The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne

Tristram Shandy is one of those classic comic novels, and I’m rather fond of period-specific comedy, so I figured I might like it. Unfortunately, it’s comic in ways which do not, perhaps, translate to its advantage in the eyes of a 20th-century reader, or at least this particular 20th-century reader. Its problems are perhaps chiefly those of obscurity: a lot of the humor derives from topics of culture or contemporary conceptions of science that an educated reader of the time would find mercilessly lampooned, but which fall flat today. A more conspicuous problem is how much of the humor derives from the central conceit of the novel never actually progressing due to its many diversions. This can’t help but make the whole book seem like a grim slog, with no rewards along the way. This might have been considerably mitigated back when the incidental humor was more topical.

Then again, the problem here might be me. Evidently other readers, even readers in the last couple decades, have enjoyed the book, so I might be too hard on the ability of its comic value to age.

See also: Wikipedia.

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The Last Mimzy

[Screenshot]The Last Mimzy is an odd little story walking a thin line between charming and unsettling. I’m not sure it was supposed to be unsettling, but the character of Emma becomes creepy pretty quickly.

As a fun speculative-fiction “kids discover awesome stuff their parents don’t understand” story it mostly works, even with Emma being far too weird. It’s got polish which makes it work: Noah is well-characterized and well-acted, and the effects are indeed impressive without ever seeming gratuitous. The ending makes no particular sense, but it’s trying to shoehorn in a message which wasn’t really part of the story up to that point. The only aspect of the story which doesn’t work for me is the damn federal agents, who, as is far too often the case with stories like this, are disbelieving and distrusting to a point transcending verisimillitude. Yes, we are all used to the government not believing our crazy stories, but after you’ve pixelated your face and levitated things, I would imagine even the most cynical FBI operative would be listening to what you say and taking it seriously.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Oversexed Rugsuckers from Mars

[Screenshot]Sometimes I put something in my Netflix queue just for the hell of it, even though it seems like it’ll be dreadful. The random-select on occasion works for me and delivers something awesome, but more often I get a horrible pile of crap like Oversexed Rugsuckers from Mars.

Yes, Rugsuckers is, alas, a terrible movie. Unredeemedly terrible, even: it’s not like a Troma or Ed Wood film which is fascinating in its appalling badness: rather, Rugsuckers channels a pure sophomoric essence which staggers between unfunny gags and cardboard characters. The premise in the hands of a more competent scriptwriter might have shown a certain comic potential, but it’s buried here under layers of absolutely stale (and, quite frankly, unpleasant) sex-antics.

See also: IMDB.

寝ずの番/Wakeful Nights

[Screenshot]Much has been made, by me and others, of the many ways the Japanese are weird about sex (I humbly submit that Americans are also weird about sex, in ways which happen to be orthogonal to the way the Japanese are weird about sex, and that we lack perspective on the whole thing). Wakeful Nights, on the face of it, may seem to further this thesis: after all, it’s full of sex-driven humor, and it’s undeniably Japanese, but it seems to have a lot healthier an attitude than most Japanese sex-farces. It’s unabashedly bawdy and has a hell of a lot of fun with it, almost never straying into creepy territory (the few times it does immediately become so audacious that it’s clear they’re supposed to be way over the line. Watching Japanese media (chiefly anime) is always a bit weird because while it delights in all sorts of sexual innuendo and play, it always seems to be tied up with shame. So this was a welcome change. Plotwise it’s not much, but it’s really supposed to be somewhat vignette-style. The actual cultural context here is interesting too, since the framing device for the whole comic aspect is that all of the characters are practitioners of rakugo, a comic-monologue style which I basically knew nothing about. I still know little, which means some of the jokes probably went over my head, particularly since it’s a wordplay-heavy medium, but there was enough entertainment here even for an ignorant foreigner like me.

See also: IMDB.

Oppenheimer, episodes 1–3

[Screenshot]J. Robert Oppenheimer had a pretty eventful life, and I can dig it. So when I heard about a BBC miniseries featuring Sam Waterston, I figured it had to be pretty good. This series, alas, is not all that good, or at least not at the start. It moves slowly, sometimes painfully so, and the first episode is taken up with mindbogglingly dull details of Oppenheimer’s academic work at Caltech and association with left-wingers. In the second episode it starts to pick up pace but even so doesn’t really seem to hit its stride, and the actors aren’t given much to work with to make it exciting, which is a disappointment. Maybe if there were less Caltech and more Los Alamos, it would’ve pulled me in quicker.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.