Drug War (2012)


Link: Drug War

Summary: An illegal drug-manufacturer is caught and tries to avoid the death penalty by aiding police in a high-stakes drug deal sting operation.  But is he really helping the police?  Or is he only working to subtly sabotage the entire operation and gain his freedom?

Thoughts: Fast-paced and engaging film.  Perhaps a little too fast-paced, as I found myself rather confused as to what was going on in the first half hour.  Part of that is probably due having to read subtitles and not being used to distinguishing Asian faces very well.  (As racist as it may seem to say “they all look the same!”, it’s true; by the end of the film it’s easy, but it’s always a bit of a challenge at the beginning when there are more than a few characters.)  Once I had a good handle on what was going on, I very much enjoyed all the plot twists, and the high-tense climactic Scorsese-worthy (or maybe milder-Tarantino-worthy) ending was very satisfying.  Overall, I found this to be a very fun action flick.

The Colony (2013)


Link: The Colony

Summary: In a post-apocalyptic world of snow, colonies survive in various underground bunkers.  When one colony mysteriously won’t answer its radios, men from another colony set out to see what’s going on.  The surprises they find may lead to their salvation.  Or their doom!

Thoughts: The film starts out OK.  The visual effects are nice.  The characters are intriguing.  The dialog is a bit cliché, but it gets the job done.  But when they discover what happened to the mysteriously silent colony, it’s all downhill.  Turns out (spoiler alert) that the other colony was killed by zombie-like cannibals.  The rest of the film is little more than the heroes battling these animal-like cannibals, and it all feels rushed, repetitive, and empty.  And then suddenly it ends.  There’s something really off about the structure and pacing that makes the ending seem really abrupt, even though by that time you’re glad it’s over.

Comments on The Hero Within


I have begun exploring Jungian archetypes and the role they play in stories.  I am currently rereading Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, in which Jung and his ideas are mentioned several times.  But what really fascinates me is the analyses author Jeffrey Alan Schechter provides in his screenwriting book My Story Can Beat Up Your Story.  In this book, Schechter writes (Pg 39-40):

I am a huge fan of a book by Carol S. Pearson entitled The Hero Within, which explores the six archetypes that real-life people embody: the Innocent, the Orphan, the Magician, the Wanderer, the Martyr [or Altruist], and the Warrior. …

While discussing Ms. Pearson’s ideas with my good friend Gilbert Maclean Evans, he pointed out that in every film he could thing of the hero moved through four of the six archetypes from opening moment to final fade.  We looked at a bunch of movies and it was true.  Every movie, four archetypes.  And not only does the hero move through these four archetypes, he or she does so like the proverbial Swiss clock.

The four archetypes are: Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr.  In every story, the hero moves through these archetypes.  In Act 1, he is an Orphan, spiritually if not literally, detached from family or a solid familial support base.  In Act 2, he begins as a Wanderer, exploring the world that the story’s catalyst brought about.  Half way through Act 2, he becomes a Warrior, fighting for something, again spiritually if not literally.  In Act 3, the hero learns to become a Martyr, trusting in a higher power to achieve what he’s after, unafraid of dying in the process.  (Sometimes the martyrdom beat is played out by a supporting character, providing the hero the necessary “push” to step into this role himself.)

We see this again and again in stories of all sorts.  There’s something about these archetypes and the process of journeying through them that really resonates with us.

So that’s why I’m exploring Jungian archetypes.  I’m interested to see if there are any deeper truths to be found in this area, especially in how they relate to storytelling.

So I started reading Pearson’s The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By.  It seems to be meant as some sort of psychological self-help book, the idea being that if you can recognize these archetypes within yourself, it will help you understand yourself, solve problems in your life, and find inner strength.  For better or worse, I’m not really taking these self-help messages at face value, but perhaps a human’s love of stories is, on some level, driven by a sense of seeking guidance, not just entertainment.  But guidance in a way that is not as direct and perhaps as upsetting as “this is why you’re wrong about stuff,” thus allowing you to interpret and integrate a story’s message in a way that, for lack of better phrasing, “works for you.”

Anyway, some of this book seems downright ridiculous.  Listing the ways understanding these archetypes can help you, Pearson writes (Pg 29):

[Reason] Seven: Archetypal recognition can help you better understand others and how they see the world.

This seems a rather presumptuous claim, if not self-righteous, especially if it’s in regard to someone you’re in a disagreement with.  Reason eight is similar (Pg 30):

Eight: Understanding the archetypal basis for the ways in which people see the world cannot only make you smarter, but also help you see beyond the unconscious bias scholars and journalists often bring to their work.

So not only will you understand others better, you’ll see their unconscious biases!  This book seems to encourage readers to form delusions.

Pearson writes (Pg 30):

… if your boss criticizes you nonstop, that may be evidence of the Warrior’s worry that someone may let the team down.  He will stay on your case until he is satisfied that you are smart enough and tough enough to handle things on your own.  This can be particularly annoying if you are a woman or a man of color and the boss is male and white.  It will feel like racism or sexism (which to a lesser or greater degree it is).

Wha . . . what?? 

Anyway, I’m still curious to know what the author says about the archetypes, but I’m definitely not buying into these notions that they will help you understand other people.  That seems a rather dangerous thing to assume.

Ender’s Game (2013)


Summary: A young and very intelligent boy is sent to a “battle school” in space to compete in training games in preparation for fighting deadly aliens.  Based on the 1985 novel.

Thoughts: May be spoilers ahead…

The weaknesses:

Some lines of dialog come across as extremely cheesy, and there are cheesy moments when characters smile at each other and nod.  I hate those sort of shots.  Actually, this is my biggest complaint.  The movie would be much better if you just take out some of the cheesy lines.  They may have worked in the book, but they just don’t translate to screen for some reason.

Many of the supporting characters came off as flat cardboard characters, either supporting Ender for some unknown reason, or hating him for some unknown reason; we don’t really get a chance to empathize with anyone but Ender.

The set design was a bit sci-fi cliché; clean polished metal walls everywhere, everything all square and straight and bright and colorful.

Battle school and command school always feel a bit fake.  We only see three adults, usually talking in their office.  Surely there are more somewhere?  Or is it that easy to run the place?  We only ever see shots of the students doing things in neat clean rooms.  There are so few props.  There’s no life to the place, it doesn’t feel like a bunch of people are living there.  It feels like a bunch of wooden movie sets.

Finally, the movie just sort of misses out on the strong themes of the book.  It hints at them now and then by dramatizing scenes from the book, but it never really explores them.  There’s the manipulation and emotional abuse Graff puts Ender through because he thinks that’s the best way to make him strong.  There’s Ender’s struggle to both defeat his enemy and understand his enemy.  There’s what the adults ultimately do to Ender for their own ends.  These themes are there in the script, but they’re not there in spirit, if that makes any sense; I never really felt them like I did in the book.  The book does have the advantage that we can see into Ender’s thoughts, but there should’ve been a way to get these themes across in the film, in the music and pacing and tone, etc.  That’s the art of filmmaking; making a film say things without a character having to speak them, making a film say things that can’t be spoken.

The good:

I thought the film hit some beats very well, particularly Graff and Ender’s exchange as they first blast off into space, when Ender is forced to do push ups after angering a sergeant, when Ender first meets Mazer, and the very end when Ender faces the bug alien Formic thing.  (Unfortunately, a lot of these great moments fail to add up to anything thematically; they’re not cohesive.  They come across as a highlight reel from the book.)

The camera work was nice.  A lot of straight head on shots, which are refreshing and help draw you into the characters and the world.  I only fear the director may have over used it.  (Over-the-shoulder shots usually feel very faky to me; it’s rare that people just stand there facing each other talking, or even look directly at each other through an entire conversation.)

Very nice cinematography and music.  Great acting.   (I don’t blame actors for having to deliver cheesy lines.)


Overall, despite my complaints, the story from the book is still there, it still works, and it’s still powerful.  Overall, the film was honestly better than I expected it to be.  Still a lot of missed potential and really annoying cheesiness.  I guess it also helps to be familiar with the book, because then you can understand what’s going on in Ender’s head even if it’s not coming across on screen (or is delivered through a really cheesy line).  That is, I can’t really think of this as a film in and of itself; it’s a layer added onto my understanding of the book.

I enjoyed it. If you’re a fan of the book, you’ll likely enjoy it too. Still not as powerful or as deep as the book, but it’s certainly one of the better book-to-film translations I’ve seen.