2014年6月23日 星期一

2014年6月20日 星期五

Movies: My Top 10 Lists

Top 10 Comic Book Movies

1. The Dark Knight
2. Iron Man
3. The Incredible Hulk
4. X-men: Days of Future Past
5. Spider-Man 2
6. Watchmen
7. Superman
8. Sin City
9. Thor: The Dark World
10. Blade II

Top 10 Horror Movies

1. The Exorcist
2. The Thing (John Carpenter's version)
3. The Fly (David Cronenberg's version)
4.  Maniac (remake)
5. Aliens
6. Event Horizon
7. Audition
8. Martyrs
9. Se7en
10. The Shining

Top 10 Science Fiction Movies

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2. Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan
3. The Empire Strikes Back
4. Dune
5. 12 Monkeys
6. The Adjustment Bureau
7. Blade Runner
8. The Matrix
9. Dark City
10. Fantastic Planet 

Top 10 Movies of the Early 1980s

1. Raging Bull
2. The Shining
3. Raiders of the Lost Ark
4. Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan
5. Tron
6. The Thing
7. Scarface
8. Videodrome
9. Amadeus
10. This is Spinal Tap 

Top 10 Movies of the Late 1980s

1. Pale Rider
2. Aliens
3. Armor of God
4. Blue Velvet
5. The Fly
6. Stand By Me
7. The Last Emperor
8. Full Metal Jacket
9. Prince of Darkness
10. The Last Temptation of Christ 

Top 10 Movies of the Early 1990s

1. Dances With Wolves
2. Goodfellas
3. The Silence of the Lambs
4. The Doors
5. Unforgiven
6. A River Runs Through It
7. Malcolm X
8. Bad Lieutenant
9. Schindler's List
10. The Man Without a Face

Top 10 Movies of the Late 1990s

1. Braveheart
2. Leaving Las Vegas
3. Trainspotting
4. Fargo
5. Sling Blade
6. Boogie Nights
7. The Apostle
8. The Thin Red Line
9. The Matrix
10. Audition 

Top 10 Movies of the Early 2000s

1. Cast Away
2. The Ninth Gate
3. Training Day
4. A.I. Artificial Intelligence
5. Adaptation
6. 8 Mile
7. Solaris
8. Monster
9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (remake)
10. Million Dollar Baby

Top 10 Movies of the Late 2000s

1. War of the Worlds
2. Sin City
3. The Departed
4. Borat
5. The Prestige
6. Rocky Balboa
7. Sunshine
8. The Wrestler
9. Changeling
10. Precious

Top 10 Movies of the Early 2010s (so far)

1. Inception
2. The Company Men
3. The Adjustment Bureau
4. The Master
5. Argo
6. Broken City
7. Prisoners
8. Dallas Buyers Club
9. The Wolf of Wall Street
10. August: Osage County

2014年6月19日 星期四

Movies of the Early 2010s

I will not attempt to put this era into any kind of historical context, since it isn't over yet.  Only the future can put the present into proper context.

This overview is also incomplete, since I am writing it in June 2014, only half way through the last year discussed below.

Biggest Movies of 2010: Toy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Inception, Shrek Forever After, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Iron Man 2, Tangled, Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon

Inception is a great movie.  Maybe Christopher Nolan's best. 

Honorable Mentions: The King's Speech, Black Swan, The Fighter, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Book of Eli, Edge of Darkness, Shutter Island, Brooklyn's Finest, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Losers, The Human Centipede (First Sequence), A Nightmare on Elm Street, Get Him to the Greek, Predators, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, Machete, The Town, Red, Due Date, I Love You Philip Morris, True Grit

Black Swan is an excellent film.  Perhaps the best film of that year.

I know a few people who can't stand the idea of the Human Centipede movies, but I liked this film.  Dieter Laser is super creepy.

I Love You Philip Morris was overlooked at the time, but it is one of the few Jim Carrey vehicles in which he's not completely irritating.

Biggest Movies of 2011: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Kung Fu Panda 2, Fast Five, The Hangover Part II, The Smurfs, Cars 2

None of these movies are very good, though Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol was alright.  With the exception of The Smurfs, all the other blockbusters of 2011 were sequels.

Honorable Mentions: Barney's Version, The Company Men, The Adjustment Bureau, Limitless, Source Code, The King's Speech, X-men: First Class, Super 8, Bad Teacher, Larry Crowne, Horrible Bosses, Captain America: The First Avenger, Crazy Stupid Love, Contagion, Moneyball, The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence), Tower Heist, The Descendants, A Dangerous Method, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I found The Company Men particularly moving.  I was in the States when the economic implosion was well underway, and this movie reminded me of many things from that time.

The Adjustment Bureau is a great film.  

I didn't think I'd like Moneyball (I'm not a baseball fan), but I liked this one a lot.

The Descendants is an excellent film starring George Clooney.

A Dangerous Method is one of the lesser-known movies from that year.  It is another Cronenberg picture.

Biggest Movies of 2012: The Avengers, Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Ice Age: Continental Drift, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2, The Amazing Spider-Man, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, The Hunger Games, Men in Black 3

Judged by its blockbusters, it was a good year for film.  The Avengers, Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Men in Black 3 were all very watchable.

In case you were somehow incapacitated, The Avengers was a very popular film.

Honorable Mentions: Haywire, The Cabin in the Woods, The Dictator, Antiviral, Prometheus, Searching for Sugar Man, The Master, End of Watch, Argo, Wreck-It Ralph, Silver Linings Playbook, Killing Them Softly, Promised Land

I really liked Haywire.  That actress should feature in a Wonder Woman film (if one ever gets made).  I realize that another actress (Gal Gadot) has already been cast in this role for the Batman V. Superman film, but the woman from Haywire would be so much better.

Antiviral introduces a future where we're all dying to get the most famous disease.

Prometheus isn't that good, but there's some good gore in it.  I'm hoping the sequel will be better thought out. 

I've seen The Master many times.  I've always been fascinated by L. Ron Hubbard, and the performances in this movie were exceptional.

Argo was a terrific film, based on real events.  Affleck won the Oscar for it, and I think his win was well-deserved.  This film, and the film it is about, has a fascinating backstory.

Anyone who grew up in the 80s will find a lot to like in Wreck-It Ralph.

Biggest Movies of 2013: Frozen, Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Fast and Furious 6, Monsters University, Gravity, Man of Steel, Thor: The Dark World

Iron Man 3 wasn't very good.  What?  Is he Tony Stark or Jackie Chan?

I liked Gravity, but anyone who raves about that movie should see Apollo 13.  I think that as a story of space survival, the latter movie has much more to offer.

Thor: The Dark World was a vast improvement over the first Thor.  I am eagerly awaiting Thor 3. 

Honorable Mentions: Gangster Squad, Broken City, Evil Dead, Oblivion, Pain & Gain, The Purge, Jodorowsky's Dune, Only God Forgives, This is the End, The Bling Ring, The Wolverine, Jobs, Rush, Prisoners, Captain Philips, 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers' Club, Philomena, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Her, The Wolf of Wall Street, August: Osage County

Gangster Squad and Broken City are in some ways very similar movies that would go well together.  That scene where Mark Wahlberg finds out the truth about his girlfriend really hit me in the chest.

Many despise the Evil Dead remake.  I don't.  Honestly, the original wasn't that good anyway.

Jodorowsky's Dune is a documentary about the greatest science fiction movie never made.  I don't agree with the conclusion drawn by the film makers, but it's still interesting.

That bar confrontation in Only God Forgives is so over-the-top it's worth seeing.  That is one policeman I wouldn't want to fuck with.

Prisoners features Hugh Jackman and Jack Gyllenhaal.  It's a great (and at times profound) movie.

The Wolf of Wall Street has some truly hilarious scenes.

August: Osage County is one of the best movies to come along in years.  Meryl Streep deserved another Oscar for that one. 

Biggest Movies of 2014 (so far): Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-men: Days of Future Past, Rio 2, The Lego Movie, Maleficent, Godzilla, Noah, 300: Rise of an Empire, Divergent

I thought Captain America 2 was good, but not as good as some made it out to be.  That movie was just trying too hard to make a point.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was decent but forgettable.  Too much CGI for my taste.

I think X-men: Days of Future Past was one of the best superhero movies ever.  I say this as someone who was not a big fan of previous installments.

The Lego Movie is the most hyperactive movie I've ever seen, and that's saying a lot.

Godzilla is terrible.  It is so terrible it makes the Roland Emmerich version look good.

I'd like to see Noah, though judging by the previews I don't think I'll like it as much as other films by Darren Aronofsky.

Honorable Mentions: Edge of Tomorrow, Cesar Chavez, Robocop

I thought Edge of Tomorrow was quite good.  Not spectacular, mind you, but good.  Who doesn't want to see Tom Cruise killed over and over again? 

Cezar Chavez is a good movie, but it's not great.  It seems to me that it could have touched more upon contemporary themes, and upon problems that continue to plague our society today.  As it is, it gets bogged down in the details of Chavez's life.

The Robocop remake could have been much better.  I think that if they'd dispensed with the family drama, they might have made a much deeper film.  The scene where Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman discuss whether he's a man who thinks he's a machine or a machine that thinks its a man could have been expanded upon, to much greater effect.

2014年6月18日 星期三

Movies of the Late 2000s

In 2005 I moved to the city in Taiwan where I still reside.  I began working at a Junior High School, and also teaching some university classes.  The younger of my two daughters was born the same year.

In 2007 I attempted to move back to the United States, only to have that attempt end in failure.  After living and working in Taiwan for so long, I found life in America confining... and difficult... and depressing.  We moved back to Taiwan in 2008, and after that I began work in the elementary school where I am still a teacher.

It's difficult to pinpoint a defining moment in this era.  Perhaps not enough time has passed between those years and 2014.  America's economy continued to struggle, the US grew steadily more embroiled in both its War on Terror and its dependence on Chinese manufacturing, and Barack Obama was elected president.

Biggest Movies of 2005: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Star Wars III: The Revenge of the Sith, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, War of the Worlds, King Kong, Madagascar, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Batman Begins, Hitch

War of the Worlds, King Kong, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Batman Begins were good blockbusters from that year.  King Kong was a bit too long, but I liked it much better than Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies.

I really don't understand how people can sit through the Star Wars prequels.  They are all so terrible.  Ditto for Harry Potter. 

Honorable Mentions: Brokeback Mountain, Walk the Line, Crash, Capote, Transamerica, Cinderella Man, Syriana, Unleashed, Constantine, The Jacket, Sin City, Fantastic Four, The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Good Night, and Good Luck, Lord of War, A History of Violence, North Country, Jarhead, The Ice Harvest, Munich

Crash is a film by David Cronenberg.  It is about people who get turned on by automobile accidents.  Definitely worth seeing.

Transamerica is about a man in the process of becoming a woman.  This film was overlooked at the time, perhaps because of the somewhat formulaic road trip plot structure.

I think Unleashed is Jet Li's best movie.  That fight at the end is great.

Sin City was (and is) freaking AWESOME.  I've seen that movie so many times.

I believe that The 40 Year-Old Virgin was the most talked-about move from that year.  Everyone I knew loved it. 

Biggest Movies of 2006: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, The Da Vinci Code, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Casino Royale, Night at the Museum, Cars, X-men: The Last Stand, Mission Impossible III, Superman Returns, Happy Feet

Casino Royale was a fantastic movie.  This was 007 as I always wanted to see him.  Superman Returns wasn't bad.

X-men: The Last Stand has to be one of the worst superhero movies ever made.  A truly abysmal effort. 

Honorable Mentions: Babel, The Departed, United 93, Borat, The Last King of Scotland, The Devil Wears Prada, Hostel, Glory Road, The Hills Have Eyes, V for Vendetta, Inside Man, The Descent, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Idiocracy, The Black Dahlia, All the King's Men, The Prestige, Stranger Than Fiction, Let's Go to Prison, The Fountain, Apocalypto, Blood Diamond, The Pursuit of Happyness, Rocky Balboa, Children of Men

I have seen The Departed so many fucking times.  I just can't get tired of that movie.

The Last King of Scotland was an excellent movie.  Forrest Whitaker deserved the Oscar he won for it.

The remake of The Hills Have Eyes restored my faith in horror movies.  The director, Alexandre Aja, is one of the directors often grouped within "The New French Extremity."

Talladega Nights marks the point where Will Ferrell became a household name.  This movie and the few that followed were all hilarious, culminating in Step Brothers, which came out two years later.

Idiocracy is another of those movies that I can watch over and over again.  Modern life often descends to the level of that movie.

Let's Go to Prison is an overlooked comedy.  I didn't think it was that funny the first time I saw it, but it really grew on me.

Rocky Balboa is a tremendous guy film.  I have that speech he delivers to his son nearly memorized. 

Biggest Movies of 2007: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Transformers, Ratatouille, I Am Legend, The Simpsons Movie, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, 300

The only good movie listed above is The Simpsons Movie.  All the rest are crap.  300 might be a stylistic victory, but it throws historical accuracy into the trashcan. 

Honorable Mentions: No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Gone Baby Gone, American Gangster, Smokin' Aces, Black Snake Moan, Zodiac, Reign Over Me, Blades of Glory, Sicko, Rescue Dawn, Sunshine, The Bourne Ultimatum, Hot Rod, Superbad, 3:10 to Yuma, Eastern Promises, In the Valley of Elah, We Own the Night, 30 Days of Night, Charlie Wilson's War, The Bucket List

There Will Be Blood is one of my favorite movies.  Daniel Day-Lewis is terrific in it.  I like Javier Bardem's performance in No Country for Old Men almost as much.

Gone Baby Gone is the first film directed by Ben Affleck, who went on to win the Oscar for Argo.  Affleck is also present in Smokin' Aces, which is a very good movie.

Sicko is a documentary about the American health care system by Michael Moore.  One of his less preachy movies.  Quite good, too.

Rescue Dawn pairs the legendary Werner Herzog with Christian Bale.  Sadly overlooked at the time.

Sunshine is an great science fiction movie, somewhat reminiscent of the earlier Event Horizon.

Superbad is hilarious.

Eastern Promises is another Cronenberg film.  This one follows the doings of the Russian Mafia in England.  Viggo Mortenson is riveting as one of the Russian gangsters. 

Biggest Movies of 2008: The Dark Knight, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Kung Fu Panda, Hancock, Mamma Mia!, Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa, Quantum of Solace, Iron Man, WALL-E, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Hell yes the Dark Knight.  Quite possibly the best comic book movie ever.

Iron Man was another great comic book movie, though in my opinion not as good as The Dark Knight.

Of the above-listed movies, I'd rank WALL-E third.  It's a cute film, and it also has a lot to say.

Honorable Mentions: Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, The Wrestler, Cloverfield, Rambo, The Other Boleyn Girl, Stop-Loss, Street Kings, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Speed Racer, The Incredible Hulk, Boy A, Step Brothers, Mirrors, Bangkok Dangerous, Burn After Reading, Lakeview Terrace, Changeling, Frost/Nixon, Gran Torino, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Wrestler is another all-time favorite.  Between Sin City and this movie, Mickey Rourke was experiencing a career revival.

A lot of people are down on Speed Racer, but I liked it.  Yes, it's hyperactive.  Yes, the colors can give you a headache.  But that was the point, wasn't it?

The Incredible Hulk might be my favorite of the Marvel Studios films.  It's a little bit dark, but I think that works.  Edward Norton is still my favorite Bruce Banner.

Andrew Garfield, who would go on to fame and fortune as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, is excellent in Boy A.

I have the dialogue from Step Brothers nearly memorized.  Possibly Will Ferrell's best movie. 

Biggest Movies of 2009: Avatar, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, 2012, Up, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Sherlock Holmes, Angels and Demons, The Hangover

Avatar was a good movie, even if much of the plot was borrowed from Frank Herbert's "The Jesus Incident" and the short story "They Call Me Joe."

The appeal of the Transformers movies is lost on me.

Sherlock Holmes is good.  I also liked the sequel.  Perhaps not in keeping with the original stories, but a good update nevertheless.

I liked The Hangover (it was the best of the three by far), but I don't think it deserved to make that much money.

Honorable Mentions: The Hurt Locker, Precious, Up in the Air, Taken, The International, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Watchmen, Observe and Report, Star Trek, Bruno, Ong Bak 2: The Beginning, The Box, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Precious is a movie everyone should see.  The book is also great.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil is a documentary about an aging Canadian metal band.  If you liked Spinal Tap, you really should see this one.

Watchmen remains the peak of Zack Snyder's career.  I didn't care that much for Man of Steel, not to mention Sucker Punch.

Bruno is hilarious.

The Box is a horror movie.  Very atmospheric and worth seeing.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans features Nicholas Cage.  It was also directed by the eminent Werner Herzog.  This is actually another version of Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant, a movie featuring Harvey Keitel.  Ferrara was reportedly furious that Herzog had dared to "remake" his movie, but I think both films are good.

2014年6月16日 星期一

"Nemesis" by Philip Roth (2010)

"They all joined the rabbi in reciting the mourner's prayer, praising God's almightiness, praising extravagantly, unstintingly, the very God who allowed everything, including children, to be destroyed by death.  Between the death of Alan Michaels and the communal recitation of the God-glorifying Kadish, Alan's family had had an interlude of some twenty-four hours to hate and loathe God for what He had inflicted upon them - not, of course, that it would have occurred to them to respond like that to Alan's death, and certainly not without fearing to incur God's wrath, prompting Him to wrest Larry and Lenny Michaels from them next."

Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1997 novel, "American Pastoral."  He has also written many other notable books, some of which have been adapted into movies.  After his recent announcement that he wishes to retire from writing at age 81, "Nemesis" became the last entry in his bibliography.

"Nemesis" is the story of a polio outbreak in and around Newark, New Jersey during World War II.  Much of this outbreak is viewed from the perspective of Bucky Cantor, a playground director and recent college graduate.  The outbreak begins in Bucky's neighborhood, which sees a disproportionate number of cases, and follows many of Bucky's students beyond the confines of their small community.

"Nemesis" is a great book, and much more accessible than some of Roth's other, weightier tomes.  While it didn't hit me as hard as "American Pastoral," it demonstrates a cohesiveness that was absent from that larger, more verbose work.  It is also less depressing than "The Humbling," which I also read not long ago.

My only complaint is that the conclusion of the book is somewhat unsatisfying.  It's almost as if there are two endings to the book, one next to the other.  In one ending we see the narrator confront and question an older Bucky over the course his life has taken, and in the other ending we see Bucky as a young man, in the prime of his youth, passing on to his students a love of sport, which is in some respects a larger love for life.  Either of these endings would have been perfectly satisfactory, but putting them together diminishes their respective impact.  It's almost as if Roth felt the second ending wasn't enough, and later added the more introspective "interview" portion to make the book seem more important, or its theme more universal.

Nevertheless, I would highly recommend this novel.  It is certainly one of the best books I've read in a long time.  And don't be put off by the fact that I have seemingly revealed the ending above.  The true ending - the conclusion you reach alongside the narrator - is something much deeper than the circumstances that surround this conclusion.

2014年6月12日 星期四

Movies of the Early 2000s

In 2000 I was 25 years old, and in 2004 I was 29.  I spent the first three of these years in Taiwan, and the last two in the USA.  I also got married and became a father.

I suppose the defining moments of these years were the bursting of the dot-com bubble and 9/11.  Post-WWII America, previously an unchallenged economic superpower, went into a serious depression that the George Bush presidency did little to alleviate.  Many trade barriers between the US and China were lifted, with the result that China became what it is today: the center of world manufacturing.  The paranoia following 9/11 didn't help matters any, nor did the subsequent Iraq War/Invasion.  While allowing the economy to coast downhill, the Bush administration all but repealed many individual freedoms and rights to privacy in the name of security.  Our enemies, it seemed, were everywhere, and the price of our vigilance was our own freedom.

Biggest Movies of 2000: Mission: Impossible II, Gladiator, Cast Away, What Women Want, Dinosaur, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Meet the Parents, The Perfect Storm, X-men, What Lies Beneath

Gladiator, Cast Away, and Meet the Parents were good movies.  Cast Away is probably my favorite among the hits of that year.

The second Mission: Impossible was a terrible movie.  I really wanted to like that one, since it shared the same director with Face/Off, but it was a disaster from beginning to end.

The first X-men film wasn't very good, but it was nice to see them finally make a movie out of that comic book.  This was perhaps the beginning of the superhero movie fad, which would really pick up steam with 2008's Iron Man.  Two years later Sam Raimi's Spider-Man would appear, and after that Ang Lee's Hulk, and after that the floodgates were truly open.

Honorable Mentions: Traffic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Billy Elliot, Girlfight, The Beach, Pitch Black, The Ninth Gate, American Psycho, The Cell, Remember the Titans, Men of Honor, Unbreakable, Chocolat, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Family Man

Traffic was an excellent movie about the drug trade.  The Ninth Gate and American Psycho were two other classics from this year.  Of the three films, The Ninth Gate is probably the most overlooked.  It offers a moody, atmospheric story of a man searching for a lost book.

The Cell and Unbreakable were not in the same league as the other movies listed above, but I thought they explored some interesting ideas. 

Biggest Movies of 2001: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, Monsters, Inc., Shrek, Ocean's Eleven, Pearl Harbor, The Mummy Returns, Jurassic Park III, Planet of the Apes, Hannibal

Harry Potter!  I still hate those movies.  I probably always will.

The first Lord of the Rings film was good, and relatively faithful to the book.  I take issue with subsequent installments in the series.  Those subsequent installments bear little resemblance to Tolkein's creation, and are quite boring besides.

Kind of a depressing year if one were to judge it by the blockbusters.  The forgettable Ocean's Eleven was probably the best of the bunch, and even that wasn't very good. 

Honorable Mentions: A Beautiful Mind, Training Day, Monster's Ball, Memento, The Pledge, Blow, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, America's Sweethearts, Zoolander, From Hell, K-Pax, Shallow Hal

Training Day is a great cop movie.  Both Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington are amazing in it.  This movie spawned a slew of imitators.

Monster's Ball offers yet another reason to hate Billy Bob Thornton - he spends a large part of it having sex with the super hot Halle Berry.  I don't know if that sex was simulated or not, but it sure looked real enough to me.

Memento is an excellent movie, and one of Christopher Nolan's first.  Guy Pierce stars as a man with some serious memory issues.

A.I. is one of my favorite science fiction movies.  I know people who can't stand it, but I think it offers the best of both Kubrick and Spielberg.

I have seen Zoolander so many times.

Biggest Movies of 2002: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Spider-Man, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Men in Black II, Die Another Day, Signs, Ice Age, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Minority Report

The best movie here is Minority Report.  A good combination of Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg, utilizing a story idea from the great Philip K. Dick.  Certainly one of the best movie adaptations of a PKD story.

I can remember being very disappointed by Spider-Man.  I thought Tobey Maguire was good as Spider-Man, but the Green Goblin looked ridiculous and the movie seemed too long.  The sequel was a vast improvement. 

Honorable Mentions: The Hours, The Pianist, Catch Me if You Can, Gangs of New York, About Schmidt, Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Frida, Kung Pow! Enter the Fist, John Q, The Time Machine, Resident Evil, Blade II, Ali G Indahouse, The Bourne Identity, Road to Perdition, One Hour Photo, 8 Mile, Solaris

Which is the best movie about the Holocaust?  The Pianist or Schindler's List?  It's a tough call, but I'd have to go with Schindler's List.  The Pianist is excellent however.

This year marks the point at which Leonardo DiCaprio's career really started to pick up steam.  He stars in both Catch Me if You Can and Gangs of New York.  Both good films.

Adaptation is one of Nicholas Cage's best movies.  It is the kind of movie he should do more often.  At his age, and with his level of talent, he should do more serious movies.

Blade II is still one of the best superhero movies ever.

One Hour Photo is a less-remembered movie from that year, but Robin Williams is good in it.  This would make an excellent double feature with another of his films, The Final Cut, or even the film he did later with Christopher Nolan, Insomnia. 

Biggest Movies of 2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Finding Nemo, The Matrix Reloaded, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Bruce Almighty, The Last Samurai, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, The Matrix Revolutions, X2, Bad Boys II

The Matrix Reloaded was a disappointment.  They should have left the Matrix alone.  It didn't need a sequel.  The Matrix Revolutions was slightly better, but it also appropriated elements from Frank Herbert's Dune Messiah, and never gave him credit.

The Last Samurai, another Tom Cruise picture, was probably the best of the hits from this year. 

Honorable Mentions: Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Monster, Dark Blue, Old School, Hulk, Bend it Like Beckham, Cabin Fever, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, The Rundown, Intolerable Cruelty, Kill Bill Vol. 1, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Elf, Bad Santa,

Mystic River and Monster are both excellent movies.  I believe Charlize Theron won the Oscar for Monster, and she certainly deserved it.  Clint Eastwood directed Sean Penn in Mystic River.

Dark Blue is an overlooked entry from that year.  Kurt Russell shines in that movie.

Both Old School and Elf mark the rise of Will Ferrell.  He's a household name now, but at the time he was just "that guy from SNL."

Intolerable Cruelty is a good movie on its own merits, but I could turn the sound off and just stare at Catherine Zeta-Jones.  My God she is beautiful.

If you haven't seen Bad Santa you should.

Biggest Movies of 2004: Shrek 2, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Spider-Man 2, The Incredibles, The Passion of the Christ, The Day After Tomorrow, Meet the Fockers, Troy, Shark Tale, Ocean's Twelve

Spider-Man 2 is hands down the best movie of 2004.  It is also one of the best superhero movies ever.

There was a great deal of controversy over The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson's film about Christ's final days.  I saw it in the theater, and audience reactions were interesting.  I thought it was a good film, but not as good as The Last Temptation of Christ.

Honorable Mentions: The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby, Ray, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Butterfly Effect, Dawn of the Dead, Hellboy, Kill Bill Vol. 2, 13 Going On 30, Napoleon Dynamite, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, The Terminal, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Garden State, The Manchurian Candidate, Collateral, Saw, Kung Fu (Hustle), Hotel Rwanda, In Good Company

I have seen Million Dollar Baby so many times.

Napoleon Dynamite and Dodgeball were both hilarious movies.  Anchorman, however, trumps them both.  I have large sections of Anchorman committed to memory.

The Manchurian Candidate should have done better at the box office.  Perhaps it was too dark for most people.  Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber are great in that movie.

I parenthesize the "Hustle" in Kung Fu Hustle because that movie was known simply as Kung Fu in Asia.  I'm not sure why they added the "Hustle" for American audiences.

Hotel Rwanda is an excellent film featuring Don Cheadle.

2014年6月9日 星期一

"The Cat's Table" by Michael Ondaatje (2011)

"One wave hit the Assistant Purser, and the force of it washed out his glass eye.  All this while our heads were stretched back to try to see how deep the bow would go on its next descent.  Our screams unheard, even to each other, even to ourselves, even if the next day our throats were raw from yelling into that hallway of the sea."

Michael Ondaatje is best known as the author of "The English Patient," a novel which was published in 1992, and later adapted into a film of the same name.  He is a Sri Lankan-born Canadian novelist and poet.

"The Cat's Table," his most recent novel, is a coming of age tale, featuring a group of Sri Lankan youths who embark on a boat trip from Sri Lanka to England.  The narrator and his friends are immigrating to London, and during their trip he meets an array of characters, each with a story to tell.

In many ways this book resembles the oft-celebrated "Life of Pi," which I also read not long ago.  But where "Pi" rambles, "The Cat's Table" is comparatively concise.  "Life of Pi" is of course a story of survival, where "The Cat's Table" is a coming of age narrative, but the two novels share many characteristics.

Books like "The Cat's Table" or "Life of Pi" showcase a saddening trend within modern fiction: the abandonment of literature's descriptive function.  I'm not exactly sure where or when this trend began, but it seems to me that within the last few years we've seen a whole slew of books in which characters are never adequately described, and in which environments are never adequately mapped out for the reader.

Yes, we could explain away "The Cat's Table" as a symptom of modernity, but in my opinion it's just lazy writing.  In leaving out so many details, the author has failed to give us a compelling work.  I'd like to think that the meaning of any great novel comes from the reality established through its characters, its plot, and its setting, and if the reality of these things has not been established, we are left with a "hollow" book, lacking the kind of depth one finds elsewhere.

This is not to say that there aren't writers who do minimalism well.  Authors like Philip K. Dick or James Ellroy are able to lay out a story in its barest outline, but they are dealing with much weightier themes, that easily lend themselves to such a minimalistic approach.  In "The Cat's Table" we are confronted by a reminiscence that doesn't feel real, by a set of memories that feel as if they've happened to someone else.  And why is this the case?  Because we are missing all the innumerable bits of "trivia" that would have made this book feel so much more real, and so much more vital.

The devil, as they say, is in the details.

2014年6月5日 星期四

Movies of the Late 90s

In 1995 I was twenty, and in 1999 I was twenty-four.  During all this time I was a college student.  In 1999 I graduated, and two weeks later I moved to Taiwan, where I still live.

For me it was a time of discovery.  I had many jobs, I went to many parties, and yes, I had my share of girlfriends.  I can remember a lot of novel experiences from those years.  I was stoned or drunk quite often, I had my heart broken more than once, I saw a dead guy, and I began to see my hometown differently.

Seattle was doing very well at the time.  There were tech jobs aplenty, many local companies were making names for themselves, and our lives were far removed from the political and economic turmoil awaiting us after 9/11.  In 1999 you could still confidently assert that America was the greatest country in the world.  In 2014 it's a little harder to make that statement.

Biggest Movies of 1995: Die Hard with a Vengeance, Toy Story, Apollo 13, GoldenEye, Pocahontas, Batman Forever, Se7en, Casper, Waterworld, Jumanji

The Die Hard movies were never very good.

The best of the above movies would have to be Apollo 13 and Se7en.  Se7en is still classic.

Waterworld is often described as one of the worst films ever made, but I thought it was alright.  No, the quality of the film didn't justify the amount of money spent, but I've seen much worse.

Honorable Mentions: Braveheart, Leaving Las Vegas, Murder in the First, Casino, Dead Man Walking, Twelve Monkeys, The Usual Suspects, Rob Roy, Trainspotting, In the Mouth of Madness, The Quick and the Dead, Tommy Boy, The Basketball Diaries, Kids, Lord of Illusions, Showgirls, Heat

Yes, Showgirls was terrible.  But it is so terrible that it should be seen at least once.

I have seen Leaving Las Vegas so many times.  Something about that film keeps pulling me back.  I downloaded it (again) just the other day.

In the Mouth of Madness and Lord of Illusions are two underrated horror movies from that year.  In the Mouth of Madness is a tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, and Lord of Illusions isn't a terrible film from Clive Barker.  It presented a few interesting ideas, anyway.

Most guys will like Casino and Heat.  Both very manly, both very operatic crime films.

Murder in the First should have been a more successful movie.  Anyone down on Kevin Bacon should really see it.  He is a terrific actor at times.

Biggest Movies of 1996: Independence Day, Twister, Mission: Impossible, The Rock, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 101 Dalmations, Ransom, The Nutty Professor, Jerry Maguire, Eraser

All of the above movies are fairly retarded, with the exception of Ransom.  Ransom is one of those dark, brooding films that Mel Gibson used to do so well.  What the hell happened to that guy?

Honorable Mentions: The English Patient, Fargo, The Birdcage, The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Sling Blade, Lone Star, The Fan, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Box of Moonlight

I liked the movie of The English Patient more than the book.  The book was good, but the movie was better.

I've probably seen Sling Blade and The Fan more than the other movies listed above.  I have a lot of the dialogue from Sling Blade memorized, and The Fan is a great baseball movie featuring Wesley Snipes and Robert de Niro.

Box of Moonlight was a lower budget movie from that year.  It is worth seeking out.

Biggest Movies of 1997: Titanic, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Men in Black, Tomorrow Never Dies, Air Force One, As Good as it Gets, Liar Liar, My Best Friend's Wedding, The Fifth Element, The Full Monty

As Good as it Gets, The Fifth Element, and The Full Monty were good movies.  The rest?  Not quite as good.

Honorable Mentions: L.A. Confidential, Boogie Nights, Amistad, Good Will Hunting, In & Out, The Ice Storm, Donnie Brasco, Breakdown, Face/Off, Cop Land, Event Horizon, G.I. Jane, The Edge, Gattaca, Starship Troopers, Jackie Brown, The Apostle, Cube

The Ice Storm is probably my favorite movie from this year.  It is one of Ang Lee's first films.

L.A. Confidential was my introduction to James Ellroy, an author I still enjoy.  Russell Crowe was great in this one.

Anyone who questions Stallone's acting ability should see Cop Land.

Event Horizon and Cube were two lesser known movies from that year.  Event Horizon is still one of my favorite horror films, and Cube, although not nearly as good, featured an interesting concept.

I have seen the Apostle more times than I can remember.  Like Leaving Las Vegas, that movie keeps pulling me back.

Biggest Movies of 1998: Armaggedon, Saving Private Ryan, Godzilla, There's Something About Mary, A Bug's Life, Deep Impact, Mulan, Dr. Dolittle, Shakespeare in Love, Lethal Weapon 4

Saving Private Ryan has to be the best of the films listed above, and Lethal Weapon 4 is undoubtedly the worst.  Armaggedon and Deep Impact were very similar movies, though Armaggedon was slightly better.

The 1998 version of Godzilla was widely panned at the time, but I like it more than the 2014 version.  It has its flaws, but the makers of the 98 version seemed to better understand the point of a Godzilla movie.  

Honorable Mentions: The Truman Show, Gods and Monsters, Elizabeth, A Simple Plan, American History X, The Big Lebowski, Blade, Buffalo 66, Dark City, The Legend of 1900, The Thin Red Line, Velvet Goldmine

The Big Lebowski is one of those movies that you can watch over and over again.

Gods and Monsters and Buffalo 66 were two overlooked movies from that year.  The former features Ian McKellan and Brendan Fraser, and the most famous person in the latter is Christina Ricci.  

I saw Velvet Goldmine in the theater.  It is a very homoerotic movie, and it was fun to see the discomfort on many moviegoer's faces as Christian Bale engaged in anal sex with Ewan McGregor.  It's also about the glam music scene in the early 70s - one of my favorite music periods.

Biggest Movies of 1999: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, The Sixth Sense, Toy Story 2, The Matrix, Tarzan, The Mummy, Notting Hill, The World is Not Enough, American Beauty, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

The Phantom Menace was a historically disappointing movie.  Anyone who can sit through those Star Wars "prequels" is a bigger fan than I am.

The Matrix and American Beauty were probably the best two hits from this year.  The lackluster nature of the two sequels obscures how awesome the first Matrix was, but at the time it was a revelation.  Kevin Spacey was also great in American Beauty.  

Honorable Mentions: The Insider, Boys Don't Cry, The Green Mile, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Office Space, Election, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Arlington Road, Eyes Wide Shut, Mystery Men, Stir of Echoes, Three Kings, Fight Club, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, Any Given Sunday, Galaxy Quest, Audition

Boys Don't Cry launched the career of Hillary Swank.  It is the story of a girl living as a boy in a small town.  The ending is really hard to watch, but it's a great film.

Office Space and Ghost Dog are two other movies that I can watch over and over again.

A lot of people will tell you that the Fight Club movie isn't as good as the book.  I would disagree with those people.  I think the movie was far superior.

Audition is a Japanese horror film.  It is one of the most disturbing things ever.