2017年6月27日 星期二

"The Crystal World" by J.G. Ballard (1966)

"Radek paused, collecting his energies with an effort.  'Tatlin believes that this Hubble Effect, as they call it, is closer to a cancer than anything else - and about as curable - an actual proliferation of the the sub-atomic identity of all matter.  It's as if a sequence of displaced but identical images of the same object were being produced by refraction through a prism, but with the element of time replacing the role of light.'"

The Crystal World is the fourth of Ballard's novels, coming after The Wind From Nowhere, The Drowned World, and The Burning World.  It falls within his science fiction period, coming before more abstract works and the more historically relevant Empire of the Sun.

In the novel, a process of crystallization is slowly overtaking a patch of African jungle.  Many of the characters within the story speculate as to the ultimate cause of this crystallization process, and what this alteration of the physical landscape might portend for their personal struggles.  What is certain to all of them is that the process is irreversible.

Comparing this book to both The Wind From Nowhere and The Drowned World, I'd have to say that it's a far inferior product.  This is because it doesn't quite work in a dramatic sense, and also because the nonsensical scientific explanations for the crystallization process detract from a sense of verisimilitude that the novel would have otherwise possessed.  Most of the events set outside of the crystallization process center around two separate love triangles, in which two men compete for the love of one woman, and two women compete for the love of one man.  There is also a theme linking the crystallization process to leprosy, and this theme, which ought to have formed the backbone of the novel, is never explored in satisfactory detail.

Yet the biggest weakness of this book is how it portrays the violent conflicts between various characters.  These action scenes are incredibly disjointed, and it's hard to figure out what is going on exactly, or who's doing what to whom.  While reading through these passages, I began to reflect on the fact that Ballard was never good with such scenes, and his books are better when he avoids them entirely.

With all of the above said, The Crystal World is far from terrible.  If you're working your way through Ballard's bibliography I'd recommend it, though only after you've read his more famous books.  As for myself, I'll be on to either The Burning World or The Atrocity Exhibition soon.

2017年6月24日 星期六

Conversation with Bertrand Russell

The quotes below were taken from Bertrand Russell's essay "Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?"  This essay is part of the 1957 essay collection "Why I Am Not a Christian."

B.R.: "My own view on religion is that of Lucretius.  I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.  I cannot, however, deny that it has made some contributions to civilization.  It helped in early days to fix the calendar, and it caused Egyptian priests to chronicle eclipses with such care that in time they became able to predict them.  These two services I am prepared to acknowledge, but I do not know of any others." 

Me: I guess I'll have to take your word for it, Mr. Russell.  It's been a while since I read any Lucretius.

But I think there is a lot to be said for this "disease born of fear" bit.  Much of our impulse toward religion is born of fear, though one might argue that the same impulse, with regard to more mystical traditions, can also spring from love.  To be sure, the superstitions of prior generations have caused untold misery, but I think that one has to be alert to the superstitions held by the present generation, too.  In the wrong hands any belief system, however well-intentioned, can became superstition.  Even the Science you so stridently espouse.

And I think you ought to give Religion a little more credit.  If we consider this impulse to religion a natural part of the human character - a point that I doubt even you would argue against - then many other branches of human knowledge can be traced back to it.  Religion stands at the very beginning of human civilization, and for this reason those priest-kings you despise could also lay claim to the development of writing, agriculture, and a host of other things.  Even atheism has theism as its antecedent.

B.R.: "The worst feature of the Christian religion, however, is its attitude toward sex - an attitude so morbid and so unnatural that it can be understood only when taken in relation to the sickness of the civilized world at the time the Roman empire was decaying.  We sometimes hear talk to the effect that Christianity improved the status of women.  This is one of the greatest perversions of history that it is possible to make.  Women cannot enjoy a tolerable position in society where it is considered of the utmost importance that they should not infringe a very rigid moral code."

Me: I agree wholeheartedly, and I think that the historical argument you're making here is also sound.  There is a kind of sexual sickness at the heart of traditional Christian belief, and the type of morality advocated in the Bible - if understood and taken seriously - can do nothing but diminish the stature of women.  In this our attitudes - even those of us who claim other faiths - ought to be examined.

B.R.: "The objections to religion are of two sorts - intellectual and moral.  The intellectual reason is that there is no reason to suppose any religion true; the moral objection is that religious precepts date from a time when men were more cruel than they are and therefore tend to perpetuate inhumanities which the moral conscience of the age would otherwise outgrow."

Me: I should add that in this instance there is a difference between the "religion" you are discussing and "belief in God."  You don't make this distinction in all of your essays, but it is fairly obvious in the parts of this essay that aren't quoted here.

I'm still working out how to define "more cruel" in a historical context.  Would this be the sum of all cruelties performed during a given time?  Or over the course of a historical epoch?  And what about the role of population?  Considering that during medieval times the world's population was only a fraction of what it is now, wouldn't that mean that the sum of cruelties was smaller?  Or is it a matter of quality over quantity?  How is one to assign a greater or lesser amount of cruelty to any act?

But I think that on the whole you are pointing to the fact that the moral conscience of previous ages should belong only to previous ages, and should not be carried into future ages via scripture or established ritual traditions.  With this I would tend to agree.

B.R.: "The Christian emphasis on the individual soul has had a profound influence upon the ethics of Christian communities.  It is a doctrine fundamentally akin to that of the Stoics, arising as theirs did in communities that could no longer cherish political hopes.  The natural impulse of the vigorous person of decent character is to attempt to do good, but if he is deprived of all political power and of all opportunity to influence events, he will be deflected from his natural course and will decide that the important thing is to be good.  This is what happened to the early Christians; it led to a conception of personal holiness as something quite independent of beneficent action, since holiness had to be something that could be achieved by people who were impotent in action.  Social virtue came therefore to be excluded from Christian ethics... with this separation between the social and the moral person there went an increasing separation between soul and body..." [underline added]

Me: I think that the missionary activities of some present religious institutions speak against your charge that they lack social conscience.  In many poorer countries, in fact, the humanitarian work of such organizations overshadows that performed by other, non-religious, public or private institutions.

There is also the fact that some of your argument above isn't as novel as it first seems.  This is merely a reinterpretation of the "faith vs. works" argument that so preoccupied medieval theologians.  It was, moreover, one of the great arguments leveled at the Catholics by the early Protestants.

I like, however, the connection you're drawing between the social aspect of Christianity and the Christian idea of the soul.  This, I think, is something I haven't heard before, and I believe it's worth contemplating the inward, non-physical leanings of Christianity to the lack of social progress in many Christian settings.  Have Western societies experienced most of their social progress because of Christianity?  Or in spite of it?

B.R.: "It is amusing to hear the modern Christian telling you how mild and rationalistic Christianity really is and ignoring the fact that all its mildness and rationalism is due to the teaching of men who in their own day were persecuted by all orthodox Christians."

Me: Yes, it is.

B.R.: "Now, what is 'unrighteousness' in practice?  It is in practice behavior of a kind disliked by the herd.  By calling it unrighteousness, and by arranging an elaborate system of ethics around this conception, the herd justifies itself in wreaking punishment upon the objects of its own dislike, while at the same time, since the herd is righteous by definition, it enhances its own self-esteem at the very moment when it lets loose its impulse to cruelty."

Me: I can only say "Amen" to that.  When I think about my own life, and when I think about the moral judgments, handed down to me from "on high," I can only reflect upon the times when what is said above has been proven true.  We would like to think we moralize for the sake of improving our fellow man, but more often this trend toward moralization points toward a herd mentality, a desire to belong, a desire for self-aggrandizement, and a disposition toward cruelty.  It is a state of affairs no newer than the scapegoat mentioned in the Bible, and we are cautioned to remember that those who most often claim to be speaking for the community, and in the common interest, are often those who, in the long term, are doing anything but.

But anyway, I've got to go do something less philosophical now.  I thank you, Mr. Russell, for your time.  I've enjoyed your book, even though some of your arguments could have been made in greater detail.  Next time let's invite Mr. Sartre and Mr. Aurelius over.  It ought to be an interesting conversation.

2017年6月22日 星期四

"Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline (2011)

"When it came to my research, I never took any shortcuts.  Over the past five years, I'd worked my way down the entire recommended gunter reading list.  Douglas Adams.  Kurt Vonnegut.  Neal Stephenson.  Richard K. Morgan.  Stephen King.  Orson Scott Card.  Terry Pratchett.  Terry Brooks.  Bester, Bradbury, Haldeman, Heinlein, Tolkein, Vance, Gibson, Gaiman, Sterling, Moorcock, Scalzi, Zelazny.  I read every novel by every single one of Halliday's favorite authors.

"And I didn't stop there.

"I also watched every single film he referenced in the Almanac.  If it was one of Halliday's favorites, like WarGames, Ghostbusters, Real Genius, Better Off Dead, or Revenge of the Nerds, I rewatched it until I knew every scene by heart.

"I devoured each of what Halliday referred to as 'The Holy Trilogies': Star Wars (original and prequel trilogies, in that order), Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Mad Max, Back to the Future, and Indiana Jones (Halliday once said that he preferred to pretend the other Indiana Jones films, from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull onward, didn't exist.  I tended to agree.)

"I also absorbed the complete filmographies of each of his favorite directors.   Cameron, Gilliam, Jackson, Fincher, Kubrick, Lucas, Spielberg, Del Toro, Tarantino.  And of course, Kevin Smith."*

Ernest Cline is an American author and screenwriter.  He has written two novels, with a third novel, the sequel to Ready Player One, to be released soon.

Part ode to social anxiety, part love letter to the 1980s, Ready Player One follows a young man's quest to save a virtual world, win the girl of his dreams, and bring an evil corporation to its knees.  It is comparable in many respects to novels like The Eden Cycle or movies like The Matrix, though it lacks the existential overtones that made those two other works of fiction so memorable.

The protagonist, Wade, inhabits a world on the edge of catastrophe, wherein our supply of fossil fuels has been exhausted and most people live in crushing poverty.  Fortunately for the inhabitants of this world, they're able to retreat into a virtual world called OASIS, in which many compete for an Easter egg hidden by its creator, James Halliday.

All of which sounds interesting, though this book grows extremely masturbatory at times.  Early on it becomes obvious that both Wade and James Halliday are stand-ins for the author, and the characters' collective obsession with the 1980s is both mystifying and hard to take seriously.  

Imagine being forced to attend a convention on a movie, book series, or TV show that you don't particularly like.  Then imagine being forced to hold conversations with various attendees, all of whom can discuss little outside the subject of the convention.  It sounds boring, right?  Pretending to like something just because everyone else in the room is obsessed with it?  Well I'm sorry to say that such an experience would resemble reading this book, and would be about as pleasant.

There were a couple "real events" at the end of this novel that I liked, but compared to other, more noteworthy science fiction novels this book is only distinctive with respect to the amount of trivia it employs.  The characterizations are weak, the plot has been done better elsewhere, and the ending is entirely predictable.

I'm guessing that the film version of this book will be quite different from the novel.  If so, this will be a good thing, because only those trapped in the most self-destructive kind of 80s nostalgia will find greatness in Ready Player One.  I have faith that Spielberg will find ways to make the material better, and if the book has a strength it lies in this very fact: Ready Player One leaves a lot of room for improvement.

Related Entries:

Stranger Things, and Growing Up in the 80s 

*Just to be clear on our chronology here, not all of these people, places, and things are from the 80s.  I think the reason that many of them aren't is the fact that many of the properties the author WOULD have cited were copyrighted, and those owning the copyrights balked at their inclusion in the book.

1. The authors listed in the quote were for the most part common currency in the 80s, with the exception of Gaiman and Scalzi.  While Gaiman WAS doing UK comics in the late 80s, his run on Sandman didn't begin until the 90s, and I doubt James Halliday would have been acquainted with Gaiman's work on Judge Dredd.  Scalzi wasn't published until the late 90s.

2. The Star Wars prequel trilogy didn't appear until 1999.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy didn't hit theaters until 2001.  The first of the Matrix films wasn't released until 1999.

3. Peter Jackson DID do a couple films in the 80s: the super underground Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles.  I doubt James Halliday, then a kid living in the Midwest, would have ever heard of him until much later in his career.  David Fincher (I assume this is who's being referred to) didn't direct a feature film until Alien 3 in 1993.  Guillermo del Toro didn't direct anything until the obscure Chronos, also in 1993.  In the 80s Tarantino had only directed a single short film.  Kevin Smith wouldn't direct his first film, Clerks, until 1994.

2017年6月11日 星期日

"The Island of the Day Before" by Umberto Eco (1995)

"'Sir,' the libertine replied, 'You cannot present to us ideas that all of us consider true, then demand that we not draw from them the ultimate consequences.  I suspect that at this point we no longer need God or His infinity, because we already have enough infinities on all sides reducing us to a shadow that lasts only an instant without return.  So, then, I propose banishing all fear, and going - in a body - to the tavern.'"

Umberto Eco, when he wasn't being unbearably pretentious, was a writer and Professor of Semiotics at the University of Bologna.  He wrote 7 novels, and countless works of non-fiction.

In The Island of the Day Before, a young Italian nobleman meditates (endlessly) on the meaning of life, time, and other topics while trapped on a boat.  About 3/4 of this novel could be described as "trapped on a boat," and the remaining 1/4 could be described as "everything that happened before."

The island mentioned in the title is an island somewhere in the South Pacific, located near the "antipodal meridian," or the 180th parallel of longitude.  We might define this antipodal meridian as a kind of International Date Line, where one assumes that the island, sitting as it does on the opposite side of the line, is actually inhabiting a previous day.

All of which makes The Island of the Day Before sound like it could be a fun, lighthearted nautical adventure, but in Eco's hands it becomes a ponderous, often nonsensical diatribe consisting of obsolete philosophical topics.  The "everything that happened before" parts of the book are actually pretty good, and offer an interesting window into medieval thought, but the "trapped on a boat" portions contain so little in the way of plot twists, character development, or actual emotion that this book quickly becomes a real chore to get through.

Judged against other pretentious books like Infinite Jest, Gravity's Rainbow, or (in my opinion, the prize-winner) The Flounder, The Island of the Day Before isn't unreadable.  It just isn't very interesting.  If you liked In the Name of the Rose (as I did), you'll find some redeeming features in it, but if you struggled to get through Foucault's Pendulum (as I did), you'll find The Island of the Day Before even slower going.

2017年5月31日 星期三

The 10 Most Classic (American) Gangster Movies

I am displaying my own bias/prejudice here, but I don't think a gangster movie is really and gangster movie unless it's a) set at least partially in America, b) centers around criminal activity in America, and c) was made by group of people who were (at least) mostly American.

All other films are foreign, and thus immediately suspect.  (I kid, I kid...)  But as great as movies like A Better Tomorrow and Eastern Promises are, I have a hard time seeing them as gangster movies in the way that The Godfather is a gangster movie.  Gangster movies are, I think, among the most American of film genres, and I'd like to keep the following list as "American" as possible.

This said, and in no particular order, I present:

1. The Godfather I and II (of course) (1972 and 1974)

Synopsis: Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and featuring a cast of actors who would become household names, The Godfather Parts I and II tell the story of the Corleone family and their rise to power.

Despite the fact that I like some of the movies on this list more than either of The Godfather movies (don't bother with Part III), it has to be first on any list of gangster films.  Why?  Because the others simply wouldn't exist without it.*

Best Scene: Michael Corleone getting payback for the attempt on his father's life.

Six Degrees of Gangster: James Caan would go on to star in Thief, another great gangster movie.  Al Pacino would star in Scarface and Heat, also listed below.  Robert De Niro, who played Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II, appeared in 5 out of the 10 movies on this list.

Fun Fact: The book by Mario Puzo is great, too.  Around the same time Puzo wrote the script for the disaster film Earthquake! starring Charlton Heston.

2. Goodfellas (1990)

Synopsis: Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Ray Liotta and Robert DeNiro, this movie focuses on the struggles of two half-castes within the Italian Mafia.

Best Scene: A lot of people would probably say it's Pesci's "What, do I amuse you?" moment, but I think the "shoeshine box" argument is even better.  This movie is full of so many iconic scenes that it's hard to pick just one.

Six Degrees of Gangster: Joe Pesci would go on to star in Casino with Robert De Niro.  Ray Liotta costarred with Sylvester Stallone and De Niro in Cop Land.

Fun Fact: Pesci's "What, do I amuse you?" scene was improvised, and was based on a confrontation he'd had with a real-life mobster years before.

3. The Departed (2006)

Synopsis: Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, this might just be the greatest gangster movie of all time.  In terms of sheer watchability, I'd put this story of Irish mobsters above even Goodfellas and The Godfather. 

Best Scene: Wahlberg and Sheen interviewing DiCaprio for his undercover assignment.

Six Degrees of Gangster: Robert Wahlberg, brother of Mark, who appears in this movie as FBI agent Frank Lazio, has also appeared in several other gangster movies of his own.  And speaking of Mark, he's also good in We Own the Night, which also features a great performance by Joaquin Phoenix.

Fun Fact:This movie started out as a remake of the Hong Kong gangster movie, Infernal Affairs.

4. American Gangster (2007)

Synopsis: Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Denzel Washington, this movie details the rise an fall of Frank Lucas, the most ruthless of Harlem's drug dealers.  It's on the long side (the unrated version is 3 hours long), but despite a weak ending it features a great cast, some terrific acting, and some classic scenes.

Best Scene: Denzel Washington gunning down Idris Elba in front of dozens of bystanders.

Six Degrees of Gangster: Denzel also appeared in Training Day, which is #10 below.

Fun Fact: Antoine Fuqua, who would later direct Denzel Washington in Training Day, was signed on to direct this movie before Ridley Scott took over.

5. Casino (1995)

Synopsis: Martin Scorsese directed this operatic take on the less-than-reputable origins of Las Vegas.  As much as I like Pesci and De Niro on Goodfellas, I think the interplay between these two aand Sharon Stone makes Casino even better.

Best Scene: Pesci again, telling the banker what he'll do to him if he doesn't get his money back. 

Six Degrees of Gangster: Martin Scorsese directed three out of the ten movies listed here.

Fun Fact: Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, the real-life gambler who served as the basis for Robert DeNiro's character, had the right of approval over Nicholas Pileggi's script.

6. Mystic River (2003)

Synopsis: Clint Eastwood directed this story of three boyhood friends bound together by tragedy.  Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Tim Robbins star.  It's not as flashy as the other movies here, but it packs a wallop.

Best Scene: The weird, creepy conversation Sean Penn has with his wife at the end of the movie.

Six Degrees of Gangster: Strange as it may seem, I can't think of a single other gangster movie in which Kevin Bacon has appeared.  Sean Penn, however, also plays the heavy in Gangster Squad, and Marcia Gay Harden, who plays Tim Robbins' wife, appears in Miller's Crossing.  Laurence Fishburne plays another great gangster in Deep Cover.

Fun Fact: Sean Penn won Best Actor, and Tim Robbins won Best Supporting Actor for this movie.

7. Scarface (1983)

Synopsis: Directed by Brian DePalma, with Al Pacino starring as a Cuban refugee who sets himself up as a drug lord in Miami.  The 80s syth-heavy soundtrack hasn't aged well, but it's as close as gangster movies come to Greek tragedy.  See the extended version if you can.  The extra hour adds a lot to the movie.

Best Scene: The chainsaw interrogation.  The only scene more over-the-top is the "vice scene" in Casino.

Six Degrees of Gangster: Al Pacino has appeared in A LOT of gangster movies.  Robert Loggia (who passed away a couple years ago) also appeared with Jack Nicholson in Prizzi's Honor.

Fun Fact: Many members of Miami's Cuban community were offended by the very idea of this movie, and protested its production in that area.  Some even claimed that it was being financed by Fidel Castro.

8. Gangster Squad (2013)

Synopsis: Directed by Ruben Fleischer and starring Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling, this film centers around a special police unit trying to take down gangster Mickey Cohen in 1940s-era Los Angeles.

Best Scene: The beatdown Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) receives at the end.  Hell yeah.

Six Degrees of Gangster:  Josh Brolin also appeared in American Gangster as a corrupt cop.  He was also great in both Inherent Vice and Sicario.

Fun Fact: In real life, Mickey Cohen would go to prison for tax evasion.  He was charged in 1951 and 1961, without a fistfight ever occurring.

9. Heat (1995)

Synopsis: Michael Mann directed this story of an armored car robbery gone wrong.  Al Pacino stars as a detective trying to capture Robert De Niro.  It's a very stylized, very austere sort of movie, with a great performance by Val Kilmer.

Best Scene: DeNiro and Pacino talking in the coffee shop.  Some of the best acting you'll ever see.

Six Degrees of Gangster: Robert De Niro and Al Pacino's resumes speak for themselves.  Tom Sizemore, who plays a member of DeNiro's crew, also appeared in True Romance.  Michael Mann also directed Thief, Collateral, and Public Enemies.

Fun Fact: De Niro and Pacino did that coffee shop scene without rehearsing.

10. Training Day (2001)

Synopsis: Directed by Antoine Fuqua, Training Day stars Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke as a pair of narcotics officers.  This movie has to be the worst first day on the job ever.

Best Scene: The part where Washington abandons Hawke in the house full of gangsters.

Six Degrees of Gangster: Real-life former gangsters Snoop Dogg and Doctor Dre appear in this movie.

Fun Fact: Antoine Fuqua would go on to direct Ethan Hawke again in Brooklyn's Finest, a very underrated film.

Honorable Mentions: Road to Perdition, Thief, End of Watch, Miller's Crossing, Day of Atonement, Boyz in the Hood, Deep Cover, American Me, The French Connection, Sicario, Brooklyn's Finest, We Own the Night, The Untouchables, Donnie Brasco, The Dark Knight, The Town, Gangs of New York, Cop Land, Inherent Vice, New Jack City, The King of New York, Bugsy, Colors, Blow, Ghost Dog, and American Hustle.  

...and there are probably a hundred other movies that have escaped my mind!

*The book is great, too, and features a whole other character that isn't present in the movies.

2017年5月30日 星期二

A Review of Every DC Movie from 2005 to the Present (Revised as of May 30, 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 Spacy 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)

The 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 just 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 is the one I've been waiting for.  Probably a bit slow - or even too dark - for some, but I loved it.  The extra 1/2 star is for the Ultimate Edition, which improves upon the theatrical cut.  This is DC done well.

29. Suicide Squad (2016)*

I was disappointed by this one.  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 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.

On the Way  

31. Justice League (2017)

Having set up the general premise in Batman v. Superman, Warner Bros. will introduce this superhero team to the big screen.  Confirmed members are Batman, Superman (?), Wonder Woman, Cyborg, the Flash, and Aquaman.  Zack Snyder has recently stepped down as director, and Joss Whedon (!) is conducting reshoots.

32. The Flash (?)

Ezra Miller will play the Flash.  He's already appeared briefly in both Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad (and also the Justice League footage).  This movie has been in developmental limbo for a while now, and the 2018 release date is doubtful.

33. Aquaman (2018)

Jason Momoa will play Aquaman.  James Wan is directing.  He has stated that it will be more "fun" than Batman v. Superman.

34.  Shazam (2019?)

The Rock (OK, Dwayne Johnson) has already been cast as Black Adam.

35. Justice League Part 2 (?)

...so not only are we getting the second Avengers film, but we're also getting a second Justice League film in the same year.  It boggles the mind.  The date of this film was pushed back to accommodate The Batman.

36. Cyborg (2020)

Ray Fisher has already been cast as Cyborg.  He appears in Batman v. Superman for a moment.  A scientist creates him with the aid of a Mother Box.

37. Green Lantern Corps (2020)

Some conceptual art for this film appeared at the SDCC.  As for the rest, your guess is as good as mine!

38. Justice League Dark (?)

Doug Liman dropped out as director.  As of now they're still writing the script.

39. The Batman (?)

Ben Affleck is still on board, though the studio is taking their time with it.  An appearance by Deathstroke seems likely.

40. Other Projects

Superman/Man of Steel II, a Suicide Squad sequel, Gotham City Sirens, Black Adam, Nightwing, and Batgirl have all been discussed at one time or another.  At the time of writing Batgirl seems most likely to happen, given that Joss Whedon is actively involved with Justice League.