2018年11月30日 星期五

"Crazy Rich Asians" by Kevin Kwan (2013)

"Francesca Shaw cut in.  'Isabel, I'm going to tell it to you like it is, because everyone here is wasting your time being polite.  You can't afford to fall in love with Simon.  Let me break it down for you.  Let's be generous and assume that Simon is making a measly eight hundred thousand a year.  After taxes and CPF his take-home is only about half a million.  Where are you going to live on that kind of money?  Think about it - you have to factor a million dollars per bedroom, and you need at least three bedrooms, so you are talking three mil for an apartment in Bukit Timah.  That's a hundred and fifty thousand a year in mortgage and property taxes.  Then say you have two kids, and you want to send them to proper schools.  At thirty thousand a year each for school fees that's sixty thousand, plus twenty thousand a year each on tutors.  That's one hundred thousand a year on schooling alone.  Servants and nannies - two Indonesian or Sri Lankan maids will cost you another thirty thousand, unless you want one of them to be Swedish or French au pair, then you're talking eighty thousand a year spent on the help.  Now, what are we going to do about your own upkeep?  At the very least, you'll need ten new outfits per season, so you won't be ashamed to be seen in public.  Thank God Singapore has only two seasons - hot and hotter - so let's say, just to be practical, you'll only spend four thousand per look.  That's eighty thousand a year for wardrobe.  I'll throw in another twenty thousand for one good handbag and a few pairs of new shoes every season.  And then there is your basic maintenance - hair, facials, mani, pedi, brazilian wax, eyebrow wax, massage, chiro, acupuncture, Pilates, yoga, core fusion, personal trainer.  That's another forty thousand a year.  We've already spent four hundred and seventy thousand of Simon's salary, which leaves just thirty thousand for everything else."

Kevin Kwan is a Singaporean author who lives in the States.  Crazy Rich Asians was his first published novel, and is in many respects autobiographical in nature.  Kwan's own life in Singapore bears many similarities to the character Nick's background in Crazy Rich Asians.  The book has been adapted into a movie, but I haven't seen the movie yet.

In the novel Nick, a Singaporean living in New York, takes his girlfriend Rachel to visit Singapore on the eve of his friend Colin's wedding.  Rachel, a Chinese-American, is unaware of Nick's wealthy background and the snobbery of his relatives.  She spends her time in Singapore tortured by both these relatives and rivals for Nick's affections, all the while transfixed by the opulence in which Nick's friends and family spend their daily lives.

It's probably a novel that heterosexual women will connect with most readily, given that it's essentially an update of Cinderella.  Greed and lust have their day, but eventually the evildoers are undone by their evil deeds, and true love conquers all.  I'm not saying this to demean the book or those who like it, because to me the fact that it's resonated with so many people speaks for itself.  Those looking for a more serious, more literary examination of what it means to be Asian in modern times, however, would probably be better served elsewhere.

For my part I enjoyed the book immensely, and I'm sure I'll read the two sequels in the near future.  The author has a wonderful light touch with his characters, and the story flows seamlessly from beginning to end.  I could complain that all the male characters are one-dimensional, I could complain that the author's version of Singapore seems to depart from reality, but what we're dealing with in Crazy Rich Asians is a fairy tale, and a rather uninteresting (if handsome) prince, inhabiting a fantastic setting, is to be expected given the genre.

Crazy Rich Asians certainly isn't the best book I've read this year, but it's surprisingly entertaining and I look forward to seeing the movie soon.

Related Entries:

"The Windup Girl" by Paolo Bacigalupi (2009)
"Mission of Gravity" by Hal Clement (1954)
"R.U.R. and War with the Newts" by Karel Capek (1920 and 1936)
"McTeague" by Frank Norris (1899)

2018年11月26日 星期一

The Other Movie Oscars: The 2010s

Please keep in mind three things:

1. I'm only choosing Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress.  Let's be honest and say that these are the only three categories most people care about.

2. I'm only choosing from the movies reviewed in my "Some Other Movies From..." entries.  This means that some of the movies I choose might actually be award-winners from that year.

3. The movies reviewed in my "Some Other Movies From..." entries were chosen because I hadn't seen them before, and/or because of their relative obscurity.  To put an even finer point on it, they were chosen half willfully and half randomly.  I tend to pick 7 or 8 movies featuring people I'm familiar with, and 7 or 8 movies featuring people unknown to me.

4. For fun I'm adding another category, something memorable from a film belonging to a given year.


Best Picture: Parasite
Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Best Actress: tie between Elisabeth Moss in Her Smell and Jillian Bell in Brittany Runs a Marathon
Most Memorable Pole Dance: Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers


Best Picture: Annihilation
Best Actor: Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Annihilation
Most Stunningly Beautiful Actress: Deepika Padukone, Padmaavat


Best Picture: Logan Lucky
Best Actor: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Best Actress: Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Most Ridiculous Picture: Wolf Warrior II


Best Picture: The Witch
Best Actor: Woody Harrelson, Triple 9
Best Actress: Ana-Taylor Joy, The Witch
Worst Picture: Diablo


Best Picture: The End of the Tour
Best Actor: Tom Hardy, Legend
Best Actress: Helen Mirren, Woman in Gold
Most Unerotic Sex: Love


Best Picture: Leviathan
Best Actor: John Favreau, Chef
Best Actress: Kristen Wiig, Welcome to Me
Worst Horror Movie: The Pyramid


Best Picture: Lone Survivor
Best Actor: Michael Fassbender, The Counselor
Best Actress: Rosario Dawson, Trance
Manliest Picture: Riddick


Best Picture: A Royal Affair
Best Actor: Clint Eastwood, Trouble with the Curve
Best Actress: Alicia Vikander, A Royal Affair
One of the Worst Comedies of All Time: Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie


Best Picture: My Week with Marilyn
Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne, My Week with Marilyn
Best Actress: Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
Most Embarrassingly Bad Movie (Though I Haven't Nor Will I Ever Watch Jack and Jill): Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star


Best Picture: The Kids are All Right
Best Actor: Mark Ruffalo, The Kids are All Right
Best Actress: Annette Bening, The Kids are All Right
Most Embarrassing Yet Strangely Mesmerizing Picture: From Paris with Love

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 2011
Some Other Movies From 2013
Some Other Movies From 2015
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward

Some Other Movies From 2011

The Top 5 Movies of 2011 were Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.  Of these five movies I've only seen the last one.

The Artist, The Descendants and Moneyball were all big awards-winners of that year.  I liked all three of those movies, though I don't think I'd list them as my personal "greatest-of-all-time" films.

My favorite movies of 2011 are Moneyball, Margin Call, Source Code, Bridesmaids, Drive, X-Men: First Class, Bad Teacher, Captain America: The First Avenger, Crazy Stupid Love, A Dangerous Method, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Haywire, The Tower Heist and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

As far as "worst movie" goes most people would point in the general direction of Martin Campbell's extremely disappointing Green Lantern, but I would argue that both Cowboys and Aliens and Real Steel were both much, much worse.

Some Good Ones

1. The Lincoln Lawyer

Mathew McConaughey stars as a defense attorney who defends the wrong client.  It's a very forgettable movie, and the ending feels lazy.  It's not bad, but if I were you I'd only watch it if I was bored.

2. Warrior

Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton star as two brothers competing in a mixed martial arts tournament.  Nick Nolte plays their father.  Hardy and Edgerton are both good in Warrior, and Nolte almost elevates the film above strictly "guy movie" status, but the script lacks focus and the ending lacks any sense of resolution.  Critics loved it, but if you ask me it's no Rocky.

Fun Fact: If the Russian champion looks familiar, it's because he's played by former WWE superstar Kurt Angle.

3. The Raid: Redemption

More Silat-style shenanigans in Indonesia's The Raid: Redemption.  This one's a lot more claustrophobic than the sequel, and as a result it feels more cohesive.  I'm really not sure which of the two movies I like better - I feel like Raid 2 had better fight scenes - but they're both very good.

Fun Fact #1: None of the guns in this movie are real.  They were all replicas.

Fun Fact #2: This entire film was shot using handheld cameras to give it more of a documentary feel.

Fun Fact #3: Raid 3 probably won't happen, at least not with the same director.  Gareth Evans moved back to the U.K. from Indonesia, and he feels that his returning home signals an end to the Raid series.

4. The Help

As if I didn't already have enough trouble telling Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain apart, here they are in the same movie.

Viola Davis stars as a servant in a white household dealing with Mississippi's Jim Crow laws, and Octavia Spencer deserved the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress she earned that year.

Fun Fact: David Oyelowo, who plays a preacher in this movie, would do so again as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma.

5. A Separation

Iranian film about two families suing each other.  It deals in complicated moral dilemmas and offers no easy solutions.  I liked it, but it's really slow.  No music at all for two hours!

Fun Fact: This movie was the first Iranian film to with the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

6. The Grey

A group of petroleum company employees get on the wrong side of a pack of Alaskan wolves.  Liam Neeson does his standard action hero thing, but the script is well written and the movie is full of great dialogue.  Joe Carnahan may have directed The A-Team, but he's also directed a lot of other, much better movies like The Grey.

7. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

A doctor and several policemen deal with the aftermath of a murder.  Warning: If you thought A Separation was slow, try to find a more comfortable chair for Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.  It's as slow as molasses, and I had to watch it in two sittings just to keep awake.  This said, this Turkish movie is/can be an absorbing look into small town life in that country.

8. My Week with Marilyn

I think Michelle Williams should be a lot more famous than she is at present.  She's a GREAT actress, and she's delivered memorable performances in a number of movies already.  (She even managed to be memorable in 2018's Venom.)  Of course Judi Dench upstages her a couple times in this movie, but then again it's Judi Dench and she does that to everybody.

In My Week with Marilyn Williams stars as Marilyn Monroe, visiting the UK during a movie shoot.  Eddie Redmayne co-stars as a would-be directer, with Kenneth Branaugh doing a good Laurence Olivier impression.  It's an interesting portrait of the two movie stars during their later years, warts and all.

Fun Fact: Olivier's wife in the movie, Vivien, is actress Vivien Leigh, best known for Gone with the Wind.

9. Fast Five

Cars, stunts, and bikinis.  This time in Rio.  I still think this is the best one in the series, Tokyo Drift being the worst.  It goes from unlikely to completely ridiculous in under 60 seconds, but if you feel like turning off your brain for a while this is the big, noisy movie to do that to.

Fun Fact #1: Gal Gadot's film debut was in the fourth Fast and Furious, in 2009.

Fun Fact #2: Many of the scenes in this film were NOT shot in Rio, but rather in Puerto Rico and Atlanta, Georgia.

10. Fright Night

This movie doesn't QUITE violate my "Colin Farrell rule" (never, ever cast Colin Farrell as the lead in your movie), but it comes dangerously close.  Farrell stars as the vampire Chris (ex-husband of Susan) Sarandon played in the original, with Anton Yelchin as the boy who discovers a vampire living next door.  It doesn't succeed in capturing the charm of the 80s original, but it's alright as these kind of movies go.

Some Bad Ones

1. 3D Sex and Zen: Ultimate Ecstasy

Is this what passes for porn in Hong Kong now?  If so, I feel sorry for people there.  The story's retarded, the sex is uninspired, and all the naughty bits are blurred out.  I can only hope they still have unrestricted Internet access, because there's a whole world of better porn out there.

2. Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star

Is it funny?  NOPE.  But if you're looking for a "Where are they now?" movie this is definitely one of those.  Christina Ricci, Don Johnson, Stephen Dorff, and even Pauly Shore turn up.  It has the rare 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and remains a thorn in the side of Nick Swardson to this day.

3. Colombiana

A female assassin does violent things to members of Colombian drug cartels - and it gets really dumb really fast.  If you like Zoe Saldana in tight outfits you might enjoy it, but other than that there's no reason to bother with Colombiana.

4. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

What is this kid, retarded?  Isn't he kind of old to believe this horseshit his dad is feeding him about New York's "sixth borough?"  And what kind of parent is is this, sending his son around Central Park to talk to strangers?  I guess this movie was trying hard to be whimsical, but I just found it annoying.  No idea if it gets better toward the end - I had to tap out after 15 minutes.

One So Boring It'll Bring You to Tears

1. Atlas Shrugged: Part I

White, white, white.  This movie is SUPER white.  This movie is so white that I'm betting most non-white people don't even know it exists.

I've never read Atlas Shrugged - or anything else by Ayn Rand for that matter - so I'm not prepared to critique her personal philosophy.  What I will say is that Atlas Shrugged is the most boring movie I've seen in ages, and the railroad industry that dominates its plot doesn't seem to correspond to any kind of business model that would succeed, not even in a future deprived of fossil fuels.  On the bright side the "industrial" conversations in this movie are all unintentionally hilarious, and I doubt that they sounded much better when they first appeared in Rand's book.  How does a national science institute "denounce" a metal, exactly?  What, do they all just stand up and say "This metal sucks!" and wash their hands of it?

It's kind of funny this movie was set in 2016, right when Trump won the election.  In some ways the future it presents isn't all that different from what some of his supporters strive for.  Unfortunately its "prophetic" character is ruined by a script straight out of a daytime soap opera, and performances that are wooden to the point of caricature.

Another That Critics Loved, But Which I Also Found Boring

1. Hugo

Marin Scorsese directed this movie about a young boy living in a Paris train station.  It feels appropriately French, and you can tell that Scorsese put his heart into it, but I found neither the characters nor the story especially interesting.  I got twenty minutes in before realizing that I'd seen it before, and hadn't made it through because I'd fallen asleep during an earlier viewing.

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 2013
Some Other Movies From 2015
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward
Some Other Movies From 2017

2018年11月20日 星期二

"The Windup Girl" by Paolo Bacigalupi (2009)

"Gibbons snorts. 'The ecosystem first unravelled when when man first went a-seafaring.  When we first lit fires on the broad savannas of Africa.  We have only accelerated the phenomenon.  The food web you talk about is nostalgia, nothing more.  Nature.'  He makes a disgusted face.  'We are nature.  Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving.  We are what we are, and the world is ours.  We are its gods.  Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it.'"

Paolo Bacigalupi is an American writer of science fiction.  The Windup Girl was his first book, and it went on to win the Hugo and Nebula awards.  These days Mr. Bacigalupi seems to be aiming more toward the "Young Adult" market, but in the early 2000s he was one of the most prominent writers of "hard" science fiction.  I first heard about him through one of the The Year's Best Science Fiction collections.

In The Windup Girl, a representative from a powerful agricultural corporation tries to maneuver his way into the Thai bureaucracy.  As he jockeys for influence, he meets a "windup girl," a genetically engineered "secretary" stranded in Bangkok.  His obsession with this windup girl takes center stage against a background of power politics and industrial espionage, in a world on the brink of environmental collapse.

This book reads a lot like an update of William Gibson, and at several points in the story Neuromancer came to mind.  The two books aren't so similar that I suspected plagiarism, but it seemed obvious to me that The Windup Girl just wouldn't exist without Gibson's much earlier work to build upon.  I'm not saying it's a bad book, I'm not saying it's unoriginal, but it definitely owes a huge debt to Neuromancer and other cyberpunk novels like it.  The word "dystopian" is often overused in this context, but yes, this novel is definitely dystopian.

I found The Windup Girl to be an entertaining read, but as science fiction novels go it's pretty light on the science, and heavy on the fiction.  Aside from characters mentioning things like "generipping" and "kink-springs" there's very little in this book that couldn't or doesn't exist at the present date.  The author, for what it's worth, is very forthcoming about this fact.

If The Windup Girl has a weak point it's not in the technical details, but rather in the fact that none its characters are especially likable.  Unable to become attached or invested in their struggles, it's hard to care about the plot, and by the end of the book I was just glad it was over.  The book failed to trigger any kind of emotional response on my part, even if I could recognize the fact that its characterization was consistent and the narrative pacing was better than average.  I just never felt like any of the characters offered me a "way in" to the book, despite the fact that I've visited Bangkok several times, and speak two of the languages spoken in this novel.

So is it bad?  Is it good?  Do I recommend it?  I'd have to say that The Windup Girl is just... ok, and that anyone unfamiliar with William Gibson's work should just go read that instead.  As modern science fiction goes it's an admirable attempt, but measured against earlier, more original science fiction it seems to lack something.  What that something is I'd be at pains to point out exactly, but the unlikeability of the characters was certainly a sticking point for me.

Related Entries:

"Mission of Gravity" by Hal Clement (1954)
"R.U.R. and War with the Newts" by Karel Capek (1920 and 1936)
"The Martian" by Andy Wier (2011)
"Arrival" by Ted Chiang (2015)

2018年11月14日 星期三

Some Other Movies From 2013

The top 5 highest-grossing movies of 2013 were Frozen, Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (yawn), and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (double yawn, but Jennifer Lawrence is FINE).

As far as the award-winners go, it was an excellent year.  12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyers Club and Her all came out that year.  I liked Gravity too, but I thought it was a bit overrated.

My favorite movies of that year are probably Gangster Squad, Upstream Color, The Iceman, Fruitvale Station, The Conjuring, August: Osage County, Prisoners, Inside Llewyn Davis and all of the award-winners mentioned in the paragraph above this one.

I doubt few would champion The Lone Ranger, which I consider the worst movie of that year.  You would think that after this movie studios would have stopped giving piles of money to Johnny Depp, but somehow studios never quite learn their lesson.

Some Good Ones

1. Dark Skies

"Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not."  ...but see the part of that quote the filmmakers failed to include was "Both are equally terrifying."  I guess it sounded scarier without the second sentence.

In Dark Skies an American family endures a Poltergeist-style alien invasion.  Aside from wondering if and when someone was going to end up in the living room TV, I enjoyed it.  It's by no means classic, but it builds up a fair amount of suspense over its 1.5 hour runtime.

2. Welcome to the Punch

James McAvoy and Mark Strong face off in this stylish British crime thriller.  The script was declared "one of the best unproduced British screenplays" prior to its entering production, and I'd have to say that yes, it made for a very good film.  After the success of Get Out it's slightly jarring to hear supporting cast member Daniel Kaluuya speak in his native British accent, but Welcome to the Punch is a solid action film along the lines of Michael Mann's Heat.

3. Trance

Hey there's James McAvoy again.  In this one he appears with Vincent Cassel (yay, Vincent Cassel!) and Rosario Dawson.  Danny Boyle directed.   The title refers more to the hypnotic state and less to the type of music.  One could make a convincing argument that this movie is a case of style over substance, but even so it's very stylish, and very entertaining.

Fun Fact: McAvoy's fellow X-Men alumnus Michael Fassbender was originally cast in the lead role.

4. The Internship

It's not hilarious or anything - and that strip club sequence exists only for the sake of tits and ass - but The Internship is... ok.  Vince Vaughn is about 50/50 for me, and Owen Wilson is about 25/75, but they're both relatively engaging in this movie about two older guys who want to work at Google.

5. Java Heat

Are all Indonesian police stations and prisons really so shitty?  Or is this some kind of movie trope, to make their characters seem tougher?

I'm guessing the fact that someone greenlit this movie had something to do with the success of The Raid.  But I could be wrong.  An American gets caught up in a bombing, and the plot ventures into Lethal Weapon territory from there.  Oh, and Mickey Rourke of all people shows up as a Malaysian (?) Muslim (?) terrorist (?).  There's some out-of-the-box casting for you!

The action scenes are stricly B movie fare, but the setting makes it more interesting than would otherwise be the case.

6. Lone Survivor

A team of Navy SEALS waste thousands of our taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan.  Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster and Taylor Kitsch are excellent in this movie, and the characters are very engaging throughout.  My only complaint is the movie's title, which gives the ending away.  I think Peter Berg, who directed this one, is very underrated as directors go.

This movie also gets extra points for Eric Bana.

7. Out of the Furnace

Braddock, Pennsylvania.  Maybe it has some nicer parts, but in this movie it looks like a real shithole.

Christian Bale and Casey Affleck star as two brothers who cross paths with a gangster played by Woody Harrelson.  It's a good movie, but more of a cat and mouse game between Bale and Harrelson would have made it better.  As it is it just kind of... ends, and all the great buildup prior to that point is wasted.

8. The Counselor

Michael Fassbender leads a star-studded cast as a lawyer mixed up with Mexican drug cartels.  Director Ridley Scott took Cormac McCarthy's script and ran with it, so you know this one's going to get DARK.  Depending on your love (or lack thereof) for McCarthy, the result is either a harrowing portrait of greed and human frailty OR a pretentious movie full of awkward dialogue.  For my part I loved it, and I'll probably watch it again soon.

So Bad It's Good?  So Good It's Bad?

1. Himmatwala

You've heard the Donna Summer version of "Thank God It's Friday," but have you heard the Telugu version?  A local badass returns to his hometown to confront an evil land baron.  In between the opening credits and his inevitable victory the (very beautiful) love interest sings songs, and the guys try to out-macho each other.  My favorite part is when HE GETS INTO A FISTFIGHT WITH A TIGER.

Fun Fact #1: This movie is a remake of a remake.

Fun Fact #2: This movie was a huge bomb.

2. Riddick

Now that we've all contacted our personal trainers, let's bulk up and put on our tough guy clothes!

Vin Diesel says predictably manly things and does cool stuff in slow motion.  The assholes who try to kill him die predictably violent deaths.  Aliens show up - predictably.  Where have I see all this before?  Oh, that's right.  Pitch Black!

Fun Fact: Vin Diesel only appeared in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift so that he could get the rights to the character Riddick.

Not Bad or Good, It Just Was

1. Texas Chainsaw 3D

Alexandra Daddario and Scott "I'm not the actor my dad is" Eastwood work their way up the ol' Hollywood ladder with Texas Chainsaw 3D.  The results are mixed.  On the one hand it's WAY better than 2017's Leatherface, and on the other it's still not very good.  This particular sequel ignores the 2003 remake and pretends to be the successor to the 1974 version of Texas' first family.  There's some good gore on offer, and Gunnar Hanson appears in it, but aside from these two facts there's not much else to be said for this movie.

Some Bad Ones

1. Dead Man Down

It's taken Hollywood a while to learn that you don't cast Colin Farrell as the lead in your movie.  Supporting cast member maybe, but definitely not the lead.  Farrell (unfortunately) stars in this movie as a man out for revenge - essentially The Punisher - and it's hard to say whether its Farrell's acting skills or just bad writing that makes his character come across as entirely too self-possessed to do what he is doing

Terrence Howard is, moreover, completely wasted on this movie.  He plays pretty much the same character he plays on the TV series Empire, though without the frightening ex-wife and the hip hop.  To make matters worse Noomi Rapace's accent is all over the place.

But I think the biggest problem with this movie is the pacing.  The whole thing seems like it's moving at the wrong speed.  There's a good scene between Farrell and Howard halfway through the movie, but aside from that everything about Dead Man Down seems to be happening either too slowly or too quickly.

2. The Grandmaster

By turns boring and pretentious, this Hong Kong movie is part action film, part love film, and part historical drama.  It's a movie suffering an identity crisis, and despite a strong beginning it quickly degenerates into long, thoughtful glances from Zhang Ziyi and the kind of self-important dialogue that sounds ridiculous in real life.

Perhaps worst of all, this movie made me miss the kind of Kung-fu movies I grew up with.  Back before everyone was suspended from wires.  Back when there was real, perceptible, physical danger involved.  Countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and even India are still making visceral martial arts-themed movies like that, but this?  It's like watching a pale shadow of all the better movies that came before it.

3. The Fifth Estate

Doctor Strange and Baron Zemo - ahem, excuse me - Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl - star as Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, and his German friend.  It wears out its welcome quickly, and many of the graphics used detract rather than add to the story.

Fun Fact: This wasn't the only time Cumberbatch played a socially-challenged mathematician.  He would do so again in The Imitation Game.

4. Mama

This movie seemed overrated when it came out in 2013, and having seen it in 2018 I can confidently assert that yes, it's overrated.  Two girls are abandoned in a spooky old house and are looked after by a ghost.  I never found the ghost scary, and the plot is fairly predictable.

5. Race 2

Bollywood movie about a con man seeking revenge.  What I'm going to remember about this movie is the shots of dudes walking down sets of stairs into hotel lobbies.  Endless.  Shots.  Of stairs.  Of dudes.  Walking.  Into hotel lobbies.  Oh, and designer sunglasses.  Lots and lots of designer sunglasses.  The rest of the movie is sheer nonsense, and only the presence of the stunning Deepika Padukone makes it halfway bearable.

I'm tempted to put this one in the "so bad it's good" category, but I think in terms of "bad goodness" (good badness?) it's overshadowed by Himmatwala above.  You just can't beat a fistfight with a tiger.

Fun Fact #1: Padukone was a nationally ranked badminton player prior to becoming a fashion model.

Fun Fact #2: Anil Kapoor, who also appears in this movie, was the star of Race, its prequel.  He might be more familiar to Western moviegoers as the Indian millionaire in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.  He was also host of the game show in Slumdog Millionaire.  He's been appearing in Bollywood movies since 1971.

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 2015
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward
Some Other Movies From 2017
Some Other Movies From 2018

2018年11月8日 星期四

"Mission of Gravity" by Hal Clement (1954)

"...but Mesklin was not even approximately spherical.  As Lackland had long ago recognized, the proportions of the Bowl on the Bree - Barlennan's equivalent of a terrestrial globe - were approximately right."

Hal Clement spent most of life teaching high school Astronomy and Chemistry.  Mission of Gravity is his best known book, and although he wrote throughout his teaching career his more recent books are much less familiar to the sci-fi reading public.

Mission of Gravity is an adventure story similar to Larry Niven's Ringworld.  A human astronaut visits a supermassive, oblate world, and has to rescue a lost probe with the help of alien traders.

Like Ringworld, the characters in Mission of Gravity are pretty hard, if not impossible to relate to.  They're little more than plot devices, but fortunately for them the plot's fairly interesting and their personalities are somewhat beside the point.  The most fleshed-out character is the leader of the alien traders, but his quirks regarding things like being picked up or falling down don't always add up to a picture of who - or what - he is.

If you've read Ringworld you can probably guess the overall shape of the plot.  Characters start at point A and try to get to point B, but then stuff happens, and they have to figure out ways of overcoming obstacles.  Ringworld adds a slight twist to this time-tested formula in that some of its characters are at cross-purposes, and their conflict adds an extra dimension to the story.

This said, Clement's oblate world could be an actual, physical reality, whereas Niven's Ringworld is pure fantasy.  Both books are grouped within the "hard science fiction" category, but Niven never quite bothered to think through all the implications of a ring-shaped world.  His introducing certain "modifications" in The Ringworld Engineers was, moreover, worse than not addressing the issues in the first book at all.

But hey, if you're looking for a well-known science fiction novel to read, you could do worse than either book.  Ringworld offers a better story, while Mission of Gravity is a more thorough example of worldbuilding.  Both books were very important to the development of the genre, and a familiarity with either won't take up too much of your time.

Related Entries:

"R.U.R. and War with the Newts" by Karel Capek (1920 and 1936)
"The Martian" by Andy Wier (2011)
"Arrival" by Ted Chiang (2015)
"Make Way for the Super Humans" by Michael Bess (2015)

2018年11月5日 星期一

"R.U.R. and War with the Newts" by Karel Capek (1920 and 1936)

"After that the German press began to take an eager interest in the Baltic Newt.  Special stress was laid on the fact that it was just in response to the German milieu that this Newt had developed into a divergent and higher racial type, indisputably superior to all the other Salamanders."

Karel Capek was a Czech writer active up until World War II.  He is best known as the originator of the word "robot," which was introduced in his play Rossum's Universal Robots, or R.U.R.

A lot of people like comparing Capek to Kafka.  This is because they were writing around the same time, were about the same age, were born in the same part of the world, and both wrote with a degree of surrealism.  There are definitely parallels between the two authors, but for me Capek's fiction brings to mind none other than Polish writer Stanislav Lem, another science fiction writer with whom he shared many sensibilities.  Capek isn't as deliberately intellectual as Lem was, nor was he as dismissive of other people's work, but I think that if Lem had been born a few decades earlier they would have had a lot to talk about.

In Rossum's Universal Robots a new life form comes into existence after a discovery on a tropical island.  The result of this discovery isn't really a "robot" as we understand the word today, but rather a sort of simplified, synthetic life form without the ability to reproduce itself.  As the "robots" quickly overwhelm human kind, the scientists who created them struggle to understand their invention as they monitor its troubling interactions with human civilization.

It's an easy read, and also very quaint by modern standards.  The understanding of science expressed through it is fairly childlike - or antiquated, if you will - so those looking for a precursor of Asimov's I, Robot will probably be disappointed.  It's half-comedic tone in some ways does the subject matter (Fascism?) a disservice, and I often had the feeling that there were jokes that weren't landing, or that the humor in the script suffered by translation.  I don't read Czech, so I can't say.

War with the Newts is a much better effort.  Sharing themes with R.U.R., this novel follows the discovery of intelligent "newts" on a tropical island, and then details a similar clash of civilizations after the newts rise up against their human oppressors.  It's really slow to get going, but about halfway through the author draws some amusing parallels between human-newt relations and historical incidents of his own time.  Some of the more "journalistic" asides also detract from the story, and the final phases of the "war" drag on a bit, but the last chapter of this book offers a great non-conclusion to a story that will, in essence, never end.

If you like Kafka, Lem, or still more obscure science fiction authors like E.T.A. Hoffmann you'll probably find something to like in Karel Capek.  He doesn't offer the polish of Vern or I'm-just-now-inventing-a-new-genre Poe, but his fiction still has something to offer modern readers.

Related Entries:

"The Martian" by Andy Weir (2011)
"Arrival" by Ted Chiang (2015)
"Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari (2015)
"Alan Turing: the Enigma" by Andrew Hodges (1983)