Film #291: Girl Goned (2017)

directors: Yukiro Dravarious & Duncan Whom
language: English, some Japanese, couple of sentences of German and French
length: actually not sure but about 2 hours
watched on: 4 May 2017

This is that rare review which I know will be read by the creators, since they’re my friends making an amateur project last year. I’ll try to be nice…

I got a sneak preview from Duncan about a month before watching this, and then went to the second screening on the premiere night – in a BDSM dungeon, of all places, with cages and strange-looking seats. (By the way, I just grabbed this image from a google search, as I usually do, managing to somehow filter out images from Gone Girl – I think it’s from Remiko’s blog. If you’d like me not to use the image, or have a better thumbnail image, please let me know)

The movie is set in Tokyo’s underground drag scene, so it features a few people I know from going to their shows. The plot, insofar as there is one, follows an American private detective who travels to Japan in search of a missing girl, somehow involved in the drag scene. Meanwhile, the drag queens conspire to set about armageddon. Or something. The film deliberately eschews plot at many moments, but it was more coherent than I’d expected from the previews I’d had. It has a deliberate B-movie aesthetic, and a lot of ridiculous gore, with fake blood spattered everywhere.

The main problem with it is that it’s probably incomprehensible to people outside our social group – I think there are too many in-jokes. A lot of the drag queen characters especially weren’t fully introduced. Also, it does have a bit of an episodic feel, and might be too ambitious. But I enjoyed it, and I think it’d stand a second viewing, to help me better understand it.

The other thing, although I think this is part of the aesthetic of amateur B-movies, and not necessarily a big problem, is that the sound and image were sometimes unbalanced. But I think this could be fixed.

It was long-awaited by all, so it was great to finally see it, and I enjoyed the sensation of recognizing quite a lot of the cameos. Thumbs up!

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Book #134: Leviathan Wakes (2011)

author: James S.A. Corey
language: English
length: 19 hours and 8 minutes (1,148 minutes)
finished listening on: 3 May 2017

I got this audiobook on the recommendation of a coworker or manager, I think, when I mentioned I was into sci-fi and looking for a new book to read. So I decided to get it sometime during April, and was listening to it when I went cycling. I had planned to go on something more like a cycling trek during April, but sickness and injury stopped me in my tracks somewhat. But this book was still a nice companion to long bike rides, when I got the chance. It took me a long time to finish, of course – the last audiobook was A Symphony of Echoes, a whole month before this one.

The author, James S.A. Corey, is actually the pseudonym for two authors, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, which is a bit confusing. I’m not sure why they didn’t just use their own names – maybe it makes it easier to publish, or something. They wrote alternate chapters of the book, which are from the point of view of different characters.

It took me a few listens to twig that alternate chapters were from disparate points of view. The universe set up by the book is pretty grandiose, and it took a bit of getting used to. The two characters, Holden and Miller, meet up and get split up later in the book, but at first they don’t know each other. And the story takes a while to really get going.

The book is set in a colonized solar system – faster than light travel is impossible, but there’s some kind of constant-thrust drive that makes quick travel easy. This is actually a fairly common idea – it was also in We Are Legion (We Are Bob), for example, although if you’ve been keeping up with my reviews you’ll know I didn’t like that book much, or in Ultima – in those books there was some kind of infinite-like supply of energy that was used to travel interstellar distances. It was also used in The Adventures of Tintin, back in the 1950s, and the effects of gravity on humans reminded me strongly of what happened in the Moon expedition comics. This also made clear one of the other problems with We Are Bob – Bob could go up to 10 g or more without any issues, as he’s a computer projection, but in general the human characters in Leviathan Wakes can only go up to 3 g safely, and have to take a dangerous cocktail of drugs to stay awake and alive at higher thrust levels.

This level of realism made it feel a lot “harder” than the other sci-fi I’d been reading – and in general, gravity is very important to the story, reminding readers of this constantly. There’s rivalry between stocky inner-planet types, who “grew up in a gravity well”, and taller, more spindly types who grew up in the asteroid belt. That brings me to the other thing I liked a lot about this book, which is that it’s very realistic racially and linguistically. The “belters” have a special argot or pidgin that they use to communicate, which is difficult to understand when it’s being read aloud on the audiobook, but lends a special level of realism to the book. I was also glad to see that not everyone speaks English – Russian, Bengali and Hindi at the very least are mentioned a lot during the book.

As the story develops there are a couple of revelations that stretch the boundary of what I’d consider “hard” sci-fi, but this allows the book to also have a mystery feel to it, and even have a few straight-up zombie horror scenes. I imagine it would look exciting on film – and indeed, there’s apparently a TV series, called The Expanse after the name of the book series. I guess I’d better get my act together and try to watch that at some point. I’m not that up-to-date with TV.

Anyway, there are a lot more levels to this story, such as the character Miller’s attachment to Julie Mao, a girl whose disappearance he’s been investigating. And stuff is generally set up and foreshadowed well. So in general, although it took a very long time to finish this book, I enjoyed it a lot and have now downloaded the next book to listen – as of writing this, it’s the next in my queue of things to listen to. But I’m a few weeks behind on reviewing, so it’ll be a while before I get to reviewing it!

Has anyone else read this? What did you think?

Book #121: Foxglove Summer (2014)

foxgloveauthor: Ben Aaronovitch
language: English
length: 645 minutes (10 hours, 45 minutes)
finished listening on: 3 November 2016
Rivers of London series 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

This is the fifth book in the Rivers of London series about magical constable Peter Grant, and it’s the first one that’s not actually set in London – it’s now been transposed to Herefordshire, where he goes first on a routine investigation of a magician who lives there, and then gets embroiled in the investigation of two missing children.

It’s a welcome change of pace from the other books in this series, and allows the author to do something different with the characters, but it basically doesn’t advance the overarching plot much, if at all. At the end of the last book (big spoilers!) the character of Lesley defects to the other side, tempted over by the big baddie. Here she texts a bit with the main character, implying that she’s spying on him, but doesn’t show up.

I did enjoy a lot of things about this book – I liked seeing how magic fits into the countryside setting, and I enjoyed finding out new things about Aaronovitch’s brand of magic, as usual. I liked the weirdos the main character meets, and I liked that people kept asking him about aliens, as if it’s more of a country thing to believe in.

Similar to before, I liked how Aaronovitch kept naming accents in the book, because it meant Holdbrook-Smith (the narrator of the audiobook) had to do the character in that accent. His Scottish is slipping a bit, but his Scouse sounded alright to me.

Also similar to before, I like that the book has gay side characters. I’m like a broken record with this – but it’s very important to me that this happens more. I like characters who nonchalantly refer to their boyfriends even when I’m not actually setting out to read a gay story, which tend to be niche and not popular.

With the ending of the book (you should probably look away if you don’t want to read any spoilers…), I thought there was going to be a bigger cliffhanger than there ultimately was – the main character gets saved at literally the last minute from having to stay in Faerie Land for ever. I was interested that such a place existed in this fictional universe.

But ultimately this book is filler. It’s good stuff, but I’m waiting for the story to continue properly with the next book, which I think has just come out this month.

Book #108: The Devotion of Suspect X (2005)

suspectxaka: Yougisha X no kenshin (容疑者Xの検診)
author: Higashino Keigo (東野 圭吾)
language: English translated from Japanese
length: 440 pages
finished on: 16 July 2016

I had a busy day that day in July, having watched two movies and then finishing this book on the train on the way back home. Higashino seems to be an entry-level Japanese mystery novel writer, and one of the few who’s been translated into English too. The Devotion of Suspect X is a title that comes up repeatedly when searching for Higashino’s books. And it’s pretty cheap to buy second-hand, so I gave it a shot.

The book is about a woman who kills her abusive ex-husband, which is depicted at the beginning of the novel. Then she and her enigmatic neighbour try to cover up the murder, all the while being investigated by some Japanese Taggart. The neighbour is an introverted mathematician with a crush on the woman. I’m sorry I’m still no good at remembering character names, by the way! There’s a twist at the end, of course, when we find out what exactly really happened. There’s a certain level of unreliable narrator.

The book’s cover proudly proclaims Higashino to be the “Japanese Stieg Larsson”, which I think is a bit presumptuous. The Millennium trilogy was a tour de force in a way that this book just isn’t, but more importantly, Larsson more directly tackles themes such as misogyny and violence – hell, the first book (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is literally called “Men Who Hate Women” in Swedish. None of that here – in fact, the mathematician guy has some of the creepiest inner thoughts about the woman (possessiveness just being the start) that I’ve ever seen put to paper, although we’re not necessarily encouraged to agree with him. The murder victim himself had elements of being abusive towards his wife, but it wasn’t explored in as much detail. This book isn’t anything bad, but I think this comparison is too lazy.

However, the story is easy to read, gripping, and I can see why it’s so popular. But it marks a break from what I’ve come to know as the detective story formula, popularized originally by Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. In that, the identity of the killer is usually kept as a surprise, and Holmes or Poirot finally piece together the information right at the end. But in this one, the identity of the killer is known from the start, and that removed a lot of the tension. Instead, the nature of the mystery is a bit more esoteric. The detectives don’t know the identity of the killer, but I think the audience should be able to view the world through their eyes. In this we’re kind of omnipotent. This does allow us to see the thoughts of the “villains”, however, asking the alternative question, how will the two sides outsmart each other?

I did really enjoy the setting in Tokyo, as it was more immediately familiar to me than reading something set in America, or even the UK, which sometimes feels distant. Even so, the characters belong to a world I don’t, and it was a look at a side of Tokyo I wouldn’t normally see.

I think Higashino seems to be a very competent and eloquent author, and as I mentioned, the book was light and easy to read, although I think I was slightly disappointed with the story. Higashino was scuppered a bit by bad translation, however. Japanese is full of set phrases for greetings and so on, and the translators struggled to find appropriate ways to keep the English fresh-sounding. I kept wondering what the Japanese version would say – I don’t think I’d be able to read the whole thing, though. It’s a pretty difficult language to read, even after about five years. That aside, I think I will recommend this book overall, and perhaps seek out more Japanese mystery literature to see how it compares.