…on Books, Movies

The Year in Movies, 2007

It seems that my exercise to keep track of every single movie I watched last year actually worked. Here’s how 2007 turned out for me:

  • 5th of January: Blood Diamond (Hoyts Broadway, 8/10)
  • 1st of February: Perfume (Hoyts Cinema Paris, 7/10)
  • 4th of February: The Fountain (Hoyts George St City, 8/10)
  • 10th of February: Fight Club (DVD, repeat viewing, 8/10)
  • 11th of February: Pan’s Labyrinth (Hoyts George St City, 7/10)
  • 10th of March: Quand j’étais chanteur, a.k.a The Singer (Palace Academy Paddington, 6.5/10)
  • 18th of March: Hors de Prix, a.k.a. Priceless (Palace Academy Leichardt, 7/10)
  • 24th of March: The Illusionist (Greater Union Tuggerah, 7/10)
  • 3rd of April: Hot Fuzz (Hoyts Fox Studios, 8.5/10).
  • 10th of April: 300 (Hoyts Westfield Chatswood, 7.5/10).
  • 7th of May: La Science des rêves, a.k.a. The Science of Sleep (Hayden Orpheum, 7/10).
  • 12th of May: Spider-man 3 (Hoyts Westfield Chatswood, 7.5/10)
  • 22nd of May: Shooter (Greater Union Macquarie, 7/10).
  • 27th of May: Tales from Earthsea (Dendy Newtown, 6.5/10).
  • 30th of May: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (Hayden Orpheum, 7/10).
  • 27th of June: Knocked Up (AMC Pacific Theatres, The Grove, Los Angeles, 8/10).
  • 29th of June: Blades of Glory (Air New Zealand LAX to SYD, 8/10).
  • 1st of July: Transformers (Hoyts Broadway, 8/10)
  • 8th of July: Ocean’s Thirteen (Greater Union Bondi Junction, 7/10).
  • 17th of July: Harry Potter and the Order Of the Phoenix (special groovy RSP screening at Hoyts, Fox Studios, 7/10).
  • 2nd of August: Notes on a Scandal (DVD, 7/10).
  • 5th of August: Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, Le, a.k.a. Amélie (DVD, 8.5/10)
  • 7th of August: The Simpsons Movie (Hoyts Fox Studios, 7.5/10).
  • 17th of August: Die Hard 4.0 (Hoyts Broadway, 7.5/10).
  • 14th of September: The Bourne Ultimatum (Greater Union Bondi Junction, 6.5/10)
  • 22nd of September: Ratatouille (Hoyts Broadway, 8.5/10)
  • 23rd of September: An Inconvenient Truth (DVD, 8.5/10).
  • 30th of September: The Holiday (DVD, 7/10)
  • 5th of October: Shaun of the Dead (DVD, 7.5/10).
  • 6th of October: Rush Hour 3 (Hoyts Chatswood Westfield, 6.5/10).
  • 13th of October: Resident Evil: Extinction (Shaw Cinemas, Isetan Singapore, 6.5/10).
  • 4th of November: A Chinese Odyssey (DVD, 6.5/10).
  • 18th of November: Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Reading Cinemas at Rhodes, 7/10).
  • 2nd of December: Stranger Than Fiction (DVD, 8/10).
  • 9th of December: Ghost in the Shell S.A.C.: Solid State Society (DVD, 9/10)
  • 16th of December: The Prestige (DVD, 8.5/10).
  • 24th of December: National Treasure: Book of Secrets (Hoyts Chatswood Westfield, 7.5/10)
  • 28th of December: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (Hoyts Chatswood Mandarin, 7.5/10)

All in all, a pretty good movie year, with Solid State Society topping the list, and The Prestige, Stranger than Fiction, An Inconvenient Truth, Ratatouille, Amélie, Transformers, Blades of Glory, Knocked Up, Hot Fuzz, The Fountain, and Blood Diamond as my personal A-graders. Reflecting back, about the only two ratings I disagree with are Pan’s Labyrinth (should’ve been way higher, probably 8 or 8.5) and An Inconvenient Truth (which I don’t think quite deserved an 8.5).

I await the arrival of Wall•E this year. The trailer looks like, well, it was done by Pixar. Great humour, fantastic graphics (thank you 1080p), kid-friendly, and with the director and writer of Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, and Toy Story 2. I’m actually beginning to believe that Pixar have actually built a self-reinforcing system of awesome that is going to be impossible to knock down for at least the next fifty years. It’s pretty incredible that most of their blockbuster movies have been directed and produced by completely different people.

To all my friends working at Pixar, I love you. Please continue doing what you do best.


Yay, New Computing Books

So now that I'm back from my f*ck-off-awesome trips to Melbourne and New Zealand (more on that later when I get a chance to blaerg about it), I am greeted with the following lovely selection of books from amazon.com:

I guess I'll be doing some bedtime reading for the next few weeks. (Note that I'm not actually a games programmer by trade—nor really a C++ programmer these days—but games coding tends to have interesting constraints such as high performance and memory management, which encourages a much better understanding of lower-level problems.) I'm a little of the way through Refactoring to Patterns, and it's great so far.

In other news, I think these three books in a row fit the definition of Alanic rather well:

Seriously, I didn't move 'em next to each other or anything. I especially love it how Java in a Nutshell looks like it's about 1,000 pages. Nutshell my arse.

Steven Seagal

My dad’s been on a Steven Seagal action movie rampage, recently. How many friggin’ movies has this guy made, you think? A half-dozen? A dozen? Nope, thirty-two. And they’re all exactly the damn same, although some of them have hilarious titles (such as Today You Die, Half Past Dead and Out for a Kill) with equally hilarious taglines (“Whoever set him up is definitely going down”).

Please add Steven Seagal to the list of heroes who I want to be when I grow up. Life just can’t be that bad when you keep starring in action movies with hot Asian chicks in half of them.


Can Asians Think?

Yeah, sure, you could say that this book has a bit of controversial title. The reason I was interested in it was because I read an interview with the author, Kishore Mahbubani, on a random Web site about a year ago, and he sounded like he had some pretty interesting things to say about the world, politics, and the Asian/European dichotomy. Of course, after reading the half-page biography spiel on Mahbubani, I shouldn’t have been surprised: it turns out that he’s Singapore’s ambassador to the United Nations.

The reason for the controversial title (other than to make people give it more than just a passing glance at the bookstore, I suppose) is this question that Mahbubani poses: on the total timeline that humanity has been present on this Earth, the East (including the Middle East) have been the dominant civilisation until very recently. To an outside observer, it seems quite incredible that Europeans have ascended so quickly, so fast: in 1500 years, they’ve gone from being the most backwards culture to being the world leaders in almost every respect. The simple question that Mahbubani asks is: why, and how, did this happen?

Once you get past the first few essays, however, it’s clear that this historical question is just a teaser: Can Asians Think covers much more ground than just that. For example, the book discusses the conflicting agendas of the United States and the United Nations, gives insight into the moral and ethical values of the more traditional Asian mindset (which many Australians may be interested in reading given Singapore’s recent capital punishment of Nguyen Tuong Van), says quite frankly why the imposition of democracy on lesser-developed countries is doomed to fail, and talks about the occupation of Cambodia by Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge.

People who have grown up being truly exposed to both the Western and Asian mindsets will probably not get a huge amount out of the book, simply because they will most likely understand and agree with much of what Mahbubani wants to say. I’m reluctant to state whether people who have been exposed to only either the Asian or Western mindset will find the book useful, but only because I haven’t given it yet to any of my Intelligent Worldly Friends™ I consider to be in those categories and discussed the issues in the book with them yet. I am, however, very keen on doing exactly this. The book talks about some damn interesting topics, and if it can generate intelligent (perhaps heated) discussion at a dinner table, it’s hit its mark, has it not?

About the only criticism I have about the book is that the essays now seem a bit dated, even if the oldest ones were only written around 15 years ago. It would be a much more compelling read, for example, to see his opinion on the United States’s reaction to September 11, 2001, their recent opposition against the United Nations, and his thoughts on the occupation of Iraq given his views on the spread of democracy before economic development. It would also be interesting to read about his thoughts on post-British Hong Kong, and China’s incredible economic growth since the turn of the century. However, it’s impossible to fault the book for this lack of discussion: even mathematics textbooks can become outdated at some stage of their life :).

Highly recommended.



Perfume’s a fascinating book written by Patrick S¸skind; it’s set in the 18th century, and is about the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a person born with an unearthly sense of smell. It’s fascinating for S¸skind’s portrayal of what’s possible when you have this incredibly keen sense that gives you so many opportunities about life that you’ve never even imagined of, from being able to smell lost pocket change from across to the room to passing through crowds undetected. I also enjoyed S¸skind’s tangents and diatribes about the secondary characters partially because the pages he spends on them adds a lot to the atmosphere, but also because plenty of it is just downright amusing.

Unusually, though, I didn’t find it find it a particularly compelling read: it wasn’t a book that made me want to keep reading to find out what happens next. I’m not saying that makes it a bad book — I think it’s an excellent read — merely that I didn’t find I had the urge to read it, which a characteristic that I usually associate with uninteresting books. However, I’m glad I did persist in reading it: the ending is clearly the peak of the book, and finally unveils the full awe of the protagonist’s superhuman scent abilities that S¸skind has been building up since the very beginning.

Recommended reading, though if you’re like me, you may need some willpower to persist to the good bits (i.e. the ending).


Star Wars, Salvatore, Vector Prime, and Knights of the Old Republic

I played the computer role-playing games Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic I and II a while ago, and KoTOR II was up there with the immortal Planescape: Torment and Fallout 2 as the best RPG I’ve ever played. They presented the Star Wars universe in a whole new light that the movies don’t even hint at; I was actually annoyed that Star Wars III was such a Steaming Pile of Sith because KoTOR I and II’s production values were just orders of magnitudes better — to the point where I felt the movies actually did some severe injustice to the Star Wars universe that it founded. If you don’t know me that well, you’ll have to take it as a given that I really don’t get annoyed with movies very often; it’s just sad to see that such a rich world full of rich characters has such a bad reputation because the movies don’t give it any depth.

(I am completely aware that this all makes me sound like a raving militant geek, by the way.)

So, as an attempt to explore more Star Wars stuff, I picked up Vector Prime, the first of the books in the series about the New Jedi Order, written by R. A. Salvatore. I really wanted to like this book, especially considering Salvatore wrote it and I respect him greatly as a fantasy author. (I’d like to remind people who think Drizzt and the Forgotten Realms are totally clichÈ, that the whole dark elf genre didn’t exist until Salvatore brought it to the greater public and RPG awareness. Even if you don’t like his characters or the setting he writes in, he still writes the most vivid combat scenes out of any author I’ve ever read.) To my minor disappointment, I thought Vector Prime was pretty average. Maybe it’s because I was unjustifiably comparing its storyline to the one I experienced when I played KoTOR II, or maybe it’s because I’ve been reading “higher” literature lately such as the Unbearable Lightness of Being, but Vector Prime just seemed to be a bit… rushed, I think. Too much happening, with not enough substance on the new characters you meet (as opposed to the portrayal of Luke, Leia, Han and Chewbacca, which were done perfectly).

You know that when you read a really good book, or (much more rarely) played an incredible computer game, you were glad you did because it added something to your life, and that you learnt something from it? Vector Prime’s plot didn’t evoke those kind of feelings. I put it in the category of good, enjoyable sci-fi, but you’re not missing out on much if you don’t read it.

So, Vector Prime’s an adequate introduction to the Star Wars universe, but for now, the Knights of the Old Republic games represent everything that’s awesome about Star Wars. KoTOR II, in particular, is to be highly commended for exploring some pretty interesting philosophical issues while working within the confines of a licensed world where the artists and storytellers were restricted in what they were allowed to do. I find it a bit of a shame that the computer games bring out the best in the genre, because books are just so much more accessible to the general public than computer games, so a lot of people just won’t experience what an excellent plot setting the Star Wars universe can be. I’d love to see a good novel adaptation of the KoTOR plot lines, but somehow I don’t think that’ll ever happen.

Long story short: Vector Prime was pretty average, while KoTOR I and II rocked. KoTOR I is much more accessible than II since BioWare are incredibly talented at writing mainstream CRPGs, whereas KoTOR II throws you in the deep end: it’s much darker and gritty, but ultimately more rewarding thanks to ex-Black Isle folks being responsible for its development. If you’re into RPGs at all, do yourself a favour and play them.


The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Wow. How on Earth does one do justice to such a classic book with a little, meagre blog entry? There are plenty of comprehensive reviews of it already on Amazon.com, so I encourage you to read those reviews and descriptions if you’ve never heard of the book. It’s apparently pinned as a difficult-to-read book, but I found the writing style quite conversational, and easy to put down and pick up where you left off (unlike those evil books which you just can’t put down even when it’s 5am and you really should be going to bed so you can stay awake at work the next day). One thing that surprised me about it is that it’s more recent than I expected: from what I can gather, the first publishing date is in 1984.

(Note: spoilers follow!)

While I loved pretty much every part of the book, the most striking bits for me were:

  • Milan Kundera’s vivid descriptions of Karenin, Tomas and Tereza’s dog. I don’t think I’ve ever been moved so much about an animal as when I read about how joyful Karenin was about his daily activities, and later in the book when he’s not so joyful. I didn’t quite shed a tear, but the descriptions evoked some serious happiness and sadness.
  • Kundera’s thoughts about “what happens once happens not at all”, and the idea that chance is what defines your life. It’s only a short paragraph or two, but the description of the six unlikely events that led Tereza to meet Tomas has stuck with me long after reading it.
  • The idea that a man (ahem, in this politically correct age, I mean, a person) is defined by the heavy decisions he makes. It’s interesting to note which philosophers Kundera refers to when he compares lightness and heaviness, and how some viewed lightness as a Good Thing and heaviness and weightiness as a Bad Thing.
  • The whole idea of monogamy: is sleeping around on your partner an acceptable thing to do? Can it be forgiven in some circumstances, or for some people? Is anybody who sleeps around when they’re married a Bad Person for breaking the vow of marriage (which, I’d like to point out for the record, I take pretty seriously)? I don’t know. Is anything in this world so black and white? Are relationships so important and sacred that they’re not also susceptible to the laws of complexity?

Es muss sein, es muss sein, es muss sein. Immense thanks to the person who gave me this book; my life is certainly richer for it!


A Short History of Nearly Everything

This book has received a hell of a lot of praise from a hell of a lot of people: all I can say is that it greatly deserves it. Bill Bryson manages to make the book both educational and entertaining. I wish this was a textbook that I had to read for high school (in addition to more in-depth textbooks on the particular topic being studied, of course): it’s the only book I’ve read that made geology seem non-boring. (I wouldn’t quite say that it stirred an interest in geology for me, but it at least made me appreciate it as a science, which I never did before.) Even if you do know quite a lot about the Stars and the Earth, it’s worthwhile reading this just to get an idea of the personalities who were behind all the discoveries.

Best of all, many of the topics it discusses, such as life and the galaxy, gave me back that sense of wonder I had about science and discovery when I was a younger lad. Every time it got me thinking about the beauty of nature and the universe, it brought a smile to my face — and I think it’s worth reading just for that. Highly recommended!


Consider Phlebas

First, new blog category: “Books”. Go me. One of my New Year’s promises was to read more (fiction) books. Well, it wasn’t really a New Year’s promise — more of a general promise I’ve been wanting to keep to myself for about the last 5 years, so hopefully blogging about it will bring my non-book-readingingness out of inertia.

Anyhoo, the subject of today’s bookdom is Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks. If you like big, grand, massive sci-fi scales and plots, this should float your boat quite nicely. The back-page summary of “a space opera of stunning power and awesome imagination” fits it very nicely. If you’ve ever played the magnificent computer game Freespace 2 and gaped in awe at capital ships which are kilometres long and supported thousands of crewmembers, this book evokes the same feeling — only several orders of magnitudes more epic. The main character, Horza, is interesting and is fleshed out quite well, and the supporting cast are decent too. Banks’s universe is filled with great, non-boring detail, from the philosophies of the Culture to the concepts in the Damage gambling game.

To top it all off, the ending of the book is quite interesting, in that the extra “factual pages” at the end of the book give it a sense of closure, while not completely resolving the main plotline. You’ll have to read it to understand what I mean, I suppose.

It’s not a thought-provoking kind of novel like the Ender series is, but that’s not a bad thing considering it clearly never has that goal in mind. If you want serious thought-provoking material, I’ve heard that some of Iain Bank’s numerous other books are quite the hardcore sort. (i.e. At least one person I know simply can’t read his other books simply because they’re so … grim.) As for Consider Phlebas, I loved it. I haven’t read an excellent epic sci-fi tale in a very long time. Recommended.