Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Book Review: Snake Typhoon! by Billie Jones

Snake Typhoon!

Written by: Billie Jones

Published: 2014

Synopsis: When unseasonable weather hits the sunshine city of Brisbane, a freak typhoon terrorizes the citizens. It’s not just any typhoon though, it’s a snake typhoon! And the deadliest snakes in Australia, with venomous fangs are flying straight for Kez.

Kez is the new girl in the office and she’s desperately fighting to prove herself, but what’s a girl to do when faced with a typhoon of snakes coming straight for her helicopter?

These flying diabolical snakes will stop at nothing to kill their victims and Kez only has one option: Figure out how to stop a snake typhoon and save the world... or die trying!

I like a lot of different genres of films, but the films that give me perhaps the most joy are terrible, terrible B grade action/horror films. There are bad movies and the there are the so-bad-they're-actually-amazing bad movies. Some are filled with A-list stars with a primo budget while others are basically passion projects made by amateur filmmakers with wannabe actors rounding out the cast. The things they all share though, is how wonderfully awful they are. The Room, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, Raging Sharks, Super Mario Brothers are some of the best example of these, and seriously, if you've never seen The Room or Raging Sharks then hop to it, because they will make your ribs crack you'll laugh so hard.

And shockingly, these sorts of films actually turn out to be quite profitable. If you make a bad movie bad enough, you end up with a cult following, midnight screenings across the globe and doors opening where they really shouldn't. Sure they won't land you the Oscar these filmmakers probably think they deserve, but they'll make you into a household name, and sometimes that's good enough. This is why we get the bad bad movies, films like Sharknado and Birdemic, films that set out to be terrible and succeed in being terrible because they are far too self-aware and therefore miss that crucial ingredient that flips them back over to awesome. This is all a very complicated way of introducing the book Snake Typhoon, which falls somewhere in between the so-bad-it's good and bad-bad categories.

I originally accepted this book for review for two reasons. First, the whole premise is an attempt to parody a so-bad-it's-good movie in book form and second, it's set in Brisbane, which is where I'm sitting right now. I will help Brisbane represent itself any way I can. I think the book delivered on both fronts, although since most of the book takes place around the red heart of Australia maybe I should expand my Brissy reppin' to the more general Aussie reppin'. The book utilises a lot of the bad movie tropes; terrible dialogue, clunky transitions, nonsensical plot progression, stereotypical characters, sign-posting for an awful sequel, deus ex machina and unscientific science, but it does these things on purpose. It was a fun and silly read and because of the purposeful attempt to replicate bad movies it was almost impossible to predict where things were going. There were some genuinely good tongue-in-cheek moments, like when the pilot points out to our protagonist Kez that we call typhoons cyclones in Australia, and she shoots back that "Snake Cyclone" doesn't sound as good, or when a character dies Kez is told not to be sad because he "believes in the afterlife". It's over the top and ridiculous and it’s laugh out loud funny at times.

But it isn't all good-bad. Like I mentioned before, when something sets out to parody or replicate the good-bad movie it's usually too self-aware and completely misses the mark. I felt like that was the case here unfortunately. Some of the jokes and bad movie tropes were just too on the nose. Like the sudden shift in romantic interest for Kez or the repeated comments saying things to the effect of "don't worry, we can't die, they need us for the sequel". It takes you out of the moment and forces you to acknowledge that it's a bad-movie imitation rather than just overwhelming you with its nonsensical passion and hilarity.

But if you've always wanted to read your bad movies, and go into this knowing it's a parody of the B-grade movie genre then I think you'll probably have a pretty great time reading it. Kez is a strange protagonist, she kind of feels like the "ugly" version of the female lead in those early 2000s movies like She's All That. She has terrible self-esteem, is nervous about her job but a complete over-achiever, talks too much and seems a little dorky. But as the book goes on she gains more confidence (but probably shouldn't, she makes some terrible judgement calls) and takes charge of the situation. It's completely ridiculous but she's still kind of kick ass, and I'll take my kick ass females where ever I can, bad movie parody or no.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Did you win the Ryu Murakami Giveaway?

If you're Alley then yes, yes you did!

I tried to keep the Japanese spirit alive and used the empty cup from my Rilakkuma sweets to draw the winning name. 

So yay for Alley! And thanks to everyone else for entering, you won't be getting a free copy but the gift of a good recommendation is prize enough yes?

Alley, let me know whether you want a copy of In The Miso Soup or would rather a different book of Murakami's. He's written quite a few so maybe take a gander on The Book Depository and let me know?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Holiday Photo Diary: Tokyo 2014 (week 1)

 Since I had to get a lot of stuff done for my thesis, my sight-seeing was smooshed into any available gap I could find. And I actually managed to see a fair amount, stopping into see Tokyo sights on the way to and from meetings and making the most of free evenings. My trip was roughly split into three sections, a first week in Tokyo, a second week up in Hokkaido for the Yubari Fantastic Film Festival, and then a final week back in Tokyo. This seemed like a pretty logical way to split up my photos, so what you'll be seeing today is my first hectic 6 days in the awesome city of Tokyo.

The greatest playground EVER, Asakusa
The Tokyo Sky Tree's shadow looming over Tokyo
Meiji-Jingu (shrine close to Harajuku)
Donations of sake barrels by the largest sake manufacturers, Meiji-Jingu 
I will never tire of TLJ as the face of Boss Coffee
Old and New - quintessential Tokyo. (Tokyo Tower)
Double bridge at the Imperial Palace
Cleaning fallen branches out of moat around the Imperial Palace
kaminarimon, Asakusa

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Guest Post: All Eyes on Divergent

Today I have a special guest post to share with you all. Spencer Blohm is here to discuss the new film adaptation of Divergent and how it compares to similar YA book-to-film transitions. Enjoy!

As March 21st, the date for the release of Divergent into theaters, rapidly approaches, fans’ excitement for the film is steadily rising. Like many other series, Divergent is being heavily compared to others in its YA lit based genre. The series has fictional elements similar to the Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games franchises, but it’s the latter that draws the closest comparison. Both Divergent and Hunger Games are based in the future, contain a fair amount of action, feature female lead characters, and are even set in a dystopian world.

            Perhaps most importantly, these two series show exactly how much dystopian books, movies, and television shows are presently in demand. In fact, these two series have aided in plunging the stake in the dying trend of vampires, a theme which is only just lingering thanks to the much delayed release of Vampire Academy. However, that trend is more or less over, and it looks as if dystopian is the flavor of the moment. So far in 2014, Divergent will be the second dystopian themed film to be released, the first being RoboCop. Throughout the rest of 2014, no less than seven new films with dystopian themes will be premiering, including Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, The Giver, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

            Despite the crowded arena, Divergent is attempting to set itself apart from the rest of the dystopian films. Director Neil Burger has, logically, gone out of his way to create something drastically different from The Hunger Games. For those who are unfamiliar with Burger and his style, you can stream some of his other films, like The Illusionist and Limitless online through DirecTV (more info available on their web site) or Amazon. Regarding Divergent, Burger told Collider in an interview
“I wanted to do something different. We’ve seen a lot of post-apocalyptic movies, we’ve seen these other young adult movies. So I just thought that there was a way to do it in a much more cinematic way, to tell it visually, and also to tell it in a more real way.” 
He went on to explain, 
“Yeah I think some of the violence also is less about seeing a fist smash into a face or blood splatter… There’s a sense of violence emotionally, with people being killed. Again it’s less about how they die. Just the fact that they do die is really disturbing and upsetting, and intense.”
It appears Burger is trying as hard as he can to differentiate his directing and the film’s style from that of their most obvious competitor. It’s worth noting though, that Burger will not be directing the second film, so the style of the sequel could be drastically different from its predecessor.

            While we will have to wait for Divergent’s official box office numbers to see how it stacks up against The Hunger Games, according to The Hollywood Reporter estimates have the film pulling in around $65 million opening weekend. This total would fall significantly short of the $152 million The Hunger Games made its opening weekend, but it’s certainly not a small number. The film definitely has the potential to create mega stars out of main actors Shailene Woodley and Theo James, both largely unknown to the general public. While Woodley scored a Golden Globe nod for her performance in The Descendants, she presently lacks the star power of The Hunger Games’ Jennifer Lawrence. James, meanwhile, has very few acting credits to his name, and those he does have are better known in his native England. If the film is successful, however, the two of them could be kicking R-Patz and K-Stew of Twilight to the curb come this time next year.

Spencer Blohm is a freelance entertainment blogger who lives and works in Chicago. When he’s not busy working he can be found catching up on all his favorite TV shows or checking out the newest movies. His sadly neglected Twitter is @bspencerblohm.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Movie Trailer: Hateship Loveship (2014)

Oooooooh Kristin Wiig, Guy Pearce and Hailee Steinfeld in a film adaptation of Alice Munro's Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage? I am IN. It's also a nice reminder that I need to read some flippin' Alice Munro already!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Review: In The Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami (and a giveaway!)

In the Miso Soup

Written by: Ryu Murakami

Published: 1997

Synopsis: It is just before New Year's. Frank, an overweight American tourist, has hired Kenji to take him on a guided tour of Tokyo's sleazy nightlife on three successive evenings. But Frank's behavior is so strange that Kenji begins to entertain a horrible suspicion: that his new client is in fact the serial killer currently terrorizing the city. It isn't until the second night, however, in a scene that will shock you and make you laugh and make you hate yourself for laughing, that Kenji learns exactly how much he has to fear and how irrevocably his encounter with this great white whale of an American will change his life.

Details for the giveaway will be given at the bottom of the review.

“There's no reason a child commits murder, just as there's no reason a child gets lost. What would it be - because his parents weren't watching him? That's not a reason, it's just a step in the process.”

As has become my standard travel preference, I headed over to Japan with a bunch of books on the kindle app on my phone (I decided to leave my actual kindle at home) and a single physical copy book. And as usual, I tired of this arrangement pretty quickly. I don't know about everyone else, but as convenient as ebooks are I find I tire of reading off an electronic device far quicker than if it's an actual book. I think it might be tied to how often I use my phone to procrastinate, so I've programmed myself to feel to need to flick through things as quickly as possible. I hardly needed a lot of encouragement to dart into a bookstore and look for a new book to read, so when I saw a Kinokuniya in Sapporo I decided to see what their English language section had to offer.

I might have bought The Sisters Brothers, but what I really wanted was a book by a Japanese author. There is something amazingly cool about reading a book as you're travelling around where the book is set. It adds a level of personal investment that you simply don't get if you read it back home and it cements that book with that country in your memory, so future re-reads are always happy visits down memory lane. Aside from some English translations of traditional Japanese poetry and folklore the only real offering was Haruki Murakami, who is far too readily available in Australia to be special enough for a Japanese purchase,* and Banana Yoshimote and Ryu Murakami (no relation to Haruki). Since I've read (and adored) Yoshimoto that really only left Ryu Murakami - which I was 100% okay with because the blurbs on all of his books sounded brilliant. What I got from the covers of In the Miso Soup, Coin Locker Babies and Piercing is that Murakami is basically the Japanese equivalent of Hunter S. Thompson, rolling fictional narratives with unflinchingly accurate depictions of the underbelly of Japanese (and particularly Tokyo) life and culture. Yes please, gimmie gimmie gimmie.

In the Miso Soup is a sharp and slick peek into the apathetic life of Tokyo youngster Kenji. 20 years old, Kenji works as a tourist guide in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Except rather than guide Americans and English tourists around the shopping district or to the nearest shrine, Kenji specialises in sex tourism. When foreigners come to Japan and want to knock boots in the seedy and kinky Tokyo sex industry, Kenji guides them through Kabuki-cho, a brightly-lit district in Shinjuku that's full of love hotels, yakuza-run bars and prostitutes. Kenji is disillusioned, disinterested and despondent working in this industry, but it helps him get closer to his dream of having enough money to move to America and start a new life. Frank is Kenji's latest client. American, overweight and with a weird plastic shine to his skin, Frank creeps Kenji out from the outset. But money is money, and one creep is no different to the rest.

The book covers the three nights Kenji spends with Frank, and over the 200 pages you fall headlong into the turbulence of the Tokyo sex industry, shuffling between disaffected youths, antagonistic pimps and gangsters and the slow-building tension between Kenji and his American client. Everything is awash with a general sense of unease but because everything is so foreign and dirty and awkward it's hard to know if Frank is actually as unsettling as Kenji seems to find him, or if everything is just being heightened in the unhappy mind of Kenji as he comes to realise how little he likes this world. As the narrative unfolds and Frank questions Kenji about Japanese customs and the Tokyo scene it becomes clear that Kenji sees Japanese culture as littered with problems. Whether it's the high school girls selling their time (but not their bodies) to the highest bidder, not for a need for stimulation or for money but because they're lonely and are looking for something, or the unsettling salary men and karoshi careers, Kenji seems determined to push against everything that's accepted as natural in Japan but also seems unaware of how to go about it. He's floundering and unhappy.
Very few people of our generation or the next will reach adulthood without experiencing the sort of unhappiness you can't really deal with on your own. We're still in the minority, so the media lump us together as "The Oversensitive Young", or whatever the latest catchphrase is, but eventually that will change.”
But perhaps the best part of the book is how well Murakami, 45 years old at the time of writing, manages to write as a young disillusioned Japanese man, a 35 year old American man and successfully display each character's confusion, apprehension and misunderstanding about the other's culture. The cultural and generational divide between the two men acts as a point of separation but it also performs as a way for each man to come to terms with their own identity and that of their country. Through Frank's confusion or disgust Kenji finds himself questioning parts of Japan that he hadn't thought to question before. But by learning more about America through Frank, Kenji also comes to realise that the grass isn't always greener, and at the end of the day maybe everyone, everywhere, is equally fucked up.
After listening to a lot of these stories, I began to think that American loneliness is a completely different creature from anything we experience in this country, and it made me glad I was born Japanese. The type of loneliness where you need to keep struggling to accept a situation is fundamentally different from the sort you know you'll get through if you just hang in there."
I've been tiptoeing pretty hard around the actual plot of this book, partially because it's one that's better to go into knowing next to nothing about but also because it's so unpredictable and thrilling that I'd basically have to lay it all out from start to finish to avoid making it sound fractured and disastrous. So vague as this review may be, just trust me when I say it is excellent and you need to find out for yourself what the book is really about. And from someone who has just spent three weeks walking around many of the streets mentioned in this book, let me just assure you that it's a complete and fascinating look at a part of Japan that you might not encounter otherwise. While it emphasises the less than savoury aspects of Japanese (and in particular, Tokyo) culture and night time proclivities, it also paints a picture of a bustling, colourful, sometimes dangerous and always bizarre city that has to be seen to believed. It's a glimpse into another time and place, and I loved it.

*Although I actually did go back and buy one of his books later.

**Giveaway time! I had such a great time reading this book I want to share the experience! For one week I'm going to be accepting entries into my Ryu Murakami/Japanese goodies giveaway. If you'd like to see what the fuss with this book was all about (or would prefer to read another of Murakami's books, i.e. Audition, Coin Locker Babies, From the Fatherland with Love or Piercing) and get some super special Japanese goodies I brought back with me, then raise your hand in the comments (and make sure you "follow" this blog) and let me know which book you'd pick. I'll be picking one of you randomly next week and sending this fancy package your way! YAY!** (Giveaway closed, congrats Alley!)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Home again!

Hello wonderful people, guess who has made it back home in one piece once again? That's right, me!

My (almost) 3 weeks in Japan have come to a close and I'm back in the sweaty town of Brisbane, faced with writing a huge thesis, getting through the 200+ unread posts on Bloglovin' and a mountain of physical mail.

Speaking of which, guess what was sitting quietly waiting for me when I got home? My Valentine's Ninja book-swap! I had been waiting a torturous wait before leaving to Japan and of course it arrived the day after I left. OF COURSE. But at least I knew it A/ hadn't been lost in the mail and B/ I'd have a package to open when I got home to Australia. The Stupendous Chrissi (of Chrissi Reads) sent me a package chock full of goodies and I feel absolutely spoiled.

The photo is a little glare-y since I took it at night, but inside my package was John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things, a book I have been wanting to read for years but have never gotten around to (although I actually borrowed it from the library before my US trip, but ran out of time before starting it) and Daniel Wallace's Big Fish, which I've been wanting to read since Alley's great review of it. Non-book-wise I have more tea than I know what to do with!! Chrissi got my a HUGE bag of Tetley tea, a box of Twinings English Breakfast tea and a sampler of Green & Black's organic chocolate. and, and, and the card has cats on it! I don't think Chrissi could have put together a more perfect gift for me. So HUGE thanks to Chrissi, and sorry it's taken me so long to get around to sharing (I swear I must have thought about it every day I was away!)

So Japan was pretty great. Aside from all the awesome stuff I got to do and see and people I got to meet for my thesis, I also found time to get a little sight-seeing done in my spare moments. I got to explore parts of Tokyo I missed the first time around, and visited Hokkaido for the very first time. It was nice to pop back into winter and wear my coats and get to see snow again. I know most of you Americans are probably shaking your fist at your screen reading that. But truly, I do love winter A LOT. I'll share a longer post of pictures and stories next week, but for now I figured I'd share just a couple of snapshots from my trip (i.e. pictures I can grab off my phone that require no effort). I've also got a bunch of reviews to put up, I managed to read a tonne of books, some of which aren't books you've all read - so yay for new reviews!

Panorama of the Great Fountain at Ueno Koen, Tokyo
Tokyo Sky Tree and Asahi Building, Asakusa, Tokyo
A shockingly unclear photo of two adorable cats at the cat cafe, Nakano, Tokyo
Me posing with a cupid statue near Tokyo Station, Tokyo

I'll be back with reviews and photo diaries and maybe a rage-y post about social causes on Tumblr soon! And in the meantime, fill me in on what's been happening while I was away.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

The Sisters Brothers

Written by: Patrick deWitt

Published: 2011

Synopsis: Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn't share his brother's appetite for whiskey and killing, he's never known anything else. But their prey isn't an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm's gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living–and whom he does it for.


“I thought, When a man is properly drunk it is as though he is an a room by himself--there is a physical, impenetrable separation between him and his fellows.”

One of the worst things about being a blogger and following a fairly small circle of bloggers who have crazily similar taste in books is that eventually you find yourself the last person to read a book and the job of reviewing it is next to impossible. How can you possibly write something when everyone who reads your blog has already read, loved and reviewed it? And in the case of The Sisters Brothers how can I possibly give the book a better seal of approval than Meg, who literally tattooed the damn thing onto her arm?! I can't think of better praise to deWitt's wordsmithery (wordsmithing?) than to emblazon it on your forearm for all eternity.

Of course, this little problem is hardly a problem at all. Because maybe this review won't be revolutionary to any of you or convince you to read the book (since you've already read it) but because you all reviewed this book so lovingly and Meg reminded me of this love with her gorgeous tattoo I picked it up, and it's definitely possible I never would have found it without all of you. So I guess it's actually one of the best things about blogging, even if it means I spend my review of it rambling on and on about things being the worst but actually the best and avoiding the problem of actually reviewing the damned wonderful book.

So this book. This book I adore. It's so wonderfully crafted everything, the characters, the writing, the style, shine off the page and permanently imprint themselves inside your skull. I bought my copy at one of the few bookstores in Japan that has an English language section and read it in two sittings. The first time while I caught a train back from the film festival I was attending and the second was after I went to bed early so that I could finish what I'd begun earlier that day. It is utterly engrossing, and even though my train was a lengthy one (1.5 hours, ugh) I was shocked at how much I managed to read in the space of that ride. Like so many of the books we all fawn over, this is the kind of book you can't put down. Not because the plot is particularly fast-paced or thrilling (although it most certainly is) but because the world is so completely constructed that it's an absolute pleasure to jump inside.

I actually had to give up highlighting lines and sections because I was basically underlining and drawing stars next to everything Eli said and it was slowing down my progress. But this book is dripping with truths. Eli, though perhaps a little simple, is so switched on when it comes to the human condition and the reasons we do certain things. Honestly I have no idea how Meg chose just one line to tattoo onto her arm, I'm fairly sure I'd have to tattoo every single word in the book because I just wouldn't be able to choose.

This will be me, but with this book as the tattoos and none of the muscles

“Your laughter is like cool water to me," I said. I felt my heart sob at these strange words, and it would not have been hard to summon tears: Strange.  "You are so serious all of a sudden," she told me. "I am not any one thing," I said."
I mean, how freaking supurb is that small fraction of a conversation? I spent 98% of this book nodding furiously along with Eli as he pondered his job, his brother, religion, women, drinking and the afterlife. He manages to speak so frankly and so openly and while he is one of the saddest and most sympathetic characters I've read, he's also devilishly funny, especially when bouncing off his brother Charlie.
“Just your everyday grouping of civilized gentlemen, sitting in a round robin to discuss the events of the day with quivering erections.”
Perhaps one of the reasons Eli and the entire book works so well is the Western setting. I can't say I'm exactly an expert on the genre since I'm fairly sure True Grit is the only other Western I've read, but it felt completely authentic. The dialogue felt like it came straight out of Once Upon A Time In The West and the narrative conjured up the reckless enthusiasm and abandon the Gold Rush ushered in. It's the story of a fairly new country* caught up in the excitement of finding their identity and revelling in the lack of ties to the old one. It is, to be completely cliché, the story of America and American life. It feels like so much of what makes up the American identity today, the neuroses, the unrestricted enthusiasm, the family values, was set up in these pages. And maybe this era didn't actually have as big an impact on the America we all know today, but this novel makes it feel like it did. And hey, maybe that's why you all liked it so much what with most of you being Americans and all.

So yes, this book is wonderful. If any of you haven't read it yet (are you the last Nahree?) then you most definitely have to drop whatever book you're reading and pick up this one**. Because there's no way it'll be better that this. Or, I guess, maybe it could be better, but it can definitely wait.

*relatively speaking and y'know ignoring the fact that there were people in America for millennia before the British/Spanish/Dutch etc settled.

**While you're at it, why not check out everyone else's reviews. They're infinitely better than this >> Skip on over to read what Meg, Alley, Laura, and Tika, thought.


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