Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Though I feel like I may be painting a target on my own back for saying so, I enjoyed Ghost in the Shell. This Guardian article expresses a similarly positive view.

Parts of the movie reminded me of the 1995 version, which I vaguely remember as flawed, bogged down by abstruse exposition. If people don’t like the 2017 version, it seems to be because it feels too personal, emotional, and actiony in comparison. The “problem”, in essence, is that a mainstream American movie doesn’t match the tone of a foreign cult classic. I’m not sure I understand why anyone expected it to, or even thought it should, though I do applaud the suggestion that the script could have been sparser.

Many have complained that most of the cast wasn’t Asian. That doesn’t bother me because the genre is sci-fi; it’s hard to insist that the ethnographic landscape of the future is being misrepresented, especially when everyone in that future is some kind of cyborg.

I like the theme of self as defined by choice, but—as disproportionately dedicated as I am to the life of the mind—I believe the implications of a complete mind/body dichotomy are only philosophically relevant in a fictional future world where brain transplants are possible. Here and now, we are not our brains; we are who we are in large part because of how we are embodied. Injuries, even those we fully recover from, can disrupt an otherwise stable sense of self. (Case in point: A Leg to Stand on, a book about neurologist Oliver Sacks’s recovery from a serious mountain-climbing injury.)

Another way to think about the mind/body theme is from the standpoint of a political prisoner. A government can jail you, torture you, or even kill you, but it can’t change your mind because your mind (the ghost in the machine) remains yours and yours alone—unless you live in Orwell’s dystopia, in which case, all bets are off.

And speaking of 80s, I loved the choice of automobiles for this movie. They didn’t look like cars of the future, they looked like cars of the past. Or science-fiction of the past, at any rate. The setting had a Blade Runner kind of feeling to it; but this time the neon lights were all 3D, none of the skyscrapers were pyramids, and none of the robots were owls or snakes.

Keep reading 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 Ghost in the Shell (2017)

How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff

How to Lie with Statistics is both dated and timeless. First published in 1954 but reprinted in 1993, it contains salary and other economic dollar amounts that make no sense in today’s context, but nonetheless explains why we should be skeptical of numbers and charts in the media. (That’s right, fake news is nothing new.)

Even if you have had statistical training, and you already know, for example, that “average” could mean “mean”, “median”, or “mode”, this accessible will raise your awareness of the slipperiness of “facts”.

The style of the illustrations and some of the historical and cultural phenomena and prominent personages mentioned in the text as well as the economic data give the book a pleasantly old-timey feel, like 125 Ways to Make Money with Your Typewriter, though not to the same extent.

When and Why I Read
How to Lie with Statistics

After reading three books about visual displays of data, I thought I’d read a related book about data.

Genre: non-fiction (applied mathematics)
Date started / date finished:  28-Apr-17 to 30-Apr-17
Length: 142 pages
ISBN: 0393310728 (paperback)
Originally published in: 1954
Amazon link: How to Lie with Statistics

Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

Musicophilia is a collection of neurological anecdotes all dealing with music.

It never ceases to amaze me how much we can learn a lot about brains from by studying those with damaged or otherwise unusual ones, and I’m very grateful that Oliver Sacks not only dedicated so much of his own ample brainpower to that very task, but also chose to transform his professional experience into reasonably accessible stories for non-experts. Not being anything like as musical as Dr. Sacks, however, I found it a bit difficult to relate to him as a narrator of tales specifically about music.

Sometimes he used the word “music” to refer to “serious Western classical music” in a way that seemed to indicate that pop songs obviously didn’t count. I think I would have felt the book was several degrees more approachable if he had started out with some acknowledgement of the wide variety of music in the world, and then explicitly characterized some of  it as being more cognitively challenging or worthwhile to produce and consume, and therefore more relevant to many of his case studies and much of his discussion of them, rather than leaving such things implied but largely unsaid.

All in all, not one of the better Oliver Sacks books, but still, like all eight of the other Oliver Sacks books I’ve read so far, undoubtedly worth reading.

When and Why I Read Musicophilia

Whatever Oliver Sacks writes about, he approaches it in an educated, thoughtful way. With footnotes. I especially enjoy reading what he has to say about brains.

Genre: non-fiction (neurology, music)
Date started / date finished:  12-Apr-17 to 24-Apr-17
Length: 391 pages
ISBN: 9781447222705 (paperback)
Originally published in: 2007
Amazon link: Musicophilia

The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam

The Back of the Napkin was disappointing, perhaps because I’m not in the target audience. As far as I can tell, the target audience is people who work in a consulting firm or a big corporate environment, don’t like drawing, and don’t know what a Venn diagram is.

In the service of better business meetings, the book brings together basic visual displays, superficial insights from cognitive science, and the five w’s of journalism, wrapping it all in a nicely designed but gimmicky napkin-shaped book printed in black and red.

The author sets out some good principles and good examples, but at the end of the day, I just felt like he was showing off the successes of his own career; none of it seemed particularly likely to help me, and somehow it didn’t make for compelling reading.

When and Why I Read The Back of the Napkin

Bought it in Atlanta in 2014. It’s been waiting its turn long enough.

Genre: non-fiction (business)
Date started / date finished:  26-Mar-17 to 20-Apr-17
Length: 276 pages
ISBN: 9781591843061 (hardcover)
Originally published in: 2008
Amazon link: The Back of the Napkin

Kings of Pastry (2009)

Kings of Pastry offers a glimpse into the lives of those aspiring to the highly respected designation “Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (MOF)”, awarded in France to the world’s top pastry chefs.

Although there were some aspects of the documentary I found interesting or dramatic, I didn’t think it was particularly good overall.

Self-portrait with Teapot; or, The Problem of Transience

I think I’ve been to the Paradise Dynasty restaurant at Ion twice now. I really like the decoration, which you can sort of see here on the restaurant’s website.

So many restaurants in Singapore seem temporarily perched in some unit in some shopping mall; the lease expires, the rent goes up, the restaurant dies or moves somewhere else. So although every shop and restaurant does some interior decoration for branding purposes, the environment often feels like a cardboard set, too superficial for comfort. You eat there, and the food is fine, but you feel like the experience is just a flash in the pan.

Not so with Paradise Dynasty.

Even though the color-changing LEDs behind the curtains serve as a constant reminder that you’re in one of the countless flashy shopping malls built within the last decade, the plush red chairs, dramatic lighting, wood screens, and stone floors make the place feel older and more authentic.

I recently learned that Nanbantei, my favorite Japanese restaurant in Singapore, has a new outlet at Chinatown Point.

There it is!

Even if I were already in Chinatown, though, I would probably go to the Nanbantei at Far East Plaza. I don’t know how long it’s been there, but it’s all wood and brick and cozy inside, whereas this just looks like every other Japanese restaurant, more or less, and I know it hasn’t been there long at all. I’m pretty sure the unit used to be occupied by a French roast chicken restaurant called Poulet.

Like I said, high real estate prices make every business vulnerable to rent fluctuations. Poulet’s Westgate outlet has also closed down, and not long ago when I went to the Japanese restaurant I liked at Westgate, it was only after sitting down and ordering that I realized that the place had been converted into some other Japanese restaurant. My husband’s favorite Japanese restaurant (Aoki) is now undergoing renovation, and his second-favorite Japanese restaurant (Chako) closed permanently just before the building (Hong Leong Garden) was knocked down and replaced with a newer one (NEWest). The closure (in 2013) of the authentic Swiss/German fondue restaurant Stammtisch at Sixth Avenue might qualify as the worst of them.

I wish I knew of more great restaurants that feel like they’ve been here forever and will outlast even me, but things just keep changing. Whatever it is you like, enjoy it while it lasts; blink and it’s gone.

Dispose vs. dispose of

This bathroom sign says:

Kindly dispose sanitary pads in the sanitary bins provided. Please do not throw them into the toilet bowl as it will choke the sewage sewerage. Thank you for your co-operation.

There are several things I’d like to point out about the sign, including the use of ‘dispose’. See below for details.

Continue reading Dispose vs. dispose of

Logan (2017)

Logan was bloody, morbid, and sad.

There were some darkly funny and grimly satisfying moments, but in general I’m not a fan of the trendy “decrepit superhero” trope, which is what governs the entirety of this 137-minute film, a gritty, R-rated, sci-fi/western production marking the end of the seventeen-year era in which Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine.

I was impressed by the female star’s Hugo Weaving-like frowny face, which she used for almost the entire movie, and the character (portrayed by a digital collage of the actress, her stunt-double, and a laboriously created CGI avatar) seemed pretty capable.

It’s hard to call the movie a triumph for her, though I would have liked to. For one thing, the tone of the movie is hardly triumphant, and for another thing, the movie isn’t about her, or even about her relationship with Logan, it’s about Logan. (It says so right there in the title!) So although she drives the plot, and one or two of the cars in the plot, unquestionably, she’s still second fiddle.

Watch on Amazon

Keep reading 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 Logan (2017)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an amusing, eye-opening, and well-produced documentary about an exacting Japanese sushi chef named Jiro Ono, whose dedication to his craft is remarkable as much for its relentless lifelong perfectionism as for its world-famous success.

What I least liked about it was seeing dead or soon-to-be-dead sea creatures being inspected, bought and sold.

Visually, what I liked best was seeing each individual piece of sushi placed on a lacquered, rectangular dish on the softly-lit counter top, where gravity briefly, subtly altered its shape in a kind of slow, glistening ooze.

The strongest impression I’m left with, though, is Jiro’s seemingly unflagging sense of purpose: to make the most exquisite sushi he possibly can. Nothing else seems to matter in the slightest.