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All reviews - Movies (25) - Books (38)

[Book] Bordertown Cafe

Posted : 11 years, 8 months ago on 30 December 2007 12:28 (A review of Bordertown Cafe)

/spoilers/ A humourous play about a family living in the borderland between Canada & US, it is essentially a coming-of-age story about a 17-year-old teenager who is caught between his divorced Canadian mother and the American father and both of his Canadian and American heritage. There are many jokes about Canadian and American stereotypes in the play, and yet the characters seem to be the caricatures of those stereotypes themselves - the taciturn and resilient Canadian grandfather Jim, the loud-mouthed and exaggerated American grandmother Maxine and their daughter Marlene who married and then divorced the deadbeat American who is also this mythical figure of a cowboy trucker. Jimmy, the main character who is caught between them all is the person who is purposely undefined, who represents the mixed, the in-between space between the two sides. His struggle to find his own voice and identity amidst the confusion and uncertainty of his age and situation reflects the macrocosm of Canada as a nation who also struggles to find its own place and identity, especially in the shadow of the powerful US. Although the play tries to convey the message that one doesn't have to choose one or the other, and that the 'in-between' is a good place for growth and alternatives, it is still pretty much about Canada (there is a reason why the café is located on the Canadian side of the border) and Canadian pride. It is no surprised that Jimmy, in the end, chooses to stay in Canada instead of moving to the states to live with his Dad. In a way, he is the symbol of Canada as a nation coming of age, becoming and coming to its own, not necessarily by means of rejecting American values but embracing Canadian ones and at the same time negotiating a space between the two.

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[Book] The Yellow Wallpaper

Posted : 11 years, 8 months ago on 30 December 2007 12:26 (A review of The Yellow Wall-Paper)

As one of the few feminist pieces from the 19th century, The Yellow Wallpaper is a chilling psychological account of what both physical and mental isolation and imprisonment could do to a woman. The novel describes vividly the power structure and dynamics of the typical husband-wife relationship at that time and how they attribute to female depression and madness. A powerful piece of literature and social commentary.

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[Book] The Five Bells and Bladebone

Posted : 11 years, 8 months ago on 30 December 2007 12:22 (A review of Five Bells & Bladebone)

A flawed but entertaining novel with a very clever ending. The author has the tendency to introduce numerous characters and spell out ALL their names even though they would not ever show up again and has no significance at all in the novel. The writing is slightly above average for the genre, but the plot doesn't keep one interested throughout. In fact, I was rather bored half-way through the novel. The ending saves it, however. I was impressed. Not a bad read.

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[Film] I Am Legend

Posted : 11 years, 8 months ago on 28 December 2007 08:45 (A review of I Am Legend (2007))

Without having read the book, I enjoyed the movie to some extend. The barren deserted cityscape of New York conveyed vividly the bleak tone of the movie as well as the lonely isolation of its protagonist. Will Smith does a good job portraying the apparent lone survivor of an epidemic that wiped out most of the humankind and turned the rest into zombie-esq monsters. One can feel his maddening loneliness as he, accompanied only by his dog, goes through his daily routine of working out, hunting and waiting for contact from other survivors while trying to survive himself.

The movie does its job as a thriller and tries its best to bring some emotional substance to its main character (There was one very effective scene that brought many in the audience to tears). However, as soon as the movie switches its focus from the main character's internal struggles to battling with zombies, the movie becomes just another zombie movie with a lot of shootings and explosions. In the end, I Am Legend does not go beyond the confines of an action movie, even though it tries to decorate it with some sort of religious symbolism in the end.

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[Film] Finding Neverland

Posted : 11 years, 9 months ago on 19 December 2007 10:20 (A review of Finding Neverland (2004))

I wonder how many people who saw the movie have actually read or re-read Peter Pan while they were adults and how many of them have known anything about the real life of J. M. Barrie before the movie. I'm not an expert on Barrie, but I do know a bit about him and had to re-read Peter Pan for my Children's Lit class, so I can tell you the film version of Barrie and Peter Pan is mostly imaginary. What irks me mostly about the movie is its inaccurate portrayal of historically real persons and real events and yet it presents itself to be semi-biographical (for a very nice article on Barrie and Peter Pan, go here: [Link removed - login to see]). This Disney-esq version of Barrie's life and the birth of Peter Pan is also full of corny sentimentalism and predictable clichés. It's a tear-jerker all right, but the emotion stays on the surface; there is no revelation and no depth. It is easy to swallow and even easier to forget. Contrary to popular opinion, I don't find Johnny Depp's performance particularly memorable in this film although his Scottish accent is impressive (to me anyway). The rest of the cast is OK, but the corny dialogues were too distracting for me to pay attention to the acting.

"Finding Neverland" is an average film that might be entertaining if one goes for that sort of thing. It is sad though that you just know many are going to walk away from the film thinking THAT was what really happened historically. J. M. Barrie, in the end, meets the same fate as his Peter Pan, whose pop culture image has long replaced the real thing.

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[Film] Ikiru (To Live)

Posted : 11 years, 9 months ago on 19 December 2007 10:12 (A review of Ikiru (1952))

Unlike the previous two Kurosawa films I saw, this one doesn't set in ancient Japan, nor does it have any samurai in it. The modern setting (or as modern as it was back in 1950's) tells a story of an old man Kanji Wantanabe, played by Kurosawa's favourite leading man Takashi Shimura, who after spending most of his life working as the chief clerk in the city hall's Public Affairs department, finds out he has stomach cancer and only 6 months left to live. A lifelong miser and a widower who raised his only son by himself, Wantanabe has long lost his place in life while trying to keep his place at work, and that is, by doing nothing at all. The impending death makes he realize how he's wasted his life away in the dusty, files-piling office, and not wanting to die without having lived, he goes on an internal journey to search for the life's meaning.

"To Live" is a powerful existential film about the meaning of life and of happiness. It asks the questions of what makes one happy and what makes life worth living, the questions we all ask ourselves at one time or the other. The journey of Wantanabe to find the answers to those questions is a heart-rending one, and yet it is honest and powerful. The conflicting and ambivalent emotions of sadness, despair, desperation and hope make the film an emotionally wrought experience. However, the movie is also full of laughters, just like life is full of amusing ironies. There are haunting moments such as when Wantanabe sings the song about life's brevity, and there are moments of absolute hilarity as in the scene at the hospital with "the guy of doom." The film also portrays poignantly the Japanese bureaucracy, which in turn symbolizes a society full of bureaucratic "mummies" whose objective in life is to make sure that they don't do anything out of line. The lead actor Takashi Shimura does an amazing job portraying "the mummy." He personifies the loneliness and despair of a man whose life has been a big nothing; there is an innocence and a wonder to his pain and suffering and to his reawakening, as if he was a newborn baby learning to walk for the first time.

The film provides some great insights into life as well as human nature, but most importantly, it will move you the way only a powerful piece of art can move you. Wantanabe's journey "to live" is an unforgettable one, and an inspiring one. Does he find that meaning of life and happiness in the end? It's for you to find out. Either way, you'll definitely find something to think about in this terrific film.

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[Book] Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Posted : 11 years, 9 months ago on 17 December 2007 08:49 (A review of The Da Vinci Code: Special Illustrated Edition)

I finally caved in and read this damn book. Despite a faint curiosity about its popularity and the controversies surrounding it, I resisted reading it for a long time. Maybe 'resist' is not the right word since I was never curious enough to want to read it, having been turned off by its reputed bad writing. I wouldn't have subjected myself to it still if Zoe didn't lend me the book, the illustrated version of it nonetheless. She read it and wanted my opinion on it. I took the copy but let it lie forgotten in a drawer for a year, until I picked it up again when I was unpacking and organizing my room last week. I guess the timing was right. I just finished another book in a similar vain. [Link removed - login to see] by Jed Rubenfeld is another historical thriller type, which doesn't usually appeal to me, but it somehow managed to hold my attention for the most part. I guess I was in the mood for another quick read that doesn't require much brain power. Pulp fiction is kind of like junk food. Once you had a big mac, you might crave for another one, no matter how unwholesome it is.

The Da Vinci Code turned out to have it all - the formulaic plot twists, the cookie-cutter characters and the cringe-worthy writing - it's the quintessential pulp fiction if I ever read one. Luckily, I started it with very low expectations, so I was able to plough on and through the corny dialogue, the contrived storylines and the lazy writing that includes countless flashbacks (as if they're apt substitutes for good characterization. Want do know more about this character? Hey, here's a flashback!), numerous italicized 'thoughts' (You know this is what a character is thinking because it's in italics) and forced 'discussions' among the characters for expositional purpose. Dan Brown enjoys having his dashing Indian Jones-esq protagonist spout supposed historical fact and trivia while he smiles or grins condescendingly to the ignorant listener, which in this case is often the 'beautiful' female companion (The hero and heroine have gotta be good looking right?). The writing goes from bad to worse as the unconvincing story unfolds and the badly developed characters prattle on about holy grail. Unlike Rubenfeld, who has literary aspirations and the writing ability to produce a readable work of fiction, Dan Brown has neither. His writing is pedestrian at best and juvenile at its worst.

What saves the book is, ironically, my ignorance about the subject matters dealt in the novel. For someone who knows very little about religion, history or art, the world the author represents in The Da Vinci Code is a fascinating one. It is a world full of secretes, codes and conspiracies, all seemingly based on facts, or rather facts as Dan Brown chose to present them. While I couldn't care less about the mysteries in the novel (ie, who is the bad guy and where is the holy grail), I was drawn in by the beautiful illustrations of Da Vinci's art and fascinated by the theories and history behind the paintings. The story and theories about Mary Magdalene were interesting if not enticing. The first thing I did after finishing the book was to google about it. I was surprised (though not greatly) to find that a lot of the 'facts' presented by Brown were misrepresented or outright fictitious. What irks me more though is how he misleads the reader by representing all those fictional details as fact. I can only conclude that he's either a very sloppy researcher or a good businessman with a vivid imagination and a knack for sensationalism, or both. What he is definitely not, however, is a good writer.

The Da Vinci Code is not entirely without merit. Its subject matters are interesting despite the inaccuracies. Reading the book has made me want to learn more about art and Da Vinci. It made me want to educate myself on topics I never really thought about, and that's always a good thing. Of course one can debate about the worthiness of such a book to garner this amount of fame and popularity (not to mention the money it makes for the writer and publisher), but in the end it's just a book. A bad one but a harmless one, at least for those who think for themselves.

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[Film] Crash

Posted : 11 years, 9 months ago on 11 December 2007 10:40 (A review of Crash (2005))

A powerful film about racism. The story is both simplistic and complicated. As a parable, the story relies much on coincidences, which would seem contrived under normal circumstances but are used to great effect in the movie. On the other hand, the movie is sophisticated in its weaving together of different threads of lives and cultures colliding and crashing (literally as well as metphorically) into each other. Certainly nothing is simple about the complex motivations behind the prejudices of the characters and the way they interact with each other. The movie is not perfect in the artistic sense, but its raw, almost childlike, honesty is refreshing and effectively moving. What makes Crash so compelling is that while it is about the incredible rage of racism, the movie itself is never angry; it is about intolerance and its dire consequences, but it is also about hope and understanding. It's a film that makes you think while at the same time keeping you on the edge of your seat with suspense and tension, and that's a rare quality in today's movies.

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[Film] Final Fantasy VII: Advent Childre

Posted : 11 years, 9 months ago on 11 December 2007 10:32 (A review of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005))

Cool is the only word to describe it. The animation is simply amazing to look at. I have never played the game, so the story was a bit confusing for me. Not that it matters since one doesn't really watch this movie for its story, if there is any. For fans of the game though, the movie would definitely make more sense as there are inside jokes only the people who have played the game would get. For the rest of us, just sit back and enjoy the spectacular fight scenes and the breathtakingly beautiful animation and choreography.

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[Film] Coach Carter

Posted : 11 years, 9 months ago on 11 December 2007 10:16 (A review of Coach Carter (2005))

Based on a true story, Coach Carter is more about the social problems facing the poor black students in the states than the sport of basketball. While the movie is mediocre in all artistic aspects, it's message is important and inspirational. Yes, the movie is emotionally manipulative with its embarrassingly corny dialogue and clichéd storylines, but its message about the failure of the American education system to help the black students ("it's designed for them to fail") and how important education is to stop the cycle of violence and poverty in the black community makes the movie worth watching.

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