2016年5月31日 星期二

"Death of a Red Heroine 紅英之死" by Qiu Xialong (2000)


"It was a sweltering Friday afternoon.  Occasionally cicadas could be heard chirping on a poplar tree outside the window of his new one-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a gray-brick building.  From the window, he could look out to the busy traffic moving slowly along Huaihai Road, but at a desirable, noiseless distance.  The building was conveniently located near the center of the Luwan district.  It took him less than twenty minutes to walk to Nanjing Road in the north, or to the City God's temple in the south, and on a clear summer night, he could smell the tangy breeze from the Huangpu River."

Qiu Xialong is a writer from Mainland China who wrote this novel in English.  He was a poet, translator, and critic in China, and in 1989 he moved to the USA, where he now teaches Chinese Literature at Washington University.

Death of a Red Heroine was his first novel.  This and all of his other novels form the "Detective Chen series," which I'm guessing has faded from the public consciousness.  The Chinese title, 紅英之死, could be translated as "The Death of Hong Ying," but it's also a play on words.  The character Hong Ying 紅英, whose name literally means "red hero(ine)," is the woman whose untimely demise sparks the investigation by detectives Chen and Yu.

In the book, Hong Ying's body is discovered near Shanghai, and the "special crimes unit" is assigned to the case.  Chief Inspector Chen, who leads the unit, does so with the assistance of his older colleague, Yu Guangming, and several others.  A friendship between Chen and Yu develops over the course of the novel, and as they labor to solve the case they slowly realize the political implications of the crime they're trying to solve.

It's competently written, though written in a language foreign to the author.  It manages to avoid some of the more tiresome tropes associated with the genre, and it offers a revealing look at China in the 1990s.  Detective Chen is an obvious doppelganger for Qiu Xialong, but he remains an engaging character throughout the book.  I think a more assiduous editor could have shortened this novel by about 100 pages, but the publishing company was probably pushing for the standard 400.

I would recommend this book to those interested in the mystery/suspense genre, or to those interested in life in modern China.  Those uninterested in either of those subjects will probably find this book boring.

2016年5月24日 星期二

Comic Book Interlude 7

Probably the last of the comics I'll review for a while.  I'm getting burned out.  I plan to continue reading Saga, Monstress, The Sheriff of Babylon, The Fix, and Sex Criminals, but I doubt I'll be seeking out any other titles.



The Wicked + The Divine 1-3 (2014)

This comic book just about puts the "P" in pretentious.  Gods revisit the Earth every ninety years in new bodies, and from the moment they do there's a two year time limit on their (present) earthly existence.

It's hard to explain why I loathe this comic book so much.  Part of the reason is that it seems designed for a certain comic book-reading demographic, a hipsterish group of people expecting comics with a) a certain teasing amount of sex, b) sudden acts of violence, c) sexually ambiguous characters, and d) tedious discussions of godhood and/or other theological concepts impervious to Science.  

But aside from the above, it's also boring.



The Fix 1-2 (2016)

Two law enforcement types sideline as criminals.  This series just started, but the two issues I read were hilarious.



Sex Criminals 1-15 (2013-2016)

I thought Saga was the best comic out there, but then I read Sex Criminals.  It's a terrifically funny and engaging comic about people who can stop time with their genitals.  Yes, you read that right.  Their genitals.  Easily the best comic I've read in years.

"A Burnt-Out Case" by Graham Greene (1960)


"Suddenly the passenger found himself unable any longer not to speak.  He said, 'Nor I.  I suffer from nothing.  I no longer know what suffering is.  I have come to an end of all that too.'"

Graham Greene was an English novelist who reached his date of expiration in 1991.  I have read several of his novels, and also the non-fiction Journey Without Maps. 

In A Burnt-Out Case, a famous man travels to a leper colony in Africa, hoping to "retire from the world."  He quickly finds that his fame has followed him to even that remote location, and complications quickly result.

I liked the book, but not as much as other books by the same author.  At times it tries too hard to make a point, and certain conversations seem more like overt attempts to inject a theme into the novel, rather than natural outgrowths of a situation happening in real time.  The end of the novel also feels more like a play, and one gets the feeling that Greene wasn't quite sure how to end the story.

It's not as revelatory as either Journey Without Maps or The End of the Affair, but A Burnt-Out Case is worth reading if you've already exhausted Greene's more popular novels.  It bears some strong similarities to The Quiet American (a love triangle, whites living in the midst of non-whites, doomed idealists vs. equally doomed pragmatists), but it's still a good novel when taken on its own merits.

2016年5月20日 星期五

A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of May 20, 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.

On the Way 

 47. Doctor Strange (2016)

All I can say is... finally!  I've been waiting for this movie for so long.  Scott Derrickson is directing, and Benedict Cumberbatch will star as Stephen Strange.  The first trailer was released today, and it looks GREAT.  Time to get strange!

48. Deadpool 2?  X-Force? New Mutants? (2016)

The Gambit movie has been put on hold for the time being.  A Deadpool sequel so soon seems unlikely.  X-Force also seems unlikely without Deadpool.  New Mutants is a distinct possibility, however.

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. Third Wolverine Film (2017)

Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold will be returning.  Hopefully they can improve upon The Wolverine, which wasn't the stylistic triumph I hoped it would be.  Hugh Jackman has indicated that they'll be going for "Old Man Logan," though of course Fox will need to change a lot of the story to make up for characters they don't have the rights to.

51. 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.

52. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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

53. The Black Panther (2017)

Chadwick Boseman will play the Black Panther.  Creed's Ryan Coogler is directing.  I think it's safe to say that elements of his backstory will appear in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Nothing else is known about this movie.

54. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Sony finally set a release date for this film.  After years of negotiations with Marvel, Tom Holland will finally star 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).

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

It was bound to happen.  Thanos will be 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.

56. 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.

57. 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.

58. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) 

No details on this movie as yet.  It was announced this week, and the release dates for both Captain Marvel and Black Panther have been adjusted to accommodate it.

59. 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.

60. 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.

61. 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?

62. Untitled (2020) 

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

2016年5月11日 星期三

Comic Book Interlude 6

More comics read recently.


Crossed 

That cover pretty much says it all, doesn't it?  I've been a fan of Garth Ennis for a while, and this series takes it to a whole other level.  I haven't yet read all of the issues and spinoffs in my collection, but what I've read so far is good.  Bring a strong stomach!


Saga 1-36 (2015-2016)

An excellent comic book, driven by a compelling story and crisp artwork.  Oh, and it's also full of sex and violence.  I read part of this series a couple years ago, but didn't sit down and read the whole thing until recently.


Secret Wars 1-9 (2015-2016)

Another comic I started quite a while ago.  Finally read issue #9 the other day.  It starts off GREAT, but the last few issues are little more than a series of battles, with very little dramatic impact.  I didn't read all the associated comics (who has that kind of time?), so maybe that sense of scale missing in the later issues is to be found in those.


The Sheriff of Babylon 1-6 (2016)

Noirish comic set in scenic Iraq.  Reminded me a bit of 100 Bullets.  A police officer from the USA trains Iraqis in Western law enforcement techniques.  Very good, and I look forward to reading more of this in the future.


Spider-Woman 1-10 (2015)

I've always liked Spider-Woman more than Spider-Man.  Part of the reason may well be that the inner, (pre)pubescent me still thinks she's hot.  But I also think she's a more interesting character.  The first four of these issues feature Spider-Woman in the classic (sexy) costume, and the last six feature her newer, far less sexy costume with the ridiculous sunglasses.  The writing in this comic is solid, but the art is more of a mixed bag.


Superman: American Alien 1-5 (2016)

Not so much an ongoing story as a series of stories highlighting different moments in Superman's life.  Max Landis writes them all, while a different artist illustrates each story.  Very good series so far, and I look forward to reading the last two issues.  Issue #5 is the best of the first five.


Ultimatum (Including Ultimate Power 1-9, The Ultimates 3, Ultimatum, and several other comics) (2009-2014)

In the Beginning, I loved Marvel's Ultimate Universe.  Mark Millar was able to put the characters on a good footing, the art was generally good, and some of the stories were excellent.  Unfortunately Marvel fell asleep at the wheel, and by the time Ultimatum rolled around it was hard to care about the Ultimate Universe's more "realistic" approach to its characters.  Ultimatum was the beginning of the end, and the Ultimate Universe would be abolished altogether in the above-mentioned Secret Wars limited series.

The Movies of Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise would probably rather you forget how old he is.  Yet when you think about it, the guy's been around forever.  Seriously, even the "older" movie stars like Liam Neeson and Hugh Jackman were just starting out when Tom Cruise was already an established name.  His first movie, Endless Love, hit theaters way back in 1981.

Between 1981 and now, everyone's favorite Scientologist has starred in over 30 films, and that's not counting other films in which he acted as producer or narrator.  If I were to count those other films, the total would surpass 40.

He is, by the way, 53 at the time of writing.  The rest of us can only hope we look that good at 53.



1980s

Endless Love

God this movie is bad.  Not only that, but it's really icky.  Some of the oedipal stuff going on this film might have made for great drama given an entirely different screenplay, but as it is it's a mess.  Tom Cruise is in it for about five seconds.

Taps

His career really began with this movie.  He's not the star, but he plays one of the older cadets.  It's still a good movie, and it has held up well over time.

The Outsiders

This is one of those movies that's fun to rewatch with an eye to its stars' future career paths.  Hey, is that Matt Dillon?  Is that Ralph Macchio?  Is that Tom Cruise?  Yes, it's Tom Cruise, and no, he's not in this movie for very long.

Losin' It

Typical 80s teen sex comedy, inexplicably set in the 50s.  Cruise's first starring role, and not that awful as these kind of movies go.  Even so, I wouldn't bother with it if I were you.

Risky Business

The movie that made Tom Cruise (and Rebecca De Mornay) famous.  If you're wondering what happened to Rebecca De Mornay, just check out the Netflix Jessica Jones series - she plays Trish's mom.  This movie, like Losin' It, was one of those teen sex comedies that HBO played endlessly in the 80s.

All the Right Moves

Hey, isn't that Chris Penn?  And look, Leah Thompson!  I defy you not to get this movies (bad) soundtrack stuck in your head.  A football player tries to escape small town Pennsylvania.  Fairly forgettable.

Legend

I loved this movie when it came out (I was 10), but like many other movies on this list it hasn't aged that well.  I recently tried to sit through the Director's Cut, and found myself unable to do so.  Mia Sara was used much better in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Top Gun

God this movie is gay.  Just go back and (re)watch it, and count the closeups of Tom Cruise's ass.  That volleyball scene alone has got to be one of the most homoerotic things put into a mainstream Hollywood film.  It's terrible.  Just terrible.  And not because it's gay.

The Color of Money

Paul Newman reprises his role from The Hustler, and Cruise plays an aspiring pool shark.  It's definitely a good movie, but I always thought it left something to be desired.  Maybe it's the fact that the characters aren't very likable?

Cocktail

One of the most unintentionally hilarious movies ever made.  Tom Cruise plays a bartender, and the tragically underrated Elisabeth Shue plays his love interest.  So bad it's actually pretty good.

Rain Man

I consider this the first really good, really entertaining film starring Tom Cruise.  He manages to hold his own against Dustin Hoffman, and it won a lot of Oscars.  Worth seeing if you haven't seen it already.

Born on the Fourth of July

Kind of a sequel to Platoon (forming a trilogy with the not-very-good Heaven and Earth), and directed by Oliver Stone during the high point of that director's career.  I think it has aged better than Platoon, a film which suffers in comparison to other films like The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, and even Hamburger Hill. 


1990s

Days of Thunder

Pretty bad.  Tom Cruise (inevitably) plays a race car driver.  This is the first movie in which he and his wife-to-be Nicole Kidman starred together.  Cruise had been around for a while, and Kidman was a rising star from Australia.  Tony Scott's directorial style was never quite up to the level of his brother Ridley.

A Few Good Men

Still a great movie.  I saw this again not long ago.  Cruise plays a lawyer involved in a military trial.  Demi Moore is probably the best thing about it, but Cruise does well in his role and is likable throughout.  Also one of Jack Nicholson's best films.

Far and Away

Cruise and Kidman again.  This one was directed by Ron Howard, and follows a pair of Irish immigrants on their journey through the wilds of frontier America.  It's not all that good, but it's a vast improvement over Days of Thunder.

The Firm

A lawyer uncovers a conspiracy.  This movie is... alright, but not worth seeking out.  Author John Grisham, who wrote the book, was the Dan Brown of the early 90s, and in many ways this movie resembles The Da Vinci Code (minus the religion, of course).

Interview with the Vampire

Cruise surprised a lot of people with this one.  In it he plays the vampire Lestat, the "hero" of Anne Rice's novels.  Brad Pitt costars, himself on the way to superstardom at the time.  It's a good movie, and compares favorably to the book.

Mission: Impossible

It seemed like a lower-rent James Bond film at the time, and it doesn't look any better now.  It took them a while to find out what worked and didn't work in this franchise, and Jason Bourne wasn't helping matters any.  It's not bad, but not great.

Jerry Maguire

"Show me the money!"  Yes, this is that movie.  Tom Cruise plays a sports agent who decides to act in his clients' best interests.  I have never understood the adulation this movie gets.  I tried to watch it again, just to make sure I was giving it a fair shake, and I still don't get it.  Cameron Crowe, who directed Cruise in Jerry Maguire, would do so again in Vanilla Sky.

Eyes Wide Shut

Now HERE is the one Tom Cruise film everybody ought to see!  It is, in my opinion, a masterpiece, though by no means is it a good date film.  Leave your significant other elsewhere, and delve deeply into this tale of (possible) infidelity and suspicion.  Kubrick saw something Cruise that no one else has.

Magnolia

Yeah, that sing-a-long bit at the end is weird and almost ruins the whole movie, but anyone complaining about Cruise's acting skills ought to see Magnolia.  He plays a motivational speaker in southern California, and his performance in this film is undoubtedly one of the best - if not the best - of his career. 


2000s

Mission: Impossible II

This movie was a huge disappointment.  I remember being a huge fan of John Woo at the time, and I was expecting this movie to kick ass.  What we got instead was the worst film in the franchise, and one of the worst movies of Tom Cruise's career.

Vanilla Sky

This movie marks the beginning of Cruise's descent into science fiction (aside from Scientology, I mean :P).  It also marks his second pairing with Cameron Crowe.  I liked it a lot more than Jerry Maguire, but this movie always seemed a little hollow to me.

Minority Report

More sci-fi, but this time with Stephen Spielberg.  Also one of the best adaptations of a Philip K. Dick story.  Great movie.

Austin Powers in Goldmember

Cruise is in this for about a second.  It's terrible.

The Last Samurai

Good period film about an American living in Japan.  I think one of the strengths of this movie was that men and women could like it equally.

Collateral

Cruise finally teams up with Michael Mann.  It's a good movie, but I never understood all the praise it received.  I kind of want to watch it again.

War of the Worlds

Quite possibly my favorite Tom Cruise movie AND my favorite Spielberg movie.  I've seen it more times than I can remember.  Martians (or at least aliens) invade the Earth.  You've read the book, right?

Mission: Impossible III

Better, but still not there yet.  All I can remember about this movie is that Maggie Q is FINE.  I know I've seen it, but the rest of it has escaped my memory.

Lions for Lambs

Blah blah blah, cut to marines stranded in Afghanistan, blah blah blah, repeat.  Few things are worse than movies that try especially hard to be meaningful, but just aren't.  By the end you'll be wondering why the senator (Cruise) wasted so much time talking to the reporter (Streep), and why the professor (Redford) wasted so much time talking to his student (Garfield).  I have no idea why Cruise's character didn't just hold a press conference, or what Redford's character was trying to convince his student of.  And hey, why didn't those two marines have radios?  Or satellite phones?  Or cell phones?  Or any other way of contacting their commanding officer?

Tropic Thunder

Tom Cruise was in this?  I really don't remember that at all.  I doubt Wikipedia is lying, so I'll just take their word for it.  I never understood why people like this movie so much, though Robert Downey Jr. is good.

Valkyrie

Tom Cruise as a Nazi colonel?  With his American accent?  He gives it the old college try, but just about every scene he's in pulls you right out of the movie.  Hearing him scream "Long live sacred Germany!" is hard on the ears.  In fairness to Cruise, George Clooney, Matt Damon, or any other recognizable American actor would have been equally ridiculous in the role. 


2010s 

Knight and Day

Well-written, well directed action movie that was overlooked at the time.  Cameron Diaz makes this movie.  I really enjoyed it.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

As far as I'm concerned, this is the first good movie in that franchise.  I still consider Ethan Hunt a far cry from either Jason Bourne or James Bond, but it's a solid film.

Rock of Ages

Tom Cruise as an aging 80s rock star?  First time I heard this I was like "Whaaaat?"  But in retrospect it makes a lot of sense.  I'm not into musicals, but I have to admit that he was great in this one.

Jack Reacher

By-the-numbers action movie.  Casting Werner Herzog as the villain was an interesting choice, but this entire movie seems like a foregone conclusion from the moment the suspect writes "Find Jack Reacher."  Someone must have liked it, because a sequel's on the way.

Oblivion

I don't get all the hate this movie receives.  Cruise battles aliens on a post-apocalyptic Earth.  It's not as action-oriented as Edge of Tomorrow, but it's still an excellent science fiction film.

Edge of Tomorrow

One of Cruise's more recent breakthroughs.  This movie was something of a sleeper when it first came out, but its fan base has expanded dramatically.  Kind of a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day.  One of the best action movies to come out in 2014.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Tom Cruise probably wishes he wasn't in this documentary, but it includes a lot of footage of him partying with the other Scientologists.  And how could it not?  At this point Cruise is the most famous Scientologist on the planet, and the "church's" practice of grooming celebrities is largely predicated upon their association with him.  I highly recommend it (the documentary that is, not Scientology).

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

I was all set to dismiss this one, but in the end it won me over.  That scene where Cruise somehow holds his breath for EONS is ridiculous, but it's a good movie and definitely the best in the franchise.

On the Way

Jack Reacher - Never Go Back (2016)

Actually, I sort of wish Jack Reacher would go back.  That first movie was fairly derivative.

Mena (2017)

This one sounds like it might be good.  Cruise plays a pilot working for the DEA.  Every few years he does a good dramatic film, and this sounds like it could be interesting.

The Mummy (2017)

Part horror film, part attempt to copy Marvel's success with its interconnected cinematic universe.  It could also be considered both a sequel to the forgettable Dracula Untold and a reboot of Brendan Fraser's Mummy franchise.  Russell Crowe will be playing Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and I can only assume that the guy from Dracula Untold will be returning.  I'll be happy if it's good, but my hopes aren't high. 

Fun Facts About Tom Cruise 

He has been nominated for three Academy Awards, but he's never won the Oscar.

He was 19 when he appeared in his first movie, the above-mentioned Endless Love.

He claims that Scientology cured his dyslexia.

He's been married and divorced three times.  His first ex-wife was Mimi Rogers, who introduced Cruise to Scientology.

October 10 is "Tom Cruise Day" in Japan!

Allegations of homosexuality have haunted Cruise throughout his career.  He's gone to court several times over supposed "evidence" of his preference for men.

Tom Cruise's Five Best Films

1. War of the Worlds
2. Eyes Wide Shut
3. Edge of Tomorrow
4. Rain Man
5. A Few Good Men

And with that, I'll close the book on Tom Cruise.  Next time maybe... Tom Hanks?  Nicole Kidman?  Sylvester Stallone?  Someone else?

2016年5月4日 星期三

Comic Book Interlude 5

I figured it's time for another round of comic books.  I started reading about how bad Marvel's "Ultimatum" series was, and that led to me to some other comics.  Those comics led me to still other comics, and, well, you know how it goes.

What follows is the first half (or maybe the first third - who knows how many comics I'll be reading?) of the comics I found.  The other half will be presented as Comic Book Interlude 6. 


Black Magick 1-3 (2015)

I realize that I'm not the intended audience for this comic, but it really rubbed me the wrong way.  A witch/policewoman battles supernatural foes.  The art is good, but the dialogue and plot are little more than a series of movie cliches. 


Bloodshot: Reborn 1-3 (2015)

Also tedious, but better than Black Magick.  Valiant's pseudo-Japanese assassin copes with his past after his "nanites" have been removed.  The art is great, but the story is forgettable.  It might get better after a few more issues.


Justice League 46-49 (2016) 

Part of the Darkseid War series.  I'd have to go back to earlier issues to make any sense of it.  Something about the Anti-Monitor and the Injustice Society, then Superwoman somehow gives birth in the middle of a battlefield without taking off her pants.  Mostly a lot of punching and things exploding.


The Mighty Thor 1-6 (2016)

Jane Foster takes over as Thor.  A lot of comic fans were up in arms over this one, but the idea of a woman Thor doesn't bother me.  My only problem with it is that she's just not an interesting character.  Even worse, most of the 6th issue features a story involving the "classic" Thor, and one gets the feeling that Jane Foster will be discarded as soon as it becomes convenient to do so.


Monstress 1-2 (2015)

This comic is FAR better than any other mentioned in this entry.  Humans struggle with magical beings called "arcanics."  The author is American, and the artist is Japanese.  Right now I'd say it's violent and pretty good, but given a few more issues it might be violent and pretty great.


Ms. Marvel 1-19 (2014-2015) 

I was surprised by how much I liked it.  Kamala Khan, the newest Ms. Marvel, gets her powers from the Terrigen Mists.  You might think that having a 16 year old, Pakistani-American girl as Ms. Marvel represents the worst kind of political correctness, but she's an engaging character and this comic is often very funny. 


Negative Space 1-4 (2016)

Hadn't heard of this one until recently.  An evil corporation is harvesting people's emotions, and a suicidal loner uncovers a conspiracy.  The first issue is good, but the last three are just mindless violence.

2016年5月3日 星期二

"The John Varley Reader" by John Varley (2004)


John Varley is an American science fiction writer.  He has won the Hugo and Nebula awards, and the movie Millennium was adapted from his story "Air Raid."  None of his novels are particularly famous, and as sci-fi authors go he remains fairly obscure.

This is a shame, really, because Varley is an inventive writer who ought to be read more.  I think the reason he isn't is that it's his short stories that are famous, and few authors are remembered for their short stories.  In Varley's case this is an especially saddening phenomenon, since it's in his short stories that he really shines.

There are eighteen stories in The John Varley Reader, and all of them are good.  A few of them are excellent.  A couple of them are not bad, but forgettable.

"Picinic on Nearside" is one of the forgettable ones.  In this story, two "sexually ambiguous" children encounter a hermit and his curious notions about their society.

"Overdrawn at the Memory Bank" is one of the few stories in this collection that doesn't dwell on the concepts of gender and sexuality.  Instead, we get an excellent tale of how the difference between reality and illusion might be blurred in a future society.

"In the Hall of the Martian Kings" details what happens when several stranded colonists revive a dormant biome on Mars.  It's an excellent, well thought-out story.

"Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance" is one of the weirdest stories in this collection, and I loved it.  Hard to explain what it's about.  A symbiotic organism visits a talent scout.

"The Barbie Murders" is an good idea that isn't explored deeply enough.  The story falls a bit flat at the end, and the author himself admits that the concept of individuality so central to the narrative could have been explained a bit better.

"The Phantom of Kansas" is alright, but as with "The Bellman" I could see the major plot twist coming a mile away.  If you've read that Heinlein story about the time-traveling police"man" you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

"Beatnik Bayou" might be the worst story in this collection.  A young "man" living in a sexless society comes to terms with his own sexuality.  There are some interesting ideas in it, but the overall narrative is a mess.

"Air Raid" inspired the film Millennium.  Don't bother seeking out the movie.  It's really not worth your time.  The story is good, but too short to leave a lasting impression.

"The Persistence of Vision" describes a visit by a sighted man to a colony of deaf and blind people.  It brought to mind Jose Saramago's novel Blindness, though I found this story to be far more satisfying (and far less depressing) than Saramago's novel.

"Press Enter," along with "Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo," might be the best story here.  Stories about AI or "the Singularity" are old hat now, but in the early 1980s this was heady stuff.  The interplay between the protagonist and the computer program is well done, and the technological concepts imported into the story are convincing.

"The Pusher" is the kind of story that's bound to offend someone, and I applaud the author for having the courage to write it.  He was really crossing some boundaries with this one.

"Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo" might be the best story here.  It's not heavy on the sci-fi elements, and instead offers the touching story of a young girl trapped alone in a space station.

"Options" explores the future of sexual reassignment surgery.  I really enjoyed this story, and it provides much-needed background for the other stories in Varley's "Eight Worlds" mythos.  If any story was ever ahead of its time it's this one.

"Just Another Perfect Day" details a day in the life of a man who won't remember today once it becomes tomorrow.  It forms a nice pair of stories with "In Fading Suns and Dying Moons."

"In Fading Suns and Dying Moons" is as trippy a science fiction story as you're likely to find.  It's short, but it messed with my head in delightful ways.  Nth-Dimensional being(s) "invade" the Earth.

"The Flying Dutchman" is a horror story in which a lonely traveler finds himself stuck in a loop.  It's good, but I feel like I've read too many other stories like this already.

"Good Intentions" is also not science fiction.  In this story, a political candidate makes a deal with the devil.  Seems kind of pedestrian for Varley, and lacks the depth that make other stories in this collection much better.

"The Bellman" was also reviewed in my entry for the 2003 edition of The Year's Best Science Fiction.  I referred to it as "not all that good" there, and my opinion of this story remains the same.  I could see the twist at the end coming, and it just doesn't seem as inventive as many of the other stories here.