Books: Misconceptions About Jane Austen

Screenshot of Anya Taylor-Joy in ‘Emma’. Copyright goes to Focus Features and Universal Pictures.

Hi! It’s Annie!

Recently I’ve been attempting to read the entirety of Jane Austen’s works because I received a really fancy and adorable collection of the books for Christmas. It’s definitely one of my favorite gifts that I got and it now holds a special place of honor on my bookshelf. I have read both ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ very recently, so I decided to start on a shorter book that I haven’t read yet. I feel like reading a shorter novel in this language style helps me ease into the type of language, so picking up ‘Persuasion’ as my first read of this new collection felt like the perfect choice. And after I read it, I was thoroughly confused. Not because something that happened in the book confused me, but because I didn’t understand some of the harsh criticisms pointed at the Netflix adaptation of the novel. This is something that I’ve expressed before. While I am not going to claim that Netflix’s ‘Persuasion’ was the best Jane Austen adaptation that I’ve ever seen (because it wasn’t by a long shot), my review of the movie was a lot more positive than most people’s seemed to be. After watching more videos of people understandably talking about why they really disliked ‘Persuasion’, I felt that I was starting to pick up on what I at least perceive to be some misconceptions about the writings of Jane Austen. And the more I think about it, the more I feel that this definitely does not apply to just ‘Persuasion’. So I’m going to go through some popular arguments against Jane Austen adaptations and talk about why my opinion isn’t necessarily similar.

“It doesn’t follow the societal rules of the time period.”:

I’m going to start out with a big one because I feel that there’s a lot to tackle here. In many adaptations of Jane Austen novels, the characters will behave with every sense of propriety that they possibly can. To the point of more restrained emotions and more pointed conversation than most of us are used to because of the time period. Whenever an adaptation decides to deviate a conversation or a character’s action from these societal rules of the time, many critics will flock to accuse the adaptation of not being realistic. For example, in my absolute favorite Jane Austen adaptation, the 2005 ‘Pride and Prejudice’ starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden, critics were quick to pit it against the BBC series starring Colin Firth. People claimed that not only was the series more word for word like the book, but the 2005 version struggled with being too emotional. They claimed that the BBC version absolutely had to be better because it didn’t just portray the book so closely, it correctly and more historically represented the societal rules of the time. They particularly scrutinized Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet as being too sassy, out there, modern, and didn’t like how much Elizabeth seemed to laugh in the movie. They felt that the more restrained version of Elizabeth in the BBC version correctly showed how Elizabeth was considered to be one of the few people of any actual sense in her family. The issue is that Elizabeth’s character is not described as emotionally repressed at all in the novel. Elizabeth’s main trait attributed to her is playfulness. In the novel, Austen described Elizabeth as laughing a lot and easily laughing her problems away. And while she does have sense, Lizzie also shares in her Father’s sense of humor which is partly what makes her his favorite child. Elizabeth speaks her mind several times in the book without emotional restraint, including being very blunt with Lady Catherine, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Collins in a way that probably didn’t go along with societal approval. And I would argue that this is because Jane Austen did not write her fiction novels to operate completely on a set of societal rules that she often showed a dislike for. Jane Austen wanted her protagonists to be able to express their emotions in ways that women weren’t allowed to at that time. And I think it’s important to see the progressiveness in her writing rather than just looking at her writing as a window to the time period. Because in a way it is, but it’s also a window to how Jane Austen wished society could be.

“They never would have been allowed together like that.”:

This also lends itself to the societal rules point, but this is more about the relationships depicted than it is about how women act specifically. Usually someone has some sort of issue with the penultimate scene in a Jane Austen adaptation. Whether it’s because the main couple starts kissing after the proposal or they aren’t in a private enough place or even that they don’t have a chaperone. I think a lot of people will find it odd to remember that Jane Austen never wrote the endings and penultimate moments of her romances with much detail. Because at the time there was “much to be discussed” partly because it was pretty contractual back then. It was an exchanging of property from man to man. And just because that was how it was when Jane Austen wrote these novels, doesn’t mean that this is what I want from my romances in movies now (Hint: It’s not). Movies are allowed to modernize. That’s what adaptations are partly for. But that aside, Jane Austen also didn’t want her romances to be like this. Her writing was known for having radical opinions in it for the time. Such as the opinion that women should prioritize marrying for love over marrying for convenience. Or the opinion that men and women should see each other as equals in marriage. Or even that women should be given more opportunities by society. I feel like a lot of people take these ideas for granted because they feel like common sense in most places now, but they certainly weren’t when Jane Austen was writing. Without the detail of those scenes written, I think it makes sense for the main characters to show unrestrained emotion. I know that in the most recent version of ‘Persuasion’ the characters are outside and in semi-public when they kiss and then share their very adorable relieved hug at finally being together. But I don’t see why that should matter, when Jane Austen didn’t write many specifics for that herself and even showed a want for men and women to be able to express their feelings more freely to each other. I have no issues with adaptations using their imagination for these scenes.

“The character isn’t like that at all.”:

As more and more adaptations come out for Jane Austen’s novels, I’ve seen more and more people complain about the modernization of the characters or situations that they feel are out of character. I already talked a little about this with Elizabeth Bennet, but even though ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is more in the public eye, I feel like other characters get hit harder with this judgement. Anne from ‘Persuasion’ was accused of being too sassy, not kind enough, and not “homely” enough in the new movie. On the other hand actresses who have played Emma have been accused of not being the gorgeous woman Jane Austen described. Starting here with appearances, I want to say that calling any woman “homely” is a fancy way of calling them ugly and let’s get it out of our heads that any woman is ugly. Women are beautiful and beauty standards are bullshit. If you want to say that we see the exact same type of conventionally attractive white woman in every Jane Austen protagonist role, I would absolutely agree with you. We need more diversity. But the best way to say that is not to say that a woman playing one of the Austen characters is too pretty or ugly to be playing that character. On the other hand, there have been people who relate to a specific Austen character like Eleanor for being more introverted or Emma especially for being an obviously flawed but lovable character. When we relate to a character it’s easy to point at that character and say that they aren’t anything like we remember them, but it’s also good to recognize that people see the character differently. People were accusing Anne in the new movie of not being properly depressed but, as someone who has struggled with mental health, no two people experience depression the exact same way. It’s ok to hold our version of the character close to us, but we don’t have to dismiss every adaptation that has a differing portrayal than we’d like. For example, I relate quite a bit to Jane from ‘Pride and Prejudice’. My sister and I have often talked about how we are a little like Lizzie and Jane respectively. The first time I saw the BBC special, I wasn’t thrilled with the portrayal of Jane at all because it wasn’t pieces of her that I related to. But I still think that that version has a lot of merit! What I’m saying is, Jane Austen wrote these women to be modern in her time. She wanted women to relate to them. Not many writers wrote flawed and in depth female characters at the time. Unless the character is supremely out of character, which often isn’t the case, there’s probably a more suitable adaptation to your tastes out there! And if there isn’t yet there probably will be soon. There isn’t just one way to be feminist or feminine.

The short way of saying this is that modernizations don’t have to be scary. I mean they can be scary in some regards. (Like using modern slang randomly without warning.) But the thing with adaptations is that they are going to grow and change. If you don’t like an Austen adaptation, that’s fine. There have been plenty before and there will be plenty to come. And Austen wanted her women to be modern. In fact, she wrote women more modernly than women could act at the time because she was a progressive idealist. Instead of saying that Jane Austen would be rolling in her grave at an adaptation, you can accept that the adaptation just wasn’t for you but may be the exact Austen connection that another reader has always wanted or needed. These novels aren’t the type that are only ever going to get one shot to be made. Unless something comes out that uses Austen to be portrayed as extremely sexist or racist or something like that, it’s ok to shrug your shoulders and just go back to your favorites. And it’s also ok for your favorite to be something that everyone else proclaims to hate. It’s ok to criticize art, but it isn’t ok to shame or gang up on anyone who might like it. Everyone experiences Austen differently. So have fun with it!

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

Video Games: Would the ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’ Love Interests be Good Partners? (Pt.1)

Screenshot of an Inquisitor and Blackwall from the ‘Trespasser’ DLC in ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’. Copyright goes to BioWare.

Hey! Hallie here!

The ‘Dragon Age’ fandom has recently been deep in an argument surrounding the best romance options in ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’. Many of the romance options in this game are proving themselves very controversial, with arguments either expressing complete hatred for a character or undying loyalty towards them. As I’ve gotten some distance from my initial obsession with this game, I’ve realized I have a few strong opinions of my own. And not all of them are positive. Before I get into this post though, this is your warning that these are all my personal opinions. I don’t take these types of conversations very seriously because, really, it’s just a bunch of people expressing their love for the same game. And there definitely isn’t any reason to get up in arms about which characters people like vs which ones they don’t. In any case, let’s go through all of the romance options from ‘Inquisition’ and figure out which ones I think would be great in a relationship, and which ones I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole!

Cassandra: Cassandra is one of those characters that most people either love or hate. She’s logical and reasonable, with the capability of keeping a surprisingly clear head compared to the other companions in the game. But she can throw out insults off-handedly, and especially if you’re a Varric fan, that can 100% rub you the wrong way. While Cassandra can be easy to disagree with, her strong-willed nature is admirable. And though she might be at odds with you, she’s always respectful of the Inquisitor’s decisions. She’s also kind of adorable. She’s a complete romantic who loves poetry, trashy romance novels, and cheesy declarations of love, but also becomes awkward in romantic situations. Overall, Cassandra can come across as occasionally cold and very stubborn, but I don’t think that affects her ability to be a good partner. I think Cassandra’s the type of partner who might accidentally start a few arguments, but she’d be quick to try to find a solution to them. I also think Cassandra would respect the thoughts of her partner regardless of whether or not they were at odds. Plus, sometimes it’s just nice to date someone who’s more than willing to keep romance alive in the relationship.

Dorian: Yes, he would be a good partner. Is this even a question? Dorian is the best character in the entire game! Getting past my bias here, let’s actually look into what makes Dorian so great. For one, he’s really open-minded and never judges you harshly for anything you do unless it’s outright cruel. He’s both hilarious and supportive, delivering some of the most sarcastic lines in the game as well as some of the most heartwarming. He’s privileged, but he spends the game actively trying to learn from those around him and better himself. He’s traumatized because of the way his sexuality was treated by his father and by Tevinter in general, but he makes a point of working through his trauma during his romance route. As a romantic partner Dorian will always remain very snarky, but also very attentive. He’d be constantly aware not just of his partner’s thoughts and feelings, but his own. He comes across as the kind of guy who would set healthy boundaries and come up with healthy ways of resolving conflict because of his past trauma. And I’d be willing to say he’d be one of the most supportive partners on this entire list. Dorian’s just a really kind and intuitive partner in the game, which can only lead to good things.

Blackwall: Blackwall is a really nice guy. He has a very clear and commendable sense of right and wrong, and he’s very devoted to the Inquisitor regardless of whether or not you romance him. But Blackwall definitely has his issues. Despite the fact that he’s the one pretending to be something he’s not, he’s suspicious of everyone to the point of rudeness. He’s also so stubbornly ticked off by anyone of a higher class than him, that he will pick fights over small issues. Dorian once refers to him as brutish and it’s accurate. Blackwall can barrel into arguments without thought and without any even attempted politeness. But, much like Cassandra, I don’t think that makes him a bad potential partner. It’s harder to decide what kind of partner Blackwall would be considering he spends most of the romance speaking cryptically in order to keep his secret from you, but he does grow past this stage in the game. I think a relationship with Blackwall would take work. It would be hard to get him to confide in his partner, especially at first, and he is definitely the type who would say something accidentally insensitive. But I think his caring nature and loyalty would ultimately make him a sweet and gentle partner with more awareness of his occasional insensitive tendencies.

Sera: No. Not in a million years. Let’s put aside the fact that Sera would be the type of partner who would pull the kind of mean pranks that get criticized on the internet. Sera has so many unresolved issues that she’d need to deal with before entering a relationship. One is her internalized racism, which would make her an absolutely awful partner to any elf. The way she treats elvish Inquisitors who talk about their heritage is deplorable. The way she treats Solas when he wants to talk about his heritage is deplorable. She has a strict bias against being “elfy” and any elf who portrays those qualities immediately gets written off as stupid and pretentious. Moving on, Sera has no sense of boundaries. She’s constantly prying for personal information and acts neglected when you don’t play into her prying questions. A lot of this behavior is clearly because of past trauma, but she doesn’t work through most of it in the game. She’s majorly insecure and clearly not ready for another person in her life.

Iron Bull: This one feels like an obvious yes but actually…maybe not. Iron Bull is another sweetheart who demonstrates loyalty similar to Blackwall’s. Unlike Blackwall though, Iron Bull views the Inquisitor as his employer and doesn’t even approach a romantic relationship with the Inquisitor as a full relationship. Bull first thinks that an Inquisitor who chooses to romance him is just interested in sex and he’s all business when you’re setting up a relationship with him. All of this seems to imply that, if we’re talking about an Inquisitor as his partner, the power dynamic between them is immediately questionable. If we put aside the whole employer/employee thing, Bull is even more attentive than Dorian. But he’s also not great at setting boundaries. When he romances Dorian he talks about their intimate moments to others even when Dorian asks him to stop, and he doesn’t even lock his door when he and the Inquisitor are having an intimate moment. While Iron Bull at first seems like he’d be a good partner, I think he’s too used to having relationships where sex and the conversations about sex are the only important things to consider. Until he gets over that, I’d say he wouldn’t be a great partner.

I’m going to stop this post here. I’m unfortunately running out of time tonight but I definitely have plans for the second part to this post, including a surprise character who isn’t technically a love interest but who I want to talk about regardless. ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’ has some of the most diverse and well developed romance options of any game I’ve ever seen. I think it’s worth praising for that alone. But just like any game, the romances might not be for you. We’re all going to have different opinions on the romances based on personal preference. But in the end, I think all of us love this game and these characters too much not to respect the fans who adore the romances we might not like as much. My next post will probably be about episode one of ‘The Last of Us’, so look out for that before I start on part two of this one. ‘The Last of Us’ is one of my most anticipated shows of the year and I’m dying to see how good it is!

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

International Dramas: ‘Who Rules the World’

Promotional image of (left) Yang Yang and (right) Zhao Lusi. Copyright goes to Tencent Video and Netflix.

Hi! It’s Annie!

After absolutely loving watching the highs and lows of ‘Love Between Devil and Fairy’, I was eager to pick up something that was at least a little similar. The drama that was immediately recommended to me after I finished that one was this, and after seeing a trailer for it I decided that I was absolutely interested. You don’t often see a drama where both the main male character and female character are equally as talented in martial arts and have a fairly equal amount of power. Not only that, but I’ve really been wanting to see Yang Yang in something else. I thought he was a charming actor in ‘Love O2O’ but I didn’t end up liking his character much in that one. His character in this one seemed to be much more likable and I was really excited to see him again in something on Netflix. I’m glad to say that I wasn’t really disappointed by this drama! Was it the best thing I’ve ever seen? Probably not. It was definitely messy at times, especially toward the end, but it had some elements that really worked! MAJOR SPOILERS for this drama coming up!!! If you want to give this one a watch before reading the rest of the review, go ahead! Like I said, it’s messy but not bad!

Summary: Bai Feng Xi and Hei Feng Xi are two big names in the martial arts world who are known for their incredible skills and for always being together; whether they’re fighting against each other or on the same side. But unbeknownst to the world, Hei Feng Xi is the studious son of an important leader and fighting to become heir to the throne while the mysterious Bai Feng Xi prefers to be free and keep her life under wraps. When a war breaks out for control of the world, they must work together in order to keep the world from evil hands in every kingdom. But there may be an evil even larger hidden in the shadows.

The Majestic:

Bai Feng Xi- I always love when I’m able to put a female character in my list of likes, and Bai Feng Xi was absolutely amazing! Though the reveal that she was actually the princess Hei Feng Xi had been looking for was rather obvious, it honestly didn’t matter too much or really affect her character. She was one of the strongest characters in the entire show, and I’m also pretty sure she’s confirmed bisexual. There was a scene where she was talking about how she liked to dress up as a man sometimes and flirt with women. But I really loved how she never really had to be saved. When she needed help, Hei Feng Xi would come and give her help, but he never needed to completely save her. She was incredibly capable by herself. She also had the best comebacks. There’s a scene where she makes tea for Hei Feng Xi and he comments that he should hire her as a servant because of her skills with tea. She responds to this by saying; “I don’t have nice tea, but I do have two fists.” She’s hilarious, free-spirited, and never demure. She’s actually often the main sense of humor of the show and lightens up most scenes that she’s in. I loved her and she’s such a well written female character!

Hei Feng Xi- I absolutely loved seeing Yang Yang in a show where I loved his character. While Bai Feng Xi is actually more of the muscle of the two (this includes a part of the show where he loses his powers and she has to protect him), he’s the strategic intelligence of the two. Hei Feng Xi knew that his step-mother would attempt to destroy his life if he seemed like any sort of competition to the throne for her son; so he spent much of his life pretending that he was very sickly. He used that time to train in martial arts and strategize about how he would eventually take the kingdom as he doesn’t trust his brother to completely treat the citizens fairly. He shows an incredible wisdom and intelligence throughout the show, almost to the point where he serves as a detective. But he’s also so respectful and sweet. When a master of martial arts instructs him to cut the threads of all of his anxieties, he cuts them all but his anxiety that he would not end up married to Bai Feng Xi because he refuses to let her go. He always acknowledges her as his equal, even including in his proposal to her that he would make her an equal ruler in his kingdom rather than her serving as the woman of the palace.

The Romance- There’s never a question of whether these two will end up together. In all honesty, they’re both in love with each other when the show starts. They just haven’t confessed it to each other yet. There’s a mutual support and trust that means that when they can’t seem to trust anyone else, they know that they’re always there for each other. And the writers went all out with adding in all of the cutest trope scenes that you know you wanted to see. There’s a moment pretty early on where Hei Feng Xi falls very sick and Bai Feng Xi heals him and sleeps in the same bed as him in order to warm him up. On another occasion later in the show he takes care of her when she’s injured. I also loved that they sneak out to see each other before their wedding and he tells her that he’d rather her eat than listen to the maids who told her not to eat so as to not smudge her makeup. Seriously, he’s the most respectful boyfriend/husband. Their relationship is so wholesome and honestly pretty modern. They never break up either and when a palace official tries to force them to, neither of them ever take the suggestion seriously. Yay for dodging that trope!

Breaking Female Stereotypes- Beyond the relationship, the show breaks stereotypes in other ways too. Hei Feng Xi’s top advisor and minister is actually a woman who early on decides that she wants to marry him, both out of falling for him and because she feels she could better protect him from plots against him that way. When she meets Bai Feng Xi she knows automatically that the two are in love with each other and what results is not what you expect. Instead of going the route of a fairly typical rivalry, the two women become really good friends and the advisor steps back because she realizes how strong and mutual their feelings are. There’s even an episode where the advisor and Bai Feng Xi go out together dressed as men just to hang out. On top of that, one of the heirs from one of the kingdoms who hopes to take over the throne is a woman who at first refuses to marry because she fears she won’t have power if she were to take a husband. When she eventually does marry she negotiates herself a fair bit of power, partly because she’s made herself invaluable to the kingdom at that point. It was so nice to see such feminist characters!

The Palace Politics- I actually enjoyed the palace politics in this for the most part, surprisingly. It was mainly saved because of how interesting it was to watch Hei Feng Xi deduce what to do next after a plot was made against him. And I liked seeing Hei Feng Xi team up with his brother to take down his other brother. The relationship between the two brothers was adorable and very wholesome. And I liked that their father wasn’t completely angry and clueless all the time, which is what I find usually happens in these shows. He was a strategist himself and could often tell what his sons were doing. It was refreshing to see!

The Clumsy:

The War- I’m not going to lie, I really liked this drama up until the end. The end of this was what really fell apart for me. The war seemed sloppily thrown together and I felt like I hadn’t gotten enough of some of the characters involved with the war by the time it came around. Not to mention that there were several decisions made here that I hated. There was no reason to kill off the kid that Bai Feng Xi and Hei Feng Xi had been essentially raising. It was heartbreaking and at the same time they didn’t spend enough time on it. The entire war was pretty boring and it stopped being as much about strategy as well. It just felt like mindless fighting that lasted way too long.

Time Skips- I don’t like time skips in the last few episodes of my drama unless it’s only for epilogue reasons. The last two episodes were years down the line and I wasn’t quite sure what the reason for that was. The war could have easily begun right away.

The Ending- He only has ten years to live? Really? I liked that they both gave up the throne at the end to be together, but it was so disappointing that they cut his life span. It was another one of those dramas where I kind of wished the last two episodes hadn’t happened.

The Villains- The ones that we got a lot of, like Hei Feng Xi’s stepmother, were kind of annoying. The interesting ones, like the major strategist who ended up being the only heir to another mysterious kingdom, didn’t get nearly enough time. I’m not sure I know much about his personality at all. And he was killed by the main characters in a four minute battle right after he revealed that he was the heir to the other kingdom. I timed it, it was literally a four minute battle. It really felt anti-climactic.

Already In Love- I’ve made this complaint with another show before, but I much prefer seeing the complete progression of the romances I watch. It was clear from the beginning that these two were already pretty much in love with each other and I wish I could have seen them from before that moment. I really like to see the main characters fall in love for the first time in my dramas and I didn’t really feel like you got that here.

I would have absolutely loved this drama if it wasn’t for the way it ended. The ending kind of killed some of my initial love for it. I also kind of wish, once again, that we had gotten their love story from the beginning. But other than that, this was undeniably a cute watch. It’s not one of my new favorites like ‘Love Between Fairy and Devil’ was, but I can see myself returning to a few scenes from this one. And the two main characters were extremely likable! Overall, this drama was cute but not one I would say is amazing. Watching all of these dramas has gotten me back into watching some of my old favorites though and some of them are even better than I remembered!

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

Netflix Shows: Why the ‘Knives Out’ Series is So Damn Good

Screenshot of Daniel Craig and Janelle Monae in ‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery’. Copyright goes to Netflix and T-Street.

Hey! Hallie here!

Every time a ‘Knives Out’ movie is released it becomes my personality for at least a month. These movies are extremely fun with characters who are easy to get attached to. But they’re also insanely well thought out and relevant to the influential conversations we’re currently having as a society. And on top of all that, they’re just solid mystery movies that consistently keep the audience guessing. I’ve seen some critics write off these movies as fluffy, but I disagree. There’s so much depth to the ‘Knives Out’ movies and they only get better with each viewing. So in honor of my obsession with Benoit Blanc and his mysteries, here are some of the best things about the ‘Knives Out’ movies so far. SPOILERS for ‘Knives Out’ and ‘Glass Onion’ ahead!

The Mysteries:

First off, the mysteries in these films are actual mysteries. What I mean by that is, they’re actually solvable. You as the audience are always given all of the information Benoit Blanc has. Does that mean you always figure it out? Not really. After all, Benoit Blanc is more observant than the average person and the movies do a good job of throwing you off with each twist to add some confusion. But the reason why the big reveals at the end of each ‘Knives Out’ film are so fun and so satisfying is because the clues were there all along. When Blanc puts things together you completely understand what he’s talking about, and at some points you’re even able to pick up on what he’s piecing together before he gets to the point. These movies have the goal of frustrating you with the clues you missed that were right under your nose, rather than delighting in a reveal you never could have guessed. Then there’s the mysteries themselves, which have a unique structure that make the ‘Knives Out’ series stand out. The structure involves an extremely simple mystery, but one that becomes a lot more intriguing when the audience gains an entirely new perspective at around the halfway mark of each film.

The mystery in ‘Knives Out’ revolves around the mysterious death of Harlan, a wealthy old man who had a lot of money that will be distributed upon his death. That’s certainly a premise we’ve seen before. The culprit even turns out to be the person heard having a fight with Harlan the night of his demise and who directly says “I could have killed him” when talking about said argument. But the entire movie is turned on its head when we get a supposed solution halfway through the movie with the “reveal” that Marta accidentally gave Harlan a lethal amount of medication and Harlan killed himself to help cover it up. At that point we have so many more questions about whether or not Marta is actually guilty, whether or not Benoit is a good detective, and whether or not Ransom has good intentions, that it becomes more complicated to solve the mystery. Similarly, ‘Glass Onion’ first appears complicated. We think we’re solving the upcoming murder of Miles Bron at the beginning of the movie, and literally any of his friends have the motivation to kill him. But halfway through the movie we learn there’s already been a murder, the murder of Helen’s sister Andi over her attempt to ruin Bron’s career. The issue is that Bron seems like the least possible suspect to everyone including Blanc because of how easily he could be blamed for the murder, which raises even more questions. But the solution is simple. Bron was the one who killed Andi because he clearly had the most reason to do so. He simply disregarded the fact that he could easily be blamed because he’s a genuinely stupid person. Both of these movies are master classes in giving the audience a simple mystery with all the clues to solve it, and still keeping them guessing until the final reveal. No series does it like ‘Knives Out’.

The Detective:

There are so many famous gentleman detectives. Sherlock is the most famous by far, and Poirot has recently been gaining on him in popularity. But I’d argue Benoit Blanc is the most likable detective of them all. First off, he isn’t superhuman like Sherlock Holmes. He isn’t going to notice the type of sand on the bottom of your shoe or the small scratch on your phone screen. He notices clues that anyone could potentially notice, he’s just more observant than the people around him. He also isn’t pompous about his abilities. He’s certainly confident in himself, but he doesn’t claim to be smarter or more capable than anyone else. In fact, he shows a firm respect for both Marta’s kind heart, and Helen’s strong will and snooping skills. Benoit also never comes across as untouchable. He’s a regular, relatable guy. One of the reasons you spend so much of ‘Knives Out’ wondering if he’s a good detective, is because he’s a bit of a goofball who likes singing Sondheim at full volume in the car and lands on donuts when he’s trying to find an analogy for the case. In ‘Glass Onion’ he’s invited onto an island with a bunch of rich people and is immediately both politely bewildered by his rich companions, and awkwardly uncomfortable around a group of people he doesn’t know. My favorite thing about Blanc though, is his kindness. In ‘Knives Out’ he’s the first to offer condolences to Harlan’s mother, correctly assuming everyone else brushed her off. He also attempts to soften the truth of Harlan’s death to Marta because he knows it will upset her. In ‘Glass Onion’ he’s careful to watch Helen because of the danger she’s in, and even worries about her alcohol intake on the island because she told him she didn’t drink. He’s just a genuinely good person who would be nice to know in real life.

The Messages:

‘Knives Out’ and ‘Glass Onion’ are both stories about a privileged group of people being outwitted and ultimately destroyed by a woman of color without the luxury of those privileges. There’s a reason for that. Both movies tackle the problem of racism and raise awareness to the ways we see it now, in modern day. In ‘Knives Out’ Marta faces a family of white people benefiting from generational wealth, with about half of them saying something racist to or about Marta at some point in the movie. Both Ransom and Richard claim Marta’s family is from a different country each time they talk about her, and both Richard and Walt are firmly against immigration. Richard even attempts to bait Marta into agreeing with him on immigration policies while simultaneously handing her his finished plate to deal with. Marta’s Harlan’s nurse, not the maid. And I won’t even go into the alt-right troll child. The racism in ‘Glass Onion’ is a bit more straightforward. Miles Bron, a white man, takes the ideas of Andi, a Black woman, claims them as his own and then murders her. Though here there’s also a message about the corrupt nature of the people who are privileged with money, who will step on literally anyone to get more money and fame. In both stories it’s satisfying to see the innocent party prevail, Marta because she’s finally able to turn the tables on the people who looked down on her, and Helen because she’s able to get revenge for her sister and strip away the monetary privileges of all of her sister’s former friends. These stories don’t shy away from the modern racism, classism, and even sexism (Thanks Duke) we’re seeing today, and that relevance makes them so much more intriguing.

I love so many things about these movies. I love the characters. I love the casts. I love how much fun every single actor and member of the crew look like they’re having on these movies. I love the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of the mysteries. I especially love the critique of society in every script. I love all of these things, but I also love how light and fun these movies are. The characters are goofy, the comedy is on point, and none of the deaths ever feel that serious. But that doesn’t make these movies fluffy or mindless entertainment. Movies can be both fun and mind-blowing. I feel like we need to have an appreciation for movies like this, that are well executed without having to have thoroughly depressing plots that are often used for award show bait. There’s so much complexity to be found in them and they’ll stay enjoyable far into the future.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

K-Pop: Idols are Humans

Promotional photo of (from left) Son Dongju (Xion), Lee Seoho, Yeo Hwanwoong, Lee Keonhee, and Kim Geonhak (Leedo). Copyright goes to RBW and ONEUS.

Hi! It’s Annie!

This is yet another one of those times where I had something different planned for today and had to change my plans because of some recent news. I do have a review for another drama I’ve watched incoming and I promise that will be next! But right now, this feels more important. There have been a couple of trends going around and a recent incident that I really want to talk in depth about because all of these things seem to pointedly ignore the same point I’ve been trying to make forever. Idols are human beings. They are not otherworldly entities who are somehow better or more perfect than anyone else. Just because they have a glamorous job does not mean that we are entitled to treat them as anything else but what they essentially are. And I think there are certain things lately that have strayed so far from this point that I’ve personally been more angry regarding this point with idols than I have before in recent memory. And that’s saying something. So let’s go over the recent drama with Kim Namjoon and a recent TikTok trend so I can rant about this some more!

A Monk???:

I’m pretty sure everyone has heard about this by now, but several news sites released a specific story about Kim Namjoon of BTS against his knowledge and consent. I have not read the article and, if you haven’t, please do not seek it out or read anything even if you come across it. If you have read it, well, I sincerely hope it was by accident. Kim Namjoon has made his recent delve into religion semi public as he continues on his journey to really find himself, which is an opportunity he hasn’t really been given for quite a while. On a reflective visit to a Buddhist temple; Namjoon confided in a monk. The monk then turned around and sold everything Namjoon told him in confidence to the press. Yes, a monk. Someone who trains in morality and is usually seen as trustworthy sold a story that this person was told in confidence to the press. I still can barely believe it. (Please note that this is not the time to go after all monks or the Buddhist religion.) Namjoon, who is pretty mild mannered, shared the fact that the story had been posted in absolute fury. Something that I cannot blame him for. I am also absolutely outraged. Namjoon has already expressed how exhausted he is with being famous and being recognized everywhere. As someone who has that level of fame, he has expressed that he hasn’t exactly known who to trust in the past. And then this happens to him. If you read that article because you wanted to or even translated it for other people to read; you’re, in a lot of ways, just as bad as that monk. Idols do not deserve to have their private information in the public just as much as you don’t deserve to wake up tomorrow and see all of your private information go viral. There is no excuse here. This was just plain inhumane.

Bias Lists:

And here’s my second part to this. I honestly could have created an entire post just based off of how angry I am that this is currently a trend on places like TikTok and Instagram. Is it ok to have a bias? Yes! When you choose your bias you aren’t necessarily choosing which member you like above the others. You’re choosing who you like based off of your personal interests and who draws you to them. This answer is going to be different for everyone. A lot of people also have bias wreckers, who are people that sometimes make you question your bias. A lot of people identify within K-Pop fandoms in particular based off of who their bias is. But while I think it’s ok to have these things, though we sometimes see issues with them as well, it is absolutely ridiculous to have a bias list. Because what you see as just a list of your personal preferences is actually a list of your favorite to least favorite human beings in a group. When you have a bias and a bias wrecker you aren’t choosing someone to go in a last or least favorite spot. But that has opened people up to the idea that it’s ok to make entire lists. And this also makes it so that the point of you having a bias or bias wrecker in the first place goes away. Picking someone that you’re just drawn to doesn’t feel like the point when you’re ranking every single person in that group. At that point you absolutely do have a favorite and are ranking your favorite to least favorite.

Idols aren’t fictional characters. I feel like many of the people who do this have been in fiction fandoms before and are used to being asked who their favorite and least favorite characters are. I know that I used to sometimes make lists of my favorite characters in certain shows or books that I liked. But these are human beings. We already have issues with some members being biased over others and some members of some groups having their personal merch sold out far before the personal merch of other members. And if you think that this never hurts the idols, you are absolutely wrong. Several members of BTS recalled a time where a few of them would never receive any fan mail and how much that hurt those members. How much more do you think it would hurt them if everyone started ranking all of the members of a group? There are also multiple groups with a vast variety of the amount of members to consider. Because of this, I often also have a problem when people say that they have a bias line in a group. Especially because these bias lines often include four or more members, which means that they’ll often only be excluding a few members. Again, this feels a lot more like choosing members that are your least favorite than choosing a member that you feel personally drawn to. I know this might fall on deaf ears, but it’s not ok to have a least favorite member of a group. Why? Because that starts getting into solo stan behavior. If you don’t support all of the members of a group, then you absolutely can’t support that group as a whole. And if you’re willing to call any member of the group your least favorite, I personally think that this shows a lack of support for that member. You wouldn’t sit down and rank your family members, so don’t rank idols either. It is not ok to start ranking human beings.

Idols are constantly stalked, torn down, or having their personal lives controlled or put on blast by the public. And I really think everyone who considers doing any of these things needs to consider whether or not they would be ok if any of these things happened to them. A lot of people justify their behavior by saying that by getting into an entertainment industry like this, the idols should expect this because it’s “a part of the job”. But none of these people seem to consider that maybe it shouldn’t be a part of the job. That maybe a job in the entertainment industry is another job and that nobody deserves to have their private lives exposed and shared with the world. And also that these people should be able to choose their own lives and the public should understand that all of them have emotions just like the rest of us. On the other end of this, we shouldn’t feel that they are perfect or will always make the right decision. Because again, human beings make mistakes. If you’re treating anyone in a way that you would not be personally ok being treated, then you probably aren’t treating that person like a human being. Idols are humans!

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

Disney: ‘Strange World’ Review

Screenshot from ‘Strange World’ on Disney+. Copyright goes to Walt Disney Studios.

Hey! Hallie here!

‘Strange World’ is the newest Disney animation film to drop on Disney+ and this one’s been a bit of a hot topic on social media. Unfortunately, it’s not because it’s receiving glowing reviews. It’s because most people didn’t know ‘Strange World’ existed until it showed up on the front of the Disney+ homepage. It was barely marketed at all, which comes across as suspicious considering its diverse cast and the inclusion of the first openly gay main character for Disney animation. And because of the complete lack of marketing that was done for this movie, ‘Strange World’ ended up being a major box office flop. But beyond the way Disney undermined their own movie, did ‘Strange World’ deserve the failure? In my opinion, no. This movie is extremely imaginative, includes so many likable characters, and is just gorgeous to watch. The story itself isn’t the most original or the cleanest story we’ve seen, but it’s still fun. I’ll get into my SPOILER review below, but if you haven’t seen this, I definitely think it’s worth a watch. We can at least show Disney that we appreciate it with Disney+ views.

What I Liked:

The Characters: Like I said above, the characters here are almost all extremely likable. I especially loved the family of three that’s at the center of the film. Searcher Clade, our main character, is really easy to sympathize with. This movie, much like ‘Encanto’, deals with generational trauma and Searcher is the first victim. He tries to be good dad, and in many ways he is, but he’s terrified of facing the adventurous qualities in his son that Searcher associates with his own father. It brings up old trauma, and though his controlling nature can be just as irritating for the audience as it is for Ethan, you understand why he can be overbearing. Then there’s Ethan Clade, our first openly gay character in a Disney animated film! Ethan’s crush on his friend Diazo is not subtle, nor is it hidden behind clever wordplay. It’s stated several times and Ethan’s always adorably flustered in his presence. It isn’t a major plot point of the movie, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s just nice to see an openly queer character having fun adventures while also happening to be gay. And aside from his identity, he has many other likable qualities. While he’s definitely adventurous, he clearly has a better respect for his environment and other people than Searcher’s father Jaeger had. Lastly, Meridian is the final person in this trio and my favorite character in the movie. She’s badass, has the most hilarious comebacks, and proves herself to be the most intelligent and capable person on the crew on multiple occasions. At first I thought they would leave her character behind once the action started, but as the exploration party was leaving without her she pulled off a daring rescue of the entire party and landed herself a position as the pilot. She’s so awesome. Along with these three there are perfectly lovable characters like Callisto, Splat, and Legend who add their own insanely likable flavor to the movie. Overall ‘Strange World’ has a solid ensemble cast.

The World: ‘Strange World’ is one of those movies where a group of adventurers leave the world they know and enter a fantasy universe. The fantasy universe here is gorgeous and extremely unique. The colors are vibrant and beautiful, and though all the colors used are bright, they don’t clash with each other. I really liked how the constantly moving and pulsing environment blended seamlessly with the creatures the explorers encounter. There are characters like Splat who appear more gelatinous and almost blend in to the more fluid background elements, but there are also giant bird creatures and tentacled monsters that blend in because of their abnormal shapes and bright colors. I also really loved the twist tied to this fantasy world. It’s revealed that the land the characters live on is located on the back of a giant turtle, which is recognizable from Chinese, Hindu, and Indigenous mythologies. Because of that, the unknown world they’re exploring is actually the insides of this giant turtle creature. While that might sound gross, all of the visual elements lend itself well to a whimsical representation of the lungs, stomach, and even blood cells of a living creature. The design for this world was done so well that when the characters put together that they’ve been inside a creature for the entire movie, you put it together with them. If for nothing else, I’d rewatch this movie for the beautiful animation that went into bringing to life this fantasy world.

Caravan Palace: In one scene Searcher and Meridian dance to “Lone Digger” by Caravan Palace, which is one of the best Electro Swing songs ever made. The movie instantly got points for using this song.

What I Disliked:

The Story: I didn’t hate this story, but it isn’t perfect. It’s most definitely not as unique as the visual elements in the movie. I like a good generational trauma film, but the way the movie unfolded wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before. It’s a typical ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ type of film, where a man encounters an abnormal environment while having to patch up a rocky relationship with the young boy in his care. Just add on some ‘Indiana Jones’-like animosity between another father/son duo and you have ‘Strange World’. What I’m saying is it’s an amalgamation of various adventure movies, and the only thing it does differently here is good female representation. There’s also the problem of Jaeger, who could have remained a backstory character for Searcher instead of showing up in the main story and I don’t think it would have changed the plot much. Jaeger wasn’t supposed to be likable for most of the film considering how terrible of a father he was, but his presence felt like more of an annoyance than an emotional staple of the film. The plot attempts to redeem Jaeger by pointing out how similar he is to Searcher (They really aren’t that similar,) and then having Jaeger help save the day. But the real heart of the film is obviously Searcher’s relationship with Ethan, and the emotional center of the film is Searcher learning to trust Ethan. That story could have just as easily been told without Jaeger’s unnecessary interruptions. Overall it’s disappointing to have such an imaginative movie rely on such an overused base story.

The Marketing: And we’re back to this. This movie could have done so much better if Disney actually marketed it. Instead, Disney allowed ‘Strange World’ to fade into obscurity. So much so that even the LGBTQ+ community didn’t know we’d be getting our first confirmed gay character until a few members of the community happened upon the movie. And because so many people didn’t see it, reviews wound up lower than they should have been because homophobes decided to complain about the representation in the movie with no one to argue against them. It’s ridiculous that we still live in a time where movies get review bombed simply because there are characters that represent more than just straight, white people. ‘Strange World’ isn’t the best Disney movie ever, but it deserved much more than it got. And I absolutely find it suspicious that Disney didn’t market a movie with so much representation.

Jake Gyllenhaal: This is all personal preference, but I find Jake Gyllenhaal to be a bit hit or miss. His performances can be quite wooden, and I found that that was especially true of his voice acting abilities. Physical acting choices really can’t save you when you’re just acting with your voice, and I didn’t find Gyllenhaal’s voice acting to be all that engaging compared to the other actors. But once again, that’s all based on my personal preferences.

If you’ve gotten all the way here and you still haven’t watched ‘Strange World’, I highly recommend you go and watch it! It’s fun, likable, and visually stunning. It might not be the most memorable animated movie of last year, but it definitely deserves some praise. I’ll at least be thinking about how much I love Meridian well into 2023. I hope this movie does well enough on Disney+ that Disney doesn’t write off the LGBTQ+ representation and the amount of people of color that were present. ‘Strange World’ is such an important movie to support and it’s sad that Disney might overlook the importance of it because of the lack of support so far.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

K-Pop: Why I Love Kim Geonhak

Promotional photo of Kim Geonhak (Leedo) for the ‘No Diggity’ MV. Copyright goes to RBW and ONEUS.

Hi! It’s Annie!

Happy New Year! I don’t usually do posts like this unless it’s because of a birthday, but ONEUS is still so underrated. And while part of me wants to gate-keep this man, that is toxic behavior so I will do the opposite and gush about him. In a short amount of time he went from being just one of my biases to being one of my three major biases alongside Kim Namjoon of BTS and Jeong Yunho of ATEEZ. And I think one of the things that has propelled the entirety of ONEUS for me, not just Kim Geonhak (Leedo), is the very obvious close bond that all of the members seem to share. None of these members are shy about being affectionate and/or teasing each other. When you see them interact, there’s a level of comfort there between all of them that’s absolutely unmistakeable. It’s led to hilarious moments on camera of members terrorizing, biting, and chasing each other. As well as ensured that there is almost no footage of them that is not chaotic and does not involve them breaking into hysterical laughter at one point or another. There’s also usually some screaming involved. But that aside, Leedo drew me in because of the softness behind his incredibly intimidating first impression. So I’m just going to go into some of my favorite facts about Kim Geonhak that made him shoot onto my major bias list in record time.

His Idol Story:

Geonhak was a trainee with another company before he joined RBW. Not only did the company keep passing him by, but he ended up in a situation where he was betrayed by people he considered himself close to. Due to largely this and the cutthroat nature of the industry, Geonhak almost swore off being an idol altogether. When he was offered another chance at RBW, he worked himself to exhaustion at several points and almost was not involved in the final lineup for ONEUS. The original concept for ONEUS was more of an innocent and refreshing look and the company did not think that Geonhak would fit into the group because of his deep register and intimidating look. As the concept for ONEUS changed, the company gave him a chance and truly discovered just how marketable his deep register was. Because, let’s be honest, we all go crazy for how deep his voice is. Geonhak several times thought that he would never debut and I’m so glad that he was put into this group. I couldn’t imagine ONEUS without him!

His Connection with Kids:

Geonhak is known for his connection with kids and his passion for child education. In fact, he chose Child Development as his University major rather than choosing something related to business or the music industry like most idols do. When asked about his choice, he very adorably began talking about how much he likes kids and how much he does to try and understand them. The MV for ‘Come Back Home’ features a young boy who plays the King all of the ONEUS Knights are trying to protect. Geonhak bonded with the young boy on set and there’s even several pieces of footage from behind the scenes of the MV that show Geonhak talking to him while crouching to be at his eye level. In a variety show for ONEUS they brought the boy back to reconnect with ONEUS and so that the members could write him a song he could share with his friends when he went back to school after the pandemic. While a couple members set out to write the song, Hwanwoong and Geonhak were tasked with entertaining the boy until the song was done being written. This included, baking a cake with him, buying him snacks, and taking him to the park. Geonhak ends up pushing both Hwanwoong and the boy on the swings and pretty much baking the cake all by himself, but he looks delighted the entire time. And while the boy seems to view Hwanwoong as an equal; Geonhak takes up the role of parental figure including holding him at several points throughout. It’s all very adorable and he’s so soft with kids! It’s so cute!

His Protective Nature:

I’ll keep the explanation for this minimal, but Geonhak, along with the other members, was attacked pretty fervently after recent controversies because of his past connections. Several people accused him of being ungrateful, which was absolutely awful and had nothing to do with the situation. Geonhak also was the one to make the blatant statement about only talking about the five members of the group. I was extremely angry at some of the comments I saw about Geonhak, but he seemed to be far more angry about the comments made at the expense of other members. Geonhak directly addressed the bullying comments and was very stern about doing so. He came out and said that any harassment and refusal to listen to the members wishes to him meant that those people can’t call themselves TOMOON, or fans of ONEUS. This alienated a bunch of fans, but I am personally so glad that he did this. It should be an accepted thing for idols to defend themselves and their members and be able to communicate fan behavior that makes them uncomfortable. Bang Chan of Stray Kids has publicly come out to condemn fan behavior when some of their fans were attacking other fan communities. He was largely commended for this behavior by his fan base (not all of them), and I found the fan reaction to Geonhak doing this not as welcoming. But Geonhak took this blow for all of the other members. He never once asked people to stop harassing him, his statement was directly about the harassment of his members. And I have to agree with Geonhak. If you went after Geonhak for making this comment, I don’t consider you a TOMOON. We support our boys in this house and their opinions. The members of ONEUS are not babies and they are not being misled. Listen to what the members are saying personally or get out.

His Love of Skinship:

This one is pretty funny to me because first impressions made this pretty shocking for me personally. I thought Seoho would be a huge fan of skinship (or showing affection by hugging or otherwise draping yourself around someone else) and that Geonhak would be opposed to it. It turned out to be the opposite. This partly goes once again into the protective category, but Geonhak will step up and carry other members (particularly Dongju (Xion)) when they are too high up on a platform or just generally want to be carried. In one behind the scenes for an MV the members speculated on whether or not Dongju would ask Geonhak to carry him up a steep cliff and came to the conclusion that if he asked, Geonhak was soft enough that he would say yes. Geonhak is also constantly hugging other members and will sometimes chase Seoho with the threat of hugs because Seoho doesn’t like to be hugged. This has given them a Tom and Jerry type of dynamic that is always hilarious to watch.

His Dedication:

When Geonhak wants to get something done, he puts his all into it. This is particularly obvious when he talks about working out. Geonhak is known by fans and others in the music industry for being perfectly ok going shirtless. He has personally said that one of his role models is Wonho who is known for his particular physique as it isn’t super common in the K-Pop world. In order to keep up with his workout regimen, Geonhak has completely sworn off alcohol. He’s talked about how he sometimes is treated like he isn’t fun when he goes out because drinking is usually a big part of going out in general in South Korea. He still doesn’t really waver on that. But he also refuses to go on diets because he finds them dangerous. (This man has also said that he doesn’t understand why you need to eat vegetables.) He is known for exercising six or seven times a week as well. I know a lot of fans have been telling him to take a break sometimes, but I think that’s up to him. And this is me saying this fully aware that I have wrongly on this blog said several times that I want a group to take a break. I don’t remember who pointed it out (I think it was Bang Chan), but sometimes it’s actually better for an idol to keep going and sometimes working (or working out, in this case) is something that takes their mind off of other things. It’s really up to the idol. I know a lot of us were afraid after everything with BTS and it makes perfect sense to be afraid. But I hope that they have at least created a community where idols can say if they want to take a break. I don’t know, but I’m going to be more careful about saying that in the future.

His Support:

Geonhak has verbally shown his support for the trans community. At a fansign a fan expressed to Geonhak that he was soon going to be having a surgery as part of his transition journey. Geonhak told the fan that he was extremely handsome and showed genuine interest, including asking follow up questions. Of course, we don’t want to praise people for doing the bare minimum. But this was something that I really wanted to bring up.

His Soft Demeanor:

Other than looking after and even carrying Dongju, which he does all the time, Geonhak is known for looking after all of the members. Keonhee has stated that Geonhak looks after the members well and is kind of like a big brother to them all. Despite this he’s lamented that he often gets voted out first on games like ‘Mafia’ because his intimidating look makes him seem guilty even though he’s almost always playing an innocent. My first encounter with Geonhak was watching the ‘No Diggity’ MV and he looks like a straight up movie villain in that MV. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t intimidated. But I pretty quickly discovered how soft this man was after looking up some more stuff about the members.

These are just a few facts about Kim Geonhak that made me absolutely fall for this man. But there are also four other members of this group that deserve all of your love and support. Hwanwoong is like a human puppy that all children and dogs adore. Seoho has the voice of a literal angel and such a sassy personality behind it. Keonhee is a sunshine boy who always has the best jokes. And Dongju is the human embodiment of chaos in the absolute best way. You may see me do more posts like this in the future because this group is so underrated. I want all of their shows to sell out. Also, this is one of the main groups in the industry that embraces traditional instruments and visuals. It’s a unique style within the industry that adds an element of beauty to their music that no other group has. And though, as I said before, there is a part of me that wants to gate-keep this man for myself, I hope that this post will teach you a little more about ONEUS and get you interested in stanning the group! Maybe you’ll end up with this man or one of the other absolutely worthy members as one of your major biases too! They deserve it and if you want song or performance recommendations, you’ll definitely find posts here on this blog for that! But watch the traditional performance of ‘Same Scent’. You won’t regret it!

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

K-Pop: “HALAZIA” and ATEEZ Lore

Screenshot of Jung Wooyoung in the “HALAZIA” music video. Copyright goes to KQ Entertainment.

Hey! Hallie here!

Just like every other Atiny, I’ve been anticipating the release of “HALAZIA” for most of December. There was so much excitement not just for this song, but for what it might mean for ATEEZ’s current storyline. ATEEZ has been slowly and carefully crafting a huge story across all of their albums, and even across separate performances like the ones they did on the competition show ‘Kingdom’. “HALAZIA” promised to be a big part of the storyline, especially with the imagery of Halateez (Or the alternate versions of ATEEZ introduced in “HALA HALA”,) throughout the music video teasers. Now that the song and the MV are out there’s a lot to talk about and even more to speculate about. Before I go into the specifics of this song and its MV, though, I’m going to give a synopsis of the lore so far for the Atiny who haven’t read the notes in ATEEZ’s albums or don’t know much about the lore. My focus is going to be the notes because we’ve discussed the performances and MVs before, but I’ll try to clear up the basics for anyone who’s new here. Let’s get into it!

The Lore So Far:

The first part of the story begins with an introduction to each of the ATEEZ members as the main characters. They all have pretty depressing backstories. Hongjoong can’t spend any time with his real family so he views ATEEZ as his new family. Seonghwa was entranced with a girl who mysteriously disappeared. Yunho lost his older brother and latches onto Hongjoong as a brother figure because of it. Yeosang has a difficult relationship with his father and worries his father will cause problems for ATEEZ. Wooyoung and San are best friends, Wooyoung being the idealistic dreamer who lacks confidence and San the supportive friend in need of someone to talk to. Mingi is severely depressed and worries the happiness ATEEZ brings him won’t last. Finally, Jongho was a basketball player who can no longer play because of an injury. While the group is spending time together in the abandoned warehouse they call their hideout, Hongjoong dreams of Halateez, who somehow manage to send him and the other members to their universe with the help of a magical hourglass known as a Cromer. When Hongjoong wakes up, ATEEZ make the realization that they’ve crossed into a universe called Strictland where the government has outlawed human emotion, including music and art, as a means to control the population. While on the run from the government they’re saved by the Grimes siblings. The youngest of the siblings has had her voice taken by the government henchmen, the androids in white masks, so ATEEZ promises to get it back before they leave. The siblings then reveal that a man named Left Eye knows the location of the Cromer that can send them back home, but he’s trapped in hallucinogenic gas.

The group splits up, Jongho being the one to retrieve the girl’s voice while Yunho breaks Left Eye out of his hallucinations. With their promise fulfilled and the location of the Cromer revealed, they go to the prison where art, music, and anyone who protests the government are kept. There they come face to face with Halateez and realize that Halateez, the leaders of the revolution against the government, are the alternate versions of themselves. While Halateez reveals their plan to get ATEEZ to take over their revolution, Yeosang wanders off to find the Cromer. But his actions alert the androids to their presence, and Yeosang, feeling guilty, sends the other members of ATEEZ back to their universe at the cost of his capture. But the other members aren’t ok with Yeosang remaining behind in Strictland, so they locate the Cromer in their universe. They discover both that the Cromer sent them slightly back in time and that the Cromer of their universe is located in a museum. Unfortunately, a cult known as Sciensalvar has their eye on the Cromer as well. Yunho initially separates from the group because, as a result of being sent back in time, Yunho’s brother is still alive. But when Yunho sees ATEEZ’s fight against Sciensalvar starting to go south, he goes to rescue them. In the ensuing escape his brother gets run over by a car, the same way he died the first time around, and in a final conversation with his brother Yunho decides to return to Strictland with the rest of ATEEZ. The group then rescues Yeosang, Halateez, and everyone else the Strictland government had imprisoned, beginning their revolution. However, a major battle with the government, as seen in ‘Kingdom’, ends with the deaths of Halateez.

Cromer Powers:

Because this story is so reliant on the Cromer I just want to put a note here about what the Cromer can do so far. The Cromer can send people to different universes, but only on a full moon. Without a full moon it still has teleportation abilities, which ATEEZ and Halateez use to remain a step ahead of the government. It also has some kind of time travel ability. Even when there isn’t a full moon, the Cromer is always powered by the phases of the moon.

“HALAZIA”:

Before I get into the imagery in the MV and my speculations about what’s going on, this song is insanely good. “HALAZIA” starts with a more soft, mysterious feel that instantly hooked me. However, the tension throughout the song builds gradually in a way that feels extremely satisfying once you get to the chanting at the end. And the chorus is gorgeous and addictive, blending Jongho’s mind-blowing belt perfectly with the sweeter, more sultry vocals we get from Seonghwa, San, Yunho, and Wooyoung. And uhhh YEOSANG’S BARITONE? This man needs to show that off in more songs. I just about died. The rap verses in this are incredible too. Hongjoong opts for something more melodic that blends in seamlessly with the background while Mingi stands out with a more powerful flow. This is probably my favorite ATEEZ song of this year, and that’s saying something. As for the apparent meaning of the lyrics and the MV… I’m not completely sure. Lyrics like “We all try but we lose emotion” and “Getting used to the feeling of losing” make it seem like either the revolution is failing or has already failed, possibly because of the loss of Halateez. But then, there’s still confusion over whether the performance on ‘Kingdom’ where Halateez died already happened, or hasn’t happened yet in the storyline. As you can see, there’s a lot of confusing elements. And on top of that, this is a “spin-off”, so it might not be as connected to the main story as we think. Then there’s the imagery of the blue bird, which is brought up in the lyrics, is the name of the outro for this release, and explains the feather on the album cover. I believe the blue bird is the witness the album name refers to. But who is the witness?

My Theory:

Which leads me to my wild theory, because all we have right now is wild theories. My only theory is that this MV takes place in the future. It’s clearly a future without hope. It definitely looks like ATEEZ already lost the revolution based on the lyrics and the fact that the prologue describes a world that has already lost its gravity. From past MVs we know that gravity is effected whenever the Cromer is used and we also know that lightning is usually an indication that a Cromer is actively in use. Considering the lack of gravity, the amount of lighting, and the fact that Yunho appears to be literally sitting in a Cromer, I get the feeling the Cromer is important in this future. I actually think it fell into the wrong hands. The government killed Halateez and took the Cromer, overusing it to the point of quelling the revolution and destroying Strictland in the process.

I think San and the group pulling down the full moon are attempting to stop the Cromer from working by removing its power source. Jongho’s still holding a revolution/anarchy flag which makes me think that he’s still trying to get the revolution going. But everyone else is separated. Yeosang is in chains, seemingly back where he started when he first came to Strictland. And the other members are either paying their respects to Halateez, visiting places like where they first struck a deal with them during “Answer”, or actively rejecting them. Seonghwa seems like he may be mocking the Halateez scarecrow and Wooyoung burns a Halateez hat. Maybe it’s Halateez’s fault that the government learned how to use the Cromer? Either way, my big theory is that the four mysterious figures that appear at the end of the MV are the witnesses, and are using their own Cromer to time travel. I think they will then return to ATEEZ to warn them about this potential future. In other words, I think this future is what happens if ATEEZ isn’t prepared for Halateez to die. I do think Halateez will die like on ‘Kingdom’, but based on Hongjoong’s timeline for the albums, I don’t think they’re dead yet. And I think ATEEZ won’t be able to prevent their upcoming deaths, but I do think they will be able to protect the Cromer if they know what might happen if the government learns how to use it. But like I said, that’s just my personal crazy theory.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

International Dramas: ‘Love Between Fairy and Devil’

Promotional photo of Yu Shuxin and Dylan Wang for ‘Love Between Fairy and Devil’. Copyright goes to iQIYI and Netflix.

Hi! It’s Annie!

This C-Drama has been widely advertised by Netflix for a while and I saw praise for it all over a bunch of my social media, so I wanted to try it. I mean, in a lot of ways it seemed right up my alley. A timeless love story between a sweet flower fairy and a villain considered so bad that the thought of him ever breaking out of prison was considered unthinkable. Firstly, that gears it up perfectly for a grumpy/sunshine romance which is one of my favorite romance tropes. But secondly, it reminded me of all of the darker versus lighter dynamics in some of my favorite mythological love stories. Like Eros and Psyche or Hades and Persephone. So I knew I was going to have to try this one and I’m very glad that I did. Was it an absolutely perfect watch? Probably not. There were a few things that honestly disappointed me. But I feel like it absolutely blew me away in all of the places that really counted for the most part. The rest of my review will be full of MAJOR SPOILERS, so be warned. If you’re considering giving this one a try, go ahead! It’ll be worth your time, I promise!

The Heavenly:

The Male Lead- I always seem to like Dylan Wang in anything. He’s a really charming actor and he brings depth to whatever role he takes on. Dongfang Qingcang was the perfect male lead for this drama. I was worried that he would be too stoic or that we would eventually get one of those brooding storylines where he decides that he’s too dangerous for the main female lead. We never got any of that. Instead we got this beautiful arc that affected all elements of his character. He went from heavily relying on his power of hellfire and his hatred for his father to learning that he could be powerful by restoring his emotions and that sometimes there is power and goodness in feelings like pain. He went from being highly irritable to being the main form of support to many people and a giant caretaker. And his personality did not have to change completely for them to successfully complete this storyline. It was understandable and, frankly, touching. This is also another drama I’ve seen the male lead cry in, which I absolutely loved. I loved that this drama never shied away from showing his emotion and capacity for empathy.

The Female Lead- When the drama first started, I honestly felt like she was going to be annoying. She had this kind of high pitched and nasally voice and she acted kind of childish at times. But it was all part of the process and, after only a couple of episodes, I found her far more endearing than annoying. I loved her capacity for light, empathy, and understanding. And overall, I like how her tendency to indulge in those things taught the main male lead a better way of living rather than the male lead just remaining completely unaffected. I’m sure most of us suspected her of being the missing goddess much sooner than it was revealed, but I liked that it wasn’t revealed until the very end. I liked how innocent she was and how she also had to change to become more open minded about the moon clan. I also liked that the story very slowly showed her becoming stronger to the point where she could survive the moon clan punishment for three days in order to fight for her marriage with Dongfang Qingcang. I always love a romance where they let the woman fight for it too and I loved this character by the end.

The Romance- They didn’t set out to write a regular romance. They set out to write a romance that felt like it belonged in some form of mythology. Something that felt timeless and never ending. And they absolutely succeeded at that. The romance starts out very pure and the characters have to go through developing mutual trust, friendship, and then love. They are sometimes hit with drama that I thought could get a little on the excessive side, but in the end it all worked out really well. And though the kissing scenes are lovely, you’ll find that they can feel a little scarce; but they more than make up for that in other ways. They both fight for their relationship on multiple occasions to the point that they both die for their love at different points. (They come back to life, don’t worry.) They both are extremely lonely and a huge point of their relationship is curing the other of their loneliness by being together. (This is what reminded me most of Eros and Psyche.) The parts that really made me cry in this drama didn’t have to do with the character deaths, though I cried at those too. I sobbed when Dongfang Qingcang was trapped in his ideal dream with the fake Orchid after her death and made the decision to leave. When the fake Orchid started sobbing about the possibility of him having to watch her marry another man if he brought her back to life and watching him start to cry at that same possibility broke me. Then I sobbed again at the speech that he gave Orchid when he thought she was completely taken over by the goddess, where he told her that he respected her decision to marry someone else but that he’d never forget Orchid because she truly loved him when everyone else in the world either hated or admired him. I’m not ok after all of that. This romance was so touching and felt so raw that they made the audience feel it. And all of the simultaneous love and pain that went with it.

Side Characters- I was surprised at how good the side characters were. My favorite though was probably either Shang Que or Danyin. Firstly, Shang Que can shapeshift into a black dragon which is badass. But also, he was the most adorable character in the entire show. He was kind of like a puppy dog. Very loyal and so adorable. And there was always this sense of comfort when he came on screen. My only qualm here is that we only saw him morph into the black dragon once, which makes me wonder if the show had a budget problem for that animation. Danyin had a crush on Chang Heng, the second lead, for most of it. But she was a complete badass. I loved when she pledged herself as a brother to him at the end after having gotten over a crush and scolded him for gender stereotyping when he expressed confusion at this. Jieli was also a character that I enjoyed; I thought they did amazingly with the female characters here. I also ended up loving Xun Feng at the end of it even though I thought I’d hate him at first. He became such a great brother to Dongfang by the end and his unwavering devotion was admirable.

The Music- Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. I want it playing in my head forever. I loved the traditional music throughout the show. It made it feel even more ethereal.

The Visuals- The pastels and the gorgeous auburn trees made me swoon. I loved the way this drama looked. If I could choose a fictional place to live, I think I would choose Arbiter Hall after this.

The Hellish:

Body Swapping- I don’t think I will ever find a version of body swapping that I like. They only do it for a couple of episodes here, but I really didn’t enjoy it. And I especially didn’t like that they did the body swap at the introduction of Dongfang. The first time we see Dylan Wang act as any character in this drama, it’s him acting as Orchid in Dongfang’s body. Considering he’s such an intimidating and formidable character, this introduction was not at all what I wanted from an intro to such a badass character.

Inconsistent Powers- I understand that Dongfang lost his ability to use hellfire, but the amazing powers that he shows at the very beginning almost never come up again. I wanted to see more badass moments like when he shows up and protects Orchid when she’s about to be killed by the heavenly court. It was one of my favorite moments in the entire drama. I just wanted more of it!

The Villains- This has to be one of my largest concerns with the entire drama. There are three villains in the drama. There’s an ancient evil god that they don’t really have to deal with until the end, the Lord of the fairies, and the leader of the heavenly court. There were times where I forgot all three of these villains even existed and I could never find it in me to care about them or any of the storylines attached to them. Ronghao, the Lord of the fairies, has this whole backstory about how he was a blind beggar boy who froze to death one day and was saved and made immortal by his master. The entire time he’s trying to bring his master, the original goddess of war, back to life. But the character had almost no depth and I couldn’t care about his backstory or the goddess of war. There was nothing empathetic here to really hold onto and they don’t even really wrap up his story by the end. The leader of the heavenly court is just annoying most of the time. And the ancient evil god that pops up has no history or plot at all. He’s just there to make things harder for the main characters. I just wish the villains would have been better.

Chang Heng- I had absolutely no second lead syndrome here. I know that this is an unpopular opinion, but I thought his character was annoying. He couldn’t seem to ever accept that Orchid just wasn’t that into him after she fell for Dongfang. He was constantly set on marrying her and neglected everyone around him, including Orchid at times, to ensure that it happened. I have no idea what he even thought he was doing by becoming a mortal. He said it was for Orchid but he never gave a clear reason. I just thought it was badass that Danyin decided to go after him. If he would have left the idea of Orchid alone after she had clearly dumped him I might have liked him better. But he just felt clingy after a little while and I felt like his character could have been so much more than that.

Being a Couple- I talk about this so much. Probably so much that regular readers are sick of hearing it. But I want to see my couples just being couples. I think it’s cute. And this drama didn’t like to see this couple just being a couple; whether it was preventing them from getting married or cutting off the drama too soon. Seriously, there was no reason for them to have not gotten married when they were first planning their wedding. I would have loved for them to have been married for the rest of the drama, it wouldn’t have affected the plot much, and it would have made Dongfang’s dream make more sense. The whole plot point about her having to marry Chang Heng came to nothing and felt pretty pointless anyways. They should have been married by the end of it. And I really wanted to see a little bit of adorable married life that wasn’t just Dongfang’s devastatingly cute dream reality.

I loved this drama! I had a few qualms with it, but nothing super substantial. This is something that I could see myself going back to for the timeless romance and for the aesthetics. It was a gorgeous drama in every way it could have possibly been. It made me cry and it made me feel so incredibly single. Unfortunately, all the absolute best dramas remind me the most of my singleness! Seriously, go watch this and see if you don’t cry! But it all ends happily and is mostly a lighthearted and cute watch, so don’t worry too much.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

Netflix Shows: ‘Glass Onion’ Review

Screenshot of Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc in ‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery’. Copyright goes to Netflix and T-Street.

Hey! Hallie here!

‘Glass Onion’ was probably my most anticipated film release of this year. ‘Knives Out’ is one of my favorite movies of all time and marks one of my favorite movie-going experiences because of how delightfully surprising it was. With such a well performed, written, and executed movie being its predecessor, I had really high expectations for the sequel. ‘Glass Onion’ definitely lived up to my expectations! I wouldn’t say it was as good as the first entry in this series, but it’s still one of the best movie mysteries I’ve ever seen. I managed to go into this without knowing anything about the plot, which I highly recommend if you can. Mysteries like this are always a lot more enjoyable when you go in knowing just as much as the characters. In other words, don’t read this unless you’re completely ok with spoilers or you’ve watched the movie. This is a SPOILER review! With that out of the way, I have a lot to gush about, so let’s get into this!

The Good:

Benoit Blanc: As always, Benoit Blanc is entirely too entertaining of a main character. Sure he’s a genius detective, but unlike characters like Sherlock Holmes, he’s relatable. He’s good at solving real mysteries but can’t wrap his head around games like ‘Among Us’ and ‘Clue’ because he isn’t “good at dumb things”. When he first arrives on Miles Bron’s island he’s uncomfortable, both confused by the practices of rich people and awkward around so many people he doesn’t know. He also spends most of the pandemic either in the bath, on face-time with his friends, or both. He doesn’t feel like an untouchable character, but rather someone you’d really want to know in real life. Plus, he was apparently friends with Angela Lansbury. How can you dislike him? But, as usual, his genius is just as compelling as his relatability. He’s kind to everyone he meets but he’s clearly the only one in this movie who’s capable of putting all the pieces of the mystery together. It was especially nice to see him up against someone he over-estimated, leading to one of my favorite mystery unraveling scenes. The entire time Benoit explains how Miles Bron got away with murder, he’s exasperated by how stupid Bron is. From the way he poisoned Duke with pineapple juice to stealing Benoit’s own idea for his attempted murder of Helen, Benoit spends the entire mystery reveal hilariously dissing Bron. But even before the film’s ending, it was even fun just to see Benoit solve the fake mystery Bron set up for his guests before the mystery game could start. Sometimes it’s just fun so see a character be extremely clever. Also, Benoit is officially confirmed as a gay character! It’s not entirely blatant in the movie, but Benoit does share a flat with his partner. Who happens to be played by Hugh Grant. HUGH GRANT. I just about died when he answered the door.

Helen Brand: While Benoit Blanc is an excellent character to follow on his own, Rian Johnson’s mystery films make a point of also centering a normal character who uses more attainable skills to help Benoit solve each mystery. This time it’s Helen Brand, the secret character Janelle Monae plays. Helen’s a surprisingly badass character. She discovers her sister’s death and instantly jumps to take down the group of culprits. Despite the fact that she knows Benoit’s plan to capture the killer will put her in danger, she agrees to join him on the island disguised as her sister anyways. And though she isn’t the best at pretending to be her sister, she’s really good at snooping around and finding good hiding places to listen in on private conversations. She even successfully plants a listening device on Birdie. This character benefits from having a good heart and genuine intentions. It’s easy to like her after the scene where she personally connects with Whiskey, a character most of the others write off as dumb. And it’s easy to sympathize with her when she destroys Bron’s glass mansion because of everything he did to her sister. I never thought I’d be so happy to see someone destroy the Mona Lisa. Plus I love a good character quirk, and like Marta’s tendency to vomit when she lies in ‘Knives Out’, Helen gains confidence and better snooping skills after she chugs alcohol. It’s a nice detail that makes you feel like you know the character well.

The Mystery: The entire concept of this mystery is given away in the title of the movie. Initially the mystery seems complicated. At first the audience is preparing to solve a completely different murder. The upcoming murder of Miles Bron, who’s inviting trouble by inviting a bunch of people who have vendettas against him onto a private island to play a murder mystery game. Once we learn of the real mystery, the death of Helen’s sister Andi, it’s only slightly less complicated. All of the visitors to the island have clear motives and the opportunity to have killed her, and Miles Bron is so obvious of a potential murderer that he would be easily blamed should Andi die, making him the least likely culprit. But ultimately the mystery turns out to be simple. The fact that Bron killed Andi hides in plain sight due to his inability to hide that he was at Andi’s house in regular conversation, his obvious hiding place for Andi’s reputation ruining letter, and his clear motives for wanting to have Andi killed. The fact that he would be easily found out never crossed his mind because he’s stupid, which winds up being enough to throw off Benoit and the audience. No one suspects him because everyone assumes he’d be smart enough not to murder someone he was just publicly in a brutal legal battle with. The clues that you pick up more and more as the movie goes on, and the ones that make you slap your forehead for not piecing together the murderer sooner, are his own idiotic comments. It’s a true Glass Onion, appearing complicated but in reality being quite simple. And, if you look back at ‘Knives Out’, it’s kind of similar. While Ransom isn’t as stupid as Miles Bron, he is the clear suspect. However, the mystery is laid out so brilliantly that you believe it can’t possibly be him until the end of the movie. This mystery is just as solid as the ‘Knives Out’ mystery and is rewarding in its simplicity.

The Bad:

Twins: This is a blog run by twin sisters so you know I have to complain about this. The real mystery of the movie is revealed with the twist that the character Janelle Monae’s been playing this entire time is Helen Brand. Why is this a twist? Because the audience up until that point believed she was Andi Brand, but Andi turns out to be dead and Helen, her twin sister, has been posing as her to help Benoit find answers. So yeah, the big twist is that one of the characters has a secret twin. This happens a lot in media and it’s almost never done well. It isn’t done well here either. Firstly these twin characters fall firmly into the “opposites” trope. One is a big business woman whose embraced posh culture, and the other is a small-town teacher who finds that culture silly. Which is irritating to see as a twin because twins have plenty in common, we just also have plenty of things we don’t have in common. Just like most siblings. Then there’s also the fact that both characters are portrayed by Janelle Monae, which is irritating because, despite how small the differences may look to you, twins always have physical differences. And, as a twin, it takes me completely out of a movie when twins look completely alike because they’re being portrayed by the same actor. These are just annoying tropes that always come across as cheap and overused to me. And the whole “secret twin” thing’s getting old.

The Ensemble Cast: I didn’t dislike this ensemble cast, but I didn’t like them as much as the first movie. I don’t think this group of friends worked together as a unit quite like the family in ‘Knives Out’. There was clear on-screen chemistry between every actor in ‘Knives Out’ as they portrayed a close but toxic family environment. They successfully worked separately from one another as warring parties competing for their own fortune, but they just as easily worked together as an intimidating force against Marta. The friends in this movie don’t feel all that close, nor do they seem very formidable together despite the fact that they all took down Andi together. Claire and Lionel seem to spend some time together, but only so they can express essentially the same motive to protect Bron. Birdie doesn’t interact much with anyone aside from Bron or her assistant, Peg, who isn’t even part of the friend group. Whiskey and Duke are only ever together or separately with Bron. In other words, they all have a good relationship with Miles Bron and barely talk to each other unless it’s convenient for the plot to group a few of them together. I just didn’t buy their close friendship, and there were a few scenes where some of the characters felt like a warm body to fill a scene rather than an important part of the friend group. To be honest, sometimes it felt like Kathryn Hahn and Leslie Odom Jr. were taking turns being the “voice of reason” without either of their characters serving much of a purpose besides. I could have done with a slightly more strongly written supporting cast here.

And that’s it! I had a few more issues with this one than I had with ‘Knives Out’, but the rest of the movie more than made up for them. I’m still over the moon that Benoit Blanc’s romantic partner is Hugh Grant. While the first movie had a better supporting cast and some genius ideas that can’t really be replicated in each movie, I still had fun with Benoit Blanc’s newest excursion. These are my favorite murder mystery movies of all time and I can’t wait to see what Rian Johnson cooks up in the next ‘Knives Out’ mystery. The third one is already confirmed and on its way!

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie