Monthly Archives: October 2016

Movie Mondays: God of Gamblers II

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Cover art for the God of Gamblers II DVD

As part of a new regular series on What Is There To Option, I’m gonna be putting up something movie related every Monday. These will be mostly links to the most recent of my regular movie reviews for PokerTube. But in the absence of that, there’s my back catalogue, and occasionally something written special, just for WITTO.

Today I have last week’s review of God of Gamblers II for you. The Hong Kong comedy gambling flick. I reviewed the first God of Gamblers a while ago. There’s a link to that review in the review below. Review-ception.

“The 1991 sequel to God of Gamblers looked a bit naff when I first picked it up. The excellent Andy Lau still playing Knife, but so is the somewhat inconsistent writer / director Jing Wong. Plenty of minor characters from the last film make a small return but notably Chow Yun Fat sat this one out, with Andy Lau taking his place and Stephen Chow stepping up as the new hapless comedy sidekick.

The plot sees Knife…”

Click here to read the rest.

 

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Friday Update: New Blogging Schedule

 

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Old Typewriter, Russian by ArtDmitry, used under a Creative Commons Licence

As Stoptober comes to a close and NaNoWriMovember looms large, I’ve ben doing a little thinking about the shape of this blog. With the exception of the Dear Jon/Jim… posts which are weekly (the last fortnight of blog silence notwithstanding), the blog has mostly been a sort of as and when thing.The result has been a somewhat unfocussed ramble (mostly made up of short book reviews). Which is no good at all.

So for November I’m going to put a bit of a schedule in place. Originally the aims of the blog were threefold:

1. (for me) to be a sort of public space where I logged my writing process.

2. (for you) to be a sort of resource for people who are also muddling through the writing processes.

3. (for them) to be a professional calling card of sorts where potential clients can easily find examples of my work.

So the new schedule I’ll be trialling for the next couple of weeks will break down to three posts per week: on Monday there will be links to my movie reviews on PokerTube (for them), a Dear Jim/Jon… on Wednesday (for Jim), and on Fridays alternating update posts (for me), and writing based articles (for you).

I’m also hoping to do a couple of guest posts for other blogs in the nearish future. When that happens I’ll do a linked post on Sunday to those the week they come out. Book review posts will also probably go on Sunday.

All this is highly subject to change. But will do for the moment.

 

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September’s Reading, Part 2

Click here for part one.

Part Two:

6.  The First Ten Books by Confucius, who has nothing to say about flies or toilet seats.

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The First Ten Books by Confucius

I wish this book came with an introduction and end notes. The format is interesting: short reported anecdotes, questions asked by various people and the Master’s responses. The overall vibe seems to be a hardcore conservatism: change nothing, protect the people, respect the rites, do things the way your fathers did them.

But without knowing more about the context I was left a little hollow by the whole thing. Was interesting to try an pick out what the differences were with Lao Tzu (see below).

Would probably recommend, but in an edition with more commentary.

7. A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin, who seems unaware that the moon landings were faked by Stanley Kubrick in the New Mexico desert.

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A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin

Great non-fiction, telling the story of all of the Apollo launches. Chaikin tells compelling stories of the men and the missions and skips over the more repetitive elements focusing on what made each of the flights interesting.

Would highly recommend.

8. The Drosten’s Curse by A. L. Kennedy, who is Doctor Who?

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The Drosten’s Curse by A. L. Kennedy

I am a fan of A. L. Kennedy, who signed my copy of this when I met that one time in Guernsey;and I am regular watcher of Doctor Who, if not precisely a huge enthusiast. So I was predisposed to like this, and remained disposed post-disposal.

It is a funny, moving, and frequently creepy and sinister story. Told with all Alison’s usual skill and flare, while also being precisely Doctorish. I had one or two quibbles where some of the genuine fairytale nastiness was walked back a bit, but on the whole a great family book.

I would highly recommend.

9. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, who is … ?

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Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

I have no idea what to make of this one. Arranged as a series of somewhat cryptic poems, this work of wisdom didn’t seem to have all much content which I could get out as, like the Confucius, this came without an intro or end notes.

Would not particularly recommend.

10. An Appeal to the Toiling, Oppressed and Exhausted Peoples of Europe by Leon Trotsky, who is not as cuddly as the Trots I know.

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An Appeal… by Trotsky

This collection of Trotsky’s speeches and articles made for interesting reading (and topical too as Corbyn won the Labour leadership again while I read this). Trotsky is a compelling rhetorician but without his later exile I can see him going on to be a pretty irredeemable totalitarian himself; the early speeches are full of reasons to ban and/or murder political rivals…

As a historical document it was fascinating and its always interesting to see what the more practical realities are for individuals trying to live by broad idealist ideologies.

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Dear Jim… (#7) Re: We need to talk about We Need To Talk About Kevin

“I received a perfectly lovely letter last week. It wasn’t yours.” – Groucho Marx, paraphrased.

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Ezra Miller looking scary-sexy and just plain scary on the poster.

Dear Jim,

Although I did also receive your gracious letter, I thought it was particularly clever to use the stream-of-consciousness style and vague gesturing towards formal innovation to disguise the total lack of content while you complained about the rest of the internet’s lack of content.

In an effort to move these letters away from navel-gazing and hipsterish listicles complaining about listicles – because, you know, irony – I thought I’d just segue into talking about that advertisement for post-natal abortion we watched last-last week: We Need To Talk About Kevin.

I want to talk about it, because after watching it last week I keep going back to it in my head, piecing all the little details together and half trying to tie them all up, half just enjoying the pleasing patterning of the thing.

There’s this excellent episode of Every Frame A Painting about Lynn Ramsey’s filmmaking style which is worth a watch and my own addendum to his points about sound design and detail in What A Friend We Have in Kevin is this list of the most obvious visual detail that accretes: red goo.

  • Opening shot of some sort of weird tomato festival orgy thing. Happy Tilda Swinton looking young, covered in tomato pulp. Bright red colours.
  • Cut to older, unhappy looking Tilda Swinton in a house that has had red paint thrown over the front (shades of Hawthorne there). Her car too has been paint splashed and we see her driving, seeing the world through this red watery painty filter.
  • There is paint in the straggly bit of Tilda’s hair (Kevin also has straggly bit of hair in roughly the same place) as she waits for her interview.
  • Some of the food baby Kevin flings at the fridge is red. Much of it is a foul looking green though. Don’t feed babies gross stuff is the lesson here. The lesson for the rest of the movie is don’t feed them at all. People who starve to death in infancy have a tougher time growing up to ruin your life.
  • Numerous, thoroughly revolting looking strawberry jam sandwiches, all made by Kevin. One of which is slapped jams side down on the table.
  • Tilda, punched in the face, bleeds human blood (red in colour).
  • Kevin sprays black and red paint all over the walls of her newly decorated room. When Tilda angrily smashed the water pistol he used, it is full of red paint.
  • Hamster goo in the waste dispenser. Hamster goo is also ruddy due to the similarity in colour between human and hamster blood.
  • Injuries outside the school: red in colour c.f Human blood, colour of.
  • Tilda’s red dress, worn out with Kevin for dinner, worn out to office where gross man hits on her.
  • The one time Tilda strikes back breaking Kevin’s arm and causing a scar on his arm, we don’t see Kevin’s blood at all.

These details are striking and visual and there because they add up to something. There is the surface link between all these things – they are all part of Kevin’s torturing of Tilda, however indirectly. But they also have a purely visual effect, generating something similar to the rhyming of sounds in words. It’s pleasing to have these details strung out in a line. Like video collections of things fitting together neatly, or things happening in extreme slo-mo they have an aesthetic effect just by virtue of being beside each other.

On the other hand there is a detail like:

  • the sound of the sprinklers,

which repeats over several scenes, always with a sense of the ominous about them. Its an incidental detail in the final analysis but works as a sort of pavlovian hook so when we hear them over the garden scene our spidey-sense is doing whatever spidey-senses do (tingle right, as in Chuck?).

I don’t want to give you greater license to head towards abstraction, especially given your already spiralling contempt for our readers. But the efficacy of Ramsey’s these two types of repetition in detail struck me as interesting on a technical level, and something worth flagging up given how your next novel looks to be structured.

I look forward to reading your letter next week addressing the Presidential Debates.

Yours in detail,

Jon

P.S. The trailer for Westboro’s Boolean Kevins can be watched here.

 

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September’s Reading, Part 1

Finally, actually bringing my reading posts up to date, here are the reviews of my September reading. I got through 10 books last month, so this comes in two parts.

Part One:

1. Seven Brief Lessons in Physics by Carlo Rovelli, who doesn’t say a lot and doesn’t take up much room saying it.

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Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

This reprint of seven physics articles originally published in an Italian newspaper are fairly uplifting in their rhetoric, but are somewhat lacking in content. Hampered by the newspaper word count he is barely able to say anything substantial, and as he chose not to expand them for the book, so the whole thing was pretty disappointing.

I would not recommend.

2. The Gap of Time: The Winter’s Tale Retold by Jeanette Winterson, who is wrong about the play.

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The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

This is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series in which writers are asked to do a modern day reboot of various Shakespeare plays. Winterson chose (poorly) to do The Winter’s Tale which is half of a great play followed by an eisteddfod.

But she massively improves on the source material, somehow getting away left, right and centre with terrible modernisations (Autolycus sells cars, his business is called Autos Like Us; King Leontes becomes Leo Kaiser; Bohemia becomes Little Bohemia in New Orleans; etc…) and generally creating a sort of magical realism that works as a beautiful modern version of the Romance genre. It is great.

Would highly recommend.

3. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, who must be a laugh at parties.

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Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

A well written prequel to Jane Eyre, which is fabulously sordid and miserable. In a mostly good, but not super pleasant way. Which seems a good summary of Jean Rhys’ work in general.

Would recommend to those who don’t mind getting their brains a bit grimy.

4. The Imperfect Life of T. S. Eliot by Lyndall Gordon, who has a just terrible first name.

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The Imperfect Life of T. S. Eliot by Lyndall Gordon

Really interesting and well written account of the great poets life. With close biographical readings of his work and a lot of disappointing information about his attitude to women and the Jews.

The books can be somewhat repetitive as it winds back and forward over his life looking at various themes in his works, but otherwise:

Would recommend.

5. How to Read A Film: Movies, Media, and Beyond: Art Technology, Language, History, Theory by James Monaco, whose titles contain too much punctuation.

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How to Read a Film by James Monaco

A great introductory text for anyone interested in film. It has sections on how films get made, the history of film technology and art, an overview of film theory, and a bunch of less interesting chapters on other media.

Would recommend to those interested in getting a quick-ish overview of film.

Part two to follow soon.

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Dear Jon… (#6) Re: 9 Reasons Why the To-Do List Life is the Life

I got this, whatever this is, in the ble-mail.

“Dear Jon,

I am much obliged to you for your post. This post comes to you in 9, yes, 9 parts. 

 …2. 

I do not want to write a blog post. It is (figuratively) the last thing I want to do, and yet it is the first thing on my list. I do not know why I write this blog post. The web is clotted with the remnants of dead blogs. You’ve seen these, right? You’re scanning the pages of some blog on recipes or someone’s adventures in Europe to look at the date to see this hasn’t been updated in six months, three years, eight years. Often abandoned without explanations. Something IRL had dragged the writer away. Perhaps boredom. Perhaps forgetfulness. Maybe their IRL had suddenly ended, even…”

Click here to read the rest.

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August’s Reading

With this list of my August reading this almost completes the review catch up for the things read in the long ago days of the last few months. Just September to go.

 1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, who really needed a stricter editor.

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I suspect this book would be unmanageably tedious to read in one sitting. Long – so very long – and in places repetitive the story follows a sixteenth century landowner who sets out to live for realsies the fantasies of medieval chivalric literature. Along the way, everyone he meets has a story to tell turning the novel, already split into two parts, into a sort of anthology within an episodic novel within a duology.

The mad Quixote gets brutally beaten for the first half of the first book. Then – as people work out he’s mad – is ruthlessly exploited for the second half. He does terrible things to innocent people and animals while believing them to be villains; and in his turn has terrible things done to him.

In the second book, published ten years later, all of the characters have read the first book, so when Don Quixote heads out again he finds he really has found the celebrity he believed he had in the first book. This is a far more interesting and elegant book than the first although lacking the iconic imagery of the first (the windmills, the herds of sheep, the colander for a helmet) and not necessarily more fun for its greater unification, polish and ideas.

I listened to it as an audiobook in short stints while on various walks and as a result enjoyed most of it. In that way, I can probably recommend it. As a straightforward read it would get old pretty fast I suspect.

2. Colonel Sun by Robert Markham, who is really Kingsley Amis

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Colonel Sun by Robert Markham

Surprisingly, one of the best of the Bond novels. Amis was brought in after Fleming’s death and apart from more literary references (nothing too high brow, some greek myths, a little architectural appreciation, some John Buchan) and a shift in Bond’s taste in booze, Amis does an excellent job of extending the series. Unlike most of the novels which follow, this is sufficiently cannon that a very loose adaptation of this makes up half of the Spectre movie.

It suffers from the same period sexism and racism as the Fleming works, but also keeps what is best about the Bond novels, while minimising their other weaknesses. Would highly recommend.

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, who is big on mental illness shaming 

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I enjoyed the school-days opening, the injustice of childhood always makes for compelling reading. But the minute we met Mr. Rochester, with his weak-sauce banter with Jane I found myself tuning out. They eventually won me over as a couple only to have them both turn rather petty and cruel after the big reveal.

While I don’t buy that disliking a character on a personal level is a reason to dismiss a book, this book did seem to assume I would take sides with the hero and her man. A man who married a woman who was in love with him for her money, was disgusted when she showed signs of mental distress, locked her up in a small room for years, and then acted like he was her victim when it all came out. There are flawed heroes and then there are self-pitying, abusive psychopaths.

In the end I mildly enjoyed it as a Gothic oddity. So it can have a soft recommend.

4. Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille, who has been creating weird boners since 1897.

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Story of the Eye by George Bataille

This short novella, pornographic and surreal tells a story escalating wierd sexual encounters involving eyes, urine, and eggs. The plot such as it is gallops through incest, rape, necrophilia, water-sports, food-play, suicide, abuse, underage sex, and murder all in the space of about 90 pages, with time to also give a profoundly grisly account of several bullfights (not a euphemism actual bullfighting).

The image of the eye is warped throughout, placed in various metaphorical and literal juxtapositions ending in one extraordinarily strange and striking climactic (pun intended) image. The effect is to make the development of image the main momentum of the story, which was interesting. A biographical end note then further extends the strange metaphor of the eye into the real world of Bataille’s own life and should be read as part of the piece overall.

I would recommend it, but probably not to my grandmother.

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