2015 Martial Arts Movies

NOTE: I’ve revised this post with up-to-date information. Please see that post here.

My third annual preview of martial arts movies will be presented in two installments. Many of the movies in the latter half of the year do not yet have release dates or trailers by January. Ergo, I’m posting the first part now, and will do a revision in mid-summer.

“Martial arts movie” is a bit ambiguous. Almost every action movie features martial arts. The leaked teaser for Ant-Man was pretty much a sequence of Scott Lang (Ant-Man) fighting his way through a corridor to access an elevator. So, does such a movie get included? I’ve opted against putting every action film with a kick in it into this post. Yet, I don’t want to stick to films that feature martial arts cliches (e.g. they killed my master, an evil billionaire is hosting a death match tournament, they killed me and left me for dead, etc.)  I, therefore, use the admittedly subjective litmus test of whether there would be a movie if one took away the martial arts and replaced it with brawling–not just whether it would be a less slick movie with a diminished “woo” factor.

I’ve tried to go as international as possible this year, including Bollywood (using the term colloquially if not precisely) and SE Asian releases in addition to the usual Hong Kong & Hollywood fare.

 

Underdog Kids (January 16): Described on IMDb as: “Inner city kids from a poor neighborhood go up against the undefeated Beverly Hills Junior National Karate Team.” I’ve seen no trailer for this, just a poster:
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Wild Card (January 30): This may be a cheat given what I said above. However, it’s a Jason Statham film, and like the “Transporter” films it probably doesn’t amount to much without the ass-kickery. Let’s face it, you’re not going to see Jason Statham for his extensive acting range.

Dragon Blade (February 19): Featuring Jackie Chan, John Cusack, and Adrien Brody. This is a period piece, and–as you can tell from the casting–is big budget as martial arts flicks go.

Wolf Warrior (March 1) [China]: This looks like more of a shoot-em-up action film than a martial arts film, but some have listed it as a martial arts film and the close quarters action is definitely reminiscent of a martial arts film.

Skin Trade (April): This film stars Tony Jaa and Dolph Lundgren as the good guys and Ron Perlman as the villain. As the title suggests, it’s set around a theme of human trafficking.

Bollywood Dragon  (May 15) [India]: The blurb for this one is: “An English martial arts instructor travels to Mumbai to identify her twin sister’s body, discovering she lived a mysterious life among the criminal underworld and decides to investigate by being her.”
There is no trailer up for this movie as of yet.

The Kickboxer: City of Blood: (May 15): This is a different project than the Bautista / Van Damme / Carano film that was originally titled “Kickboxer” and is now going by “Kickboxer: Vengence,” but there’s no graphic publicity out on it yet. It may not come out as scheduled.

The Transporter Legacy (June 19): Another “Transporter” film, but Ed Skrein plays the role of Frank Martin in this one. As with “Wild Card” it may be a cheat to include it as a martial arts film, but car chases don’t get these movies all the way to watchability.
I haven’t seen a trailer, but there are still photos.
TransporterLegacy

The Boy and the Beast (July 11) [Japan]: This also may be a cheat because it’s an animated film, but martial arts does seem to be a prominent feature of the work. (I believe I included one of the Kung fu Panda movies in one of my past posts, so I think this is fair game.)

Brothers (July 31) [India, in Hindi]: An Indian remake of the American film Warriors. In the American movie, two estranged brothers must fight each other in an MMA bout. (Hence the name of the Indian version, Brothers.) There’s not a proper trailer out, but there is this:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend (August 28): Interestingly, this sequel to an immensely popular film will be released on Netflix and IMAX simultaneously. If this were some risky, low-budget film, going straight to Netflix wouldn’t be at all surprising, but this is the sequel to a movie that was (maybe still is) the highest grossing foreign language film playing in America. If this bold move pays off, it could be the beginning of a new paradigm of movie releases. [Also with The Interview going with an unconventional release owing to North Korean threats and intervention, there maybe a great deal learned about alternatives to a traditional film release.]
CTHD2

The Bodyguard (undesignated Summer release) [China]: Featuring and directed by Sammo Hung.
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Movies with unspecified release dates:

SPL (Sha Po Lang) II / A Time for Consequences / SPL2: Rise of Wong Po [China]: This Hong Kong film will feature Thai superstar Tony Jaa. (Is he in everything? Have they cloned him, or does he not need to sleep, eat, and poop like the rest of us.)
SPL_II_Teaser_Poster,_Apr_2014

The Chemist: A grain of salt on the 2015 release, please. This is an “assasin-who-can’t-bear-to-kill-his-victim-and-ends-up-protecting-her-instead” film.

Pound of Flesh: Jean-Claude Van Damme. The blurb says: “A man’s heroic attempt to help a woman in distress ends up with him waking up the next day without a kidney and plotting his revenge.”
PoundofFleshMovie

Kickboxer: Vengence: Featuring Dave Bautista, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Gina Carano.

The Martial Arts Kid: As the unimaginative title (generic knock-off of the alliterative “Karate Kid”?) suggests, this is low budget. It features past martial arts competitors like Don Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.
MartialArtsKid

Ultimate Justice [Germany]: The blurb on IMDb reads: “A team of former elite soldiers are drawn back into action when the family of one of their own is attacked.”
I haven’t seen any publicity for this movie yet.

The Monk (Summer) [China]:This movie is based on a popular Chinese novel entitled Dao Shi Xia Shan (A Monk Comes Down the Mountain.)
I’ve seen no graphic publicity on this one, and the novel has apparently not been translated to English, so I don’t have much to tell you.

Unlikely 2015 Releases:

Stan Lee’s Annihilator: IMDb has it listed for an unspecified 2015 release. If so, those involved are better at keeping secrets than anyone else in Hollywood.

Showdown in Manila: Featuring Mark Dacascos. It’s supposed to begin filming early in February, so a release this year is unlikely. It’s said to be like “The Expendables.” I assume that means that it’s a big cast of past super-stars, but it might just mean that it sucks badly.

BOOK REVIEW: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

This book is about the perils of adopting a false face when dating. At first Nick and Amy seem like the perfect couple, but that’s because Amy is donning the guise of “Cool Girl” and Nick is playing the part of the romantic. When the facades crack apart, so does their marriage. Then Amy goes missing under mysterious circumstances.

This isn’t the type of book that would normally call to me, but I read it because I kept seeing references to it and had to see what the hullaballoo was about. I must say, however, the book did not disappoint. I found Gone Girl hard to put down. Flynn does an outstanding job of carefully revealing information—and sometimes planting false flags—so that one is kept thinking throughout the book. To the characters in the book—besides Nick–it increasingly looks like Nick killed his wife, but to the reader it’s more of a roller coaster ride. At first we can’t believe he’s responsible, then we discover he’s not who he appears, then we learn who Amy really is, and so on.

The organization is alternating chapters from the point of view of the two leads, Amy and Nick. This is why we can’t believe Nick is a murderer at first, because we are seeing his point of view, but then we realize that it’s a limited point of view, and Nick isn’t particularly forthcoming about his peccadilloes and vices. In fact, Nick’s penchant for lying is a major factor in his deepening crisis. Nick’s problem is that he can’t stand to not be liked, particularly by women. Amy’s problem stems from having parents who wrote a book series called Amazing Amy that portrays a character that is a thinly veiled version of her—except perfect in every way. This leads to a condition in which Amy needs to appear perfect, even if she realizes that perfection is illusory.

If the reader has a point of dissatisfaction with this book, I believe it will be with the ending. I, myself, have mixed feelings on the subject. On one hand, the ending seems unbelievable and maybe a little flat. On the other hand, it’s an unexpected ending, and I think any ending that wasn’t completely unexpected would come across as a letdown after all the twists, turns, and reveals of the book.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who likes a good story. As I said, it’s highly engaging and readable.

FYI – there is a movie version coming out on October 3, 2014.

Here’s the trailer:

View all my reviews

2014 Science Fiction Movies

Here’s the 2014 slate of sci-fi films. I didn’t include superhero films (because I did a post on them yesterday) nor did I include those that might be best classified in other speculative fiction genres (e.g. horror, supernatural, or fantasy.)

WELCOME TO YESTERDAY; February 21st

If you don’t think teenagers are safe to drive cars, imagine the chaos they’d create in a time machine.

DIVERGENT; March 21st

This is based on one of the popular dystopian Young Adult (YA) novels of late. I’m not saying that it’s just like the Hunger Games trilogy or Maze Runner–both of which also have movies coming out in 2014–but it’s clearly the subgenre du jour. In this YA dystopia, people are divided into five classes by testing, but some are divergent–defying classification.

UNDER THE SKIN; April 4th (US, previously released elsewhere)

An alien seductress lures hitchhikers into her van with nefarious purpose (and maybe lollipops.) Moral: if Scarlett Johansson tries to pick you up in a serial killeresque van, think twice; and then get in because it’s Scarlett-freakin’ Johansson.

EARTH TO ECHO; April 25th

Kids discover an alien. It sounds a lot like ET.

THE SCRIBBLER; May 1st
Katie-cassidy-picture-1219918070
Supposedly based upon the graphic novel of the same name, which would make this about a girl with multiple personality disorder who partakes in an experimental treatment called the “Siamese Burn.”

GODZILLA; May 16th

The latest attempt to revive Godzilla–using CGI to make him bigger and uglier than previously imaginable.

EDGE OF TOMORROW; June 6th

Like Groundhog Day but with guns and explosions.

THE PURGE 2; June 20th

Sequel to the movie about a dystopian future in which all laws are set aside for a short period once a year.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES; July 11th

This one takes place after the escape shown in the last PotA movie (w/ James Franco) and a pandemic and war that followed, but before humanity is completely enslaved by the damn, dirty apes.

JUPITER ASCENDING; July 25th

A nobody Earthling, played by Mila Kunis, turns out to be the most important woman in the Universe. Naturally, lots of people want her dead.

THE GIVER; August 15th
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Based on the popular YA novel. One person’s utopia is another person’s hell.

RESIDENT EVIL 6; September 12th
Resident_Evil_6_box_artwork
Wow! They’ve made six of these? Way to milk it. Just kidding. I’m sure it will be novel and interesting.

MAZE RUNNER; September 19th
mazerunner
Another YA dystopian adventure. Lord of the Flies meets Hunger Games?

INTERSTELLAR; November 7th

A huge Christopher Nolan film about interstellar travel.

MOCKINGJAY, Pt. I; November 21st
Mockingjay
The first part of the third book in this trilogy, because why make three movies based on three, thin YA novels when you can make four movies based on three, thin YA novels.

HOME; November 26th
200px-The_True_Meaning_of_Smekday_cover
This film is supposedly based on the above book. It’s about an 11 year old who must survive on her own after her mother is abducted by aliens.

Other potential sci-fi releases of unknown date and quality:



THE ZERO THEOREM; no US release date set; the UK release is supposed to be in March

It’s about a man trying to solve a theorem, but with all sorts of craziness in the mix.



MAX STEEL; based on a line of toys (promising.)
SPACE STATION 76; that 70’s sci-fi movie.
GLIMMER; more teen time travel [shudders]

2014 Superhero Movies

Here’s an overview of the upcoming year’s superhero movies.

 



I, FRANKENSTEIN; January 24th

Frankenstein’s monster may not the usual superhero, but it’s based on a graphic novel and the demon-battling premise seems heroic enough.



ROBOCOP; February 12th

This is also one you might not think of this as a superhero movie, I include it because there was a Marvel comic based on the movie and if Iron Man is a superhero…



CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER; April 4th

The second Captain America installment and the third of the five Marvel Phase II films. After taking on some high level conspiracies, Captain America finds himself battling his old sidekick’s villainous alter ego, i.e. The Winter Soldier.



AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2; May 2nd

The sequel finds Spiderman facing Electro and–to a lesser degree–Rhino.



X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST; May 23rd

As the confusing title implies, this is a time travel story in which events in the past must be changed to avert a grim future. Wolverine is sent back to affect this change.



TRANSFORMERS 4: AGE OF EXTINCTION; June 27th
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OK, this is more a toy movie than a superhero movie, but cars that turn into robots seem super in my book. That’s not to say there isn’t a better than average chance the movie will stink.



GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY; August 1st
220px-Guardians_of_the_Galaxy_logo
It’s still early. There’s no trailer out as of this posting.



TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES; August 8th
No trailer or images out, and little is known except this is about as ridiculous a premise for a movie as is imaginable.



BIG HERO 6; November 7th
Big_Hero_6_logo
This is an animated Marvel project. A robotics prodigy and his creation team up with amateur crime-fighters to put an end to a nefarious plot.

2014 Martial Arts Movies

[My 2015 Martial Arts Movies post can be visited here.]

Here are some of the known or suspected martial arts movies for the new year.

 

RAZE; January 10, 2014

A film to appeal to guys who make the RAARRW noise when they see two girls get in a fight, but to the extreme.

I, FRANKENSTEIN; January 24, 2014

OK, this is better labeled sci-fi as it’s based on the premise that Shelley’s monster lived into the future. However, I heard that Aaron Eckhart spent six months learning Kali for the film, so I’ll throw it in the pot. (Also, all martial arts films are cross-genre anyway.)

ENEMIES CLOSER; January 24, 2014 (US release)

A Jean-Claude Van Damme film in which two enemies must come together to avoid being killed by a common enemy.

SPECIAL ID; The Chinese release was in 2013, but there may be a US release in March 2014

This is a 2013 Donnie Yen action film that was not released in the US, but may be soon.

JOURNEY TO THE WEST; March 7, 2014

For those who liked Kungfu Hustle (and who didn’t) this one should appeal. It’s a period piece, but with the same kind of humor and visual affects as Kungfu Hustle.

THE RAID 2; March 28, 2014

This is a sequel to the 2011 Indonesian film produced by Gareth Evans.

ICEMAN; April 3, 2014

The latest Donnie Yen film. It’s about an ancient Chinese warrior who is unfrozen and kicks ass in the modern age.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES; August 8, 2014

Another attempt to capitalize on the inexplicable popularity of this cartoon. But I’ll give it a chance.

THE MONKEY KING; September 14, 2014

A new play on the popular Chinese folk tale.

BOOK REVIEW: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Ender’s Game is the story of a boy, Ender Wiggin, whose intelligence and capacity for ruthlessness lead the military establishment to believe that he’s the last hope for mankind. The book is set in a future after the Earth has been invaded twice by an alien species called the buggers, and now the Earth is planning its own “preemptive” invasion to end the bugger threat once and for all.

The novel follows Ender’s life from his short home life as a “third”—a rare third child for which special permission must be granted—through his post-war life. (This entire timeline transpires before adulthood.) The bulk of the novel takes place in Battle School, where Ender receives his training in military tactics and strategy and spends much of his time in zero gravity war games. He rises up through the ranks quickly, as expected, but not without stirring some animus in the process. He learns strategy both through war games and through the mind-field of real world animosity by others who are jealous or feel insulted by his brilliance.

As Commander material, Ender is considered to be in the Goldilocks zone. His older brother, Peter, is too cruel; his sister, Valentine, is just too kind. (All three Wiggin children are geniuses.) Ender has the right mix to fight the buggers. His problem is that the world forces him to be ruthless and his compassionate side makes it hard to cope.
While Ender leaves home young and early in the novel, there is a subplot involving the older Wiggin children that is revealed over the course of the book—showing the reader more of the tormenting brother and the loving sister who shaped his worldview. Ender does interact with Valentine in person on a couple of occasions, but his only interaction with Peter is a brief mention of correspondence at the end of the book.

Ender is an intriguing character. He is always the outsider, by birth as a third and then through isolation in Battle School that is facilitated by the conflicted head of the Battle School, Col. Graff.

I won’t get into the ending except to say that there is a twist at the novel’s climax. I will say that the reveal of this twist felt a little anti-climactic to me. However, as the real story isn’t about fighting the buggers, but Ender’s internal struggle, this isn’t as dismaying as it might otherwise be.

One can tell that this is a series book because it climaxes and resolves relatively early, leaving a fair amount of space to set up the next book. This actually helps the twist offer some surprise because the reader sees that there are so many pages left for the novel to resolve itself.

Card does an interesting thing in making the central character stronger than everyone around him–at least until he’s introduced to his new guru, Mazer Rackham–the Commander who won the key battle of the second bugger invasion and who is alive by virtue of a relativistic trip. Ender’s superiority seems like a recipe for boredom, but it works because what we don’t know is whether Ender is stronger than everyone else pitted against him combined, and, moreover, we don’t know whether he is strong enough inside to withstand all the horridness to which he is subjected. A lot of the tension of the novel is really internal to Ender. Unlike Peter, who would revel in ruthlessness, Ender is tormented by all of the violence he must perpetrate.

I’d recommend this novel. It has its flaws, but it is quite readable and Ender’s character is intriguing from start to finish.

The movie version is coming out tomorrow. I haven’t seen it, but here is the trailer.

View all my reviews

Shame List: 10 Iconic Movies That I’ve Never Seen

Last week I made a confession about 25 books that I haven’t read that everyone else seems to have. This week, I thought I do the same for movies. These all feature prominently in pop culture, and one can’t go through life without hearing references to them.


1.) Apocalypse Now: I caught a part of the 2001 Redux, but I’ve never seen the original 1979 movie. I know the general plot, but otherwise all I know is that Lt.Col. Kilgore says, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. Smells like… victory.”


2.) Citizen Kane: This is at the top of many a list for the best movie ever.


3.) The Crying Game: I, like everyone not living under a rock, know its surprising twist ending.


4.) Gone with the Wind:: As someone who has lived much of his adult life in Atlanta, this is a particular disgrace.


5.) The Killing Fields: I’ve been to Cambodia. I’ve read about the Khmer Rouge, but…


6.) Poltergeist: “They’re here.” That’s all I know.


7.) Psycho: Norman Bates and his mother, hwew, right?


8.) Raging Bull: The name Jake LaMotta rings a bell.


9.) Scarface: “Say hello to my little friend. [delivered in thick, Cuban accent]” Yeah, I know that part.


10.) Taxi Driver: “You talkin’ to me?” That’s all I know.

Are Action Movies Dazzling Us Stupid?

AvengersJust like everyone else, when I first watched The Avengers, I was awed. As I digested the experience, however, I realized how appallingly flawed the story was. Can a film that is visually impressive enough dance over the hard parts of story?

Alright, it’s not just being visually impressive. If it were, then the Transformers movies (I’m thinking particularly of the second one) wouldn’t be so sucktacular. No. Filmmakers also need clever quips. This feeds an inexplicable urge of young people to repeat the witty remarks of movie characters ad infinitum. (Confession: I’ve always longed for an excuse to say, “I’m your Huckleberry,” as per Doc Holliday’s words to Johnny Ringo in Tombstone.) It’s not just that the Hulk bashes a marble floor to dust using Loki’s lanky frame, but that he delivers that witty, two-word rejoinder. Together the CGI and the quip seal the scene in one’s mind.

[Spoilers ahead] If one looks up deus ex machina in the dictionary, one learns that it means: “someone or something that solves a situation that seemed impossible to solve in a sudden and unlikely way, especially in a book, play, movie, etc.” If one’s dictionary is online, one would then probably be treated to a video clip of the scene in which Professor Selvig is knocked on the head, becomes unenslaved, and consciously realizes that his subconscious built a backdoor that will allow him to shut down the portal that were previously told can’t be shut. The clip could then continue through the end of the movie (minus the post-credit shawarma scene.)  The following are key incidents of deus ex machina in this film:

-a bump on the noggin releases one from the mind-control of a god (A “puny god,” indeed.)
-a conscious mind (in a waking and non-meditative state) knows in great detail what happened in the subconscious
-an attack on the mothership disables all troops on the ground, Independence Day style (worst command and control ever.)

One may be thinking that I’m just one of those douches who picks nits, but I’m really not. These flaws are fundamental to how the story is resolved. They are cheats that make everything that happened leading up to the climax irrelevant. Think about it; if the Professor had gotten knocked on the head 20 minutes earlier, the massive Avengers battle through Manhattan would never have been necessary. They could have called the movie “Professor Selvig’s Magical Mind” and left the Avengers out of it all together.

I’m willing to sustain disbelief about the small things. There are plenty of critics who get into the minutiae of continuity gaffes and the like. A couple of my favorites are below.

Lest one think that I’m picking on The Avengers, that’s only because it’s the third highest grossing film ever and first in the superhero genre. If you’re spending hundreds of millions on a film, you’d think you could throw some chump change into good story-building.  I realize that filmmakers have a jaded audience to contend with, and that they have to ramp up the peril to impossible heights to impress. Maybe they are forced to then throw away the resolution of story. Those who read my recent review of The Wolverine, will know that my criticism isn’t restricted to The Avengers.

Well, I’ve got nits to pick.

5 Classics of Martial Arts Cinema

Martial arts cinema ranges from the horrible through the campy to the excellent. There is one ever-present risk facing this genre. That is, like porn, movie makers may conclude that viewers aren’t watching for character or plot so they might as well just focus on the action. When they do that and then they blow the action– well, that’s when it’s painful to watch. By numbers, most of this genre probably falls into that category. However, sometimes they get it right.

Of course, it’s not always clear what should be categorized as a martial arts film, given many cross-genre romps. The Matrix is science fiction, but it’s also a kung fu flick. The Bourne trilogy films are spy thrillers, but their characteristic gritty hand-to-hand combat sequences are integral to the films. I’ve tried to focus on films that one would unambiguously categorize as martial arts cinema (though anything by Kurosawa is likely to be considered mainstream cinema.)

I also, admittedly, display several of my own biases. I prefer films that avoid over-the-top superhuman choreography. I don’t want to say that I prefer realism. None of it is realistic, but there’s a vast difference between Jackie Chan’s choreography and that of The Curse of the Golden Flower. Still, I do include Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Kung Fu Hustle, which both rely heavily on wires and superhuman feats. I also like period pieces as opposed to modern-day films. Of course, characters with charisma also get my attention, but I don’t think I’m unique in that regard.

5.) Enter the Dragon

Enter the Dragon is Bruce Lee’s last film, and features Lee as a Shaolin practitioner cum secret agent. The film reminds me of the Ian Fleming novel You Only Live Twice in that it’s about a person being tasked to infiltrate an evil mastermind’s sprawling lair not because it makes logical or reality-based sense, but rather because the proposed infiltrator is just that damn good.



4.) Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

This is undoubtedly the most critically acclaimed of the films on the list. It was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 2000, and while it did not win in that category, it did take four Oscars that year. It’s in a class of film that includes Curse of the Golden Flower and Hero that are known for stunning cinematography and historical settings. (Unfortunately, these films are also marked by an insanely excessive use of wire-work for my taste.) This film includes a romantic component as well as the fight to possess a sword called Green Destiny. As is mandatory for Kung fu films, there’s a martial arts master whose death must be avenged.



3.) The Legend of Drunken Master (aka Drunken Master II)

Jackie Chan plays a bumbling young man who is, ironically, a master of Kung fu when completely inebriated. The plot revolves around a mix up between an agent who is trying to steal a valuable artifact and Chan’s character who is trying to smuggle ginseng to avoid paying duty on it. Incredibly, the artifact and ginseng are packaged identically, and the thief ends up with the ginseng and Chan’s character with the artifact. It’s Chan at his best, with all the comedy and creative choreography that one would expect.



2.) Hidden Fortress

I’m not including this just to prevent a Chinese sweep. (On that note: I’ve heard the Thai Ong Bak films are quite good, but I haven’t gotten around do seeing any of them.) Anyway, there are some excellent Japanese period films that involve many combat sequences that are not over-the-top. Of course, Akira Kurosawa dominates in this realm. There are other Kurosawa films, such as Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, or Ran that could equally well be included. Hidden Fortress is probably best known to American movie buffs as a major influence on George Lucas in the making of the first Star Wars film. Hidden Fortress is a about a General (played by portrayer-of-samurai-extraordinaire Toshiro Mifune) who must escort a princess and her family fortune cross-country to safety. Of course, as in every hero’s journey, there are many challenges to be confronted.



1.) Kung Fu Hustle

This comedy is set in the gang-ridden slums of 1930’s Shanghai. A tenement complex is assailed by the gangs. However, the residents offer some surprising resistance in the form of unexpected apartment-dwelling kung fu masters. Unlike Jackie Chan’s down-to-earth comedies, this one is almost cartoon-esque. It features a cast of anti-heroes that keeps the film interesting, and the protagonist has a strong narrative arc.

BOOK REVIEW: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

SolarisSolaris by Stanisław Lem

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Solaris is the  best known work of the Polish sci-fi writer Stanislaw Lem. It’s the story of the planet Solaris’s super-intelligent ocean and the humans that are observing it from an orbiting space station. Scientists discover that the ocean is intelligent because the planet orbits two stars, and the ocean must redistribute itself as ballast to keep Solaris from flying off out of its star systems.

Having had no luck in learning about this ocean, the scientists begin more invasive operations–bombarding the ocean with electromagnetic radiation. The ocean then begins to project human beings into the space station, using blueprints in the minds of the scientists. Each of the scientists begins to see, and eventually interact with, someone from his past. Each “guest” is physically indistinguishable from the person in the respective scientist’s past, but the simulacra are “off.”  These simulacra stir up bad memories.

The most extensive interaction we see between a crew member and one of these manifestations is that of the protagonist, Dr. Kris Kelvin, and his ex-wife. Dr. Kelvin is a psychologist and is the most recent crew edition. (The novel actually starts with him as a new arrival, we learn of the earlier incidents as he does.) His “visitor” is the spitting image of his wife, a woman who committed suicide after the couple broke up.

The novel plays with an intriguing question. What if a person you loved and lost came back from the dead, but you would only be able to experience them as they existed in your mind? In some sense, they’d be more real to you than the actual person. But you’d know they were just a fabrication, and you could never learn anything new about them. At first Kelvin rejects, even banishes, his wife’s doppelgänger, but when she inexplicably returns he finds it hard to maintain his distance.

I enjoyed this book. The translation seemed skilled to me (though I don’t read Polish, and hence didn’t read the original.) I’d recommend it.

View all my reviews

There have been three film adaptations of this novel. I haven’t seen any of the movies, but this is the trailer for the most recent one. The trailer emphasizes the love relationship more and the sentient ocean less than the novel (though the interaction of the protagonist with his imagined wife is central to the work.)