V for Vendetta (2005)

Julia Roberts is good at smiling, as is Tom Cruise, but Hugo Weaving’s specialty is frowning. We’ve seen him as Elrond in LOTR, as Agent Smith in The Matrix, and as Old Georgie et al. in Cloud Atlas… the man is seriously good at frowning! Sadly, in V for Vendetta, we don’t get to see his face any more than we do when he voices Megatron.

Roger Ebert says:

“I was reminded of my problem with Thomas the Tank Engine: If something talks, its lips should move.”

I’m with you, Roger. The mask makes the quasi-romance between Evey and V particularly weird. By the way, which one is the protagonist? Evey is the, um, vehicle for our vicarious viewpoint, and the more prominent face on what seem to be the official materials promoting the film (see above).

If Evey once was the protagonist, certainly V has now eclipsed her. Or rather, the mask has. It now has a life of its own. It’s been appropriated (perhaps ironically; buy one here) by various groups, especially the hacker network Anonymous, as a symbol of their desire to stick it to the man. I mean, okay, I guess. It’s a handy symbol, for sure, since apparently it can mean almost anything you want it to, as long as you’re, you know, against something.


For more thoughts, including SPOILERS, see below.

Continue reading V for Vendetta (2005)

Cranford by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

I did not particularly enjoy Cranford.

The work felt like a series of installments, which is in fact what it was. Though not every serially published novel feels so choppy, Cranford lacks the kind of plot one tends to expect of a novel. The narrator is a character in the story, but she isn’t the protagonist and plays almost no role in the events she relates. Her name, Mary Smith, is correspondingly bland.

On a positive note, the text contains the word ‘sesquipedalian’, which I’m not sure I’ve seen anywhere else but in an intentionally esoteric children’s book, Wally the Wordworm, that I had an audio cassette of when I was a kid.

What Stood Out

The whole town of genteel old women makes a virtue of necessity:

There, economy was always “elegant,” and money-spending always “vulgar and ostentatious”; a sort of sour-grapeism which made us very peaceful and satisfied.

I can’t decide whether this bit about the string is pure silliness or whether it’s a bit of distilled realism—one of those comic insights about life that is not exaggerated at all:

String is my foible.  My pockets get full of little hanks of it, picked up and twisted together, ready for uses that never come.  I am seriously annoyed if any one cuts the string of a parcel instead of patiently and faithfully undoing it fold by fold.  How people can bring themselves to use india-rubber rings, which are a sort of deification of string, as lightly as they do, I cannot imagine.  To me an india-rubber ring is a precious treasure.  I have one which is not new—one that I picked up off the floor nearly six years ago.  I have really tried to use it, but my heart failed me, and I could not commit the extravagance.

Here’s a bit of perspicacity and honorable stubbornness on the part of a serving-woman named Martha:

“I’ll not listen to reason,” she said, now in full possession of her voice, which had been rather choked with sobbing.  “Reason always means what someone else has got to say.  Now I think what I’ve got to say is good enough reason; but reason or not, I’ll say it, and I’ll stick to it.”

When and Why I Read It

After seeing a miniseries of Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters and then reading Wives and Daughters, I thought I’d try Gaskell’s other fiction while traveling with my Kindle.

Genre: fiction (classic literature)
Date started / date finished:  21-Jul-16 to 30-Jul-16
Length: 178 pages
ISBN: Project Gutenberg 394
Originally published in: 1951
Amazon link: Cranford

Related Media

  • Cranford miniseries
  • Wives and Daughters miniseries
  • North and South miniseries
  • Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
  • North and South by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
  • Mary Barton by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
  • Ruth by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
  • Sylvia’s Lovers by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

Wheels on Meals (1984)

In Wheels on Meals, Jackie Chan rides a skateboard to sell food from a cart in a plaza in Barcelona.

The other main characters are the other food cart guy, a private investigator, a mysterious woman, and the guy who kidnaps the woman and fights Jackie Chan at the end.

The fight is considered excellent, but I prefer the ones that are silly, and this one was pretty brutal.

The Wikipedia article about the movie can tell you more about the plot and the production history of the movie.


A Piece of Paradise (2013)

I’m pretty sure this was listed as A Piece of Paradise in Air China’s in-flight entertainment guide, even though the subtitles call it The Heavenly Corner. The Russian title is Pайский Yголок. According to Google Translate, the two words correspond to the words ‘paradise’ and ‘corner’.

My college friend who studied Russian expressed extreme surprise when I said a Russian movie I’d watched had a happy ending, but it does!

The basic idea here is that the female protagonist has everything she ever dreamed of (a successful husband, two lovely kids, and a comfortable life) but is unhappy in her marriage. She gradually realizes that her husband has become a real lowlife. He gets his comeuppance and she gets a new guy. Ta-da! That’s it, really. Still, it’s interesting because of the setting and language. I mean, how often do you get to watch a Russian movie? Not often, right?

For more information, you could follow this link, but it won’t help you much unless you or your web browser can read Russian. I’m just not finding anything in English on this movie at all.


The Lobster (2015)

The Lobster certainly qualifies as a movie—er, film?—that I wouldn’t normally watch.

When I’m on planes, I try to watch movies in different languages or genres than the ones I tend to pick up off the shelf or pay to see in theaters. I watch a lot of mainstream children’s animated films and Hollywood action flicks. They’re usually pretty sparkly and happy.

In contrast, The Lobster was a bleak dystopia that had a kind of a science-fiction premise but absolutely zero sci-fi eye candy. The movie exists to make us feel weird about rules governing  relationships. Ours as well as the ones on screen.

The premise is that the government does not permit people to be single. Those who separate or whose spouses die are sent to a kind of dating boot camp at a hotel where, if they do not find a ‘suitable’ partner in 45 days, they are turned into the animal of their choice (by means of some scientific process whose results we see but which is largely outside the scope of the film). The name of the movie is the animal that the protagonist wishes to become if he is unable to find a partner.

Parts of the movie seemed (and were probably intended to seem) disturbing. The ending is ambiguous, and felt (and was probably intended to feel) unsatisfying. The movie was interesting in that it was genuinely, uniquely weird (intentionally absurd, in fact), but I wouldn’t recommend it unless your tolerance for grotesqueness is a lot higher than mine, or you’ve got at least five or ten hours of time to pass on a long-haul international flight… and something cheerful lined up to watch next.


For a plot summary with SPOILERS, keep reading.

Continue reading The Lobster (2015)

Les Nouvelles Aventures d’Aladin (2015)

This French comedy, the title of which in English is The New Adventures of Aladdin, was the first and best of the ten movies I saw on my latest trip to the US.

It’s a story within a story; the frame story is set during Christmas and is about a guy who is planning an after-hours robbery of the department store where he and his buddy work. Before the time arrives, however, his boss makes him tell a story to a group of kids, and he chooses to narrate a ‘remix’ of the fantasy story of Aladdin.

This version of Aladdin is a mixture of the familiar 1992 Disney cartoon, the traditional Arabian Nights story, and the filmmakers’ own ideas. Some of the new ideas are wry anachronisms inserted by the character who serves as narrator; others are suggested by the children in the audience as the story progresses.

The whole thing is utterly hilarious, and of course there’s a happy holiday ending: the narrator—the proverbial thief with a heart of gold—decides not to go through with the robbery after all.


For more on what I liked, with SPOILERS, keep reading.

Continue reading Les Nouvelles Aventures d’Aladin (2015)

Do’s and Taboos of Using English around the World by Roger E. Axtell

Basically, this book is full of meaningless trivia on a subject I happen to like. It was amusing but not deep or scholarly.

I learned, among other things, that:

  • “blimey” is a contraction of “God blind me!” (60)
  • “biro” is pronounced “by-row” and refers to the kind of ballpoint pen invented by Lazlo Biro (60)
  • to express disbelief in German, say “My hamster is scrubbing the floor.” (88)

When and Why I Read It

Bought it cheap in Colorado.

Genre: nonfiction (reference / language)
Date started / date finished:  08-Jul-16 to 17-Jul-16
Length: 202 pages
ISBN: 9780785825289 (hardcover)
Originally published in: 1995
Amazon link: Do’s and Taboos of Using English around the World

No Admin Fee and GST

This is a sticker on the inside of the window in a taxi. It says:

when you pay with Dash!

Even assuming you like the ampersand in this font (I don’t), the conjunction needed here is ‘or’.

(No admin fee) and (no GST) => No (admin fee or GST)

The sign that says “no food and drinks” is also wrong for the same reason.

However, “Don’t leave your handphone & wallet behind”, assuming we find ‘handphone’ acceptable, sounds fine, since ‘handphone’ and ‘wallet’ can easily be considered a pair of items that would be forgotten together.

“Record shows 50% of the reported lost cases in taxi are Handphones and Wallets” on the other hand, has several problems…

I would rewrite that as follows.

Records show that 50% of the items reported lost in taxis are mobile phones and wallets.

On the other hand, I like the ampersand on this half of the sign much better. Even if it is crowding the descender on that letter ‘y’.

Writing for Children and Teenagers by Lee Wyndham

Although writing is a timeless sort of endeavor, the technology we use for writing and research has changed a lot in recent decades, so much of the discussion of process in this book is laughably out of date. On the other hand, there’s some good information here about the internal mechanics of story.

When and Why I Read It

Bought it cheap in Colorado because I write for kids.

Genre: Non-fiction (writing)
Date started / date finished:  7-Jul-16 to 13-Jul-16
Length: 258 pages
ISBN: 0898793475 (paperback)
Originally published in: 1968/1989
Amazon link: Writing for Children and Teenagers (only available used)