2016年3月27日 星期日

Hate for Batman v. Superman

In case you weren't aware, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is taking a real beating from the critics.

And yes, for the record, I loved it.  I would definitely put it in my top five comic book movies ever, right up there with the first Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and X-men: Days of Future Past.  I thought it was a near-perfect realization of all those comics I loved as a kid, from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns to Crisis on Infinite Earths.  It's a movie that aspires to the best of what those comics offered, and if it's not quite kid-friendly, well, neither were the comics that inspired it.

But yes, it is a long movie.  There's also a lot of talking in it.  And it's dark.  And it talks about things like humanity and godhood, democracy and dictatorship.  It's very much the superhero movie you would expect from the guy who wrote Argo, and yes, there are a few missteps along the way.

"Aquaman is holding his breath."  How many times are people going to harp on this?  Aquaman is present in this movie for less than a minute altogether, and still people harp on the fact that Jason Momoa appears to be holding his breath.  Maybe he was stifling a burp.  Maybe he had a mouth full of fish.  I don't know.  Does it really matter?

"That's not Superman!  Superman wouldn't do that!"  But it is Superman, and he has done "that" many times in the comics.  If you are so offended by the version of Superman presented in Batman v. Superman, you should go back and reread your copies of The Dark Knight Returns, or even Kingdom Come.  Superman strives to be virtuous, yes, but he hasn't always been a paragon of virtue.  And how could we relate to him if he was?  It is their flaws that make characters interesting, and (for the record) Superman as moral exemplar went out of style a long time ago.

"Zack Snyder!  I hate Zack Snyder!"  If you really hate Zack Snyder so much, you need to rethink your priorities.  Zack Snyder is just a director - in other words, he's just a guy - and like any guy he'll do some things you like and some things you don't.  I get the critique that he's overrated.  I was also disappointed by Man of Steel.  But in my opinion he's redeemed himself with this one, and I now draw comfort from the fact that the director of Batman v. Superman (and Watchmen) will be, I can only assume, at the helm of the upcoming Justice League.

"It's not as good as Marvel!"  Really?  Are you sure?  Or is it just different?  Maybe you walked into Batman v. Superman expecting yet another clone of the Winter Soldier.  Maybe you were expecting bright costumes, and superheroes cracking jokes.  Maybe you were expecting kid-friendly (i.e. "escapism" or any movie that doesn't require thought), and Batman v. Superman definitely isn't that.  I would even argue that it's better than that.

But hey, maybe Batman v. Superman just isn't your cup of tea.  If that's your opinion, you are certainly entitled to it.  No one's opinion is wrong, and not everyone likes the same things.  I might have loved Batman v. Superman.  You might have hated it.  That's OK.  We can agree to disagree.

I only hope that you'll see the movie first, and make up your mind after you've seen it.  And more than that, you might actually examine your own preconceptions before seeing it, and not feel a bizarre need to be on the winning side of some ridiculous Marvel vs. DC argument.  You can like both of them, you know.  You can even like the X-men.  You can even like Fant4stic.  As long as you've exercised your power of independent thought, everyone wins.

And for God's sake, don't buy into these boring discussions of how much money a movie makes equaling its artistic merit, or how a score on IMDb is supposed to mean something.  NO movie deserves to be discussed in those terms, not even Transformers.  It is a saddening trend that reduces movies into numbers, and into thoughts thought by other people.  In the end YOU are the most important critic out there, and as such you'll find far less satisfaction in film when you continually resort to these kind of "authorities" when determining a film's worth.

Because when all is said and done, a lot of great movies haven't made a lot of money, and a lot of great movies were trashed by the critics.  Just because they didn't make millions and weren't liked by Siskel and Ebert didn't make them failures.  Many of them actually did find an audience, and enjoy financial success, at a much later date.

So if you're asking me, I'd recommend Batman v. Superman without reservation.  Go see it.  And if you happen to like it as much as I do, don't worry about what your "friends" might think.  We all like what we like, right?

2016年3月26日 星期六

A Review of Every DC Movie from 1951 to the Present (Revised as of March 26, 2016)

I have omitted Stamp Day for Superman, which was produced by the US Government, and cannot be classified as a feature film.  There are also a few "DC imprint films" (Road to Perdition, A History of Violence, Stardust, The Losers, Gen 13, RED, and RED 2 that are not here for various reasons.

And there are also the "novelty" superhero films such as "Indian Superman."  These movies are/were exercises in copyright infringement, and never saw theatrical release outside of their countries of origin.  Many of these films are good for a few laughs, and can be seen in part or in their entirety on YouTube.

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.
1950s, 1960s, 1970s

1. Superman and the Mole Men (1951) *

You can watch this whole movie on YouTube.  It is, by some accounts at least, the first feature film featuring a DC or Marvel superhero.

2. Batman (1966) @

You can also watch this one on YouTube.  I've read that at the time this came out, the two stars of the show were banging just about anything in a skirt.  Good times!

3. Superman (1978) ****

This film is classic, and is STILL one of the best superhero films ever made!  The scene where Lois "dies" really freaked me out when I was a kid.


4. Superman 2 (1980) ****

This one might be even better than the first Superman.  Terrence Stamp was fantastic as General Zod, the plot was well thought out, and many scenes in this movie are iconic.  See it if you haven't already.

5. Swamp Thing (1982) **

Wes Craven directed this before he rose to fame with A Nightmare on Elm Street.   As a child it was one of my favorite films, though I can't say I like it quite as much now.  Adrienne Barbeau was HOT.

6. Superman 3 (1983) **

Not quite as good as the first two Superman films.  Also quite jokey, but Richard Pryor was in it, so what could you expect?  Gotta love the "bad Superman" sequence.

7. Supergirl (1984) @

Supergirl, one of several kryptonians who survived the destruction of Krypton by fleeing to "inner space," does battle with an evil sorceress.  The actress that plays Supergirl is hot, but this movie makes almost no sense from beginning to end.

8. Superman 4: The Quest for Peace (1987) **

A lot of people like to go on about how terrible this one is, but it's not really trying to be a good film in the first place.  Christopher Reeve takes his last run at being Superman, and the whole thing is predictably silly.  Would have been cooler if "Nuclear Man" had been Firestorm.

9. Batman (1989) **

Tim Burton's 1989 movie phenomenon.  This is the movie that revived the genre after years of stagnation.  Pretty slow compared to more recent films, but a lot more like Bob Kane's original Batman comics.  In some ways, Michael Keaton is still my favorite Batman.  Fun Trivia: for the three weeks Jack Nicholson spent filming his scenes as the Joker he earned $6 million, in addition to a percentage of the box office gross, which amounted to something between $60 and $90 million!

10. The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) **

A surprisingly watchable movie.  More humorous than the first one, and Swamp Thing looks less rubbery.  It's too bad they never made a third one, because the run Alan Moore did on the comic book would have produced some really trippy movies.  Fun Trivia #1: Heather Locklear is in this.  Fun Trivia #2: The actress that played Faora in Superman II is Dr. Arcane's mistress.


11. Batman Returns (1992) *

This didn't seem so much a movie as an excuse for a toy line.  By 1992 I was already sick of Tim Burton and his quirkiness, and this movie did nothing to change my opinion of him.  Yeah, Michelle Pfeiffer was a damn sexy Catwoman, but that fact alone did not save this film.

12. Batman Forever (1995) *

This is where Joel Schumacher stepped into the Batman franchise, and the results are unsuprising.  It's a shiny, pretty movie star world that proves unbearably dull.  It would have been bad enough, but Jim Carrey's overacting makes it so much worse.  Fun Trivia #1: Bruce Wayne breaks a henchman's neck after Two-Face disrupts the circus.  Fun Trivia #2: During a subsequent discussion, Wayne mentions to Dick Grayson/Robin that "The circus must be halfway to Metropolis by now."  Fun Trivia #3: Jon Favreau, who would go on to direct both Iron Man and Iron Man 2, is in this movie for about a second.

13. Batman and Robin (1997)

Gluttons for punishment would have seen this in the theater.  I was probably next door, watching a better film.  Seeing the apocalyptic performance Arnold Schwarzenegger gives as Mr. Freeze, one marvels that Batman Begins ever got made at all.

14. Steel (1997)

Shaq plays John Henry Irons, an ex-soldier who develops a suit of armor and then sets out to rid the inner city of high tech weaponry.  Some terrifically bad puns in this movie.  It was aimed at kids, and the plot makes little sense.


15. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) *
No wonder Alan Moore wants nothing to do with Hollywood.  Movies such as this one prove his point.  This movie lacks the sense of irony that made the comic book so good, and one wonders what the hell Sean Connery was thinking.

16. Catwoman (2004) @

Halle Berry plays Catwoman, Sharon Stone plays the villain, and Benjamin Bratt plays the most clueless detective in the world.  The DC comic book character in name only.  That scene where the cats bring Halle Berry back to life is hilarious.  So bad it's good!

17. Constantine (2005) ***

This oft-overlooked movie is worth your time.  It might not be classic, but it's a solidly put together film with an interesting protagonist.  The guy that plays the devil near the end is great.

18. Batman Begins (2005) ****

Hell yes.  This was a movie Batman as we always wanted to see him.  Not the neurotic guy with all the gadgets, but the kind of guy who could kick your ass.  The scarecrow is awesome here.

19. V for Vendetta (2005) ***

Great film, made by the Wachowskis of Matrix fame.  Hugo Weaving is fantastic, and even if they dumbed down the source material it's still worth your time.

20. Superman Returns (2006) **

Not as bad as some people make it out to be.  Yeah, Superman does come off as a stalker, and I don't know why they had to do so many of his flying scenes in CGI, but the part where Kevin Spacy and co. deliver a beatdown is excellent.

21. The Dark Knight (2008) ****

Still hands-down the best superhero movie ever made.  And yes, I liked The Avengers.  The plot is complex, the performances are amazing, and the direction is first-rate.  How could Nolan have ever topped this one?

22. The Spirit (2008)

Fuck this movie is bad.  I saw Sin City so many times I had the lines memorized, and with The Spirit I was hoping for something similarly classic.  Unfortunately, Frank Miller isn't quite as good in the absence of Robert Rodriguez.

23. Watchmen (2009) ***

Two problems with this movie: the actors are too pretty, and way too much kung fu fighting.  Aside from these two problems, it is faithful to the comic book and works on many levels. Snyder might have bungled Sucker Punch, but this movie gave me hope for Man of Steel


24. Jonah Hex (2010) *

Josh Brolin stars as an ex-confederate soldier who can talk to dead people.  John Malkovich is the villain.  It was almost a good movie, but the soundtrack ruins the better moments and it gets pretty corny near the end.

25. Green Lantern (2011)

The movie had everything going for it.  I'm not even a big fan of Green Lantern, but when I heard about the director and the cast I got really excited.  Unfortunately the road to Green Lantern is paved with good intentions.

26. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) **

This movie just bored me.  It's over three hours long, and Bane is unintentionally hilarious at times.  Anne Hathaway makes a great Catwoman, but that's all I can say in favor of this film.

27. Man of Steel (2013) **

Half of a great movie, and half of a Michael Bay movie.  It starts out well, even though some of the details surrounding Krypton don't bear thinking about.  Henry Cavill is a great Superman, but Zack Snyder was trying too hard to please too large an audience.

28. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice ***

I don't care what the critics say - this is a great f*&king movie.  I was unimpressed by Man of Steel - but this?  This is the comic book movie I've been waiting for.  Probably a bit slow - or even too dark - for some, but I loved it.  This is DC done well, and I'm looking forward to Suicide Squad even more now.

On the Way

29. Suicide Squad (2016)

Hell yes Suicide Squad.  As with Deadpool, this could be a great film if they don't water it down too much.  Will Smith is Deadshot, Margot Robbie is Harley Quinn, and Jared Leto plays the Joker.  David Ayer is directing, and I'm thinking this one will be pretty good.

30. Justice League Part 1 (2017)

Having set up the general premise in Batman v. Superman, Warner Bros. will introduce this superhero team to the big screen.  Confirmed members are Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, the Flash, and Aquaman.  The ending of Batman v. Superman seems to suggest that Darkseid will be the villain.

31. Wonder Woman (2017)

To me the idea of this movie is a no-brainer - a female superhero(ine) with a great back story.  Patty Jenkins is directing, and Gal Gadot will reprise her role from Batman v. Superman.  Filming will conclude soon, and afterward it will enter post production.

32. The Flash (2018)

Ezra Miller will play the Flash.  No other details available.

33. Aquaman (2018)

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

34.  Shazam (2019)

The Rock (OK, Dwayne Johnson) has already been cast as Black Adam.  Word is that this film will exist outside the main DC cinematic continuity.

35. Justice League Part 2 (2019)

So not only are we getting the second Avengers film, but we're also getting a second Justice League film in the same year.  It boggles the mind.

36. Cyborg (2020)

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

37. Green Lantern Corps (2020)

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

2016年3月24日 星期四

Thoughts on Daredevil Season 2

It's hard to believe they've already released two seasons of Daredevil, one season of Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage is filming now.  It's also hard to believe that the Netflix shows have been as good, and as successful, as they are.  They haven't been perfect, but they're still miles ahead of what everyone else is doing.

Due to both insomnia and what Nietzsche would have called my "will to power," I managed to get through the entire second season of Daredevil last night.  I'll admit it wasn't easy, but I had the combined sex appeal of Elodie Yung and Deborah Ann Woll to keep me going.

The Season in a Nutshell (Spoilers)

The Punisher is shooting up Hell's Kitchen, and Daredevil is trying to apprehend him.  Eventually the Punisher is caught, and details about the murder of his family surface.  Then, about halfway through the season, Elektra shows up, and we learn more about her character as both she and Daredevil try to foil The Hand's designs on Hell's Kitchen.  The Punisher's trial and his eventual incarceration strain Matt's relationship with Karen and Foggy, and as the episodes progress he finds himself increasingly alienated from his small circle of acquaintances.  The season ends with a big ninja fight on top of a building, and near the conclusion of this fight Elektra is killed by Nobu, the leader of The Hand's ninja army.

High Points

John Bernthal is a great Punisher.  He makes previous movie incarnations of the characters look extremely bad.  Yes, his backstory is too convoluted for its own good (drawing it out lessens the impact), but that scene with him in the prison is THE BALLS.

Elodie Yung is amazing as Elektra.  She even talks the way I always imagined Elektra talking.  Not only is she stunning, but she can also act.  And while I think some of Elektra's motivations are difficult to understand in the later episodes, I really hope they bring back this character at a later date.  

In my dreams they'd use her for the strangest, most faithful adaptation of Elektra: Assassin possible, though I know this will never happen.

Bringing the Kingpin back was another great move.  Vincent D'Onofrio is still one of the best things about this show, and his performance in season two outshines anything he did in season one.  He has this wonderful, tortured way of delivering his lines, and that scene between him and Matt in the prison is excellent.

The season really hits its stride about a third of the way in, and it's consistently good up until maybe the last episode.  Yes, ninjas tend to look kind of ridiculous in open, well-lit rooms, but the action scenes in smaller, darker quarters all look good.  The best fight scene is an early one, wherein Daredevil fights a biker gang down a flight of stairs. 

Low Points

I don't think the writers thought through the love triangle between Matt, Karen, and Elektra well enough.  At times it's hard to understand why Karen is so pissed off, or why he doesn't just go ahead and bang Elektra.

Some of the dialogue in both the earlier and later episodes is somewhat embarrassing.  By the last episode it falls firmly within the realm of comic books, and diminishes some of the "realism" built up in earlier episodes.

The low(er) budget of this show shows in certain scenes.  The ninja fight at the end, for example, looks as if it could use a few more ninjas.

And as with the first season, the biggest problem with season two is that it fails to reach a truly satisfying conclusion.  In the first season, the biggest issue was the fact that everyone knows the Kingpin's going to be back again, and his incarceration is something of a nonevent.  In the second season, the biggest issue is this half-explained "Black Sky" business, and the fact that Elektra is embroiled in a vague crisis that's hard to care about, or even to understand.  All of Daredevil's struggles with The Hand are never sufficiently concluded, and one gets the feeling that they're saving all the really good stuff for The Defenders, or Luke Cage, or the third season of Daredevil. 

What's Next 

Luke Cage will be released in September.  It seems like a long time, but then again there are a several major superhero movies between now and then.  One of these, Captain America: Civil War, might even tie into what Netflix is doing.

2016年3月23日 星期三

"Modernization and Revolution in China" by June Grasso, Jay Corrin, and Michael Kort (1991)

"Chinese adults today have lived through several swings of the ideological pendulum, including periods of repression.  Their current adaptation does not necessarily signal support for the government.  The high school and college graduates who are being sent to the countryside have an outlook different from that of Mao's Red Guards who preached learning from the people.  The students who demonstrated in Tiananmen Square exhibited a cosmopolitanism that would have been impossible a decade earlier.  Deng's open-door policy allowed Chinese access to the ideas of reformers as diverse as Thomas Jefferson and Mikhail Gorbachev.  They see no need to learn from peasants or workers, and most likely their resentment will fester.  If Deng's open-door policy continues, increased disparities in income and opportunity will be exacerbated and the disaffected will again emerge.  The CCP might achieve Deng's goal of producing a "moderately" developed China by 2050, but the price may be the repression of much of its population."

At the time of publication, June Grasso was an Associate Professor of Social Science at Boston University.  Her two coauthors also taught in the same place.  This is the last book on China that any of them were involved with, and it seems to have made little impact beyond the college campuses where it was assigned reading.

As one would expect, this book begins with the sunset years of the Ching Dynasty in the late 19th century.  From there it moves on to the Opium War, the treaty ports, the Republic of China, the Japanese incursions, the birth of the Chinese communist movement, the Second World War, the Chinese Civil War, and then concludes with China's decades-long transformation from totalitarian dictatorship to dictatorship softened by elements of a free market economy.  It's a story familiar to anyone who's read any other book about modern China, and there is nothing surprising or especially insightful about the way in which the authors tell it.

And as with many such books, there is a gaping hole at its center.  This gaping hole would be the lack of primary sources, and the fact that most of this book consists of observations and opinions regurgitated from other, more famous books.  Despite Grasso's PhD in Modern Chinese History, not a single Chinese-language source is cited, and the bibliography can be, for the most part, reduced to a handful of works by better informed authors.  Immanuel Hsu, for example, and his excellent The Rise of Modern China, or even Edgar Snow, whose Red Star Over China is sadly overlooked.

Taken on its own merits, Modernization and Revolution in China isn't terrible, it just lacks the scholarship and flair for the subject which make books like this much better.

2016年3月16日 星期三

Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)

"She was skeptical, because she knew the tricks the mind could play."

Ian McEwan is a British author, and several of his books have been adapted into films.

In Atonement, a young girl's jealousy creates a scandal that divides two lovers.  Shortly thereafter Britain is embroiled in World War II, and the three individuals are distanced from both their respective families and the estate where all three grew up.  It is the young girl's attempt to atone for her transgression that gives shape to the narrative, and as the story progresses she comes closer and closer to this goal.

Atonement consists of three parts, with a short epilogue.  In the first part, which takes up half the novel's length, the author outlines the events which lead up to the scandal.  In the second part, he describes one of the lover's experiences in wartime France.  In the third part, he details the young girl's journey to adulthood, and her trials as a nurse serving in London.  The epilogue brings the reader into the modern day (or 1999, anyway), and serves as a postscript for the first three sections.

Taken as a whole, I wasn't that impressed by this book.  It's the kind of thing that professional book critics gush over, and the kind of novel prominently displayed (and promoted) in the New Releases section of the local bookstore.  It is, in other words, the kind of book you're supposed to like, regardless of whether it's really good or not.  It's not by any means terrible, but it's less an organic whole than a book stitched together from disparate parts.

This said, the second and third sections are actually quite good.  It's just a shame that the first section is so tedious, and resembles a kind of warmed-over Jane Austen.  And given that this first section forms the spine of the book, it's hard to overlook it in favor of the much shorter sections which follow.  This is really too bad, because the third section, which describes Briony's time as a nurse, is very good.

Given that Atonement is Ian McEwan's most celebrated novel, I doubt that I'll be delving into his bibliography again anytime soon.  I've had enough of books featuring Britons lost in their own internal monologues, and the story behind Atonement, in the hands of another author, could have been so much more than that.

2016年3月15日 星期二

Award-Winning Superhero Movies...?

1. Spotlight (2015)

Sabretooth, leading a team that includes Batman, the Hulk, and Doctor Strange's girlfriend, investigates child molestation accusations leveled against the Catholic Church.  Along the way they encounter Dr. Manhattan and Dr. Erskine, two lawyers (or are they doctors?) involved in the dispute.

2. The Revenant (2015)

Leonardo DiCaprio gets on the bad side of Bane, with predictable results.

3. Steve Jobs (2015)

Magneto invents a crappy computer that isn't compatible with anything.  Then he invents another one, also not compatible with anything.  And then he invents another one after that.  And no, the third one isn't compatible with anything.

4. The Big Short (2015)

Batman likes heavy metal and plays drums when he's angry.  He's also knowledgeable about stocks, and foresees the global financial meltdown of 2007-2008.  Batman is awesome!

3. Birdman (2014)

Batman wants to direct and star in a play that he wrote.  His daughter, Spider-man's girlfriend, and the Hulk also star.

4. Whiplash (2014)

J. Jonah Jameson (or is it Commissioner Gordon?) teaches Reed Richards how to play drums.  Halfway through the movie Reed dumps Supergirl.

7. American Sniper (2014)

Rocket Raccoon gets post-traumatic stress disorder after a safari in scenic Iraq.

8. The Imitation Game (2014)

Doctor Strange invents the first computer after Sinestro recruits him into the OSS, or whatever the British had before James Bond showed up.

9. Foxcatcher (2014)

The Hulk and his brother (possibly Gambit) are good at wrestling, so some rich guy gives them money to do it (wrestling, I mean).

10. Gone Girl (2014)

Batman marries the WRONG woman.

5. Gravity (2013)

Batman in space.

6. 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Baron Mordo gets on the wrong end of Magneto.  Maybe it has something to do with the Apple II.

7. Argo (2012)

Batman goes to Syria to save some reporters.  Good job, Batman!

8. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Rocket Raccoon and Mystique begin a troubled relationship.

9. The Descendants (2011)

Batman in Hawaii!  Damn, Batman's been in a lot of movies!

10. Black Swan (2010)

Thor's girlfriend wins the starring role in a production of Swan Lake.  Things get weirder and weirder from there.

11. The Dark Knight (2008)

Hey, it's not always about superheroes, right?  The kid from Empire of the Sun tries to save Chicago from that guy who played Billy Bob Thornton's son in Monster's Ball.  And no, Batman's not in it.

2016年3月11日 星期五

"The Songs of Distant Earth" by Arthur C. Clarke (1985)

"And one day our descendants will know seas like yours, though not as wide or as deep.  Water from our two worlds will mingle together, bringing life to our new home.  And we will remember you with love and gratitude."

The Songs of Distant Earth was published about halfway through Clarke's career, though it was a story he'd been presenting in various forms since 1958.  While substantially different from books like Childhood's End and 2001, it uses themes that will be familiar from other novels and short stories by the same author.

After our solar system perishes, the "seed ships" sent by the last (terrestrial) humans colonize several worlds in other galaxies.  These seed ships carry only embryos in cold storage, and the human populations which they seed on their respective worlds develop with only a limited knowledge of their home world's history and culture.  

On one of these other worlds, a watery world by the name of Thalassa, a group of humans from Earth's "last days" arrives to harvest ice for an onward journey to an unsettled planet.  What results is a clash of cultures - the Thalassans, with their minimal knowledge of mankind's heritage, versus the Earthlings, a smaller group equipped with both advanced technology and a fuller knowledge of Earth's vanished culture.

It is, in other words, Mutiny on the Bounty in space.  There's even a mutinous character named Fletcher, and the captain of the Earth ship's name is Bey (if not Bligh).  And in case you missed the metaphor, Clarke hammers it home with all the subtlety of a jackhammer breaking up pavement.  By the time you reach the book's conclusion, you'll wonder why he didn't just call it "Mutiny on the Bounty in Space" and be done with it.

In terms of style I can't fault the author.  We're talking about Arthur C. Clarke, after all - a guy who at his best put most other science fiction authors to shame.  But in terms of characterization this book struggles.  Everyone in this book is so damn reasonable that it's hard to care about what happens to them, or why.  One of the best parts of the book (death by space elevator!) is also wasted because the author hasn't spent enough time building up that particular character.

Clarke also uses the novel to talk about both homosexuality and the (non)existence of God.  On the first count he succeeds admirably, and I felt glad that he could, and a later stage of life, open up about this topic.  But the debates on godhood feel forced, and have no direct bearing on the plot.

In my opinion, the 1980s wasn't a good decade for science fiction, and The Songs of Distant Earth goes some distance toward refuting that opinion.  Even so, it isn't nearly as good as other things written by Clarke, and the professional skill with which he wrote it doesn't make up for the fact that it's a predictable book, full of uninteresting characters.

2016年3月4日 星期五

Fox's X-men Movies 2

To recap, the movies in Fox's X-men series are listed below, with confirmed sequels in red:

X-men (2000)
X2: X-men United (2003)
X-men: The Last Stand (2006)
X-men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
X-men: First Class (2011)
The Wolverine (2013)
X-men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Deadpool (2016) 
X-men: Apocalypse (2016)
Third Wolverine Movie (2017)

And to the above can be safely added the Deadpool sequel, which is more of a certainty than any other sequel at this point.  It's also possible that Deadpool 2 will really be Deadpool and Cable, or even X-Force, or perhaps they'll even work Deadpool into The New Mutants.

But to return to the not-so-distant past, I was going to discuss X-men: First Class, which came out in 2011.  This film was directed by Mathew Vaughn, and combines elements from both the comic books and an earlier, unfinished screenplay for X-men Origins: Magneto.  It deals with the X-men's earliest years, and explains how the feud between Xavier and Magneto came to be.

My lust for Jennifer Lawrence aside, it was a great way to reboot the series, and also a great film by its own merits.  Both Fassbender and McAvoy are electric in this movie, and Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw proves to be their most menacing foe ever.  More than anything, this film gives us reasons to like the X-men, reasons to root for them, and this is more than any of Singer's movies ever did.

In tone it borrows a lot from the early Bond movies, with Magneto acting as a kind of super-powered 007.  The sheer style of this movie exceeds anything seen in the series up to that point, and my only real problem with it is Beast, whose self-loathing grows a bit tiresome and hard to understand.  Dude, you've got Jennifer Lawrence falling all over you, and you're still obsessing over your feet?

Two years later, in 2013, The Wolverine hit theaters.  This movie disappointed a lot of people, probably because we were all expecting too much.  With James Mangold directing one of the all-time classic Wolverine stories, it seemed like a sure thing, but the results were mixed.

I think if you can calm down a bit, and not expect all the usual pyrotechnics, The Wolverine is a good film.  Yes, the adamantium robot/faux Iron Man thing at the end almost ruins the whole movie, but up until Logan storms the castle it's pretty good.  Yes, it has its faults, but it's still miles ahead of X-men Origins: Wolverine.

I can only wonder what Darren Aronofsky would have done with this movie.  He was circling this project for quite a while, and it's fun to contemplate the strange movie that might have resulted.

In 2014 Bryan Singer would return to the franchise with X-men: Days of Future Past.  This is the film that brought time travel into the X-men universe, and which also tried to combine the best elements of Singer's X-men movies with those of X-men: First Class.

The final product?  Well, while I wouldn't dispute the fact that Days of Future Past has its flaws, I think it remains the most emotionally resonant film in the entire franchise.  Much of this emotional resonance is due to Simon Kinberg's script, which far outstrips anything he'd written up to that point.  It's as if the guy who wrote The Last Stand and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter had done some soul searching in the years since his last effort, and the result was something nobody expected.

This movie does, however, leave a gaping hole in the franchise.  Why, you ask?  Because it doesn't really fix the continuity in the way he'd intended.  Yes, the war with the Sentinels was averted, but there remains the question of previously established characters, and of events prior to Wolverine's "resetting" the timeline in 1973.  Days of Future Past doesn't really give us a new X-men in the way that First Class might have done.  Instead, it creates new continuity problems, and its ending dampens some of the threat posed by Apocalypse in the upcoming sequel.

But oh well.  Those of us who've followed the X-men over the years can only get so upset over such things.  It's not like such continuity problems were absent from the comics!

After Days of Future Past, it was finally Deadpool's turn to get his own movie.  Wade Wilson actually appeared much earlier in X-men Origins: Wolverine, though that version of the character is ignored or forgotten by most.  In fairness to Origins, the bit with Wade in the elevator is kind of funny.

I saw Deadpool the first day it appeared in the local theater, and I'd have to say I was pleasantly surprised.  It's not a perfect movie, but it manages to be funny, violent, and somewhat suspenseful all at the same time.  Not all of the gags worked for me, but there's so many of them, and they come so fast, that you can safely ignore the ones that don't work for the ones that do.

I just wonder what Deadpool's astounding popularity is going to do for the series as a whole.  Putting him in something like Days of Future Past, for instance, would have completely destroyed that movie.  Even including supporting characters like Colossus in Deadpool's films diminishes the more serious tone set in Singer's movies.  Deadpool is in many ways the antithesis of the dramatic hero (or even antihero), and with all of his fourth wall-breaking he could easily overwhelm the average moviegoer's suspension of disbelief.

But I suppose a fuller understanding of how we'll interpret the X-men in the presence of Deadpool awaits this summer's X-men: Apocalypse.  In this movie Singer will be discarding the older X-men cast, and will instead feature both the First Class alumni and some newer characters.

Unlike Days of Future Past, which spent a lot of time in the 70s, this movie will take place in the 80s.  It will also mark the reintroduction of characters like Storm, Cyclops, and Jean Grey.  Apparently Magneto becomes one of Apocalypse's "horsemen," and Mystique (?) and Xavier must lead the X-men against the threat he and Apocalypse represent.

I'd like to say it will be good, but I wonder if the X-men series isn't getting a bit too serious for its own good.  I'm also getting tired of Bryan Singer and his fondness for black leather.  There's certainly a lot going for this movie, but I'm not feeling that excited about it right now.  Hopefully it will surprise me?

And after Apocalypse comes the third Wolverine.  Apparently this will be Jackman's last run as Logan, and director James Mangold will be returning for an adaptation of the "Old Man Logan" comic book.  

It could be great.  It could also be average.  I doubt it will be terrible.  One has to ask, however, how Old Man Logan is supposed to work in the absence of characters like the Hulk, who was the main adversary in the original story.  Replacing him with the Juggernaut or the Blob just wouldn't be the same thing at all.

2016年3月3日 星期四

Fox's X-men Movies 1

I've been re-watching Fox's X-men films, and I thought I'd write about them before they vanish from my memory.  One of these movies is great, three others are good, but the other three are completely forgettable.  It's the forgettable ones that I'm trying hardest to keep in mind, since for me they have a mental half-life of a day, maybe two at the most.

To recap briefly, there have been 8 movies in Fox's X-men universe so far.  A ninth is on the way this summer, in the guise of X-men: Apocalypse.

The films in this series and their years of release are:

X-men (2000)
X2: X-men United (2003)
X-men: The Last Stand (2006)
X-men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
X-men: First Class (2011)
The Wolverine (2013)
X-men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Deadpool (2016) 

And of course there's also Apocalypse, due later this year, and the third Wolverine movie, due in 2017.  There are also plans for a Deadpool sequel, which might also come out in 2017, and the endlessly discussed New Mutants, X-Force, and Gambit films, all of which may or may not become a reality.

Watching the first X-men in 2016 is strange.  Hugh Jackman looks so damn young, and the tone of that movie is so different from more recent entries in the series.  It's pretty derivative as superhero films go - this was, after all, done before Sam Raimi's Spider-Man - but in 2000 this was about the best we could expect from any superhero film.

If I have a real complaint about the first X-men, it's that Ian Mckellan was always too old to play Magneto.  Yes, he is/was a great actor, and 2000 was a high point in his career, but he never comes across as threatening, or as virile, as he should be.

And yes, Sabretooth never recognizes Wolverine.  Even though they are supposed to be brothers.  Even though they fought in several wars together.  Even though they were costars in X-men Origins: Wolverine.

Almost all of the (other) X-men, right from the beginning, are completely uninteresting characters.  You would think in an ensemble film like this one they'd have more to do, but no, not really.  I think Singer was wise to recognize that Wolverine is the star of the show, but Logan completely overwhelms every other character in this movie, to the point where you begin wondering why they are there, and why he puts up with them at all.

I think the sequel, X2, was slightly better.  It holds together - just barely - and it's a lot faster-paced.  

In this film Stryker attempts to use both Xavier and Cerebro to destroy all of the mutants, and Magneto and the X-men must band together to stop him.  The fight between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike is great, though Nightcrawler is so annoying that he almost ruins the entire movie.

And why did Jean Grey need to sacrifice herself at the end?  Couldn't she have stopped the water from inside the Blackbird?  And wouldn't simply levitating the Blackbird above the flood have been easier than diverting all that water around the plane?  And why did Logan have to choose between Stryker and his fellow mutants?  Why not just cut Stryker loose from his chains, and then pump him for information later?

In my opinion, the absolute worst part of X2 is when Magneto and Mystique are aboard the Blackbird, and they're "gossiping" about Rogue.  It's the kind of scene that would have made sense if all of those present were gay men, but it's far less convincing with a mixed group of male and female superheroes.

But then again, nothing in X2 is even half as bad as most of X-Men: The Last Stand.  Anyone who's seen this movie will remember the classic line "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" and other embarrassing moments.  Can anyone tell me, for example, exactly why Magneto had to levitate the Golden Gate Bridge?  Why not just put himself and his friends on a bus, and levitate that?  And if all those phials of "demutating" serum are lying around, why did Logan have to kill Phoenix in the end?  Why not just do the same thing to her that he and Beast had already done to Magneto?

I will say, however, that the scene where Phoenix kills the Professor is one of the best scenes in any of the X-Men movies.  But the real problem is that the movie doesn't go anywhere after that.  It gets bogged down in this "demutating serum" subplot, even though this subplot only diminishes the threat that Phoenix represents.

It's nice, however, to see Cyclops killed near the beginning of this movie.  He is annoying throughout all of the first three X-Men films, and it's pleasant to see Jean Grey finally drain him of all his life force.

After X-men: The Last Stand it would be three more years before the next entry, X-men Origins: Wolverine, would hit theaters.  By 2009 the movie landscape was also looking quite different, with the success of both Marvel's Iron Man and Warner Bros.' Batman Begins as established facts.  Movie audiences were expecting a lot more from their superhero movies by that time, and the reaction to Wolverine's first solo outing would reflect this trend.

In retrospect though, X-men Origins: Wolverine isn't all that bad.  In some respects it's a return to a more streamlined, action-oriented format along the lines of the first Ghost Rider, or even the first Spider-Man.  To be sure, both of those films are better than Wolverine's movie, but at least it isn't the disaster that the third X-Men was.

The real trouble with X-men Origins: Wolverine is, of course, that it plays havoc with the series' continuity.  By having us follow Wolverine from his earliest years to the present day, it calls into question all the X-men movies that came before it.  It also manages to bungle Deadpool, one of the most popular characters from the comics.

Yet as bad as Origins might be, let's not forget that it was the success (!) of that movie that paved the way for X-men: First Class three years after.  The plot of First Class even includes elements of a script written for an undeveloped film: X-men Origins: Magneto, which was to follow the blueprint laid down in Wolverine's first solo effort.

But I think it would be better to delve into X-Men: First Class next time, especially since it represents a kind of "new beginning" for the series.  This entry is also VERY long already, and I'll need some time to rest, reflect, and re-watch some more movies before going any further.