The Jungle Book (2016)

Disney’s live-action / cgi adaptation of its own animated classic, The Jungle Book, is similar in tone to its live-action / cgi adaptation of Cinderella. It was earnest and straightforward, and the technology that brought all those talking animals and jungle landscapes to life was amazing.

The theme seemed to me to be extremely American, or at least Western, in its individualism.

SPOILERS below, including a detailed plot summary in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

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Mansfield Park (1999)

I must have seen Mansfield Park on a plane before I watched this DVD.

I remembered only the oddly sexualized parts, which surprised me both times, since the sex in Jane Austen’s romances is, in the novels and the other movie adaptations I’ve seen, all much more implicit.

Another weird thing about this movie is that bits of Jane Austen’s letters were put in as part of the character Fanny Price, who sometimes speaks directly to the camera.

Finally, the movie adds in a didactic subplot to remind us that Slavery Is Bad.

Although the movie seemed well received, personally, I can’t recommend it.


Continue reading Mansfield Park (1999)

Man child, age 6

I would like to point out that this is hilarious. From a certain angle.

From another angle, it is also evidence of a good deal of hard work and bravery on the part of the parent…

Imagine you’ve just moved to another country with your wife and son and you have to function in another language, one that you’ve studied but that you didn’t grow up with. Furthermore imagine that it is one that uses a writing system totally different from your own and contains combinations of sounds you can’t accurately pronounce.

You’re going to send your son to a school that uses your family’s language, but you want him to study the local language, too. You go to a private education provider and find a class suitable for your son’s age and language ability level. You decide to register him for classes there.

Then they give you a form to fill out. It’s not in your language.

Even if it were, nobody likes filling out forms.

Or should you say, filling them in? Or up? Why does English have all these pesky phrasal verbs anyway?

You do your best with the form.

Just another Ferrari

In part because those living in Singapore have to bid for a ten-year “Certificate of Entitlement” that can cost thousands of dollars even before buying a car, the cars tend to be pretty fancy. (If the COE costs $10,000, you’re not going to buy a car worth $20,000, are you? You’re going to buy an expensive one or skip out and rely on public transit instead.)

There are some people with serious money living in Sinagpore. In addition, showing off your money is not necessarily considered to be in poor taste here. I get the impression that prosperity in the form of wealth is not a shameful thing to wish for, or to achieve, in Chinese culture. This especially seems to be the case during Chinese New Year, when people put up decorations featuring traditional forms of money.

I’ve seen more fancy cars in Singapore in the last seven years than I ever thought I’d see in a lifetime. Such as, for example, this one, chillin’ in front of Orchard Parade Hotel.


Once, I saw a car like this (another a red Ferrari) parked in Chinatown on the street where we used to live. It was parallel parked just in front of a backpacker hostel. There’s a combination you don’t see every day: $30 lodgings and a $1,000,000 car within a few feet of each other.

What I don’t understand, aside from how people can ever trust themselves to drive such expensive machines, is why all new cars, not just sports cars, have angry eyebrows. All new cars look mean.

I think it’s more noticeable in Singapore than in other parts of the world because cars here live short lives. Turnover is high. There have been at least three different generations of Toyota taxis in the last 7 years. And the new ones look mean.

When we arrived, there were some really boxy taxis. Then there were some slightly frowny ones. And now they’re full-on mean. See?

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

How to Train Your Dragon 2 has a surprisingly straightfoward plot, but it was pretty enjoyable.

Premise: Dragons, formerly a menace to the people of Berk, are now a cherished part of Berk’s peace-loving culture. Menace lurks on the horizon, however. Dragon trappers are hunting dragons to sell to a warlord who is building a dragon army, and they’re not about to let a bunch of dragon riders get in their way, attacks from a mysterious giant ice-spitting dragon notwithstanding. Can Hiccup accept his role as future chief and protect his people… and the dragons? He and Toothless are going to have to fight that warlord, obviously. With help from an almost totally unexpected source…

Frankly, even if the plot had been a lot worse, the dragon joyrides would have made it totally acceptable. You know, kind of like The Rescuers Down Under. I’m a sucker for friendships with flying animals. (Free Willy, on the other hand, you can keep.)

Looking forward (waaaay forward, to 2018) to the third and final movie in the series. Considering reading the books, but I understand there are a lot of them and they’re only loosely related to the films. Not interested in the TV show.

More about this movie, and only this movie, since apart from the tame-the-injured-beast montage I don’t remember much about its 2010 predecessor, below. There are SPOILERS, including a detailed plot summary in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

Haw Par Villa

Since moving to Singapore and reading about Haw Par Villa in the Singapore Lonely Planet Guide, we’ve always been intending to go. It took us more than seven years, but we finally paid it a visit.

It’s known for the Ten Courts of Hell attraction, a graphic depiction of a quasi-Buddhist Chinese afterlife of judgment, punishment and subsequent reincarnation.

The park, whose attractions are in states of repair that vary from recently repainted to cordoned off, has itself died and been reborn several times. It was fairly quiet but not completely empty when we went.

The park parts of the park are kinda nice if you can get over the creepy didactic sculptures, but I’m not eager to go back anytime soon.

Learn More about Haw Par Villa

Below are 25 photos.

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The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

I enjoyed the heist aspects of The Thomas Crown Affair, but I hated the characters.

Although the movie is named after Mr. Crown (played by Pierce Brosnan), when the insurance investigator (played by Rene Russo) shows up, it seems the movie is going to be about her trying to catch him, or at least about him trying not to get caught. However, it’s actually about whether clever, cynical Crown can ever trust anyone, which is less interesting than a heist. Maybe it’s not a heist movie. Maybe it’s a romantic comedy with a heist in it. I don’t know. I’m confused. And so is Rene Russo’s character. In fact, she’s spineless. I hate spineless characters. (Like Elsa, for example. Don’t get me started.)

SPOILERS BELOW. Read on if you want to know why I think you should save yourself the trouble of watching this movie.

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Shaolin Soccer (2001)

I was eager to see the Chinese fantasy sports comedy Shaolin Soccer because I’d already seen and enjoyed Steven Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle. I think I liked Kung Fu Hustle better, but this wasn’t bad.

Steven Chow (writer, director, star) is a poor boy named Sing who has five brothers and who wants to bring Shaolin martial arts to the masses by packaging it in a unique way. He tries kung fu singing, but that doesn’t really work, and gets him and one of his brothers into trouble with some local rabble-rousers. Luckily, a crippled ex-soccer star is interested in teaching him to combine his kung fu with the game of soccer. Half the movie is gone by the time our protagonist has successfully recruited his brothers, seemingly unsuited for soccer, to form a team. Will this strange team be able to defeat the Evil Team, owned and managed by the cripple’s former rival? Yeah, probably so. And will our protagonist also win the love of the woman who uses kung fu for baking? Yep, that’s kind of a given, too. How do those two goals come together? That’s worth seeing.

The seams between the live action filming and the special effects are generally obvious, but the CG effects are amazing for 2001 and still pretty enjoyable. The best is when the Puma soccer ball turns into a puma.

SPOILERS BELOW, including a detailed plot summary in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Shaolin Soccer (2001)

Ubiquitous deceptions

When I was writing up Paul Ekman’s book Telling Lies, I started to try to make a list of all the movies and TV shows that were arguably related, then realized that there were too many for the list to be coherent.

Now that I think about it, it’s hard for any plot not to involve a deception somewhere along the way. Entertainment wouldn’t be entertaining if there were no mysteries and no surprises.

Assessing the hundreds of movies and shows in my collection to find out which have a strong lying theme is a big task, but here’s a first stab at listing them.

  • Oblivion (2013): you are not who you think
  • Shark Tale (2004): the snowballing consequences of lying
  • Accepted (2006): lying about college acceptance
  • A Thousand Words (2012): misuse of words
  • Catch Me If You Can (2002): being a con artist
  • The Usual Suspects (1995): lies about criminal guilt
  • Chicago (2002): lies about criminal guilt
  • The Matrix (1999): the world is a computer simulation
  • The Truman Show (1998): the world is a stage
  • Pinocchio (1940): lying makes your nose grow
  • Liar Liar (1997): pathological lying
  • Lie to Me (2009–2010): ascertaining truth as a career
  • Breaking Bad (2008–2013): lies about criminal guilt
  • House (2004–2014): everybody lies
  • My Fair Lady (1964): rags to riches
  • Pygmalion (1938): rags to riches
  • The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997): mistaken identity
  • Mulan (1998): gender masquerade
  • Mulan (2009): gender masquerade
  • The Incredibles (2004): superheroes in disguise
  • Speed Racer (2008): disguise
  • Gattaca (1997): impersonation
  • The Princess Bride (1987): disguise
  • Anastasia (1997): stolen/lost identity
  • Impostor (2002): aliens are among us
  • The Mask of Zorro (1998): disguise
  • Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009): aliens are among us
  • Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993–1997): disguise
  • Batman Begins (2005): disguise