2019年11月1日 星期五

"Suttree" by Cormac McCarthy (1979)

"Supposing there be any soul to listen and you died tonight?

"They'd listen to my death.

"No final word?

"Last words are only words."

Cormac McCarthy has been discussed here many times.  This is the eighth of his novels I've read, and the seventh to be reviewed here.  You're welcome to check the sidebar for other reviews of his books.  Suffice it to say that Blood Meridian remains my favorite.

Suttree is the story of Cornelius "Buddy" Suttree, a fisherman living in a houseboat on the banks of a river in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Suttree lives a somewhat Bohemian existence fishing and collecting an odd assortment of friends.  He spends time in and out of jail, and is content to live life in the moment, no matter how unpleasant that particular moment might be.

As a character Suttree is definitely among the most interesting of Cormac McCarthy's creations, probably because McCarthy modeled the character on himself.  I don't think I've gotten such a sense of personhood from any of McCarthy's other books, and this was a nice change from his other, bleaker stories in which characters who are little more than ciphers ask existential questions and try not to die.  Suttree felt like a living, breathing person, and his story - although seemingly random at times - felt very personal and very real.  There are certainly McCarthy novels that end with a bigger bang, but the depth of characterization that went into Suttree gives it both a beating heart and an easy smile.

This aside, the first few pages of this book are no picnic.  In his descriptions of Knoxville McCarthy pretty much outdoes himself in terms of obscurity, and those unable to skim will find themselves consulting the nearest dictionary.  The good news is that after the first few sections it gets much easier; the bad news is that those first few sections require a well-lit, quiet room where you can think over what you're reading.

It should also be said that Suttree isn't without a sense of humor.  It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but the characters often find themselves in humorous situations, and these situations make the book much better.

All in all I'd recommend Suttree, but only if you've read McCarthy's other novels.  It can be maddeningly verbose, and I was sometimes tempted to skip over certain sections, but I didn't, and I'm glad I saw it through to the end.

Related Entries:

"Cotton" (a.k.a. "The Ballad of Lee Cotton") by Christopher Wilson (2005)
"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett (2009)
"The Story of My Teeth" by Valeria Luiselli (2015)*
"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (2016)

*Cormac McCarthy probably wouldn't like the last two books listed above.  He has voiced a distaste for magical realism.

2019年10月31日 星期四

Albums That Changed My Life 6: Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast"

I knew about Iron Maiden before hearing their music.  In the second grade (I think) my friend Peter had a poster of the Powerslave cover on his bedroom wall.  Eddy, in all his monumental Egyptian glory, squinted at me from the poster, daring me to give them a listen.

I should add that my parents never had an opinion about the music I listened to.  I wasn't raised in a strict and/or religious household, and I was given freedom to explore my interests.  Even so there was a feeling of transgression around Iron Maiden, as if it was something slightly evil.  Of course as I got older this sense of evil only made their music more attractive.

A few years later I finally heard them on the radio.  It was late at night in Seattle.  It was probably cold and dark outside.  KISW's Metal Shop was on the air, and as I sat there alone in my bedroom the DJ solemnly announced that the next song up was "Number of the Beast," by a band called Iron Maiden.

It was the most evil thing I'd ever heard and I immediately loved it.  It was dark, it was loud, and it was full of the most delightful screaming I'd ever heard.

Soon after I went out and bought a copy of Number of the Beast from the local Fred Meyer.  I can't remember the exact year, but I think their newest album at the time was either Seventh Son of a Seventh Son or Somewhere in Time.  After Number of the Beast I used my allowance to buy the rest of their studio albums  - the self-titled debut, Killers, Piece of Mind, and so on.  My favorite album at that time was probably Powerslave.

"2 Minutes to Midnight."  Yeah.

But you know what?  As with Rush a lot of that band's catalog hasn't aged well for me.  The videos, the spandex, the operatic vocals, and the memories thrash bands that came soon after put them on a lower tier.  They were definitely revolutionary for their time, but you could also say that they were working from a formula established early on.  Seeing or hearing Iron Maiden now always give me a certain sense of nostalgia, but the profundity I once found in them is gone, never to return.

This said, I do still enjoy their first album.  "Remember Tomorrow," "Iron Maiden," and all that.  Paul Di'anno might not be the singer Bruce Dickinson is, but the songs he did with Iron Maiden now seem less cartoonish, less fixated on the theatrical.

Related Entries:

Albums That Changed My Life 5: Rush's first album and "Power Windows"
Albums That Changed My Life 4: The Top Gun Soundtrack
Albums That Changed My Life 3: Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band's "Trout Mask Replica"
Albums That Changed My Life 2: Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come's "Journey"

2019年10月30日 星期三

Upcoming Superhero Movies in the Order I Want to See Them 3

The previous entry in this series is to be found here.  Back when I wrote that, "Spider-Man: Homecoming 2" was the farthest movie out, and I saw that film - renamed Spider-Man: Far From Home - last summer.  Seems like the right time to do another one.

So what's on the horizon?  Here are the movies we can be relatively sure of, although in the case of The Flash Warner Bros. is always ready to play with my emotions:

Aquaman 2 (December 2022)
Black Panther II (May 2022)
The Flash (Sometime in 2021?)
Thor: Love and Thunder (November 2021)
The Suicide Squad (August 2021)
Spider-Man: Far From Home Sequel (July 2021)
The Batman (June 2021)
Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (May 2021)
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (February 2021)
The Eternals (November 2020)
Venom 2 (October 2020)
Morbius, the Living Vampire (July 2020)
Wonder Woman 1984 (June 2020)
Black Widow (May 2020)
The New Mutants (April 2020)
Bloodshot (February 2020)
Birds of Prey (February 2020)

...and of course there are ideas/plans for other superhero movies floating around Hollywood.  If Bloodshot is successful there will be a Bloodshot 2, followed by a cinematic adaptation of Harbinger.  Of all the studios, Sony's plans are probably the most difficult to anticipate, and Warner Bros. always reserves the right to change its mind.

I'll be grouping these movies according to "Gotta See It," "Might Go See It," and "It's Streaming, Why Not?"  Under these headings I'll be listing the movies from most to least anticipated.

Gotta See It

1. The Flash

Yeah, this movie's still doubtful but I'm dying to see it.  My dying to see it has nothing to do with Ezra Miller, Justice League, or even BvS.  The Flash has always been my favorite superhero, and until proven otherwise I think a solo movie featuring him would be the greatest thing ever.  The guy who directed It: Chapter One and It: Chapter Two is on board for this (at least for the moment), and this only makes me want to see it more.

2. The New Mutants

Anya Taylor-Joy as Magick!  That's some spot-on casting right there.  I worry that after the merger Marvel Studios has retooled this movie beyond recognition, but a cinematic adaptation of the Demon Bear story could be great.  Recent developments have me wondering if it's even going to be released theatrically, but if it is I'll go see it.

3. The Eternals

I think this movie will be Marvel's attempt to add an "upper level" to their cinematic universe, and for that reason it has me intrigued.  I was never a big fan of these characters in the comics, but I'm looking forward to seeing how they connect up to the rest of the MCU.  As much as I prefer DC's New Gods, Warner Bros.' plans for that movie become even less relevant after The Eternals.

4. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness

I'm hoping this will be the mindfuck I wanted the first one to be.  It will also star Elizabeth Olson, an actress I'm happy to stare at for a couple hours.  Hopefully this movie will distance Stephen Strange even further from Tony Stark, in that he came across as "magic Iron Man" in the first movie.

5. The Batman

It should be solid.  The director has a proven track record and Robert Pattinson has been gaining indie cred for a while now.  I also like the recent addition of Paul Dano to the cast.

6. Wonder Woman 1984

The first one wasn't awesome, but I think with the mythology out of the way this one will be a lot of fun.  Patty Jenkins has directed some great movies, Gal Godot is able to carry a movie, and having Maxwell Lord as the villain is an interesting idea.

Might Go See It

1. Thor: Love and Thunder

I'll reserve judgement until I see the trailer.  Natalie Portman is one of my favorite actresses, but I found Ragnarok disappointingly jokey.  I do like the idea of Jane Foster becoming Thor though.  Again, we'll see...

2. Black Panther II

I really enjoyed the first one.  I just hope the second isn't more of the same.  Putting less of the sequel in Wakanda might be a good thing.

3. Spider-Man: Far From Home Sequel

Marvel can make another one.  I wasn't blown away by Peter Parker's European Vacation, but you just never know with Spider-Man.  There are a lot of good stories there, and maybe the next one will be better.

4. Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I love kung fu movies, but if they tie this too closely into the rest of the MCU Shang Chi is probably going to suffer by comparison.  If they keep it small, if they keep it relatively grounded, it should be good.

5. Venom 2

Woody Harrelson as Carnage!  If anyone knows how to play psychos it's Woody Harrelson.  I'm worried about first-time director Andy Serkis, but the return of Tom Hardy bodes well for this movie.  I just hope they're working from a better script.

6. Morbius, the Living Vampire

Given that Venom was surprisingly... not bad I'm intrigued by this movie.  After the Suicide Squad fiasco Jared Leto has something to prove, and he's certainly been good in a lot of good movies.  I know next to nothing about the character, but it'll be interesting to see how Sony expands the universe.

It's Streaming, Why Not?

1. Aquaman 2

I was so totally not into the first movie.  The first movie was talky, full of plot holes, and generally trying way too hard to do way too many things.  I have no reason to think the sequel will be any different.

2. Birds of Prey

The recent trailer did nothing for me.  I have the feeling this movie is for young girls, and young girls only.  Margot Robbie was excellent in I, Tonya, but I can't find a single redeeming thing about this movie to hold on to.  Huntress?  Black Mask?  Who cares?

3. The Suicide Squad

I'm not a fan of James Gunn.  I'm sure it'll be better than the first one, but better by how much?  There's an outside chance I'll go see it in the theater, but only if the reviews are stellar.

4. Black Widow

Maybe it will be awesome, but I'm not sure how this character justifies her own movie.  Nothing in the previous MCU films makes me want to see this, and Scarlett Johansson has been in plenty of bad films.

5. Bloodshot

The trailer wasn't awful but it gave too much away.  If this is awesome and the Valiant universe becomes a thing I'll be as excited as anyone.  ...but I'm not holding my breath.  

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 2019
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (9)
The Other Movie Oscars: The Late 1970s
Some Other Movies From 1978

P.S. It's kind of fun to go back and read the first of these entries, written way back in 2014.  Sometimes I was right on the money, other times I was way off.

2019年10月25日 星期五

"Cotton" (a.k.a. "The Ballad of Lee Cotton") by Christopher Wilson (2005)

"'It makes them stupid, sir?'

"'Stupid and proud of it.  Two-thirds way through the twentieth century and they're still cropping cotton, brooding over the Civil War.  And, as if they aren't retarded enough already, they chosen to pick a fight with civilization.  And what weapons have they got?'

"'What, sir?'

"'Fire, dynamite, bullets, and rage - all left over from Gettysburg.'"

The digital age just passed some authors by.  They got to a certain level of popularity - rose no higher - and then vanished into relative obscurity before anyone could sit down and write their Wikipedia page.  This author is a case in point.  I suppose I could sit down and do write that page myself, but I doubt I'll ever come across his books, and right now the only other piece of information I have is the fact he lives (lived?) in London.

Cotton is the story of Lee Cotton, a white child born to black parents in Mississippi.  Lee spends his early years negotiating Southern racial politics, and after an assault he undergoes a series of transformations which offer a unique perspective on race and gender in the United States.

As novels go it was OK I guess.  Nothing special.  The author tries very hard to be funny, but he doesn't always succeed and he never seems sure of where he's going.  In its Southern aspects this book reminded me a lot of Forrest Gump, though I've only seen the movie and for all I know it's quite different from the book that inspired it.

At any rate Cotton is very light reading and doesn't try to hard to be deep.  The author also has (had?) a talent for writing, and I'm thinking that his more recent books are probably better.

Related Entries:

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett (2009)
"The Story of My Teeth" by Valeria Luiselli (2015)
"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (2016)
"Libra" by Don Delillo (1988)

2019年10月24日 星期四

Some Other Movies From 2019

Until January 2020 this entry will be a work in progress.  At the time of writing I've seen almost all of the American wide-release movies from January to April 2019, and I plan on seeing many more before the end of the year.  I'm sure I'll be revising my opinions as I go along, so don't consider anything written here to be a final judgement unless you're reading it after January 1, 2020.


Some Good Ones

Escape Room.  The hot actress from Daredevil and some other people get trapped in a series of puzzle rooms.  A lot like the Saw movies without as much gore, but the way the rooms work is somewhat interesting.

Rust Creek.  A woman survives alone in the woods after two men attack her.  It's NOT awesome, but fairly watchable as these things go.

American Hangman.  Also not a great movie, but Donald Sutherland's in it and the film makes a few interesting points.  Why the "American" though?  Why not just call it "Hangman?"

A Dog's Way Home.  Family-friendly movie that manages to check off all the boxes.  This movie's weak point is the cgi cougar.  I get that filming an actual cougar would have been tricky, but it looks super fake.

The Upside.  Kevin Hart takes a job as a nurse working for the paraplegic Bryan Cranston.  Definitely the best movie of this month.

Glass.  M. Night Shyamalan is a lot like Quentin Tarantino for mein that his movies are usually exercises in style over substance.  This movie also has enormous plot holes.  Even so, the leads all give great performances.

Close.  Noomi Rapace stars as a personal security expert in the Middle East.  It's a solid action movie with some interesting twists.

Some Bad Ones

Replicas.  Wow this movie is so, so bad.  The science is nonsense and the plot gets more and more retarded as the minutes tick by.  Not sure why Keanu Reeves elected to star in this one.  Maybe his agent was on vacation.

The Final Wish.  Aladdin - but as a horror movie!  And yes that's just as bad as it sounds.

The Kid Who Would Be King.  Family-friendly movie centered around the legend of Camelot.  It doesn't seem to know who its audience is.

So Bad It's Good

Serenity.  As in The Beach Bum (see below), Matthew McConaughey plays a thoroughly unlikable person who does questionable things.  The plot of this movie is so amazingly contrived, the villain is so laughably evil, the telepathy subplot is so ridiculous, and the sex scene between McConaughey and Anne Hathaway is one of the cringiest things I've seen in a while.


Some Good Ones

Velvet Buzzsaw.  Subtle horror movie and less than subtle critique of the art world.  Jake Gyllenhaal is characteristically great, and I also liked Toni Colette as his friend/adversary.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.  Not as funny as the first but still good.

What Men Want.  Not nearly as good as What Women Want but alright as these "representational" movies go.  This said, Taraji P. Henson is WAY better in The Best of Enemies (below), and it also compares unfavorably to Little (also below).

Cold Pursuit.  Like a lot of people, I saw the trailer and thought "The Grey without the wolves," but as it turns out this is one of Liam Neeson's better movies.  It has a great, dark sense of humor and the script was well written.

The Prodigy.  Completely forgettable but it had potential.  A killer possesses a young boy.

Fighting With My Family.  My favorite of this month's movies.  I was ready to dismiss it as an advertisement for the WWE, but actually found myself tearing up at the ending.  Give it a chance.  You won't regret it.

Some Bad Ones

Miss Bala.  A Mexican-American woman gets kidnapped by a cartel in Mexico and is forced to join a beauty pageant.  It starts out good, but the script lacks focus.  I have no doubt that Gina Rodriguez is way better than this movie.

High Flying Bird.  Lord this movie is preachy.  Steven Soderbergh directed this look at race and politics in the NBA.  Even the most fanatical NBA fan will find it excruciating.

Isn't It Romantic.  There's nothing is quite as bad as a comedy that fails to be funny.  Rebel Wilson gives it her all, but the chuckles are few and far between.

Alita: Battle Angel.  Saw it in the theater.  Just go watch the anime.  

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.  I've never liked these movies, so it was no surprise I didn't like this one too.

So Bad It's Good

Happy Death Day 2 U.  A horror version of Groundhog Day, or Edge of Tomorrow, or whatever movie you'd like to pick wherein someone is obliged to repeat the same day over and over.  The use and abuse of scientific concepts in this movie made me smile.


Some Good Ones

Greta.  It doesn't quite stick the landing. but it'll remind you why people liked Neil Jordan, Chloe Grace Moretz and Isabelle Huppert in the first place.  Has some great scenes.

Triple Frontier.  I was surprised by how good this movie was.  Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, and several other ex-mercenaries try to rob a cartel boss in South America.  One of the best action movies of 2019.

Five Feet Apart.  Yeah it's silly, yeah it's predictable, but it's cute in the way all rom-coms should be.  Those put off by the subject matter (terminal illness) should give it a try.

The Highwaymen.  Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson try to catch Bonnie and Clyde in the midst of the Depression.  It drags toward the end but the first half is good.

Never Grow Old.  One of the best Westerns I've seen in a long time.  Emile Hirsch reminds you why he was so good in Into the Wild and John Cusack is great as the villain.  It's a very dark, brooding movie along the lines of Unforgiven.

Triple Threat.  It's silly fun.  Seeing the guy from Ong Bak and the guy from The Raid in the same movie is delightful.  The plot?  Eh, don't bother, but there are some good fight scenes.

Us.  I think Jordan Peele is overrated and this movie did nothing to change my mind.  This aside, it has an interesting premise and I think it will be remembered as one of the best horror (?) movies of the year.

Hotel Mumbai.  A lot of critics dismissed this Australian-Indian movie as exploitation.  It's definitely too long for its own britches but it does manage to build up a lot of tension.

The Dirt.  The story of Motley Crue.  A new documentary on the band would have been better, but it works well enough.  Gotta love how Grunge looms over the last half hour of this movie.

Some Bad Ones

Captain Marvel.  In my opinion the worst Marvel movie.  Brie Larson remains lifeless throughout, and I wouldn't be able to explain the plot if you put a gun to my head.  It's pure filler and nothing more.

The Kid.  Yawn.  Billy the Kid in a movie.  Again.  As much as I like Dane DeHaan and Ethan Hawke this movie was really dumb.

Wonder Park.  Family-friendly movie about a girl who creates/imagines an amusement park after the death of her mother.  This one borrows a lot from Up.  I fell asleep about thirty minutes in.

Captive State.  Political commentary masquerading as science fiction.  They Live it ain't.

The Aftermath.  God this movie is predictable.  The minute Keira Knightley meets the handsome German dude you just know they're going to end up banging each other.

Dumbo.  I tried.  I failed.

The Beach Bum.  I suppose you could view this movie as a "celebration of life" but Matthew McConaghey is so thoroughly irritating in it that the only thing I wanted to celebrate were the end credits.

So Bad It's Good

Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral.  Believe it or not, this is the first of Tyler Perry's movies I've seen.  It is so, so bad.  Kind of hypnotically bad.


Unplanned.  Anti-abortion diatribe.  You know you're in trouble when the credits list off family contributions that funded the film.



Her Smell.  Fame is a helluva drug.  I've had some experience with it via a somewhat famous relative, and I think I know enough about it to know I don't want it for myself.  Great in small doses, but poisonous in larger amounts.

Her Smell is the story of a girl rock band and their fall from grace.  The star of this movie, Elisabeth Moss, probably deserves an Oscar.  The sound design is also excellent.

Some Good Ones

Shazam!.  It's brainless fun.  I never bothered to see it a second time though.

The Best of Enemies.  It starts out well, stumbles near the middle, and picks itself up nicely near the end.  I'll watch Sam Rockwell in anything, and Taraji P. Henson is much better used in this movie.  I'm getting tired of movies/books about the Civil Rights Movement, but the relationship between Rockwell's and Henson's characters is genuinely touching.

Little.  Like What Men Want above, this is a retread with the main character's race and gender changed.  Tom Hanks was miles away from this movie, but it has a light touch and doesn't overstay its welcome.

Avengers: Endgame.  Not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, but considered as the culmination of TEN YEARS' worth of movies it's an unqualified success.  We've all seen it, so I won't bore you with the details.

The Wind.  Settlers in the Old West encounter a malevolent presence.  It starts out good but seems to lose its way halfway through.  I liked it, but concentrating on the dynamic between the two couples would have made for a better movie.

Fast Color.  A toned-down version of the X-men.  The lead actress almost holds it together, but the "abilities" they go on about could have been explained better.  The ending is also hard to buy into.

Body at Brighton Rock.  Surprisingly effective movie with some subtle nods to Italian Giallo.  It seems like some kind of 80s teen comedy throwback in the beginning, but after the body is discovered it manages genuine creepiness without resorting to gore.

I Trapped the Devil.  Less a horror movie than a meditation on the nature of evil.  SLOW, but if you're looking for something atmospheric you'll probably like it.

Penguins.  Disney documentary about - you guessed it - penguins.  Many, many animals were harmed in the making of this film.  But hey, everybody likes penguins, right?

Some Bad Ones

Pet Sematary.  As a fan of the original I was extremely disappointed.  It tries to surprise you with a certain death, but none of the characters act with any kind of rationality.

High Life.  EXTREMELY arty, extremely low budget science fiction movie about a group of prisoners trying to do... something with black holes.  Ex-vampire and future Batman Robert Pattinson stars.  Don't bother.

The Haunting of Sharon Tate.  Hilary Duff's vanity project, based on the famous murders.  Not only is it terribly written, terribly acted and terribly directed, but it's also in extremely bad taste.

The SilenceA Quiet Place ripoff starring Stanley Tucci.  If the monsters are blind and stupid, are they really such a threat to humanity?

Hellboy.  B movie from beginning to end.  Milla Jovovich in any movie is a big warning sign for me.

The Curse of La Llorona.  It LOOKS good but it made me sleepy.  Wikipedia says it's supposed to tie in with The Conjuring films, but I had no idea.

So Bad It's Good

After.  This movie clearly wasn't made for dudes like me, but it did have me laughing.  It's an adaptation of Wuthering Heights, complete with brooding British hottie and his daddy issues.  The girl's mom and would-be-ex-boyfriend are completely psycho.


I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu.  The original was NOT good.  Aside from a general fear of rape I don't understand why people keep reviving this franchise.  The actress from the original returns for this foray into cheap exploitation, and like the rednecks involved it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.  Hard pass.

Breakthrough.  CHRIST wants you to see this movie - I'm not exactly sure why.  Something something about an adopted kid almost dying.  I didn't make it to the almost dying part.  Once I hit the part with Topher Grace addressing the congregation I had to abort mission.  Get it?  "Mission?"


Some Good Ones

Brightburn.  Evil Superboy, if Superboy was from a planet of wasp-like aliens.  It wasn't terrible, but it definitely squandered a great premise.  There's some good gore in it though.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters.  After the physical and emotional onslaught that was Avengers: Endgame this was the monster movie I needed.  People who complained about it failed to register the fact that it was a monster movie.  The spectacle of giant monsters stomping cities was the entire point.

The Tomorrow Man.  John Lithgow stars as an aging survivalist who finds love in small town U.S.A.  A good movie that doesn't overstate itself.

Ma.  Easily one of the best horror movies of 2019.  Octavia Spencer and Juliette Lewis are both great in it, and even if it's on the slow side it's still excellent.

The Intruder.  Rich couple from the city buy a house from a creepy dude in the country.  It's the premise behind Pet Sematary (above) and it's also the premise behind this movie.  Dennis Quaid is creepy in it, and yeah, although formulaic, it's still better than Pet Sematary.

Always Be My Maybe.  OK, the part with Keanu Reeves is embarrassing, but the rest of this movie is solid.  The children of Asian immigrants find love despite different attitudes toward success.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.  Zac Efron does a good psychopath.  My only reservation about this Ted Bundy biopic is its length.  The courtroom scenes really are a lot longer than they need to be.

Some Bad Ones

Rocketman.  I know a lot of people loved it.  I'm also an Elton John fan.  But just not into musicals.  Sorry.

Long Shot.  Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen star in this unfunny comedy.  It's in a long tradition of comedies featuring hot women that can act and comedians who want you to think they can.  How is it this movie has an 81% score and The Tomorrow Man (above) only has a 46%?

Not There Yet!  But the Movies Below are What I Saw in Theaters!

A Bad One

Dark Phoenix.  Fox's X-Men franchise goes down in both literal, metaphorical, and computer-generated flames.  It's SO bad.  Is The New Mutants even going to appear in theaters after this debacle?


Some Good Ones

Spider-Man: Far From Home.  The plot doesn't make a great deal of sense but it's endearing in a goofy way.  For me Zendaya was the highlight of the movie.

Midsommar.  I can't say it works as a horror movie, but as a drama it succeeds.  It hints at a lot of things it never follows up on.  I freaking loved Hereditary by the way.


A Good One

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.  Leave your brain elsewhere.  Have a few beers.  Maybe invite a friend over and make some popcorn.  In that context Hobbs & Shaw is a pleasant experience.


A Good One

It: Chapter Two.  Pennywise the clown returns to small town Maine to scare the fuck out of people.  It's not as good as the first and the ending is something of a foregone conclusion, but it does generate some scares.

A Bad One

Ad Astra.  Pretentious space opera along the lines of High Life (above).  Brad Pitt tries to rescue his dad from madness and along the way physical laws are broken.  Just go see First Man.  It's way better.

So Bad It's Good

Rambo: Last Blood.  A better title would have been Rambo: Build the Wall.  At this point it's obvious that Stallone has completely lost touch with what made the character great in the first place, and in this installment he broods around and exacts vengeance - all without any police officers on either side of border lifting a finger.  The violence in the second half is so over the top (get it?  get it?) that I couldn't help but laugh.


A Good One

Joker.  Joaquin Phoenix, what can I say?  One of our time's great actors.  Director Todd Philipps also rises to the occasion, and even if it resembles films like Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy it also brings something new to the table.

Related Entries:

Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (9)
The Other Movie Oscars: The Late 1970s
Some Other Movies From 1978
Some Other Movies From 1976

2019年10月22日 星期二

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett (2009)

Is this "Chick-Lit?"  I'm pretty sure it's Chick-Lit.  Whatever it is, it's definitely not the kind of book I usually read.  But you know, sometimes dudes like me get tired of reading about artificial intelligences, sex and crime, so it can be nice to read a book like The Help.

"Rule Number One for working for a White Lady.  Minny: it is nobody's business.  You keep your nose out of your White Lady's problems, you don't go crying to her with yours - You can't pay the light bill?  Your feet are too sore?  Remember one thing: white people are not your friends.  They don't want to hear about it.  And when Miss White Lady catches her man with the lady next door, you keep out of it, you hear me?"

...and look at this handy Reader's Guide in the back of the book!  Let's discuss!  Spoiler alert: these questions and my responses to them give away a lot of the books' plot, but if, like me, you've seen the movie already there aren't any big surprises here.

1. "Who was your favorite character?  Why?"

There are three main characters in the book.  There's Skeeter, a young white woman with dreams of becoming a journalist; there's Aibileen, an older black woman who works as a maid in a white household; and there's Minny, a younger black woman who also works as a maid for a white family.  Of the three I'd pick Aibileen.  She's not as neurotic as Skeeter, and the way in which she expresses her discontent is more pragmatic.

2. "What do you think motivated Hilly?  On one hand she is terribly cruel to Aibileen and her own help, as well as to Skeeter once she realizes that she can't control her.  Yet she's a wonderful mother.  Do you think that one can be a good mother and, at the same time, a deeply flawed person?"

I'm not seeing the "wonderful mother" part in the book.  She obviously cares about her child more than Elizabeth Leefolt does, but I don't see this care as exceptional.

What do I think motivated her?  People will always feel a need to uphold the status quo, especially when they're sitting on top of the social pyramid.  Hilly might not have phrased it in such terms, but she was obviously trying to consolidate her own position.

And yes, someone can be a good mother AND a deeply flawed person.  I have personal reasons for saying so... and more than that I will not say.

3. "Like Hilly, Skeeter's mother is a prime example of someone deeply flawed yet somewhat sympathetic.  She seems to care for Skeeter - and she also seems to have very real feelings for Constantine.  Yet the ultimatum she gives Constantine is untenable, and most of her interaction with Skeeter is critical.  Do you think Skeeter's mother is a sympathetic or unsympathetic character?  Why?"

The real question is whether Skeeter's mother cares for other people as people, or whether she views them as her personal property.  In the beginning of the book it's difficult to gauge her appreciation for other people, though by the end I think she comes across as sympathetic.

4. "How much of a person's character is shaped by the times in which he or she lives?"

At a certain point answering this kind of question becomes a debate centered around nature vs. nurture, or even free will vs. predetermination.  You're also asking how much of a person's character is shaped by the times they live in, versus how much of the times they live in are shaped by their character.  I like to think that people can always take "small steps" toward the kind of world they want to live in, though the greater thrust of history - whether framed in the context of a decisive individual/leader or not - is determined more by the countless individual choices which are later interpreted as a collective will.

But perhaps that answer isn't literal enough.  OK, let's pick and number and say 80%.

5. "Did it bother you that Skeeter was willing to overlook so many of Stuart's faults so that she could get married, and that it wasn't until he literally got up and walked away that the engagement fell apart?"

No.  Anyone who hasn't been a fool for love hasn't really lived at all.

6. "Do you believe that Minny was justified in her mistrust of white people?"

Of course.  Why would she have trusted them?

7. "Do you think that had Aibileen stayed working for Miss Elizabeth, Mae Mobley would have grown up to be racist like her mother?  Do you think racism is inherent or taught?"

Again, nature vs. nurture.  I think it's very likely she would have grown up to be racist like her mother.

But is racism inherent in all people?  I think to some extent it is, though certain types of racism are strengthened by the social institutions in which people live.  People tend to think in categories, and even though race is a rather unscientific category it can - unfortunately - be a convenient way to group people.

This said, it isn't natural to think of all black people/African-Americans as "niggers."  It's also not natural to think of all "white" people as oppressors and thus more given to racism and racist thinking than other groups.  So yeah, racism in its more easily recognized/institutionalized form is taught.

8. "From the perspective of a twenty-first century reader, the hair-shellac system that Skeeter undergoes seems ludicrous.  Yet women still alter their looks in rather peculiar ways as the definition of "beauty" changes with the times.  Looking back on your past, what's the most ridiculous beauty regiment you ever underwent?"

Back in junior high I had a brief love affair with mousse and styling gel.  I really layered the stuff on.  Looking back on it now, I'm sure my hair looked gross.

9. "The author manages to paint Aibileen with a quiet grace and an aura of wisdom about her.  How do you think she does this?"

Aibileen spends most of her sections of the book talking about other people.  Minny, the only other maid who is also a main character, spends most of her sections talking about herself.  Aibileen can't help but look graceful and wise by comparison.

10. "Do you think there are still vestiges of racism in relationships in which people of color work for people who are white?"

Of course there are, at least with respect to prevailing attitudes.  I'm not sure, however, if this question refers to every instance of a colored person working for someone who is white.  This question of race is also an aspect of human behavior, so if you were going to define "vestiges of racism" as prejudice/preconception, then I suppose there are vestiges of racism is every human relationship, not just those in which colored people work for whites.

11. "What did you think about Minny's pie for Miss Hilly?  Would you have gone as far as Minny did for revenge?"

If you'll excuse the pun, this is the one part of the book I had trouble swallowing.  There is just NO WAY someone in her position would do that unless they were fixing to get lynched.  There is NO WAY Hilly would have quietly tolerated that.  We're talking about Jackson, Mississippi in the early 60s, and those white supremacist types didn't mess around.

Related Entries:

"The Story of My Teeth" by Valeria Luiselli (2015)
"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (2016)
"Libra" by Don Delillo (1988)
"Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" by Lee Child (2013)

P.S. It's a good book.  I'd recommend it.

P.P.S. The movie is good too.