Thursday, May 30, 2013

Kahaani (live action movie), via Netflix

Kahaani is an Indian thriller. Netflix has it with subtitles.

I tried to avoid spoilers and think I succeeded, but, just in case, I'm warning anyway. This is the kind of movie that's best watched without knowing what's going to happen in the end.

Synopsis:

Vidya Bagchi travels from London to Kolkata in search of her husband, Arnab. He took a temporary job in Kolkata and had been keeping in touch with her, but then he went missing.

Rana, a police officer, tries to help Vidya. Unfortunately, there are dead ends everywhere they turn. The owner of the guest house Arnab stayed at doesn't recognize Arnab's picture or his name. No one near the school Arnab attended when he was younger has any idea who he is. It's like Arnab never existed.

And that may well be the case. As Vidya and Rana do more investigating, they learn about a man named Milan Damji. Everyone seems determined to deny his existence and keep them from finding out more about him. From what they do manage to learn, Milan either looks very much like Arnab, or is Arnab. Whether they are the same person or not, Vidya is determined to find him. She is sure that, once she finds Milan Damji, she will also find her husband.

Review:

I'm working on broadening my film-viewing horizons. I haven't seen very many Indian films, this one was in my Netflix queue, and Netflix guessed that I would like it reasonably well.

As I was watching this, I had the feeling that I had seen other movies like it before. On the plus side, this usually means that coming up with watch-alikes/read-alikes will be pretty easy. On the minus side, there was the chance that I'd figure out the movie's twists too soon and ruin the whole thing for myself. Now that I've seen the whole movie, I can honestly say that I did not guess the big twist.

Monday, May 27, 2013

My Scary Girl (live action movie), via Netflix

My Scary Girl is a romantic comedy. Netflix has it in Korean with English subtitles.

This post contains SPOILERS.

Synopsis:

Dae-woo is a college professor who is too shy and awkward to ask women out on dates. He says that women tend to be too interested in stupid stuff like horoscopes and that he's better off without them, but, in reality, he'd like nothing more than to have a girlfriend. Now that he's getting older (in his thirties?), it occurs to him that it would be nice if he had someone he could come home to, someone who would rub his back when it aches.

Then he meets Mina. She likes him, even though he badly fumbled their first date. She's interested in art and literature, unlike all those horoscope-loving women. She seems perfect for him, except...what if she isn't? It becomes more and more clear that Mina is hiding dark secrets. Does she really like Dae-woo, or is she just pretending? And, even if she does like him, does Dae-woo really want a murderer like her for a girlfriend?

Review:

I think this is the second Korean romantic comedy movie I've seen, and, just like 200 Pound Beauty didn't really work for me, neither did My Scary Girl. I don't know if I'm watching the wrong Korean romantic comedies, or if it's just that I don't “get” them. I can at least say that 200 Pound Beauty worked better for me than My Scary Girl did, though.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (live action movie), via Netflix

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is a mix of historical fiction, mystery, fantasy, and action. It's a co-production between China and Hong Kong, and Netflix has it in Mandarin, with English subtitles.

Synopsis:

This movie is set in 689 A.D., not long before Empress Wu is to be named the first female Emperor of China. The Empress is having a giant Buddha statue built that must be finished before her coronation. Everyone is thrown into turmoil when the man in charge of construction spontaneously bursts into flames while giving a tour of the Buddha statue. When a couple investigators arrive, one of the construction workers claims that the guy died because he dared to move some of the protective amulets. The investigators scoff at this, and one of them even pulls some of the amulets down. No immediate harm comes to him, which seems to prove the construction workers' fears wrong...until he bursts into flames while riding towards the Empress.

The Empress has Detective Dee, who was imprisoned for opposing her rule, released on the condition that he investigate these mysterious deaths and stop whoever is responsible. Jing'er, the Empress' loyal assistant, is assigned to both help and spy on Dee. Donglai, the remaining original investigator, joins the group. Somehow, Detective Dee has to uncover the truth while navigating a web of treachery and secrets.

Review:

I had seen this movie in Walmart a few times but resisted buying it because, with my luck, it would probably be terrible. Then it appeared in the Netflix catalog, and I figured “why not?”

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness (live action movie), at the movie theater

I watched Star Trek: Into Darkness yesterday. As with Iron Man 3, I don't plan to write up a synopsis or a list of watch-alikes, mostly because I don't feel like it.

Review:

I didn't watch any trailers of this movie and hadn't even bothered to read a brief description of it – all I knew was that it was the second of the new Star Trek movies, I remembered liking the first one well enough, and Benedict Cumberbatch aka Sherlock Holmes was going to be in it. It wasn't until I was watching the movie that I learned that the newest villain was Khan. Although I swear I have seen Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home at least a half dozen times, I think I've only ever seen snippets of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I've also never seen much of the original Star Trek show – the bulk of the Star Trek universe stuff I've seen has been in Star Trek: Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine.

I have no idea what a huge fan of the original series would think of this movie, but I, personally, enjoyed it. Not necessarily so much for the story – I didn't hate it, but there was an awful lot of stuff that seemed a little too convenient, I was left with several unanswered questions at the end that I'm not sure will ever be answered, and there were some things that seemed potentially important that were just dropped. Also, there were things I could see coming from a mile away – for example, one bit with Kirk near the end was shocking...until I remembered a scene from earlier in the movie that provided a perfect explanation for how everything could be put right again.

I thought this movie shined the most when it came to its characters. If you have a favorite character from the original series, or if you just have a favorite character from the first of the new movies, you're in luck, because everyone gets at least a moment to be awesome. Spock and Uhura were my favorites, and not just because I enjoyed them as a couple. Spock had some great lines, and I loved the part where Uhura got a chance to try to save everyone's butts with her knowledge of Klingon (I do wish the moment had been less brief). Scotty got more screen time than I expected, Chekov was in over his head and kind of adorable, Bones seemed to have an endless supply of metaphors (and a dead tribble), and Sulu got to sit in the captain's chair and act tough.

All in all, I had fun watching this movie. I don't know how likely it is that I'll ever re-watch it, but, if I do, it will primarily be to see the characters interact with each other and to see my favorite characters again.

One last comment: Costume designers really like putting Benedict Cumberbatch in long coats, don't they? Not a bad thing, since he wears them awesomely.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Accident (live action movie), via Netflix

The Accident is a 2009 Hong Kong thriller.

I tried to avoid any major spoilers and think I succeeded. Still, read at your own risk - I did mention a few things that aren't revealed until later in the movie.

Synopsis:

A group of four people work together to carry out assassinations orchestrated to look like accidents. From what I could tell, each person in the group is involved in planning the "accidents," although certain people are more likely to be involved in certain tasks. The one nicknamed "The Brain" determines whether it's safe to go through with their plans or whether they need to abort, and "Fatty" is the one who collects the payments. "Uncle" and the group's lone woman help make sure the "accidents" happen as planned.

The group's latest job is a difficult one, relying on rain and everyone being exactly where they need to be in order to go through. The mission has to be aborted many times before conditions are even close to optimal. When little things don't go exactly according to plan, the Brain still opts to go forward. The target is killed, but the Brain is almost run over when a bus speeds out of control, and Fatty is killed.

Was this really an accident? The Brain immediately suspects otherwise, and a break-in at his apartment increases his suspicions. He worries that the woman in his group has betrayed them all. He realizes that Uncle is ill (Alzheimer's?) and can't be relied upon and begins investigating the situation on his own.

Review:

I added this to my Netflix queue because I was intrigued by the idea of a group of people who perform assassinations designed to look like accidents. The description sounded dark and tense, and I was interested in seeing what kind of work and planning went into arranging the “accidents.”

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Iron Man 3 (live action movie), at the movie theater

I've seen most of the Marvel movies when they were showing in theaters - going to see Iron Man 3 was pretty much a no-brainer for me.

This post won't include a synopsis, because I don't particularly feel like taking the time to write one, and it won't include watch-alikes, because I'd just end up listing a bunch of superhero movies anyway.

Review:

I'll start this off by saying that I've never read many of the Iron Man comics. I have a few that my uncle gave me, and that's about it. I barely remember anything about those, and I didn't become interested in Iron Man until I saw Robert Downey Jr. play him. Robert Downey Jr. filled the character with energy and charisma and made him just plain fun to watch, even when Tony/Iron Man was being arrogant, self-destructive, and irresponsible.

Basically, I'm saying that I can't judge this movie in relation to the comics, and if that's what you're looking for, you should look elsewhere. I had no idea, going in, who the Mandarin was. I don't know what he was like in the comics, although, from what I've read online, he wasn't anything like he was in the movie. I did know that, with a name like “the Mandarin,” it would have made more sense to have the character played by an Asian guy, even if you take into account the plot twist featuring him. That bugged me a bit throughout the whole movie. I mean, was Ben Kingsley cast as the Mandarin just to make his lines about fortune cookies an ongoing joke? If so, it didn't really work for me.

Although I enjoyed most of the main characters and the overall story, this movie's villains weren't very exciting. Aldrich Killian basically boiled down to this: a guy who nursed a grudge for years after being stood up by Tony Stark. And the Mandarin could potentially have become interesting, but the plot twist robbed him of that opportunity.

Now, on to the “good guys.” Tony Stark was, as usual, the star – as long as Robert Downey Jr. plays him, I seriously doubt any secondary character will ever be able to steal the show. The beginning of the movie reminded the audience how he used to be – an arrogant playboy. Present day Tony still has to grow up some (that challenge to the Mandarin was utterly stupid, and there were several times Pepper could justifiably have said “You know what? I can't take this anymore. I'm leaving.”), but at least he's no longer drinking himself into incoherency and sleeping with women he barely knows. In this movie, he's also dealing with PTSD as a result of the events in the Avengers movie (which I have to admit I barely remember – I need to do a rewatch). It was interesting to see how the movie balanced that with Tony's usual light, jokey nature.

Pepper was featured quite a bit in this movie and actually got a few action scenes, which worked better than I would have expected. She even got to save Tony a couple times. Rhodes was back too, although he seemed more like a background character, despite his involvement in a few fights. It's kind of sad to say this, but the little kid who popped up in this movie, whose name I can't remember, and who will probably never be featured in any future Iron Man/Avengers movies was more interesting and fun to watch than Rhodes. Actually, that's not just kind of sad, that's really sad.

So, that's pretty much it. If you liked Tony Stark/Iron Man in the other movies, you'll still like him in this one. Pepper gets some good scenes, Rhodes fans will probably be disappointed, I'm still on the fence about the ending (wasn't that surgery not possible? and I wonder if Pepper's twist will still be in effect the next time we see her), and, if you haven't seen the Avengers movie, parts of this movie will likely be a little confusing.

Gamer Girl (book) by Mari Mancusi

Gamer Girl is YA realistic fiction. I got it via ILL.

Synopsis:

Maddy's parents have recently split up. Suddenly, she has to get used to living with her unicorn-loving grandmother, attending a new school, and dealing with bullies. Life gets a little better when her dad gives her a copy of the game Fields of Fantasy. One of the first players she meets is Sir Leo. It's not long before Maddy finds herself torn between her virtual crush on Sir Leo and her real-life crush on Chad.

Real-life problems complicate things a little: Maddy's dad seems better at making promises than keeping them, Maddy's old friends seem to have abandoned her, and she's nervous about the entry she's putting together for a big manga contest.

Review:

I came across this while looking for read-alikes for Maki Murakami's Gamerz Heaven. Although I decided it wasn't a good read-alike, the manga and gaming aspects of the book appealed to me. Also, I was blinded by the cover art. If I ever hear that Elise Trinh, the cover artist, has illustrated a graphic novel, I'll be sure to give it a try. Unfortunately, Gamer Girl's cover turned out to be way better than the actual book (despite Allora's wonky right arm, which I just noticed – she's the elf on the bottom half of the cover).

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Temple at Landfall (e-book) by Jane Fletcher

The Temple at Landfall is f/f soft science fiction published by Bold Strokes Books. According to All Romance Ebooks, it's 98,655 words long. On her site, Fletcher lists it as either the first book in her Celaeno series, if you're reading in publication order, or the third book, if you're reading in chronological order.

Synopsis:

First, some basic information: The story takes place on a world where all humans and all domesticated animals brought to the world are female - if I remember correctly, something about the planet interfered with the production of testosterone. Since the technology that was originally brought to the planet wasn't going to last and couldn't be replaced, other methods of reproduction had to be developed - Imprinters and Cloners. Cloners can make other living beings spontaneously pregnant with clones. They use their skills on domesticated animals. Imprinters can combine the genetic material of two living beings, and they are the only way humans ever reproduce on this world.

Now, on to the story: Lynn is an Imprinter. Imprinters are so rare and valued that they are kept under close watch by the Sisters and are rarely allowed to leave the temples in which they are housed. Imprinters are supposed to spend their days either creating new life or meditating. While Lynn understands the importance of her job, she hates how restrictive her life is. She wants to be able to go outside and enjoy the world around her.

When Sister Smith arrives as Lynn's temple, it looks like Lynn might be able to enjoy a brief bit of freedom. Smith wants to transfer Lynn, a talented Imprinter, to her own temple in Landfall. Lynn's life would be at least as restrictive there, but at least she'd be able to enjoy the world during her journey to the temple.

Unfortunately, the trip to the temple isn't without its problems. A snow lion attack makes it necessary to spend time under the protection of a squadron of Rangers, and Lynn finds herself falling for Lieutenant Kim Ramon. Discovering that Kim feels the same way about her should be a good thing...except that Imprinters are said to lose their abilities if they cease being virgins.

Review:

After finishing Rangers at Roadsend, I knew I wanted to read more of Fletcher's works. When a good sale came around, I bought almost all of her stuff in one go, although it was a while before I got around to reading any of them. The Temple at Landfall turned out to be just what I needed to help get me out of a bit of a reading slump.
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