2017年12月10日 星期日

"Neuromancer" by William Gibson (1984)

"'Autonomy, that's the bugaboo, where your AI's are concerned.  My guess, Case, you're going in there to cut the hardwired shackles that keep this baby from getting any smarter."

William Gibson is a Canadian-American author, best known for pioneering the cyberpunk genre and inventing the term "cyberspace."  He's written many books, and his writing career stretches back to the late 70s.

In Neuromancer, a hacker down on his luck is sent on a mission by a form of artificial intelligence.  Along the way he crosses paths with clones, space Rastafarians, and cybernetically enhanced ninjas.

And that's about it really.  It's a short book.  It's also Gibson's first novel, and I've got to say that as first novels go, it blows most other first novels out of the water.  It's lean, it's action-packed, and gets straight to the point in a rather poetic fashion.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it's easy to see its influence over subsequent books, movies, and even music.

Strange to say, and despite my decades reading science fiction, this is the first of Gibson's novels I've read.  I look forward to reading more soon, and I think it'll be interesting to compare this, his earliest effort, to more recent works by the same author.

If You Liked This Book, You Might Also Like:

"Permutation City" by Greg Egan
"The Information" by James Gleick

2017年12月4日 星期一

Some Other Movies from 1986

Saw all of the movies below recently.  For those wondering how I came upon them, I hereby refer you to the "1986 in Film" article on Wikipedia.

Some Good Ones

1. Youngblood

Rob Lowe penetrates (or is he penetrated by?) the world of Canadian hockey.  Patrick Swayze costars, and if you squint real hard you'll see Keanu Reeves in his first big movie.*  Definitely not great, but watchable.  This movie is extremely homoerotic at times.

2. Pretty in Pink

This movie is so 80s it wears a Thriller jacket.  It also knows the words to every song by Duran Duran.  

And by the way, was there any 80s movie that Harry Dean Stanton wasn't in?  Damn, the guy was in everything!  

Pretty in Pink is still good, still a big influence on Spider-Man: Homecoming, and if it doesn't give you high school flashbacks I'd be surprised.  For the record, and in all honesty, I didn't go to my high school prom, and no, it's never kept me up nights.

3. The Manhattan Project

John Lithgow plays a nuclear physicist trying to clean up the mess created by a "boy genius" who builds an atomic bomb using stolen uranium.  The young protagonist is one of the stupidest smart people ever, and the security in that plutonium enrichment facility is a joke.  Reminded me a lot of 1983's WarGames, though not nearly as good.

4. Lucas

Ah, Kerri Green.  Once upon a time, I was madly in love with Kerri Green.  Of course I wasn't much younger than Corey Haim was when he filmed this movie, so I suppose it's excusable.  Kerri Green, where are you now?

Lucas is the story of a socially awkward boy (Haim) who's in love with his high school classmate (Green).  But Green's in love with Charlie Sheen, so you can guess how that goes.  Pretty in Pink is a more stylized version of high school, whereas Lucas is probably more like how it really was.

5. At Close Range

Still a great movie.  Two brothers (Sean and Chris Penn) get into trouble after reuniting with their father (Christopher Walken).  It's an interesting portrait of crime in small town America.

Damn, Sean Penn was jacked back in the day.

6. Black Moon Rising

Tommy Lee Jones stars as an ex-burglar working for the government.  Linda Hamilton costars as a car thief who stumbles across the "Black Moon," a supercar with a jet engine.  It doesn't suck, but it feels a lot like a TV movie.

And here's the thing: Why does Tommy Lee Jones think it's a good idea to hide the tape inside the experimental car?  He must have passed a thousand hiding places between the office and the gas station - why pick the experimental car?

7. Children of a Lesser God

William Hurt stars as a teacher in a school for the deaf.  Marlee Matlin, in an Oscar-winning performance, stars as the young woman he tries to help and ultimately falls in love with.  The "synth wash" soundtrack wears out its welcome, but it's still an excellent movie.

8. Crossroads

Director Walter Hill channeled his love of the blues into this film about a young New Yorker seeking fame as a guitar player, and an old man looking for redemption.  I have a strong dislike for the macho bullshit present in Hill's 48 Hrs. and Streets of Fire, but in Crossroads he was at his best.  It probably helped a lot that Hill didn't write the script.

Can you imagine how hard it was for Steve Vai to mess up that solo?  He must have wanted to be in this movie real bad.

9. Hoosiers

You see?  White guys can play basketball!  Gene Hackman stars with Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hopper in this story about an Indiana high school basketball team that takes it all the way to the state finals.  The scenes with Hackman and Hopper together are the best parts of the movie.

10. Quicksilver

Quicksilver's like a more adult version of Rad (see below).  Kevin Bacon stars as a stock broker turned bike messenger, with a brief appearance by a much younger Larry (Laurence) Fishburne.  It ain't The Godfather, but it's not bad.  It should be noted that even though this came out only two years after Footloose, Bacon has referred to Quicksilver as "the absolute lowest point in my career."

11. Mona Lisa

Whatever happened to Bob Hoskins?  Did Who Framed Roger Rabbit kill his career so completely?  Whatever the case, he's on much firmer footing in Mona Lisa, a movie about an ex-convict attempting to re-unite with his daughter after a long stretch in prison.  It's Neil Jordan's third film, and shares many themes with his later smash success, The Crying Game.

12. Manhunter

Years before The Silence of the Lambs, Michael Mann directed this film adaptation of Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon.  I have the feeling that it was a little too "police procedural" for audiences back in 1986 (i.e. it's pretty slow), but it's still a good movie with some interesting twists.

Some Bad Ones

1. Power

Despite having Sidney Lumet as director, this story of a campaign consultant's daily life is like watching paint dry.  Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington give memorable performances, but it's not enough to make this movie interesting.  For a much better movie that covers similar territory, I recommend 1972's The Candidate.

2. The Clan of the Cave Bear

God damn Neanderthals!  Raping our women!  Or wait - if Daryl Hannah is a Cro Magnon, is she really one of "our women?" 

The intricacies of human evolution aside, this movie is just boring.  I get the argument that the archaeological record wasn't the point, but even for 1986 it looks cheaply done, and the story is badly executed.  I have the feeling that the book was much better.

3. Ruthless People

Rolling Stones theme song.  I f*&king HATE 80s Rolling Stones.  And you know what I hate even more than 80s Rolling Stones?  Judge Reinhold.  Something about that guy makes my skin crawl.

This movie was a big hit in 86, but I've never understood its appeal.  The acting is completely over the top, and none of the characters are sympathetic and/or interesting.  Some of the scenes are still funny, but the plot's too convoluted for its own good.

4. Rad

Perhaps one of the whitest movies ever made, this one's about a small town paperboy with BMX dreams.  The pacing (or lack thereof) is a mess, and it gets pretty slow in places.  Some scenes border on "so bad it's good" territory (especially the "bike dance" part), but others are just BAD.  Fun Fact: Hal Needham, the director of this movie, also did Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run.

5. Howard the Duck

If this movie had just been FUNNY, all would have been forgiven.  As it is, it's striking how few laughs one finds in a movie about an anthropomorphic duck from another planet.  Tim Robbins probably wishes he could forget about this one, even if he's the best thing in it.

And Leah Thompson.  That great degenerate of Western cinema!  Not only does she attempt to have sex with her own son in Back to the Future, but in Howard the Duck she attempts the deed most fowl!  Sure, she looks amazing in her underwear, but let us refrain from bestiality!

I wonder what James Gunn would do with Howard the Duck.  I'm not a big fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy, but it's interesting to speculate upon how he might have made the same material into an entertaining movie.

One That's So Bad It's Good

1. Never Too Young to Die

John "Full House" Stamos, George "007" Lazenby, Vanity (!), and Gene "Kiss" Simmons as Ragnar the Hermaphrodite.  Need I say more?  Stamos plays a low-grade James Bond, and there are a whole heap o' motorcycles.  Wait - if Lazenby plays a spy in this movie does that make it... canon?  Does Ragnar the Hermaphrodite inhabit the same cinematic universe as James Bond?!?!**

Related Entries:

A Review of Every DC Movie from 2005 to the Present (Revised as of November 16, 2017)
Justice League!
The FoX-men No More?  FoxTastic No Longer?
Some Other Movies From 1984

*It's actually his second movie, but who's bothered to watch "One Step Away" recently?  It doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry!

**In case you're confused, Lazenby was the star of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" in 1969.  He was the "interim Bond," and only appeared in that one Bond film before Connery returned in 1970.

2017年12月3日 星期日

"Eon" by Greg Bear (1985)

"The glob dropped and fleshed out like a vampire in an old horror movie to form a masculine body, clothed in loose white shirt and forest-green pants.  The figure seemed to solidify."

Greg Bear is highly regarded among certain aficionados of "hard sci-fi."  He's written dozens of books, and his bibliography stretches back to the late 70s.  This novel, Eon, is the first of four books in his "The Way" series.

In the early 2000s, a massive object called The Stone appears near the Earth.  Several teams of scientists investigate this object, and after many years they uncover both the startling secret of The Stone's origin and its connections to worlds (and realities) far beyond their wildest imaginings.

In tone the earliest chapters of Eon reminded me a lot of Larry Niven's Ringworld, in that a cast of decidedly "diverse" individuals study of an object that defies our present understanding of physics, only to discover that a shadowy race of "engineers" is lurking behind the scenes.  You could also compare Eon to Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 series, which also features a mysterious object(s) lying at the edge of our exploratory capacity, followed by revelations concerning its creators and their "message from the stars."

Yet I think Ringworld is the more apt comparison, given that Eon shares the same flaws.  Despite the "hard science" on display, both novels fail to adequately think through the implications of the ideas presented, and instead attempt to overwhelm our critical instincts with concepts that were cutting-edge at the time.  Both books also feature paper-thin characterizations, and tend to wander more than they ought to.  The chief difference being that Ringworld is much shorter, and as a result much more readable.

I wanted very much to like Eon - I'd heard great things about it - but I found it less brilliant that its reputation would suggest.  I felt like there were glimmers of better novels in its pages, but the whole was much less than the individual parts.

P.S. It may be that I'm being overly hard on this one.  After reading Greg Egan's Permutation City, Eon might be a victim of my newer, higher expectations.  Whatever the case, Eon definitely ISN'T in the same league as Egan's book.

2017年11月22日 星期三

"Crow Killer" by Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker (1969)

"It was clear from the manner in which his guard eyed Johnson that he had never counted coup.  He fingered his long knife lovingly, in an almost desperate desire to be the warrior who might take the scalp of the Crow Killer."

This is the book that inspired the movie Jeremiah Johnson.  There is little biographical information available on the authors.

Jeremiah was, by the way, his middle name.  In real life he was a Mountain Man known as John Johnson (or John Johnston).  He headed west toward the Rockies before the Civil War, took a member of the Flathead tribe to wife, returned home from a trapping expedition to find her murdered by the Crow, and spent years wreaking vengeance upon the Crow for their transgression.  We are fairly sure that most of this really happened, though in the case of John Johns(t)on it's hard to separate myth from fact.

He earned the nickname "Liver-Eating" from his practice of removing the livers of his Crow enemies and eating them raw.  Several of his acquaintances testified to this practice, and given the times and places Johnson inhabited I'm confident that the stories are true.  He was a man living on the very edge of civilization, and the details of his exploits aren't always pleasant.

This said, I really enjoyed Crow Killer, and it forms an excellent companion to the movie it inspired.  It reads like something Robert Louis Stevenson might have written, and the points at which its narrative intersects with history will be of great interest to anyone versed in the Wild West.

Oh, and anyone who enjoyed The Revenant would probably also like this book.  Some of Johnson's exploits and associates seem to have influenced that movie, too.

Related Entries:

"Astoria" by Peter Stark
"The Oregon Trail" by Rinker Buck
"Historic America: The Northwest" by Jim Kaplan

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.