Saturday, October 25, 2014

And Now, a Word from Our Sponsors

A month-long vacation is a long, long, long time, especially if you’re living in a country with limited access to internet, friends, family, and movies. Luckily, I am nothing if not resourceful. Thanks to a second-generation Kindle borrowed from my mother and the wonder of books available either in the public domain or from Grinnell Library’s eBook collection, I have had adequate reading material. Also, since my bedroom doubles as our television room, there have been a few nights where I have watched not one, not two, but three English-language movies in a row—with a few Hindi films thrown in during the commercial breaks. Here are a few highlights of my entertainment regiment:

          -Himalaya (Michael Palin) – Yes, that is Michael Palin of Monty Python fame. Little did I know, but he is apparently quite the world traveler, and he has made many TV documentaries based on his trips. This book is his account of making the documentary for a trip from one end of the Himalaya to the other. He avoids many of the “touristy” things in order to observe how real people go about their everyday lives in what can be harsh and isolated locales. I love when a book can make me laugh so hard I cry, and this was definitely one of those—his running account of the latrines he visits is priceless. Unfortunately, some of the information is a bit outdated. When he visited Nepal, it still had a king, which is not the case anymore. Despite that, this is an excellent read for folks back home who want to know a little more about this region.
          -Tarzan of the Apes (Edgar Rice Burroughs) – Seeing as Tarzan is one of my favorite Disney movies, I thought I would give this series a try at the recommendation of my friend Ealish. There are actually 25 books in the series, and so far, I have gotten through eight of them. They are pulpy, fun, a tad repetitive, and unfortunately, sometimes rather racist (a sign of the times they were written, I think). Good light reading, with some truly suspenseful bits.
Fun fact: Clayton, the name of the villain in the Disney film, is actually Tarzan’s English last name in the original books.
           -Unnatural Creatures (edited by Neil Gaiman) – I don’t normally go for short story collections, because I find many writers like to write unnecessarily depressing short stories. Neil Gaiman is a man I trust, though, for finding stories that start in dark and scary places and end in light. I was not disappointed. He put together a huge variety of stories, written by different authors over the last hundred or so years, all dealing with the theme of “unnatural creatures.” Many of the stories went far beyond what you might expect from the genre. One of the most fun stories was written by Neil Gaiman himself as a birthday gift for his daughter, but all of the stories in the collection are excellent.
           -The Fault in Our Stars (John Green) – I won’t say too much on this one. Many of you know I refused to read it for a long time. And then, I had a dream that I should read it. So I did. And I cried. Profusely. I hope all y’all are happy. 

          -Seven Years in Tibet – I am too lazy to look up when this movie came out and who directed it, but I can say it starred Brad Pitt and David Thewlis (aka, Professor Lupin). We (the Fulbrighters) watched it on one of our last nights in our apartment before moving to our homestays. If I say that while I was watching, I forgot that Brad Pitt was Brad Pitt, that should tell you how good of a movie it was. It tells the true story of a self-absorbed German mountaineer who, through a series of unfortunate events at the beginning of WWII, finds himself advisor to the young Dalai Lama. Beautiful cinematography, great acting, and a good history lesson for those interested in this part of the world.
          -Predators – This is a very different kind of movie from the one above, and part of me wonders if the only reason I found it completely awesome was because I watched it at 12:30 at night. Or because it starred Adrien Brody, who I find rather handsome. Anyway, it’s kind of a sequel to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Predator, and it’s loads of fun. A bunch of trained killers wake up on an alien game preserve, and they find they are being hunted. Simple, effective premise. But please don’t show it to your children. If I said it were only a little violent, I would be lying.
          -Chennai vs. China – This is a South Indian film about…well, I still have no idea. It focuses on this circus performer who falls in love with a female scientist, realizes he’s the reincarnation or something of some Buddhist/martial artist/healer dude, and races to save India from an ancient plague unleashed by an evil Chinese organization. There’s humor, there’s action, there’s martial arts sequences…and of course, there are at least four or five song and dance numbers. Very entertaining.

          -Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – I have not actually completed this game yet, because it’s pretty hard. It came out in the early nineties, I believe, and I purchased it as part of a Lucasarts video game pack on Steam (an online game store). I can only download very small game files in Nepal, so this was perfect. Anyway, it deviates a little from the plot of the film it’s based on, but that’s okay. It’s filled with hilarious hidden jokes and Easter eggs, tough puzzles, and even tougher Nazis. Despite its age, it holds its own against some more modern games I’ve played when it comes to entertainment value.
          -VVVV – My friend Patrick gave me this game about three or four years ago. He said it was one of his favorite games. Me being me, I didn’t start playing it until I got to Nepal. But boy, is it fun. It has very simple 8-bit, 2D graphics, although it is a newer game. You control a spaceship captain whose crew members mysteriously vanish. You can move left and right, AND you can reverse gravity: with these controls, you have to find your way through some pretty tricky puzzles. “VVVV” refers to the spikes you land on if you do something wrong, and also to the fact that all of the characters have names beginning with the letter “V”.

Bonus: Dishonorable Mentions
Sometimes you watch a movie and, as the credits roll, think to yourself: “That really stunk. Wow. How did that get made?” These weren’t quite that bad, but they disappointed me for various reasons.
          -Oz the Great and Powerful – Oh James Franco, what has happened to you? I used to be a big Franco fan, but recently, it feels like he puts very little effort into his films. This was one of those films that really depended on the charisma of its lead, and unfortunately, for most of it James Franco had a charisma score of 0 (or maybe 1, because he’s still handsome). His performance was inconsistent: too overblown in some places, too understated in others. And too bad, because it had the potential to be a very fun movie. 
          -Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters – I can’t even write about this one. It makes me too sad. They took Rick Riordan’s excellent book and turned it into something just kind of…blergh. While there were some genuinely funny moments and great nods to Greek mythology (plus an excellently cast Nathan Fillion as Hermes), it just felt kind of half-baked. They never earned the grand, CGI-tastic ending that they tried to create. I’m not a big fan of the reboot craze, but this is one of those series that I wouldn’t mind if they rebooted ASAP.

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