Toy Story 3 (FILM)

Film

TOY STORY 3

Toy Story 3 was the first of three movies I watched while on a plane to China. I liked it, but didn’t love it. And I don’t mean ‘I didn’t love it’ as a polite way of saying I disliked it, I just … actually didn’t have any great love for it.

(Man, it feels really weird to have a lukewarm opinion of something that got 99% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.)

It should be worth noting that I have no particular recollection of watching the first Toy Story, though I do recall the second, as I had it on VHS back in the day. I haven’t watched it in forever, but I do remember most of it.

The plot of this third installment centres around the fact that Andy is now off the college, throwing the fate of the toys into uncertainty. Things haven’t been going well for them for a while – they haven’t been played with in ages – and now they don’t know if they’ll ever see Andy again. Through a series of unfortunate events, the toys all end up being donated to a daycare centre. Havoc ensues.

I found this to be an acceptable movie. As can generally be expected from Pixar, the animation was excellent, the story inventive and original. There was humour, there was suspense, there was no shortage of moments that tugged on the heartstrings. I can’t really find any fault with this film, other than the fact that it didn’t really speak to me and I have little emotional enthusiasm for it.

Perhaps one reason for this is because I never had many toys when I was younger, and I don’t remember ever playing with what I did have in the highly-imaginative, acting-out-a-play kind of way that Andy does. So of course, those scenes weren’t too relatable to me.

Nonetheless, I recognise that Toy Story 3 is a pretty good film in terms of everything but my own lukewarm subjective reaction … which I can’t actually really explain. While I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it, I did enjoy watching it, and it’s worth a couple of hours of your time if you’re interested.

The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan (BOOK)

Books

joy-luck-clubThe Joy Luck Club is a well-written novel that is also magnificently depressing. I thought it was an accomplished piece of work, but I also don’t want to read it again anytime soon … or possibly ever.

This book tells the story of four Chinese immigrant women and their American-born daughters. The narrative point of view switches between the four mothers and four daughters, spanning early 20th-century China to 1980s San Francisco. It’s a richly-woven tapestry of experiences and perspectives, ranging from the familial tragedies of pre-revolutionary China to the inevitable cultural rift between immigrants and their children. It’s a painfully vivid tapestry which Tan weaves with excruciating skill.

Predictably, my personal context has greatly informed my reaction to this book: I myself am a child of Chinese immigrants (although I grew up in 2000s Australia), and so I found this book painfully relatable. And I mean that as no exaggeration. Almost every interaction between the mothers and daughters, those words hurled across intergenerational and intercultural chasms, was something that resonated with me because I had experienced the very same things.

What’s more, my copy of this book was gifted to me by a friend (also the Australian-grown child of Chinese immigrants, like me) after I’d ranted to him about an exposive fight I’d had with my mother. I actually put off reading this book for ages, because I knew from his own recounts that I’d probably find it a somewhat distressing read. I was right.

That said, this reaction I had is a testament to Tan’s skill in writing something that – in my opinion, at least – is authentic and vividly representative of the Chinese immigrant experience. I mean this not just in terms of the exasperations of cultural transplants like me, but also in terms of the struggle of immigrant parents. So I’m giving her props for creating a work that shows a perspective not often seen in English language fiction, and for doing it very well indeed.

It’s not just my own personal experience that made this a heavy read for me, one that I blazed through as quickly as I could. Quite apart from that, the stories Tan tells of the mothers are all varying shades of terribly tragic. Tan writes well – these tales of woe weren’t unpleasant because they were clumsily written or trite, but because they were so deftly woven.

I think The Joy Luck Club is a good book. Tan writes with a clear voice that masterfully handles multiple perspectives and eras. Both the tragedies of the characters and the painfully authentic portrayal of the immigrant experiences show her considerable skill as a writer. However, they’re also the reason why I can’t say I wholeheartedly enjoyed this book, but would nonetheless recommend it to anyone interested.

STILETTO – Daniel O’Malley (book)

Books

51whahbbsdl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Remember how I said that The Rook is one of my favourite novels of all time? Well, I just finished reading Stiletto, its sequel, which I think may possibly be even better.

If you’ve not already read The Rook, I highly recommend that you do so before reading its sequel. Stiletto can stand on its own, you won’t be completely lost, but it’ll be much more enjoyable for those who’ve read its predecessor – not just because you get to return to an already-familiar world and characters in the order that the author intended, but also because there’s a few references you’ll find yourself picking up on and enjoying. Also, of course, The Rook is excellent.

I’ll advise you to stop reading this review now if you want to read The Rook, as it contains some big spoilers for it. No spoilers for Stiletto though, so if you’ve read The Rook but not Stiletto, feel free to read ahead! Okay, warnings over, onto the review:

The plot and premise of Stiletto revolves around the merger-in-progress between the Checquy Group, the United Kingdom’s supernatural secret service, and the Wetenschappelijk Broederschap van Natuurkundigen (AKA the Grafters), a Belgian group of biohacking scientific geniuses who are centuries ahead of current medical technology. There’s just one hitch, though: due to an ill-fated invasion of England that the Grafters perpetrated several centuries ago, and the fact that, upon winning a basically Pyrrhic victory, the Checquy then proceeded to (try to) annihilate the Grafters, the two groups utterly hate each other.

The novel splits time between a few protagonists, but the main ones are Pawn Felicity Clements, a Checquy psychometrist and soldier, and Odette Leliefeld – a descendent of lead Grafter Ernst van Suchtlen, and surgeon extraordinaire. Odette is part of a delegation of Grafters who have travelled to London to partake in the merger negotiations, and Felicity is a standard Checquy operative who … happens to get caught up in it all.

Of course, that’s not all there is to the plot – it happens that the Grafters have been followed across the Channel by a group of mysterious foes, known only as the Antagonists, who threaten to plunge the fragile negotiations into chaos – and possibly war.

I love this book for basically the same reasons I love The Rook – the plot is thoroughly engaging and packed with action that’ll keep you turning the pages, the worldbuilding is deliciously rich, and the writing is at once unpretentious (at least in terms of high-brow pretentions) but also incredibly fun. I do admit, one might get the feeling sometimes that O’Malley quite enjoys the sound of his own voice – the humour is generally of the witty and self-indulgent kind – but honestly, so would I if I had a voice like that. As with The Rook, there’s also a fair amount of infodumping, but it all comes through in a well-integrated enough way – and is comprised of sufficiently fascinating content – that I really didn’t mind at all.

In what ways is this book better than its predecessor? Mainly because of its diversity of character perspectives. We get a lot more insight into the Grafters and their world, which is just as rich as the Checquy’s. It turns out that O’Malley is quite capable of juggling multiple perspectives cohesively and engagingly. Additionally, there’s quite a bit more in terms of character development and skillfully-drawn emotion.

Another reason I liked this book is that it does relatively well in terms of gender and ethnic diversity. It passes the Bechdel test with truly flying colours, and its two female protagonists are fleshed-out, realistically flawed, and undeniably badass – in two rather interestingly contrasting ways. There is an impressive host of ethnically diverse supporting characters, although the main protagonists are white – however, as this book is written by a white author and set in the United Kingdom and Western Europe, that’s quite understandable.

I did note that there’s little in the way of any other type of minority representation (e.g. the queer community), however I think it’s relatively forgiveable in this case, as the nature of the story (i.e. a plot-driven urban fantasy adventure containing a general lack of romance) doesn’t exactly lend itself to elaborating on identity traits that aren’t immediately obvious to the eye, or of relevance to an action-based plot.

In short, I found Stiletto a magnificently enjoyable and masterful piece of fiction. It’s got a highly readable plot, a compelling and richly-drawn world, engaging characters, a confident and witty voice, and a surprising amount of heart. I fully recommend it.

THE ROOK – Daniel O’Malley (book)

Books

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The Rook is one of my absolute favourite novels of all time. It’s a rollicking ride and I love it.

The story begins with our protagonist waking up in a park, surrounded by corpses who are all wearing latex gloves. She has no memory of who she is, but finds in her pocket a note that begins: Dear You, The body you are wearing used to be mine.

Honestly, this was pretty much all I needed to start reading, but I’ll give you a little more in case you’re a harder sell than I was. Though if you decide you’re interested already and stop reading this review, I fully support this decision.

Our amnesiac protagonist finds out that, before she lost her memory, she was Myfanwy (rhymes with ‘Tiffany’) Thomas, a high-ranking official in the Checquy Group – the United Kingdom’s supernatural secret service. The Checquy’s job is to safeguard the nation against supernatural threats, using their supernatural (and non-supernatural) members.

Myfanwy decides to step back into her old life, aided by an impressive dossier of briefings and letters prepared by her former pre-amnesia self (who had been warned by several prophecies of her impending memory loss). Quite apart from the challenge of taking up this new role, though, Myfanwy finds that she also has to deal with a threat – the very people who wiped out her memory in the first place, who seem intent on destroying her.

Alright, premise summary aside, onto the reviw:

I fucking love this book. It’s action-packed, magic-packed urban fantasy headed by a two kickass heroines: Myfanwy of the present, and Myfanwy of the past. It’s part-epistolary novel, with chapters frequently switching between the present Myfanwy’s life, and past Myfanwy’s dossier notes. The former offers a fantastically fun look through the eyes of an amnesiac desperately trying to conceal her amnesia as she runs a secret organisation, while the latter provides informative and adventure-filled insights into the daily goings-on of the Checquy, told from the perspective of the shy but formidably competent bureaucratic genius that is past Myfanwy.

The plot of this book is thoroughly engaging, as is its premise, which is supported by highly rich, detailed, and endearingly believable worldbuilding. The worldbuilding is mostly done through past Myfanwy’s dossier, so it can come off as a bit of an infodump at times, but I personally found them all magnificently fascinating enough that I didn’t mind a bit (the fact that their existence is legitimately justified by the plot also helps).

Plot and premise aside, I’m also quite a fan of O’Malley’s writing style here: it’s clear and deliberate, with no hint of purple prose or pretentiously highbrow longwindedness, while at the same time effectively carrying all the detail and feeling needed to pull the reader into the story. There’s quite a bit of humour, too, mostly of the somewhat dry and/or self-indulgently witty variety, which I personally enjoyed.

All in all, this book is a deliciously bloated ride through the world of the British secret secret service, propelled by an engaging plot, excellent worldbuilding, and a fantastic freak show of superpowered dramatis personae. In other words, an absolute joy to read.