Tag Archives: fiction

Rob De Niro, Here to Class Up Your Light Drama – Review

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Anne Hathaway is the character with an arc, but Robert De Niro steals viewer interest, as usual.

The Intern may be forgettable as a light drama with very little actual drama, but one has to also keep in mind that there is a reason for certain genres to exist. Even if you are catering to a specific genre or audience, however, it is important for movies to have that layered feel; that feeling that there is a world beyond the screen, and that the characters are living their lives offscreen while you’re watching different ones.  This movie is not for those who text while watching a movie – which is rude anyway.  This movie is for those that actually watch movies and need a break from having to strain their brains (such as in the Fantastic Four remake, where the viewer is constantly having to go “okay, NOW what just happened and why?”).

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Ben (De Niro) talks about the merits of tucking in your shirt.

This movie is a feel-good drama starring a kind, cheerful old man named Ben Whittaker (De Niro).  He keeps busy, eventually taking an internship to shake up his life.  Ben is a living example of what old people could do if they were still willing to adapt to new things.  His can-do attitude and initiative make him stand out to the founder of the company, Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) and become fast friends.

The message that this movie seems to send is that some things in life are timeless, completely immune to the changing dynamics of modern internet business.  I only wish students believed me when I told them that it doesn’t matter what they know or what they study – as long as no matter what they do, they do it with maximum enthusiasm and a commitment to work hard, they’ll get a good recommendation out of any employer.

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There’s nobody to hate in this movie.  Not a bad thing, but some may find it… unsporting.

Interesting characters are flawed characters.  Which is why if you watch a lot of movies, you might get exhausted from seeing all the nasty, unsavory people movies have to offer.  This movie is a nice break from that, as there’s nobody really to hate in this whole thing.  It’s not a movie to watch by yourself, though.  Watch it with your significant other, then return it to RedBox the next morning, whistling.

Rather than hold to a consistent narrative, it seems more like the creators of this movie thought “How can I just make people feel good about the world for like 2 hours?”  The feel-good drama is not a hugely populated genre.  In fact, in college I might have ridiculed such a thing.  However, in a world where Donald Trump might become President, it’s not the most unwelcome thing in my life.

I give this movie a mathemagical score of 7 out of 10.  Single people, I’d tell you to watch the latest Hunger Games, but that movie was awful.  Don’t.  You’re better off just playing a video game and going to bed.

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“N-Naruto…-” Get Real.

All heroes have their admirers.  Naruto is of course constantly after Sakura, as she is the heroine that he hangs out with constantly – plus he knows that she’s in love with his rival, Sasuke, which only makes her more attractive to Naruto as a challenge to overcome.  As Naruto’s arc develops, so too does Naruto himself develop in maturity.  His relationship with Sakura also develops too.

So naturally, this means that Naruto eventually winds up with Hinata.

… Wait, what?  Is this some kind of joke? How does a writer as brilliant as Kishimoto – the man who wrote Naruto’s inspiring speeches, developed lovable ensemble characters like Shikamaru and Choji, and cultivated long-standing relationships such as Naruto’s bond with Kurama – know absolutely nothing about writing a proper romance?  Hinata is the worst choice of character for our hero, and there are plenty of reasons why.

A Bad Example

Hinata is an awful role model for girls.  Her entire existence – spanning decades if we’re going to consider her little scarf debacle in the last movie to be canon – has been about Naruto’s approval.  She’s the heir of a wealthy clan, born with a biological advantage (the Byakugan), and apparently a very capable ninja and a master of the Hyuga clan’s signature Gentle Fist style.

I guess you can’t have too many skills in one basket, because she also seems to have some kind of crippling personality disorder.  She never speaks up for herself, never goes for what she wants, and has very stalker-like tendencies when it comes to our hero.  She even deals in creepy stalker absolutes; “I want to stand by your side – forever!” she rehearses at one point.  WHOA.  Forever, girl?  How about you go out for noodles first, then see whether you even like the same things, because I can’t think of someone more different from our hero than you.

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Her dialogue is literally “N-Naruto…!” whenever he does something to vaguely acknowledge her – positively or negatively.  She wilts and blossoms at his syllables.  What this teaches is that girls should be meek little flowers that wait until the object of their affection’s whims lean in their direction.  

Some may say that Naruto is an anime series, not a fable, and that it has no responsibility to teach anything.  If that’s true, why create such an inspirational character as Naruto?  He’s a brat that stays fixated on one goal – stubbornly refusing to be shaken from the morals he grew up with, even when it seems that all above him are ready to do so.  He wins not only the approval but the admiration of his teachers and peers alike because of this.  When it’s time for him to decide his Ninja Way, it’s that he’ll never give up on something once he’s decided to do it.  Naruto is not the best ninja there.  He isn’t the most powerful or the most experienced.  He’s not the first person they call for  an emergency.  He isn’t Goku, the all-powerful hero.  He’s a flawed child with a personality to be infectiously good despite his rough manners, boisterous personality, and tactless rhetoric.  Why go to the trouble to create such a role model for kids – such that they realize they don’t have to be perfect in order to be good people – if you’re going to not teach lessons through what he does?

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Naruto gains the lifelong respect of former adversaries – like Gaara – due to his persistence and strength of character.

Below His Character

While there are plenty of reasons to admire Naruto for the many things he has done for his village and the world – as well as for his winning optimism and eagerness to be the best shinobi his village has ever seen – there are not many reasons for Naruto to see anything to admire in Hinata.  When watching the movie The Last: Naruto the Movie, it became apparent that the biggest factor for Naruto’s reciprocation of her affections was… it was a sure thing.

Ew.  What a seedy way to portray the character that worked so hard to win my respect.  The excuse commonly given for Naruto’s ignorance of Hinata’s love is that he “hasn’t had anyone to express it to him before.”  First of all, lies!  Second of all, he expresses his own affection for Sakura constantly, such that he would definitely understand if Hinata were to talk to him like a human being instead of stuttering his name all the time.

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Naruto: “Wow, Hinata, you sure did a good job eating all that ramen.”

Hinata: [shocked that she was noticed at all] “N-Naruto…!”

Naruto: “I’ll bet that’s how you bulk up to get so strong!”

Hinata: [shocked at being complimented] “N-naruto…”

Naruto: “Well, I’m going to go talk to people that actually talk back.”

Hinata: [sad that their interaction is over] “Naruto…” [Her eyes swell with tears, partly with happiness at the overall tone of their conversation, partly because of the welling of emotion that she feels for him.]

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What is there to admire?!  All of the paragons of awesomeness that Naruto worships are people with real skills, real admirable traits!  He appreciates Kakashi for what he learned about being there for your comrades.  He learns some really neat skills from Jiraiya.  He respects Might Guy for the way he bolsters Lee’s confidence.  He admires Sakura for being a strong person.  He admires Sasuke’s drive to achieve one goal, with the possibility that this might have even been the inspiration for his ninja way.  Sure, Hinata is powerful, and Naruto can respect that, but she shows no initiative in using it.  It might as well have been a secret!  Naruto starts using sickening language like “I’ve been in love with you.”  Do you know what “been” means, kid?  It means that it was an ongoing thing.  You expressed no such thing in the past – not to the audience, not to your own internal monologues, and certainly not to anybody else.

The disappointment I feel in such a poorly written relationship for such a well-written series AND main character is tantamount to what would happen if Luke Skywalker had been killed by Jar Jar Binks seconds before entering Jabba’s Palace.  It’s like if Goku’s death to defeat Raditz had been his exit from the series.  It’s like if the Clone Wars replaced the EU’s Mandalorian warrior race with a race of peace-loving… wait, that one was real.

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One of the saddest retcons in Star Wars history.

Anyway, Naruto’s sudden decision to reciprocate in such a way (“I’ve always loved you, Hinata!”) cheapens Naruto as a character and worse, advocates behavior like this.  Better that he stay single than do this.  There’s no risk here.  There’s no character that puts their feelings on the line for the other – Hinata never even has to admit how she feels.  Naruto ends up reading her mind (via magic water and of course in true Naruto and Naruto Shippuden style: a series of flashbacks), so he knows it’s a sure thing.  There’s no risk at all for him to express his affection, and worse, because it’s the first time he’s ever expressed this affection, it looks manufactured.

Things Matter

This is why even fillers should be vetted carefully by those familiar with the main storyline.  These Hinata fillers are the reason why Hinata is getting such a nasty portrayal.  They’re still canon!  Character development always matters!  Handle your characters with care, or else you might just cheapen the character you worked so hard to create.

Dragon Ball Xenoverse – Review

The only Dragon Ball games I played before this were the SNES ones, Budokai 3 and Burst Limit.  With that in mind, I had passed on purchasing Dragon Ball XV simply because when I read the reviews people described the fighting as simple and boring and when I looked at gameplay it looked hard to keep track of; everyone looked like little flies whizzing around, occasionally colliding and sometimes shooting little beams at long range.  I didn’t have any sense of the large-scale exaggeration that is evoked with Dragon Ball Z.

However, fate intervened, and I found myself not only with a copy of the game for my birthday from my brother, but two systems to play it on, courtesy of my wife, so that I didn’t even have the “out of memory” excuse.

Graphics:

I love the environments in this game.  They’re huge!  I’m not saying you’ll never touch the edges of a stage but there’s definitely room for everybody.  I didn’t run into the framerate issues that other people complained about when playing on the PS3… Just the occasional slowdown with maximum players and all of them doing their Ultimate Attacks.

Player models looked perfect.  Of course more customization options would be grand but it’s not too hard to be unique through your playstyle.  Weirdly enough though I saw a lot of copies of established characters.  (Is everyone a 4 year old with a character named “SS4 GOGETA”?)

There’s huge pop-in with player-created characters, but what else is new?

Sound:

The overworld music is disco, but catchy.  The new cover of CHA LA HEAD CHA LA is nice to hear.  All of the sound effects are faithful to the original, all the dubs have the voices.  It’s satisfying to hear your character yell the name of the attack.  “FINAL FLASH!”  The occasional sound glitch happens with the in-game cutscenes (Frieza’s transformations seem to not make any noise until the very last moment, making all the debris flying around beforehand confusing.)  The in-battle music is… forgettable. Maybe I just need to turn it up?

The character interactions while you play eventually get repetitive, but I always found they helped me get into the scenario, which is really important with any RPG.  I like that all the characters react to some weird Saiyan intruding, and that they all underestimate me.  I like that if Nappa sees Vegeta go Super Saiyan, he freaks out a little bit.  I like that Goten keeps asking about that toy Trunks offered him as a consolation for losing the Strongest Under the Heavens Tournament.

I just sort of wish they’d remember me from battle to battle.  “Hey remember that dude that totally turned the tide of that battle with Majin Buu?  This guy kinda reminds me of him…”

Gameplay:

If you just go in mashing the melee buttons, you’re going to lose.  Strategy is exciting if you’re playing with a friend, but as a single player you’ll find the real leisure is when you start getting attacks you recognize from the show.  Galick Gun, Final Flash, Instant Transmission, Special Beam Cannon, Death Beam, these are all favorites of mine that made me giddy.  The first time my character yelled “FINAL FLASH!” and obliterated the opponent – such moments are iconic.

The first time you turn Super Saiyan you’ll burn it out in about 3 moves… but once you start beefing up your ki, Super Saiyan starts lasting a lot longer… then you get your energy charge attack (in which you power up with that iconic DBZ yelling… you almost expect the action to cut off so that the narrator can describe “the next exciting episode of Dragon Ball Z….”).

I found the AI to be frustrating.  Enemy AI is good, which is different from being cheap.  Ally AI on the other hand is a mixed bag.  This especially becomes annoying in the beginning when battles are long and grueling, with your power level enough to ensure your survival but certainly not enough to deal with someone else’s enemy for him.

STOP DYING KRILLEN OMG YOU –

I’m good.

The idea then, becomes to get enough power to either a) dispose of your own enemies quickly or b) be able to absorb damage from behind while you double team your weak ally’s enemy.  Vegeta’s AI in particular loves to attack me from behind while I’m working someone’s lifebar down.  Weird, because his build seems to focus on his Ki attacks…

Replay Value:

I don’t know about replay value… I can’t see myself grinding from the beginning just to try being a Namekian now that I can kill people with a single move.  Apparently there are all sorts of incentives to do so but it all sounds so tedious.

So if I’m going to do this mathemagically, I have to give Dragon Ball XV a solid 8.  Very fun first time around, awesome moments of creativity, beautiful graphics!  A 10 needs to be a game you can come back to and never be tired of.  I haven’t played a fighting game like that since the first Soul Calibur.

Why Ender’s Film Could Never Work

Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game didn’t need to be made into a movie, one could argue.  It was one of those books with a jillion sequels, but you only really remember the first one (unless you’re me).  I read this book as a child and marveled at how such a book could be published in 1985.

In this book, there are laptops in every school.  Children posing as adults on the Internet.  At the center of it all was a six-year-old boy who had to be dangerous enough to be powerful, but gentle enough to not want power.  I read this book as the oldest of four siblings, and the first scene with Peter was one of the scariest things I could imagine.

From Chapter 2:

“Lie flat, bugger. We’re gonna vivisect you, bugger. At long last we’ve got one of you alive, and we’re going to see how you work.”

“Peter, stop it,” Ender said.

“Peter, stop it. Very good. So you buggers can guess our names. You can make yourselves sound like pathetic, cute little children so we’ll love you and be nice to you. But it doesn’t work. I can see you for what you really are. They meant you to be human, little Third, but you’re really a bugger, and now it shows.”

He lifted his foot, took a step, and then knelt on Ender, his knee pressing into Ender’s belly just below the breastbone. He put more and more of his weight on Ender. It became hard to breathe.

“I could kill you like this,” Peter whispered. “Just press and press until you’re dead. And I could say that I didn’t know it would hurt you, that we were just playing, and they’d believe me, and everything would be fine. And you’d be dead. Everything would be fine.”

Ender could not speak; the breath was being forced from his lungs. Peter might mean it. Probably didn’t mean it, but then he might.

“I do mean it,” Peter said. “Whatever you think. I mean it. They only authorized you because I was so promising. But I didn’t pan out. You did better. They think you’re better. But I don’t want a better little brother, Ender. I don’t want a Third.”

“I’ll tell,” Valentine said.

“No one would believe you.”

“They’d believe me.”

“Then you’re dead, too, sweet little sister.”

This scene made me feel for Ender, quickly and uncontrollably.  It was the first time I was subjected to the abrupt method of OSC’s characterization; when you meet an OSC character, you form an opinion right away.  There is no “getting-to-know-you” period.  Or rather, there is, but it doesn’t matter because you’ve already decided what you think about him.  From that moment on, Peter was my enemy, and Ender Wiggin was my friend, Val his savior.  This is the moment that made the rest of the story have meaning – not the Battle Room, not the inventions of a fascinating future, but really the only thing that has a chance of pulling anyone into science fiction that doesn’t want to have to be subjected to whole universes of learning curves to read a simple book – a human story.  Ender was a six-year-old, his sister was 8, and his brother was 10.  Then the brother had an arc; he apologized to Ender, which scared Ender even more – because either his brother secretly loved him and had no self-control, or he was still at it – still manipulating him.

This essay isn’t about whether Ender’s Game was a good movie – at least compared to the book.  There are countless sources out there that will tell you it failed in that respect.  I argue that this cannot be made into a movie, no more than you can make a movie out of a book like The Things They Carried.

No Control of Time

A book gets into the mind in a way a movie never can – and this pains me, because I love movies so much.  Ender’s Game is no longer even close to the best thing I’ve read anymore.  But it’s proof that a book can have something that a movie can’t.  In the movie, the scene with Peter lasts seconds.  There is no time for anything but fear.  There is no moment to consider Peter’s character.  Peter’s apology is also gone, but I don’t blame them.  If it had been there it would have confused viewers to death!  Movies are supposed to be clear about their characters, or at least let you have something concrete to hate; to have a moment of cruelty then sympathy in the span of a few minutes in a movie isn’t something a movie viewer will trust.

No Trust

This is something that is hard even for books to do.  Ender’s Game is trying very hard to tell a story without being interrupted.  My wife hates this book, and frankly I can see why.  While I may see here an allegory for the human race’s need to communicate with itself and how mankind’s hope resides in the adaptability and kindness of its children for the future, she sees something that her heart and mind will not let her get past: images of children hurting and even killing each other, being mentally manipulated to do so by adults who supposedly are saving the world.  When I read this book as a child, I gave it my trust, letting my walls drop to take in the story.  An older reader with developed morals – like my wife – sees the cruelty and slaps it from her presence.

Compare it to a conversation.  “This government is like Hitler’s” someone might say to begin. (Granted, if he was slightly socially unaware…)

There are two responses that I believe are the most likely.  There’s the very understandable “You’re crazy, get out of my face.” that we learn to protect ourselves.  It ends the conversation.  Then there’s the “Really?  I think you’re wrong, but tell me why.”  My wife’s conversation with this book ends the first way – because some people don’t want to be convinced that this cruelty can be part of entertainment – and why should she?  “I’m going to enjoy this book about a six-year-old being abused into saving the world?”  It’s a small wonder that many adults hearing of this story for the first time balk at its premise.

If a book couldn’t gain trust, how could a movie possibly do so when it assumes the trust is already there?  It has no chance.  In possible anticipation of this, the movie changed the ages to be about 6 years older.

Nice, now you have Space Harry Potter.

Behind the Events

When OSC speaks of the creation in the definitive edition of Ender’s Game, he mentions it as something he wrote simply to set things up for Speaker for the Dead.  I often wonder if that would have made the movie more palatable as well; what if they had made a movie called Speaker for the Dead and then after the movie marketed a prequel about the main character’s childhood?  It worked for Star Wars.  I feel like the movie lacked any kind of answer to the question of “Why?”  Why are we seeing Ender’s story?  Why do we see so little of the Earth we wanted to save?

Perhaps even a fusion of Ender’s Shadow with Ender’s Game might have made TV as a science fiction drama.  At least then it would have more control of time, more chances to earn trust, and more opportunities to explain origins behind characters and events.  Without these luxuries, a complex series like this is better left on the page.