Review: The Raid.

May 28, 2012

If you’re a fan of action movies then you’ve doubtless already seen this one, but for the uninitiated, all you need to know about The Raid can be summed up by a little detail in the end credits: this film features not one, nor two, but five machete gangs. Albert Nobbs, this is not.
This hardly matters though, given the glowing reviews the movie has garnered and deservedly so, for this is a tight, focussed and rambunctious tribute to over the top actioners of a bygone era.
Powering through these tooled up goons is a kick ass rookie cop Rama who sensibly lets his boots do the talking and over the course of the movie survives the predictable wipe-out of his team, plummets from a high rise window, and painfully realigns the vertebrae of one particularly unfortunate henchman. Oh, and he blocks a machete with his face. His face.
The movie’s location in a derelict high rise apartment block does much to focus the action as battles rage up and down corridors, spanning whole different floors that are peppered with sniper fire, exploding fridges and bad guys of increasing toughness. In fact, the denizens of this structure seem to be the most expendable type of goon to grace a screen since the halcyon days of Arnie. Running the gamut of clichéd hoodlum parade, they span the ranks of lowly crack head, to ninja meth scientists and finally to unstoppable, snarling sub boss, Mad Dog, whose standout standoff with the police captain is one of the movie’s most visceral and memorable scenes.
Fittingly, for all this action, the film has a videogame-ish vibe to it, in themes and structures. A lone protagonist, ascending a building, stopping on different levels, fighting bosses, recovering health in bathrooms etc. Anyone who has locked horns with Streets of Rage, Mortal Kombat or indeed Donkey Kong will know the formula and it’s surprisingly how well the movie carries itself in this regard. Relentless, beautifully framed action is the real star here, driving the pace at a nice clip, never lingering on the threadbare story, and instead devoting its time to what it does best: reducing gangs of machete goons to gibbering wrecks.
So is there a downside to the so called action movie of the decade? Well, of course. If you have little appreciation for balletic choreography, implausibly stacked odds or even good old fashioned justice delivered via the medium of fist then you’ll find this to be a shallow, repetitive and gratuitously violent waste of time. But in a summer set to be filled with CG, PG and spandex superheroes, The Raid is a breath of fresh air, gut punched right out of the viewer.


Grave mistakes

July 21, 2010

Language barriers are tough. But they’re hilarious when they happen to other people.

“Eventually, after walking some distance, I found an Itlaian restaurant called Capriccio just around the corner from my hotel on Theatresrasse. The food was Italian, but the staff were all German. (I could tell from the jackboots – only joking!) My waitress spoke no English at all and I had the most extraordinary difficulty getting myself understood. I asked for a beer and she looked at me askance.

‘Wass? Tier?’

‘Nein, beer,’ I said and her puzzlement grew.

‘Fear? Steer? Queer? King Leer?’

‘Nein, nein, beer.’ I pointed at the menu.

‘Ah, beer,’ she said, with a private tut, as if I had been intentionally misleading her. I felt abashed for not speaking…”

My sympathies to Bill Bryson, in “Neither Here nor There.”

And this is in Europe. Jesus.

I went to a daiso explaining that I had luggage to send home and I innocently inquired might they sell cardboard haka to put the luggage into?

Since haka is the Japanese for “grave” and hako is the word for “box” the conversation understandably took a nose dive, but in a country whose writing system relies heavily upon context, it’s amazing how easily the spoken part can be hijacked into nonsense with the smallest of errors.

Really, who walks into a pound shop looking for a grave? How cheap could you be?

Surely the words hako and haka, while easy to mistake are contextually different enough to allow for easy correction. But in an industry whose mantra is “okyaku-sama wa kami-sama desu” or “the customer is a god,” if a gaijin comes in and asks for a grave in a tone that suggests he knows what he’s talking about, then the request will be given due consideration. But they must have laughed when I left, as if I were trying to send goods to the afterlife in some arcane ritual.

I would.

Consider this one too. I was groping my way in Japanese through an account of a hadaka matsuri I was in. I had to wear a fundoshi, which is comparable to what sumo wear.. And in fumbling for the word for the sumo’s battle garb, the mawashi, I somehow alighted on the worst possible substitute, mamushi, which is a type of venomous pit viper.

Imagine trying to wedge that up your ushiri

A friend once confessed she had an “affair” on the river, when she meant to say “inflatable ring.” Another enthusiastically recounted to his bemused colleagues how his sister was given buru (underwear) for Valentine’s Day instead of bara (roses).

So like Bryson, I’ve been in jams before and while I look back and laugh, at the time I tend to squirm. Which is natural when you show your gratitude to a waiter with the words “My belly is tits (oppai)” instead of “My belly is full (ippai).”

Someone should start an anti engrish website, composed of our linguistic faux pas.


July 14, 2010

I was bored in work today and with an eye on returning home, I’ve been packing my library (fnar fnar). I ended up typing this, not as a list of “Bst evr” as I find those generally useless.

These are simply what I’ve enjoyed reading in the last three years.

  • Halo: The Fall of Reach, Eric Nylund.

If writing were a sport, Nylund would be a heavy weight sprinter. If reading were a drug, this would be one hit addiction. Seamlessly elevated one of my greatest passions to literature.

  • The Road, Cormac McCarthy.

Bleak. Depressing. Gaunt and haunting. Unreadable. These were the thoughts I had before I threw down No Country for Old Men in disgust, unable to finish it not ten pages from the end. The Road was different.

  • A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson.

If I could live, travel and write like Bill Bryson, I wouldn’t have a blog. In a list of fiction books, the way he takes the realest reality and infuses it with magic is totally beyond me.

  • The Millennium Trilogy, Stieg Larsson.

There are good points and bad points to reading a book so quickly that you can’t remember the basic plotline. The bad is that your hefty seven hundred page paperback only lasts two days. The good is getting to read it all over again the second you finish.

  • We need to talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver.

You need to read about Kevin.

  • The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The shining light of my college studies where reading was only done to savage, criticize and score points. A book I enjoyed, when I had the feeling that doing so would see me fail the course. Something gorgeous about Gatsby indeed.

  • Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts.

As soon as I read this book, I knew, I knew, I’d like it. Yes, it’s overused but that one man could think so deeply about life, set about living it and then leave such a memoir is… inspiring.

  • Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck.

A great book.

  • Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov.

The best book I’ve ever read. I can’t write like this. God can’t write like this. Bill Bryson can’t even write like this. Seedy, and sinister and shot through with sympathy and pathos, it’s all the Nabokov I want to read. Surely the others can’t be as good?

  • A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin.

Created a world so vivid and rich that by the sixth one, I took a holiday back to reality. The other R.R. is but a distant memory.

So there you go. It’s nice to think back on your books every now and again.


Comments are allowed.

I suppose that while dictatorial tendencies are the most effective answer to insecurity, they’re not necessarily the right answer.

Or maybe Steve Jobs might have said it better.

Anyway, comments are allowed. A person has spoken.

A plan of campaign.

June 28, 2010

Cadbury has lost the trust of environmental friendly consumers over switching from an ingredient than uses recycled sunshine and magic to another that’s made of Andean condor and the remaining clean air in industrial China. I was today presented with a headline to this effect and was expected to be outraged.

“Look, another cause, let’s do nothing about it!”

However, given that I know nothing about it and no further information was communicated, it’s another example of the spurious headline grabbing that I’ve learned to be wary of. Or maybe Cadbury got to me first. For the sake of objectivity, if you’re interested go look here:

A reputable site? I don’t know as Toyota polls surprisingly highly on the so called “trust” list. For now though, Cadbury still tastes guilt free to me.

My point is though, it’s strange how campaigns get off on the wrong foot. Take this for example, from outside the office:

Were it not for the protesters being obviously Japanese (and the kana) this could be a xenophobic WW2 poster. Couldn’t the above be taken as a war cry of the Oval Office?

Imagine Truman marching around with the finger on the red button and the 509th on the line chanting;

“No more Hiroshima!” CLICK

“No more Nagasaki!” CLICK

I’m not making light of the essential war crime perpetrated, but I am saying that if you wish to get a campaign off the ground there are certainly better ways of doing so than blowing horns and putting people on a guilt trip over something they know nothing about. It’s like an evangelist losing the audience before he has the megaphone warmed up. Perhaps putting an effect before the cause.

I mean… I wonder how many leaflets will be printed to save the rain forests by obnoxious self righteous bigots armed with half the facts and all the ire? Or how little will actually be done by those who shout the loudest but say the least?

Basically, go inform yourself and then choose a side.  And maybe plant trees and eat chocolate more thoughtfully.

I’ve just had a thought but I need to write it down to see if it makes any sense:

“Everyone in Kochi expects the big earthquake to happen, but no one expects it to happen to them.”

The earthquake I’m talking about is the next nankai, a colossal seismic event so fearsome it’s sometimes written in italics. Due in the next thirty years, it’s the result of a shift inthe nankai trough and the subduction of the Philippine plate under the one Japan lies upon, with a massive displacement of water, land subsidence, powerful two minute tremors and infrastructural devastation. It’s optimistically touted as the potentially the biggest ever and it probably best likened to two of Pratchett’s elephants mounting each other and megathrusting in the vague direction of everything.

It’s scary stuff.

So scary they decided to turn it into a thrill ride in the form of the mobile earthquake simulator. If all national emergencies charged an entry fee like this, we wouldn’t even need Bono.

But the sad fact is that you’re supposed to be impressed by these dire facts. The nankai earthquake, in it’s insistence on being publicized, is the next boogeyman, the second coming of Christ. So many believe in it but that dependence on it actually coming to pass is giving way to complacency. In the meantime, myth finds a way to flourish.

You’re supposed to swallow the information and yes be prepared, by all means, but I still believe that the actual event is being trivialized in grim discussions, in scare tactics or in the proclivity for building in tsunami inundation zones. And the less said about the cartoonish mascots that adorn the rescue booklets the better.

I’ve been rightfully chided before over my flippancy when it comes to these things but as a foreigner, it’s hard not to be. An earthquake in Kochi is an event for us, and should you feel one the initial reaction seems to be not to leap under the desk but to leap onto facebook and see who felt it first.

We harbor, I believe, a naïve fascination for the unimaginable as it’s something we won’t have to deal with. Suffering, loss, devastation, these are the buzzwords that infrequently extend beyond the TV in our home countries. A super bowl “megathrust” earthquake could mean the end of civilization for years here but for us it’s an eager twitter update and an early flight home. The internet always finds a way to put us at the centre of our own dramas.

Incidentally, I’ve only seen one person being reprimanded over their earthquake posts. And in the drill we practiced to round up survivors I was one of less than ten people who responded. In essence, that’s almost ninety people who tacitly agree with the above.

How do you respond to earthquakes?

Good blog. Thassa boy!

Let them eat pants…

June 10, 2010

One day we were listening to the announcements in homeroom and one sent the kids into hysterics. I asked my supervisor to explain.

 Me: “Sensei, what’s so funny?”

Her: “The announcement. Recently, a strange man was seen in town so all girls should wear shorts under their skirts and not walk home alone.”

 I processed this. Then;

 Me: “Why can’t they just wear pants like the boys?”

She gave me a quizzical look for a second, chuckled and drew a deep breath through her teeth but didn’t say anything. Class resumed.

And sometimes you know not to pursue an argument.

First person shooters

June 9, 2010

The world according to me would be an interesting place. Not necessarily a better place, perish the thought, but it would certainly be interesting. However, one thing that would be better were it adopted is my view on FPS games.

One thing at a time eh? Here’s my top five:

(This comes after giving up on Resistance 2 in disgust. Spawning enemies, useless AI and an encounter with a boss that got stuck on the scenery makes it feel so… amateur).

1. Halo: Combat Evolved

The first of a trio of excellence, this one was big enough and downright worthy enough to hijack me into bigotry over the arguable improvements of the successors. Multiplayer aside, this was a true revelation for possibilities in single player and remains to this day the finest FPS I’ve played. Combat perfected.

2. Half Life 2

This game made me wince when I launched a cinder block into a hapless soldier’s face with the gravity gun. I thought the story was mediocre and inaccessible but propelled as I was through eighteen hours of it told me that there was something much bigger going on. As a shooter I count Half Life 2 as significantly below the peerless action of Halo. Some like to call it the “thinking man’s shooter” and dismiss every other alternative but in the words of the TF2 Heavy, “I’ve yet to meet someone who can out smart bullet.” Number two it is.

3. Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath.

The game I most regret ever trading in. Bold, quirky, unusual and replete with cartoony violence, it’s the girlfriend you think you deserve, but actually don’t. Mostly because underneath the stunningly beautiful facade, there’s personality you couldn’t begin to fathom. The strongest and most sympathetic character I’ve had to play as in some time starred in one of the most enthralling and memorable adventures yet seen. And humour too, in a genre where you’re all but embodied by a gun. It even inspired the very blog you’re reading.

4. Bioshock.

Don’t tell me System Shock 2 is better: it’s old, ugly and functionally useless now, everything Bioshock isn’t. Music, tension and the Gordon Freeman that wasn’t, this game had my friends nodding in approval in light of that shattering revelation by Andrew Ryan. In Rapture, there are no Gods or Kings, only man. A man with wasps and lightning coming out of his wrists that is.

5. Medal of Honour Frontline.

Taken in context, the PS2 MoH wasn’t great but it got me at a good age, namely before the abundance of WW2 shooters. Just before Halo destroyed my tolerance for sub standard controls, the scripted sequences in this exuded a… catharsis that the medium lacked for me. Three things here I’ve never forgotten:

  • Looking into a fragile old Dutch lady’s face and seeing her hands tremble.
  • The Knights of Arnhem level.
  • The Gewher 43, the finest sniper rifle I’ve played with.

It’s how the war should have been won: not gracefully, but at least memorably.

Coming soon, best games EVR!!

Chinka in the bashi.

June 3, 2010

Last weekend I was offered to accompany two friends to Sukumo for what promised to be a two-three hour cycle over fairly even ground. I do this on the bus twice a week so I refused, also on the grounds that it was too far.

That I ended up cycling for over four hours anyway is testament to the mysterious powers of karma I suppose. I even missed out on a trip to a sex shop. Point made, universe…

Anyway, four hours in the saddle of a mama chari has me wondering if I rode the bike or if it rode me the whole way there and back. To add insult to ass trauma, the head winds were mostly so severe that I had to cycle standing up simply to get down some hills. “Nausea valley of the winds” would be a good reference point.

Griping aside, I had a wonderful time and I once again endorse the heady joys of cycling. The sweaty, cursing exertion of powering up a hill, the wind in hair, fly in eye thrill of coasting down again. It was a great way to spend the afternoon and arguably one that could be better worded in twitter format, instead of harping on and consuming the reader’s valuable time. Y’know, those things you really should be getting on with?

I made it 20 – 30 kilometres upstream of the Shimanto, as far as the third chinka bashi which are constructions peculiar to the Japanese inaka and one which is best summarized thusly:

The Shimanto river is adorned with these and they exude a postcard perfect prettiness which is asking to be replaced with things more modern and efficient. Such as exhibit B:

Small though the bashi are, they’re designed to withstand sudden surges of the water table and thus earned the misnomer of the “floating bridges” (much like Miyajima’s “floating” tori. Or Christianity’s floating “messiah”, while we’re at it) but they actually just submerge when the water rises, the guardrails engineered out of them to lessen the flotsam which may get trapped at flood time. Of course, cars may occasionally pitch into them but this is Japan so it’s a safe bet that the driver is at fault and not the guardrails. These bridges are exhilarating to cycle across and  much like grain in the wind, they fold to nature, and don’t oppose it.

Unlike exhibit C here, which was mega thrusted to hell after the last nankai.

Less is more when it comes to bridging the beautiful rivers with red monstrosities, no?

Web page for the day.

June 1, 2010

I looked this up today.

A paltry four references? It struck me as decidedly… uninspired.

I was looking for an explanation, not an example.