Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Daniel's Top 5 favorite movies of 2018


Are you ready to greet 2019? Before we welcome the new year, however, I am going to list my top 5 favorite movies of 2018. I watched a lot of movies this year, more than the previous year anyway, but my cinematic experience has been a roller coaster ride; some movies came out of nowhere and took me by surprise, while some movies were disappointments (yep, The Predator, I am looking at you!).

Many good movies came out this year and I struggled to pick and rank my top 5 favorite movies. Furthermore, I have two movies fighting for the 5th spot on my list because I liked them almost equally. Therefore, for the first time on the count down to my yearly favorite movies, I am going to include an "honourable mention", just so I can do this movie justice.

As usual, I compiled this list based on my own opinions and tastes. This means, while the movies on my list may not be Oscar contenders, but I chose them because I had the most fun watching them, and more importantly because each of these movies have touched me in one way or another.

I hope you will enjoy reading my list, and if you come across a movie or two here you have yet to see, then you could check them out in the rest of the December holidays.

All right, here comes the list for my top 5 favorite movies of 2018.



Number 5:

Bumblebee

Genre: Science-fiction/Superhero

I can't believe this, but a Transformers movie made it to my list. That is right ladies and gentlemen, Bumblebee, a Transformers movie spin-off, took the 5th spot on the list.

"Really, Daniel, a Transformers movie?

Ok, I can see raised eyebrows, but on this occasion the movie critics are agreeing with me. On Rotten Tomatoes, currently Bumblebee has a rating of 93%, this is the highest rating of all 2018 movies of the similar genre, even beating Avengers: Infinity War.

Bumblebee is critically acclaimed, and I think its success is mostly due to the new director, Travis Knight, who breathed fresh airs into the dying franchise. Before Mr. Knight helmed the Bumblebee movie, he directed a number of acclaimed Laika movies, such as Caroline, The Box Trolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings (which is one of my favorite animation movies of all time). Travis Knight brought the type of excellent storytelling, found in the Laika movies, into Bumblebee. The result is a Transformers movie that actually understands what the Transformers story is supposed to be. This story has heart, it has good humors, and the friendship between Bumblebee and his human friend is touching. Unlike the previous installments, in the new movie the robot (Bumblebee) is not just for the show, he has character and I rooted for him and his friends. Bumblebee is the sort of Transformers movie they should have made from the start!

Anyway, when I walked into the cinema my expectations for Bumblebee was low, but this movie invoked in me the sense of wonder, and I left the cinema with a big smile on my face and feeling happy. Bumblebee was a pleasant surprise. If you didn't like Michael Bay's Transformers movies, then I think Bumblebee will change your mind.




Number 4:

Mission Impossible: Fallout

Genre: Action thriller

Most movie franchises get worse with sequels, but Mission Impossible defies this norm. There are altogether, six Mission Impossible movies, and this franchise gets better with every sequel. I think over the years Mission Impossible has even surpassed James Bond and Bourne, which are the two other big franchises in the genre. The latest installment, Mission Impossible: Fallout, in particular, pushed the franchise to a new height. The 6th adventure of Ethan Hunt is explosive and full of twists. The action scenes are breathtaking and the story is thrilling and tight. This is nail-biting stuff and it will leave you hanging at the edge of your seat.

Tom Cruise put up one heck of a performance in this movie. It is worth mentioning that Mr. Cruise also performed every dangerous stunt himself. I watched some of the features included in the Blu Ray disc set, where the director and Tom Cruise's colleagues described the injuries the famous actor sustained while executing the dangerous stunts. The man was essentially risking his life to entertain us, the movie audience. I respect Tom Cruise's professionalism, there is a reason why Mr. Cruise is getting the big paycheck, he deserves it as well as the critical acclaims this movie has received. But I also hope Mr. Cruise will look after himself when he films Mission Impossible 7 (Well, I hope he is planning to make another one because this franchise is damn good). Mission Impossible 6 is the living proof, that a well-crafted action thriller still has a place in movies, so, Marvel and DC, watch out, for here comes the Tom Cruise run!




Number 3:

The Shape of Water

Genre: Romance/Dark Fantasy

Strictly speaking The Shape of Water is a 2017 movie, but it came out in Australia in January 2018 so I am counting it as a 2018 release. This movie is directed by Guillermo del Toro, who is my favorite movie director. There is not a film by Mr. del Toro that I don't like. I first heard about The Shape of Water in 2015 and immediately I wanted to see it. When I finally sat down and watched the film in the cinema I was not disappointed. Although Romance is not my cup of tea yet I enjoyed every second of the movie nevertheless.

The Shape of Water went on and won a few Oscars, which is a surprise to everybody because the judges at Oscar don't usually award movies of this genre. From the design, the soundtracks, the pictures/colors, and the story, The Shape of Water captured the "magic" of the cinema which is rarely felt in the waves of superhero movies and cinematic universes. The Shape of Water is a blend of sci-fi, horror, romance, fantasy, and historical drama, where it has a bit of something for everyone. I showed this movie to my parents, they don't usually like this sort of film, but even they liked it. This movie has cinematic magic pulsing in its veins, and it has captured the hearts of audiences young and old, men and women.




Number 2:

A Quiet Place

Genre: Post-apocalyptic horror

I believe the superhero genre is on the fade and Horror will be the next big thing, and A Quiet Place is the proof for it. This movie came out in April and it was met with critical acclaims. I missed the cinematic run so I watched it on Blu Ray. This film has a humble runtime of 90 minutes but it was a very intense and gripping movie experience.

A Quiet Place is almost a silent film but the story was perhaps the most memorable I have seen in a long while. This is a character-driven story where the audience will surely root for one or two (if not all) of the characters. This movie treads on the line between Horror and Thriller, and the action scenes are edgy and suspenseful. Usually I am the sort of person who laughs in horror movies, but when I was watching A Quiet Place I was in the silent mode, I was so immersed in the movie that I felt it would do the characters bad if I made any sound. A Quiet Place is a great movie. If you haven't see it, then make sure to check it out.



Number 1:

First Man

Genre: Biographical drama

"That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind".

First Man, starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, is my number 1 favorite movie of 2018. Not only is First Man impressive on the technical level, but its story also pulled me in. Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy did stellar jobs in their portrayals as Neil Armstrong and his wife. Furthermore, it was fascinating to know more about the life of this famous astronaut, whose name will be forever remembered as the first human to tread on the soils not from our world.

This movie was gripping from the start to the finish, especially at the pivotal moment when Armstrong was landing the lunar module. Although we know the outcomes of the landing, but those scenes still had me holding my breath and feeling the suspense. On the big silver screen, when the Eagle finally landed, it was a remembrance and a triumph for the movie, and more importantly, for mankind. It is a shame this movie didn't perform as well as it could at the box office, but hopefully with the Blu Ray release the film will find more audiences to appreciate it.




Honourable mention:

Avengers: Infinity War

Genre: Superhero

In the intro I said there would be an honourable mention, and it is none other than Avengers: Infinity War. Earlier this year when this movie came out it was a big deal, and it occupied the 5th spot on my list of yearly favorites until I saw Bumblebee last week. I liked both Bumblebee and Infinity War almost equally, but in the end only one movie can occupy the 5th spot, so after some thoughts I opted for Bumblebee over Infinity War. The reason is simply because Bumblebee made me laugh and warmed my heart and I had more fun with it. Having said this, I also really liked Infinity War and its "The Empire Strikes Back" type of ending. Personally, I think Infinity War is the 2nd best movie in the Marvel cinematic universe just after Captain America: Winter Soldier.




Saturday, December 1, 2018

Book Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick


Would an android be more alive, or less alive, if it can dream of an electric sheep?

I mean, why does it matter that something is fake, even though it is very close to the real thing?

The values we use to measure the fake and the real, what do such values reveal? Some objective reality in the universe?  Or something about ourselves? 

I don't have the answers to these questions, but I began to think about it after reading Philip K. Dick's sci-fi masterpiece, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Some people might recognize this book as the source material which inspired the cult classic film, Blade Runner. Why read the book if you have already seen the movie? I believe you should read the book because it differs to the movie by a great deal in terms of the story, the characters, and the worldbuilding. They should be treated as independent pieces of work.


Synopsis:

On a morning of January 2012 Rick Deckard and his wife, Iran, woke up with the sinking feeling, that something was missing in their lives. Their mood was as depressed as a deflated balloon, and Deckard considered using the mood organ; dial a number, and the instrument will work wonders on the brain chemicals, lifting their mood instantly.

However, even the marvellous mood organ cannot whisk away Deckard and Iran's source of discontent – their electric sheep, grazing on a grass patch on the apartment rooftop, which they pretend to be a real sheep. 

"I wish I have enough money to buy a real, breathing sheep!" Deckard thought to himself as he got dressed for work.

The video phone rang, from the other side of the speaker came music to Deckard's ears. The police gave him a new assignment to "retire" six Nexus 6 androids, at the bounty of $1000 each.

Retire six Nexus 6 androids in one day? This is mission impossible! But $6000! Deckard could use the sum as the downpayment for purchasing a real animal, and he can finally become the envy of his neighbors.

Deckard holstered his laser gun, kissed his wife goodbye, then went to work. He paused at the doorway as an excitement seized him: "Honey, I am going to change our lives!".

My thoughts on this book:

A few years ago, there was a fad about the digital pet. Everyone, from a kid to an adult, wanted one. In those little LCD screens lived these cute, virtual animals. An owner was supposed to press the buttons, located on the device, like a video game, to care for the artificial animal. The owner could feed it, water it, and even play with the pet to keep it happy. Some people were emotionally invested in their virtual companions. However, as the fever for the digital pet cooled, I wonder what the owners are doing (or did) with their artificial pets, and how have their feelings changed about their once beloved digital pets?

Anyway, while I was relating the theme and the philosophy in this book to the real world, the digital pet was the first thing that came to my mind. The book's major theme, is the fascinating question about the fake vs the real, and how do we come to terms, emotionally and socio-economically, with the technologies we created.

For a book about androids and a bounty hunter, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is surprisingly full of pathos. Philip K. Dick emphasized on the characters' inner identities. The Blade Runner movie focused on the visuals, but the book is a character-driven story. The novel is set in the near-future, where the ecosystem was devastated by a great war, and many humans have emigrated to Mars. As living animals became scarce, so did owning a real animal become a colossal status symbol. Deckard kept an electric sheep on his rooftop and pretended it was a real sheep, meanwhile he was feeling unhappy. Deckard constantly sought out a way to buy a real animal. He believed animal ownership can make him happy. But can it?  

Furthermore, what about the artificial sheep he already owned? Does the fake have value?  

The movie did briefly mention the fake animals, but it did not have a big part in the story. In the book, however, the fake animals have a major role, because it is the central theme, the question about the fake vs the real. 

The plot is a thriller, where Deckard was given an assignment to track down and "retire" (or kill) six escaped androids. He used an empathy test, Voight Kampff, to identify the android fugitives. The androids devoid of empathy and could pass the test. However, later on Deckard met a female android called Rachel, a very sophisticated android who defeated the test, and Deckard gradually fell in love with her. From here, the novel evolved from a thriller into a question about what it means to be human and to have an identify.

Deckard and his wife have the habit of using the "mood organ" to uplift their emotions (the movie didn't have this). This begs another question, what is the line between being "made happy" and being "really happy"? Once again, this is the question about the fake vs the real. Although I find it interesting that the meanings behind the mood organ and the electric sheep, appear to be in contrast. The former is questioning how much happiness can the fake bring to a person, while the later seems to be saying even the fake has values. The author, however, did not make direct statements. Instead, he weaved these questions into the story, and let you come to your own conclusions.

When I closed the book, Philip K. Dick's brilliance dawned on me. The premise in this book is outlandish, but it is also humorous. I mean, who would write a story, about an electric sheep, grazing on a patch of grass on the apartment rooftop, as a social statement? I think this is a very good book, it will give you some food for thoughts. It is very different to Blade Runner, so if you like the movie then you should check out the book too. 












Saturday, November 24, 2018

Book Review: The Three Secret Cities by Matthew Reilly


I bet you when Matthew Reilly sits down to write a new book he probably thinks about how to make it more explosive than the last one. Matthew's latest book, The Three Secret Cities, is his most explosive and action-packed book up to date.

The Three Secret Cities is the 5th installment in the adventures of Jack West Jr, who, alongside Scarecrow, are Matthew's most enduring creations. The Jack West Jr. series, a hybrid of Indiana Jones and Mission Impossible, is among my favorite action thrillers of all time.

I have met Mathew in person while attending his book signing events. Matthew is a good bloke, and I once asked him if Hollywood has any plans to adapt his books into movies. He answered that the current focus of Hollywood is superhero movies, and since his books are big-scaled action thrillers so there is nothing on the horizon yet. But man oh man, if a studio ever decides to adapt one of these Jack West Jr. books into a movie, then it will be a visual spectacle to behold!

What is in the latest Jack West Jr. book? Without teetering into the spoiler territory let me just say this book follows the aftermath of The Four Legendary Kingdoms. This time, Jack and his trusty friends are on a hunt for three relics and three ancient cities of legendary proportion. Only with the relics in hand can they stop the Omega Event – an apocalypse to end all lives in the universe.

The Three Secret Cities made numerous references to ancient mythologies, and I liked how Matthew gave these old stories and legends a new spin so they have connections to the modern world. As with his previous books, Matthew's writings were pulsing with a cinematic quality. I could visualize everything he wrote as if I was watching an action movie playing out on the silver screen. Meanwhile the book's explosive plotline, moving at a neck-breaking pace, transported me to a world of treasure hunting, blazing guns and exploding aeroplanes (and tanks) and I loved every page of it!

Ok, you probably noticed my recurring use of words such as "explode" and "explosive", and you might have even developed the impression the book is like a Michael Bay production, with fiery infernos and loud booms thundering across the land and sea. Well, while this book is explosive, but the quality of the story is much better than most action movies of the similar type. The book has a fair share of actane-driven actions, but Matthew also dedicated his considerable talents to build great characters and a compelling plot. The characters in this book are surprisingly deep and I cared about them. In this book Matthew did not hesitate at casting his characters at harm's way, and as a result there was a genuine sense of danger in this book. People die in this book and some chapters had moments that shocked me, while others had me biting my nails and paging through the chapter furiously to find out what fate had in store for these beloved characters.

I flew through this 430 page book in 3 sittings because I could not put it down. This is action thriller at its finest. There are very few authors in the world who can pull off this sort of spectacle and Matthew is one of them. The chart for best-selling thrillers is dominated by US or UK authors such as Lee Child, James Rollins, Dan Brown, Clive Cussler, so on and so forth, this is why I am very happy to see one Australian author standing proudly among these giants. A week ago I entered a reading slump, but The Three Secret Cities rekindled my appetite for reading and now I am eager to resume my bookish adventures.

Sometimes you just need forget your troubles and hop on a fun and thrilling adventure like this one. The Three Secret Cities is a damn good thriller. Get it, read it, and have fun!




Sunday, November 18, 2018

Book Review: Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan


Twenty years ago we were saving files by inserting 1.44Mb plastic disks into bulky desktops, but today with a mobile phone in hand, we can upload and download gigabytes and terabytes of information, from anywhere in the world. We live in an era where science and technology are advancing at an exponential rate. More and more things are getting digitized, and we are creating and storing information at a volume greater than ever seen in the human history. Not only has technology changed the way we live and work, but it has also changed our values. As we ponder on the role of technology in our future imagine this scenario; what will the world be like if our brains can also be digitized and downloaded into a new body?

In Altered Carbon, a cyberpunk, detective noir, Richard Morgan explored the socio-economic impacts, as well as the costs, for immorality. Netflix has adapted the book into a TV series, which was well received, but I prefer the book for its rich characterizations and philosophy. If what I said above interests you, then please read on.

Synopsis:

Takeshi Kovac stares into a mirror, and a stranger stares back at him. It seems like yesterday when the police broke into his hotel room to arrest him, and in the process, shot his girlfriend dead. But Takeshi knows the episode took place many years ago, because today he woke up in a new body.

Welcome to the 25th century, where immortality is no longer an elusive purpose of life preached by religion, but it is a matter of digitizing and storing a human brain in a device called the "stack".

Is there a cancer is growing in your body? Have you lost your right arm? No problem! Simply transfer your stack from your existing body to a new one, and then voilĂ , you are as good as new. There is more; the more $$$ you pay, the better the body you can wear, to start your new life with extra an oomph!

It was in this sort of a world where Takeshi Kovac was brought back to life. The man who arranged Takashi's altered carbon procedure was other than Laurens Bancroft, a billionaire whose wealth has afforded him not only centuries of life span, but also status and influence comparable to that of a god. What does someone like Laurens want with an ex-convict like Takeshi? Just a few days ago Laurens died, and the police concluded it was a suicide. The billionaire, however, insists he was murdered, and he believes Takashi is his Sherlock Holmes.

My thoughts on the book:

Altered Carbon is a slow burn and I love it. The opening chapters established the world in the 25th century and the worldbuilding was intricate; there were tall buildings twinkling with neon lights, flying cars, and most importantly, a socio-economic tension boiling under the surface because of the altered carbon technology. The world in this book has a sense of scope and complexity not seen in Blade Runner, and it wasn't long before I was immersed in Altered Carbon's dystopian, cyberpunk world. Thirty pages into the book and I knew this one is not just a cyberpunk detective novel, but a introspective story taking a look at the philosophy of belief systems and morality. 

The book's main protagonist, Takeshi Kovac, is a classical anti-hero. He was dragged into the Bancroft's murder investigation against his will, and in the process Takeshi dug up piles of dirty secrets in the high society. Here the book posed an interesting question:

If life is a race, then not everybody starts on the same line, some people are bound to be more privileged than others. The more privileged you are, the more resources you have to help you get ahead. However, the lifespan of a person is finite, with age comes sickness and death. This also means no matter how privileged you are, the amount of wealth and power you can accumulate in a lifetime is limited by the biological clock ticking inside your body. Furthermore, if it is in the human nature to be corrupted by power, then the magnitude of the corruption, and accompanying harm a corrupted but powerful individual can inflict on others, are also limited to one lifespan only. Therefore consider this, what will happen when an already privileged individual can go on accumulating power and wealth, and therefore corruptions, infinitely? And how will immortality affect a person's relationships with his/her fellows, such as marriage, for example?

The book doesn't stop at exploring the consequences of immorality, it also touches on another question. Our biology, such as intellect, strength, and beauty, can determine our success in life. What will happen to the society, if people can wear their bodies like driving different cars, such that being rich means you can buy a better body and enter the race of life with in a Ferrari, but being poor means you can only afford a crappy body and enter the race of life on a bicycle? At the start of the next "race", the rich who won the race in a Ferrari can now upgrade to a helicopter, while the poor who just pedaled to the finish line on a bicycle has so little resources and must enter the next race on the same bicycle, which is now more battered than before.

I thought about these questions, and to be honest, if this is the outcome of immortality, then I don't want it!

Altered Carbon has a thought provoking story, but it does not forget to be a fun and thrilling ride. This is a detective noir made of interlocking mysteries, the supporting characters are memorable, and the plot is very clever, it will surprise you from the start to the finish. Despite being the first book in a trilogy, but the book's concluding chapter tied up every story thread, and leaving no loose end. This also means Altered Carbon is a stand alone novel.

I have seen the Netflix TV series, but. I prefer the book. This is because the book has richer characterizations and philosophies, which are enhanced by the book's use of first person perspectives (that is, from the viewpoint of Takeshi himself). While the first person narratives may be more limiting than the third person narratives, but in this book the first person narrative worked very well, because it allowed the readers to look into Takeshi's experiences and thoughts. For example, I particularly enjoyed a section where Takashi was reflecting on his altered carbon existence and then pondering on the definition of self and soul.

Admittedly the book moves at a slower pace than the TV series because it is not action packed. However the book is rich with a colorful world and and interesting characters, and the story will leave you with food for thoughts. I think Altered Carbon will find admirers in readers of sci-fi and detective fictions, especially in those who like to think about the effects of technology in a society.







Saturday, November 10, 2018

A Book Review: Port of Shadows by Glen Cook


It is said fantasy stories have this trope:

  • An evil overlord who is scheming to unleash chaos upon the world
  • The fulfillment of a prophecy, which foretells a hero, a descendant from a special bloodline and therefore wielding a special power, will rise up and defeat the evil overlord and restore order.

It's almost as if:

  1. It is almost as if all struggles must be good vs evil and order vs chaos instead of a genuine conflict of interests
  2. It is almost as if the overlord can only be defeated by the "chosen one" instead of a well coordinated military attack or stratagem, executed by a unison of multiple parties.
  3. It is almost as if the normal, average people cannot help themselves and must wait for a savior from a special bloodline to be born and save them by fulfilling the prophecy.

This is a trope called, "The chosen one", and it is deeply rooted in the western mythologies and legends, which in turn tracing its origins to the stories from the ancient near east. While I find this trope interesting but I am not overly fond of it. I mean, if stories are meant to tell us something about ourselves and therefore instill social values, then I think the "chosen one" trope is sending us the wrong message and it can be quite harmful! How? Because it creates tribalism and then encouraging a culture of personality cults in the society!

This is why, even though I like fantasy, but I do not like the sort of stories similar to Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. In fact, if every fantasy books has a chosen one hero then I would have hated the genre. Fortunately in the last 20 years, fantasy authors are beginning to subvert the chosen one trope while favoring realistic depictions for the nature of mankind and our conflicts. The grimdark movement, in particular, is the most prominent leader in this shift of narrative paradigm.

How did the grimdark genre come into being? The birth of grimdark is sometimes attributed to Glen Cook and The Black Company series. The first book in the series, The Black Company, was released in 1976, and it was the first fantasy story that truly blurred the line between "the good guys" and the "bad guys". The tales of The Black Company followed a band of mercenary, who was employed by the "good guy" to prevent the "bad guy" from being resurrected. The story was narrated by the company's historian, Croaker, who was trying his best to be objective in the company chronicles. However later on the company realized the nature of their employment was not so much about saving the world but rather to help their employer gaining the upper hand in a struggle for power and dominance. The Black Company is told from the perspectives of the "grunts" and it subverted the chosen one trope in every way; there is no prophecy, no chosen one, and there was no evil overlord, but only ambitious warlords who outdid each other with their appetites for power and control. Heck, in the end the so called overlord was even defeated by a company of mercenary soldiers fighting in a well coordinated military attack!

The Black Company was a success and Glen Cook went on to write 8 sequels, and the series became a major influence and source of inspiration in the fantasy genre today. The final book in the series, Soldiers Live, concluded the story with a harrowing line, "soldiers live. And wonder why". In my opinion it is one of the best finishing line in a fantasy series, it leaves the reader pondering and reflecting at the story they just read. Although the 9 book series completed the history of The Black Company, but there is a 4 year gap in the company history between book 1 and book 2, and it had some fans asking questions about it. 20 years later, Glen Cook finally released the much anticipated "midquel" to address that gap. The book is called Port of Shadows, and this is book 1.5 in the series.

The opening chapter in Port of Shadows reunited readers with the series' beloved characters, such as Croaker, One-Eyed, and Goblin. The company was employed by The Lady and they were garrisoned in a small town, in preparation for their employer's campaign in the north. Their order was changed when The Lady charged the company with a new mission to track down and capture an individual called Tides Elba, rumored to be one of The Takens. But the hunt for The Lady's enemy devolved into the strangest chapter in the company's chronicle, when a mysterious woman known as Mischievous Rain, tread into town.

Port of Shadows is not the best in the series, but it is also not the worst. The story is decent but there are some glaring problems with its structures. The book is divided into 3 narrative arcs; two of them explored the history of the Senjak sisters, and one following the company's footstep in the present. The narratives about the past is interesting because we finally have a glimpse into the Senjak family, but it did not transition well into the narratives in the present, and as a result the book felt very choppy and confusing.

Admittedly I had no idea what was going on in the first third of the book. However, about 120 pages into the book Mischievous Rain appeared in the story, and the book suddenly became very interesting and the pace quickened and it was beating at a fast tempo. I can't talk about the story too much without intruding the spoiler territory, so instead let me just say the book's intrigue is figuring out the true identity for one of the central characters as well as the real history about the Senjak sisters. While I would like to believe that I have worked it all out, but the ending left a lot of rooms for ambiguity and further discussions. It suffices to say in this book Glen Cook was playing with the theme of an "unreliable narrator" (i.e. When there are multiple accounts for an event but they contradict each other in some details, then how do you tell which account is more reliable than others, or if any of them is reliable?). Personally I love this sort of stuff, but I also understand this is not everyone's cup of tea. This also means Port of Shadows is likely to attract divisive reviews. Some people will love it, while some will hate it.

The narratives in The Black Company series have always been ambiguous, so I believe long time readers of the series will have no qualm with the narrating styles in Port of Shadows, even though the first third of the book was very confusing. But for a new comer, Port of Shadows is not a good place to start the series. Therefore if you wish to jump on the bandwagon of Glen Cook's famous creation, I would recommend starting from the first book, The Black Company. As for me, I like Port of Shadows, I think it is a solid book, and it is always interesting to read more about The Lady and the Senjak Sisters. Apparently Glen Cook is writing a real "sequel" in the series, tilted, Merciless Rain. There are no words yet about the release date for this book, but Port Shadows has wet my appetite for it. Hopefully the book will be in my grubby hands very soon. Bring it on!



Saturday, November 3, 2018

A Book Review: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang


How will you describe WWII and those who were involved in it?

If you were raised and living in the west, then the answers are most likely to be something about the Allied and the Axis forces; such as the nuclear bombings in Japan, the Battle of Britain, the Nazi concentration camps, or the Normandy landings. You might even supplement your descriptions with Hollywood productions, like Saving Private RyanSchindler's List, and Dunkirk. But if I ask you to describe what was happening in the other parts of the world during WWII, such as in China, for example, then the chances are you have a very vague idea of what was happening over there.

In some Asian countries, such as Taiwan, their history classes are teaching both the West and the East's roles in starting and ending WWII, including the historical contexts and the build up to WWII and its aftermath. However in the western history class, we learn about WWII mostly from the western perspective only. If the purpose of studying history is to learn from humanity's past so we can better understand ourselves and each other, then it seems in the west we are learning from only half of the picture instead of the full one. May I suggest, perhaps this is one of the reasons why the 21st century geopolitics remains a minefield despite the universal desire for peace.

It seems more discussions are needed in this area.

Popular culture is a good way of getting people to think and discuss an issue, and this is where poets and artists can lead the way. Perhaps this is why a young Chinese American author, R.F. Kuang, chose to write a grimdark fantasy novel inspired by the (second) Sino-Japanese War and the Nanjing Massacre. The book is called, The Poppy War, and it has generated a great deal of buzz since its release in 2018. A quick search for The Poppy War on Youtube can return dozens of positive reviews. In fact, this book appeared on my radar because dozens of booktubers have recommended it. The Poppy War thoroughly entertained me, but upon further reflections I also realized its cultural significance. 

Synopsis:

Rin had two choices in life; she could either fulfill her guardians' wish and marry a merchant thrice her age, or she could get out of  servitude and despair by climbing the ladder of meritocracy. When the exam results were announced Rin surprised everyone. Not only did she pass the exam, but she scored the highest mark in the Rooster Province, which meant a ticket to the most prestigious academy in the empire – Singegard.

And so Rin arrived at the empire's capital city with hopes and dreams, only to find herself becoming a target of discrimination by her classmates and teachers, all because she is a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south. For Rin, though, acing the academy is the only way forward, because the alternative is going back to her hometown and fulfill the arranged marriage. Therefore Rin worked hard at the academy, and in the process she discovered she has a talent for the mythical art of shamanism, which was as dangerous as it was unearthly.

The third Poppy War broke out when the federation of Murgen resumed their invasion of Rin's country. Rin had a tough decision to make: her shamanic power could save her country and her people, but it would cost her humanity and perhaps even more, so should she do it? 

My thoughts on this book:

The Poppy War is an impressive book. There is no mistake this book is grimdark. The story is very violent. Chapter 21 contains graphic depictions of genocide, from wholesale slaughter, beheadings, rapes, human experimentations, infanticides, so on and so forth. Whatever horror and suffering the mankind is capable of imaging and inflicting on their fellows, this book has it. But here is the thing, the genocide in this book is not entirely fictitious but a close description for the Nanjing Massacre which took place in 1937. But what happened in the real event was far more brutal and horrendous than its "fantasy" counterpart.

At this point, some readers may protest against the inclusion of heavy and graphic violence. However, the violence here is not gratiduous entertainment, nor is it used for the purpose of shocking its reader. No, the violence in The Poppy War serves a purpose - to show the readers what it is like to be the surviving victims of a genocide. It is to show its readers the depth of sorrow and hatred felt by the surviving victims in the aftermath. The book described those feeling so well and it let me share the characters' emotional journeys. I was able to feel what they felt.

The Poppy War is not content to stop here and simply let us grieve with its characters. Instead this book went deeper to explore more questions.

Is it justified for one to repay a genocide with another genocide?

And how does one become a person capable of killing millions? How does such as person go from point A, to point B?

I leave the readers to discover the story and the answers for themselves. Despite its heavy themes, The Poppy War does not forget it is fantasy fiction and that it should be interesting and fun to read. Characterization and worldbuilding can both make or break a fantasy novel. I already stamped my approval on characterizations, so what about the worldbuilding in this book? Most English fantasy novels are set in the pseudo medieval European world, but The Poppy War is set in the puesto late 19th century China, so is the worldbuilding here convincing?

The answer to that question is a resounding, yes. The worldbuilding in The Poppy War also has my stamp of approval. The author pulled from classical Chinese literatures and culture into her worldbuilding, to create a world which feels like a real and authentic version of the late 19th century China. I believe western readers may find The Poppy War a refreshing change from the pseudo European setting which have been rehashed to death in the English fantasy literatures. However, the author embedded so many references to the Chinese culture and she left plentiful of easter eggs and I am not sure the western readers can spot them all. Here are a few examples:

  1. Rin's teacher, Jiang Ziya, is a direct reference to the famous chancellor of the same name, who helped King Zhou to overthrow the tyrannical king Shiang in the 11th century BC.
  2. Two supporting characters, Baji and Suni, are from the Chinese classic novel, Journey to the West.
  3. The Keju examination system in this book is a very accurate portrayal of the Confucian meritocracy system in ancient and medieval China.
  4. In the book, a character called Kitay discussed a military strategy about "borrowing" arrows from the enemy by sailing boats full of strawmen into the enemy terrority on a misty night and get the enemy shooting arrows at them, this is a direct reference from a Chinese classical novel called Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Those are a few examples, but there are more easter eggs and cultural references in the book and they may be difficult to spot by western readers who are not familiar with the Chinese culture and classical literatures. This is why I believe the author could have helped her western readers by including footnotes in the book. Otherwise the world in The Poppy War feels as real and authentic to the medieval Chinese culture as Tolkien's Middle Earth feels real and authentic to the medieval English and Nordic culture. The great worldbuilding and the compelling characters made this book a blast to read, and there is no doubt this is one of the finest fantasy books of 2018. It is even more impressive considering it is a debut. Despite my praises, however, I do think The Poppy War has one tiny problem.

What is the problem? The Poppy War felt disjointed in the middle. The book's first half narrated Rin's life in the military academy, and the story introduced us to a host of supporting characters, such as Rin's teachers and classmates. Then about half way into the book (minor spoiler ahead), the war broke out, forcing Rin to graduate prematurely from the academy and joining a squad of imperial assassins, and over here we are suddenly introduced to another host of new supporting characters, leaving the supporting characters from the first half undeveloped and off-stage until much later on. I thought the transition, from the first half of the book into the second half, was not well handled. As a result the narratives did not feel cohesive and the pace slowed in the middle, it made me feel like I was reading two separate but very good books rather than one excellent and cohesive novel.

The seamed transition at mid book, however, is but a very small flaw. On the whole, The Poppy War tells a compelling story, with deeply flawed but likable characters. The worldbuilding is masterful and it will surely be refreshing to the western eyes. Furthermore, the book's connection to the Sino-Japanese war and the Nanjing Massacre serves as a sombre reminder of humanity's cruel tendencies to each other, but it is also culturally significant considering it is a part of the WW2 history not well known by the populace in the West. The Poppy War has my recommendation. R.F. Kuang is grimdark's new and proud daughter, and I cannot wait to read her next book.

P.S. If you are a sensitive reader, then before you pick up this book you may want to check out the trigger warnings from the author herself.

https://rfkuang.com/2018/05/13/on-the-necessity-of-brutality-why-i-went-there/







Saturday, October 27, 2018

Book Review: Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu


Chinese author Cixin Liu wrote a trilogy of science fiction novels called, Remembrance of Earth's Past. The trilogy showed up on Barrack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg's list of worthwhile books, and it is also hands down my favorite science fiction story of all time.

Cixin Liu's trilogy is a cerebral, scientific mystery, and it covered a lot of scientific and philosophical grounds. In 2018, a prequel to the trilogy, titled, Ball Lightning, was translated and made available to the English speaking world. Ball Lightning is a stand-alone story, but this time around Cixin Liu explored a different set of questions; the questions about the values of pure theoretical versus practical research, and more importantly, the ethical question - should scientific research advance at the cost of everything else?

The book is an atmospheric mystery, based on a real but unexplained phenomenon called ball lightning. This phenomenon is usually associated with thunderstorms and it is potentially dangerous.

The story began when a teenage boy, Chen, witnessed a horrific incident, where ball lightning reduced his parents to ashes. The accident took place at Chen's 14th birthday party,  and it deeply affected Chen. He developed an obsession with the phenomenon, dedicating his life and career researching these curious balls of electricity. Early in Chen's career, his ball lightning research was going no where, mostly because it was expensive and often deemed impractical. However, later on Chen met an young army major, Lin Yun, who was toying with the idea of weaponizing ball lightning. Chen and Lin, an inquisitive scientist and a goal-drive army officer, teamed up to solve the mystery of ball lightning, with the end goal of turning it into a weapon. But the duo's differing natures soon caused tensions in their partnerships, but they made progress nevertheless, especially with an international war breeding in the background.

To write this book review I did some additional readings about ball lightning. It turned out, in comparison to the 1960s, today ball lightning is a widely accepted phenomenon by the scientific community even though it remains unexplained. There is even a photo from 2014, showing the light spectrum of ball lightning, captured by a high speed camera in Lanzhou. I thought it was astounding a mystery which was almost deemed paranormal half a century ago is now a confirmed phenomenon and under investigation in the scientific field; it reminds me of a quote from Arthur C. Clarke - "Magic is just science that we don't understand yet".

Ball Lightning is a prequel to Liu's beloved trilogy. While the trilogy was ambitious and the scope was immense, encompassing the past, the present, and the future, Ball Lightning is set in the present day only and it iis much smaller in scope. However, this book is as suspenseful and brilliant as ever. The most dramatic moments in the book are all about scientific discoveries, but Cixin Liu still build tension and instilled suspense into these moments, because the story has a philosophical backdrop, one that centred on the reckless pursuit of knowledge, and how these characters' indifference to real life consequences which ultimately lead to something that threatened to destroy the world.

The story in Liu's novel is about solving the riddle of ball lightning, and the phenomenon itself is also the story's antagonist. This is a very interesting choice for the plotting, considering it is rare to find a science fiction story where the climax is about a discovery of science itself. Furthermore, I also appreciated Cixin Liu's prospective manner in exploring the interface between science and philosophy, it offers the western readers a different angle to examine these topics and it is refreshing.

Ball Lightning also explores the origin story for Professor Ding Yi, who is a key character from the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy. Ding Yi's origin story gave us some insights into his character. Without spoiling the story too much, there is a very big discovery at end of the book, and it sets up the stage for the first book in the trilogy, The Three Body Problem.

This book touched on interesting philosophies, and although the book is speculative fiction, but the author did offer a very interesting solution to the mystery of ball lightning. I will not spoil what this solution entails, but let me just say it involves thinking outside the box, beyond the traditional thinking pattern of "cause and effect". In the book's afterwords Cixin Liu said the solution is purely his own extrapolations (and he is writing speculative fictions after all), so if one day scientists do manage to answer the mystery of ball lightning, then the solution is unlikely to resemble the one from his book. But hey, the stuff about ball lightning is cutting edge, and it would be kind of cool if his "speculations" turn out to be true, and so quoting from Cixin Liu's afterword: "It's the seemingly unlikeliest of possibilities in science fiction stories that tend to become reality, so in the end, who knows?

Ball Lightning is a great science-fiction novel. If you like Arthur C. Clarke or movies like 2001 Space Odyssey, then do yourself a favor and check out this book.








Saturday, October 20, 2018

A Book Review: Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth


A couple of days ago I visited the local library, and a little white book grabbed my attention; in the middle of its front cover was an eye staring at me. The title read, Black Klansman.

"What is this?" I picked up the book and started examining it. My interest piqued as I laid my eyes on the synopsis:

"The incredible true story of a black detective at the center of an undercover investigation to infiltrate the KKK...."

A black detective who went undercover and infiltrated the KKK? How is this possible? How did he do it? I immediately borrowed the book, because I needed to sate my curiosity.

The book is a memoir of one Ron Stallworth, a detective from Intelligence Unit based in the Colorado Springs Police Department. He was the first black detective in the history of the department. Ron's undercover investigations into the KKK began in 1978, when he responded to an ad which read:

Ku Klux Klan
For Information Contact
P.O. Box 4771
Security, Colorado
80230


The book is quite small and I finished it in 2 days. The subject matter is fascinating, I particularly enjoyed reading the bits, about how Ron ran his undercover investigations by duping the KKK Grand Wizard and his cohorts, and they never knew he was a black man. Those bits were comedic and I thought Ron was very smart. I also found Ron's experiences, about the racial tension at the time, interesting and thought provoking. I mean, it is not like racism is no longer a problem in 2018, so what he experienced and witnessed in the past are still relevant today. In fact, the author mentioned in the foreword, that the current political climate in the US prompted his decision to come out and write this book.

However, despite the interesting topic, I thought Black Klansman is not well written. For the most part the book is very dry. The book is only 180 pages, but it is slow moving. The middle section, in particular, was such a slog that I contemplated giving up the book. I think the author was trying not to embellish his accounts so he could accurately depict the past. While his efforts to stay faithful to the true event are commendable, but why must the narratives be so dull?

When I finished this book, my feeling about it was mixed. On the one hand, Black Klansman is worth reading for the subject matter alone. However on the other hand, this book is not a good read because the narratives are monotonous. I guess if you find the topic compelling, then Black Klansman might worth your while. However, if you are the sort of reader who needs a book to be engaging, then you probably want to skip this one. Apparently there is a movie adaptation for the book, but I have not seen the movie so I cannot comment on the movie or how it may differ from the book. But if you are interested in Ron's story and want a faithful retelling of it, then the book might be the way to go, provided you don't mind the dry narratives.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

My top 20 favorite horror movies of all time - Part II: 10-1


October = horror movie time. Let me continue the list for my top 20 favorite horror movies of all time. In Part I of the list, I talked about number 20 to 11. In Part II, I will be discussing my top 10. So hang on tight, for we are about to descend even deeper into the world of high strangeness.

Number 10: Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock is an iconic director, and Psycho is among his finest works, where he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. These days there are a lot of movies about psychotic killers, but Psycho is arguably the grandfather of the genre, and it is often considered one of the greatest films ever made. Psycho is shot in black and white. The story has tension and suspense, and it is a fascinating journey into the mind of a psychotic killer. You cannot call yourself a movie buff until you have seen this one. I mean, what sort of movie buff hasn't seen the iconic "shower scene" from Psycho?

P.S. Psycho is also the first American movie to show a flushing toilet on screen.




Number 9: Hereditary (2018)

I love A24 movies, their films often feel a bit Indie and arthouse, but still mainstream enough to keep the audiences entertained and grounded. While A24 is also famous for movies such as Room, Ex Machina, and The Disaster Artist, but I think they do horror movies especially well.

Indeed, horror, oh horror! Hereditary sent a shiver down my neck. The director of this film has a very good understanding of fear and what it means to be terrified. This movie doesn't use jump scares, instead it uses the psychological effects of "seen" and "unseen" to terrify the audience. Often it is not what you can see that terrifies you, but it is when you are unsure if you just saw what you think you saw, that terrifies you. So many scenes in this movie made me wonder if I saw something at the corner of the screen, or if my eyes were playing tricks on me. And it was a scary experience! The acting in Hereditary is superb, and the story is very clever. This movie has a very strong opening chapter, but it is not ranked higher on my list because I think the cleverness of the first half forced the 2nd half into answering too many questions. In other words, Hereditary is a horror masterpiece, but it is a bit too clever for its own good. Some critics compare this movie to The Exorcist, and I think this is a bad comparison, because Hereditary is NOTHING like The Exorcist. So you are bound to disappointment if you walk into this movie and expecting to see something like The Exorcist. No, instead just watch Hereditary for what it is, don't even watch the trailers, and I promise it will terrify and surprise you for two hours.

Number 8: The Shining (1980)

At my number 8 is another Stephen King adaptation, The Shining. This movie is directed by the famous Stanley Kubrick, and it has had an enormous influence on pop and movie culture. But this movie is even more controversial since Stephen King famously hated the movie adaptation; "a creator who hated his own creation" (quoting Ready Player One). I haven't read the novel, so I can't comment on the difference between the book and the film, but I have seen this film a couple of times and I love it because it is unsettling and disturbing. The horror in The Shining is strangely effective, because it makes you wonder whose perception of the events you should trust. One cannot help but walk away from this film with a sense of uncertainty, about what is real and what is not.





Number 7: Jaws (1975)

Sharks probably don't act like they do in Jaws, but the movie is a symbol of the cinematic history nevertheless. Steven Spielberg directed Jaws, and he build tension and suspense into the film by famously refraining from showing the whole shark until the very end. Many monster movies have since borrowed from this method, but none are as effective at producing this sort of elevated horror. This movie is very, very, re-watchable, and more than 40 years after its release, the special effects, especially the shark, still looks great, and at time it looks even more realistic than modern-day CGI. But the strengths in Jaws is not just the shark, but it is also the characters. The audiences will root for the characters because they are very well-written, and this makes the final showdown, between the shark and the three heroes, really intense. Jaws is not just a great horror movie, but it is an all-round great movie.






Number 6: The Exorcist (1973)

Almost every religion in the world has stories about demonic possessions and exorcisms. When you read the religious texts, you get the feeling in the old days the strange and the macabre were the daily norm. However, if you talk to modern-day religious folks, the chances you will find them believing in the supernatural activities in the scriptures, without applying scientific skepticism. However, you will also find them disbelieving a present day supernatural claim when they encounter one, because they will suddenly examine the modern-day claims with scientific skepticism. It is easy to see the inconsistency there; it is almost as if modern-day religious people are finding it hard to reconcile their faith with reason, or, just how far, they should trust reason. Some religious people would even assert that believe in a god makes reason more accountable, without realizing they are shooting themselves in the foot because the supernatural activities, residing at the core of their beliefs, are not necessarily explainable by reason.

It looks like some modern-day religious people would love think their beliefs can be completely rationalized, such that their belief can appear more acceptable and up-to-date in the age of science and technology. But is that attainable? Well, William Blatty's best-selling novel, The Exorcist, explores this question. Blatty is a Catholic, and he wrote the novel with the intention to "bring people back to the church". It suffices to say the novel was great, and its movie adaptation became so famous it is almost synonymous to the horror genre itself. The story in The Exorcist presents an ironic situation, where an atheist was ready to believe and seeking out a priest's help because she experienced demonic activities, but the church priest, highly attuned to scientific skepticism, palmed her back to the doctors instead because he was skeptical about her experiences. Ha! What has the world come to! So if the devil is real, and his power is deception, then I wonder who was deceived by the devil? And may I suggest that is the real horror in The Exorcist. Anyway, I am a skeptic of religion and paranormal activities, but I wholeheartedly agree with what William Blatty was saying in The Exorcist. What a thought-provoking story!

Number 5: The Devil's Backbone (2001)



Guillermo del Toro is most famous for movies like Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy, and The Shape of Water. But my favorite movie from him is a Spanish language horror film called The Devil's Backbone. This movie is a real gem and I am surprised it is not more widely known. The story took place during the Spanish Civil War, in an orphanage. The protagonists in this movie are the orphans, and the movie itself is as much a period drama as a horror film. This is a ghost movie, but unlike the many ghost movies out there, the ghost here is a metaphor to emotions and memories of people and places. There is a quiet beauty and a profound sadness about this movie. I have re-watched this movie many times and I never get tired of it. 






Number 4: A Quiet Place (2018)




A Quiet Place treads a fine line between horror and thriller, and it is currently my favorite movie of 2018. This movie, as its name suggests, is almost a silent film. It has a simple premise about a family trying to survive a monster apocalypse. A Quiet Place is the most action-packed movie on this list, but it is more of a family drama than a monster flick. This movie also explores how "making sound" is essential to our humanity; in our daily lives we make sounds to express ourselves and our range of emotions, and this movie investigates an interest concept, of how, the inability to make sound can affect our very being. This movie has an original story and it provides movie goers with a breath of fresh air from movie franchises and cinematic universes.






Number 3: Let the Right One In (2008)

What do you get when you mix vampires with romance? I can see raised eyebrows already because you are thinking of Twilight. Well, unfortunately the cheese known as Twilight has become the symbol for vampire romance movies, but there are some excellent romantic horror movies if you know where to look. Take, Let the Right One In, for example. This movie is number 3 on my list. This is a Swedish movie and it is critically acclaimed. The story's premise involves a teenage boy falling in love with a vampire girl, but the movie was really about dealing with bullies, exclusion, and isolation, as an outsider. This movie is slow moving, and it is more arthouse than mainstream, but it is beautiful rendition of story, sound, and cinematography.

P.S. I heard there is an American remake of the film. I haven't seen the remake yet but I am skeptical of movie remakes. So I am sticking to the original.




Number 2: The Thing (1982)

The Thing, directed by John Carpenter, is in my opinion the most suspenseful horror movie of all time. This is because even when the credit rolls you are still wondering who was the "thing". I believe this movie took some inspirations from H.P. Lovecraft's horror novella, "At the Mountain of Madness", and the story is set in the frozen tundra of Antarctica, where an unknown organism, one capable of absorbing another's DNA and then replicating its appearance, threatened to replace the entire research crew with itself. This movie will keep you guessing at who is "the thing" for 2 hours, and it is a fun ride. Out of all horror movies on this list I rewatch The Thing the most, and every time I watch it I get the same thrill and suspense. This one is a timeless classic.







Number 1: The Witch (2015)

At the very top of my list is The Witch, and it is also the least mainstream horror movie out of the lots. This movie is arthouse horror, and it is (again) distributed by A24. The Witch is a slow burn and it does not employ jump scare tactics. Instead, the horror resides in the mounting dread and tension. The story is set in New England, and the year was 1630. A very religious family, who were in exile, found a new land and they settled on it. However, strange happenings led them to believe the devil was at works. Everything in this movie feels real; the characters spoke like from the King James bible, the huts were built with real mud and bricks, and the costumes were hand-woven. The authenticity is in the details. The feature has a humble runtime of 90 minutes. The movie briefly showed one or two scenes of supernatural stuff, but the atmosphere became more suspenseful and dreadful as the movie went on. It kept me guessing if the family's ordeals were from the external or self-inflicted.

However, the most horrifying aspect in The Witch isn't the witch. No, the horror is where the audience, watching on in shock and horror, at this family's tragic descent into madness and despair because of their obsession with the idea of sin, which caused them to unleash this religious terror upon themselves. This is even more horrifying considering the sort of belief shown in the film is an accurate depiction of the deeply Calvinistic belief at the time. This is a multi-layered, and powerful story, unsettling and dreadful. Furthermore, this movie is shot in a very interesting aspect ration at 1.66:1, where most images are greyish or with strong contrasts between black and white. The movie sets a dreadful and hopeless tone and the cinematography enhances it. The Witch may not be everyone's cup of tea because it is arthouse and not action packed, but I love it for the eerie atmosphere, realism, and the thought-provoking story. This is why The Witch grabs the top spot as my favorite horror movie of all time.

This brings me to the conclusion of the list. Thank you for reading. I hope you discovered some new movies. What are your favorite horrors? You are welcomed to comment below and let me know.














Saturday, October 6, 2018

My top 20 favorite horror movies of all time - Part I: 20-11


October is the time to watch horror movies, so prepare yourself for a descent into the world of high strangeness! What are your favorite horror movies? Some people like horror movies with zombies and maniacs running around with murderous chainsaws, you know, the sort of stuff that use jump scares, blood, and gore to make people scream. But I prefer psychological horrors and macabre stories, the sort of movies which will make you think. I have compiled a list for the 20 horror movies I like the most. 

The list consists of two parts, and the ranking is in ascending order. Part I is from 20 to 11, where Part II will be the top 10. The list is a reflection of my personal preference for the genre. Perhaps from my list you will find a few movies to intrigue you on a rainy night.


Number 20: Attack the Block (2011)



Who knew, a story about aliens invading a block of units could be so entertaining! Attack the Block is a small budget horror movie with a splash of comedy in it. This movie is a cult classic, and it is the kind of movie I would watch on a late Friday night. The story follows a gang of hoodlums, as they struggled to survive an alien invasion in the apartment complex they live in. Attack the Block is a genre-bending film with a fun story, and the special effects are pretty great too, which is even more impressive considering the small budget.









Number 19: IT (2017)

A number of Stephen King's novels have seen movie adaptations, and IT is one of my favorites. There are two motion picture adaptations for IT; a TV series from 1990, and a recent movie in 2017. I think the 2017 movie is better than the TV series. The story is about a bunch of kids growing up and facing their deepest fears, where the monster, Pennywise, is a physical manifestation of all their fears. However, the best thing about this movie is not the scary clown, but the kids themselves. I mean, even if Pennywise was removed from this movie, leaving a story only about the kids, it would still be just as good.





Number 18: The Wicker Man (1973)



The Wicker Man? The one starring Nicholas Cage? No no, I am not talking about the disastrous 2006 remake which starred Nicholas Cage. I am talking about the original from 1973, a British horror/mystery movie inspired by a novel called "Ritual". The Wicker Man takes an interesting peek into cults and belief systems. There is no supernatural element in this movie, but it is terrifying nevertheless because it uses paranoia so well. The Wicker Man is one of the finest horror movies I have ever seen.









Number 17: The Conjuring (2013)

The recent years brought us a movie franchise, based on the (allegedly true) stories of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were paranormal investigators and Christian exorcists. There are now 5 or 6 movies in this franchise, but I like The Conjuring the most. I remain skeptical of the paranormal and supernatural activities, but The Conjuring is genuinely terrifying and suspenseful. This movie may have dramatized the effects of demonic activities and Christian exorcisms, but what surprised me is that many religious people are also skeptical of Ed and Lorraine Warren's stories. I mean, only a few hundred years ago this stuff was the fabric in the everyday life of religious people, and these things were also recorded in their holy scriptures. However, nowadays when religious people encounter modern-day possession and exorcism stories they don't believe it, instead they usually examine the modern-day claims through the lens of scientific skepticism. This made me wonder, why aren't present-day religious people applying the same scientific skepticism they used on the modern-day claims, to also examine the claims in their holy scriptures? Their positions seem inconsistent to me. I mean, if they don't believe in the present day stories then they have even less reason to believe in the ones from antiquities.  

Number 16: Alien (1979)


The best movies in the Alien franchise, are the first two movies. But the first one, Alien, directed by Ridley Scott, is a sci-fi/horror masterpiece. But where, or who, is the horror in Alien? Is it the Xenomorph? Well, if you think about it, being locked up in a spaceship with a Xenomorph is no more terrifying than being locked up in a cage with a lion or a pack of wolves. But that is not "horror". So where is the horror? I believe, Alien is influenced by the philosophy of Cosmicism. This is a literary philosophy invented by author H.P. Lovecraft and it is the very heart for the famous Cthulhu mythos. I was not a big Alien fan until I discovered the philosophical connection between the movie and the Lovecraftian horrors, then suddenly I saw Alien in a new light, with a newfound sense of appreciation.





Number 15: The Gift (2015)



Are the things we say to each other just words? Take a look at a movie called The Gift. This is a psychological horror movie made with a very small budget. If I tell you anything more about the movie then I will spoil it, so let me just say The Gift is a damn good movie. There is no supernatural element in this movie, and there is no blood and no gore. This movie has a very clever story. Don't watch any trailers for The Gift, just pick up this movie and watch it, and it will surprise you, with two hours of suspense and mystery.









Number 14: The Babadoook (2014)



The Babadook is an Australian psychological horror movie. This movie was made with a very small budget. The Babadook feels a bit Indie and arthouse. It is quite scary and I love it. The first time I watched The Babadook I was cowering behind a blanket and a cushion. The story follows a widowed mother, who was raising her 6 year old son alone. Her son began to display strange behaviors and it drove her to the brink of exhaustion. This movie successfully made the audience wonder if the characters were experiencing an imagined event or a genuine supernatural episode, and it was intense and suspenseful. The Babadook is a prime example of good Australian film making, and it also showcases what good acting and a good story can achieve with a small budget.





Number 13: Get Out (2017)



Get Out is a psychological horror movie, but it is also a little bit comedic because it is a satire and a social commentary. This movie received the Oscar award for the best original screenplay, which is extraordinary for a horror movie! I mean, how often do we see the judges on Oscar handing out an award to a horror movie? Not very often, right? I think this movie deserves the critical acclaims, because it is very clever, and it offers a thought provoking story, one you have never seen before.











Number 12: The Mist (2007)

At number 12 is another adaptation of Stephen King's novel. I believe there is a more recent TV series adaptation for The Mist but it is poorly received. Anyway, I am not talking about the TV series, I am talking about the 2007 movie adaptation, The Mist

The premise of the story is quite simple, a mist of unknown origin suddenly invaded a small town, and the residents found themselves besieged by mysterious assailants in the mist. This movie has multiple interpretations, and its ending will punch you in the gut, for it has the most horrifying conclusion to a movie I have ever seen. However, I think the ending also sends a powerful message, and although it deviates from the novel, but even Stephen King himself said he wished he could have come up with that ending. Does this sound interesting to you? Make sure you check out The Mist.





Number 11: Rosemary's Baby (1967)


Rosemary's Baby, directed by Roman Polanski, is an adaptation of a novel of the same name. I like both the movie and the novel, and it is also worth mentioning the movie is a very faithful adaptation of the book. The story follows a young woman, Rosemary, who, together with her husband, just moved into a posh apartment in New York. The young couple encountered very friendly neighbors, but soon Rosemary discovered something is amiss about their new friends. The horror in Rosemary's Baby is the sense of paranoia. The movie keeps the audience guessing if Rosemary's ordeals were real or the products of her own imaginations. The story is also a commentary about control and women's health. Rosemary's Baby is an icon in the horror genre, and it is worth checking out if you haven't seen it yet.




This covers number 20 to 11. But what about the top 10? Gentle readers, stay tuned for Part II, where I will continue and list my top 10 favorite horror movies of all time.

Until then, happy haunting!