Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Since there were a lot of ways the sequel to the bizarre, Asianesque sci-fi noir classic Blade Runner could have been awful, I was expecting Blade Runner 2049 to be handled about as well as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Ghost in the Shell, both of which failed to delight their devoted target audiences. I was pleasantly surprised.

2049 has some disturbing violent moments, and the whole finale is one of those water scenes I really dislike, but I enjoyed it more than the original, I think because it generally made more sense, or because of some beautiful, colorful architectural shots, or perhaps simply because it was new and therefore I did not feel obliged to like it simply because, for two or three decades, other people already had.

There’s a lot of chatter about this movie’s ties to the original, and about philosophical questions relating to memory and the soul, but for me the movie is about the journey from blissful ignorance through mistake or self-deception to self-knowledge and finally acceptance. Ignorance is never bliss, and you always have a choice.

See below 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 Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Montville, Queensland, Australia

I enjoyed my recent trip to Australia—or, as I like to call it, The Place Where Some of the Coins Are Huge, Most the Flowers Are Purple and All the Birds Are Really Weird. I went there to attend a writers’ retreat with two writer friends.

See below for about 50 photos selected from over 200 in total. (About a quarter were out-of-focus shots of flowers, and another 25% were of a very cooperative kookaburra that sat still while I took photos of him for 20 minutes.)

Continue reading Montville, Queensland, Australia

Bills and coins from Australia

While packing for my trip to Australia, I learned a bit about the different kinds of bills and coins to look out for. I found a fantastic online guide, and reformatted it into a printer-friendly A4-size PDF, which I printed and took with me.

My list didn’t do me a lot of good, though, because most of the time I was inside the resort, and the fee for the workshop and lodgings included almost all the meals. Nevertheless, I did manage to get different denominations of bills and at least one of the special-issue coins, along with samples of three different portraits of the queen from different eras of coinage.

I couldn’t believe—I still can’t believe—how HUGE the 50-cent coins are! I didn’t think any country in the world had coins this bulky.

Here’s an Australian 50-cent coin next to a current Singapore 50-cent coin, a current US 25-cent coin, and one of the old Singapore 50-cent coins, which until now I thought seemed big!

The twelve-sided shape is awesome, though, I have to admit.

The embroidered flag patch I bought in the airport was expensive, but looks to be of good quality. I resisted buying any plastic keychains shaped like kangaroos. The pens were free, courtesy of Greenleaf Press (the organizer of the retreat) and Montville Country Cabins (the workshop and retreat venue where we stayed).

Interstellar (2014)

I’m beginning to understand the fuss on the internet about saving Matt Damon. He’s an endangered private on a WWII battlefield. He’s a stranded astronaut on a mission to Mars… the list goes on. In Interstellar, though he’s not the main character, he’s a researcher on a distant planet shrouded with frozen clouds.

Interstellar was not a fast-paced movie. There is action, but there are also long stretches of calm. The futuristic mumbo-jumbo is balanced by familiar human relationships; there’s as much drama as sci-fi.

I thought Interstellar was way better than Tomorrowland—certainly it was more complex—but the two movies have the same message: smart people who have hope can always solve the world’s problems.

I enjoyed it, except for the terrifying watery scene, and found the resolution satisfying. See below 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 Interstellar (2014)

The Foreigner (2017)

Jackie Chan is still kicking, punching, and jumping out windows. In this action thriller, he’s a sad dad with special forces training, trying to track down some anonymous bombers. The two main characters, Quan and Hennessey, are enemies, but I would say this is a buddy movie because they are trying to solve the same mystery. The movie is serious and satisfying but has a few funny moments in it.

Update (27 Nov 2017): at Kinokuniya when I was looking for the illustrated Dream of the Red Chamber, I spotted the book the movie was based on:

The Chinaman by Stephen Leather

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

Continue reading The Foreigner (2017)

Pacific Rim (2013)

Do NOT watch this movie… on a plane. The real value is in seeing the amazing CGI fights, which somehow never devolve into loud, meaningless smashing. They’re—well, they’re colorful, for Pete’s sake. It’s no fun to watch on a screen six inches wide, but it’s joyous when you can see what’s happening! I enjoyed my second viewing much more than I expected to, thanks to the top-notch execution by Industrial Light and Magic of the stunningly detailed artistic vision of Guillermo del Toro.

Okay, so you’re not a fan of monster movies? Me neither, but this one does some magnificent worldbuilding. The prologue of Pacific Rim has its own prologue, strangely enough, and it was way less dull than at least two others I can think of. Perhaps us Westerners wouldn’t be able to stomach a movie that just started smack in the middle of a war with aliens, where giant military mind-melding machines are the new norm. Huge robots are par for the course for the mecha sub-genre of science fiction (cf Rahxephon), but they aren’t exactly Hollywood staples. This movie did well enough (on the strength of ticket sales in China and Japan) to spawn a sequel, coming to theaters next year.

Although I enjoyed the movie, it wasn’t what I’m used to, so it was hard to evaluate. The first time I watched it, I was confused by the story, either because I was stuck in an airplane watching on a tiny screen and started falling asleep, or because the plot was so straightforward I thought I must have been missing something. I kept expecting twists and turns that never materialized.

I felt better about the movie after I watched a couple of the featurettes included in this Blu-Ray package. The director explained that he wanted to tell a simple story about heroism using character types drawn in simple outlines. He didn’t want a lot of plot or expositiony dialog, he wanted realistic action coded with thematically appropriate colors. I’d say he got what he wanted.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/pacific-rim/id694686367

Want to know more about the plot? Simple as it is, it was built pretty well. See below for a summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Pacific Rim (2013)

Serenity (2005)

I loved Firefly. Still do. I’m not quite as huge a fan of the movie Serenity.

I’m relieved that, thanks to the near-miraculous success of a grassroots fan campaign (“Can’t stop the signal!”), a movie was made that squared away the plot mysteries of Joss Whedon’s futuristic fantasy space universe show, but Serenity is vastly different in tone. In the movie, the crew have to risk everything to save everybody, and death doesn’t just lurk around every corner: it jumps out and claims victims. Serenity is anything but serene.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/serenity/id292625148

Firefly (2003)

It’s strange that on a site named after a quote from the TV show Firefly there hasn’t actually been a post or page about the show… until now.

My husband and I recently re-watched the series on Blu-ray. Some of the dialog is memorable enough that even now we can speak it along with the characters. The characters and the pretend space-frontier setting felt thoroughly familiar and welcoming.

What is it about this fragment of a season of a show that makes it so lovable, so enduring? Say what you want about Joss Whedon, he has the ability to create people and places that we truly wish existed—and somehow, that makes them real, or real enough.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/firefly-the-complete-series/id151801083

Popular at Clementi is no longer a bookstore

This bookshop in Clementi does not sell ANY books.

None. Zero. Not even the bestsellingest of the bestsellers, like you’d find in an airport.

What does it sell? A third of the shop is electronics, another third is stationery, and the last third is full of rectangular objects that are made from paper, ink, and glue and resemble books but are actually test-preparation materials, created for the sole purpose of keeping up with the Joneses—or rather, getting ahead of the Lees and the Tans.

I scowl but I feel like wailing.

THIS is what a bookstore should look like.

(A bookstore should have books in it. Duh.)

That’s the Barnes & Noble near where my parents live. It’s not the biggest bookstore in the city. It’s just a bookstore. One of many—a couple dozen, at the very least.

Okay, so probably all those retail bookstores are struggling, and maybe someday, possibly even soon, Barnes & Noble will die. Certainly many companies have fallen and will fall before the might of the mighty Amazon.

What Barnes & Noble will certainly never do, however, is turn into some sort of awkward amalgamation of Best Buy, Staples, and Kumon.

Hopefully other Popular stores in Singapore will continue to sell books as well as electronics, stationery, and test prep stuff. The one at Marine Parade still does.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

What if, instead of men and women, people were all just, you know, people? That’s the idea Ursula K. Le Guin explores in The Left Hand of Darkness. The people living on the bitter-cold planet Gethen (aka Winter) can only procreate when they are “in heat”, and during such periods may become physiologically either male or female. When not in heat or pregnant, they are neither male nor female (though they are referred to as “he” throughout the book because English lacks a neutral third-person singular pronoun).

This award-winning novel challenges us to think about genders, gender roles, sexuality, and their impact on culture, but much of the plot is not actually person-against-person or even person-against-society, it’s person-against-nature. The harsh climate has shaped the Gethens, culturally and perhaps biologically as well…

Genly Ai has been sent on a solo mission to Gethen to extend the locals an invitation to join the Ekumen, a kind of intergalactic knowledge-sharing alliance built primarily on technology for simultaneous communication (rather than, say, faster-than-light travel). Genly is male in the commonly understood sense, and struggles against the tendency to assign gender to the Gethens. He also struggles with the cold. Will he complete his mission? Will he even survive the political intrigues and the climate? Who can he trust? He is terrifyingly alone.

I was surprised at the proportion of the book that consisted of a trek across an icy wasteland. I felt I’d been lifted out of the sci-fi universe Le Guin had so painstakingly created and plunged back into the dangerous world of high-altitude mountaineering, which I read about nearly 20 years ago in The Climb and Into Thin Air after watching the IMAX film about the 1996 Everest disaster. I was somewhat reminded of the depressing Jack London short story To Build a Fire, a classic man vs. nature struggle that I read in a literature anthology just last year but that I remember having to read in some long-ago English class.

When and Why I Read The Left Hand of Darkness

This book was chosen by Rachel of the Hungry Hundred Book Club for November 2017. Previously, I read it in 2001.

Genre: fiction (science-fiction)
Date started / date finished:  24-Oct-17 to 26-Oct-17
Length: 304 pages
ISBN: 0044147805
Originally published in: 1969/1976
Amazon link: The Left Hand of Darkness