masala-fu

In a rare moment of weakness, I agreed to watch a Bollywood flick with my wife. (Understand that I am trying to build cred with her to get her to try Haibane Renmei)

The movie we watched was Mohabbatein, which turned out to be a lot of fun. What impressed me most was the way it actually juggled an ensemble cast and managed to actually give each of the nine (9!) major characters enough screen time to have actual depth. This is the director’s second film, after Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, which was a major box office hit worldwide and kind of validated Bollywood to non-Indian audiences (maybe I should actually watch that one, too… more wife cred?)

Of course Sharukh Khan steals the show. But watching him in action suggested a startling physical similarity to Jackie Chan. Judge for yourself: Khan and Chan via Google Images. Their alikeness triggered the observation that there are parallels between traditional Bollywood cinema and Hong Kong kung-fu movies. In one case, the stylized physical art form is dance, in another, martial arts, but in both cases the leads are heavily trained in exquisite choreography and have to have tremendous physical stamina. The plot structure is also fairly heavy on moral themes and love triangles and plenty of action – though I haven’t yet seen a kung fu flick break spontaneously into song, there certainly are plenty of other common dramatic tensions and lingering camera scenes of the wrought face of angst.

Some kind of fusion flick would be a sight to see.

1/(Tolkien) || Tolkien*(-1)

I don’t have as much time to read fantasy and science fiction as I did when I was younger, but I would like to recommend two series which I stumbled upon over the past few years and which I just completed.

Jaqueline Carey’s Banewreaker and Godslayer comprise a slim duology which can be fairly characterized as LotR from the vantage-point of Mordor. The correspondences to Tolkien’s narrative are pretty clear and transparent, Carey hits you over the head with her themes. This would probably have been better as a singleton, there just isn’t that much material to work with, and the characterization doesn’t explore new directions in the second book. Nevertheless, it is a nice and satisfying corrective to the Fundamental Attribution Error which crops up in the work of Tolkien and his children, evil is essentialistic in a character, not a function of their circumstance. In some ways Carey’s work has a closer affinity with Greek mythology, with its Prometheus like Sauron equivalent. In contrast Tolkien might not have been totally delusional when he stated that LotR was “fundamentally a Catholic work” in that his cycle did not explore the messy shades of gray which comprise such a vast arc of human experience.

Where Carey’s work is a standard inversion of Tolkien’s narrative, R. Scott Baker’s Prince of Nothing trilogy takes the classic core of high fantasy and the Evil Lord and smokes it with some crack cocaine. If there was ever a sequence of books laced with the sensibility of the cognitive revolution, this is it. Baker is a philosopher by training so I am not totally convinced that the influence is coincidental. If you want a “hero” who brings you down to earth with his lack of idealism, then this is a good series. The last of Baker’s books in the trilogy has a 50 page glossary so he certainly hasn’t stinted on world creation. But with the sharp crispness of the backdrop and the overindulgent prose the many strands of each character can sometimes get knotted, and Baker’s inattention leaves you without a guide out of this undiscovered country. Unfortunately Baker’s “trilogy” is actually the first three acts in a longer cycle, with book 3 prefacing an intermission. The real action on the grand epic scale is clearly to come.

machine souls

Den Beste-sama’s “Engineer’s Guide to the Matrix” is a well-crafted piece indeed. He had shared some of his thoughts on the trilogy with me on email prior to posting his TMW, and one of the things that motivated his analysis was the apparent contradiction between the Matrix needing The One to perform the system reset (and thus stave off a system collapse that would imperil humanity and machine civilization alike), and the presence of Agents whose goal was to eliminate the One. From this central tension, Steven extrapolated the difference of opinion between the Oracle and the Architect, and in so doing fully explained all aspects of the trilogy’s single most enigmatic character, Mr. Smith.

However, there are some aspects of the story that the Engineer’s perspective fails to address. For me, the central observation was that Neo had power over the machines in the “real world”.

Den Beste-sama’s “Engineer’s Guide to the Matrix” is a well-crafted piece indeed. He had shared some of his thoughts on the trilogy with me on email prior to posting his TMW, and one of the things that motivated his analysis was the apparent contradiction between the Matrix needing The One to perform the system reset (and thus stave off a system collapse that would imperil humanity and machine civilization alike), and the presence of Agents whose goal was to eliminate the One. From this central tension, Steven extrapolated the difference of opinion between the Oracle and the Architect, and in so doing fully explained all aspects of the trilogy’s single most enigmatic character, Mr. Smith.

However, there are some aspects of the story that the Engineer’s perspective fails to address. For me, the central observation was that Neo had power over the machines in the “real world”.

Continue reading “machine souls”