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Derek Tsang's Better Days: A Bleak Portrait of School Bullying, Test Anxiety, and Selfless Love

Stories with bullied characters at the center have always resonated with me. When I was young, I read Judy Blume's Blubber. Portraits of weak, vulnerable characters being tortured relentlessly are the stuff of my nightmares. Although I was never bullied as Chen Nian is, I had some close calls, and I can only imagine the helplessness felt by those who are bullied. There is always a temptation to think, "Oh that can't be real. Real kids wouldn't do that." Well, yes, it can. If bullies existed in my day, I can only imagine it's even worse, with bullies able to use cellphones to embarrass people in new ways.

In Better Days, Chen Nian goes to a prestigious school where all of the students are counting down the days until "gaokao," a well-publicized exam that happens each year in China. It's the only measure that decides where you go to college, with the highest scorers getting first choice. There's a tremendous pressure to do well on this test, …
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Bong Joon-ho's Parasite (2019): An Allegorical Roller Coaster Ride From Class Horror to Caper Crime

Energetic, sly, smart Parasite takes viewers on allegorical rollercoaster ride through class horror, bitingly humorous caper crime, and touching family bonds.

Meet the Kim family. They live in the slums of Korea in a tiny basement apartment, dominated by a toilet that sits like a throne on the highest place of honor in the space. This quirky setting piece tells you everything you need to know about the Kim family and will play a very important role in what is to come.

The Kim clan, family of four, are survivors. They are smart, savvy, and resourceful. They also all seem to have the gift of gab and can charm others into giving them a break. How, on Earth, are these delightful people so dirt poor and ready to fold pizza boxes just to make a lousy buck? Hey, this is Korea, and there's little room for social climbing. Unless, you have the right friends. Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) is asked by his friend to take over his job of tutoring the sweet, but somewhat dumb, Da-Hye, daughter of the…

Every FILM FEST 919 movie I watched, ranked

In October 2019, I attended my first ever film festival in entirety. I spent four days, from a Wednesday evening until a Sunday evening, living and breathing film appreciation. Although I did take breaks to sleep and eat, it was a very intensive sprint of watching as many movies as possible, without going insane. Although I hope to write individual reviews of each film, at the very least I wanted to look at all the movies in comparison to one another. Below, find my rankings of all the films I watched. To create this ranking, I looked at three aspects.

Enjoyment: Did I enjoy watching the film on a visceral level
Technical merit: Things like good acting, pretty to look at, screenplay, art of story, sound editing
Importance: How unique and important is that this story be told.

I then had to do some shifting to ease my conscience. But, just a disclaimer: I didn't any movies that were "bad" or "not worth seeing." The festival curators did an excellent job choosing …

Episode 7 The White Devil Revealed in Netflix Dark Season 2

Dark is one of the best Netflix original series to date. To see a description of the show and all of my episode recaps, go here.

Episode 7 The White Devil

Although I break the events down into the different time periods, during the episode, all the time periods are interwoven together in a way that juxtaposes the events together.

Hot take: The entire plot of this episode stays in the three core time periods of 2020, 1987, and 1954. In some ways, this is one of the most disturbing episodes of the season. Hannah proves once again to be one of the most unlikable people on the show. While no one is perfect, she seems to be the only person that has no moral compass. There is no one she thinks highly of than herself. It's questionable whether or not she even has that love for Jonas. She is the only one that intentionally causes harm to another person, with no guilt whatsoever. In addition, the person of Claudia wants to do good for someone, but ends up causing the thing she wanted to avoid…

Jennifer Kent's The Nightingale (2018): Brutal But Necessary Storytelling

Although Jennifer Kent's sophomore feature film The Nightingale is brutal and horrifying to watch, viewers ready to take the risk will appreciate a rare look at colonial Australian history, and the risks Kent took to create it.

It's 1825 somewhere in Tasmania, and Clare (Aisling Franciosi), an Irish convict serves her sentence in the servitude of Hawkins (Sam Claflin), a weak, narcissistic British military man with aspirations of grandeur and promotion. Although Clare is married, Hawkins feels some level of romantic interest in her, and considers her his property. He calls her his songbird and nightingale and asks her to perform music for his men. Clare feels she has served her time and wants to be free to live as a free woman and fulfill her roles as wife and mother. If you remember how Goeth felt about Helen in Schindler's List or Edwin felt about Patsey in 12 Years a Slave, you will get a good picture.

To put this in context, remember this is the early colonial days fo…

Episode 6 An Immutable Endless Cycle in Netflix Dark Season 2

Dark is one of the best Netflix original series to date. To see a description of the show and all of my episode recaps, go here.

Episode 6 An Endless Cycle

Hot take: Every Dark viewer has wanted for Jonas to get to wake up and start over fresh. Now that he has knowledge of what is possible, it's his chance to try and make things right. After being lead by Adam to enter the dark matter and return to the present-day world, he returns to the time before the series started, right before his dad's suicide. He believes if he can stop the suicide, he can set everything right again. This episode is unique in that the entire thing takes place in one time period, the year when the show began.

In 2019 - As we show begins, we see Jonas, but it's a Jonas without the neck scar. Michael/Mikkel are both still alive and co-existing in the same time period, and it's a beautiful day full of possibilities. However, we can see that life is weighing heavily on Michael. He doesn't really w…

Lulu Wang's The Farewell (2019): A Family-Centric Ruse

Very few family comedies or dramas manage to be realistic. Often the funny ones depict family units that are overly perfect or idealistic, and the serious ones rely on lots of upsetting family drama and tears to manipulate the audience into feeling something. Lulu Wang's The Farewell does neither and manages to provide a window into one Chinese family's reality and the way they deal with a family emergency.

To be fair, the realism was bound to be there as this story is based on a real event that happened, directed by one of the people to which it happened, and many of the scenes played out exactly as shown in real life. The monologues don't seem scripted because . . . they aren't. In the film, we meet Billi (Awkwafina), a young professional Chinese woman who lives in America. She adores her Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) and is understandably upset when her parents tell her that Nai Nai has 3 months to live due to cancer. The family has decided that it's best that Nai Nai…