Movie Review: The Grandmaster (2013)

Movie Review: The Grandmaster (2013)

This Chinese-French co-production is a Wong Kar Wai film loosely based on the real life of Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s instructor in the art of Wing Chun style kung fu.  As the title indicates, however, the true central character is the Northern Grandmaster, Gong Yutian.  As the film begins, Master Gong is about to retire as Grandmaster.  He has traveled south, accompanied by his chosen successor Ma San and his daughter Gong Er to the city of Foshan for one last exhibition match with the southern schools.

The Grandmaster (2013)

The chosen champion of the south is Ip Man, who both receives wisdom from Gong Yutian and teaches the master something new.   Gong Er is discontented, however.  While she cannot succeed to her father’s school because of the pesky being a woman thing, she wants to prove herself against Ip Man.  (Ma San might also have done the same, but was already sent home for being hot-headed.)

The film’s story skips over the Japanese invasion almost entirely (for a more detailed look at that part of Ip Man’s life, see the movie Ip Man.)  After the war, Ip Man emigrates to the British territory of Hong Kong to make money for his starving family, only to be cut off when the Communists take over the mainland.  Some years later, he discovers that Gong Er is also in Hong Kong, but no longer practicing kung fu, and we learn what happened to her and Ma Sun.

This isn’t quite the standard kung fu movie; while there are some standout fight sequences (a rain-drenched one that starts the film, and a dangerous battle on a snowy rail station platform come to mind), often the expected beats never connect.  It’s also not quite a romance, though it has many of the moments you’d expect a romance to have.  It’s more a story of life happening that just happens to be about martial artists.

I enjoyed it, but the anachronic order and some events being reduced to just an intertitle (words on the screen) may confuse some viewers, especially if you’re not good at reading subtitles in the first place.  The period sexism may also be unappealing to some viewers, especially as Gong Er makes a decision that many women wouldn’t to deal with her dilemma.

Book Review: Hen of the Baskervilles

Book Review: Hen of the Baskervilles by Donna Andrews

Disclaimer:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  Also, this review is of an Advance Reading Copy, and there may be small changes in the final text.

Hen of the Baskervilles

Meg Langslow is a blacksmith in the Virginia city of Caerphilly, although she isn’t doing any smithing in this particular volume.  It seems that (as in real life) the Virginia State Fair has run into severe financial trouble, and various communities and counties have decided to put on their own fairs, in an effort to become the new must-see event.  Caerphilly’s entry into this competition is the “Un-Fair”, which is basically a jumped-up county fair, notable for being in two counties–the midway is in adjacent Clay County, which is causing some jurisdiction friction between city police and county sheriff’s office.

Thanks to her superior organizing skills and having an extensive network of useful relatives and friends, Meg has been drafted into being assistant director of the fair.  Which would be stressful enough without a rash of theft and vandalism just before the fair is set to open.   The title comes from a garbled memory of one theft’s victims, and it’s mentioned a couple of times how much of a stretch it is.

Things get even dicier when the boyfriend of one of the fair’s most hated exhibitors turns up murdered.  With clashing law enforcement  stomping about, more missing animals and a slew of suspects, can Meg figure out what’s really going on before the fair is closed down for good?

The Meg Langslow mystery series has birds in the title of each book, previous cases aren’t much referred to, except that by now Meg has an extensive list of defense attorneys in case anyone she knows is arrested.  As someone who’s been to many county fairs, I found the setting charming and reasonably authentic.  The characters were also pretty enjoyable, especially the person everyone thought would be murdered.  The mystery worked well, and had a plausible solution.

Based on this volume, I would read other Meg Langslow books, but I might want to check them out from the library as the recent ones are only available in expensive hardbacks.

Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right

Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right by Claire Conner

Disclaimer:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Flag

This is an autobiography of Claire Conner, daughter of Stillwell J. Conner, one of the first members of the John Birch Society and one of its most fierce advocates.  In it, she shares the history of her family’s involvement with the notorious right-wing organization, and her personal journey from loyal but naive supporter of her parents’ cause through skepticism and eventually to rejection.

The John Birch Society, for those who may be unfamiliar, was founded in the 1950s by candy entrepreneur Robert Welch to fight the overwhelming menace of the  international Communist conspiracy.  It was named after a former missionary murdered by the Chinese Communists under murky circumstances, and stood against all forms of Communism and what its members believed to be Communist fronts.  The UN?  Communist plot.  Ending racial segregation?  Communist plot.  Being anti-Communist but not in the same way as the John Birch Society?   Communist plot.

This is a sad story in many ways.  According to Ms. Conner’s account, her parents’ fanaticism blinded them to the damage they were doing to their family relationships.  It also blinded them to the flaws in those they allied with, be it Holocaust deniers, violent criminals or just political opportunists.   She recalls several instances of people being stuffed down her father’s memory hole rather than have him admit he was ever wrong about them.

The Conners also seemed never to notice that the dire predictions of a Communist takeover in four, five years tops, never came true, never came close to coming true.   The JBS never admitted that previous predictions were wrong, just kept doomsaying to keep the troops in line and the money flowing.

A particularly telling story is that Ms. Conner’s parents, despite finding thousands of dollars each year to spend on the Society’s cause, told her that they could not spare one penny for her college education and she would have to pay for it on her own.  Then when she won a generous scholarship, forced her to turn it down as they had already picked a more expensive college for her to go to.  She reports that her father exploded with rage when asked why, if Claire had to pay for her own education, she couldn’t choose her own school.

Ms. Conner also discusses her involvement with the pro-life movement, originally stemming from her personal experience and her religious convictions, and how it was co-opted by political opportunists who didn’t actually care about the children, just about enraging their donor base into giving more money.

The book also discusses how parts of the JBS ethos are still alive and well in today’s Tea Party and other right-wing groups.  The John Birch Society itself may be a tiny shell of what it once was, but rabid hatred of big government , racism and a fear of the Left still linger.

There are many footnotes, and a complete index, but no illustrations.

I highly recommend this book to history buffs, those curious about right-wing politics, and those interested in biography.

 

Book Review: Blind Dates and Broken Hearts: The Tragic Loves of Matthew Murdock

Book Review: Blind Dates and Broken Hearts: The Tragic Loves of Matthew Murdock by Ryan K. Lindsay

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Blind

Matthew Murdock is the Marvel Comics character known as Daredevil, a blind lawyer blessed with a “radar sense” that allows him to sense his surroundings which he uses to fight crime.  Since his creation in 1964, Daredevil has gone through several love interests, most of the relationships having ended badly.  In large part this is because of the Marvel formula of soap opera plotting ensuring that there must always be more drama coming, that no major character can ever stay happy.

This volume touches upon that, but is more interested in what it says about Matt Murdock and his relationships in-story.  There are sections on the five most important love interests in the Daredevil comics, from overly clingy Karen Page through dangerous Elektra to sensible Milla Donovan.  A couple of other girlfriends get a brief mention.  Each gets a look at her personality, their plot function and what their relationship with Daredevil tells us about him.

This is more an extended essay in a double-spaced pamphlet than a book.  There are a few illustrations and a couple of footnotes but no table of contents , bibliography or index.  I spotted a couple of spellchecker-passed typos.  On the good side, it really felt like the author had taken the time to reread the entire Daredevil series.

If you are a huge Daredevil fan or the kind of person who loves analyzing superheroes’ love lives, then Blind Dates and Broken Hearts is for you.  I really cannot recommend it to the layperson, as it assumes familiarity with the material.

Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Lies

Locke Lamora is a con artist and thief living in the city of Camorr, a sort of fantasy version of Venice strongly influenced by Dickens and Machiavelli, and probably named after the Camorra, a real-life Italian organized crime group.  Orphaned…presumably…at a young age, Locke learned thieving early on, and took to it well.  He has his own gang, the Gentleman Bastards, and they are secretly far more successful than they’ve been letting on to Capa Barsavi, the local crimelord.

The Gentleman Bastards are in the middle of a really big scam when their plans collide with other plotters, one of whom is willing to do the unthinkable in order to achieve their goal.  Tragedy ensues, and Locke must scheme faster and meaner than ever before if he is to survive, let alone come out ahead.

This book doesn’t have any likable characters, though a few are somewhat sympathetic or act for a cause greater than themselves.  Locke’s one virtue is loyalty to his very small group of friends.  He also has a bottom line he won’t cross, which makes the person who will the villain of the story.  He and his compatriots are quite clever, however, which makes this a good caper story.

Trigger Warning: Torture is practiced by several characters, including Locke.

Due to much of the plotline being dependent on twists, it’s hard to be specific without being spoilery.   I did feel that one section towards the beginning was a bit padded.  We see a twist, then the reveal that it’s a con game, and then flash back to a long sequence of Locke and his gang preparing for this trick.   It didn’t establish much that wasn’t covered elsewhere in the book, and could have been cut, allowing the reader to figure out how it was done.

This is the first of seven planned books about Locke Lamora.  The second, Red Seas Under Red Skies, is already available, and the third, The Republic of Thieves, is scheduled for release in October.   (This giveaway was presumably to create buzz for that.)

The lack of characters I want to continue reading about really hurt the book in my opinion.  Others may find Locke more lovable.

Book Review: Conquering the Chaos

Book Review: Conquering the Chaos by Ravi Venkatesan

Disclaimer:  I received this book from the publisher in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Chaos

This book is subtitled “win in India, win everywhere” and part of its message is that a multinational company that learns how to compete in India will be able to export that information to the global market.  To be a bit more clear, this book is not about offshoring (moving your night customer service to India, say) or how Indian business people succeed in their own country.  It’s aimed at executives whose multinational wants to do big business in India.

Mr. Venkatesan has experience in the field, having served as Chairman of both Cummins India and Microsoft India.   He also interviewed a number of other executives, successful and not so successful, about their experiences in India.

I have to say I really like the cover, with its sunny colors.  Overall, I’d say that the Harvard Business Review Press did a good job on the presentation, and since I don’t usually notice such things, that’s actual praise.

The book itself is a little dry and heavy on the business jargon; this is not a book for the layperson.  (As it happens, I’m taking courses in Business Management, so the jargon is fresh in my mind.)  Adjusting for that, the examples are interesting, both in the success stories and some of the failures.

The book covers a wide variety of subjects related to doing business in India, from making the right choice for country manager, through building an organization structure that works in the culture, to dealing with the endemic corruption and volatility of an emerging nation.

A fair amount of what the author suggests for success is obvious in hindsight–but in that position I would have had to figure it out by trial and error.  The lessons this book has are most relevant to the India market, but can be adapted to any emerging nation.  Even strictly local businessfolk should be able to find something they can apply to their situation.

There are notes and a good index at the back.  In addition to executives who may be headed off to India or other emerging markets, I would recommend this book to business students looking for something a little different to read and possibly cite.

 

Anime Review: [C] The Money of Soul and Possibility

Anime Review: [C] The Money of Soul and Possibility

[C]

Kimimaro Yoga is an impoverished college student, bitter about the suicide of his father, which he sees as abandonment, and working hard to make sure he has a financially stable future.  One day he is approached by a being called Masakaki and offered a deal.  If Kimimaro accepts a loan from the Midas Bank with his “future” as collateral, he can become an Entrepreneur, with access to the Financial District.  There he can engage in battle with other Entres, using Assets, personifications of their futures.  Kimimaro distrusts easy money, but is tricked into accepting anyway.

Then he finds out that when they said his future was the collateral, they weren’t being metaphorical….,

This is an eleven episode anime series and a bit of a mind screw,  The rules are never fully explained, several characters’ motives remain murky, and the ending is going to take some sitting down and thinking to puzzle out.  It’s also not about economics in the way Spice and Wolf was, so when people sling around financial terms, they’re not explained and often have little to do with their real world applications.

However, there’s a lot of allegorical economics going on, and students of such matters will be able to tell which theories the writers side with by the end.  Several of the characters, including Kimimaro, and his mentor/opposite number Mikuni are morally ambiguous.  Would you sacrifice the long term to protect what is precious to you now, or sacrifice the present to preserve the future?

It’s also very pretty, though those new to anime might find some of the color combinations overly garish.

There’s a fair amount of violence, though most of the “blood” is money, and it could be triggery for suicide, as this happens more than once.  Because of this and the need to understand basic economic principles to grasp the underpinnings, I’d recommend this for older teens and up.

Open Thread: Top Ten Posts So Far

HI folks!  Busy with homework at the moment, so a quick look at what you, the readers, have been clicking on.  The top eleven review posts so far are:

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
  1. Book Review: Ghosts in the Yew (that one day surge is still keeping it on top.)
  2. Comic Strip Review: Dick Tracy (thanks to the folks at Go Comics.)
  3. Manga Review: Ayako
  4. Book Review: Shanghai 1937
  5. Anime Review: Magi–Labyrinth of Magic
  6. Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents Showcase Volume 1
  7. Movie Review: Hissatsu (Sure Death)
  8. Manga Review: A*Tomcat
  9. Book Review: The Cat Sitter’s Cradle
  10. Comic Book Review: Batman Deathblow After the Fire
  11. Book Review: City of Nets

The last three were all tied.  Your thoughts and comments, anything you’ve been up to lately?

 

Comic Book Review: Jack Kirby’s The Demon

Comic Book Review: Jack Kirby’s The Demon by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer

Jack Kirby's The Demon

In the 1970s, the Comics Code eased up a bit, and horror comics again became a viable subgenre.  At DC Comics, most of their horror output was in short story anthologies like Ghosts or House of Secrets.  But as DC happened to have comics legend Jack Kirby working for them at the time, they asked him to do a horror-tinged comic book as well.

As Mark Evanier explains in his introduction, Kirby homaged an old Prince Valiant story in the design of the central character, Etrigan.  He also tied him into the Arthurian tales by having the Demon be a servant of Merlin, harking back to that character’s mixed parentage.  Etrigan was bound to the seemingly human Jason Blood, an immortal who repeatedly forgot his past and believed he was the latest in a long line of identical sons.  In the current lifetime, he had become a demonologist.

This proved to be due to Merlin’s secret influence, as the sorceress Morgaine le Fey was close to discovering the secrets of Merlin’s power.  Soon Jason had regained much of his memory and the ability to unleash Etrigan, although not to control him.  Etrigan was an anti-hero before they became cool in comics, decidedly demonic, but fighting against evil.

In addition to Morgaine le Fay, the Demon battled other evil magic users and monsters, the most memorable of which was Klarion the Witch Boy.  Klarion was a chilling mix of adult cruelty and childish mischief, unpredictable but easy to trick.

Jason Blood’s supporting cast were Randu, a U.N. delegate with ESP; Harry Matthews, a tough-talking (but way out of his depth) advertising executive; and Glenda Mark, who at that point was just a pretty girl Jason dated.

This is exciting stuff, but like many new series of the 1970s, did not last long.  The story ends with the sixteenth issue and Glenda discovering Jason’s secret.,   Kirby’s art is at its best with the monsters and action scenes–women were never one of his strong suits.

Etrigan went on to many guest appearances and short-lived series, most recently appearing in Demon Knights. http://www.skjam.com/2012/12/19/24/ for that review.

For those interested in the character, or Jack Kirby fans, this is a must-read.

Book Review: Spur #30 Boise Belle

Book Review: Spur #30 Boise Belle by Dirk Fletcher

Spur

I’m not sure what this type of book is called in the marketing department, so I’m going to borrow a phrase from the pulps and call it “spicy Western.”   This is a subgenre of the Western, usually in long-running paperback series, in which a tough Western hero fights outlaws and other baddies, pausing every few chapters for fairly explicit sex scenes.  It’s plot with porn, rather than porn with plot.

And what is that plot, you ask?  Spur McCoy is a Secret Service agent who has come to the Idaho Territory to investigate threats against the governor, who is running for re-election.  He’s not sure if a rash of vigilante killings is related to this or not.  Spur’s slightly distracted by the governor’s lusty and barely legal daughter, and a pretty widow (whose husband was killed by the vigilantes in a mistaken attack.)  There’s also polygamous Mormons in the mix.

The local law enforcement has been lax in dealing with the vigilantes as they save the cost of a trial, but as Spur notes, once you let one bunch of people take the law into their own hands, other people want to get into the act.  More killings indicate there’s a new vigilante in town, with a very different agenda.

This isn’t a mystery; the readers are let in on what’s going on well before Spur figures it out.  Still, it’s a bit more complex plot than many of this subgenre have.

Sadly, the paperbacks are overpriced new; check garage sales and suchlike if you think this is the sort of thing you’d be interested in.

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