Jacking away your time and money… A different form of meditation.

Celtic Totem Animals: With Drumming CD

Celtic-Totem-Animals-With-DVD-Matthews-John-9781590030226

See it at Amazon 

(1/5)

Find a Pet Rock, it would have as much life as this Box-set!

The Jack Move:

I hunted for a unique book on animals at a book store for about an hour before stumbling upon this box set in the New Age section. This box set claims to be able to connect you with animal spirits known as “Totem animals”, a shamanic tradition and belief system…

It advertises on the packaging the following contents: A 70-minute CD of Shamanic drumming, 20 cards with wood-cut depictions of Totem Animals and an illustrated book that guides you on your own shamanic journey. (Wow sounded pretty cool to me so I read on…) Play the Shamanic drumming and choose a card with the animal that appeals to you to help you with a problem or help you make a decision. Follow the simple instructions for guided visualization-and witness how these animals can guide and empower you.

All right… sounds like I may get in contact with the spirits of animals that I love. I looked at the price located under the text (what I just quoted) and saw US $24.95. I thought about this and decided that for a book, cards and a Celtic drumming CD I couldn’t go wrong. I pulled out my wallet and jerked out my hard earned money and gave into this classic “Bait and switch” (They must have seen me coming?)


The Book and Cards:

 Celtic_Totem_Animals
192 Pages filled with lifeless philosophy no photos except for what is shown on the cards and no detailed information on what the animals in Celtic tradition represent. Here are two examples of our most popular animals:

Cat: Cats appear several times in Celtic myth notably in the Voyage of Maelduin where the voyagers encounter an innocent-seeming kitten leaping to and fro on the tops of four pillars…
(It goes on for about a paragraph and then reveals its importance). The significance of the cat which we can derive from this is that it is strong in guardianship, and a good protector of one’s inner powers. It might be invoked when about to enter a confrontational situation, when its fierceness is deemed appropriate. (however,  don’t use it as an excuse to lose your temper!) (At this point I’m already starting to lose my patience!!!)

Dog: There are many famous dogs in Celtic tradition, as one would expect in a race so addicted to hunting.
(Well, I did hunt for a book like this.) Authur’s great hound Cafall left its footprint on a stone, called to this day Carn Cafall, which if moved in the evening is back in its original place next day. (This continues for about three more paragraphs and then reveals its importance). The dog was also associated with healing, since its saliva was said to have curative properties… …there was an established association between hunting and healing, making the Dog a good companion when in search of the latter. (At this point I’m starting to become annoyed!!!)Totem-Dog-216x300

The book has little to no educational value, explains very little of  how to meditate upon the animal that grabs your attention:  No explanation on how to use it to help solve your problems… It doesn’t help at all and in fact it gave me a huge headache reading a book half the size of a DVD case and with all of its horrid editing: It was lighthearted and simple… (That was the Problem it was written in a way that assumes you already know about Shaman Animal Totems.)

20 Animals are depicted on flimsy cardboard squares they are colorless and lifeless as the rest of this set… The animal totems are: Badger, Bear, Bee, Blackbird, Cat, Cow, Crane, Crow, Dog, Eagle, Eel, Hawk, Horse, Otter, Owl, Pig, Salmon, Stag, Swan, Wolf, and a graph of which animals correspond to different months of the year.. Need I continue? (Unfortunately I have to because of the dreadful CD!!!)


The CD and Final thoughts:

Banging your head consecutively into a brick wall would probably have the same effect;  produce the same sounds as this CD!!!

Track 1:  Single drumming for 20 minutes. (One drum and One sound for 20 Minutes!)

Track 2 : Double drumming for 20 minutes. (One drum and the same sound twice for 20 Minutes!)

Track 3: Single drumming for 30 minutes. (Same drum and Same sound for 30 Minutes!)

They didn’t bother with or need to include…
Track 4: Double drumming for 30 minutes. (That sound was already pounding inside my head for 70 Minutes!)

The basic idea’s are friendly and lighthearted but I didn’t really see the benefit from this box-set. I wish I would have passed on this product. (I can drum up more fun, exciting and inexpensive ways to meditate.)

Sharon Stone in a spaghetti western with Russell Crowe, Leonardo di Caprio, and Gene Hackman

The Quick and the Dead (1995)

gyorsabb_a_halalnal_poszter

$6.58  at Amazon 

[Rating: 3.6/5]

Pros: cast, look

Cons: other than having Sharon Stone in a Clint Eastwood role, pretty conventional

I knew that the 1956 paint-by-numbers western starring Tab Hunter and Natalie Wood (one of their several pairings) “Burning Hills” derived from one of the many formulaic western novels by Louis L’Amour. It has a formulaic romance, one interesting character (the “halfbreed” tracker played by Eduard Franz) and a twist of using a Comache raiding party. Skip Homeier played the ruthless robber baron/formulaic villain.

I knew that “The Quick and the Dead” (1995) was directed by Sam Raimi (after “The Evil Dead,” before Spiderman I,II, and III) and starred Sharon Stone, but didn’t notice the name Louis L’Amour in the credits.

The title is the sorting in the Final Judgement, and the town into which The Lady (Stone as the Woman with No Name) rides to participate in a gunfighting elimination match is named Redemption, run by a smiling ruthless gunfighter named John Herod (played with relish by Gene Hackman). It only gradually becomes apparent what The Lady seeks to redeem. (It involves Gary Sinise.)

A young (pre-Titanic, post Gilbert Grape) Leonardo diCaprio struts about and insists on registering for the contest, to the dismay of his father (Hackman). Cort, a very fast-drawing former part of Herod’s outlaw enterprises, played by Russell Crowe, has renounced violence and taken up preaching. Herod is determined to smash Cort’s commitment to nonviolence.

There’s not really a romance between The Lady and Cort (in contrast, she wakes up very hungover with The Kid), but they become allies of sorts against Herod.

There are a series of shoot-outs, well filmed by cinematographer Dante Spinotti (who worked with Crowe filming “LA Confidential” and “The Insider” as well as “Heat” and “Wonder Boys”).

Nothing profound, nothing unusual other than having a female gunslinger protagonist and a powerhouse cast (including John Ford repertory member Woody Strode as a coffin maker; Strode also appeared in “Once Upon a Time in the West” which Q&D sometimes seems to be parodying with trademark Sergio Leone closeups of eyes), but I found it entertaining. Hackman, who is probably a nice guy, was so good at playing these nasty roles and I also miss Pat Hingle, who played the saloonkeeper and mc of the duels.

5602193401753“The Quick and the ead”  cost 35 million dollars and only drew eighteen and a half million dollars at the box office… which may be why I was unfamiliar with the movie. (Sony was unfamiliar with and dubious about both Russell Crowe and Leonardo diCaprio: in effect Stone cast them).

 

 

A young French sphynx

Yong & Beautiful/Jeune et jolieJeune_et_Jolie_Young_and_Beautiful_poster

 

$12.99  at Amazon 

(3.7/5)

Pros: cast, look, sound

Cons: opacity of motivation

François Ozon has made some movies I like (8 Women, Time to Leave, Potiche, the 2012 “In the House”) and some I loathe (Criminal Lovers, Water Drops on Burning Rocks). I sort of liked “Jeune & jolie” (Young & Beautiful), structured with a song for each of the episodes set in consecutive seasons and the coming of sybilline (that is, enigmatic) age of Isabelle (Marine Vacth), who is 16 years old and a virgin being spied on as she sunbathes topless by her younger brother Victor (Fantin Ravat, the voyeuristic incarnation of the film-maker, I think), in the first scene. Before the family vacation is over, she has disencumbered herself of her virginity to a German boy named Felix (Lucas Prisor) she judges too stupid to be introduced to her parents. What’s love got to do with it? Not a thing!

With an alternative cellphone chip she undertakes casual prostitution, making substantial sums mostly from jones (jeans?) who don’t make heavy demands on her. When an old man ((Johan Leysen) has a fatal heart attack (Nelson Rockefeller style) while insider her, she panics and flees, and security cameras enable the police to find her, and they inform her mother, Sylvie (a very sympathetically frustrated Géraldine Pailhas), who forces her to undertake seeing a therapist. (Her stepfather, played by a wry Frédéric Pierrot, leaves childrearing to Sylvie.

marine-vacth-young-beautiful-jeune-et-jolie-01-1353x1000What she feels remains opaque to the viewer and to the other characters, and I think to Isabelle herself. The usual French aversion to providing motivation as well as Anglo discomfort about whether young people can consent to sex with old ones, for money or otherwise make it uncomfortable viewing for me. (Knowing that the actress was 22 rather than 16-17 lessens if not removing some of the discomfort.) Pascal Marti’s cinematography is quite pretty, however, and I like the songs (delivered by Françoise Hardy). And I like the opaque final encounter, too.

 

Relationship issues for 30-something Taiwanese

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?WYSLMT - US Poster - hires

$19.60  at Amazon 

(4.3/5)

Pros: cast, colors, wit

Cons: all emotion, no sex

I liked Arvin Chan’s 2013 “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” better when I saw it on a big screen with a big, appreciative audience than when I streamed it into my living room. I remembered it as more of a romantic comedy than it is. It is more a melodrama about disappointed women than a comedy, though a very good-hearted but unromantic fiancé (San-San played by Shih Chin-Hang, better known as “Stone”, guitarist in the Taiwanese band Mayday) whose fiancée (Mandy, played by Hsia Kimi) doesn’t just break off the engagement but leaves without telling him she is leaving in a Carrefour supermarket acquires a team of four fairy godfathers who attempt to help him woo her back. They play indoor badminton and San-San is too naïve to know that they are gay.

Will-You-Still-Love-Me-Tomorrow_Stills_01_edited-300x257(Stephen and Chan-Chan in front row, other fairy godfathers behind them)

Stephen (Lawrence Ko) is their leader and knows San-San from having taken the photographs of the bride and groom (in western garb). Stephen is married to a lesbian who is the business manager of the wedding business and hung out with Mandy’s brother Weichung (Johnnie To regular Richie Ren, who was born in 1966) before Weichung married Feng (Mavis Fan, who was born in 1977) nine years earlier and stopped being gay… Well, that is his definition of the situation speaking to Stephen and to other gay men.

Weichung is very attracted to Cantonese flight attendant Thomas (Wong Ka-Look) who is also very attracted to Weichung. Just when Feng is pressuring Weichung to produce e a second child, he is in an emotional tumult not just about falling in love with Thomas in particular, but realizing that he is still gay despite avoiding the scene and his gay friends. Feng happens to see Weichung with Thomas and demands to know if he is gay, which he reluctantly cops to.

Feng’s boss is in love with her, though she fails to notice that. Weichung is a very good father to their six-year-old son A-wan, which she does notice.

And Mandy has a fantasy companion (who calls her “older sister”) a Korean soap-opera star big on Romance (as are San-san’s new gay posse).

Even before there was a shot down at a crowd of umbrellas, the bright colors and the tristesse reminded me of Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), as well as Edward Yang (Yi Yi) and Nakajima Takehiro (“Okogé,” with another gay father, Goh, who looks somewhat like Richie Ren) There’s at least one happy ending (scorers may differ about the total number of happy endings). Though sometimes whimsical and often quirkily funny, the movie is dealing with credible relationship difficulties, hopes, and disappointments.

There are no sex scenes, gay or straight, and no violence. Though there are gay characters, I don’t think it is a “gay movie.” Despite processing a lot of pain, it is a feel-good movie, at least for the long-suffering San-San. BTW, Feng sings the title song at a karaoke bar after she is promoted to team leader in a pharmaceutical company. And what is least realistic is not a character flying away but the lack of traffic in the movie’s Taipei.

(Weichung, A-Wan, Feng)

The Film Movement disc includes a seven-minute interview plus his 2006 short film Mei (twelve and a half minutes).

 

 

 

 

Kill (at least the career of) the messenger

Fair-Game-DVD“Fair Game”

 

$5 at Amazon 

(4.5/5)

Pros: Watts and Penn

Cons: what really happened to a dedicated agent

Directed by Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity”), based on Joseph C. Wilson’s memoir, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity: A Diplomat’s Memoir,‘“Fair Game” is particularly timely with the re-emergence of chickenhawk/toad Dick Cheney, who has managed both to say that his nominal boss George W. Bush, knew what was being done to prisoners AND that what was documented as being done in CIA records didn’t happen.

“Fair Game” is not about the Cheney-cheered-on torture, but focuses on his office’s attempt to discredit former ambassador (to Gabon) Joseph Wilson’s New York Times revelation that the supposed Saddam Hussein Iraq’s purchase of yellowcake enhanced uranium , which was one of the rationales for invading Iraq (included in the 2003 Bush State of the Union address), not only did not happen but was preposterous. Karl Rove and Cheney’s chief-of-staff (and it is impossible to believe with Cheney’s knowledge and approval; indeed Scooter Libby later said that it was Cheney who told him that Plame worked for the CIA) sought to make the story not the administration’s knowing lies but nepotism, specifically, that Wilson was sent by his wife, Valerie Plame, who had been asked about her husband’s connections to Niger officials. Plame did not make the decision to send him to Niger, but the Cheney disinformation machine cast doubt on his challenge to the lie by Bush (and Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, et al.) while avoiding the substance of Wilson’s charge that the Cheney-Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in general, and the Niger yellowcake uranimum in particular.

I knew that the Bush administration recklessly exposed that Plame was a CIA covert operative (which is a felony under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act), but the movie showed some of the consequences: one can fairly say the blood of various people (70+) who had been cooperating with her is on the hands of Cheney, Libby, and Dick Armitage (who told Robert Novak that Plame was a CIA agent, which Rove confirmed, hence Novak’s report from “two senior administration officials”). Wilson contradicting Bush administration lies should not have made Plame “fair game,” and destroying her career was done without any consideration of fatally compromising those in the Middle East who could be linked to her. I know that the movie title is a criticism of what was done to Plame and her contacts. “Reckless Mendacity” would be an apt title for the whole run-up to the otherwise catastrophically underplanned conquest of Iraq.

Cheney (via Libby) seeking to make something of the aluminum tubes that the CIA was convinced were not part of a nuclear bomb-making program in Iraq and generally to cherry-pick and leak raw data to justify invading Iraq are also prominent in the movie. (In his testimony to the special prosecutor Cheney claimed not to recall information sought 72 times, a piece of the historical record not posed to him in his current press initiative.)

Having said that everyone knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in an Oscar acceptance speech, Penn was a natural to be cast as Wilson and Naomi Watts was convincingly dedicated to her job playing Plame. And David Andrews was convincing as the bullying Libby (Cheney and Bush played themselves; that is, appeared in archival footage).

Alas, the movie ends with Bush commuting Libby’s sentence rather than being jailed along with Cheney for their multiple crimes. (And, during the movie’s credit, the real Plame testifying to a congressional committee appears alongside closing records, showing how much Watts looks like her).

©2014, El Instituto Obregón

 

The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 3 (Marvel Masterworks)

The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 3 (Marvel Masterworks)

Price: $29.99

(4.5/5)

Pros: One very cool debut and overall strong volume

Cons: Only a couple of weaker issues

J. Jonah Jameson’s hatred for Spider-Man gets the better of him which leads to his newest plan. He learns about a scientist that has learned how to cause artificial mutations in animals, such as mutating mice to breath under water like fish. Jameson pays him to perform the mutation on Mac Gargan whom volunteers for the operation, and this leads to him becoming the Scorpion. Jameson immediately sends him after Spider-Man to try to defeat and unmask him. -summary

While slightly weaker than the previous volume; Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 3 is still a very good trade as Stan Lee makes room for new villains, and at the same time begins a developing storyline that brings Spider-Man to blows once again with the Green Goblin making their feud even more personal. There’s very little to complain about here with the issues continuing to arouse interest and suspense in some way. This TPB collects The Amazing Spider-Man issues 20-30 and Annual # 2.

This book begins with a bang immediately as Spider-Man goes one on with the Scorpion through a trilogy of brawls in a single issue. This encounter is easily the most unappreciated slugfest in Marvel 60’s comics. Whenever people toss together their favorite slugfest of that time period, you will always see the Thor vs. Hulk or Thor vs. Hercules encounters right away or something else with this one completely forgotten. I always found those two fights to be slightly over-rated because they simply lack the savage fury of Spider-Man vs. Scorpion in Amazing Spider-Man #20; these two really go at it bare knuckle for awhile and many of their confrontations would end up like this.  There’s also another good slugfest taking place during the Molten Man’s first appearance, and the reader will also get an entertaining battle along with the precursor to Spider-Man’s deadly feud with the Spider-Slayers.

Stan Lee works very well in developing Spider-Man’s world all around; the Green Goblin returns with hopes of conquering New York’s underworld gangs which leads him into a rivalry with the Crimemaster whom has the same goal. In addition to all of this, Peter Parker’s relationship with Betty Brant receives the love triangle formula when reporter Ned Leeds is introduced, and their relationship becomes quite complicated. Although it can feel somewhat repetitive at times, Lee keeps the narrative moving at a brisk pace with something new and cool each issue.

I love Steve Ditko’s artwork here when following the action-filled narrative. There are so many cool moments here and even during the shorter altercations. There’s a good amount of imagination when Human Torch and Spider-Man mix it up. Plus the savage brawls with Scorpion pack the right amount of collateral damage. I like the facial designs here from Flash Thompson’s jealousy, to Jameson’s victory gloating, on to Scorpion outright snapping. I have no problems with the recoloring since everything looks so lively.

I have to admit that many of the best encounters took place in the previous book. However, there’s nothing here to really turn a nose up to either. It’s so obvious that Spider-Man was Stan Lee’s baby because when compared to all the titles he was writing; it seemed as if his heart was into this most. Everything from Spider-Man’s adventures to Peter’s complications with everyday life never seems to feel dull. I highly recommend this volume to comic and Spider-Man fans. It also isn’t a bad place to start either but I would recommend starting from the beginning.

Sidney Sheldon’s The Tides of Memory

Sidney Sheldon’s The Tides of Memory

 

pic1

See it at Amazon 

(5/5)

Pros: Incredibly fun ride

Cons: None for me!

Let’s discuss the author, first.  Don’t be fooled by the book’s title. Despite being called Sidney Sheldon’s The Tides of Memory, this is NOT a Sidney Sheldon book.  After all, it’s only a year old, and Mr. Sheldon died a few years back.  It’s not even one of his “lost manuscripts” brought to life and published posthumously.  Nope, Mr. Sheldon didn’t write this book – Tilly Bagshawe did.  Ms. Bagshawe pens novels in Sheldon’s very popular style.   Full of suspense, strong female characters, and major intrigue – these novels do, indeed, read like Sheldon novels.  Hence I’m likely to enjoy them, having been a fan of the original.

And The Tides of Memory does not disappoint, that’s for sure.  I admit it – I was hooked from the first page.  We are introduced to a present-day lady high up in England’s political structure, a lady well-respected as she makes huge decisions, leading her country.  With her family standing behind her, we can’t help but admire Alexia De Vere.

We also go back 40 years.  It’s Maine, in the 70’s, and a group of teenagers are having the time of their lives during summer camp. But one moment of carelessness leads to a tragedy.

The initial portion of the book goes back and forth between the two stories.  The reader knows that eventually the two stories will merge, but it remains a mystery exactly how.

And once it happens, once we understand how the two stories relate – that’s when the fun really begins.  Because what follows can only be described as a wild roller coaster ride.  Full of ups, downs, and everything in between.  Basically, Bagshawe gives us a soap opera condensed into 450 pages – you just wouldn’t believe the twists and turns this story takes.

It was a wild ride, and I loved every minute of it.  I was completely hooked, wanting to find out how it would all work out.  So many different paths the story could have taken, the fun was guessing whether Bagshawe would zig or zag.

Strong, likeable characters.  Tons of fun surprises, and a story that kept me hooked from beginning to end.  For those who enjoy high-energy, crazy twisty stories, I highly recommend Sidney Sheldon’s The Tides of Memory.  I’m a fan of Sidney Sheldon, and I have to say Ms. Bagshawe does a fine job honoring his memory.

Marvel Masterworks: The Incredible Hulk Volume 3

Marvel Masterworks: The Incredible Hulk Volume 3

Price: $17.56

(4/5)

Pros: Solid follow up that delivers some good action

Cons: Feels rushed at times and even quite repetitive

The Hulk sits alone in a desert and ponders on why the world fears and hunts him. At that moment he’s captured by his enemy, the underworld ruler Tyrannus. It appears that Tyrannus is badly losing a turf war to the Mole Man, and he needs the Hulk to help him; the green skinned goliath agrees to help and the battle soon begins. -summary

Similar to Stan Lee’s run on The Amazing Spider-Man. It appears Lee knew immediately the formula to get the Hulk going. It quickly becomes clear to me on what made the Hulk into one of Marvel’s most popular characters. This batch of issues are rarely dull as the Hulk is not only plunged into one slugfest after the other, but the reader will begin to feel for this tortured soul as he quickly learns there’s just no place for him among mankind. Marvel Masterworks: The Incredible Hulk Volume 3 collects Tales to Astonish issues 80 – 101 and The Incredible Hulk 102. It’s worth noting that during The Hulk’s Tales to Astonish run he at one point shared the title with Namor the Sub-Mariner; Namor’s stories are collected in his own TPB.

Stan Lee kicks things off well enough with the Hulk’s continuing character development as he searches for some form of acceptance; by this time he had already been kicked out of the Avengers and he literally had only one friend in Rick Jones, and this was mainly because he knew that Bruce Banner was the Hulk.  Eventually the series becomes more complicated when the Hulk’s identity is revealed, and the woman whom loves Banner by the name of Betty Ross, constantly pleads with her father General Ross not to kill him. There are plenty of subplots tossed into this, along with a developing love triangle taking place with Major Glenn Talbot, whom wants Banner dead in order to claim Betty for himself.

The stories are well balanced with drama and action which is a good thing. The action segments follow Hulk taking on the US Army and even militaristic terrorist groups; but things pick up quite a bit as the mercenary Boomerang targets the Hulk as an enemy, due to the green goliath interfering and ruining a job for him. Lee wrote these confrontations well giving Boomerang something of a chance against him. For those unfamiliar with this feud, and mainly know Boomerang as a nemesis for Spider-Man, this battle really isn’t that lopsided as one may expect. These issues feature a classic confrontation with the Silver Surfer, the first appearance and a brutal slugfest with the Abomination, and finally one of the more savage fights between Hulk and Sub-Mariner which easily goes down as one of my top personal favorites.

The flaws in these issues mainly come from how familiar some of this already feels due to the earlier volumes. However, this really shouldn’t be an issue since this is what the Hulk is about; tragedy, loneliness, and simply being misunderstood makes these stories and Lee finds different ways to explore these things. If I do have a complaint, then it’s the Abomination battle. That conflict had potential to become one of the greatest all out brawls of all time, yet it felt way too short and should have gotten the length that other stories had gotten.

Marie Severin becomes the main artist, but others such as Jack Kirby, Bill Everett, John Buscema, and Gil Kane join in with some good to great action panels.  There’s plenty of fun here with some devastating looking blows and explosions. This is how a powerhouse character should be portrayed, and this is the main reason why I always and very quickly fell for the Hulk before Thor. The character designs at times can be the only real flaw due to inconsistency, with the Hulk not looking as menacing as he should, plus Boomerang being drawn with quite possibly the worst costume I have ever seen.

Overall, this is a solid batch of issues and it probably wouldn’t hurt to start here. Stan Lee wrote a pretty good Hulk run but I think there were others to come after him that pulled it off much better. In any case, I think the Hulk titles are among the easier old Silver Age series to run through, and if you’re looking for some cool action at times then you have it here.

Contemporary Chinese Limbo

The Seventh Day by Yu Hua7thdayeng7thday

 

$18.63 at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: father/adopted-son relationship

Cons: not much of an ending

Born in 1960 in Hangzhou, Zheijiang, the on of two physicians, Yu Hua is the living Chinese writer best known outside the PRC. Though some of his work has been unpublishable there, others have sold substantially, including the 1992 Huózhe (To Live) that was the basis for the 1994 Zhang Yimou movie starring Gong Li that was not only banned by led to a two-year ban on Zhang making films. IMO, Yu’s work is more deserving of a Nobel Prize than the two writers in Chinese who have received the award (Gao Xingjan and Mo Yan).Yu_hua_2005(Yu Hua in 2005 under the GNU Free Documentation License)

Yu’s novel Diqitian, published in Chinese in 2013, has been translated by Allan H. Barr and published in the US by Pantheon as The Seventh Day. Though quite melancholic and satirizing many aspects of PRC governance and society, it is gentler than some earlier Yu books, e.g., Shí Gè Cíhuì Lǐ De Zhōngguó (translated and published in English in 2011 as China in Ten Words) remains banned in the PRC.

On the first day, Yang Fei wakes up dead… and perplexed by instructions to go to a crematorium, recently euphemized as a “funeral home.” Once there, he finds that he/his sentient corpse cannot be processed, because he has neither a burial site nor an urn into which his ashes can be put.

He soon starts to meet others in this Chinese limbo, including his ex-wife, his birth mother, and a woman whose suicide he witnessed hours before his own death (caused by an explosion in a burning restaurant in which the family of proprietors was blocking the doorway endeavoring to collect payment for orders). “Mouse Girl” (so called because she lived underground in what was built as a bomb shelter) leapt off a tall building (after online discussion of sites for her suicide) because her boyfriend, who prevented her from making money in casual prostitution, gave her a knockoff iPod.

There are a group of embryos following the skeleton of a woman who saw them floating down a river and made a scandal of the hospital dumping and another group who died in a fire that officially had a death toll of only seven so that the cause would not be fully investigated (as any catastrophe in which more than nine died would have to be; two remain alive in critical condition), and a couple who died when the building in which they lived was demolished.

Those with burial plots awaiting them receive VIP treatment with padded seats rather than the plastic ones for ordinary corpses.

There is also the black comedy of a pair of recurrently bickering chess players with a macabre backstory and the tragic case of Mouse Girl’s boyfriend who sold a kidney to buy a burial plot for her.

I guess Yang Fei, who lived 41 years, could be said to “get closure” during his week of hanging out with the unburied/unburiable dead, who are more genial and kinder than the living and seem better off and more content than the traditional vision of dangerously “hungry ghosts” (Chiunese èguǐ,/ Buddhist preta).

Both Yang Fei and his father and the neighbor who breastfed the infant would seem more “self-sacrificing” to the reader if they had more self (or sense of self). I wouldn’t say they are “place-holders” in the Chinese Dante’s schema, but they are not very individuated (and less numerous than those Dante encountered in his visits to hell and purgatory).

In a 2004 interview while he was at the University of Iowa (http://u.osu.edu/mclc/online-series/yuhua/). Yu said: “What I had written in the 1980s, my attitude was that the writer knows everything, the writer is god and can create everything. So, these characters were more abstract, like signs. But later, in the 1990s, I suddenly discovered characters could actually have their own voices, that they could talk for themselves. When I first started writing, I knew what I would write next, and next, and what would follow after that, and would know that—well this part will be difficult, and this part will not. This all started to change when I began to have a different attitude toward the characters. I found that the characters could lead themselves. The story would lead itself. That is when I found the difficult parts were not so difficult anymore since the characters had control, and they would lead. I would give up a lot of control and let them take me through the story themselves. After this realization, I’ve noticed these characters have become more alive.”

It seems to me that the construction of a limbo in which skeletons with empty eye sockets can see (and even cry) and the contrivance of connections between Yang Fei and most everyone among the living dead is willed in the way Yu says he has abandoned. The devotion of Yang Fei and the railroad employee who found the newborn, raised him, and gave him his family name is touching, and that of his ex-wife whom he granted a divorce to pursue a business liaison strikes me as wish fulfillment even more than as sentimentality. But, then, Dickens is one of Yu’s favorite writers. (“There are a few writers I really like … Shakespeare, Dickens … I really like nineteenth century writers … Hawthorne … and of twentieth century Americans I like Faulkner the best. Among American writers still living, I like Toni Morrison the best.”)

I don’t think a novel needs to “add up” to anything in particular, and a lot of loose strings in the lives of Yang Fei and others are tied up, but the novel does not have much of an ending. Like a typical New Yorker story, it just ceases.

I think the novel would better have been titled “Seven Days” than the stress being on the “Seventh Day” (the “seventh” rather than “seven” is the choice made in the Chinese title); “Seven Days in Limbo” or “Seven Posthumous Days” would have been more informative. (And I prefer the Chinese cover design to the American one.)

 

 

Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor, Vol. 3

Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor, Vol. 3

Price: $20.59 

(3.5/5)

Pros: Kirby’s pencils are the shining star once again

Cons: Lee’s writing for this title took baby steps moving forward

While Thor battled against Mr. Hyde and Cobra, Donald Blake’s assistant, Jane Foster, was injured by a collapsing ceiling. Thor uses the powers of his magical hammer to stop time in the conflict in order to halt her possible death. Thor battles on in hopes of defeating his enemies and some how hopes to save Jane’s life. – summary

It feels almost monotonous when talking about how shaky Stan Lee’s writing was in regards to Thor, and the small baby steps he took towards progress around this time. Unfortunately, his writing still has some shaky moments, however it seems as if he found what actually works here. In this batch of issues it seems as if there was more of a focus on the adventures of Thor, and a lot less of his alter-ego Dr. Donald Blake; and thankfully this is the case too because Blake’s life is too damn boring. There’s more of an emphasis on Thor’s heroics, and through flashback issues more background detailing Loki’s jealousy of Thor, and his obvious path towards becoming the God of Evil.  I will have to say this is by far the best volume at this point. Marvel Masterworks Thor Volume 3 collects Journey into Mystery issues 111 – 120.

The feud with Mr. Hyde and Cobra concludes quickly here and despite the interesting story elements going on involving their increased strength to perhaps equal Thor. It lacked that big slugfest feel and I also felt the outcome was quite vanilla.  The stories begin to pick up when we witness the debut of The Absorbing Man, a villain that would go on to feature in some of my personal favorite clashes years later against the Hulk, Spider-Man, and Avengers. He provides Thor with his toughest and most gripping battle at this point. It’s something else to see how formidable he was in this initial conflict as his powers would receive a subtle downgrade.

The action continues with a conflict plus first appearance against the Destroyer robot created by Odin himself. Plus two one on one encounters with both the Hulk and Hercules that would go on to become classics. These two fights were no doubt great for their era with the right amount of intensity and dialog to go along with them, plus many people praise them for their influence in regards to super heavyweight encounters; but I would definitely say they had better encounters, and several battles around this time were much better due to their intensity and sheer savagery: Hulk vs. Sub-Mariner in Tales to Astonish # 100, Spider-Man vs. Scorpion in Amazing Spider-Man #20, and Iron Man vs. Sub-Mariner in Tales of Suspense 79 -80, to only name a few.

The overall storytelling has some good moments with further development of Loki, and how he simply lives up to his titles as the God of Tricks, Lies, Mischief, & Evil. Plus I also like how Absorbing Man especially didn’t come off as another stock guy with no depth at all. I loved the segment when he daydreamed on what to do with his new powers, because he truly felt there was nothing out of his reach.

The main gripes I have with these stories mainly involves the action. For a superhero whose strength is legendary, there just simply wasn’t enough brutal fisticuffs involving Thor. He’s treated with kid gloves most of the time and many of the fights are limited to almost non-brutal action. The people whom claim this shouldn’t be an issue due to the time these stories were written are quick to forget that Captain America vs. Batroc, plus the battles I previously mentioned were high octane slugfest, and their stories were also well written with plenty of character development. I would expect that someone whom wields a hammer around as a weapon would actually use it to pummel his enemies into submission, especially when one of them is a robot. In addition, I’m very aware of the Vietnam conflict, but I think it hurt taking Thor out of his element to feature a quick battle taking place with a  communist. I don’t care what anyone says, I personally find Stan Lee to be among the least when talking about those whom had written Thor.

Once again Jack Kirby’s artwork helps elevate Lee’s writing. He was definitely able to put together some good action and settings. The moments on Asgard are indeed the best with various changes of clothes for some of the characters, and the backgrounds deliver some nice scenery. The character designs have very good moments with Loki appearing as if he was born to be evil, along with the creativity and imagination involving the Absorbing Man. Although some artist would go on to use him better; Kirby set the foundation on how this unique character could actually be used. It’s no wonder he caught on quickly with readers. I always loved the Absorbing Man and even though Marvel has used him well at times; I still think of him as being quite underused.

In closing, despite its various weaknesses this trade is worth reading and it’s the best of Thor at this point. If Thor already aroused one’s interest before this then here’s more entertainment for those readers. However, for those whom read the previous two books and had been wondering “what’s all the fuss about?’, then there really isn’t much here to wow you. Especially if you had been reading the Spider-Man, Hulk, and Iron Man Masterwork lines. For those completely unfamiliar with this era of Thor, then I would advise to start here.