by the 3rd episode. Despite the cons of the drama, I loved the poignancy of this drama and what it has to say about the institution of marriage. Ji Ho is a quiet, mousy 30 year old who wants to make it as a writer. She desperately needs a room while she is looking for jobs after quitting her first one as an assistant writer. She finds a room with Se Hee who just wants a roommate who will recycle and look after his cat and pay the rent so he can pay back his debts. They don’t ask for much from life, just a place to stay, food, and the ability to watch soccer games in their spare time.

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They fall in love, obviously, as one can only expect in a kdrama. This will not be the first time there is a marriage contract based korean drama nor will it be the last. It is, however, unique in many ways. Even though Ji Ho and Se Hee are the main characters, they are not exactly the type of main characters I usually gravitate towards and they are not charismatic enough to hold the storyline together. It’s a good thing then that the show focuses also on Ji Ho’s two best friends, Ho Rang and Soo Ji and interesting opposite studies on their own. Ho Rang goal in life is to get married, have kids, and be a good housewife. Soo Ji works at a big male-dominated company and dreams of becoming a CEO of her own company. The drama directly explores gender dynamics in a relationship such as proposals, sexual harassment in the workplace, and patriarchy in the family head on. The very subjects that Korean dramas never, ever, ever explore.

It’s even better that the drama does not take any sides on these issues but instead portrays the characters to the best of its ability and allows viewers to make their own opinion. It does not take Ho Rang’s side or Soo Ji’s side or even Ji Ho’s side although it could be said that it supports all these characters equally in their endeavors. On top of that, I will always support a drama that supports their female friendships. It asks us if she can live her life even if she doesn’t become her life-long career of being a writer. It tell us how complicated but how simple it is to love someone. And most importantly, it asks these characters what it means to live a meaningful life to them.

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The main reason for my B rating are the last few episodes. I think it’s a shame that the previous explored these issues so deeply and carefully that the rushed last episodes felt like a bow slapped onto an almost finished present. I was especially dissatisfied with Ho Rang’s ending. I think what hurt the drama was that the writers thought, as with all kdramas, that there had to be an HEA when it would have been perfectly fine and even more emotionally enriching to have a more ambiguous ending. However, its poignant moments and its thoughtful dialogue on what it means to live a meaningful life make this worth watching. B

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Misc · Miscellaneous · Quote to Self · Uncategorized

Quote to Self #4: On Self Esteem

I’ve recently become fond of the essay format and read an especially well written one, “On Self Respect” by Joan Didion and it inspired a musing of sorts:

I try not to talk about my self esteem. Mostly because I think it’s obvious on me. It hangs there like an undeniably obnoxious sweater. People can see it. As recently as a year ago, when they joked with me, they must have seen the quick hurt on my face and quickly tried to assuage my fears and I think to myself, is it that obvious? I wilted under the slightest criticism. Everything I did was a test of my competence and any failure fed this monster of self doubt. I stuttered over words and had no conviction in what I said even if I wholeheartedly believed what I was saying. I wasn’t afraid to speak, but I was afraid to speak. And trying to understand my sense of self felt like grasping at straws.

Self esteem has always been a tedious and insidious thing for me. I have never known a time when I didn’t have low self esteem until maybe 3 years ago when I saw an inkling of who I could be without that crushing self hate and doubt. It started slowly, first believing that my opinions were worthy of being voiced. Of course, there are still many days when I don’t want to develop it, when I feel almost safe in my self pity and berating of myself. And there are just days when the criticisms of past and present threaten to overwhelm me. And for years, I didn’t know that the little criticisms that always pervaded my brain had a subtle but invisible effect on me so I constantly felt this heavy burden on me that I didn’t know was even there.  That every time I told myself I couldn’t do it or every time I mentally degraded myself for not doing it as well as I thought I should have done it, I was slowly but surely eating myself away. But I thought I couldn’t do it because I was not smart enough or just not enough. 

That enoughness is what I kept pursuing. This feeling of being good enough. Whatever that meant and I was sure when I found it I would know what it meant. But foolishly, I kept trudging through trying desperately to find this imaginary line. During this quest to find, when I fell, I fell hard and told myself I deserved to fall. And when I was happy, I didn’t think i deserved this happiness, because I don’t know, it was just because I was me and that was that. And being me just was not good enough. Not interesting enough. Not funny enough. Not enough of anything.  Maybe if I tried to be more social, I can be funnier. Maybe if I tried this, I could be less awkward. Maybe if I studied harder, I would be less stupid. And without realizing I started to associate my self esteem with what I did instead of who I was. When I didn’t perform as well on an ochem test as my peers, I grew bitter and angry. When I couldn’t think of a snappy comeback to a funny joke, I thought about it for days. When I was at a loss for words or when I failed to think of something my friends had but I hadn’t, I angrily thought I was stupid. I felt like a fake person who was “trying to cross a border with borrowed credentials”. And then despairingly, I thought maybe there would always be a disconnect between who I am and who I wanted to be.

If we do not respect ourselves…we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out–since our self image is untenable–their false notion of us.

I don’t know what specifically changed this year but I realized how intense the problem was but I was tired of it just inching forward. I wanted something more drastic to change. When before I sought that feeling of being enough, now I was more desperate to find an inner peace within myself.

Of course, when I am in doubt about anything or need any kind of help, I always consult the internet first. I read dozens of essays, books, and articles on self esteem in the hopes that I would find an answer.

And I think I found part of the answer in the pages of the internet and started to apply it. I started consistently journaling about the things I liked about myself no matter how corny I felt. I started repeating daily affirmations to myself everyday. I started to push myself to speak as honestly and as clearly as I could. I started thinking about other people and tried to give back more than being self absorbed all the time. I started to believe in the best outcomes instead of the worst. But there are two important things about building self esteem that I’ve learned are the most important. The first is to forgive yourself.

It’s a foreign concept–forgiveness. It demanded that I gave myself the time and space to grow and learn without crushing myself. But it makes the world. Instead now when I make a mistake or did something I didn’t really like, I forgave myself, told myself how I could improve and moved on. There’s a lot of comfort knowing that whatever I can’t change about my situation, each day starts clean and making improvements has no start or stop timeline.

The second factor was knowing that there is no give or take in this universe. Just because I had one good day does not mean the day after will be bad or maybe it will be. And just because an amazingly wonderful thing happened to me does not mean I have to sacrifice something to maintain that gift. Believing this helped me believe in the best possible outcomes for myself. To start focusing on what can happen rather than what cannot. And of course with that came the conviction that I deserved this happiness.

You never know how important self esteem is until you have it. As Joan Didion so perfectly describes in her essay, “to have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth…is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love, and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference”.

I might have more moments of self despair and feeling as though I lack so much than is warranted from an average person. In fact, I had that moment today as a friend was delivering delicious, custard and strawberry filled croissants to me. I spent an inordinate amount of time annoyed at myself for not saying things I should have. The old me would have spent several more inordinate days thinking about what I should have done. The newish me spent a few, agonizing minutes.  But as I finish this post, I realize I am who I am and even so, tomorrow, there is always time for improvement. I got this.

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The source of my inspiration and all the quotes in this post (including the header): Joan Didion’s, “On Self-Respect“. Parts of it is racist and slightly off putting but her musings on self esteem resonated a lot with me.

 

Uncategorized · wrap up

September/October 2017 Wrap Up

The way things are going I don’t think I’m going to make my Goodreads challenge which is actually sort of a foreign concept to me. I’ve read 48 books so far this year and am 10 books behind schedule if I want to reach my goal of 70 for 2017. It’s fine with me since I got to do a lot of rereading these past two months.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

17347383POA is that turning point in young Harry’s life when he is starting to grow up and realizing more about the circumstances of his birth and seeing that people are not always what they seem. I think that is one of the sure signs of growing up when you start to see the gray areas in morality. HP 3 is not my favorite book but I do think it has the best mystery to it. I still think the mystery and machinations surrounding Sirius Black were so well thought out. I’m not surprised JK Rowling went on to write crime novels because her mysteries are excellent. And to me, they are excellent because she creates the rules within this magical world and then uses those careful rules she created and breaks them in clever and unexpected ways. This is definitely the middle book between the lightness f the last two books and the dark. And side note, who doesn’t love the Marauder’s Map and the Time Turner?

Solanin by Asano Inio

Solanin is a millennial’s book. It is about a girl named Meiko who

3430763works a desk job and lives with her depressed boyfriend, Naruo who writes the sports column for a newspaper. One day she quits her desk job spending the next year figuring out what she really wants to do. Now this book is one long homage to existential crisis that every 20 some year old experiences. The quotes are melancholy with a slight tinge of the dramatic, it feels more like melting pot of poignant and Tumblr-y ideas than a story about characters. It feels like a pointless ramble rather than a quiet coming of age story. I never got to know the secondary characters well enough for me to truly understand them as anything other than props for the main characters and the main characters I didn’t know well enough to really attach to.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee

I’ve found myself more and more critical of the YA category and nothing in this category 29283884really feels satisfying these days, although maybe I should give these books more than a couple of pages.  But I really enjoyed the Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue almost from the get go and it succeeds by finding the perfect tone of a historical comedy. The tone imbues our hedonistic and crass main character, Henry Montague, and the secondary foils that accompany him on his journey. It is so fun but Lee doesn’t just skim over the historical context. The thing I admire the most about a book is its dedication to consistent characters. I love Henry’s relationship with Percy, and the flashbacks to their past were some of the most heartwarming moments. Henry struggles to find who he is and face the demons of inadequacy he has always ran away from. He is on a whirlwind tour of Europe but he realizes when he comes home he must face his future of running the estate and figuring out how he’s going to manage his father’s expectations when they might be the opposite of what he wants. I also really liked Felicity’s character. Her sensibility and practicality were the perfect foils to Percy and Henry (although it seems like sensible and practical are practically the staples of too many female characters these days). I really appreciated the diverse range of social commentary Lee inputted in this. She gave these issues of racism, sexism, and disability their due with grace and subtle nuance. The plot is a whirlwind of 18th century European history and antique sites, debauchery, and hijinks.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling

I’ve sincerely forgotten how depressing this book is and slightly repetitive. I felt it sort of lagged somewhere in the middle. It’s interesting to see how much sketchiness is allowed17347381 to happen at Hogwarts which I suppose is part of its charm. Also, rereading this as 23 year old, I have to laugh at how much more I understand the dynamics of Harry and Cho’s first date at Hogsmeade. The things Harry does is kind of cringeworthy. It’s so great. I will forever and always love the Room of Requirement and the DA. I think I liked the concept of resistance and taking action in the face of Umbridge and a tumultuous political environment. It’s interesting how well it holds up with time. The ending of this book always makes me shed some tears. I think it’s the fact that I see Dumbledore, this previously infallible person, actually being vulnerable because of his capacity to love. This trait establishes itself as his biggest strength but also his biggest weakness. I also found it quite funny what characters the Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers are with really the only relatively normal one being Lupin. But the other ones are kind of wack jobs and it’s so interesting how even if they are kind of unrealistic, they are so completely relatable as extensions of people you might now.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling

If there is one flaw these books have, in my opinion, it is the romances. They have never 17347380and will never make sense to me. I’ve never shipped Ron and Hermione nor Harry and Ginny. I have, however, developed a sudden liking towards Hermione and Draco, a paring that actually sounds so perfect now that I think about it. It includes two of my favorite romantic tropes: opposites attract and hate to love. But whatever, my favorite part of HBP is learning about Voldemort’s past and this clever concept of Horcruxes. Voldemort definitely has an old school villain feel to him. I feel if he were a character written in the present, people would criticize his character for being too unambiguous and being evil for the sake of being evil but it’s a universal story simply because of this tale of good vs evil so it doesn’t bother me. I feel that if someone made Horcruxes irl though, he/she would be very difficult to defeat just based on this sheer amount of objects you can use. Ron is a little insufferable in this one and again, the amount of times that Harry is accidentally right is kind of astounding. The ending was very disheartening when I first read it and still is esp when you realize that this book has descended right into the darkness.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

Every time I reread HP 7, I gain more and more appreciation for it. When I first read it, IImage result for harry potter and the deathly hallows new book cover was kind of frustrated with how much Dumbledore was in it. And I thought there would be something more to it but I’ve grown to really like the insight into Dumbledore’s past. It casts a lot of doubt into Harry’s blind following of Dumbledore and makes this idea of finding Horcruxes a seemingly impossible quest. Why didn’t Dumbledore tell him more about the Horcruxes? Who even was he? But if we don’t listen to Dumbledore, how do we defeat Voldemort? It must have been hard to write a satisfying ending to one of the greatest book series of all time and even harder to write an ending that feels satisfying after we’ve spend so long trying to figure out how to defeat the greatest dark wizard of all time. Needless to say though, I was satisfied and am still satisfied at the way things turned out. It felt epic and final without feeling convenient or rushed. I have mixed feelings about the epilogue though.

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang

9630403Level Up is a graphic memoir about a guy who loves to play games and throughout the memoir battles whether to assuage his father’s wishes or follow his own dreams. This is a very standard follow your parents’ expectations for you or follow your own goals and it neither offers a poignant resolution nor a different take on the subject. It was, therefore, ultimately forgettable. I can’t really even recommend it to gamers because the references are barely there.

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

I’ve noticed with the concept of feminism in YA and 33163378mainstream media, feminism is a game of “catch the bad guy and everyone lives happily ever after”. In Moxie, Vivian is sick of her small town school’s sexist codes and the sexist football players and the sexist principal. While it is admirable and inspirational that she start taking action to end the ingrained sexism in her school I found that that the feminism ended up being more of the feel good type as the girls got the football players and the principal evicted from the school. And while it does not ignore the blood, sweat, and tears that go into protesting and trying to change people’s perspectives, the book ignores the fact that these tools are not just to evict sexist pigs and have a feel good victory. The problem with this is that it puts the sole blame of societal sexism on a few bad apples while ignoring the injustice of the system that created these bad apples and many more to come. It’s about making lasting changes. What would have been more effective in my opinion is making changes to the school’s dress code or having these people change their minds about feminism. The romance was so cheesy and sort of sickeningly sweet and eye roll worthy really. This is a nice introduction for younger readers about modern sexist microaggressions but for veterans I suggest a hard pass.

The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

34076952Oh man, Leigh Bardugo continues to impress me more and more since her lackluster Shadow of Bone trilogy. You don’t have to read the Shadow and Bone trilogy to fully enjoy this one but I think you just might miss a few Easter eggs. Essentially, The Language of Thorns is a collection of short fairy tales set in the Grisha world. Bardugo effortlessly subverts our perceptions of the way fairy tales are told to us and the stereotypes and trappings of the fairy tale canon. I really like the way she handles the retellings of the fairy tales in fresh but vivid ways. My favorite one is the first one which challenges the roles that princesses, kings, queens, and monsters are relegated to and upends them. The illustration alongside these are also beautiful so the hardcover would be so worth buying.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong27746288

This is a quiet literary novel about a woman going back to live with her mom and dad. Her fiance has just left her and her dad has Alzheimer’s. This is altogether about the absurdity of life. It is humorous in a dry but touching way. It follows a diary format as she comes to terms with how best to help her father. A lot is revealed about the secondary characters for such a short book like her father’s infidelity, her mother’s guilt, and her brother’s unwillingness to give in. It’s strikes more touching than anything illuminating about the Alzheimer’s or the people with Alzheimer’s. I felt it didn’t go quite far enough with the portrayal of Alzheimers but it is a short, quick read for a lazy afternoon.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

17347384Reading the later books and then going back to earlier ones just amplifies the sense of innocence that pervaded the characters. Oh, the days when Malfoy being Slytherin’s keeper was on the top of everyone’s worry list. I particularly liked the whole section of the Polyjuice Potion. What troublemakers they were even in the second year and Gilderoy Lockhart is one of the funniest teachers Dumbledore has ever employed. I’ve also noticed in the later books, when Harry stays with the Weasleys, it gets more and more angsty and depressing compared to his stay here which was full of cute fun including gnome throwing and flying cars.

An American Sickness by Elisabeth Rosenthal

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An American Sickness was such an eye opening book on the American healthcare system. Over the past few years, I’ve become extremely jaded about American healthcare and this book felt like justification. It covers topics such as why the pharmaceutical companies make so much money, medical billing, insurance companies, and the hidden fees in hospital billing. It’s quite frustrating the way that making a profit is more desirable nowadays than actually taking care of people. It’s even more sad when you realize how dysfunctional the system is. The book is incredibly digestable but is full of facts and statistics as well as heartbreaking anecdotes. I also like that it includes resources and ways that you can improve the healthcare system and hold it accountable for your health.

I believe my favorites of this batch were definitely The Language of Thorns and An American Sickness aside from my favorites of the Harry Potter series which should come to no one’s surprise. I don’t have any specific plans for the rest of the reading year and will read as it pertains to my mood.

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Book Discussion · Uncategorized

An Analysis: Sexism in Harry Potter

I’ve reread Harry Potter about a million times now but during September/October I reread Harry Potter for probably the first time since I started college which was 5 years ago. As I’ve become more and more involved in feminist theory and pop culture, I wanted to see if Harry Potter live up to the heralding feminism that it has been known for all these years especially in its feminist icon, Hermione Granger.  I will discuss some observations I’ve made through a feminist lens.

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Harry and Ron flying the car to Hogwarts in the HP & the Chamber of Secrets illustrated edition

Let’s first talk about Lily Potter. For all intents and purposes, Lily Potter is a Mary Sue and used essentially for man pain. In fact, Snape’s entire backstory, present, and future was dependent entirely on his love for Lily Potter. That love manifests through him. Yet Lily Potter is never truly presented as a true character separate from her relationship with either Harry, James, or Snape. For most of the series, she is used as a symbol of love. As it is stated repeatedly, it was her love and sacrifice that has allowed Harry to be safe from Voldemort this entire time. What was she good at (besides Potions as Slughorn consistently repeats)? What were her dreams and aspirations? You could argue that she is not alive in Harry’s world and therefore not truly a character anyways yet why does James Potter and the rest of the Marauders feel more like real characters? In The Order of the Phoenix, Harry realizes that what he has always thought his father was: courageous and selfless turns out to be a lot more complex. As we know from experiencing Snape’s memory, James Potter is rather arrogant and honestly a bully.  You get a real sense of who he was mainly because it is mirrored through Harry but do we really know who Lily was? Not really. She is seen first and foremost as a mother who sacrificed her life and love for Harry and is defined by this throughout the series as a beacon of those symbols instead of a person full of love and sacrifice. There’s a difference.

I think my frustration with it stems from the fact that a lot of the male characters are allowed to be morally grey. Sirius, James, Snape, Dumbledore, Grindelwald, and Draco Malfoy are allowed to have morally ambiguous storylines that never undermine who they are as characters and are always offered some sort of redemption. Meanwhile I rarely see the female characters if any straddle this fine line. They are either solely on the good side or the bad side. Mrs. Weasley, Tonks, Professor McGonagall, Aunt Petunia, Luna and Hermione are all placed firmly on this “good” side. Although they are distinguished characters, they are by no means ambiguous. The only ones I would consider to be so is Umbridge, Merope, and to some extent Narcissa. Although if we are judging by moral ambiguity, Umbridge is not really an ambiguous character so much as a “good guy” in the loosest form of the word who is highly, highly annoying and just plain ignorant but really does nothing to redeem herself. The only one that does so in story only is Merope who uses a love potion to manipulate Tom Riddle Sr. to fall in love with her. Though this is incredibly manipulative, the reader understands that she is misguided and the product of an entire life’s worth of abuse. But still that’s really only 2 female characters who would be considered morally grey but that is very little compared with the plethora of ambiguous male characters. 

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Phoenixes in HP & the Chamber of Secrets illustrated edition

It wouldn’t be the only example of female characters being erased from having a personality and a character arc. Hermione, herself, the feminist icon, although she has her flaws and her strengths does not have much character development. She is always selflessly serving the main plotline. 

She oftentimes feels like a plot device especially in the last book where she repeatedly gets them out of sticky situations but never actually solves anything. One example is in the Chamber of Secrets where she discovers that the monster in the chamber of secrets is a basilisk. The paper that she finds it in is conveniently discovered by Harry who then proceeds to fight the Basilisk while she is Petrified in the hospital wing. Another prime example is in Luna’s house where they somehow get out with Hermione’s ability to know more spells and assess the situation before the others as well as conveniently having everything in her little bag but the real solutions to kill the Horcruxes come from Harry and Ron even the information to actually kill the Horcruxes came from Hermione. It is clear that Harry and Ron would not have survived without Hermione but it feels like she is being used more as a useful tool than a real person. In terms of character development I have a hard time understanding what Hermione’s ambitions are. To be fair, we don’t really get a good grasp on Ron’s ambitions either but somehow Hermione’s seem more vague to me. It is adamantly clear however, that Ron definitely has more character development. He is allowed to walk out on them and have his own time to figure things out for himself. Hermione does not get that luxury. We also, barely know who her parents are and what they are like which is essentially the character development. On the other hand, we get to know Ron’s brothers and Ginny and how they have shaped Ron’s life views. The only time it has ever been clear has been when she was in the throes of SPEW.

It’s kind of funny that Ron and Hermione are prefects. For all intents and purposes, it is not a surprise that Dumbledore chose Hermione to be a prefect, however, Ron? It is unclear why Ron should be prefect, not because he is incapable of being one but because throughout the series, he has never shown a tendency to rule following or even particularly any tendency towards leadership. His grades aren’t the best either. It was even more uncomfortable to me when Dumbledore told Harry that he did not make him prefect because he thought Harry “had enough to be getting on with.” Harry would literally make the worst prefect ever! He is always getting himself into trouble and getting into other people’s businesses including but not limited to getting out of bed at night, going into Hogsmeade without permission. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do these things if I were in Harry’s shoes but the fact is is that it’s not prefect material. Meanwhile on the other hand, Hermione is the perfect prefect material. She is dedicated to her studies and to the rules making her the ideal role model for young first years. I think it speaks to how Hermione who consistently uses her intellect to get shit done is consistently overshadowed by the boys who dont’ have much but their own intuition to follow. I think it’s a consistent pattern that I see in books and movies where a boys intuition and recklessness is valued over a girl’s intellect.

Dumbledore tells Harry to listen to Hermione when he was talking about Sirius and Kreacher and Occlumency. Time again, Hermione’s opinions are valued less than the boys’. Whether that is a statement on sexism in the world in general that JK Rowling wanted to bring to light or if JK Rowling is subconsciously projected some ingrained sexism into the books, I don’t know. I have a feeling it’s a bit of both although if it is a statement what we only get from it is that Hermione is obnoxious and Harry continues to not listen to her anyways so I’m not exactly sure we are suppose to be siding with Hermione. 

Just because female characters are badass and take no names does not mean that the context itself is feminist. Hermione may be smart and kickass and someone every little girl wants to be, it doesn’t really focus on the fact that she is treated through a feminist lens. She is often seen with the other women of the books as naggy and a complete rule follower. More and more, the male characters are seen to have more distinct personality traits. It also does not negate the fact that although JK Rowling has mentioned in interviews that when you take away physical strength from the equation, witches are just as powerful as wizards. Yet most of the major players of the Harry Potter world are male, the ones who propel the story forward, the ones who have higher positions of authority and even the ones that are deemed the most important to the narrative of the story. For example, the Mauraders are all male. We have Dumbledore (who is essentially a father figure to Harry), Snape (the most tragic of the series), Voldemort (the main villain), most of the people in the Order are male including Kingsley, Moody, Mundungus, and Moody. Most of the Death Eaters are male, Lucius, Wormtail. All of the Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers were male. So really all of the major, major players are male so this statement does not really hold up does it. I also found the characterization of Lavender Brown to be slightly off putting. From someone who has always makes sure her characters are well developed and distinguished it is odd that she would make Lavender Brown such a hysterical, ditzy female. The characterization when even compared to the other small male side characters is jarring. Seamus, Dean, and even Wood have, throughout the series, become more and more complex however small their role is in the book yet Lavender Brown, Alicia Spinnet, Angelina Johnson, and Katie Bell have no distinguishing features. Even Ernie Macmillan who we only saw briefly in the fifth book is more distinct. The lack of distinguishing characteristics to females as opposed to males is disheartening and negates female characters to certain roles rather than seeing them as distinct people on their own.

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Reading Harry Potter again through the feminist lens has made me realize the extent that the books do not live up to feminist critique. It can be said, however, that the book definitely have feminist aspects to it which I totally agree with but it is not entirely faultless. I will always love these books but I bear these in mind that Harry Potter is not infallible.

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Uncategorized

TV Review: Anne with an E

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Title: Anne with an E (Anne)

Genre: Drama

Country of Origin: Canada

Episodes: 7

Screenplay: Moira Walley-Beckett

Starring: Annybeth Mcnulty, Geraldine James, RH Thomson, Lucas Zumann

Rating: A


I had the pleasure of reading Anne of Green Gables last year and completely fell in love with it the way I fell in love The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  There is an appreciation for the Canadian wilderness and the little quaint town that Anne becomes a part of. Anne, our intrepid protagonist, though someone I probably would have hated in real life is somehow just so endearing and amusing on the page and her resourcefulness and optimism is inspirational even though you were kind of annoyed with her for being so obnoxious.

My exposure to Anne of Green Gables before reading the book was the PBS version  where her red hair is super saturated and orange and I watched the 1985 version as well where Anne was a little more naive. They were sort of perfect for me at the time but I was still so excited when I heard about this version. It went above and beyond my expectations. First off, the casting is brilliant, Annybeth is exactly how I feel Anne is described in the books and a perfect culmination of how others see her but how she sees herself as well. Her eyes are a little too wide apart, her skin is sallow and her face is long like a horse’s but it drastically lights up when she is imagining fantasy scenarios. She sees herself as plain but as we all know, Anne’s eternal optimism and zest for life is what’s so memorable about her character. I think Annybeth portrays  all these different facets of Anne so well. Her zest for life, her melodramatic tendencies, her optimism, her charisma, her deep sorrow, and her inherent goodness all in this delicate balance. The acting is brilliant especially from the core characters, Matthew and Marilla, who embodied the essence of their characters so well but also added an individuality to the characters that kept this adaptation from being completely predictable. I could have done without so much detail into their past lives before they met Anne but I admit it does make the world more lush and lived in. I even love the additional characters that were not present in the book most prominently Jerry who is hired on to be a stableboy and is actually the most precious cinnamon roll ever. He provides much of the comic relief but is not there to just be the comic relief.

But, in addition to adding an individual flavor of character interpretation, I think the screenplay also added another side to the characters that we didn’t get to see in the books. But the different traits that they did add to the character was not jarring to me or seemed like a complete deviation from the original character. We know Marilla as a no nonsense sort of person but in the tv series, she is shown as having a dry sense of humor which fitted her character perfectly and I found myself laughing out loud at some of her one liners.

I think the characters are so well-rounded even if they were suppose to be side characters. I also really enjoyed how they portrayed character interactions together. I love that they really built upon the relationship between Anne, Marilla, and Matthew and we come to root for their little family throughout their hardships.

And can we talk about Gilbert?? Gilbert is to to die for. He is so precious. And again, I love the increased interaction between him and Anne that was not in the book. In the first book, they didn’t really talk at all until the very end and I like that the series establishes more of a plausibility between the two and I’m so looking forward to how their friendship/relationship is going to develop in the second season considering how this first season ends.

Now most of the negative reviews on Anne with an E really criticized how dark and gritty the show was; a show about Anne of Green Gables should not be this dark considering how optimistic and hopeful Anne is. The show switches between the present and Anne’s past at her foster home. The flashbacks reveal past trauma that was only hinted at in the book including the physical and mental abuse she suffered at the hands of her foster home. I think this was honestly a brilliant take on the adapting the story. When you’re reading the story, Anne’s past is only hinted at but it is clear her past plays a huge role in who she is now. With these flashbacks I really got to see just how much Anne’s resilience and perseverance has helped her endure the trials of her childhood. It also helps the viewer understand just why Anne desires being a part of a family so much. I also think that while this show is darker than the book, it’s not a bad thing. In fact, I’m so impressed with how much the show is able to keep the central tone of the books while also giving it a darker edge that does not disrupt the optimistic nature of the books. If anything, the darkness only makes the light moments even brighter.

Maintaining this optimistic nature but also emphasizing the dark moments of Anne’s past is executed exceedingly well through the show’s lighting and color scheme. And even though the color palette was often melancholy, gray, and dark, it was contrasted beautifully with the more blurry and bright morning scenes. I liked that a lot of the dark scenes are softened with with more muted colors which makes the scenes in the snow look like something out of a Christmas card.  I love the cinematography and music. It is somber and intimate like when Gilbert is reading to his dad but full of possibility when it needs to be.

The show delves into taboo themes such as the roots of feminism and talking about a girl’s first period beyond surface level and does so with grace and humor never undermining the significance of the stages of a girl’s coming of age in the early 1900’s. It does not tackle its themes half-heartedly especially the themes of the effects of abuse on someone’s mental health. All of these themes are interwoven seamlessly with the larger overarcing theme of finding a place for oneself. I like that the show uses Anne’s different perspective and endearingly social tactlessness to accentuate these themes.

This show has recently been renewed for a second season and I’m seriously so excited. In all honesty, if this show continues to be at the quality of the first season, I’d want it to continue for 5 seasons so we can get to see Anne grow and develop till her adulthood as I know the books do. Many critical reviews have noted that this show is too dark but I found it to still be respectful to Anne’s past and her character and the dark themes only serve to emphasize just why Anne’s resilience and imagination have stayed so memorable throughout the years.

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book review · mini book review · Uncategorized

Spring/Summer Reading Wrap Up

I’m back?? I know I said I was back from hiatus and then I wasn’t and then I went back on hiatus without warning. I haven’t been reading enough to warrant a monthly wrap up anyways. I’ve also been opting for more shorter books/short stories/novellas these days. So in this post, I’m wrapping up all the books I read from May-August.

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui (4/5)

29936927The Best We Could Do is a graphic memoir about immigration but less so about how it affects the generation after and more so on the history and culture around the parents that are the immigrants. As with most stories about immigrants, it is written from the perspective of a person (Thi) who has only been told these stories. But seeing it in a graphic novel really makes you feel like Thi Bui’s parents are actually telling the story themselves because the pictures reflect the immediacy of the event being told. If it’s a scene where the parents are trying to escape by boat, then the panels reflect that exact scene. It follows her parents from when they were kids all the way up to when they immigrated to the US. What I find interesting is how much of her parent’s personalities really shine through and how that influences their triumphs and struggles, their shortcomings and successes. I wish there was more about their story affects Thi’s life and her child but I liked how the memoir explores this sense of displacement that her parents faced, as a consequence of war and being forced to deal with traumatic events in the best way they knew how, even though it caused a sense of displacement for Thi herself. She was constantly wondering why her parents were not fully present for her.  Lush watercolor permeates the graphic novel with fluid lines and equally fluid pacing.

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How to Break a Boy by Laurie Devore (3/5)

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This reminded me a lot of Gossip Girl and I think for what I was looking in a YA contemporary, it had a little too much drama. I think I was expecting more of a cute and fluffy read. Usually with these books I expect the writing to just be a means of catapulting the plot and moving overwrought drama forward, to get from Point A to Point B, but clearly Devore’s writing is beautiful unto itself. It’s got a superb sense of melancholy and beauty that I never expected with this type of story and let me just say the romance was beautifully done. I appreciated the unapologetic unlikeability of the protagonist. She is not the wholesome, pure, dependable heroine you expect from a contemporary and it made her character development all the more interesting. It was not tied up neatly but still has this strong sense of purpose that not many YA books have. Even though the plot was too dramatic for my personal preference, I’m definitely checking out her next book.

We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to Covergirl, the buying and selling of a political movement by Andi Zeisler (4/5)

There seems to be a trend nowadays that everyone can claim to be a feminist. Thanks to the support of many celebrities, the word has become “hot” and “trendy”. If you buy this makeup product, you can be a feminist too! Though Image result for we were feminists onceoften the true meaning of feminism has become muddled and used instead for capitalist gain. This book uses an abundance of cultural and pop references as well as a plethora of historical arguments to convincingly support this argument. The most important thing I learned from reading this is the concept of choice feminism. Choice feminism looks appealing on the surface. Anyone can choose to be a feminist! But the concept is insidious and inherently selfish. If an ideal does not fit the person’s individual ideology, the person rejects it. Where choice feminism fails is truly changing the ingrained sexism of society. A female can choose to become president or a housewife and both could be considered feminist depending on who you ask so it’s a win-win situation right? A female can choose to wear makeup or not and both would be feminist. That is choice feminism. What choice feminism ignores, however, is the ingrained cultural ideals that forced this choice in the first place. Sure, a woman is at perfect liberty to become president instead of a housewife and that would be considered feminist but that ignores the cultural and historical context that makes it so difficult for a woman to become president. I found this book to be incredibly relevant to today’s cultural atmosphere and was incredibly eye-opening book that focused on some of the more obscure but no less insidious aspects of today’s “feminism”.

I then read a couple of other YA contemporary books that I have mini reviews on:

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The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis (2/5)

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Set in Georgian society, The Butcher’s Hook follows a young girl, Anne Jacob, who is set into an arranged marriage. As with a lot of heroines in historical fiction, she of course does not like this arrangement and gets involved with the butcher’s boy. I expected a dark historical fiction novel about discovering subconscious desires and giving in to them in a time when so many restrictions are placed on your desires. What I got instead was a slow book where you know exactly what is going to happen but the book drags on and on and when you finally reach the part you already predicted, you’ve lost interest in the book. It just does not live up to anything. The main character had a lot of promise at the beginning but quickly derailed to standard cliche stereotypes.

I then read some nominations for this year’s Nebula award in the short story category.

Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar (3/5)

34401218Written like a fairytale, this story’s worldbuilding is one of its strongest elements with tidbits of magic and mysterious happenings. I could not fully immerse myself in it because as you progress through the story, the feminist themes become more and more overt to the point where the fairy tale elements seem more like an accessory than integral to the story. It is about forgiving yourself and moving forward but mostly it praises the power of female friendship. You can read it here.

 

 

Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0 by Caroline M. Yoachim (4/5)

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This short story was such a nostalgic surprise. It follows in the format of the Choose Your Own Adventures. It is both a homage and a satire of those books. What I also liked about it was that it was set in space and it reminds me a lot of the humor from The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy but more accessible. You can read it here.

 

 

I then read some graphic novels although two of which I’ve only read the first issue.

Misfit city Issue 1 by Kirsten Smith, Illustrated by: Kurt Lustgarten, Naomi Franquiz (3/5)

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This was heavily influenced by the movie, The Goonies except it features an all-girls cast. It also reminded me a lot of the show Gravity Falls with its off the wall sense of adventure and Steven Universe for its sense of diversity. I admit this first issue is mostly filler as we learn more about the girls themselves and the town that they reside in. The mystery itself isn’t revealed until the end as a cliffhanger. An eccentric and fun read nonetheless. I recommend this if you liked Lumberjanes but want a little more edginess to the art and plot.

 

Goldie Vance Issue 1 by Hope Larson (3/5)

28953805This reminded me very much of a Cartoon Network show written for kids and will mostly be enjoyed by kids. It’s a cute and offbeat story about a girl who solves mysteries in the hotel run by her dad. Clearly the mysteries aren’t going to have you on the edge of your seat but the colors are vibrant and it’s fast-paced so it’s a good palette cleanser.

March vol. 2 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Illustrated by Nate Powell (4.5/5)

22487952I continue to completely and utterly love this series. The second volume continues the story of John Lewis and his role in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. It is clear that what makes this so completely genuine is the strife even within the black community as to how to attain their freedom. It is also so awe inspiring how truly nonviolent this movement and I think because of this, you feel every inch of humiliation and oppression in contrast to the nonviolence. But along with the lowest of lows, you feel a sense of hope that only people who are tired of being oppressed for so long can feel. Even when I knew the outcome, I often felt a sense of hopelessness and disbelief that this point in our history occurred with so readiness and even worse how it continues to manifest even today.
Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell (Short story)

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Kindred Spirits is a short story about a girl who waits in line for the midnight premiere of The Force Awakens. It was so wonderful not only because it featured a Vietnamese main character (yes!) but because its deceivingly simple premise gives way to a surprisingly cute and satisfying story. The characters are eccentric and have just enough of a story so you don’t wonder why the hell you’ve been reading a pointless story about someone just waiting in line for a movie, because of course, as only fandom people will know waiting in line for a movie is not just about waiting in line for a movie is it? I extra recommend this short story for fans of Star Wars as well because there’s a plethora of Star War references.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan Mcguire (Novella)

25526296What happens to the children of Narnia, of Wonderland, of magical worlds after they come back to reality? This novella seeks to answer that question and it’s very reminiscent of Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children as it takes place at a house with eccentric children and an eccentric keeper of the house. Really my only qualm with it is how short is, I wanted so much more from it. The characters, especially the twins, have so much potential left and the worlds that they left are even more fascinating. I want to hear more about the Underworld. It is also a part murder mystery although the mystery was unsatisfying because it was solved so quickly but overall still an enjoyable read if only to see how this premise unfolds.

What To Say Next by Julie Buxbaum (3.5/5)

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This is a sweet YA contemporary revolving around grief. Kit Lowell’s father suddenly died after a car accident, she finds difficulty in moving forward. She resolves to find out how her father truly died with the help of a classmate, David Drucker. Julie Buxbaum is a great contemporary writer. She writes about grief as if she’s deeply intimate with it. I also loved that she explored this concept of discovering that your parents are no infallible and I think her portrayal of Kit having to deal with that newly discovered concept was very well-handled. I loved how she explored the many different forms of Kit’s grief. The anger and denial but also the difficulty of trying to do mundane things in the face of a sudden emptiness in your life.

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movie reviews · Uncategorized

Mini Movie Reviews: Summer Movies

Wonder Woman | Directed by Patty Jenkins | Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine | B

It’s hard to live up to the expectation of being the most anticipated movie of the year. I can say that Wonder Woman both lived up to and disappointed those expectations. And I Image result for wonder woman movie posterthink in the movie’s essence, Jenkins really understood who Wonder Woman is at the core. She is someone who is a little naive and idealistic but ultimately resiliently caring and kind and that is who Wonder Woman has been since her inception in 1941. So even though the pacing was a little clunky and it falls into the same traps of typical superhero movies like a predictable and obvious villain and side characters that are not developed enough to be memorable, it still felt true to its heroine. What is slightly different is that Jenkins at least allows the development of small character moments both serious and humorous making sure that the small details about these characters are not slipping through. Just the small lines about babies and ice cream is enough to establish a baseline for the character. Of course, that allows the interactions between Wonder Woman and Steven Trevor to shine through and it was honestly where a lot of the humor came from. I do wish they had done a better job of establishing why Wonder Woman is the way she is. The way they portrayed her made it seem as if she was born like this; I wish they had showed some sort of catalyst. And I think sometimes she jumps a little too quickly to violence even though a big part of her character is showing mercy and kindness to all. Like any summer blockbuster, it’s not all about the characters, Wonder Woman revels in the dramatic and slow motion stylized action moments which is probably why the action sequences were some of the best parts of the entire movie. They felt adequately long and really built on each moment instead of being one long overdrawn battle sequence.  My forever favorite scene is when Wonder Woman walks into No Man’s Land to block the bullets and clear the way for the rest of the soldiers to come through. If anything else, Wonder Woman is inspirational precisely because, however cheesy it is, it is ultimately committed to its sincerity and that makes up for a lot of its flaws.

Everything, Everything | Directed by Stella Meghie | Starring Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson | C

Look, this is just not a good movie. Plain and simple. The entire movie felt like one long awkward conversation with excruciating pauses between dialogue and long, silent stares that last minutes too long. One of the biggest pitfalls of the movie is failing to establish aImage result for everything everything movie poster sense of chemistry and urgency. In a movie, if you are going to tell a romantic story about a couple, you must, must, must take the time to establish the individual characters first. I knew a lot about Maddy throughout but I don’t really know anything about Ollie. At all really. What are his dreams, his desires, his motivations, his fears? Without them, he has been spit out from the generic boyfriend machine. Even her mother who has a side role in the movie had better development than him. I wish I could see what the screenwriter of this movie was thinking because the dialogue felt so misplaced most of the time. Cheesy lines felt even cheesier than usual and serious lines were just plain hilarious. On top of that, they failed to establish a relationship between the two characters mostly due to the mediocre writing. So when climactic events occur, you can bet I did not feel a single thing and it’s not because I have a heart of stone this time. But more than that, there is no sense of real danger; I never thought for a second Maddy was in any danger of dying from SCID (and I haven’t read the book), and therefore, no real sense of loss and ultimately growth for these characters. I suppose if you’re in the right mood for a dramatic teen love story, I suppose you can watch this and have a good laugh but otherwise I recommend a hard pass.

Dunkirk | Directed by Christopher Nolan | Starring Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy | B

Dunkirk is the latest of Nolan’s impressive filmography so I expected nothing less than something stellar. I suppose maybe I am too used to blockbuster war movies (the last one I saw was Hacksaw Ridge) or other stylized ones in general. And while I appreciate the Image result for dunkirkcraft behind making this film, it was more apparent to me that the story lacked something. It starts off intriguing, a young soldier walking through a deserted neighborhood and for the first some 30 minutes after he almost barely speaks a word of dialogue. For the most part, this provides a sense of mystery, you don’t know this boy’s (I don’t think his name is ever mentioned) motivations, his desires, his fears. I suppose those things aren’t needed for a movie that is about, as Nolan states himself, survival. How he portrays the characters is at once it’s biggest strength but also it’s biggest weakness. Nolan flits between characters and their perspectives for a time before flitting back to another character. And even though I usually love that careful attention on small character moments, this time I wasn’t as satisfied with it. Usually in war films, there’s a period where the soldiers will reveal parts of their lives before they became a soldier and it turns into a point of emotional investment from the audience to the character but here we don’t get that. But even if we did not get the back story I would have at least wanted a better sense of motivation and desire. The characters just feel like faces in the crowd. And if Nolan wanted to portray survival, I think he only touched on surface level facets of survival that could have been explored deeper. There is no doubt that Nolan still knows how to craft a movie in his exact vision. The cinematography follows those frequent over the shoulder shots and careful time on small character moments. And of course, Hans Zimmer once again does an excellent of creating suspenseful and tension filled pieces to fill in the scenes. Maybe I wasn’t able to look too hard into the details. There’s also this sense of build up that continually builds up during the movie but there is no sense of that build up leading to anything significant or poignant at the end. Maybe that was the point, after all, in war, there is no discrimination and no time to focus on the individual, but if so, I think it could have been executed better.

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