Roots by Alex Haley

Roots is (supposedly) a combination of memoir, genealogy, and historical fiction focusing on the enslaved African ancestor of black American author Alex Haley. While acknowledging the significance of this unprecedented, popular, and culturally important work, I must say I think it fails as a work of fiction.

I expected the book to be more like other historical epics I’ve read. Such works contain seeds of truth and the fruits of long hours of research, but are ultimately stories crafted to entertain, so they have a classic, recognizable rising-falling structure, or many such structures strung together or nested one inside the other.

While reading Roots, I kept trying to sniff out plot points, only slowly realizing that Roots is just a straightforward book chronicling people’s lives. People’s lives don’t have plots, unless you graft them on after the fact, and that’s not what Haley chose to do. You could say he “fictionalized” the story of Kunta Kinte and his descendants, but the detail that he added was documentary rather than dramatic in style. From a structural standpoint, Haley’s massive work is little more than an 888-page list of who begat whom.

Sadly, if the accusations against Haley are true, the work also fails as non-fiction; the story may very well be less factual than he claimed.

See below for a summary, what stood out, and my thoughts on the authenticity of the novel.

Continue reading Roots by Alex Haley

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

The title here in Singapore (as in many places) is: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge.

In North America, it’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Possible reasons for the shorter title are that it’s:

  • easier to say
  • available for trademark
  • less idiomatic, thus easier to translate
  • more sensitive towards deaths in the news

(My money’s on the explanation involving trademark.)

I re-watched the movie because my husband wanted to go see it. I still like the bank robbery scene best; he liked the scene with the guillotine best.

Some of the dialog was heavy-handed. Several lines like, “We’ve got to find the trident!” reminded me of a particularly badly written scene in fantasy television series The Legend of the Seeker. The heroes burst into an obviously empty clearing and quite unnecessarily say, “They’re gone!” and “They took the horses, too!” Yes, yes, I can see that, thanks.

“Look! The trident of Poseidon!” Yes, yes, I can see that. Enough already!

Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman captured the attention and approbation of hordes of moviegoers interested in seeing a heroic female fantasy character. It wasn’t personally meaningful to me the way that it seems to have been to a lot of people. I think the movie was pretty and entertaining but that, like many others that don’t have a well-crafted core story, it could have been thematically stronger.

Keep reading for more on the movie’s many possible themes and some questions I had (possibly because I’m not familiar with the source material) and things I liked, along with 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 Wonder Woman (2017)

The Snow Queen (1985)

This version of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale isn’t exactly authentic, but it’s closer to the original than Disney’s Frozen—not that authenticity is necessarily what I’d want a film version of an Andersen tale to aim for, given how didactic and depressing the stories can be.

I remember seeing this short live-action production when I was little. The sets all look more than just a bit fakey-fakey now, but they were real enough to a kid with an imagination, and the snow queen’s ice palace still gives me a palpable sense of cold. Her glittering makeup makes her look dangerous, beautiful, and otherworldly.

See below for a plot summary.

Continue reading The Snow Queen (1985)

Thumbelina (1984)

“It’s just that I’m always the bride and never the bridesmaid…”

Thus quips Carrie Fisher in her 1984 role as Thumbelina, the diminutive heroine of one of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre productions.

After Thumbelina escapes the mother toad who kidnaps her as a bride for her son, she lives alone in the woods until winter, when she is rescued by a field mouse, whose neighbor the mole falls in love with her. Her host believes her marriage to the mole is a foregone conclusion; thus her frustration.

I watched this Faerie Tale Theatre episode after I saw the truly awful Don Bluth movie and re-read the original Andersen tale, both of which include yet another suitor (a beetle whose friends find Thumbelina ugly).

More details about this version below.

Continue reading Thumbelina (1984)

Thumbelina (1994)

“Let’s get out of this stinking weather before we’re statistics. I can’t even feel anything in my feelers anymore.”

That’s a brilliant pun. It’s the best line of dialog in the whole movie, and like all the best lines in Thumbelina, it belongs to the beetle, who sounds like Iago in Disney’s Aladdin. (Both characters were voiced by Gilbert Gottfried.)

Unfortunately, “can’t feel anything” describes the effect the movie had on me. In spite of all the supposedly empowering messages in it that could have been meaningful, it left me numb.

If you saw and enjoyed Thumbelina when you were little, maybe you can see and enjoy it now. Otherwise, I’d say the odds are slim to none.

Keep reading for more (MUCH more) on why I didn’t like the movie, along with 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 Thumbelina (1994)

General Waste

This is the door that covers the rubbish chute on my floor in my building. It says “general waste”.

Every time I see it, I think of a joke which I somehow can’t find online anywhere, probably because the world moved on ages ago…

There used to be some kind of “blue screen of death” error that said “GENERAL EXCEPTION”.

I once saw a joke response that said:

Who is General Exception and what is he doing in my computer?

So now, EVERY TIME I go to throw stuff away, I invariably think:

Who is General Waste and what is he doing in my lift lobby?

What a difference an ‘s’ makes!

Citibank just sent me a new debit card. The tagline on the enclosed letter says:

For all the things life has in store.

My thought was that it should say:

For all the things life has in stores.

If English were to lose its plural inflections (which are already by no means required in Singlish), this pun would be even more apparent; as it is, “what’s in store” and “what’s in stores” mean totally different things!