Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Martian

18401393  tags: castaway, Mars, science fiction, space mission, survivor

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Synopsis from Goodreads
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.
It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.
But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills--and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit--he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
Astronaut/mechanical engineer/botanist Mark Watney speaks like a juvenile and spews f-bombs all the time, but I really like him, and the book. His sense of humor and ingenuity help him survive the planet until the rescue mission gets to him, if at all. Although the book is full of technical details that read like a manual, I wasn't bored at all and finished it in 2 days. I gave it only 4 stars because of the inclusion of the Chinese government in the rescue mission. Yeah, right, the friggin' Chinese! 

I mentioned some scenes that are very similar to the Korean movie, Castaway On The Moon. I was further amused that in the book, the NASA employee who discovered him [by monitoring/manning the telescopes] still alive on Mars is a woman named Mindy Park. Park is a Western as well as a Korean surname. Coincidence? Maybe.

Recommended to sci-fi fiction fans. 

The author also wrote a short but good story, The Egg.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Castaway On The Moon



tags: castaway, dramedy, love story, survivor

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Synopsis from AsianWiki
Kim Seung-Keun stands on the ledge of an overpass bridge above the Han River. He’s in way over his head in debt and he’s ready to end his life right then and there. Mr. Kim then jumps off the bridge, but due to his own misfortune (or good fortune) he ends up washed ashore on a small nearby island. At first, Mr. Kim looks for every conceivable way to get off the island – which is in plain view of several nearby high rise buildings and apartment complexes. After a few days, Mr. Kim becomes acclimated to his solitary existence and he even starts to find comfort in his primitive surroundings.
Meanwhile, a young reclusive lady named Kim Jung-Yeon sits in her room, addicted to the online world of "Cyworld." She hasn’t left her apartment in three years and she doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon. In the evenings, when Jung-Yeon is finished updating her Cyworld home page, she dabbles in her other hobby which is photographing the moon. During one of those evenings, when Jung-Yeon is taking shots of the moon, she notices a "HELP" sign scrawled onto the sand of a nearby island. She then notices a strange man walking around the island and Jung-Yeon starts to view this man as her own personal alien.

Castaway On The Moon is one of my top favorite Korean movies of all time. I have seen it many many times while it was still streaming on Netflix. The movie is metaphorical and if you know or are familiar with Korea and its citizens, it's easier to understand its meaning. It is a mixture of drama with a bit of sometimes laugh-out-loud comedy, love story, and of all things, adventures in farming.

The male character tries to commit suicide but is unsuccessful and finds himself stranded on the small island in the middle of the Han River. He is very near yet so far from the city of Seoul. He tries to kill himself a second time by hanging himself with his tie but is interrupted by "call of nature". He decides suicide can wait and explores the island. He finds a discarded jjajangmyun (black soybean paste) noodle wrapper with its seasonings unused and intact. He is very hungry and the photo on the wrapper complete with carrots, green vegetables, and a boiled egg makes him even hungrier. He then with regret recalls the numerous times he refused to eat the noodles since he was a child. He vows to grow corn to make noodles from seeds dropped by birds. It's amazing that a simple noodle wrapper makes him forget his problems and the suicide attempts, and changes his overall outlook in life.

While these things are going on, he is being observed with a powerful camera by a girl from an apartment across the river. She lives with her parents but refuses to face them nor anyone else; they communicate by text messages. The girl is a hikikomori, a modern-day hermit similar to an agoraphobic.

In a sense both of them are castaways. The superb acting, directing, and script make these situations very very believable. I love this movie and cannot recommend it highly enough.

The movie is not available for streaming on Netflix and Amazon.

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I am currently reading THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir and it reminds me of this movie. There are some similarities - castaway, farming (growing potatoes), the will to survive, being observed from afar...

I will rate the book in a few days.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Bone Clocks

 tags: family, fantasy, science fiction, supernatural

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Synopsis
Following a scalding row with her mother, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: a sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as “the radio people,” Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life.
For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics—and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly’s life, affecting all the people Holly loves—even the ones who are not yet born.
A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder.

David Mitchell has yet to write a novel I couldn't love specially now that he has gone Haruki Murakami in Bone Clocks with elements of fantasy, sci-fi, supernatural themes. The supernatural good versus evil epic battle between super humans is worth the wait in Part 5 although these characters appear in parts 1 to 4. David Mitchell is a great story-teller and his prose is beautiful.

The 640-page genre-bending novel is divided into 6 parts, all bound to the main character Holly Sykes, and similar to Cloud Atlas, spans decades between 1984 and 2057. Although I have it in my Kindle, I borrowed the book from the library. I loved the feel of the book's smooth silky pages. It's a joy to read. Highly recommended

Books by David Mitchell I have read and also highly recommend:
Black Swan Green
number9dream
Cloud Atlas
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

Some characters in The Bone Clocks appeared in David Mitchell's previous books. My favorite is Dr. Marinus from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.

Might contain spoilers

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Most Wanted Man


 tags: Hamburg Germany, Muslim terrorists, spy drama

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Plot summary from IMDB
  • When a half-Chechen, half-Russian, brutally tortured immigrant turns up in Hamburg's Islamic community, laying claim to his father's ill gotten fortune, both German and US security agencies take a close interest: as the clock ticks down and the stakes rise, the race is on to establish this most wanted man's true identity - oppressed victim or destruction-bent extremist? Based on John le Carré's novel, A MOST WANTED MAN is a contemporary, cerebral tale of intrigue, love, rivalry, and politics that prickles with tension right through to its last heart-stopping scene.
    Written by Roadside Attractions

Grigoriy Dobrygin is the only reason I borrowed the DVD. I wasn't disappointed and I liked his performance here and even with the ugly beard, he still looked good. Thankfully, the beard was shaved halfway through the movie.

I knew I probably won't like the movie all that much because of the non-German cast, particularly Rachel McAdams. I was not expecting a blow-em-up thriller, this being an adaptation of a John le Carré novel, and I knew the ending would be a downer. The story is okay although I don't agree with its message. It's the American actors playing German nationals that ruined the movie for me. The acting of Philip Seymour-Hoffman is nothing spectacular; he's just his same old same old wheezy self. I don't know what the professional reviewers were talking about saying this is one of his finest performances before he died. And Rachel, Rachel, Rachel. Gunther is pronounced GOON-tur by Germans, not GUN-tur. Yes, you and the rest of the American actors playing Germans, it's your job to convince the audience that you are all native German speakers. If the cast were German actors, there wouldn't be a problem. They speak perfect English anyway so an English script for English-speaking audience should have been fine. The producers and the director preferred to cast well-known American actors but in my honest opinion that's a mistake. 

The Netflix DVD, to my surprise, has Bonus Features. It's another disappointment though because the feature The Making Of is like watching a Mutual Admiration Society footage. Meh.

Not recommended.
  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

We Were Liars

  tags: mystery, suspense, young adult

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from Goodreads
A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident.
A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth. 
We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 
Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

Goodreads is asking its members which is the "IT" book of 2014 and at the top is We Were Liars. It has a high rating average of 4 stars but many rated it 1-star and wrote scathing reviews. I was intrigued by the huge difference in ratings/reviews and because it's very short at 227 pages, I borrowed the Kindle book from our library. I wasted half a day on this pretentious and unbelievably boring novel. The story-telling style is fine but there are too many annoying metaphors. I also cannot relate to any of the clichéd characters.

The story is about 3 affluent spoiled teenagers and 1 friend of Indian descent who describes himself as his friends' own Heathcliff (of Wuthering Heights). The main character, Cadence, falls head-over-heels in love with this very political Indian boy who I honestly believe influences all 3 in their eventual destructive behavior. The criminal act and their reason for doing it reminds me of Graham Greene's short story, The Destructors.

Read if you must; you might have a different opinion.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Teasers

Two foreign movies I'm eagerly awaiting early next year. GANGNAM BLUES from Korea, starring my number one idol, Lee Min Ho, and LUPIN THE THIRD (live action anime) from Japan which has two of my Japanese idols, Oguri Shun and Tadanobu Asano. 

Lee Min Ho as a gangster during the development of Gangnam in the 70s

Oguri Shun as master thief Lupin the Third

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Marina

  tags: fantasy, horror, mystery, science fiction-ish, young adult

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Book Description from Amazon.com
"We all have a secret buried under lock and key in the attic of our soul. This is mine."
When Fifteen-year-old Oscar Drai suddenly vanishes from his boarding school in Barcelona, no one knows his whereabouts for seven days and seven nights.
His story begins when he meets the strange Marina while he's exploring an old quarter of the city. She leads Oscar to a cemetery, where they watch a macabre ritual that occurs on the last Sunday of each month. At exactly ten o'clock in the morning, a woman shrouded in a black velvet cloak descends from her carriage to place a single rose on an unmarked grave.
When Oscar and Marina decide to follow her, they begin a journey that transports them to a forgotten postwar Barcelona--a world of aristocrats and actresses, inventors and tycoons--and reveals a dark secret that lies waiting in the mysterious labyrinth beneath the city streets.
This book was written and published in 1993 but was only translated from Spanish to English in July of this year. I've read all 3 books of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series; I read the first book, THE SHADOW OF THE WIND, 10 years ago, and the sequels, THE ANGEL'S GAME, and THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN, I read one after the other, more than a year ago. I loved all 3 books and I'm not surprised I also loved this novel supposedly written for young adult readers. It's only 336 pages and I devoured it in just 1 day! 

The 2 main protagonists, Oscar and Marina, are both 15 year old. There's a tinge of romance between them, and the novel has a Gothic feel reminding me a bit of Frankenstein, the Phantom of the opera, and in a sense, Mr. Hyde. All the other characters are unforgettable including Marina's dad, Germán, and her cat, Kafka. The prose is beautiful, some paragraphs are almost poetic, and the description of postwar Barcelona is so vivid that one may be compelled to write "Visit Barcelona, Spain" on his/her Bucket List. 

Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Edge Of Tomorrow



tags: aliens, fantasy, sci-fi, time loop, war

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An alien race has hit the Earth in an unrelenting assault, unbeatable by any military unit in the world. Major William Cage (Cruise) is an officer who has never seen a day of combat when he is unceremoniously dropped into what amounts to a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage now finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop, forcing him to live out the same brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying again...and again. But with each battle, Cage becomes able to engage the adversaries with increasing skill, alongside Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Blunt). And, as Cage and Vrataski take the fight to the aliens, each repeated encounter gets them one step closer to defeating the enemy.Written by Warner Bros. Pictures
Complete plot is here.

I read the book the movie is based on before watching and I can say that the movie is waaay better than the book. The book, All You Need Is Kill, is short at less than 200 pages but I found it rather flat and boring, probably something's lost in translation from Japanese to English, or it simply is not written well.

The concept is nothing new but the movie improved upon the time-loop idea making it fresh and innovative. I love the costumes/jackets, the dialog, the humor, the non-stop action. The whole movie is truly enjoyable to watch and unlike the book, it makes much more sense and has a satisfying feel-good ending. Tom Cruise is incredibly fit for a 50 year old and Emily Blunt is also believable in her role.

The 3D DVD is good with very minimal ghosting (double images) all throughout. Special features section on the regular DVD is a must watch.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Somewhere In Time



tags: romance, sci-fi fantasy, time travel

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from Amazon.com
Somewhere in Time is the story of a young writer who sacrifices his life in the present to find happiness in the past, where true love awaits him. Young Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) is approached by an elderly woman who gives him an antique gold watch and who pleads with him to return in time with her. Years later, Richard Collier is overwhelmed by a photograph of a beautiful young woman (Jane Seymour). Another picture of this woman in her later years reveals to him that she is the same woman who had given him the gold watch. Collier then becomes obsessed with returning to 1912 and the beautiful young woman who awaits him there.

I don't watch [nor read] romance, being a fan of thrillers, sci-fi, adventure, mystery, vampires and zombies, and perhaps a little horror "cabin-in-the-woods" slasher type movies. Somewhere In Time, along with a handful, maybe 3, love story movies are the exception. I've seen it several times when it was available to stream on Netflix.

Somewhere In Time is almost perfect: the actors, cinematography, music, and location are absolutely beautiful and captivating, specially Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.

Highly recommended.
Currently streaming on Amazon.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mean Streak

 tags: mystery, thriller

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From Amazon.com

Dr. Emory Charbonneau, a pediatrician and marathon runner, disappears on a mountain road in North Carolina. By the time her husband Jeff, miffed over a recent argument, reports her missing, the trail has grown cold. Literally. Fog and ice encapsulate the mountainous wilderness and paralyze the search for her.
While police suspect Jeff of "instant divorce," Emory, suffering from an unexplained head injury, regains consciousness and finds herself the captive of a man whose violent past is so dark that he won't even tell her his name. She's determined to escape him, and willing to take any risks necessary to survive. 
Unexpectedly, however, the two have a dangerous encounter with people who adhere to a code of justice all their own. At the center of the dispute is a desperate young woman whom Emory can't turn her back on, even if it means breaking the law. Wrong becomes right at the hands of the man who strikes fear, but also sparks passion.
As her husband's deception is revealed, and the FBI closes in on her captor, Emory begins to wonder if the man with no name is, in fact, her rescuer from those who wish her dead - and from heartbreak.
Combining the nail-biting suspense and potent storytelling that has made Sandra Brown one of the world's best loved authors, MEAN STREAK is a wildly compelling novel about love, deceit, and the choices we must make in order to survive.

I borrowed this recently published Kindle book because it's mystery/thriller and was available from our library. The name of the author is somewhat familiar; I may have read one of her books many moons ago but I couldn't remember which one. 

The novel is interesting at the beginning and her writing style is acceptable to me but the characters are not well-developed. I had a hard time finishing the book as soon as the story morphs from mystery to a Mills&Boon/Harlequin romance with sexual tensions and all that nonsense. It's so unbelievable that a successful pediatrician and marathoner would fall in love and lust over a nameless stranger in a matter of 3 days! He could be a mass murderer wanted by the FBI and our heroine can't help herself going horizontal with him ASAP. Um. *eye roll*

Notable negatives:
>Sandra Brown throws in a ton of stinky red herrings that one can smell kilometers away. Guessing the culprit is easy as pie and the motive for harming her is as trite as can be. 
>The name of the nameless guy and his reason for going under the radar are revealed almost near the end of the novel. The reason is very very lame and RIDICULOUS, incredibly RIDICULOUS. 
> Stereotyped side characters of incestuous murderous uneducated hillbillies, and incompetent New York FBI agent flying all the way to the West coast achieving nothing worthwhile.

After suffering through 400+ pages of this book, I vowed never to read anything by Sandra Brown ever again even if it's free.

Not recommended

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Coriolanus



tags: drama, revenge, Shakespeare adaptation
goose egg

  • The citizens of Rome are hungry. Coriolanus, the hero of Rome, a great soldier and a man of inflexible self-belief despises the people. His extreme views ignite a mass riot. Rome is bloody. Manipulated and out-maneuvered by politicians and even his own mother Volumnia, Coriolanus is banished from Rome. He offers his life or his services to his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius.
    Written by Icon Entertainment

Shakespeare gone Occupy Wall Street. That's not the reason I think the movie belongs to the UGLY category. Modern setting of a Shakespeare play is usually fine with me, but this one definitely is not. The setting and the script adapted to Shakespearean language don't work together and I suspect even the best stage and film actors will not be able to perform well. 

Both RafeRafe (Coriolanus) and Gerry (Aufidius) are awful here. Ralph out-overacted every hammy veteran as well as newbie stage actor in any Shakespearean movie I have ever watched. It's funny and at the same time irritating when he delivers reeeaaally long lines during battle. The enemy would have killed him and his men while he is busy emoting out there. Gerald Butler has this confused facial expression while sounding like he's reading his lines, complete with thick Scottish accent. Such a bad actor. Early in the movie, the two enemies meet and Ralph, the director, decided they should put down their weapons for a hand to hand combat. Big mistake. The fight was laughable because they obviously were not trained properly. They look like ageing fake wrestlers. Utterly pathetic. With their budget, the producers should have at least hired a professional to teach them how to fight or added CGI so as not to make them look lame.

Not recommended.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thermæ Romæ



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Thermæ Romæ
tags: ancient Rome, comedy, Japanese, time-travel, zany

from IMDB
  • Ancient Roman architect Lucius is too serious. His inability to keep up with the fast-moving times costs him his job. When a friend takes the dejected Lucius to the public bathhouse to cheer him up, Lucius accidentally slips through time and resurfaces in a modern-day public bath in Japan. There, he meets aspiring young manga artist Mami, along with others of the "flat-faced clan". Shocked by the many inventive aspects of Japan's bathing culture, Lucius returns to ancient Rome and garners tremendous attention when he implements these novel ideas back in Rome. As he time-slips back and forth between ancient Rome and modern-day Japan, Lucius' reputation as the ingenious, new bath architect begins to grow.
    Written by Production

The zany hilarious movie is based on a manga series. The main Roman characters, including Emperor Hadrian, are all played by Japanese actors and the movie is entirely in Japanese. Lucius speaks occasionally in Latin to the present day Japanese which adds to the goofiness of the movie. The soundtrack with several operatic arias is also a great addition to the movie.     

Some of the ideas from present-day Japanese bathing rituals and equipment Lucius brought to ancient Rome:
wash basins
fruit-flavored yogurt drink
head shields to use when shampooing hair
mural of Mt. Vesuvius 
massaging bubble jet a la Jacuzzi, but powered by slaves
natural hot springs

The DVD is available on Amazon; streaming is not available on both Amazon and Netflix. 
  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Supernatural Season 10 Preview


Dean is having fun as a demon. October 7 can't come soon enough. The song is Figure It Out by Royal Blood.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Guardians Of The Galaxy



This is a review of the movie Guardians of the Galaxy plus a shout-out to the theater Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in my city of Ashburn, VA. I was planning to just preorder the 3D Blu-ray as soon as it becomes available because we rarely go to the cinema but this movie and the venue are hard to resist. 

Guardians of the Galaxy

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Visuals, acting, special effects, CGI, cinematography, music are tops. The movie has plenty of action, one liners, and laughs without being cheesy. It is pure fun which is the reason we go to the movies - to be entertained. Leave your disbelief at the door and you'll enjoy the ride. Groot and Drax are my favorite characters but Rocket grew on me quickly. It's a delight to see a small creature using large weapons and maneuvering a fighter plane with great accuracy and zeal. 

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema


Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, which is a few minutes drive from my house, feels like a restaurant showing movies instead of the other way around. We got our tickets from the vending machine just outside the door to the lobby. It has a simple chart of the seating arrangements so that one can choose preferred seats. The tickets say to go inside 30 minutes before screening time to be able to order food if we intend to. Which we did. There is a long ledge/table in front of the seats stretching the row of seats from end to end. Under the table are slots to stow the menu cards and tiny light bulbs to assist in reading the menu. It was a tad dark; our cellphone assistive lights helped. We didn't get the bottomless popcorn; I ordered Coke and the yummy Loaded Fries which are fat and crispy and topped with crispy bacon, cheese, sriracha sauce, sliced jalapeño, and chopped cilantro. Really really delicious! My husband got the personal size pizza and a glass of beer. The pizza was also good. The staff are polite and not intrusive when checking if the payment is ready to be picked up. While waiting for the movie to start, clips of classic and cheesy sci-fi movies and TV shows play alternately with videos of raccoons which IMHO is preferable to the usual endless loud commercials. The theater doesn't smell strongly of food, is very clean, and the seats are big enough and comfy.

Overall it was a fun experience at the cinema. Great movie, great food, no loud chattering, no cell phones, no small kids running around the cinema. (I think children are allowed at a certain time of the day.) If you have Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in your area, check it out and you're more likely to enjoy watching movies there compared to a regular movie theater.

from Wikipedia
Alamo Drafthouse is famous for enforcing a strict policy on behavior while in the theater. Children under the age of six are not allowed, nor are unaccompanied minors. The cinema also prohibits talking and texting during the film. Anyone who violates this policy is subject to warning and potential removal from the premises. Alamo made national headlines in 2011 when the rantings of one angry customer who was ejected for texting were included in its "Don't Talk or Text" PSA shown before films. "When we adopted our strict no talking policy back in 1997 we knew we were going to alienate some of our patrons," Tim League posted on the cinema's website. "That was the plan. If you can't change your behavior and be quiet (or unilluminated) during a movie, then we don't want you at our venue."