2020年4月4日 星期六

Some Other Movies From 1978 (2)


For further background on the year in film please refer to the Some Other Movies From 1978 entry.

Some things that happened in 1978:
  • The Copyright Act of 1978 took effect.  Might not sound like a big deal, but it was.
  • The Sex Pistols held their last concert.
  • Ted Bundy killed several women at a sorority house (for details see: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile)
  • Director Roman Polanski skipped bail and fled to France.
  • Electrical workers in Mexico City discovered the remains of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan.
  • The first global positioning satellite was sent into orbit.
  • The San Francisco city council signed a gay rights bill.
  • The World Cup was held in Argentina.
  • The leaders of Egypt and Israel won a Nobel Peace Prize for working out their differences.
  • Vietnam and Cambodia weren't getting along well.  For that matter, neither were Ethiopia and anyone else.

Linked entries can be viewed in their entirety on YouTube.




Excellent


1. Watership Down

Part rabbit-oriented adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book stories, part unspeakable horror that terrorized a generation.  I can remember watching it when I was little, and it sure gave me some nightmares.  The animation is excellent for the time, and the script was well written.




70s Gloriousness


1. Hooper

Damn Sally Field was sexy back then.  Hooper, Stay Hungry, Smokey and the Bandit... the list goes on and on.  Sure, she won the Best Actress Oscar the following year for Norma Rae - an honor she truly deserved - but let us not forget how SEXY Sally Field was in the late 70s.

In Hooper Field costars with Burt Reynolds (R.I.P.).  Reynolds plays a stuntman nearing the end of his career, and Fields plays his girlfriend.  It's all silly fun, and those who scoff at the implausibility of the barfight at the Palomino are missing something.  Hal Needham, who knew a thing or two about stuntwork and also directed Reynolds (and Field) in Smokey and the Bandit, directed this one too.

And it really has everything: huge, flared bellbottoms with stars, rocket-powered Trans-Ams, people drinking and driving without seatbelts, doctors smoking in hospitals, "zaniness," and jokes that aren't all that funny but which Burt Reynolds somehow manages to make funny anyway.  In 1978 this movie almost made as much money as Star Wars, and that's saying something.

Fun Fact: After their "bender" Reynolds and co. watch outtakes from Deliverance at his house.




Some Good Ones


1. Death on the Nile

Whatever happened to Lois Chiles?  1979's Moonraker, and then nothing!  Wikipedia says she took a three-year hiatus from acting, and after that Hollywood kind of forgot about her.

Death on the Nile adapts Agatha Christie's famous novel.  Aside from Chiles, Mia Farrow, David Niven, Angela Lansbury and many others make up the cast.  If you liked the recent Knives Out you'll probably also like this one.  The director, John Guillermin, also directed The Towering Inferno.

Fun Fact: Another film adaptation of Christie's novel is due this year.  This version of Death on the Nile is directed by Kenneth Branagh, who is also starring as Hercule Poirot.

2. The Boys from Brazil

On the one hand it's a great premise: Nazis hiding out in South America, and Nazi hunters desperately trying to find them.  On the other hand it's bungled in the execution.  The beginning of this movie is solid, but it somehow fails to generate any kind of tension.  Laurence Olivier's character is a bit too bumbling to be credible, and many of the characters aren't fleshed out to anyone's satisfaction.  And why are the Nazis all speaking English?  In Brazil?  Just to make it easier for people to record their conversations?

Anyway, once it shifts into science fiction mode it gets better.  I liked it, but there are definitely better movies from that year.

Fun Fact: Gregory Peck starred in this two years after The Omen.  In both movies he plays a "father" who sires... EVIL!

Random Thought: A sequel to this movie, told from "Bobby's" point of view could be interesting.  I know they did something similar with Omen II and III, but those movies were distinctly lacking in Nazis.

3. Capricorn One

80% of this movie is excellent, but toward the end there's a coincidence that's really hard to buy into, and it really flubs the landing.  But yeah - up to the last 15 minutes or so it's great.

Peter Hyams directed this movie about a NASA-centric conspiracy.  As this movie is less famous in 2020, I don't want to give away any more than that.  Hal Holbrook, James Brolin and Elliot Gould star.  I'm guessing the studio got nervous about its length, and there were some shenanigans in the editing room.  It's really too bad, because if it had been allowed to run its course it would have been much, much better.

4. The Legacy

It's a decent horror movie, even if the person who scored it should've been fired.  There are moments where the soundtrack completely destroys the mood - and horror movies are all about mood.

The beautiful Katharine Ross and Sam Elliot (!) star as two Americans mixed up with a group of sinister British aristocrats.  Richard Marquand, the director, would go on to direct both Return of the Jedi (!) and Jagged Edge in the 80s.

Fun Fact 1: The Who's Roger Daltrey appears in this.

Fun Fact 2: Despite winning several awards, Katharine Ross was never as famous as she could have been.  She turned down several high profile roles for various reasons.  Many of these roles went to Jacqueline Bisset, who appeared in The Greek Tycoon (below).  Ross married costar Sam Elliot years after filming The Legacy.  They remain married to this day.

Fun Fact 3: Charles Gray, who appears as one of the manor's "guests," also appeared in the Bond films You Only Live Twice and Diamonds are Forever.  In Diamonds are Forever he played the role of Blofeld.




Weirdness


1. Jubilee

Adam Ant is in this!  Beyond that, it's about... uh... not exactly sure.  You see, there's the queen of England, right... and her fortune teller/court astrologer/whatever he is is telling her about the future... and then it's the future, kind of like A Clockwork Orange but a lot lower-budget... and then... and then...  I dunno.  Watch it if you want to feel "arty?"  I'm not into punk, and some of the acting in this movie is unspeakably bad, but it's nothing if not unusual.




Not Bad, but Just Not My Thing


1. The Last Waltz

Martin Scorsese directed this documentary on The Band's last show.  And I'm so NOT into The Band.  Watching this film in 2020, I was moved by their professionalism (that drummer had such a nice, light touch), but the music itself did nothing for me.  The movie FM, as terrible as it is, came out the same year and offers a glimpse at the niche The Band occupied.




Some Bad Ones


1. The (First) Great Train Robbery

Heist movie featuring Sean Connery, one of his less convincing hairpieces, and Donald Sutherland.  Michael Crichton directed this movie from a screenplay he wrote.  Some of the double entendres are amusing, but this film fails to build any kind of momentum.  The heist at the end just kind of happens, and it's hard to care about it one way or the other.

2. The Greek Tycoon

Aristotle Onassis gets a thinly veiled Jackie Collins/Danielle Steele treatment.  Anthony Quinn stars as the titular tycoon, with Jacqueline Bisset as Jackie Kennedy.  Quinn does his best to elevate the material, but the script just isn't very good.

Fun Fact 1: L. Lee Thompson, who directed this movie, also directed The Guns of Navarone and the original Cape Fear.  He ended his career directing some of Charles Bronson's more forgettable movies.

Fun Fact 2: Despite being cast as a Greek in this and other movies, Anthony Quinn was born in Mexico to an Irish father and a Mexican mother.




So Bad It's Good


1. The Initiation of Sarah

FORESHADOWING.  A whole lotta foreshadowing.  And before you can say "Shelley Winters" or "Morgan Fairchild," Sarah is using her "gifts" for EVIL.  Yup.  Straight up evil.  It'll remind you a bit of Carrie, though in this case the "powers of the mind" have been exported to a college setting in which sororities battle for... something.  I'm not sure what.

Fun Fact: This movie was remade for TV in 2006.  Morgan Fairchild was also in the remake.

2. Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell

Hey, it's Richard Crenna!  Just a few years later he'd appear in First Blood as Colonel Trautman.  In that movie it was strictly military uniform, while in this movie he's clad in the finest men's wear the 70s had to offer.  Just check out that pantsuit.  Damn, Richard Crenna, you looking GOOD!!

The most hilarious part of this movie is the showdown at the end.  I don't want to give it away, but when the devil dog shows its true colors it's hysterical.

3. Message from Space

Japanese Star Wars ripoff with a racially mixed cast.  It's not as memorably bad as Starcrash (below), but it sure isn't Star Wars.  I had some trouble following the plot, but apparently an oppressed people disperse some kind of "seed" throughout the universe, and those who come upon their seeds become one of the seven heroes that will save the universe from the bad guy.

Fun Fact: Sonny "Street Fighter" Chiba is in this.

4. Spider-man Strikes Back

It's somehow even shoddier than the first TV movie.  Nicholas Hammond reprises his role as Peter Parker.  In this one a "Mr. White" is after an atomic bomb, and - as one would expect - a whole lotta coincidences lead up to that not happening.  My greatest complaint about this movie is that there's no karate fight between Spider-man and Mr. White.

Fun Fact 1: When the security guards are chasing Spider-man into/out of the lab, one of them says something to the effect of "That's Dr. Banner's lab!"  The implication being that Peter Parker is a student in the college where Bruce Banner is a professor.

Fun Fact 2: Joanna Cameron, who also appears in this movie, was the star of The Secrets of Isis TV show.

Fun Fact (?) 3: I'm fairly certain the Western-themed backlot toward the end of the movie is the same backlot seen in Hooper (above).




So Bad You Gotta See It


1. Starcrash

"Imperial battleship!  Halt the flow of time!"

SUPER low budget attempt to cash in on the Star Wars craze.  Marjoe Gortner, that titan of 70s B movies, stars as an... android?  Or something?  Caroline Munro, seen to better effect in The Spy Who Loved Me, costars as his copilot.  And hey, it's David Hasselhoff!  This is pre-Knight Rider folks - something for the history books.

Yet the true stars of this less-than-stellar Star Wars knockoff are the unspecial effects.  Apparently unsatisfied with the white stars seen in George Lucas' far superior film, the person in charge of special effects on this movie made them rainbow colors.  The models?  They were tiny in reality, and they look even tinier on film.

Fun Fact 1: Italian director Luigi Cozzi contributed to several of Dario Argento's films.  

Fun Fact 2: Caroline Munro also appeared in 1967's non-Eon production of Casino Royale - so she was a Bond girl twice over.  Much later on, in the 80s, the appeared in Adam Ant's video for "Goody Two Shoes."




Couldn't Go There


1. Faces of Death

I gave it a try.  I got to the part where they started cutting corpses open.  Then started thinking about the barbecue I had earlier for dinner.  That was it for me.

People who grew up with the internet will probably have a hard time understanding how this series developed the following it did.  Just cast your mind back to 1978: no internet, only four or five channels, and the home video revolution was just around the corner.  In other words, it was a lot harder to see dead people and explicit sex back then.  In 2020 you can just type whatever horrors you're looking for into Google and you'll get at least a few authentic images.  In 1978 people had to use their imaginations a lot more.

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1977 (2)
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (11)
Some Other Movies From 1976 (2)
Some Other Movies From 1975 (2)

2020年3月27日 星期五

"The Bridge Over the Neroch and Other Works" by Leonid Tsypkin (2012)


"Fedorkin bent close to the doorpost - besides the same unceasing drone behind the door, the old lady's voice could be distinctly heard as if she were talking on the telephone, which made sense since her telephone was located in the foyer by the door - she was going on and on, without pausing in her expressionless, monotonous, o-ing way of speaking, as if she were reading a lecture."

Leonid Tsypkin was a doctor and writer living in the Soviet Union up until the early 80s.  His style of writing could be described as modernistic, and he incorporated a lot of his Jewish heritage into his fiction.

In "The Bridge Over the Neroch" a man contemplates his life, his heritage, and the fate of Russia following the Nazi occupation.  In tone this story/novella reminded me a lot of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, and I liked it about as much.  The paragraphs that comprise this story take up pages and pages of small print, and it requires a lot of concentration on the reader's part.

In "Norartakir" a Russian man and wife visit Armenia (I think).  They experience several misadventures while in that country, and eventually return to Russia, where their son plans on moving out.  Where "The Bridge Over the Neroch" looks back toward WWII, this story looks back toward the Crucifiction.  My favorite parts of this story were the ironic observations on how Jesus' doctrines were interpreted by later generations.

Several other stories close out this collection, but none of them are really long enough to bear commenting upon.  Tsypkin was an interesting writer, but I found his continual failure to arrive at any kind of point/conclusion frustrating in the extreme.  I did like the last story in this collection, "The Cockroaches," but it only takes up a small fraction of this book.

Related Entries:

"The Sea, the Sea" by Iris Murdoch (1978)
"The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene (1940)
"Stamboul Train" by Graham Green (1932)
"Suttree" by Cormac McCarthy (1979)

2020年3月19日 星期四

"The Sea, the Sea" by Iris Murdoch (1978)


"We are such inward secret creatures, that inwardness is the most amazing thing about us, even more amazing than our reason.  But we cannot just walk into the cavern and look around.  Most of what we think we know about our minds is pseudo-knowledge.  We are all such shocking poseurs, so good at inflating the importance of what we think we value."

Iris Murdoch was a British novelist and philosopher.  She was raised in Ireland and studied philosophy at Cambridge.  She was awarded the Booker Prize for The Sea, the Sea during the year of its publication.

In the novel James Arrowby, retired actor and director, moves to a small village in the vicinity of London.  Tired of previous amorous adventures and wanting to pursue a more contemplative mode of existence, he nevertheless seeks romance with an old flame.  His misunderstandings with various women inform much of the plot, and throughout the novel his idealizations of these women and their circumstances contend with the larger social reality he inhabits.

The book starts out well even if it's on the slow side.  I liked the meditative nature of the protagonist's personality and his way of recollecting younger episodes in his life.  He's arrogant and egotistical, but this seems a given when one understands his career on the stage up to that point.

What I had trouble with was the turning point which comes about 1/4 of the way into the book.  After this point the protagonist seems to exceed himself, and his behavior becomes erratic in the extreme.  His behavior, in other words, seems very inconsistent, and the other characters' behavior exhibits this same inconsistency as the book progresses.  You would think character A would never do action B because that is one of his defining traits, but no, character A goes right ahead and does action B because... reasons.

After a certain point this aspect of the book makes the plot seem arbitrary.  The characters don't act in accordance with the way they're introduced, and as a result everything starts to seem very random.  It's as if the author was just smashing this cast of characters into an established plot, regardless of whether their roles in this plot are in harmony with what they as people would actually do.

With this in mind no, I wouldn't recommend The Sea, the Sea.  It's just too frustrating to bother with.  Yes, it won the Booker Prize, and yes, a lot of people like it, but it either lacks a feel for its characters, or the author does a bad job of explaining why her characters do what they do - I really can't decide which it is.

Related Entries:

"The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene (1940)
"Stamboul Train" by Graham Green (1932)
"Suttree" by Cormac McCarthy (1979)
"Cotton" (a.k.a. "The Ballad of Lee Cotton") by Christopher Wilson (2005)

2020年3月15日 星期日

Some Other Movies From 1977 (2)

For further background on the year in film please refer to the Some Other Movies From 1977 entry.

That said, I always feel like 1977 was the beginning of the modern movie.  You had Star Wars, you had Close Encounters of the Third Kind, you had Smokey and the Bandit.  Sure, a lot of the special effects used in these movies aren't all that special by modern standards, but directors were learning how to trim the fat off their movies; how to make them less talky.  Not every movie from 1977 exemplifies this trend - especially not most of the movies below, which were chosen for their relative obscurity - but we were getting there, slowly but surely.

Some things that happened in 1977:

  • The world's first all-in-one computer, the Commodore PET, was released.
  • It snowed in Miami, Florida.  This was the only time that ever happened.
  • Jimmy Carter was elected President of the U.S.
  • Fleetwood Mac released Rumors, still their most famous album.
  • Uranus' rings were discovered.
  • The Cambodian-Vietnamese War erupted.
  • The first Chuck E. Cheese pizza restaurant opened in California.
  • Star Wars opened in theaters across the U.S.  People then set about losing their minds.
  • Spain held its first democratic elections in a long, long time.
  • NASA launched Voyager 2.
  • The Atari 2600 was released.
  • Billy Joel released The Stranger (great album).
  • The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack became the best selling album up to that point.
  • Djibouti and Vietnam joined the United Nations.
Linked entries below can be viewed in their entirety on YouTube.




Excellent


1. The Man Who Loved Women

No, not the Burt Reynolds version.  That came six years later.  This is the original French version.

With as many French movies as I've seen, I'm still not that familiar with Francois Truffaut.  I've seen Day for Night, perhaps his most celebrated film, but that's it.

The Man Who Loved Women details the exploits of a womanizer, and while I'm not proud to say it, I did relate to this character a lot.  Truffaut paints a vivid picture of the womanizer's dilemma, and I found myself liking this film a lot more than Day for Night.

This movie, however, just wouldn't work in 2020.  Nowadays that would be called stalking, and that would be bad.  Perhaps yesterday's romanticism is grounds for today's restraining order?

2. The Hobbit

If you want my unprofessional opinion, this animated version of Tolkein's first book is much better than Peter Jackson's later, bloated attempt.  It tells the same story, but in a way that kids can relate to.  Oh, and the music's great too.

Like Wizards (below), a nice pipe might add to your enjoyment of this movie.  But unlike Wizards, I had no trouble either concentrating upon or enjoying this one.

Fun Fact 1: This was an American-Japanese production.  The Japanese end of things was handled by Topcraft, a studio that eventually morphed into Studio Ghibli, best known for Sprited Away.

Fun Fact 2: In 1978 Ralph Baksi (see Wizards below) released his Lord of the Rings.  After the release of that movie Rankin/Bass released an adaptation of The Return of the King on television.  The Return of the King, even less reliant on American artist Lester Abrams' original designs, looks even more like a Studio Ghibli production.


Familiar with Thackeray's Vanity Fair?  If so, you'll appreciate this movie's worldly cynicism.  It's not sparing in its honesty, and there are neither heroes nor villains populating the story it tells.

In Joseph Andrews Peter Firth.stars as a footman to a wealthy woman.  It was the.film Tony Richardson directed after his firing from Mahogany (see Some Other Movies From 1975 (2)) and it's much, much better than that earlier effort.  It's also genuinely funny, and moreover funny in a way that would have made John Waters proud.

4. The Man with No Name

BBC documentary on Clint Eastwood.  It asks a lot of the questions people were asking about Eastwood at the time.  Is he a good actor?  Is he a good director?  Do his films promote violence?  Do his films have an agenda?  By way of context, in 77 The Gauntlet would hit theaters (a very overlooked movie), and The Outlaw Josey Wales was released the year before.




Some Good Ones


1. Slap Shot

The script had some issues, but this story of a hockey team's final season is one of the better sports movies.  Paul Newman is engaging as the team's star player/coach, and the rest of the cast is good too.  It's easy to understand why this movie has such a following - and not only because of Canadians.

Fun Fact 1: Towards the end of this movie you can see Deep Throat on the theater's marquee.

Fun Fact 2: George Roy Hill, the director of this movie, also directed Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting.

Fun Fact 3: This movie's screenwriter went on to write Coming Home and Straight Time, two other good movies.

2. The Ascent

Black and white Russian movie about soldiers taken captive by the Nazis during World War II.  It's as depressing as you'd expect.  

I recommend watching this on a sunny day.  That way, when it's over, you can go outside, get some sunshine, and think happier thoughts.

As far as Russian movies about WWII go, I didn't find this one as devastating as 1985's Come and See.  The production values in this movie were also a lot lower.  It's a good movie if you're looking for that introspective, Crime and Punishment vibe, and the ending will definitely stay with you, but it requires a certain frame of mind to "enjoy"... if enjoy is the right word.

3. Wizards

A good wizard contends with an evil wizard in a post-apocalyptic future.

And hey, it's Ralph Bakshi, remember him?  By 1977 he'd established himself as an adult-oriented alternative to Disney, and he enjoyed quite a cult following.

I think you'd want to smoke some of your best before approaching this one.  I went into it stone cold sober, and while I could kind of follow what was going on, I had a lot of trouble concentrating on it.  A good buzz would have evened things out nicely.

4. That Obscure Object of Desire

A rich man becomes obsessed with a much younger woman.  This was director Luis Bunuel's last movie, ending a career in French cinema which lasted decades.  The only thing stopping me from placing this movie in the "Excellent" category is Bunuel's decision to cast two actresses in the same role.  It seems like an unnecessary flourish on the director's part.

Fun Fact 1: before Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina were both cast as the younger woman, Maria Schneider was set to play the part.  Her argument with the director prior to filming led him to the idea of casting two women in her place.

Fun Fact 2: Carole Bouquet would go on to star opposite Roger Moore in the Bond film For Your Eyes Only.

Fun Fact 3: Fernando Rey, who stars in this, appeared as the French drug dealer in The French Connection years before.

5. Night Journey

South Korean film about a young woman searching for happiness in a society dominated by men.  I liked it, but I'm not exactly sure what that "rape" scene was about.

6. The Making of Star Wars

"A full-fledged social phenomenon."  Yeah, in 1977 Star Wars was the biggest thing ever.  With all the sequels, prequels, technological advances and corporate takeovers that followed it's probably hard for younger viewers to realize how truly special this movie was, but this documentary does go some distance toward highlighting the scope of its achievement.

The interview with Carrie Fisher in the arcade was the best part of this film for me.  So young, so beautiful.  I haven't seen the most recent Star Wars movie, but the idea of a cgi version of her really bothers me.

7. Anyplace But Here

Bill Moyer takes a camera crew into a New York mental institution.  Some things have changed since the 70s, other things sure haven't.




Weirdness


1. House (Hausu)

Several young girls visit a spooky mansion in the countryside.  In some ways it feels like a Japanese response to the Italian giallo pictures, in other ways it's just weird in the way that the weirdest Japanese movies are weird.




Some Bad Ones


1. Gulliver's Travels

Maybe not bad, exactly, but there's nothing here for adults, and modern-day kids will find it boring.  Richard Harris stars in this talky mixture of live action and animation, and the results are
decidedly underwhelming.

Fun Fact: The director of this movie, Peter Hunt, started his directorial career with the Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service.


TV movie (later released theatrically) starring Nicholas Hammond as the famous web-slinger. I'd already seen this of course, but it had been decades. The soundtrack is memorably funky, but between bits of superheroism it moves at a glacial pace. 

Fun Fact 1: Stan Lee, who assisted in the production, regarded this show/movie as "juvenile."

Fun Fact 2: CBS canceled the show after only 13 episodes. Part of their reason for doing so was a desire not to appear as "the superhero network." Around the same time The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, Captain AmericaDoctor Strange, Shazam and Isis all received the live action treatment on CBS.

Fun Fact 3: They tried to revive this show in the 80s. The revival would have teamed Hammond's Spider-Man (in his black costume!) with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno's Incredible Hulk.




So Bad It's Good


6. The Shaolin Invincibles

In the descriptions of a lot of these Hong Kong movies I'm tempted to write "kung fu."  I mean really, who cares what the plot really was?  For what it'
s worth, two sisters orphaned during the Ching Dynasty seek revenge against the official that killed their family.  Is it a historical drama that continues to enrich our understanding of the time period and our awareness of human nature?  Nope.  Is there kung fu?  Yep.

The More You Know: At a certain point in this movie the bad guys square off against a pair of gorillas.  AND THE GORILLAS KNOW KUNG FU.  The boss gains control over the gorillas by kicking them in the top of their heads.  If you're ever threatened by a pair of kung fu gorillas, now you know what to do!




Erotica (Definitely not Porn)


1. Goodbye Emmanuelle

Emmanuelle and her sexually liberated friends bang each other in the Seychelles.  The star of this one is Sylvia Kristel, not Laura Gemser (the "black" Emmanuelle).  I find Laura Gemser much hotter, but Kristel is definitely a better actress.  This movie'ss also far more polished than anything in the "Black Emmanuelle" series.  It's still far from great, but the Seychelles sure are pretty.

Comparing the two versions of Emmanuelle, the original Emmanuelle and "Black Emmanuelle," I'd have to say the more solitary version played by Gemser makes a lot more sense to me.  Setting Emmanuelle among a group of like-minded libertines does make it easier to write a story around her, but their shared sexual obsessions makes them harder to relate to.

There's also something off-putting about Kristel's circle of friends.  While watching them recruit third and fourth-string sex partners I kept imagining myself in those situations.  People like that, in real life, would probably seem kind of gross.

Related Entries:

Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (11)
Some Other Movies From 1976 (2)
Some Other Movies From 1975 (2)
Upcoming Superhero Movies in the Order I Want to See Them 3

2020年3月12日 星期四

Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (11)

For reviews of older superhero movies click here and here.  It felt like time to get rid of the "baggage" those older entries carried, so I'm starting again from October 2018's Venom.

Oh and by the way, I think I'll stop reviewing these movies as a separate genre at the end of 2020.  Endgame has come and gone, the MCU is now an established brand, and to be honest I think most of the best superhero movies are behind us.  2020 seems like a good time to move on to movies as a whole, rather than focusing so much on whatever Marvel Studios, Warner Bros., or Sony are putting out.


Superhero Movies On The Way

Aquaman 2 (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, December 2022 in the the States)

Black Panther II (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, May 2022 in the States)

The Flash (?) (Sometime in 2021?)

Thor: Love and Thunder (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, November 2021 in the States)

The Suicide Squad (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, August 2021 in the States)

Spider-Man: Far From Home Sequel (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, July 2021 in the States)

The Batman (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, June 2021 in the States)

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, May 2021 in the States)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, February 2021 in the States)

The Eternals (October 29 in Taiwan, November 6, 2020 in the States)

Venom 2 (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, October 2020 in the States)

Morbius, the Living Vampire (July 31, 2020 in both Taiwan and the States)

Wonder Woman 1984 (June 5, 2020 in both Taiwan and the States)

Black Widow (April 30, 2020 in Taiwan, May 2020 in the States)

The New Mutants (April 1 in Taiwan, April 3, 2020 in the States)



Bloodshot


What I Liked: A guy movie if there ever was one.  If you liked any of The Fast and the Furious franchise you'll probably like this one too.  It's a solid action film.  Oh, and the actress that co-stars alongside Vin Diesel is achingly beautiful.

What I Didn't Like: That "underwater kata" scene is unintentionally hilarious.  It doesn't quite derail the entire movie, but it seemed like an odd choice.  Why was that necessary for Guy Pearce's plot to work?

Future/Sequels: A Valiant Cinematic Universe?  There were plans for Bloodshot 2, two Harbinger movies, and then a movie featuring both Bloodshot and Harbinger.  As of now Harbinger has moved to Paramount Pictures, so all of that's uncertain.



Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)


What I Liked: The fight scenes are cool.  Ewan McGregor - in what little screen time this movie can afford him - makes a great villain.

What I Didn't Like: Everything else.  As a character Harley Quinn is a complete enigma - and not in an interesting way.  Huntress and Black Canary are far easier to relate to, but again, Harley Quinn's endless monologues push them into the background.  To top it off this movie is terribly, existentially boring.

Future/Sequels: Lord I hope not.  Wonder Woman 1984 is due this summer, and James Gunn's The Suicide Squad is due next year, but if the directors of those movies have any sense they'll distance their films from this one.


Joker


What I Liked: This movie is brilliant.  Joaquin Phoenix doesn't disappoint, and director Todd Philips more than rises to the occasion.  Just the way the title pops up in the beginning is masterful.  This is the kind of movie that sparks debates, avoids safe choices, and gets people riled up.  It's also a harrowing portrait of both one man's struggle with mental illness and the uncaring nature of the society he lives in.

What I Didn't Like: This is a small complaint, but I think this movie tried a bit too hard to tie the Joker into the larger Batman mythos.  Having Thomas Wayne in the movie was enough; there was no need to include other members of the Wayne family.

Future/Sequels: Please Joaquin Phoenix, DON'T do another one.  And don't appear in anything else Batman-related.  This one was just about perfect the way it was.  Just leave it there and it'll age like wine.


Spider-Man: Far From Home


What I Liked: Zendaya.  She was my favorite thing about this movie.  Her character holds the whole thing together.  Without MJ this movie wouldn't make a lot of sense.

Also Mysterio's illusions.  I don't think I'm giving any plot points away when I mention them.  His illusions are some of the more visually impressive things in the MCU.

And speaking Mysterio's illusions, the battle at the end is great.  Setting this battle in London was a good choice.

What I Didn't Like: You can see the plot twist coming from a mile away.  Maybe not calling him "Mysterio" right of the bat would have helped.

Future/Sequels: A third one seems likely.  Still no word as to whether this take on Spider-man will tie into Sony's other Spiderverse films.


X-Men: Dark Phoenix


Got bored and saw it the other day.  It was blazing hot outside, and there wasn't much else to do.

What I Liked: For one thing it wasn't nearly as bad as some of the reviews would lead you to believe.  It's definitely NOT great, but if you were able to sit through Apocalypse you'll be able to sit through this one.  It's actually not bad up until Jean visits the house, though after that point...

What I Didn't Like: At times this movie just doesn't make sense.  WHY do the cops show up after Jean visits that house?  And WHY do the two mutant factions fight in New York?  And WHY do the aliens insist on boarding the train from the other end, when they're clearly walking all along its length, thus making it incredibly easy for the X-Men to fight them off?  

To make things worse, Sophie Turner really can't carry a movie.  Watching her interact with some of the other, more talented cast members is truly cringeworthy.  As bad as this movie is, it's still better than X3and yet I found myself missing Famke Janssen throughout the film.

Most inexplicable of all is Magneto.  First he says revenge is wrong and that he's given up on it.  Then someone gets killed and he's all about revenge again.  Then he learns about the Phoenix Force and he's all about saving Jean.  This, and that magnetism/telekinesis battle between him and Jean is the most unintentionally hilarious thing I've seen in a long time.

Future/Sequels: As far as anyone knows, The New Mutants is still coming out next year.  After that it'll be a long wait before we see Marvel Studios' take on the same set of characters.


Avengers: Endgame


What I Liked: Everything.  This movie is awesome from beginning to end.

What I Didn't Like: Only two (very small) complaints: 1) Bruce and Nebula's explanation for their "heist" probably isn't going to satisfy anyone who bothers to think it through, and 2) the part at the end where all the "Marvel superheroines" line up and go into battle seems a bit too much like checking off an item on a checklist.

Future/Sequels: The next MCU offering is Spider-Man: Far From Home later this summer.  No other films have been given a release date as yet.  I think it's fair to say that Marvel will make a big announcement soon.


Hellboy


What I Liked: Uh... it's more... British than the original?  That's good, right?  More interesting?

And uh... the fight with the giants is kind of cool.  Brief but cool.

This movie has the quirkiness that made the Mignola comics good.  Upping the gore was also a good idea.  Not sure about the humor though.  Seems like they should have doubled down on that part.  Making this movie funnier would have also differentiated it from the original.  As it is it strays too close to the Del Toro version.

What I Didn't Like: It's pretty bad right from the beginning.  For me the worst thing was the sequence explaining Hellboy's origins.  This part of the movie ventures so close to Del Toro's version that you can't help but compare this one to that one, and this one is always going to suffer by comparison.  They should have avoided that altogether.

Future/Sequels: Ha ha not likely.


Shazam!


What I Liked: Zachary Levi and Asher Angel are both examples of great casting, the story is well thought out, and the battle at the end takes some interesting twists and turns.  I consider Shazam! a vast improvement over Aquaman, which was trying to do too much in too short a time, and also Captain Marvel, which was in my opinion one hot mess of a movie.  Shazam! is much smaller-scale compared to those other two films, but its smallness works to its advantage.  It's very focused and to the point.

Mark Strong, who was wasted on Martin Campbell's Green Lantern, has much more to do in Shazam!  Even if his reasons for being "evil" aren't that well thought out, he's still a good (bad) villain.

What I Didn't Like: The battle at the end goes on a bit too long.  I think shortening it would have made for a better movie.  The introduction of the rest of the Marvel Family feels a bit rushed, even if it was gratifying to see them onscreen together.

Future/Sequels: No definite plans for any sequels as yet, but one of Shazam's other villains is introduced in a post-credits scene.  It's early to say, but I think this movie will be well received and I'd be surprised if a sequel isn't announced soon.


Captain Marvel


What I Liked: There's a part about halfway through, when Carol Danvers is reunited with an old friend.  In that part you can see Brie Larson's skill as an actress.

The fight on the spaceship near the end is oddly satisfying, but some of my satisfaction may have to do with 90s soundtrack, and the fact that I was a much younger guy when those songs were everywhere.  Nostalgia, in other words.

What I Didn't Like: Going back to the comic books, I never found Carol Danvers especially interesting, and this movie did nothing to change my mind.  Really, what is her reason for doing anything in this film?  At what point does her character change or make any real kind of discovery?

She's also so much more powerful than anyone she comes up against in this movie.  There's no sense of threat when "danger" strikes.  Jude Law?  Nope.  The Skrulls?  Not really.  Ronan the Accuser?  Their confrontation is a non-event.

I've also got to say, the explanation given for Nick Fury losing his eye really bothered me.  It's always seemed like this event should be of crucial importance, but in the movie it's explained in such an offhand manner.  The randomness of this explanation diminished the entire film.

Future/Sequels: Strap yourself in because Avengers: Endgame is less than two months away.  After Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home Marvel has announced no other films, though if Captain Marvel does well I'm sure we'll see a sequel.  I've heard a lot of talk about an Eternals movie, but we'll see.

I think what's going to make or break a Captain Marvel sequel is the Asian market, especially China.  If it goes over big in Beijing and Shanghai (as Aquaman did) you can be sure there will be another one.  If, however, this movie fails to find an audience in such places, I imagine Kevin Feige will start vaguely alluding to "future adventures" without making any real commitment.




Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Does this one count?  Batman and the Justice League are in it.  It also features the newer and older versions of Aquaman.

What I Liked: It's a funny movie, though not as good as the first.  This said, it's not nearly as hyper as the first one, which might be a relief for those who found the first film slightly overwhelming.

What I Didn't Like: It does drag a bit toward the end.  It's weird to say, but I found myself having to really concentrate on Lego Movie 2.  There are SO many references, to so many things, that after the first hour my brain got tired.  

Future/Sequels: There might be a sequel to the Lego Batman movie, though there's no release date as yet.  There might also be The Billion Brick Race.




Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

What I Liked: Everything.  In my opinion this movie's awesome from start to finish.  The characters, the plot, the animation, the soundtrack, all of it's great.  I suppose it depends on how it does financially, but Spider-Verse could be a real game-changer for CBMs.

For me the best part of the film was the Bill Sienkiewicz-inspired sequence halfway through.  I've been a huge fan of that guy for years, and seeing his art animated almost brought tears to my eyes.  That version of the Kingpin?  That's all Bill Sienkiewicz.

What I Didn't Like: Small complaint: no Spider-Woman.  I've always liked Spider-Woman more than Spider-Man, and it would've been wonderful to see Jessica Drew (finally) show up in this movie.

Future/Sequels: There's talk that Spider-Woman could feature in the sequel alongside Spider-Gwen and Silk, but such plans are tentative of course.  It's entirely possible that a sequel would feature Spider-Man 2099 instead.




Aquaman

What I Liked: Atlantis looks cool.  Amber Heard is easy on the eyes.  The battle in the end - aside from a ridiculous pause in the action for a predictably romantic moment - looks amazing.

What I Didn't Like: Weird moments of exposition.  Instead of showing the audience what's happening/has happened, the characters in this movie often feel the need to stop whatever they're doing and explain things.  The only part of this movie where the action flows seamlessly is when Aquaman and Black Manta have their big showdown halfway through.

The part in the beginning about Aquaman's parents could have been removed entirely.  It adds absolutely nothing to the story, and starting the movie from the adult Aquaman's first appearance would have made a lot more sense.

This movie gets dumber as it goes along.  By the end I was laughing at certain scenes and bits of dialogue, and I wasn't the only one.  And before someone chimes in with "at least it doesn't take itself so seriously," let's remember there's a difference between laughing WITH a movie and laughing AT a movie.

The small ray of hope being that it's not as terrible as Justice League.  Not that this is saying much.

Future/SequelsShazam!, also set in the DCEU, will be out in a few months.  After that it's a long wait until Wonder Woman 1984.  Aquaman 2?  It's kind of early to tell, but the movie's been doing well in China, and those wanting a completely brainless superhero romp will be all over this one.




Venom

What I Liked: After a really clunky beginning there are some great action sequences.  Everything after Venom shows up is much better than the 15 minutes that try (and fail) to set up the story.  The fight between Venom and Riot near the end is very good.

What I Didn't Like: That beginning part.  It feels like they weren't sure what kind of movie they were making.  Horror?  Action?  Science fiction?  Going more for the "body horror" elements would have improved the film, and the spaceship/alien invasion subplot could have been dispensed with altogether.

As clunky as the beginning is, the dialogue throughout the movie is by far the worst part.  None of the actors seem at ease with what they're saying, and a couple of lines are unintentionally hilarious.

Future/Sequels: There are plans for a sequel with Woody Harrelson's Carnage in a bigger role.  I think that after setting up the general premise, a sequel is bound to be better.  Harrelson would also make a great villain.  Last I heard, Sony's next comic-based movie will be Morbius the Living Vampire, with Jared Leto as Morbius.  There may be some crossover between Venom and Morbius.

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2020年3月11日 星期三

"Science Fiction Stories" edited by Edward Blishen (1988)


"'Not any more.  You came to Earth millions of years too soon.  While you were hiding in the ground waiting for intelligent life to develop here, it was dying back on your own world.'"

Science Fiction Stories is a collection of stories and excerpts aimed at children.  Very few of the stories involve actual scientific concepts, and both aliens and alien worlds feature in many of the stories.

Most of the stories in this collection aren't very good, and the excerpts are, in their way, even more frustrating because their inclusion alludes to larger, better works that weren't reprinted in their entirety.

The stories/excerpts in this collection are:

1. The Boy, the Dog and the Spaceship

A tiny alien arrives on Earth planning to work its way up the food chain via mind control.  Not very memorable.

2. Invisible in London

An excerpt from H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man.  It's good, but this excerpt is also the best part of the book.  After you'd read this, what would be the point of reading the novel?

3. The Dragon of Pendor

Ursula K. Le Guin.  I've never been a fan.  In this excerpt from The Wizard of Earthsea a young mage battles a family of dragons.  Is this really science fiction?

4. Bobo's Star

Far and away the worst story in this collection.  A young boy "raises" a star in a homemade antigravity chamber.  The "science" in this story makes absolutely no sense, and the end is weirdly depressing.

5. The Yellow Hands

An excerpt from The Master, a book I'd never heard of.  A couple kids make a discovery on a remote island.  Science fiction?

6. The Specimen

A boy is abducted by an alien in the English countryside.  It's not half bad until the last few pages.  Then - why would the boy make that kind of assumption?  What are the odds of his being correct?

7. Of Polymuf Stock

Reminded me a little of A Canticle for Leibowitz, though of course this amateurish story is a far cry from that seminal work of science fiction.  In a post-apocalyptic future a boy comes to terms with his genetic heritage.  I failed to understand why the treasure wasn't worth having, or how this caused the boy to reassess his earlier prejudice against the "polymufs."  

8. Hurled into Space

An excerpt from Jules Verne's From Earth to the Moon.  I love that book.  It's one of the weirdest, most strangely depressing things that Verne ever wrote.

9. Goodbye to the Moon

A moon-born child accompanies his father on a trip back to Earth.  It goes nowhere fast.

10. The Shot from the Moon

One of Arthur C. Clarke's contributions to this collection.  It's little more than an explanation of orbital mechanics.

11. The Fun They Had

Short story by Isaac Asimov.  Like "The Shot from the Moon" above, this isn't so much a story as an outline.  Two siblings discuss educational trends in the future.

12. A Fight Between Lizards at the Centre of the Earth

Excerpt from Journey to the Center of the Earth.  Those interested would be better served by either the novel itself or the Rick Wakeman album.

13. The Last Man Alive

Is "Bobo's Star" really the worst story in this collection?  Or is it "The Last Man Alive?"  Now that I think about it, I'm really not sure.  For some inexplicable reason a deadly gas kills most of the people on Earth (except for a guy at the north pole), and this last surviving human takes a series of trains to... somewhere, to do... something.  Apparently the author had a fondness for trains, and this story was his excuse to talk about that.

14. How We Were Tracked by a Tripod

Kid-friendly story about three boys pursued by an alien.  It could be seen as a continuation of Wells' War of the Worlds.  For travelers from another planet (galaxy?), the aliens' technology sure seems impractical.

15. The War of the Worlds (an extract)

H.G. Wells' most famous book.  Even this little sliver of it is much better than almost everything else in this collection.

16. Homecoming

Humans debate whether or not to return to Earth after living on a typhoon-ravaged planet.  For a better (although far from perfect) treatment of a similar topic, I recommend Arthur C. Clarke's Songs of Distant Earth.

17. All Summer in a Day

Ray Bradbury.  What can one say about Ray Bradbury?  On the one hand he was a good, if not great, writer.  On the other hand he seemed stuck in a genre he had little real interest in or appreciation for.  He was happy to jump up and say, "Me!  I'm one of the great American science fiction writers!" but one always got the feeling that he could've cared less about what his contemporaries were doing.

"All Summer in a Day" is one of his "tropical Venus" stories, and it would have flown in the face of any scientific understanding of Venus even back in the 50s.  I like The Illustrated Man, I enjoyed The Martian Chronicles, but I'm not a fan of his Venus stories.

18. Grenville's Planet

Two explorers unwittingly discover alien life.  The ending of this story is somewhat perplexing, and not in a good way.

19. The Fear Shouter

"The Fear Shouter."  Pretty good name for a band.  In this story a young man tries to survive on an alien world.  It's one of the better stories in this collection.  Apparently author Jay Williams had a brief career in American science fiction magazines.

20. The Wind from the Sun

Undoubtedly the best story here, and also by Arthur C. Clarke.  In "The Wind from the Sun" Clarke combines his love of space travel with his love of sailing, and even though the ending isn't great it still easily outshines all of the above stories.

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