Thursday, June 30, 2011

Q & A (Slumdog Millionaire)

A kid from the slums wins a billion rupees on a game show. The game show's producers don't want to pay out so soon and thus they seek to dig up dirt on him to declare him a cheat. Luckily, an attorney shows up to take him out. He shares his entire story with her, and eventually gets his money. It turns out, he just happened to have life events that led him to know the answers to the questions.

It all seems like a pretty good story. The "life events" are even spun out well - he doesn't just happen to experience a key historical event, but it just happens that some aspect of his experience relates to the question. (He happens to live with a cricket nut, and thus knows the answers to the cricket questions.)

The catch, however, is that the events are just a little too "exceptional". He manages to work for espionage agents, movie stars, hit men, and others that seem a little too far fetched.

The story paints a bleak picture of life in the Indian slums. However, in spite of it, it shows optimism in the spate of adversity. (The "pessimistic" running away from seemingly bad events often ends up being positive in the long run.) Alas, the extremeness of the events and forced melodrama (A gun fight with the game show host?) distract from the story.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language

The authors take an "Oxford English Dictionary" look at explaining meanings of words and rooting out misconceptions. If someone has the audacity to insist that "data" should only be plural, just point them here to show that it has been acceptable as a singular for a long time. And that word that supposedly came from an an acronym or certain historical event? Well, it had been used long time before the event. Oops!

One prescient observation is that English is constantly changing, with new words being added, and acceptable usages changing. What is acceptable is determined by common usage. Many of the "quirks" of the language are caused by people successfully inflicting reforms of the language. (There seem to be a lot of first "latinizations" of words, leading to awkward spellings, as well as plenty of feaux-French pronunciations.) Some grammar "rules", like avoiding split infinitives and terminal prepositions are exposed as truly bogus attempts to Latinate a non-Latin language. American English is also shown to be in many cases more "conservative" than British English, adhering to structure that has since changed on the island.

It all makes for a great read, and amble evidence to through at an annoying editor or teacher that disrespects your attempts at innovative language.

Friday, June 24, 2011

From Yao to Mao: 5000 years of Chinese History

From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History (The Great Courses Lectures)

This is an 18 hour course on the history of China. It is a great rapid-fire introduction to Chinese History. However, it is difficult to keep all the names and dynasties straight. The lecturer spends some time covering the west's interaction with China. However, the focus is primarily on China as seen through their own eyes, not as seen by western eyes. Thus, it does't get bogged down in some important "western" encounters.

Bruce Lee, My Brother

This is a light movie on the early life of Bruce Lee, before he went to the United States and got famous. Bruce Lee is portrayed a lanky, nerdy kid who grey up in rough circumstances and has a propensity for mischief. The portrayals of growing up in war-time and early post-war Hong Kong make the movie interesting. (The British are portrayed as 'corruptible' overlords, who often step in the lives of the Chinese only when convenient for themselves. The Chinese officials, are portrayed even worse, as those willing to get advantage no matter who is in power.)

It has some dramatic "fight" scenes, and conflicts over girls. However, Bruce Lee seems to almost "magically" become a good fighter. It is hard to see his "evolution" in the story. I wanted to see a little more of is life immediately after he left for the US. Of course, by then, his brother would not have been around to document it.


Great special effects. Pedestrian dialog. Lame Plot. James Cameron did a great job creating the Avatar world. The story, alas, was just an excuse for us to see the world he created. I guess you need some drama and cliches to keep interest.

If You Are The One 2

This comedy includes a "divorce" ceremony and a "trial" marriage where a couple attempt to test their devotion by acting as if they were "invalids" or long-married couples that no longer have the passion. The divorce ceremony is really funny. The rest of the movie tends to drag on.

Space Battleship Yamamoto

This was a really long film about a post-apocalyptic earth. Radiation is so bad that people can hardly go outside without protective gear. And to make it worse their are aliens trying to blow things up. Luckily, earthlings have some powerful weapons. They eventually decide to try going out to space in hopes of some anti-radiation things. They end up seeing a girl. Or something like that.

I fell asleep during a section of it. There are special effects. There is action and suspense. And there is lame dialog. There isn't a whole lot of excitement. I can't seem to find the link on Amazon (just a bunch of links to the Anime and Manga.) Perhaps it will never make it to the United States.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Secret starts out as a gentle romance. It seems to be the story of the "new boy" choosing between two girls. However, just past the halfway point it takes a fantasy twist, and the first part of the movie is shown to be different than expected, with one girl actually being from 20 years in the past. Whenever she plays a piano piece she launches in to the future, and only the first person that she sees can see her. When she plays it again really fast, she goes back to the past. Unfortunately, this piano room (and the building) will be torn down on the last day of class.

Jay Chou plays the new boy (also Jay), who is an excellent piano player and the son of a school official. Some of the best scenes in the movie are of piano playing, with rapid one-handed tunes, and even voyages inside the piano.

The "science fiction" elements of the movie, however, get downright confusing. Where did this come from? Where did she go? How does she die, but then not die? How was she writing a message to him? And what happened to the janitor? If you simply disregard the numerous logic holes, it does make for a touching well-made movie. (Though the "playing the piano fast as the wrecking ball hits" scene is a little corny. And it makes for all sorts of logic holes. If he is stuck in the past, does that mean he will end see himself being born in a few years?

Jay Chou works well in this movie as an aloof boy who has strong feelings, but just doesn't express them. The other actors seem to do a more conventional "acting" job. However, it is all well done, even if it feels more western than Taiwanese. Though the scenery will make you want to visit Taiwan.

Sunday, June 05, 2011


Jackie Chan is a baker who doesn't play much a of role in this movie until the end. Then, when we is attacked by dozens of bad guys, the kids instruct him to "make noodles" or "kneed bread" and low and behold, those are just the right moves to defeat the bad ones.

The rest of the movie centers around a martial arts Buddhist monastery and some warlords. Most of it was "dark" and I had a tough time following who was doing what. (I thought a guy had died in a previous scene, then in the next scene he would come out and do something else.) The whole point of the plot seems to be nothing more than setting up of marital arts fights, and those are fairly few and far between. The "warlords" seem to be fighting over who-knows-what, but in the end, a foreigner can just come in and blow them all up. There is also the story of redemption as one warlord decides to become a monk after his daughter dies. It seems as if they went grabbing for all the plot elements they could find to through in to one movie.

The brief Jackie Chan "baker" part is alas one of the best parts of the movie. (I knew who couldn't go through a movie without putting on some moves.) That is not saying much.