Black Panther (2018)

Marvel’s Black Panther embodies American exceptionalism. The theme is that offering foreign aid and sharing knowledge is not only a good idea, but a duty, and one on which a prosperous country’s survival depends.

Wait, you thought it was a superhero movie? Or a movie that celebrates black culture? Or a movie that celebrates women? It’s all those things too!

Moreover, critics are saying it’s a “Shakespearean” drama because of the nuanced characterization of the main villain, who believes so strongly in his mission that you’re half inclined to agree with him.

I’m glad that the unremittingly bleak and gritty Christopher Nolan style of superhero movie is increasingly giving way to humor, even in movies like this one that have serious and important themes.

See Marvel’s Black Panther as soon as possible so that you can join in the discussion of this cultural touchstone. If it’s not in theaters, it’ll be on iTunes.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/black-panther-2018/id1342065788

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 Black Panther (2018)

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Dystopian fiction is supposedly about the future, but it’s always tied in to the fears—and the technologies—of its own time period. Although Brave New World can claim biochemistry more advanced than ours, one of its characters boasts about information stored on “eighty-eight cubic metres of card-index” which I imagine would fit comfortably on a thumb drive.

In his Foreword, written years after the novel was published, Huxley acknowledges faults in the work, but also acknowledges that trying to fix it would be senseless meddling; the novel is and will be the same novel it always was, warts and all. (Are you listening, George Lucas? Senseless meddling!)

I didn’t enjoy it overall. The imagined setting is interesting because of the detail in which it’s described, and Huxley touches on some big ideas about what it means to be human, but it’s hard to create a new and interesting setting and handle big ideas and still have room left for characters to interact and plot events to take place, all in the space of 158 pages! Brave New World felt heavy on exposition.

Still, the worldbuilding, ideas, characters, and plot taken together, are impressive enough to make this a classic.

See below for more on all that, but beware SPOILERS. And British spelling.

Continue reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

If you thought all Tom Cruise movies had a scene showing Tom Cruise sprinting, you were wrong. Vampires don’t sprint, and in this movie… Tom Cruise is a vampire. So is Brad Pitt. Tom Cruise plays the bloodthirstier of the two. There’s a lot of blood and death in this movie. It’s not really my genre. At all.

Hah. I wanted to know about the financial aspects of being an immortal vampire. Do they steal? Do they invest? Do they work for pay? They could do any or all of those things, but we are shown zero of them. We also don’t see the legal or even social consequences of any of their murders, some of which really seem like they would have been noticed. Oh well…. In the positive column, Kristen Dunst, age 12, did a great job of playing an eternal woman child.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/interview-with-the-vampire-the-vampire-chronicles/id279599100

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 Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Office Space (1999)

The year 1999 gave us the Wachowskis’ touchstone film, The Matrix, the story of a young man seemingly trapped in a meaningless office cubicle existence. The hero of Office Space is no less trapped, no less freed, and no less adored, though the tone of the film is (like Dilbert) comedic rather than darkly futuristic.

If you haven’t seen this cult classic, you are missing out.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/office-space/id273369330

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 Office Space (1999)

The Lego Movie (2014)

The Lego Movie looks like a transparent marketing ploy, but there’s more to it than that. It is surprisingly good. (So is The Lego Batman Movie, but reportedly The Lego Ninjago Movie isn’t.)

The Lego Movie is chock-a-block with jokes, only some of which are of the unsubtle variety, but it has a message, too: we all want to feel special, and in some way or other, we probably are, if we choose to see ourselves that way.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-lego-movie/id805178535

I liked the playfulness of the script and inventiveness of the visuals in the fights and chases. I am choosing to overlook the overly didactic name of the villain.

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 The Lego Movie (2014)

Photographically Speaking by David duChemin

I thought I knew nothing about photography. I was wrong.

True, I have little experience making photographs the way professionals do, and I know very little about cameras, my own cheap point-and-shoot included.

Still, photography is art, and creating photographs is much like creating other kinds of art. Much to my delight, the author of Photographically Speaking often draws explicit parallels with the art of writing, with which I’m somewhat familiar.

Once he establishes the thrust of the book (the importance of making conscious choices to create art), the author goes on to highlight the kinds of choices photographers can and should consciously make. Though he has a lot of specialized equipment and knows a lot about it, he focuses more on principles and concepts that you can observe in the finished image, not on which lens or filter you attach or which buttons you press.

See more below about what made Photographically Speaking such an approachable and informative text.

Continue reading Photographically Speaking by David duChemin

Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames

This blue book, Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames is a real treasure. I was ecstatic when I found it. When I was browsing in a used book shop in Melbourne, I found it on a shelf labeled “Books on Books”, but I’m not sure that’s where it belongs—or where it possibly could belong, for that matter! The whole volume is an esoteric joke aimed at native speakers of English who have studied French.

The book purports to be the publication of a mysterious manuscript of French poems the author discovered. He has annotated the poems in English with deadpan comments on the meanings of the French words.

In fact, as the author knows full well, the poems are more or less nonsense when translated from French, but if you pronounce them in French, they sound like a French speaker reciting Mother Goose rhymes! Case in point: The title of the volume, if you read it in a French accent, sounds like “Mother Goose Rhymes”.

Intrigued? There is a wonderful rabbit-hole of related phenomena you can happily fall into if you click the Wikipedia page for Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames.

If you are a social person and you want to have fun with this kind of language trick using just English, try the game Mad Gab.

Example cards from the game:

sea grit dress up ease = secret recipes
ice mail ask hunk = I smell a skunk
canoe key pace he gret = can you keep a secret
sand tack laws = Santa Claus
thigh sing gone thick ache = the icing on the cake

If you’re an introverted student of French and you want to experience the joy of deciphering Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames all by yourself, there are used copies of various editions of the book available through Amazon and Abebooks. You can’t have mine.

My 12th-grade French teacher used to write these “French poems” in a corner of the whiteboard to challenge us. I specifically remember “Little Miss Moffat”. Years later, feeling nostalgic, I looked online for a copy of a book they came from, but buying a copy of the out-of-print volume looked like it was going to be expensive, so I shelved that ambition. In 2009, HarperCollins reissued the work, but—tragically!—it went out of print again before I even noticed. To stumble across it by accident was a fantastic stroke of luck, especially given the price (AU$7) and condition (fantastic).

Maybe you already have the book, and you’ve tried to match the “French poems” to Mother Goose Rhymes, and you’re stumped. After all, the author is quite coy. Though he credits Mother Goose in the bibliography at the end of the book, he never clearly says that the poems are actually English Mother Goose rhymes, so of course he doesn’t list the answers; you are supposed to work them out yourself. If, however, you are fed up with trying to work them out yourself, and you’re here looking for the answers, then you, too have had a stroke of luck. I’ve worked them out for you.

See the answer key below for a list of the names of the 40 nursery rhymes disguised in Mots D’Heures: Gousses Rames.

Continue reading Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames

King Rat by James Clavell

Here’s a favorite quote from King Rat:

Writing can be just about the most important job in the whole world. If it’s any good…. A writer can put down on a piece of paper an idea—or a point of view. If he’s any good he can sway people, even if it’s written on toilet paper. And he’s the only one in our modern economy who can do it—who can change the world.

For some thoughts on the novel, check out my post on Asian Books Blog about King Rat.

When and Why I Read King Rat

I’m re-reading this novel for Asian Books Blog. I read it in 2001.

Genre: fiction (historical)
Date started / date finished:  14-Jan-18 to 26-Jan-18
Length: 352 pages
ISBN: 0440145465
Originally published in: 1962/1983
Amazon link: King Rat

Harry Potter in Russian

This copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Russian (ISBN 9785389077881) was a gift from Ilya Sergey (a colleague of my husband who does theoretical computery things) and his wife Lilia Anisimova (an illustrator who does computery things of an entirely different kind).

It is the latest addition to my collection of translations of Harry Potter books, which consists mostly of translations of book 3, but also includes some translations of book 1.

The title page of the Russian translation looks like this:

The text inside looks like this:

It’s incomprehensible and unpronounceable yet blessedly phonetic!

The book features a beautiful new cover illustration by Kazu Kibuishi. The spines of the books in the seven-book set form an image of Hogwarts, like so:

New versions in many languages now feature Kibuishi’s illustrations; only buy the Russian edition if you’re a crazy collector like me—or if you can actually read Russian.

The Great Wall (2016)

When I watched this on television at a friend’s house, I’d heard of the movie and wanted to see it (my dislike of the famous-Hollywood-star-in-Asia movie The Last Samurai notwithstanding), but had no idea there were lizard things in it. I suppose I assumed it was a historical story, or maybe a fantastical historical story with magicky people in it, like The White-Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom (2014). I have just learned that the name for that genre is “wuxia”.

No, this was a monster movie. It was a good one! Like Pacific Rim (2013). Again, I sort of expected the monsters to be misunderstood, but no. They’re just monsters. The point is to kill them, not understand them. There are some vague bits of theme wafting around—trust, loyalty, discipline, and teamwork are good, while greed is bad—but really, the point is to stop the lizard monsters from taking over the world.

I enjoyed the Mandarin-heavy dialog because hey! I understood some of it! Every big-budget Hollywood movie with part of the plot set in China (e.g., Now You See Me 2), every Chinese movie with crossover Western appeal (e.g., Bleeding Steel), and every studio cooperation using big names from both the West and China, like this one, brings us closer to a fused future culture like the one in Firefly, even if some of the products of that cooperation, like this one, are not exactly greeted with resounding applause.