Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Okay, so this fantasy movie has to do with World War II and displaced children, but all resemblance to The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe ends there, because Tim Burton went and made it creepy. Or maybe the book was already creepy, and the movie is just true to the source material. I guess I was hoping for something more like Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters from The X-Men.

I am not sure just how creepy the movie was or wasn’t, because the plane landed and I didn’t see the whole thing. None of the subsequent planes had it in the catalog! I’m curious to see the end, but I’m not in any particular rush.


Mohenjo Daro (2016)

I had never heard of this ancient city, which is a real place, an archaeological site in what is now Pakistan. Since the movie is about a real place about which little is known, there’s a disclaimer reminding viewers that the movie makers made use of artistic license—they’re just telling an interesting story about the place, not trying to tell the true history of it.

“This film does not support or promote any specific interpretations of the Origin, Character or Decline of the Ancient Indus Civilization. Archaeologists and Historians have many different opinions and interpretations that remain to be confirmed through further studies. The Sindhu script is still undeciphered and no one knows the names of the cities at that time. So we have used the popular name – Mohenjo Daro!”

The sets and costumes were interesting, but the plot seemed forced. The country-boy hero has a secret destiny, goes off to the city, falls in love with the princess/priestess, discovers his true identity, saves the day, blah blah blah. There was a lot of telling rather than showing.

“2hr 6min: In 2016 BC, a farmer travels to Mohenjo Daro to trade. Whilst there he soon falls in love, however she is due to marry the city’s ruler’s son. (This is a Hindi film shown with English subtitles and has been edited for content)”

The Boss Baby (2017)

I was expecting a terrible comedy, but this Dreamworks cartoon explores some emotional family themes and has a fantasy premise that is inventive yet strangely logical: the corporation in charge of sending babies to Earth is concerned that humans are starting to prefer puppies to babies, so they send down the Boss Baby as an undercover agent, with the result that the baby’s older brother gets jealous, discovers that the Boss Baby isn’t really a baby, and then has to help save the world from indifference to newborns.


La La Land (2016)

Hollywood has made yet another movie about Hollywood! It’s also about compromises, almosts, and might-have-beens; strangely, this Hollywood movie doesn’t quite have a happy Hollywood ending. Worth watching unless you’re one of those people who can’t abide musicals.


Your Name (2016)

How many body-swapping movies have you seen?

I’ve seen…

  • Freaky Friday (1976) – mother/daughter
  • Big (1988) – boy/older self
  • Freaky Friday (2003) – mother/daughter
  • 13 Going on 30 (2004) – girl/older self
  • Just Follow Law (2007) – male/female co-workers

…but there are lots more I’d never even heard of.

This one’s different. It made a ton of money and earned praise from critics. I’d say it’s worth watching even if you’re not a teen or an anime fan. The story is deeply emotional and surprisingly complex.



My trip to visit my parents in Atlanta looked like this, more or less. It took me over 24 hours to get there.

I watched two movies on the way from Singapore to Tokyo and another two and a half on the way from Tokyo to Atlanta.

I made the map using http://myflightbook.com.

Changi Airport is very pretty, and always trying (sometimes successfully) to beat Incheon for the title of Best Airport Anywhere.
This terminal at Narita has undergone renovation, and the origami store I remember from a previous visit is gone. The bookstore, however, remains.
I hope this Narita shop never closes! The stuff it sells is more varied than the stuff at a typical airport souvenir shop.

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

It’s tough to put The Stepford Wives into a genre.

The 2004 film version of The Stepford Wives, starring Nicole Kidman, is billed as a “comedy/sci-fi/thriller”, though the 1975 version is listed as “horror/mystery/sci-fi”. I once saw the newer one, and I remember it as occasionally funny but not particularly well done.

Amazon says the novel is:
women’s fiction > friendship 
literature and fiction > horror
literature and fiction > genre fiction > horror

I beg to differ. It’s certainly not women’s fiction in the sense of being light chick lit reading for the beach. Calling it “women’s fiction” at all seems completely inappropriate. Nor does the novel seem to me to have much in common with obvious examples of the modern horror genre, such as Stephen King’s It, which is being talked about constantly right now because of the new movie version that’s playing.

Peter Straub (horror author) wrote an introduction to the edition I read on my Kindle*. That would indicate that the novel is horror… except that Straub calls The Stepford Wives a ‘satire’.

Wikipedia calls it a ‘satirical thriller’, and I think that’s about right; therefore if you, like me, avoid horror books in general, I’d say you can still consider reading The Stepford Wives because it’s not horror. (To put it more concretely, the Stepford wives may be zombie-like in some ways, but they’re not actual zombies.)

What’s the difference between ‘horror’ and ‘thriller’? I’m not the best person to answer the question, but the internet seems to say that horror shows you shocking things, whereas thrillers keep you in suspense. Then the difference between a thriller and a mystery is (maybe) that thrillers are villain-driven and mysteries are protagonist-driven.

The novel somewhat resembles Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, a bleak literary feminist dystopia, but more than that it resembles a sci-fi short story like the creepy few I’ve read by Ray Bradbury.

In general I don’t read sci-fi short stories (or any short stories, though there have been exceptions), but I’ve seen films made from them, notably Arrival , Predestination, and several made from stories by Philip K. Dick. Such stories are very sharp and clear, and have one very interesting if fantastical idea that serves as the premise; the characters exist to plunge the reader into the consequences and implications of that premise, even if you don’t know exactly what the premise is until the heart-wrenching twist at the end.

I’m not sure whether cultural osmosis has given away the premise of The Stepford Wives, but I’m choosing not to. Even if you know it (as I did), the story is enjoyable to read because it’s got all these hints and carefully ambiguous statements in it that are hilarious if you know where the plot is headed.

Straub’s introduction gives the premise away, so it should really be an afterword, but it’s nevertheless a welcome addition to the eBook. It highlights the way in which Ira Levin’s satirical thriller is constructed: carefully and concisely. The Stepford Wives is lean, mean, and memorable.

In fact, the book as social commentary has had a noticeable cultural impact in that “Stepford wife” is now a term of disparagement used to draw attention to apparently un-modern levels of wifely devotion, or even suspiciously repetitive statements about wine.

*The Kindle version introduced by Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, is cheaper, I now notice, than the one introduced by Peter Straub. Go figure.

Zero-inflection plurals do not include cucumber.

This package of Japanese Kyuri from Malaysia says:

Rich in nutrients, Cucumber are excellent in salads, sandwiches, stir-fry and sushi.

Here, the fact that the singular is being treated like a plural makes it sound as if cucumbers are exotic animals like bison or buffalo.

Recently, though I don’t have a photo, I saw a sign in front of some model planes (in the Tin Tin shop strangely located on Pagoda St in Chinatown) that was advertising “aircrafts for sale”. Ack. No.

For a variety of historical reasons, English has many kinds of nouns that are annoyingly difficult to pluralize, and Wikipedia helpfully lists them.

Interestingly, the cucumber package shows ‘salads’, ‘sandwiches’, ‘stir-fry’, and ‘sushi’ all in the correct form, even though ‘salad’ requires an ‘s’, ‘sandwich’ requires ‘es’, and ‘stir-fry’ and ‘sushi’ are uncountable.

Why, then, was it so hard to give ‘cucumber’ its plural ‘s’?

And why is it capitalized?!

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

I’m not sure what the theme was, but the fantasy/action plot was suitably, um, suitable for a superficially fun fantasy/action movie, there were some good laughs, and although the dialog was somewhat predictable, it didn’t sound cardboardy—except when it was describing the evil magical stuff.


Keep reading for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Downstairs vs under

When my husband took me to a squinchy Japanese restaurant that had high chairs at a bar-style counter, the server laconically instructed me to put my bag “downstairs”, which meant “on the shelf under the seat of the chair”.

I have heard English teachers eager to hold students accountable for their spoken language deride this common Singlish use of “downstairs”, but it’s wonderful (and typical) in its succinctness.

If you use the preposition “under”, you have to include a noun for the preposition to be, well, positioned in front of. If you use the adverb “downstairs”, you’re just saying something needs to go below something else, and letting context do the work of indicating what the something else is.

Chinese has a phrase approximately meaning “down side” which can be used the way the server was using “downstairs” to adverbially indicate “under something”. It also has phrases meaning “up side”, “behind side”, “opposite side”, etc., and you can say “located opposite side” without needing to say “located opposite the hotel”, for example, the way we can say in English that “the receipt is in the bag” or just “the receipt is inside”.

I get the sense that Chinese relies on context more than English, or at least relies on context in ways that English doesn’t, since a large proportion communication in any language is always shared context.