In A SERIOUS MAN (2009) the Coen brothers draw on their Midwestern childhood for the story of a Jewish physicist coping with a pot-smoking tween son, a wife who wants a divorce to marry the Other Man, his brother’s gambling habit, having to pay for the Other Man’s funeral, and rabbis giving incomprehensible life lessons (“Let me tell you about the goy’s teeth.”). Departs from their usual style though the protagonist’s endless hard knocks is very reminiscent of the neo-noir they love so much—except that in noir, there’s at least some reason for what happens (you made a bad decision, someone picked you as a fall guy, etc.). Here, it’s just random crappy luck, making this as shallow as Crimes and Misdemeanors — life sucks, bad things happen to good people, that’s about it. “Look at the parking lot—just look at it.”
BRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2004) is a Bollywood version of Jane Austen in which Darcy is an Indian-American businessman whose marked lack of affection for the motherland is just one more detail that annoys his prospective Indian sweetie. This worked for me better than most Bollywood (possibly because it’s much closer to an American musical in style) but not enough to actually like it—the big problem is that Darcy comes off as too nice a guy, despite his flaws, to have the requisite arrogance. With Marsha Mason and Alexis Bledel as Darcy’s family back in the states. “Only you could say you love me yet insult me in the same breath.”
The anime TV series A GOOD LIBRARIAN LIKE A GOOD SHEPHERD caught my attention, but it turns out it’s about seeing the future, not time-travel: the plot involves a magic library in which everyone’s future is written down in a book, so the chosen librarians can read the book “shepherd” people away from problems. Even at that level it doesn’t work for me—too much Japanese high-school life (much like In Search of the Lost Future)and way too many shots of teenage girls in extremely short school-uniform skirts.
DEJA VU was a Taiwanese drama in which a woman suicidal from the death of her husband gets the chance to go back in time and prevent his death by preventing them ever meeting. But after her life takes a different path, she meets him again … I cherry picked the first two episodes and then the last one, and didn’t miss much, though the statement they’ve been ripped apart in multiple past lives was interesting (not enough to go back and watch more, though). And it’s oddly amusing that Chinese TV uses the same stereotypes of Cryptic Chinese Mystics as a lot of American films—though of course, it’s balanced out by this series having lots of non-stereotypical roles (Chinese ballet dancer, businessman, office worker, sales people …) “Here are photos of five children—can you guess which one was Hai Lin when she was young?”
THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND (cover by Ed Emshwiller, all rights to current holder) has two guys on a fishing holiday in rural Ireland discover the ruins of a creepy old house over a strange pit, and then a manuscript written by the final occupant, telling of out-of-body trips, mysterious attacks by beastmen and finally witnessing the doom of the Earth itself … A fine job, and one Lovecraft greatly admired (it’s easy to see the influence on “Color Out of Space,”).
ENGRAVED ON THE EYE is a collection of Saladin Ahmed’s short stories, mostly fantasy and mostly very good (the super-villain yarn “Doctor Diablo Goes Through the Motions” is a pointless exercise). One story is a prequel of sorts to Ahmed’s novel Throne of the Crescent Moon, another has an Arab physician helping out a ghul, while in others a dervish faces a turning point, a Muslim actor endures the slings and arrows of getting lousy movie parts and a Western bounty hunter realizes he should have listened to his Muslim mentor.