2017年11月19日 星期日

"First Person" by Richard Flanagan (2017)

"Early on the Sunday afternoon, a few hours before my flight back to Melbourne, Gene Paley rang to say he had read the draft chapter.  He declared it good as far as it went.  Though he felt I had conveyed something of the psychology of Heidl, what he needed now was a story.  Readers need a story.  The trade, he went on, needs a story."

Richard Flanagan is an Australian novelist born in Tasmania.  Two of his other novels, The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Gould's Book of Fish, have also been reviewed here.

In First Person, his newest book, an aspiring novelist takes on the job of ghostwriting an autobiography for a notorious con man.  He finds the task much more difficult than he first imagined, and he is confronted by constant attempts at psychological manipulation.  

On another level, it's a novel about writer's block, featuring the author-as-protagonist setup familiar from any number of other writers ranging from Stephen King to Philip Roth.  It's also tirelessly depressing, endlessly repetitive, and that big "reveal" you're waiting for never comes.  The author offers us not so much a story as a state of mind, and I'd have to say that the results are decidedly mixed.

As someone who loved Gould's Book of Fish and admired The Narrow Road to the Deep North, I'd have to say that First Person is something of a misfire for Richard Flanagan.  I went into it wanting to enjoy it, but now that I'm done with it I find myself wanting to read a novel with more of a story, with more variety, and with something more to say.  The kind of existential despair conveyed through First Person is just a bit too easy, and I know the author could have done a lot better.

2017年11月16日 星期四

A Review of Every DC Movie from 2005 to the Present (Revised as of November 16, 2017)

With various DC movies in various stages of production, I've decided to shorten this list.  It begins with Batman Begins.  For still older movies (and yes, I've seen them all!), look here.

Excellent!  Had to see it twice!
Good movie with a few flaws.
Not bad, but not great.
I’d watch it once if I was bored enough.
[no stars]
Just terrible.
So bad it’s kind of good.


18. Batman Begins (2005) ****

Hell yes.  This was a movie Batman as we always wanted to see him.  Not the neurotic guy with all the gadgets, but the kind of guy who could kick your ass.  The scarecrow is awesome here.

19. V for Vendetta (2005) ***

Great film, made by the Wachowskis of Matrix fame.  Hugo Weaving is fantastic, and even if they dumbed down the source material it's still worth your time.

20. Superman Returns (2006) **

Not as bad as some people make it out to be.  Yeah, Superman does come off as a stalker, and I don't know why they had to do so many of his flying scenes in CGI, but the part where Kevin Spacey and co. deliver a beatdown is excellent.

21. The Dark Knight (2008) ****

Still hands-down the best superhero movie ever made.  And yes, I liked The Avengers.  The plot is complex, the performances are amazing, and the direction is first-rate.  How could Nolan have ever topped this one?

22. The Spirit (2008)

Fuck this movie is bad.  I saw Sin City so many times I had the lines memorized, and with The Spirit I was hoping for something similarly classic.  Unfortunately Frank Miller isn't quite as good in the absence of Robert Rodriguez.

23. Watchmen (2009) ***

Two problems with this movie: the actors are too pretty, and way too much kung fu fighting.  Aside from these two problems, it is faithful to the comic book and works on many levels. Snyder might have bungled Sucker Punch, but this movie gave me hope for Man of Steel.


24. Jonah Hex (2010) *

Josh Brolin stars as an ex-confederate soldier who can talk to dead people.  John Malkovich is the villain.  It was almost a good movie, but the soundtrack ruins the better moments and it gets pretty corny near the end.

25. Green Lantern (2011)

This movie had everything going for it.  I'm not even a big fan of Green Lantern, but when I heard about the director and the cast I got really excited.  Unfortunately the road to Green Lantern is paved with good intentions.

26. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) **

This movie bored me.  It's over three hours long, and Bane is unintentionally hilarious at times.  Anne Hathaway makes a great Catwoman, but that's all I can say in favor of this film.

27. Man of Steel (2013) **

Half of a great movie, and half of a Michael Bay movie.  It starts out well, even though some of the details surrounding Krypton don't bear thinking about.  Henry Cavill is a great Superman, but Zack Snyder was trying too hard to please too large an audience.

28. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice ***1/2

I don't care what the critics say - this is a great f*&king movie.  I was unimpressed by Man of Steel - but this?  This was the one I'd been waiting for.  Probably a bit slow - or even too dark - for some, but I loved it.  An extra 1/2 star for the Ultimate Edition, which improves upon the theatrical cut.  This is DC done well.

29. Suicide Squad (2016)*

I was disappointed by this movie.  There is WAY too much backstory and many of the characters are underdeveloped.  Harley Quinn seems entirely too sane to have earned her reputation, and as a character Deadshot is unconvincing.  Joel Kinnaman does a valiant job of keeping the whole thing together, Viola Davis and Jared Leto give memorable (if brief) performances, but there's just not enough script to hang a whole movie on.

30. Wonder Woman (2017)**

The Good News: 1) It's better than Suicide Squad, and 2) Gal Gadot is a good enough actress to carry this movie.  The Bad News: 1) There are moments where this movie stops dead in its tracks, 2) the villain is completely undeveloped, and 3) parts of this movie bear an unfortunate resemblance to Captain America: the First Avenger.  The best bits are those in which the characters reflect on the differences between our world and Diana's.  I'm sad to say, however, that these moments are sandwiched between two halves of an action movie that doesn't quite work.

31. Justice League (2017)**

I would put it above Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, and Man of Steel.  It will at times remind you a lot of the Avengers, but certain similarities were unavoidable given both the superhero team-up format and the fact that Joss Whedon was involved.  I'd like to see Aquaman further developed in his solo film, and I'm still waiting for that Flashpoint film.  Definitely worth seeing, though I doubt it will rock your world.

On the Way  

NOTE: There are a TON of DC movies in various stages of development, but Warner Bros. plans change often and their statements regarding these projects are often contradictory.  What's listed below is what's listed on the Wikipedia article for the DCEU.

33. Aquaman (2018)

Jason Momoa stars as Aquaman, with Patrick Wilson appearing as his brother Orm, the Ocean Master.  With director James Wan at the helm I (and a lot of other people) have a lot of confidence in this movie, though it will be a long wait until December of next year.

34. Shazam (2018)

David F. Sandberg is directing, with Zachary Levi (Fandral in Thor: the Dark World) starring as the World's Mightiest Mortal.  At the time of writing Mark Strong is in negotiations to play the villain, Dr. Sivana.  I think it has the potential to be a really fun film, but we'll have to see how it all plays out closer to the release date.

35. Wonder Woman 2 (2019)

After the thundering success of the first Wonder Woman this sequel was an inevitability.  It's taking over Justice League 2's release date, with all the important people returning for this second round of Amazonian goodness.  Setting this film in the modern day will be a welcome change.

36. Cyborg (2020)

Ray Fisher will reprise his role as Cyborg, though little else is known about this movie.  I'm hoping that in the sequel they can dispense with some of the cgi in favor of practical effects.  I doubt, however, that this will happen.  Tackling some of the character's psychological aspects might make for an interesting movie, but an action blockbuster will probably be the order of the day.

37. Green Lantern Corps (2020)

This movie's been announced, and Warner Bros. seems firm on the release date, but aside from that it's a mystery.  Some Green Lanterns appear in one of the flashback scenes in Justice League, so at least we have some idea what they might look like.

38. Other Projects That May or May Not Ever Get Made

Batgirl, The Batman, Flashpoint, Nightwing, Lobo, Man of Steel 2, and a bunch of other movies might get made, but at this point who really knows?  I mention six movies by name because they seem the most likely to end up in local multiplex...  BUT with the reception awaiting Justice League uncertain, we'll just have to wait and see.  A Flashpoint movie is particularly dependent on how Justice League does at the box office.

Justice League!

Holy Jesus!  Justice League came out today!  Is it really in theaters now?  Have I really seen it?  Or was it all a dream?

1. One Paragraph Summation of the DCEU Thus Far:

In the Beginning, Superman's dad saves Superman (and Krypton's DNA thingy) from the Michael Shannon by shooting his infant son to Earth in a shoddily constructed rocket.  Superman grows up - rather sulkily - and after months in the gym and experiments with weight gain powders he finds out about his dad just as Michael Shannon arrives on Earth looking for that DNA thingy.  THEN SH*T GETS REAL.  Fighting, fighting, fighting.  Punching, punching, punching.  Cities are destroyed, Michael Shannon is killed - yay?  All is right with the world, except for the fact that broody Superman has unwittingly killed all those people who weren't Zod.  Then Batman shows up, tries to kill Superman, but forgets about the whole thing because of either the oft-reiterated "Martha" episode or because a giant supermonster created by Lex Luthor is about to destroy civilization as we know it.  With Wonder Woman's help, Batman and Superman kill the supermonster, but only after Superman has sacrificed his life for the sake of furthering his image as a latter-day Jesus.  Meanwhile, in a city whose name I'm either forgetting or repressing, a team of supercriminals band together to stop an ancient Central American demon - or something - all the while eluding Gangsta Joker's attempts to get his girlfriend back.  But wait!  Before all of THAT happens there's this island of stunningly beautiful women in the Mediterranean, and one of them goes to Europe to make World War One slightly less unpleasant.  And hurray!  She lives over a hundred years, long enough to help out Batman and Superman with that whole supermonster problem.  Thus leading to... JUSTICE LEAGUE, MOTHERF**KERS!!!

2. Thoughts on Individual Characters Before Actually Seeing the Movie

    2a. Superman

You know he's not really dead, right?  Like Jesus, he's coming back on the third day, or at least his third film.  One imagines that he'll be less broody this time, because four out of five people polled have requested that the next Superman be "less broody."  Messianic?  Sure.  But not broody!

    2b. Batman

I get why Affleck is cagey about how long he wants to play Batman.  He put his heart and soul into Batman v. Superman, and the critical reactions to that movie were probably hard to take.  Even so I think he's the best Batman ever, and hopefully his attitude will change if Justice League is better received.

    2c. Wonder Woman

I have no problem with Gal Gadot being Wonder Woman, even if I was underwhelmed by her first solo outing.  She's beautiful, she can act, and she was convincing in fight scenes.  I just wish they'd complicate her backstory a bit.  It would make the character more compelling.

    2d. Aquaman

Hate the costume, but Momoa can certainly carry a movie.  With all the great Aquaman costumes we've seen over the years, I don't know why they went with that green/gold thing.

    2e. The Flash

Hate the costume even more.  What's with this "armored Flash" thing they're doing?  The Flash has one of the most screen-ready costumes ever, and it would require little tweaking to make it look good in a movie.  I think Ezra Miller will make a good Flash, I just wish he looked less like a character from Jojo's Bizarre Adventure.

    2f. Cyborg (a.k.a. "the black guy")

I've been deliberately avoiding the latest trailers, but hopefully they improved the cgi used for Cyborg.  In the earliest trailers he looked amazingly fake.  And why do him in cgi anyway?  They've been doing live-action cyborg characters since 1987's Robocop.

    2g. Green Lantern?

Odds are he'll (she'll?) show up, even though I'd much prefer a look at Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Shazam).  I've never liked Green Lantern.  His/their powers are stupid, and even though Hal Jordan was kind of cool as Parallax, I wish they'd leave the Green Lantern Corps out of the DCEU.

    2h. Steppenwolf (a.k.a. "the bad guy")

He looks somewhat retarded in the trailers, but he's not much worse than Ares from Wonder Woman or Enchantress's brother from Suicide Squad.  Having Steppenwolf as the bad guy was a strange choice, but perhaps it'll make sense in the film.

3. Thoughts on the Director(s) of This Movie

I like Zack Snyder.  I think he's a great director when he has a good script to work from.  He obviously slaved over Batman v. Superman, and I don't think he deserved the knee-jerk reactions that movie engendered from Marvel drones.  If he directs the Justice League sequel I'm fine with that.

Joss Whedon, the guy called in for reshoots, is keeping a low profile after allegations of sexual harassment.  For the record I liked (didn't love) The Avengers, and (to a lesser extent) Age of Ultron.  Hopefully he didn't make Justice League too jokey.

4. I Just Saw the Movie!  What Did I Think?

     4a. The Story

In the wake of Superman's death, Steppenwolf arrives on Earth, trying to bring the three mother boxes together so he can turn our world into a mirror of his own.  In order to stop him, Batman assembles a team consisting of Wonder Woman, the Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman, and a resurrected Superman to do battle with this otherworldly threat.  After Steppenwolf unites the three mother boxes somewhere in Russia, the Justice League battles and ultimately defeats him.  The movie closes with Batman, Alfred, and Wonder Woman surveying a possible "Hall of Justice" where they'll meet in the future.

Mid-Credits Scene: The Flash and Superman begin a race to see who's faster.

Post-Credits Scene: After escaping prison, Lex Luthor meets Deathstroke to discuss forming "a league of our own."

     4b. My Reaction

First off, relax.  It's actually pretty good.  Not an instant classic by any means, but a solidly put together action movie that only drags a little bit near the middle.  Whedon's touches are fairly obvious, in particular a scene in their headquarters that brings the first Avengers to mind.

My major complaint about this movie is Steppenwolf.  He's about as forgettable as Ares from Wonder Woman, and he looks VERY stupid.  As villains go he's about as generic as they come.

The story's fairly solid and the characters' actions seem consistent with their personalities.  The tone shifts slightly after Wonder Woman talks with Batman at the lake - almost as if Whedon jumped in at that point, saying, "Alright, now it's MY turn!"  One wonders what Zack Snyder and writer Chris Terrio might have done in the absence of Joss Whedon, but such speculations will, I imagine, lead nowhere.

The Flash is my favorite character in this film.  As for the rest, they're either playing upon developments in previous movies or they weren't given enough screen time to be as interesting.  Jason Momoa is a good Aquaman - he just isn't in as much of this movie.

5. Looking Further Ahead...

It will be a LONG wait for the next DCEU movie, December 2018's Aquaman.  In April 2019 we'll finally get a look at Shazam, and during November of that same year Wonder Woman 2 will hit theaters.  Cyborg and The Green Lantern Corps are still on the schedule for 2020, but very few names are attached to either project.  The fate of films like Flashpoint and Man of Steel 2 is even less certain, though I'm sure that if Justice League is a big success they'll move into production sometime soon.  

I know fans find it frustrating, but I think Warner Bros. is smart not to announce too many movies in advance, and to have pulled back from their ambitious plans a bit.  After the likes of Justice League and this summer's Infinity War, the public might well begin to turn away from the big superhero franchises.  Being tentative is smart.

Related Entries:

"Flashpoint" by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert (2011)
The FoX-men No More?  FoxTastic No Longer?
Some Other Movies From 1984
Issues with Thor: Ragnarok

2017年11月13日 星期一

"Flashpoint" by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert (2011)

Oh no!  Barry Allen wakes up to find he's in an alternate timeline!  And double oh no!  He's lost his powers!  And triple oh no!  Aquaman and Wonder Woman are fighting some barely-explained war against each other!  And quadruple oh no!  This timeline is... EVIL!

At least it all works out in the end, thanks to - you guessed it - a little time travel on the Flash's part.  GO FLASH!  Thanks for making our timeline great again!

The story is fairly well thought out, even if the Atlantis/Themyscira subplot isn't explained to anyone's satisfaction.  Superman acts as a kind of deus ex machina, and the story features a halfway interesting version of Captain Marvel/Captain Thunder/Shazam.

The art?  It's alright, but kind of pose-y.  Muscular dudes doing muscular things.  Hot superheroines with gigantic knockers.  You know the drill...

I realize that I'm coming at this one kind of late, but if it makes any difference I did see the animated version a lot closer to 2011.  Having now read the comic, I'd have to say that the animated version tells the same story much better.  If and when they ever manage to make that cinematic version of Flashpoint, they could do a lot worse than emulate the animated version.

The FoX-men No More? FoxTastic No Longer?

It looks like Disney's going to buy Fox - or at least part of Fox - which means - if this whole deal is completed to everyone's satisfaction - that the X-men, the Fantastic Four, and whoever else will be returning to Marvel.

This is pretty good news.  Not that I have too much of an opinion about it, but just the same I'd LOVE to see the Fantastic Four done right.  I don't really have a big problem with the Tim Story movies - aside from the fact that they ruined Galactus - but the idea of Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm (not to mention the Silver Surfer!) showing up in a Marvel movie has me excited.

If you don't follow comics that much (and how many do lately?), a lot of the seminal Marvel stories feature one or more members of the Fantastic Four.  Marvel has thus far avoided including references to them in movies like Civil War and the upcoming Infinity War, but it's great that they (probably) won't have to dance around this particular loophole in the future.  Anyone who knows comics will be glad at the thought of Ben Grimm facing off against the Hulk, or of Reed Richards causing trouble for Tony Stark, or of the potential cuckolding Reed faces at the hands of whoever wants to bang Susan Storm.  I don't regard the Human Torch as being quite so essential to any comic book saga, but sure, he's great too.

And the X-men?  They're a thornier problem, though of course I'd love it if Marvel took another crack at their origin story.  It's not that First Class wasn't an excellent movie, I just think Marvel would have a lot to add to that story as well.  FINALLY we can admit that yes, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are Magneto's children, and FINALLY a studio can approach the X-men's origins without worrying overmuch about copyright infringement.

But the downside to all of this is the (possible) inclusion of mutants into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  And while I don't think that Kevin Feige is in a hurry to "water down" what Marvel has painstakingly built, the idea of combining the X-men and the Avengers at some point is going to be a powerful temptation.

The trouble being that if you have this group of people who get their powers from a mutant gene, then the non-mutants don't seem so remarkable.  Is Hulk cool when you have a Juggernaut?  Is Captain America cool when you have Wolverine?  Certainly seeing these characters on screen together is something that we all want on some level, but even in the comics Marvel is very, VERY careful about how (and how often) they do it.  You don't see Spider-man popping up that often in the pages of X-men.  You don't see Professor X hanging out that much with Doctor Strange.  Sure, these things happen, but the better writers know that when it comes to combining these properties, less is definitely more.

Not that I wouldn't love to see Deadpool make fun of the Avengers.  But he could do that in "his own" movie, and it wouldn't fracture the integrity of the MCU too much.  And yes, seeing Wolverine as an Avenger would be great, but if the cost is mixing too many mutants and non-mutants together then I'd rather they avoided it.

It is fun to think about though.  If this deal goes through, the future of both the MCU and the X-men cinematic universe is wide open.  A Dark Phoenix Saga featuring the entire MCU?  That would definitely beat the hell out of whatever Fox is making now.

"Astoria" by Peter Stark (2015)

"After their meeting, Astor had framed his global commercial vision into an overarching strategy and meticulous business plan that dovetailed with Jefferson's geopolitical thinking.  As soon as possible, in 1809, Astor would dispatch his first ship, the Enterprise, to test the profitability of his transglobal trading scheme with a quick stop at the Northwest Coast.  The following year, in 1810, he would send two advance parties - one around Cape Horn by sea on the Tonquin and one across America by land.  The Overland Party would begin to lay out a vast network of fur posts reaching up the Missouri River, over the Rockies, and to the Pacific Ocean, and open a 'line of communication' across the continent along which both messages and furs could travel."

Peter Stark lives in Montana.  He's written for Outside, The New Yorker, and the Smithsonian.  Astoria is one of several books he's written on the subject of "explorers versus the American wilderness."

Following the Lewis and Clark Expedition, two groups of trappers and traders set out to create a Pacific empire at the mouth of the Columbia River.  What they get for their troubles is a lot of pain, a lot of frustration, and a lot of heartbreak.  Their efforts are doomed to failure for a host of reasons, not least of which is their extreme distance from what they'd call civilization.

Astoria offers a harrowing account of their enterprise, and Peter Stark's telling of this oft-forgotten tail is one of the most comprehensively written historical accounts I've read in quite some time.  He strikes a good balance between historical trivia and the facts of the expedition, and he makes the personages involved more interesting than they might otherwise be.  This book is so good, in fact, that I can't think of a single negative thing to say about it - aside from the fact that many modern readers, with their diminished attention spans - will likely find it "boring."

I bought this book at the same time as the previously reviewed The Oregon Trail, and even though both are good, I think Astoria is far more interesting.  It's worth noting, moreover, than many of the trails blazed by the failed Astoria expedition (in particular the South Pass through the Rockies) were later used by those going West on the Oregon Trail.  Astoria itself was one of the two most popular endpoints for that route.

Having spent a lot of time in Astoria as a kid, I was surprised at both the history and the human drama present during its earliest years.  Who knew that so much blood, sweat, and tears could go into the creation of a small town on the Oregon Coast?

Another Book You Might Like?

"Historic America: The Northwest" by Jim Kaplan (2002)