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Books in August

August begins hot and humid; perfect reading weather!

Playing with Fire, by Peter Robinson.Collapse )

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois.Collapse )

A Pinch of Snuff, by Reginald Hill.Collapse )

Strange Affair, by Peter Robinson.Collapse )

The Man in the Brown Suit, by Agatha Christie.Collapse )

Snapped in Cornwall, by Janie Bolitho.Collapse )

Death and the Maiden, by Frank Tallis.Collapse )

Well, August began sanguine, in the middle went horribly wrong and before the month was over, I became an orphan, after the sudden, massive stroke felled my mother and killed her a week later. I hope I never have a month this bad again. And yet I continue to read.

Catastrophe

I had a call yesterday late afternoon from my brother in California, telling me that our mother suffered a severe stroke overnight, sometime between 10 PM Saturday and 11 AM Sunday (when she was found). She's in the ICU of the County Trauma Centre, because at first they thought she'd had a head injury, but if she stabilizes there, they may send her to the hospital closer to her home in Richmond. Rich saw her later and said she could open her eyes and squeeze his hand with her left hand, but her right side is completely paralyzed, and she can't talk.

Of course, we always knew this day would come - that I'd get a call summoning me to California quickly because she'd become severely ill or died, but of course it's highly traumatic nevertheless. My stomach hasn't stopped hurting since the first call, and sleep last night was pretty non-existent.

I'm waiting right now for Rich to call with an update, given that the first 24 hours or so after a stroke are the most dangerous. If she's stabilizing, I'm going to try to get a flight to CA on Wednesday - a one-way ticket as I don't know how long I'll have to be there. If she's died, I can take a little more time and Chris and I can arrange to fly together for the funeral, again me on a one-way as I'll likely stay longer, Chris on a round trip. I don't know which to hope for more, honestly; Mom's 85, in poor health and if she survives, there's no way she'd be able to live at home anymore. She'd have to go into care, something I know she would hate very much. I have a feeling, though, that she's going to try to hold on at least until I can get there to see her; she's stubborn that way.

I'm so glad now that we took the longish trip to Victoria, B.C., last month in order to celebrate her 85th birthday with her. At least if that turns out to be my last time seeing her, it was recent and we had a good time.
Shuzo, a recent retiree, likes to spend his time smoking and drinking and hanging out at his favourite bar; Tomiko, his wife of 45 years, has been taking creative writing courses at the local cultural center. When Shuzo get home from his bar late one night, which happens to be Tomiko’s birthday, he (having forgotten her birthday) promises to get her what she wants, as long as it’s not too expensive. Tomiko reassures him that what she really wants only costs 450 yen - it’s a divorce. Her proclamation throws the entire house into a tizzy - the household including their oldest son, his wife and two children, along with their youngest son; their daughter and his husband, constantly fighting and threatening divorce, are also frequent visitors. How this family will resolve their problems is a matter of time, fighting, family meetings and, well, hilarity too…. I enjoyed this light, witty and sometimes touching tale, with its characters who are quirky but not annoyingly (or overly) so. There is a constant stream of physical humour too, with various people falling over things, tripping down stairs and so on - again, done to a certain degree, but not so much that one starts rolling one’s eyes at it. This is a fun glimpse into modern Japanese family life, particularly with respect to the differences between the generations, and it also serves as a comedy of manners, Japanese style!

And this ends my FantAsia reviewing for this year - only 11 films rather than the more usual 15 because we were away in late June and early July and needed a bit of down time, but this was a lovely ending to another wonderful festival! A little marred by two middle-aged women who, at one point in the line-up outside, came out of the line to sit right beside us (because the bench was momentarily empty, the woman who'd arrived *two hours early, like us* having gone to get some food or something), as if entirely jumping the line. Well, we said nothing but others complained to the appropriate people, and they were soon given the bum's rush. Though Chris took the opportunity to read them the riot act too - it is *entirely* un-FantAsia to try to jump the line, it's just not done! This is the 20th year of the festival and this was the first time I've ever seen such a thing - and so also said Daniel, who is the heart and soul of the festival at that one cinema, who came out and got rid of them, then chatted with us for a while (which was lovely because he's Francophone and has little English but really wanted to speak to us about it). Shocking, I say, just shocking (the women, not Daniel)! Only sour note in an otherwise exemplary fest. Until next year, then!

Books in July

July began for us in Victoria, British Columbia, a beautiful small city on an island off the west coast of Canada; what with travelling for the 10 days following the start of the month, I suspect I’ll have fewer books than usual for the month proper, but that’s okay!

Aftermath, by Peter Robinson.Collapse )

Vienna Twilight, by Frank Tallis.Collapse )

Wycliffe and the Beales, by W.J. Burley.Collapse )

Reality by Other Means: The Best Short Fiction of James Morrow, by James Morrow.Collapse )

Act of Evil, by Ron Chudley.Collapse )

Well, my prediction about fewer books read than usual this month has come true - however, considering that I was travelling over the first 10 days of July and then spent the last two weeks attending the FantAsia Festival here at home, I don't think that's too bad! And I plan to devote all of August to reading, reading, reading....
Enzo (Claudio Santamaria) is a small-town crook in Rome, stealing purses and taking on small jobs with other crooks just to get by; after one such incident, he finds himself being chased by the cops and the only way to escape them is to jump into the Tiber River. Unfortunately for him, the place where he jumps conceals a number of barrels containing toxic waste, and one of them has been leaking. He suddenly finds himself with superpowers, and uses them to steal for himself until one day he meets Alessia (Ilenia Pastorelli), a young woman lost in a fantasy world featuring the Japanese anime Steel Jeeg. She convinces him to use his powers for good, but she doesn’t know that a super-villain, Fabio (Luca Marinelli), wants to subvert Enzo for his own ends…. This film is a hoot, a shout-out to Italy’s 1970s love affair with the (real) “Steel Jeeg” anime from Japan, and a gritty tale from the dark belly of the big city all at the same time, and all done with exquisite Italian flare. (Fabio, for example, has a fabulous dress sense and has a small-time claim to fame as a one-time contestant on a TV talent show, which everyone mistakes for the Italian version of “Big Brother.”) There’s lots of action, of course, but also a quieter story of how Enzo gains superpowers which then lead to him gaining his soul. This movie won a bunch of Italian film awards, and it’s easy to see why - it’s by turns charming, brutal, thrilling and tender. Anyone familiar with the genre will know from the beginning how it will end, but the journey itself is a terrific ride, and lots of fun!
17-year-old Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) has a crush on classmate Hiromi (Aoi Morikawa) and is thrilled to sit next to her on the bus during a school outing, but the bus crashes and Daisuke finds himself in Hell, although the rest of his class seems to have landed in Heaven. The rock’n’roll demon Killer K takes Daisuke under his wing and tries to help him find a way to get out of Hell and back to Hiromi, but the paths to doing so are never easy…. This is an insane, hilarious comedy from Japan that has to be seen to be believed. The version of Hell is just completely wacky, and Daisuke’s journeys to the world and back to Hell again are inventive and very funny. And the whole story is brought together with the use of various forms of heavy metal music, which of course just has to be the only music fit for Hell! If you get a chance to see this film, do so, you will be happy you did!

FantAsia VIII: Realive (Spain, 2016)

Marc Jarvis (Tom Hughes) is a rich, young, successful artist who is suddenly told that he has cancer and has at most a year to live. He decides to freeze his body in the hopes that future medicine can cure him, but his girlfriend Naomi (Oona Chaplin) is horrified that he means to take his own life in order to ensure that his body is in as good condition as possible when he dies. Nevertheless, he does just that… only to wake up some 60 years later; Dr. West (Barry Ward) and his team have learned, through trial and error, how to reanimate frozen humans. Marc is their first complete success, and with the help of nurse/assistant Elizabeth (Charlotte Le Bon), Marc struggles to find meaning in his new existence, while his long-ago past still pulls at his heart…. I’m not sure why this is a Spanish film as it’s in English and features British actors; but, no matter. It’s a really thoughtful science fiction film that addresses not only technological advances but the moral and ethical problems associated with them. I very much liked Tom Hughes (who looks a bit like Cillian Murphy) because he was able to take his character through a very complex maze of emotional realities; then again, everybody in this film is good. Interestingly, the problem of how to portray the future was solved by simply having Marc remain in the facility in which he was reborn, because his body was not strong enough (yet) to adapt to outside conditions; a neat explanation that means the viewer isn’t taken out of the picture by seeing a future world that looks cheesy or contrived or otherwise unnatural. Well done, filmmakers!

FantAsia VII: Demon (Poland, 2015)

Through his best friend in London, Peter (Itay Tiran) meets Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska), and soon he travels to her home village in Poland to marry her and settle down in the large, if somewhat isolated, house of her parents. Left there overnight, he does some digging and appears to uncover a skeleton; but the next morning, the hole and the bones are gone, and Peter has spent a rather strange night. Shrugging it all off, Peter and Zaneta marry and a huge party is held at the house; much dancing, speechifying and, especially, drinking of vodka ensues. But Peter isn’t feeling quite himself shortly after the party begins, and soon he’s acting *very* much out of character…. This is a retelling of the Yiddish tale of the dybbuk, a kind of ghost story, and it’s very well done here - the acting is excellent, the atmosphere alternates between wild partying and sheer creepiness, and the horror, while striking, is more of the quiet variety than the blood-splatter type (for which I was grateful). I don’t know how available it is in North America - I saw it at Montreal’s always-brilliant Fantasia Festival - but it’s well worth searching for!
“The Show of Shows” is a documentary about circuses; it is short (77 minutes), non-linear (jumping around in time from the earliest films of circus acts to about the mid-1960s) and not narrated - instead, a score was created by members of Sigur Ros to create the mood for each section of the film. It’s divided into categories - dancers, tightrope walkers, clowns, acrobats and so on - and probably gives more or less equal time to each, but it felt that half the film contained images of animal acts, and that was, for me, its downfall. Until relatively recently, nobody regulated the treatment of the animals, and you could see, very easily, how very stressed and unhappy and in some cases tortured these animals were; it was truly painful to look at. I can’t recommend it for that reason, even though some of the old footage is fascinating. Definitely not for most.
Eighteen years ago, the leaders of a number of martial arts clans captured and killed a young couple who refused to give them “the manual”; the couple had a son and a daughter, each of whom were taken by a rival clan to be raised and trained in the martial arts. Now, the youngsters are 18 and ready to find the weapon that will allow them to avenge their parents’ deaths - but first they must fight, among other things, a black-clad English-speaking mummy, flying Chinese ideograms, treachery both within and outside of their clans, and maybe even each other…. This is one of the hilarious martial arts movies made by the famed Shaw Brothers in the 1980s, who attempted to revive interest in the form by throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the mix. By this time in their careers, they were also playing with special effects (as a result of the success of the original “Star Wars” film) and the results were sometimes spectacular and sometimes spectacularly awful! A great deal of fun, but don’t try to find any logic or rationale in the story or your head will surely explode!