Sunday, December 29, 2013

57 Things I Thought While Watching 47 Ronin

Here are 57 things I thought while watching the movie: 47 Ronin

Before the show
1.     A small soda is 32 oz. and costs $5.
2.     They made a movie out of Mr. Peabody?
3.     47 will be a lot of ronin. Or is it ronii? #ThePluralofRoninIs?
4.     So far the ronin outnumber the audience 5:1.
5.     I’m wearing white socks with black pants and shoes. Oh.
6.     Polar bears are now sponsored by Coca-Cola
7.     Why would I attend an opera “live” at a movie theatre? If I want to sleep, I’ll do it in an Opera House, thank you very much.
8.     Score! No kids in the audience.
9.     Why is it the last two couples to walk into this practically empty theatre have to sit down directly behind and next to me? #crowders
10.  The woman next to me cracks her knuckles. A lot.
11.    Similar looking previews: The 300 sequel; Pompeii in 3D; Hercules. The worst of the lot looks like Hercules. A story about a man named Hercules who has nothing in common story-wise with the legendary Hercules. #RIPKevinSorbo
During the Show
12.   Hey, Neo’s in this movie. I hope he’s the chosen one.
13.    So far there’s only one ronin. #ripoff
14.     What’s has horns, antlers, feathers, scales, prehensile whiptail and six eyes? I don’t know but it’s trying to kill Keanu. #gobeast
15.     The beast is dead. I wonder what it was? #IVoteForKirin
16.      Why go to the trouble to have your main character marred by scars, to have the scars on his head beneath his hairline. #ChicksWantToSeeScars
        17. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as the main Shogun. #FlawlessCasting
18.     The Shogun’s hat looks like a cooking pot spray-painted gold. #NiceHat
19.     The Shogun rides a cow? #HorseArmorWithHornsEqualsCow
20.     Everyone is being a dick to Keanu. Is that part of the Samurai code? I can get behind that.
21.     Fight! Fight! Fight!
22.     That was over quick
23.     The Shogun is a dick. He has no tolerance for sleepwalkers or love, but he’s okay with witchcraft and other evil shenanigans. #ExecutionTime
24.     CGI ogre fight!
25.     That was over quick. These ronin don’t mess around.
26.     Now there are 3 ronin
27.     Now there are 6 ronin
28.     Now there are 12 ronin
29.     I’m sensing a theme
30.     I got to get me one of those smiling, two-different-eye-colored foxes. #BeatsACat
31.     The witch chick has a significantly sleazy vibe going on. #HeyNow
32.     Octo-hair! I can’t even use a pair of chop sticks correctly with my hands, let alone feed someone else using chopsticks with my dreadlocks.
33.     Waiter, there’s a hair in my sushi.
34.     Keanu was raised by unattractive owl people. #spoiler
35.     Magic swords are awesome.
36.     That was a good sword joke. Well played, overweight ronin.
37.     Fat ronin bathing are funny. #PerTheAudience #Jiggly #IDon’tGetIt
38.     My eyes, my eyes! Full frontal on the tubby ronin getting out of the bathing pond. Thank goodness for the samur-diaper. #ClothingIDon’tKnowTheRealNameOf
39.    The overweight samurai is one of the six ronin who have a personality. #HeIsGoingToDie
40.    It’s a trap!
41.    They killed the overweight ronin. At least Keanu had time for one more fat joke.
42.    It’s Long Duk Dong and he’s helping the ronii. I hope he uses his catch-phrase at the wedding.
43.    Entertainment at samurai weddings blows. #FriggingPuppetShow
44.    Shoot arrows at the bride! #WhyAreTheyTryingToKillKeanusLoveInterest?
45.    Finally, 47 ronin and they are kicking ass! #ThisPartIsPrettyGood
46.    Q: How many ronin does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: None. 47 ronin show up and kick major ass. The lightbulb is screwed by default.
47.    Magic swords are still cool.
48.    A dragon with dreadlocks? Someone involved with this movie really loves animating hair. Just sayin’.
49.    Dragon’s are powerless in the Matrix. Go Neo!
50.    Hurray! It seems like the other 46 ronin survived with no casualties.
51.     Shit. The main Shogun is back, dispensing justice. “The bushido code was followed,” he says, “Soooooo, you all get to kill yourselves.” #WorstShogunEver #KeanusBadDay
52.    For a movie that ends with 45 or so suicides, the ending wasn’t nearly as depressing as it could have been. #NotAHollywoodEnding #CanILeaveNow?
53.    This is based on a true story. Even the parts with the Kirin, Ogre and Dragon? My reality just got better. #ProbablyChÅ«shingura
After The Show
54.    This movie was filmed on location just about everywhere BUT Japan. The most common name in the credits: Attila
55.    Are Ken Watanabe and Gedde Watanabe related? #ItTurnsOutNo
56.    Award for best Caucasian in a samurai/ronin movie goes to…. Keanu Reeves? Tom Cruise? Richard Chamberlain? #TheJurysStillOut
57.    What, no gag reel?

Mark enjoyed the movie, despite the 57 thoughts above. No ronin were killed in the writing of this blog post. Mark is not a ronin, samurai or even a kirin. Any similarity is completely coincidental.

Happy New Year!

~ Mark

Friday, December 13, 2013

More Ursula

I've been reading my way through the novels in Le Guin's Hainish Cycle, her series of philosophical/anthropological musings about what happens when differing groups of hilfs (highly intelligent life forms) cross the stars and interact with native populations. I've taken Ian Watson's suggestion for the internal chronology of the cycle as a starting point. This is not, however, the order in which Le Guin wrote the novels.

What I have finished so far, in order:

The Dispossessed (published in 1974)
The Word for World is Forest (1976)
Rocannon's World (1966)

I had a revelation in reading this last one. As far as I have been to tell Rocannon's World was Le Guin's first published novel. And in reading this early work, I realized that up until then, I have thought of UKLG as She Who Can Do No Wrong. As the epitome of excellence in the craft of writing.

But Rocannon's World is a mess.   Let's go on an adventure! Ah, look here at this creature, what will happen in our interacting with it? Interaction. Conflict. Move on to another interesting creature or group of people. What will happen now? And on and on. And all these creatures, all these peoples, all these events, none of them feel fully tied together into a whole. There are some very beautiful passages, and some striking ideas that Le Guin carries on to explore in the later-written novels. But in those later novels every passage is right, is a piece of the whole, is said beautifully, correctly, just as the story needs it to be said.

For me this was an important discovery. Ursula herself learned her craft. She got better. She got fantastic. But she wasn't always fantastic, she seems to have practiced her way there.

Perhaps some of us are gifted with something like a natural talent for story-telling, but we aren't necessarily lost if we haven't been  born into it. We all can practice our way toward excellence.

That was a good thing to be reminded of.

Tonight I finish Planet of Exile. (Which interestingly, though published in the same year as Rocannon's World, is a much more integrated and so more engaging novel.) A quote by Le Guin, from the introduction to this novel, nicely captures what I've been trying to think through here: "I learn by going where I have to go."

Next up: City of Illusions.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Ancillary Justice

My office, left-center

With the advent of my newly indentured servitude in the dusty and shadowed corridors at the Great Institute of Secret Learning and Ancient Knowledge, I've had plenty of time to catch up on my reading while crammed into the moldy dark of the commuter cattle cars with the rest of the plebeian laborers.

And so, I recently finished Ancillary Justice.

It's the first book by Author Ann Leckie. You might have heard something about it not too long ago. It was making quite a splash in the genre-fiction world, gaining the type of pre-release hype a debut author only dreams about. This is how I heard of it and ended up picking it up.

But for our desert island readers, here is what the back cover synopsis had to say:

"On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren--a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose--to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch."

Weird, huh? Kind of interesting though, right?

I certainly thought so.

So, maybe somewhat unsurprisingly, the synopsis has the long and short of it. The story is about Breq. Breq is a dead person filled with the last remnant of an AI which was once housed in a massive starship and the hundreds of corpses that made up its crew. Its only living crew members had been its officers. During this time, Breq was known as The Justice of Toren, part of a grand fleet on a continuing mission of annexing planets one by one for the galaxy-spanning empire that built her, all in the service of their nearly omni-present and conquering Emperor Anaander Mianaai. But then something happened--something bad, something blood-soaked--and now Breq is all that is left and she is consumed with a thirst for revenge on the Emperor she once bowed to.

So despite the initial odd edges and ideas, the book is actually a pretty basic set-up when you get right down to it, but also perhaps unsurprisingly, it's those odd edges that really make it stand apart. They are well-written and smart--if maybe somewhat light on the more exciting "action" descriptions, but that's really only a minor complaint. Ancillary Justice is a fun read, stuffed with ideas and coolness, but it moves at a quick pace.

The really interesting part about this book is that it's all written in the First Person. Okay, sure, that's not all that revolutionary at all, actually, except in this case the POV is from that of an AI that used to be a giant starship, and for a large part of the book, also inhabits multiple bodies simultaneously. It's a testament to Leckie's sure hand that the POV jump between the ship and it's many bodies (or Ancillaries... see what she did there with the title? Eh? Eh?) is not only smooth and easy to follow, but feels natural.

Another interesting aspect--very interesting actually--is that, as a result of being a spaceship in a human body, gender is a confusing idea to Breq, and not always readily apparent to her whenever she has to deal with other humans. It's a bit of an issue for her and she often worries if she's guessing right. And what's really great about that is that the default pronoun she uses in the story ends up being "she". Thus, gender is not only a bit opaque for Breq, but for the reader too. And, much like the multiple POV shifts between the same character in its multiple bodies, it feels very natural. In fact, it didn't take long before I didn't notice the lack of "hes" in the book at all. Really, despite Breq's confusion, the gender of the other characters is not only often easily distinguishable, but it quickly becomes apparent that it doesn't really matter.

It's all very well done. Very impressive.

In the end, I really enjoyed the book. The answer to what's going on and what happened to Breq and why she wants her revenge is interesting and fun. Some folks out there might complain that the book turns out to mostly be a prequel for a greater story yet to be told, but I didn't mind that at all. If that tale is ever shared, I will definitely show up for it. All in all, Ancillary Justice is worth the hype and worth the read.

Very recommended.

Buy it, read it,