Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Your English teacher was so wrong when she said “i before e, except after c or when sounding like ay as in neighbor and weigh”. She obviously wasn’t counting on the feisty female heist in Ocean’s 8.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/oceans-8/id1390225970

I was worried there would be annoying, unsubtle feminist messaging throughout, but there was only one scene where characters talked about men per se. Thank goodness someone realized there’d be no point in making a movie about a bunch of female thieves only to have them talk about men the whole time.

Clearly the writing and/or casting was done with diversity in mind: there is a black character, an Indian character (played by an actress I now recognize from A Wrinkle in Time), and an Asian character in addition to the several Caucasians, one of whom sounds Irish and one of whom speaks German in several scenes. Although Ocean’s 8 is a much higher-quality production, I’m reminded of the awkward parody Superfast! which gave its ensemble’s token characters the literal names “Rapper Cameo”, “Model Turned Actress” and “Cool Asian Guy”.

The movie had two problems, neither of which I was expecting.

One problem was that the protagonist is introduced as a skilled shoplifter. An elaborate plan to steal millions of dollars’ worth of jewels is something I don’t have a problem with, since it’s obviously fantasy. Shoplifting is, however, both real and problematic. I don’t admire people who shoplift in real life, so I don’t really want to be encouraged to admire a shoplifter on screen. I mean, yes, the character comes across as clever, but… I don’t know. It just doesn’t sit right with me.

When giving her team a pep talk, Debbie says something along the lines of “Let’s not do this for us. Somewhere out there is an eight-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a criminal. Let’s do this for her.” Maybe that was funnier than the shoplifting, but… crime is bad, y’all!

The other problem was that although the caper was exciting, and there were lots of gratifying chuckles, there didn’t ever seem to be any serious obstacles. There were little stumbling blocks along the way, but each one was overcome after a moment of panic too brief to allow the tension to build.

See below for a list of reviews as well as 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 Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Exit West by Moshin Hamid

Exit West reminds me of Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth in that people suddenly discover a game-changing method of moving from place to place. It also reminds me of Christopher Manson’s puzzle book Maze because of the mysterious doors.

Rumors had begun to circulate of doors that could take you elsewhere, often to places far away, well removed from this death trap of a country. Some people claimed to know people who knew people who had been through such doors. A normal door, they said, could become a special door, and it could happen without warning, to any door at all. Most people thought these rumors to be nonsense, the superstitions of the feeble-minded. But most people began to gaze at their own doors a little differently nonetheless.

I love the premise, the penetrating insight, and the deadpan style. See below for what stood out as well as when and why I read it.

Continue reading Exit West by Moshin Hamid

Superfast! (2015)

I’m a sucker for car racing movies. Some are Disney while others are deadly; some are comedies while others are merely laughable; some are wacky Wachowski one-offs while others are furiously approaching double digits.

The irony? I don’t drive.

The worst I’ve seen in the wake of the fabulously successful Fast and Furious franchise was undoubtedly the shoestring-budget direct-to-DVD production 200mph (2011). If any movie about a car wreck could be called a train wreck, that was it.

On the other hand, I didn’t expect to like Death Race, but it was great! The sequel was also pretty good, though the second sequel wasn’t.

Due to my hit-and-miss nature of my past experience with car movies, my expectations for this parody/spoof were extremely non-specific. I didn’t know Superfast! was, like Scary Movie, Epic Movie, Vampires Suck, et al., written and directed by the much derided team of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. I had no interest in any of their other movies and didn’t see them.

All of which is to say that maybe I shouldn’t have enjoyed Superfast!, but I did, perhaps because the filmmakers’ humor was new to me, even if it’s stupid and old and tired to most everyone else.

Anyway, even if it was a bad movie, it wasn’t as bad as 200mph.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/superfast/id1229229788

See below for some links to reviews as well as 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 Superfast! (2015)

We Love Bedok by Urban Sketchers Singapore

Want to see inside? There’s a link to a PDF sample on the publisher’s page for We Love Bedok.

Thus far, Urban Sketchers Singapore and Epigram Books have produced books of sketches of:

  1. Toa Payoh (November 2012)
  2. Tiong Bahru (February 2013)
  3. Bedok (April 2013)
  4. Queenstown (September 2013)
  5. Katong (April 2014)
  6. Little India (Sept 2014)
  7. Chinatown (May 2015)
  8. Geylang Serai (January 2016)
  9. Serangoon Gardens (January 2017)

The first two are sold out at the publisher.

When and Why I Read We Love Bedok

This is an attractive locally-produced book.

Genre: non-fiction (art)
Date started / date finished:  20-Jun-18 to 21-Jun-18
Length: 96 pages
ISBN: 9789810754327 (paperback)
Originally published in: 2013

Lu Xun and Evolution by James Reeve Pusey

How often does one read a book whose genre is roughly equal parts philosophy, biology, Chinese history and literature? Not very.

Caveat lector. This book is not an ordinary monograph in Chinese intellectual history. It is not just about China. It is not just about Lu Xun. It is certainly not an introduction to Lu Xun, or to his works. It is not an intellectual biography. It is not “an appreciation.” It is not a study of Lu Xun’s genius or his art (although both will shine through). It is a philosophical critique of Lu Xun’s thought and a philosophical and political critique of what Chinese in the People’s Republic have done, and may yet do, with Lu Xun’s thought, and it is a reflection on philosophy and biology.

Some non-fiction books barely scratch the surface of a whole discipline, explaining the same terms and repeating the same well-trodden foundational anecdotes. It’s refreshing, once in a while, to read something truly niche.

Also refreshing is the author’s use of language play. For a serious book, it sure has a lot of jokes. Frequently, the same word is used in two senses in the same sentence. It’s self-indulgent and self-referential, but I find it charming. Any stupid old book could be distant, detached, and dry; this one feels like it was written by a real live human being who really, really likes to write, and who cares deeply about the topic at hand.

The topic at hand is an analysis of Lu Xun’s understanding of the implications of evolutionary theory for his country. Do ideas about evolution suggest that the Chinese have an inevitable destiny, good or bad? Do those ideas suggest that they are the makers of their own destiny, and should strive to evolve, individually or as a whole country? What ideas about evolution did people have in Lu Xun’s time, and which did he encounter, and how did he interpret them and incorporate them into his work throughout his writing career? How have his writings since been used, reused, and reinterpreted?

See below for scattered notes on the content and style of this treatise.

Continue reading Lu Xun and Evolution by James Reeve Pusey

Character names in A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle

The plot of A Swiftly Tilting Planet requires the characters and the reader to discover the genealogy of the dictator Mad Dog Branzillo. His lineage is filled with people whose names are different spellings and arrangements of the same handful of names.

I have made a giant family tree chart to illustrate the relevant relationships.

DO NOT ASK me how long it took to do this. I have no idea. Waaaay too long. But please do let me know if you think I’ve got any of the lines in the wrong places. I have the source files and thus can update this thing if necessary.

I also made a PDF of the characters in A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

I listed the characters and described their relationships below, coding the most important good ancestors and helpers +green and the most important bad ancestors and antagonists -red.

Continue reading Character names in A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quartet: Various Awesome Covers!

2 Unknown + 2 by Rowena Morrill

I have not been able to identify the artist responsible for the Wrinkle in Time and Wind in the Door paperback covers that I remember from when I was a kid. The name of the artist is not anywhere on or in the paperbacks themselves, and the internet doesn’t seem to know!

A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, 1976 Dell paperbacks (ISBNs 0440998050, 044098761X, 0440901588, 0440952522)

Someday hopefully someone will recognize the artist’s work by the work itself, and publish a statement online somewhere. (Mysterious artist! Whoever you are! I am nostalgic for your art! Come forth!)

The covers for A Swiftly Tilting Planet and Many Waters are by Rowena Morrill. And here’s her original sketch of Charles Wallace on the unicorn, which was not a thing I at all expected to be floating around on the internet. (Thanks, internet! You’re awesome.)

See below for other cover art for L’Engle books in my collection.
Continue reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quartet: Various Awesome Covers!

We Love Tiong Bahru by Urban Sketchers Singapore

Want to see inside? There’s a link to a PDF sample on the publisher’s page for We Love Tiong Bahru.

Thus far, Urban Sketchers Singapore and Epigram Books have produced books of sketches of:

  1. Toa Payoh (November 2012)
  2. Tiong Bahru (February 2013)
  3. Bedok (April 2013)
  4. Queenstown (September 2013)
  5. Katong (April 2014)
  6. Little India (Sept 2014)
  7. Chinatown (May 2015)
  8. Geylang Serai (January 2016)
  9. Serangoon Gardens (January 2017)

The first two are sold out at the publisher.

When and Why I Read We Love Tiong Bahru

This is an attractive locally-produced book.

Genre: non-fiction (art)
Date started / date finished:  12-Jun-18 to 12-Jun-18
Length: 96 pages
ISBN: 9789810736255 (paperback)
Originally published in: 2013

Burmese Days by George Orwell

In Burmese Days, a novel inspired by the author’s own stint in the steaming jungles of upper British Burma, plot-related tensions seem on the verge of boiling over. The conflict between local crime boss U Po Kyin and the civil surgeon, Dr. Veraswami, threatens to interfere not only with Flory’s plan to get his friend elected to the local European club, but also with his plan to marry Elizabeth, in whom he somehow manages to see a worthy companion for himself—worthier, certainly than his Burmese mistress Ma Hla May! Elizabeth, meanwhile, seems to have fallen for a young horseman temporarily stationed in Kyauktada. Whose plans will succeed and whose fail, and what lessons does Orwell want us to learn from all this?

For more on where and when the novel is set, a list of the members of the Kyauktada European Club, and some interesting quotes from the novel, see my Backlist books post on Asian Books Blog.

When and Why I Read Burmese Days

Reading this as a follow up to Not Out of Hate.

Genre: fiction (historical)
Date started / date finished: 03-Jun-2018 / 08-Jun-2018
Length: 461
ISBN: ASIN B003WJQ6RW
Originally published in: 1934/1974
Amazon link: Burmese Days