Collateral (2004)

In Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise somehow made dying funny. In Collateral, he somehow makes killing funny. And also sad.

The premise is that Tom Cruise, playing contract killer Vincent, hires Jamie Foxx, playing taxi driver Max, to chauffeur him around LA all night, without, of course, explaining that he will be murdering five people before skipping town. What’s a hardworking, law-abiding taxi driver to do, apart from cooperate? Can he improvise a way out of his horrible predicament?

Collateral seems like it could have been an action movie, but it’s kinda not. Although it features crazy driving, shooting, Tom Cruise running, and a police hunt, it’s a drama as much as it is a thriller. The whole story takes place in one night, and dialog seems to take up the bulk of the screen time. It’s more serene than frantic.

The theme is carpe diem. Don’t postpone your dreams! Don’t be afraid of taking risks! Also: Don’t hire yourself out as a contract killer, because if you do, when you die, no one will care!

I hated Tom Cruise’s hair. Was that style fashionable back in 2004? Clamshell phones were. Those are a joke now that smartphones have taken over the world…

All nitpicking aside, I enjoyed the movie. Sure doesn’t make me want to live in LA, though!

The plot summary on Wikipedia is not bad.

This Roger Ebert review is full of praise.

This review at Pajiba calls the movie melancholy and soulful, claiming it may be the best movie Tom Cruise will ever make.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/collateral/id291825916

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

When I started seeing movie posters for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, I was curious but apprehensive. Watching the movie, I was pleasantly surprised.

Unlike the 1993 film featuring ballet student and Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin, the movie is not merely a recording of a stage performance of the ballet, nor is it a musical, nor does it follow the “story” of the ballet. It’s a through-the-looking glass version, a mirror image, or echo of the story in the ballet. The film includes a bit of ballet and some of the musical themes, but mostly it is a beautiful, original, inspiring fantasy.

The sets, CGI, and costumes are impressive, but the strength of the movie is the theme it expresses: how to deal with the loss of a loved one. There are healthy ways and unhealthy ways, both demonstrated dramatically.

Other solid, admirable themes are family togetherness, friendship and loyalty, creativity and curiosity, bravery, compassion and forgiveness, choice, and belief in one’s self.

With so much for the protagonist to learn on her adventure, I don’t see how detractors can call the movie ‘soulless’. Did we even watch the same movie? Whatever their reasons, critics and audiences don’t seem to like this movie nearly as much as I did, saying it’s as clunky as that ambitious 2018 flop, A Wrinkle in Time. That’s not fair at all. Four Realms is miles better than A Wrinkle in Time.

Maybe the detractors don’t award as many points for theme as they do for how subtly those themes are expressed. Some hoped for more ballet, others hoped for more music. Some wanted it to be scarier, others wanted it less scary. Maybe they all simply had higher expectations. Maybe nobody quite knew what to expect at all. I agree the film could have been better, but I think it was actually pretty decent. This review at Empire Online agrees with me.

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 Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

A more accurate title for this novel might be: The Adventures of the Strangely Wise and Poetical Free Spirit Huckleberry Finn, and the Hapless Runaway Slave Jim, Interrupted by the Heartless Cloudcuckoolander Tom Sawyer.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was required reading in my 10th-grade English class. I didn’t like it. Years later, now that I’ve re-read it, I still don’t like it, but I have more insight into what makes it a good book as well as what annoys me about it.

See below for the strengths of the book and what annoyed me about it, a plot summary (with SPOILERS), and what stood out as well as when and why I read it.

Continue reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The House of the Mosque by Kader Abdolah, translated by Susan Massotty

The House of the Mosque is a perfectly good literary novel but not my cup of tea. I tend to feel like family sagas are pointless even when they’re interesting.

This one tells the story of a family that lives in the titular house of the mosque in a town in Iran. Over the course of the book, time passes, and times change. Different characters, confronted with modernity, make different choices, or fall victim to changes outside their control. It’s an informative but melancholy book.

On the subject of modern Iran, I have previously read the autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, the non-fictional account Taken Hostage, by David Farber, and the lengthy novel Whirlwind, by James Clavell. The House of the Mosque is less dramatic than Whirlwind and has less true-to-life impact than either of the non-fiction books. (I made essentially the same observation about the American family saga Roots, which I think is flawed both as fiction and as non-fiction.)

When and why I read The House of the Mosque

I am reading this for the Singapore Ladies’ Book Group for November.

Genre: fiction (historical, family saga)
Date started / date finished:  01-Nov-18 to 02-Nov-18
Length: 449
ISBN: ASIN B0033TI4BC
Originally published in: 2010
Amazon link: The House of the Mosque

The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Surendranath Tagore

Not a lot happens in The Home and the World, but a lot is felt and thought and said. The novel explores male and female gender ideals, the changing role of women in the modern world, and approaches to political change. It showcases contrasting character traits: patience and impulsivity, thoughtfulness and recklessness, candor and cunning, generosity and jealousy, conscientiousness and ambition, practicality and idealism.

The main character, Bimala, is an Indian woman caught in a love triangle with her mild, loving husband Nikhil and the charismatic, impetuous nationalist Sandip. She has always had a place in the home, but what is her place in the world?

See my forthcoming Backlist books post on Asian Books Blog for more on this Bengali novel. See below for what stood out when I read it.

Continue reading The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Surendranath Tagore

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

In a world ravaged by ecological disaster and ruled by digital tyranny, a father buys and stocks a ship so that his daughter can live in ease and comfort among 500 specially selected people, out of reach of the collapse of civilized society. Are the girl and her mother really on board with this whole plan, though? Read The Ship to find out what’s in store for those on the ark.

Or don’t. Personally, I can’t recommend it. See below for why.

Continue reading The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

Wish You Were Here by Nick Webb

I don’t always read biographies, but I when I do, I read biographies of modern creative geniuses. Wish You Were Here tells the story of Douglas Adams, author of the comedy/sci-fi Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy. Biographer Nick Webb gives readers insights into the beloved author’s family background, his personal and professional struggles, and his ultimate phenomenal success.

What I especially appreciated, in addition to peeks into the media industry, was Webb’s characterization of Adams’ unique and thoughtful approach to life, the universe, and everything and the reminder that even those whose works spawn devoted global cults often start out as starving artists perpetually unsure whether the world will ever care what they have to say.

Douglas died suddenly in 2001, but his works continue to inspire.

When and why I read Wish You Were Here

I was prompted to re-read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series when a friend decided to throw a HHGTTG-themed party for her 42nd birthday. Decided to read this biography too. (Bought it in 2009.)

Genre: non-fiction (biography)
Date started / date finished:  16-Oct-18 to 21-Oct-18
Length: 351 pages
ISBN: 0755311566
Originally published in: 2003/2004
Amazon link: Wish You Were Here

Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams

Like the third installment of The Matrix, this book goes off the rails—which is maybe what you’d expect for the fifth book in a comedy/sci-fi novel series. It’s longer, darker, and more complicated than the others, and has more narration (less dialog) than its predecessors. The ending gives a sense of tying off loose ends, though there’s a sixth book published after the author’s death.

Still, Mostly Harmless has its bright spots: the idea of Arthur becoming a revered sandwich master on a low-tech planet is one I cherish.

My first edition copy is signed by the inimitable Adams (though sadly not to me).

When and why I read Mostly Harmless

I was prompted to re-read the series when a friend decided to throw a HHGTTG-themed party for her 42nd birthday.

Genre: fiction (comedy/science-fiction)
Date started / date finished:  16-Oct-18 to 16-Oct-18
Length: 277 pages
Originally published in: 1992
Amazon link: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams

This fourth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy by Douglas Adams is not as fun as the first three. Hapless human protagonist Arthur Dent isn’t roaming the galaxy anymore; he’s back on Earth somehow, even though the Earth was destroyed. Purely by accident, he falls and misses the ground, thus learns to fly. He also falls in love.

When and why I read So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

I was prompted to re-read the series when a friend decided to throw a HHGTTG-themed party for her 42nd birthday.

Genre: fiction (comedy/science-fiction)
Date started / date finished:  15-Oct-18 to 15-Oct-18
Length: 152 pages
Originally published in: 1984
Amazon link: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy by Douglas Adams

First a BBC radio show and then a series of painstaking novels, later a BBC miniseries and later still a video game and even a Hollywood movie, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy offers a multitude of zany insights into the the philosophical conundra of the ages.

If you have not read the original book trilogy, do not stop, do not pass go, do not collect $200, and above all, don’t panic. Just go and read it right now. Dozens of pop-culture references and in-jokes will suddenly make sense, even though the books themselves often don’t, and you’ll be able to join in the annual Towel Day celebrations on May 25th.

The books are available in a wide variety of styles and formats, but I love this cover art by Peter Cross. I bought these fantastic American book club edition hardcovers at a thrift store when I was in college. A friend in high school originally recommended the series and lent me her copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide omnibus.

When and why I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy

I was prompted to re-read the series when a friend decided to throw a HHGTTG-themed party for her 42nd birthday.

Genre: fiction (comedy/science-fiction)
Amazon link: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Date started / date finished:  12-Oct-18 to 13-Oct-18
Length: 209 pages
Originally published in: 1979

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Date started / date finished:  13-Oct-18 to 14-Oct-18
Length: 217 pages
Originally published in: 1980

Life the Universe and Everything
Date started / date finished:  14-Oct-18 to 15-Oct-18
Length: 182 pages
Originally published in: 1982