2016年12月23日 星期五

"North and South" by Elizabeth Gaskell (1854)


"'In our infancy we require a wise despotism to govern us.  Indeed, long past infancy, children and young people are the happiest under the unfailing laws of a discreet, firm authority.  I agree with Miss Hale so far as to consider our people in the condition of children, while I deny that we, the masters, have anything to do with the making or keeping of them so.'"

North and South was originally serialized in Household Words, a publication edited by Charles Dickens.  Dickens was writing Hard Times at the same time that Elizabeth Gaskell was writing this novel, and the interplay between the two authors' personalities and works of fiction provides some interesting background for this book.

In North and South, Margaret Hale moves to a factory town after her father, a minister, parts ways with the Church of England.  She later forms a strained relationship with Mr. Thornton, one of the factory owners in the town, and comes to understand the wide gulf which separates her social standing from those beneath her.

Dickens himself criticized the novel for lacking "conciseness," and I would heartily agree.  At over 500 pages this book sprawls, and given its actual content it could have easily been half as long.  Instead of what might have been a harrowing look at how the Industrial Revolution impacted the north of England (as in Hard Times), we are instead witness to Margaret's endless fits of crying, fainting, and pointless introspection.  Her relationship to Mr. Thornton also lacks the dramatic import it might have had in other, more skillful hands, and the role of women in Margaret's society could have been explored in much greater depth.  At times this book flirts with being good, but never quite gets there.

I wouldn't say that it's bad, exactly.  It's not unreadable.  But given both its history and subject matter, it's hard not to think about how much better Dickens treated similar themes, and how much more powerful North and South might have been if the author had been more "concise."

2016年12月16日 星期五

"The 100 Greatest Movies of the 1970s": Reflections on a List

If you go here, you can see a list of the "100 Greatest Movies of the 1970s."  There are of course other such lists.  I picked this one because it seemed more varied, and also contained more movies that I hadn't seen.  It also leans more towards the critically acclaimed movies, with less attention paid to the blockbusters.

About a month after first seeing this list, I can now say that I've seen 97 of the 100 movies listed.  The ones I haven't seen are movies I couldn't find.  Of the 16,186 people that took this quiz, 97 puts me in the top 1%.

I thought I'd compliment this list/quiz with a list of my own.  Here is what I came up with.


A. The Movies on this List that are Unquestionably Great, and Which Should be Seen by Everyone, Everywhere

1. The Godfather (1972)
2. The Godfather Part II (1974)
3. Apocalypse Now (1979)
4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
5. Jaws (1975)
6. Taxi Driver (1976)
7. Rocky (1976)
8. Patton (1970)
9. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
10. The Exorcist (1973)
11. The French Connection (1971)
12. Aguirre: the Wrath of God (1972)
13. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
14. Deliverance (1972)
15. Barry Lyndon (1975)
16. Alien (1979)
17. The Conversation (1974)
18. The Last Picture Show (1971)
19. All the President's Men (1976)
20. Dirty Harry (1971)
21. Coming Home (1978)
22. Carrie (1976)
23. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
24. All That Jazz (1979)
25. Amarcord (1973)
26. Shampoo (1975)
27. A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
28. The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
29. The Towering Inferno (1974)
30. Klute (1971)
31. Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
32. Save the Tiger (1973)
33. Lenny (1974)
34. Norma Rae (1979)
35. Superman (1978)
36. Enter the Dragon (1973)

Notes: Many of the above movies would qualify as "greatest of all time" - not just greatest of the 70s.  The Godfather Parts I and II, Apocalypse Now, and every other movie up until #24 is, in my opinion, classic.

Around #25 or so is where I'd start describing movies as just "greatest of the 70s."  They're excellent movies, but they belong more to the decade that produced them.  Shampoo and The Towering Inferno in particular, but even movies like Superman and Amarcord have a charm half traceable to their quality, half traceable to the sense of nostalgia they're apt to engender.

Of all these movies, All That Jazz is the one that really blew my mind.  It is dismissed by some critics as pretentious and unwatchable, but I loved it.  If you're looking for a movie where the director went all-in, All That Jazz is the movie for you.


B. The Movies On This List That Are Watchable, but Definitely Not Great

37. Chinatown (1974)
38. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
39. Star Wars (1977)
40. The Deer Hunter (1978)
41. Network (1976)
42. American Graffiti (1973)
43. Mean Streets (1973)
44. Serpico (1973)
45. Blazing Saddles (1974)
46. Young Frankenstein (1974)
47. Animal House (1978)
48. The Sting (1973)
49. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
50. Five Easy Pieces (1970)
51. Nashville (1975)
52. Saturday Night Fever (1977)
53. McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
54. Badlands (1973)
55. The Conformist (1970)
56. Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
57. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
58. Life of Brian (1979)
59. Days of Heaven (1978)
60. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)
61. Bound for Glory (1976)
62. The Hospital (1971)
63. The Last Detail (1973)
64. The Sunshine Boys (1975)
65. Cabaret (1972)
66. Breaking Away (1979)
67. The Candidate (1972)
68. The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
69. The Goodbye Girl (1977)
70. Midnight Express (1978)
71. A Bridge Too Far (1977)
72. Sounder (1972)

Notes: I wanted to put Chinatown in the "Massively Overrated" category, but it's definitely more watchable than the other films there.  Not great, but good.  Ditto for Clockwork Orange and the Deer Hunter.  Yeah, they're "great" movies, but have you tried to sit through them lately?

Despite my undying love for Network, I couldn't bring myself to place it in the "Unquestionably Great" category.  It has definite flaws, though these flaws make it - in my eyes at least - more endearing.

Nashville is a movie that critics love, and while I liked it I can't say that it bowled me over.  It seems more like an interesting experiment than an actual movie.  Some great scenes there, but I can't say that they add up to a satisfying whole.

The Conformist is a wonderful looking film, but what about the story?  What about the characters?  Certainly worth a look on artistic grounds, but it lacks the dramatic weight that a truly classic movie ought to have.


C. The Movies on this List That Are Weird Enough to be Somewhat Interesting

73. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
74. Tommy (1975)
75. Last Tango in Paris (1972)
76. The Last Wave (1977)
77. Macbeth (1971)
78. Julia (1977)
79. Being There (1979)

Notes: None of these movies are especially entertaining, but if you're in the mood for something weird you might like them.  

The stories of how these movies were made are also interesting in and of themselves.  The Man Who Fell to Earth?  Bowie was snorting his weight in cocaine - on a daily basis.  Last Tango in Paris?  A beautiful female lead, and decades of rape allegations.  Macbeth?  Made just after Polanski's pregnant wife was murdered by the Manson Family.  

And on, and on, and on...


D. The Movies on this List That Are Massively Overrated

80. Annie Hall (1977)
81. M*A*S*H (1970)
82. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
83. Halloween (1978)
84. Grease (1978)
85. Manhattan (1979)
86. Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
87. Bananas (1971)
88. Sleeper (1973)
89. Marathon Man (1976)
90. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie (1972)
91. Don't Look Now (1973)
92. A Touch of Class (1973)
93. Heaven Can Wait (1978)

Notes: I fucking hate Woody Allen.  It has nothing to do with any crimes he may or may not have committed.  I just hate every single film he's ever directed, starred in, or had anything to do with.

Halloween is a lot like A Clockwork Orange.  People gush over it, but the people doing the gushing probably haven't seen it in a while.  Even during the 70s there were much better horror movies.


E. The Movies on This List That are Just BAD

93. The Ruling Class (1972)
94. The Way We Were (1973)

Notes: I can't figure out why someone put The Ruling Class on this list.  It never won any awards, it was never particularly favored by critics, and it is CRUSHINGLY BORING.  I made it about halfway through and gave up.

The Way We Were was a calculated attempt to make Barbara Streisand into (more of) a star.  In this regard it could be considered an inferior version of A Star is Born, which at least featured a male lead that Streisand had some kind of chemistry with.  The Way We Were just makes you feel sorry for Robert Redford.


F. The Movies on This List That Were So Depressing I'm Sorry I Watched Them

95. Cries and Whispers (1972)
96. Scenes from a Marriage (1973)

Notes: Ingmar Bergman... are Swedish people really like that?  I certainly hope not.  I found Scenes from a Marriage slightly easier to sit through, but Cries and Whispers, which features a woman slowly dying of an agonizing disease, might have been more agonizing than the disease featured in the movie.


G. The Three Movies on this List I Couldn't Find

98.  Il Giardino del Finzi-Contini ("The Garden of the Finzi-Continis") (1970)
99. Seven Beauties (1975)
100. Day for Night  ("La Nuit Americaine") (1973)

Notes: The first two of these movies, like The Conformist and Amarcord, are Italian films about fascism.  Day for Night is a film by Truffaut.  All won or were nominated for foreign-language Academy Awards.


H. Movies That Should Have Been on this List, But Weren't

101. Diamonds are Forever (1971)
102. THX 1138 (1971)
103. The Omega Man (1971)
104. Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
105. Pink Flamingos (1972)
106. Fist of Fury (1972)
107. Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972)
108. Fantastic Planet (1973)
109. High Plains Drifter (1973)
110. Female Trouble (1974)
111. Zardoz (1974)
112. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)
113. Shivers (a.k.a. "They Came From Within") (1975)
114. Logan's Run (1976)
115. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
116. Oh, God! (1977)
117. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
118. Desperate Living (1977)
119. Suspiria (1977)
120. Every Which Way But Loose (1978)
121. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
122. Star Trek: the Motion Picture (1979)
123. The Brood (1979)

Notes: I've already discussed the above movies in other entries about the 70s.  I hereby refer you to Bond: the 1970s, Movies of the Early 70s, Movies of the Late 70s, and The 1970s: A Few More Films.

2016年12月8日 星期四

"The Clockwork Universe" by Edward Dolnick (2011)


"Sometime between those two events, at some point in the course of the 1600s, the modern world was born.  Even with hindsight, pinning down the birth date is next to impossible.  Still, if we who live in the new world somehow found ourselves transported to Newton's London, we would have a chance of navigating our way.  In Bruno's Rome we would founder and drown.  And since these earliest days, the pace of change has only accelerated.  The world has raced ahead, permanently in fast-forward, with science and technology taking an ever more conspicuous spot in the foreground."

Edward Dolnick served as a science writer for the Boston Globe.  He went on to author several books, all of them non-fiction.  He currently lives with his family in Washington D.C.

The title refers to the emergence of the scientific worldview in the late 1600s, and of the idea that we inhabit a world bound by natural laws, in which God, the original clockmaker, assumes an increasingly distant role.  

The subtitle of this book, "Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World," is a bit misleading.  The Royal Society plays a very minor role in The Clockwork Universe, and many of the details relating to it could have been removed without doing any harm to the book.

Instead of a dialectic between Newton and his English peers, The Clockwork Universe instead presents a battle of wills between the old ways of thinking and the new, between the two inventors of calculus (Newton and Leibniz), and between the scientific and theological sides of Newton's personality.  At the end of all these struggles lies Newton's discoveries regarding gravity and the motions of celestial bodies, revelations largely misunderstood during his lifetime.

Despite the misleading subtitle, it's an entertaining book and an easy read.  It's engaging from beginning to end, and the reader will come away from it with an appreciation for the magnitude of Newton's achievement.  The chapters are short, the times in which Newton lived are well described, and the author's personal observations add a lot to the historical facts presented.

Oh, and don't worry.  No understanding of calculus required.

2016年12月5日 星期一

"The Street" by Ann Petry (1946)


"It was a cold, cheerless night.  But in spite of the cold, the street was full of people.  They stood on the corners talking, lounged half in and half out of hallways and on the stoops of the houses, looking at the street and talking.  Some of them were coming home from work, from church meetings, from lodge meetings, and some of them were not coming from anywhere or going anywhere, they were merely deferring the moment when they would have to enter their small crowded rooms for the night."

Ann Petry was an American novelist active from 1938 to 1953.  The Street was her first novel, and remains her most famous work.

In the novel, Lutie Johnson struggles to make ends meet while raising Bub, her young son.  Along the way she crosses paths with various street characters, all inhabitants of Harlem on the eve of World War II.  The Street is also the story of Lutie's attempt to rise above her environment, and how this environment shapes the choices that all of the characters in the story make.

When I first came across this novel, my first thought was of Toni Morrison's novel Jazz.  The New York setting was familiar, the characters struggling against the alienation engendered by the city... but The Street is a much more focused novel, and it's almost as if the characters in it have no histories beyond the street they all inhabit.  This isn't in itself a bad thing, but I think that where Morrison's novel soars this novel flounders.  It also fails to make the kind of defining statement a book like Invisible Man would have made regarding similar themes.

Taken all in all, it's not a bad book.  It's only that the shifts between different characters can be a bit jarring, and there is also Lutie's disappearance for a long stretch of the narrative near the end.  This disappearance lessens the impact that the ending might have had.  

There is also the fact that Lutie goes out of her way NOT to make friends.  This, in my opinion, makes her a less-than-sympathetic character.  If this reluctance to form relationships with her neighbors was explained it wouldn't have been a problem, but as it is it draws her motivations into question, to the point where I wondered whether she had really been "painted into a corner" by her environment, or if she hadn't been the one doing the painting.

If you liked Jazz or Invisible Man, you'll probably like this book.  It starts off great, and doesn't lose steam until the last fourth or so.  Just the same, I can't say that it's a home run.  Its characters could have been fleshed out a lot better, their motivations could have been described in greater detail, and Lutie could have been given a lot more reason for her life-changing decision at the book's conclusion.

2016年11月21日 星期一

"The Death of Common Sense" by Philip K. Howard (1994)


"We would revolt if government tried to prohibit us from standing on a chair to reach something on a high shelf; or restricted the number of cups of coffee we drink, or told us how to clean our house.  But that is the level of detail of modern regulatory law.  We suffer it as individuals mainly through institutions like schools, hospitals, and places of work.  But those institutions are a large part of our lives, and wrap closely around us.  The thin separation only mutes each indignity, causing an overall ache and making it hard to pinpoint the cause.  We don't revolt mainly because we don't understand."

Philip K. Howard is a lawyer and author of three books.  He's worked with the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations to both curtail the spread of bureaucracy and place limits on legal process.  A lot of what he says in The Death of Common Sense is summed up in his TED talk, which you can see here.

But in case you'd rather read my synopsis, The Death of Common Sense describes the effect of the legal edifice built up over the course of decades on the American psyche.  It also describes the wastefulness and inefficiency this legal edifice and its attendant bureaucracy engenders in every aspect of American life.  It also illustrates the vast gulf which exists between America's monolithic, centrally-planned government and the smaller, decision-based government envisioned by the founding fathers.

Many have pointed to the ills of modern American society and attempted to find a "first cause" behind the decline of a once mighty empire.  As this book would have it, the culprit is the more "process oriented" approach taken toward government in the 60s, which resulted in the mammoth, intransigent bureaucracy that we encounter today.  Out of an understandable desire for fairness and impartiality, procedures were put in place that effectively removed the decision-making process from government, replacing a government run by decision-makers with a government run by impersonal (and immutable) rules.

The remedy for all out troubles, suggests the author, is a move away from the rules which impinge upon our freedom, to a state of affairs in which those best suited to judge (and decide) are left to do so.  Instead of an elaborate system of checks and balances designed to remove the human element, we would instead embrace a more humane, albeit flawed, form of government, in which those in charge would have more authority to decide important issues.

And it all sounds great.  I agree with every word.  But I am left to wonder - as I am left to wonder with all arguments that recall former glories - that if this was the way we're meant to be, why did we ever change it?  If it worked so well before, why did we opt for the system that now confronts us?

Then, of course, I begin to think about all of the horrible things that more empowered decision-makers are apt to do, and all of the myriad ways in which power can be abused.  What if we give power back to those who will misuse it?  What then?

Is our system of government perfect?  No, not by a long shot.  The Trump Presidency proves that, if nothing else.  But I think the answer to our ills is vastly more complex than The Death of Common Sense would have you believe.  Certainly it's a place to start, but how to start it?  And when?  And on what scale?

The devil, as they say, is in the details.  Perhaps unfortunately for us, precious few of these details are to be found in The Death of Common Sense.

2016年11月17日 星期四

"Next Man Up" by John Feinstein (2006)


"It was midway through the second quarter and the Browns were driving.  Referee Jeff Triplette called a false start on Browns center Jim Bundren and tossed a penalty flag in his direction.  Back then, referees were instructed to throw penalty flags in the direction of the offender.  Penalty flags are weighted at one end by a tiny beanbag so they don't float in the wind but rather stay put once they land on the field.  Somehow, Triplette threw the flag right at [Orlando] Brown.  Instead of landing near Bundren, it went through Brown's face mask and smacked him in the right eye.  Brown screamed in pain because the weighted part of the flag had scratched his cornea.  Enraged, he charged at Triplette and knocked him over before he was pulled away.  He was ejected from the game, which was a moot point since he couldn't see out of his right eye anyway.  To add insult to injury, the league suspended him for the final game of the season, meaning he lost a week's pay while wondering if he would be able to play again."

John Feinstein is a sports writer living in Maryland.  He contributes to a number of publications, and he's also written books about golf, basketball, and baseball.

The cover of the book promises "a year behind the lines in today's NFL," but I didn't find Next Man Up to be that, exactly.  It's more of an in-depth look at the 2004 Ravens, with very little to say about other teams, or the general progression of that season.  The Patriots, who won the Superbowl that year, are only mentioned in the context of one game.  A lot of the NFC teams, such as the Seahawks, the Cardinals, the Panthers, and the Saints, aren't even mentioned.

So no, it's not the league-wide look at football you were probably hoping for.  Instead, it focuses on the Ravens to the exclusion of nearly every other team, which I suppose is a given considering that the author's method of writing the book was to follow the Ravens around for a season.  My biggest complaint is that the book jacket goes out of its way to disguise this fact, in the hope that fans of other franchises will buy it.  I'm sure I'm not the first person to take exception at the marketing ploy, and I doubt that it's won the author any new fans.

And then there is the attention to detail.  Don't get me wrong, detail can be a fine thing, but choosing the right details is what separates good authors from bad authors.  Next Man Up features such an onslaught of detail that reading it felt like preparation for some kind of super obscure quiz on the 2004 Ravens.  Even most football fanatics would be put off by the endless parade of names, dates, and pre-game speeches that make up this book.  Honestly, who cares about the guy who played one down in a game against the Jets 12 years ago?  Who cares about the job worries of an assistant defensive coordinator from the same time?  There was a greater football narrative to be told in this book, and instead of doing so, Next Man Up gets lost in an abyss of trivia.

Granted, I don't read a lot of books on football.  I watch every game the Seahawks and Steelers play, but I'm not big on reading about the game.  Just the same, I feel certain that there are better football books out there, and even fans of the Ravens will probably be disappointed by Next Man Up.

2016年11月3日 星期四

Superhero Fatigue?


I saw Doctor Strange the first day it appeared in theaters.  In Taiwan, this was Tuesday of last week, long before it premiered in the States.

I've seen almost all of the superhero movies on the first or second day of their release.  I've been doing so since 2011's Thor, and I've only missed the opening weekends of a few superhero films.  I didn't bother to see The Wolverine in the theater.  I also didn't bother to see The (first) Amazing Spider-Man.  But all of the other ones, from Thor onward, I've seen on - or very close to - their release date. 

But you know what?  I've been enjoying these movies less and less.  And I can remember being ecstatic when the first Avengers came out.  I can remember having my mind blown by The Dark Knight.  I can even remember thinking that Batman v. Superman was the movie I'd been waiting for my whole life.1  But now?  Now I find it hard to stir up anything close to that level of enthusiasm.

Whether it be Wonder Woman, Justice League, or Avengers: Infinity War, I now find it hard to get that excited about superhero movies.  They just don't shine as brightly as they once did.  They don't seem as special.


Don't get me wrong.  I'm still looking forward to most of these movies.  I plan on seeing Wonder Woman.  I plan on seeing Black Panther.  But they're becoming so damn similar, and one wonders how the newer ones will be substantially different from all the movies that came before.  CGI action scenes?  Check.  One-liners?  Check.  Battles for the fate of the world?  Check.  Costumes?  Check.  Advertisements and/or hints for future movies?  Check.

It is, in large part, a formula pioneered by Marvel Studios.  But now one gets the feeling that Warner Bros. and Fox are following suit.  With rampant imitation, these movies are becoming increasingly repetitious, and the MCU's newest entry, Doctor Strange, is - despite the eye-popping visuals - just more of the same.

Which is a shame, because I've wanted a Doctor Strange movie for decades.  I'm also old enough to have seen Batman in 1989, and I can remember pondering the cinematic future of the Marvel characters at the time.  What if - one day - there was a movie about Spider-man?  Or the Hulk?  Or... Doctor Strange?

Now, with an embarrassment of riches, I find myself asking what obscure character won't get their own film.  Harley Quinn?  Sure, why not?  Guardians of the Galaxy?  Sure, why not?  The only problem is that when we FINALLY get that Omega the Unknown movie you've been waiting for, you might be too tired of superhero movies to care.  

Don't worry, however.  If you miss it in theaters, I'm sure you'll be able to see the Extended Cut on DVD.


I have no doubt that one day the superhero movie will go the way of the Western.  Why?  Because if Hollywood teaches us anything, it's that these things go in cycles.  Right now superhero movies are huge, but they are bound to fail at some point.  The genre will eventually give way to a slew of science fiction films, or a slew of musicals, or whatever else captures the viewing public imagination's at the time.

Then, of course, superhero movies will go into hibernation, until they are "rediscovered" by a future audience (usually in about 10 years' time).  Movies are, after all, a very "generational" phenomenon, in that they are embraced for a time, their audience grows out of them, and then the tropes they thrive upon are introduced to a younger set of viewers.  You see this a lot in action films, comedies, and especially horror movies.

So yeah, I'm getting a bit tired of superhero movies.  I'm determined to watch them until The Flash (hopefully) comes out in 20182, but my enthusiasm is waning.  Then, after finally seeing my favorite superhero in his own movie, I might just decide NOT to see Avengers: Clusterfuck, or Justice League Part 7.  I might instead play with my grandchildren, read one of those "book" things that history teachers talk about, or take my flying car out for an oil change.

Or maybe I'm wrong!  Maybe Avengers: Clusterfuck will be a real game-changer for CBMs.  Maybe it'll be the second (?)3 comic book movie to win Best Picture.  Maybe Avengers: Clusterfuck, in which the X-men, the Avengers, the Teletubbies, G.I. Joe, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the Men in Black, the Osmonds, and the Flock of Seagulls do battle with Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders, will be the superhero movie that really gets this genre going!


1. Yes, that's right.  I loved it.  If you didn't, that's like, your opinion man!

2. This movie just lost its director.  Will it be... "delayed?"

3. What, you say?  The second?  Let's not forget about Birdman in 2014.  It is, in many respects, a superhero movie!

4. Gal Gadot has some wonderful legs, doesn't she?

2016年11月2日 星期三

"The Minds of Billy Milligan" by Daniel Keyes (1981)


"'When did you first learn you were a multiple personality, Billy?'

'At the Harding Hospital.  I kind of believed it, but I really knew it when I saw the videotapes at the Athens Mental Health Center.'

'Why do you think it happened, Billy?'

'Because of the things my stepfather did to me.  I didn't want to be me anymore.  I didn't want to be Billy Milligan.'"

Author Daniel Keyes wrote a novel called Flowers for Algernon, which is much better known.  Strangely enough he began his career writing comic books, serving as a staff writer at fledgling Atlas Comics under Stan Lee.

The Minds of Billy Milligan follows the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of Billy Milligan, one of the first documented cases of multiple personality disorder.  His trial coincided with the release of the book Sybil, through which multiple personality disorder was first introduced to the general public.

Billy, living in Ohio at the time, was arrested for several rapes he committed near Ohio State University.  Upon his arrest, his legal counsel pushed for the multiple personality diagnosis, and instead of prison he was sent to a minimum security mental health facility.  After public officials faced criticism in the wake of Milligan's insanity plea and "light sentence," he was moved to a higher security facility in another part of the state.

The circumstances which led to Milligan's multiple personality disorder are also touched upon in the book, though in a manner too subjective to easily credit.  The way in which his alleged abuse is detailed actually causes one to doubt the multiple personality diagnosis, and might have done Milligan more harm than good.  What faith, I wonder, can you put in the testimony of someone with this kind of disorder?  Especially when some of the "alter personalities" involved are confirmed liars?

I should also state that I'm not a big believer in psychology.  I've studied a fair bit of it in the course of becoming a teacher, and both my father and aunt work in a mental health facility.  The psychologists in this book, like many psychologists practicing today, seem entirely too credulous, and entirely too ready to confirm preexisting notions of what is going on (or not going on) with Billy Milligan.

I think there is a good book to be written about Billy's trials, but Daniel Keyes hasn't done it.  He floods the narrative with unnecessary details, and the larger struggle between a patient/criminal and the various governmental agencies which either attempt to treat or punish him is pushed too far into the background.  There's also the related fact that Keyes isn't a very good writer.  The vocabulary employed in this book is incredibly repetitious, many of those involved in Milligan's trial are little more than stereotypes, and it is way, way too long. 

Maybe Sybil is a better book?

2016年10月30日 星期日

The 1970s: A Few More Films

After this I'll probably take a break from writing about movies.  But before I do, let's discuss the 70s one more time.


1. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

Warren Beatty and Julie Christie in the same movie... again?  I suppose Hollywood was on to something.

Beatty stars as a man opening up a brothel in the Wild West, and Christie costars as his erstwhile madam.  Robert Altman (M*A*S*H) directs, and this movie has been described as an "anti-Western." 

If you haven't seen it, it'll probably remind you of Clint Eastwood's far more profitable, far more famous Unforgiven.  The crucial difference being that the characters in Unforgiven - even the "bad" ones - are far more engaging.  This isn't to say that McCabe & Mrs. Miller is bad, but it's a lot more nihilistic, and the ending is somewhat anticlimactic.


2. The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976)

Considered by some to be the "crowning jewel" of the "porno chic" movement, this pornographic film had an actual budget, told an actual story, and featured some actual acting.

The story is beside the point, but the budget was put to good use, and the acting is fairly convincing.  Constance Money was also super hot, but I'd have to say that this is one of the most unarousing pornos ever.  Maybe it's because of all the talking?  Maybe it's because the sex scenes are so... mechanical?

At least it's less arty than Behind the Green Door.  Now there's a movie that hasn't aged well. 


3. The Last Picture Show (1971)

One of those "Where are they now?" movies if there ever was one.  The cast is a veritable who's who of 70s rising stars - Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, Randy Quaid, and many others.

The director, Peter Bogdanovich, is one of the "New Hollywood" guys.  The Last Picture Show, despite being a tour de force of film-making, was his first and only triumph.  Aside from 1980's Mask, he hasn't done a whole lot since.

But historical leavetakings aside, The Last Picture Show is a great movie, and I don't use the adjective "great" lightly.  It's a heartfelt, haunting portrait of smalltown Texas that will stay with you - long after the end credits have faded from the screen.


4. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

Nicolas Roeg directs David Bowie at his most otherworldly.  It has a lot in common with 1984's Starman, though I think John Carpenter improved upon the premise used in Roeg's earlier film.

This movie is strangely sexual, in the way that only 70s science fiction films could be.  Bowie proved himself to be a good actor, and the sci-fi elements are handled adroitly enough.  It's definitely not bad, but it's often too arty for its own good.  The progression of events in the larger world could have also been illustrated better.


5. Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Marlon Brando plays a grieving widower who finds solace in the arms of a much younger woman.  Bernardo Bertolucci directs.  

I watched the unrated version, and given Maria Schneider's stunning beauty I'm glad I did.  She was so truly, so achingly beautiful, that I'd almost watch the movie again, just for that scene where she's standing in the phone booth.

Brando is - as always - Brando, but the relationship between his and Schneider's characters is hard to decipher.  There are a lot of memorable scenes in this movie, but I don't know that these scenes really fit together as a whole.  Watching it is by turns a frustrating and depressing experience, and even now I'm not sure whether I liked it or not.

It's worth noting that both Brando and Schneider felt "violated" by some of the situations they were put into while making this movie.  They remained lifelong friends afterward, and neither had many good things to say about Bertolucci.


6. Tommy (1975) 

Ann-Margaret and Oliver Reed star as a pair of psychologically damaging parents, with Roger Daltrey as the deaf, dumb, and blind kid that sure plays a mean pinball.

I think I would have liked it more if I'd been on drugs.  That's probably how most people in the 70s saw it anyway: on drugs.  As it is, and with me fairly lucid, it was weird enough to be interesting, but I won't be in a hurry to see it again.  Part of rock n' roll history to be sure, but the stage version (or the album) is/was probably much better.


7. Badlands (1973) 

Before he was directing movies so pretentious that I can't bear to watch them, Terrence Malick was directing smaller, character-driven dramas like this one.

Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek star as a young couple on the run.  It was Malick's first film, and stars Sheen and Spacek weren't much more established in the world of movies.  Malick would follow this movie up with his second film, Days of Heaven, in 1978, and after that nothing would be heard from him until 21 years later, when he directed The Thin Red Line.

It's a good movie, and I'm sure I'll watch it again when I have the time.


8. The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

Still an excellent film.  I thought I hadn't seen it, but as it turns out I saw it years ago without knowing the title.

Sean Connery stars as The Man in question, with Michael Caine as his partner/sidekick.  Shakira Caine, who remains married to Michael Caine to this very day, plays Sean Connery's love interest.  John Huston directs.

Like many of Kipling's stories, this one looms rather large, rather mythical in the imagination, but Huston did a superb job of adapting it into a movie.


9. Lenny (1974) 

Kind of like Dustin Hoffman's Raging Bull.  This movie depicts the rise and fall of comedian Lenny Bruce.

If costar Valerie Perrine looks familiar, it's because she was also Ms. Teschmacher in Superman I and II.  Who knew she was such a great actress?  I certainly didn't.

Ah, heroin.  It's so much fun in the beginning, and then you're drowning in your bathtub, or spending years in prison.  Not a happy life for Lenny, but it sure made for a good film.


10. Nashville (1975)

Nashville is director Robert Altman's eighth movie of the 70s.  It's one of his most-nominated films, and features a cast of character actors you'll probably recognize from many other films. 

For me, this movie raises the "art vs. artifice" question more strongly than another other film I've seen recently.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but if I invent ten characters, and then arrange a meeting for each character with every other character in the course of a two and a half hour movie, can I call that art?  Or is it artifice?

But then again, there's that moment when Barbara Jean is on stage and having a breakdown.  That's art, man.  Or is it?  Or is the very fact that I'm asking the question evidence that it's art?

Hard to say.  Maybe I just need more time to think about Nashville.  Maybe I need time to decide whether the characters in this movie are really characters, or whether they are just the efforts of a script writer trying too hard to invent characters, where the plot doesn't imply their existence.

Deep waters, to be sure.  Again, I'd have to think about it.  But Nashville is worth seeing, even if you don't like country music.


11.The Conversation (1974)

Gene Hackman stars as a lonely, paranoid surveillance specialist who suspects that one of his clients intends murder.  Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directs this film.

Interestingly enough, The Conversation would lose the Best Picture award to The Godfather Part II.  The Godfather Part II was also directed by Coppola.

Like Hackman's earlier French Connection, this movie has a lot of atmosphere.  I highly recommend it.

2016年10月26日 星期三

A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of October 24, 2016)

Due to the truly astonishing number of Marvel films either released or in various stages of production, I have decided to begin the list below with the first Iron Man, in 2008.  For reviews of older Marvel films 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.

21. Iron Man (2008) ****

After Batman Begins, this is the other movie that reinvigorated the genre.  Where Batman Begins was dark, this one was funny.  Where Batman is driven, Tony Stark is brilliantly conflicted.  It is everything that Nolan's movie wasn't, and that's why it works.

22. The Incredible Hulk (2008) ***1/2

This movie was sidelined by the overwhelming success of Iron Man, but I loved it.  I loved Edward Norton's take on the character, I loved the script he wrote for the film, and I loved the Greco-Roman take on The Hulk.  My only complaint is that he let The Abomination live at the end.  I found this hard to believe.

23. Punisher: War Zone (2008) *

A more violent take on Frank Castle.  It's a solid film, but maybe a little too depressing for its own good.  I consider it an improvement on the first.

24. X-men Origins: Wolverine (2009) *

This movie is standard popcorn fare, much along the lines of Ghost Rider. Hugh Jackman goes through the motions, an attempt to bring Deadpool and Gambit into the mix is handled badly, and by the end you're thankful that it's not as dreadful as X3.

2010s

25. Iron Man 2 (2010) ***

I liked this almost as much as the first one.  Downey Jr. is given even better one-liners in this film, and Mickey Rourke characteristically chews the scenery.  Sam Rockwell is also great as Justin Hammer, and my only complaint is that Don Cheadle isn't given enough to do.

26. Kick-Ass (2010) **

I have friends who love this movie.  I don't.  I think the first half is good, but after Big Daddy dies it just gets silly - especially the jet pack.  A nice warm up for The Amazing Spider-Man, however.

27. Thor (2011) *

Considering how hard it must have been to adapt Thor to the big screen, I would consider this movie a success.  Still, compared to other movies Marvel Studios has made, I think this is the weakest one.  I've never been a big fan of Kenneth Branagh.

28. X-men: First Class (2011) ***

Michael Fassbender makes this movie.  Forgive the pun, but he is positively magnetic as Magneto.  I thought the end was weak, but it's still miles ahead of the first three films.

29. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) ***

Still one of my favorite Marvel movies.  It might seem a bit slow for some people, but the mixture of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark really worked for me.

30. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

Ghost Rider journeys to Europe on an extremely low budget.  The screenplay was probably good, but the direction is all over the place and Nicholas Cage overdoes the "manic" elements.  The only good thing I can say about this film is that the actress who plays "the Devil's baby-momma" is extremely beautiful.  Fun Fact: Idris Elba, who appeared in Thor the year before, is Johnny Blaze's sidekick.

31. The Avengers (2012) ***1/2

There are entire websites devoted to how awesome this movie is.  It's a good film, but not one of the best.  Considering how difficult it is to put characters as diverse as Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor into the same movie universe, this one is an unqualified triumph.  I'm only sorry the Oscorp Tower didn't make an appearance.

32. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) ***

This is a good movie, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.  Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have some terrific chemistry, and it's a solid effort.  The Lizard is a bit too Hulk-like for my taste, but this is a vast improvement over Spider-Man 3.

33. Iron Man 3 (2013) *

I was super excited about this movie, but walked away from it disappointed.  It starts out well, but neither of the villains are very compelling, and the stunt work is too over the top.  My biggest complaint is the ending, which gives us a Tony Stark who no longer has any reason to be Iron Man.

34. Kick-Ass 2 (2013) **

It's not a great movie, but it's not bad.  There are some funny scenes in this one, but it could have been a lot better.

35. The Wolverine (2013) **1/2

I had high hopes for this one, but it wasn't all that good.  It's certainly much better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine and all the other X-Men films, but that's not saying all that much.

36. Thor: The Dark World (2013) ***

This was a great movie.  I didn't love the first Thor, but this one was a vast improvement.  Reminded me a lot of the Walt Simonson run on the comic book.  Hoping to see Beta Ray Bill in Thor 3!

37. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) **1/2

Steve Rogers struggles with the modern world and his role in S.H.I.E.L.D.  After encountering the Winter Soldier, he has even more reasons to doubt the nobility of certain causes.  A very topical movie, with some great action sequences.  Didn't like it as much as Thor: The Dark World, but it was well done.

38. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) **

Too much CGI, but some great performances from Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.  I liked this movie more than "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," though the action sequences in Cap were better.  This film has more dramatic tension, better ensemble performances, and more heart.  Looking forward to the third film!

39. X-men: Days of Future Past (2014) ***1/2

A surprisingly good movie.  As mutantkind faces extinction, Wolverine journeys into the past to change the future.  Excellent performances, and one of the most emotionally resonant superhero films to come along in quite a while.  Fun Fact: Although played by a white midget (Peter Dinklage) in Days of Future Past, Bill Duke, a rather large black man, plays Bolivar Trask in the earlier X-Men: The Last Stand.

40. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) **

A good movie, though it features too many characters for its own good.  Humor holds the film together, and makes some of the less plausible plot elements seem more plausible.  As with many other recent films from Marvel Studios, seems less inspired than calculated.  Maybe the second one will be better?

41. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)**1/2

I can't say it's flawless, but I did like it much better than Guardians of the Galaxy.  It's less talky than the first Avengers, and the battle between Hulk and the Hulkbuster is truly awesome.  Quicksilver seemed a bit  underused, and I would have liked to see more of the Vision, but it's still a great movie.

42. Ant-Man (2015)**

Any great scenes in this movie involve a) Michael Pena, b) shrinking, or c) both.  As for the rest of it?  It starts off well enough, but it takes too long to get going.  "The heist" at the end is a bit of a non-event, but the fight scenes between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket are good.

43. Fantastic Four (2015)*

This movie is not bad up until the four return from Planet Zero.  After that point it's a mess.  Once Reed escapes from the military facility the dialogue is awful, the characters do things that make no sense, and the movie somehow ends without building up any kind of dramatic tension.  It feels like an hour of this film was removed before it hit theaters, and Dr. Doom looks like he escaped from another, much lower-budget film.

44. Deadpool (2016)***

The good news: as far as films within Fox's X-men universe go, this one is second best.  It's not as riveting as X-men: Days of Future Past, but it's better than all the other ones.  Compared to the Marvel Studios films, I'd rank it above lesser efforts like Iron Man 2 and 3, though it comes nowhere near their best.  It's refreshingly profane, yet it struggles during most of the "serious" parts.  A sequel to this movie would probably be much better than the original.

45. Captain America: Civil War (2016) **1/2

I liked it, but it was WAY to long and that fight at the airport seemed entirely unnecessary.  The inclusion of both Black Panther and Spider-Man also did very little to advance the plot, though I was happy to finally see Marvel's approach to these characters.  I think a smaller-scale movie, concentrating on the dynamic between Steve, Bucky, and Tony would have worked much better.

46. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) **

Continuity be damned!  Never mind the fact that many of the events occurring in Apocalypse happened much later (or is it earlier?) in the first three X-men movies.  Never mind the fact that many of the characters from First Class ought to be in their 50s by the 1980s.  The biggest problem with this movie is the villain, and the fact that he's just not threatening.  When you title a movie "Apocalypse" it ought to feel like the end of the world, and this movie just doesn't deliver on that promise.

47. Doctor Strange (2016)***

A former neurosurgeon battles otherdimensional threats.  Benedict Cumberbatch, an actor with an established reputation, is a credible Dr. Strange, though the plot is somewhat formulaic.  The strength of this movie is its visuals, and these are something worth seeing.

On the Way 

48. Logan (2017) 

Hugh Jackman likes to go around saying "Old Man Logan!," but I doubt this will have much to do with the comic book series.  More likely it'll resemble a bastardized version of that, with all of the really cool parts missing.  I'm not saying that I think it will be bad, but even the trailer has me wondering how this is supposed to fit into the current X-men continuity (or lack thereof).  Hopefully it will be a proper send off for Jackman and Patrick Stewart, but I have doubts.


49. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017)

Who would have thought the first Guardians of the Galaxy would be such a success?  And who would have thought that a sequel would be on the way so soon?  Most of the original cast and crew will return for this film.

50. Deadpool 2? X-Force? New Mutants? (2017)

Fox just greenlit the Deadpool sequel, and it seems likely that it will take over Fantastic Four 2's release date.  Either that or they'll skip straight to X-Force and put Deadpool on the roster.  New Mutants is also a possibility.

51. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

The Hulk will be in it, though nothing is known about the plot.  Taika Waititi is directing, and Chris Hemsworth will return as Thor.

52. The Black Panther (2017)

Chadwick Boseman plays the Black Panther.  Creed's Ryan Coogler is directing.  Many parts of his backstory were touched upon in Captain America: Civil War.  Little else is known about this movie.

53. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

After years of negotiations with Marvel, Tom Holland stars as a much younger Spider-Man, with Jon Watts directing.  I thought the Amazing Spider-Man films were... OK, but I'm glad to see the character back under Marvel's supervision.  Last I heard Michael Keaton (Batman!) was in talks to play (one of the) villain(s).

54. The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 (2018)

It was bound to happen.  Thanos is the villain, and his quest for the infinity gems (stones) will probably cause Earth's mightiest heroes a great deal of misery.  The interplay between this and DC's two Justice League movies will be fun to watch.

55. Captain Marvel (2018)

A female superhero film - even if it will appear a YEAR after DC's Wonder Woman.  And Captain Marvel ain't no Wonder Woman!  My guess is that Marvel will struggle with the script for a while, and eventually give up.  Captain Marvel just isn't that interesting a character.

56. Inhumans (2018)

It's kind of hard to imagine the Inhumans in the absence of the Fantastic Four, but I'm sure Marvel will figure out a way to make it work.  Last I heard this movie had been delayed, and its release date may be given to another film.

57. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) 

No details on this movie as yet.  The release dates for both Captain Marvel and Black Panther have been adjusted to accommodate it.

58. The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 (2019)

With a rumored budget of a BILLION dollars, this and Infinity War Part 1 will, if nothing else, be something to talk about.

59. Untitled (2020) 

Have fun guessing.  My guess is that we finally get another Hulk movie.  Yeah, I know about that business with Universal, and yes, he often works better as part of the Avengers, but a Planet Hulk or World War Hulk movie would be amazing.  Marvel also knows how bad many of us want this one.

60. Untitled (2020) 

Have fun guessing here, too.  We can safely rule out Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America.  Ant-Man's sequel and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 are also listed above.  What does that leave us?  Could Marvel have won back the rights to the Fantastic Four?  Or will it be Guardians of the Galaxy 3?

61. Untitled (2020) 

Go CRAZY guessing!  Ghost Rider?  Daredevil on the big screen?  The Punisher?  Ego the living planet?  The U-Foes?  Spider-Gwen?

Doctor Strange and Marvel Movies Yet to Be


1. The Plot

Dr. Stephen Strange, a brilliant neurosurgeon, damages his hands in a car accident.  In an attempt to regain fine motor function, he travels to Nepal, where he encounters a secret society of magicians protecting the Earth from otherdimensional threats.  Thereafter he crosses paths with Dormammu and his minions, leading to a battle that ranges across time and space.

2. The Cast

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Doctor Stephen Strange, with Chiwetel Ejiofor as his frenemy Mordo.  Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, and Mads Mikkelson also appear in supporting roles.

Cumberbatch makes a good Doctor Strange, though I thought some of the humor was kind of forced.  The rest of the cast is solid, though there's something about Tilda Swinton's role in the movie that doesn't sit right.  It's as if she's only there to give Strange motivation, or to provide requisite plot twists.

Mads Mikkelson's character might have also been fleshed out better.  He spends most of the movie being a generic bad guy, though the conversation he has with Strange in the Sanctum Sanctorum is one of the more interesting parts of the movie.

3. The Director

I'd seen all of Scott Derrickson's other movies before this one, so I was quite familiar with his work.  I've always thought that his horror films emphasized style over substance, and Doctor Strange hasn't done anything to change my mind.  What really carries this movie is the visuals, and I doubt Derrickson had much of a hand in those.



4. Special Effects

I went into this movie knowing that it was never going to be as trippy (Ditkoesque?) as I wanted a Doctor Strange movie to be.  Given that Marvel Studios is obligated to tie this film into other, existing properties, there was no way it was going to be weird enough to completely satisfy me.

This said, some of the visuals in this movie are truly spectacular.  If I have a complaint about a general lack of "tripiness," it's only with regard to the plot, which is very formulaic.  The magic battles alone make this movie more interesting than some other Marvel films, but those looking for Inception-level heights of philosophical trickery are going to be disappointed by this movie.

5. Compared to Other Marvel Movies, It's...

Pretty good.  Not one of the best, not the first Iron Man, but I actually liked it more than the recent Civil War, and Ant Man before that.  If there's ever a Doctor Strange 2, I think they could take the character to some really interesting places.

6. What Doctor Strange Tells Us About Upcoming Marvel Films

First of all, what's next?  In May we get Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and in July it'll be Spider-Man: Homecoming.  About this time next year we'll see Thor: Ragnarok, and the following February it'll be Black Panther.  Then, in May 2018, we'll finally get to see Avengers: Infinity War, in which Doctor Strange ought to be appearing.

As far as I could tell from a first viewing, there's nothing relating to Guardians, Spider-Man, or Black Panther in this movie.  As far as Thor: Ragnarok goes, there is a mid-credits scene that sets up that movie nicely.  And as for Infinity War, they do mention that the Eye of Agamotto is an infinity stone in the film.

2016年10月18日 星期二

2010-2016: 7 Movies (+ 1 More)


1. Leap Year (2010)

You'll never guess what happens!

Amy Adams goes to Ireland to meet up with her boyfriend and propose to him because she read that on the Internet that it's ok for a woman to propose on February 29th (Leap Year, hence the title) but THEN she meets Matthew Goode who offers to driver her to Dublin to meet her boyfriend but THEN a lot of stuff goes wrong and they end up in a bed and breakfast where they have to pretend to be man and wife and THEN they have to kiss each other at dinner to prove their love and THEN a lot of other stuff happens and THEN they finally do get to Dublin and she meets her boyfriend even though she's starting to have feelings for Matthew Goode and THEN she thinks she's going to marry her boyfriend but it turns out that he only wanted to marry her to get an apartment in Boston and THEN...

Sorry if I ruined the movie for you, but if you haven't guessed the entire plot of this film within the first twenty minutes you haven't seen your share of romantic comedies.  The entire thing is so completely, so thoroughly contrived, that you can't really grudge it for being what it is.  It's like the feminine version of a Jason Statham movie.  It knows its audience, it's not trying too hard, and if you enjoy films like the Notebook you'll probably also enjoy this one.

People often talk about "the Superman curse," as if any actor who plays Superman won't be successful in any other role.  But what, I wonder, about "the Watchmen curse?"  I mean, what has Matthew Goode (Ozymandias) really done lately?  Malin Akerman?  Jackie Earle Haley?  Patrick Wilson?

Yeah, I know that Patrick Wilson starred in The Conjuring, but is that enough proof that there isn't a curse?


2. The Jungle Book (2016) 

I've been hearing people rave about this movie for a while, and I have to say that I just don't get it.

It's alright I guess.  Standard Disney fare.  I found it interesting that they shied away from the way in which Mowgli disposes of Shere Khan in the book, and instead substituted a less credible means of survival.

However he does it, Mowgli replaces Shere Khan as apex predator, and all is right with the jungle.  Or is it?  The folks at Disney might not want you or I contemplating this portrayal of "Nature" too closely, but it does bear (ha ha) thinking about.

Oh, and if you haven't read the book by Rudyard Kipling, I heartily recommend it.  Kipling remains one of my favorite authors, and the book hasn't aged a day.

Fun Fact: If this isn't enough Jungle Book for you, another cinematic version of this story is coming out in 2018! 


3. The Artist (2011)

A black and white movie?  A black and white silent movie?  In 2011?  OF COURSE it's French!  Well, mostly French.  There are some American actors in it, too.

Jean Dujardin stars as a fading star of silent films, with Berenice Bejo as the rising star who supplants him as "talkies" become The Big New Thing.  It won countless awards in 2011, and remains the most awarded French film in history.

All of which is great, but I have to say that this movie bored me to tears.  Not "Tears of Love," mind you, but real, genuine, tears of boredom.  I'm not saying this to be contrary, or hipsterish, but because it made me yawn, and then it made my eyes water, and then it put me to sleep.  I missed about fifteen minutes of this film due to sheer lack of interest, which is a shame because I started it with the sincere expectation that it would be good.

I suppose that even the "best" films aren't for everybody.


4. The Accountant (2016)

Saw this in the theater recently.  Ben "Batman" Affleck stars as an exceptionally violent CPA, with John "Punisher" Bernthal and J.K. "Commissioner Gordon" Simmons in supporting roles

I'd put this movie in the "Not Bad" category.  It won't blow your mind, but it has some good scenes and the plot is fairly cohesive.  It could have done with less backstory near the end.

She's got a great (gun) rack.

5. Terminator Genisys (2015)

And you thought the continuity of the X-men movies was a mess?  I give you the Terminator franchise, in which they've thrown causality out the window.

Obviously not a good movie.  So underwhelming, in fact, that I almost found myself growing nostalgic over Terminator Salvation.  The first half of this movie also seems strangely low budget, as if most of the money was saved for the big set pieces at the end of the film.  Even so, these big set pieces feature some of the worst CGI ever.

It might have been a good movie if the writers had bothered to think through the technology (or the causality) involved.  But then again such a thinking-through would have made for an entirely different movie, working on an entirely different set of principles.

And Emilia Clarke is no Linda Hamilton.  Neither is Jai Courtney Michael Biehn.  And while Schwarzenegger remains his old, stoic self, his character is little more than a prop in this film, with no clear motivation or rapport with the other characters.

But hey, there's J.K. Simmons again.  He's a good actor, isn't he?  His career was really on the upswing in 2015.


6. Contraband (2012)

Mark Wahlberg stars as an ex-smuggler drawn back into the world he thought he'd left behind.

Like The Accountant, it's not bad.  It's a bit hard to empathize with Wahlberg's character, and one wonders how the rest of the crew fails to see the stacks of "super notes" he's hiding on the ship.  But it's fairly well thought out, and there's one great scene where Wahlberg and his friend find themselves in the middle of a shootout.

Just the same, I could see that "Jackson Pollock" moment coming from a mile away.

And look!  There's J.K. Simmons as the captain.  This should be a drinking game.  Take another shot! 

Fun Fact: Mark Wahlberg has quite a police record.  Before becoming famous, he was arrested several times in the Massachusetts area for substance-abuse related crimes and assault.  Kind of puts his scenes in The Departed in a new light, doesn't it? 

Fun Fact (?) #2: It might be his own fault for starring in too many movies, but Mark Wahlberg is in a lot of underrated films.  Three Kings, We Own the Night, The Other Guys, The Fighter, Ted, Broken City, Pain & Gain, The Gambler... they're all great films, but the number of bad-to-average movies he's done often overshadows the good ones. 


7. Big Eyes (2014)

NOT a fan of director Tim Burton, but Amy Adams and Cristoph Waltz are in it, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Adams stars as painter of ocularly enhanced children Margaret Keane, with Waltz as her fraudulent husband.  Like most people born after the events described in the movie, I was aware of Keane's art but not a fan of it, and it has always seemed stuck in the era that produced it.  I would tend to agree with the art critic who pops up in the middle of the film, though I think Mr. Keane has a point when he intimates that art is in the eye of the beholder.

What I liked most about this movie is the pains they took to recreate the time period.  The exterior shots of 50s-era San Francisco are eye catching, and the script does justice to the conservative nature of that time.

It's a good film, but like Keane's art it fails to be great.  When you think about it, Tim Burton might be a latter-day, cinematic version of Keane - possibly best forgotten by later generations.  I'm not saying he's bad, but he's not all that good, either. 


8. Side Effects (2013)

A psychiatrist becomes the object of scrutiny following a murder.  Jude Law and Rooney Mara star in this Steven Soderbergh-directed thriller.

This movie really swings for the bleachers, but comes away with something more like a double play.  Jude Law is great as the psychiatrist, but the plot is extremely convoluted and most people will find their attention wavering.  The twist at the end is worth sitting through the movie for, but it takes a while to get there.

Fun Facts: Along with being the sister of actress Kate Mara, Rooney Mara's family founded both the New York Giants AND the Pittsburgh Steelers football teams.