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.


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.

2016年10月11日 星期二

The 2000s: 7 Movies

1. Pollock (2000)

Ed Harris both starred in and directed this study of the famous painter.  It's a very understated film, but it's very well done, with with a lot of attention to detail.  Those looking for a more action-oriented film will probably be bored by this one, but it's a solid drama that deserves the awards it received back in 2000.

Like Warren Beatty's Bugsy, this movie was a long term passion project for its director and star.  Fortunately for Ed Harris, this film was a lot better received. 

2. World Trade Center (2006)

Damn this movie is depressing.

Directed by Oliver Stone, and starring Nicholas Cage and Michael Pena, this film focuses on two police officers trapped under the rubble of the World Trade Center.

Despite their best intentions, this movie feels overlong, and quite boring.  The actors involved give it their best effort, but there's just not enough story to justify the length of the movie.

If you're a fan of comic book movies, however, this movie is a who's who of familiar faces.  Ghost Rider, Amanda Waller, Zod, the Punisher, Ant-Man's pal, and even the priest from Daredevil!

3. The Blind Side (2009)

Sandra Bullock stars in this movie about a young, black football player adopted by a white family.  It feels a lot like a TV movie, and the writers were very careful to desexualize the football player, but it has some funny moments and its heart is in the right place.

It was nominated for both Best Picture and Best Actress.  Bullock won for Best Actress. 

4. Gosford Park (2001)

Murder mystery set in an English manor.  Clive Owen gives a brief but memorable performance, but this movie just crawls by.

The TV show Downtown Abbey was originally intended as a spin-off of this film. 

5. Blindness (2008)

People throughout the world are mysteriously struck blind, and a small group of survivors struggle through the aftermath.  Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore star as an ophthalmologist and his wife.  Danny Glover costars.

If you've read the book, you'll know that there is a huge difference between doing this story as a film and doing it as a novel.  In the novel, words are used to characterize people and situations that can't be seen, while in the film - an inherently visual medium - camera tricks are used to portray what certain characters aren't seeing.

I'm happy to say that Blindness works as a book and as a movie, though I think the book looms much larger in the imagination.  In the book the reader is, in a sense, struck blind along with many of the characters.  The movie is quite faithful to the novel, but lacks the sense of dread that made the book so memorable.

Fun Fact: Several groups and associations for the blind protested the portrayal of blind people in this movie.  Honestly, how would they know?  Did they somehow manage to see the movie?

6. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

I heard about this movie a lot in 2002, but didn't bother to see it until last week.

The title is fairly self-descriptive, but to elaborate it's also the story of a Greek woman, who marries a non-Greek.  In the end - of course - they have a big (fat) Greek wedding.

It's a bit corny at times ("I came alive when I saw you."), but it's also funny and very heartwarming.  Adapted from a play, it is by some accounts the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time.  A sequel came out in 2016, but was not well received. 

Fun Fact: Many Greeks in both North America and Greece were offended by the way in which Greeks are portrayed in this movie.  If you ask me, I think they were a bit too easily offended.

7. Sideways (2004) 

Two men go on a tour of southern California's wine country?  Really?  And they're not gay?  Maybe it's a so-Cal thing, and I wouldn't understand.

Anyway, Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church are great together, and Giamatti gives one of his best performances.   He's been one of my favorite actors since Barney's Version, which I saw just after its release in theaters. 

Apparently this movie, a sleeper hit, had a huge impact on southern California's wine industry.  Sales of pinot noir, a type of wine praised repeatedly in the film, improved considerably, while sales of merlot, a type of wine that the main character considers inferior, took a big hit.

The 1990s: 7 Movies

1. Bugsy (1991)

Warren Beatty stars as Bugsy Siegel, the notorious gangster who helped bring Las Vegas to life.  His wife, the beautiful Annette Bening, co-stars as his love interest.  Barry Levinson directed.

Compared to movies like The Godfather, Casino, and Goodfellas, this movie will probably seem a little too self-contained, a little too talky, and not violent enough, but it's a good, well-written film, and the ending is very tragic.  

It was released a year after the disastrous Dick Tracy, which may explain moviegoers' ambivalence toward it.  This is a real shame, because Bugsy deserves a bigger audience.

The Rock (1996) 

Nicholas Cage stars as a chemical weapons-type guy, with Sean Connery, Michael Biehn, and Ed Harris in supporting roles.  Sad as it may seem, there are many who contend that this is Michael Bay's best movie.

If you haven't seen it in a while, Cage's job is to infiltrate Alcatraz, where Ed Harris and his marine disciples are threatening to wipe out half of San Francisco with chemical weapons.  Along the way there's a car chase, a lot of explosions, and people shooting guns.  Beyond that, I wouldn't recommend thinking about the plot too hard.  You'll give yourself a headache. 

Fun Fact: One of the big reasons for the Iraq War was a false intelligence report that the Iraqis were working "around the clock" to produce chemical weapons.  The description of these so-called chemical weapons bore striking similarities to scenes in The Rock, which turned out to be the inspiration for the false intelligence report.  Real chemical weapons look and work nothing like those described in the movie. 

3. The Cider House Rules (1999)

If this movie came out 17 years ago, how old is Tobey Maguire now?  What about Charlize Theron?  And Michael Caine?  One thing's for sure: none of us are getting any younger.

Tobey Maguire plays a young man emancipated from an orphanage.  After his emancipation, he finds work in an apple orchard, and thereafter befriends several locals.  Certain developments within the story feel a bit too convenient, but I defy you not to tear up at the ending.

Delroy Lindo deserved an award for his performance as one of Maguire's coworkers.  That guy is great. 

4. King of the Hill (1993)

A young boy struggles to survive in Depression-era Missouri.  This was Steven Soderbergh's third film, after Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Kafka.

My only complaint is the soundtrack.  At times the music sounds pretty, but it doesn't seem to belong to the same film. 

5. Being John Malkovich (1999)

This is one of those movies that I've been meaning to see for a long time, but only got around to seeing recently.  Like 2002's Adaptation, it was written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze.  Very surreal, but also very good. 

6. The Addiction (1995)

Lili Taylor stars in this movie about abnormally philosophical vampires.  Abel Ferrara directed.  The drug allegory is somewhat labored, but if you have the patience it's an interesting take on the genre.

7. Bent (1997) 

Two gay men struggle to survive in a WWII internment camp.  It was adapted from a play, and at times seems a little too "staged" for its own good.  It might have worked better if it had begun in the camp, since the prelude in Berlin leads one to believe that many of the characters in that part of the movie will reappear later on.  If you look very closely, you can see both Jude Law and Paul Bettany in supporting roles. 

For a much better movie that deals in similar themes, I recommend 1972's Cabaret.

2016年10月6日 星期四

Thoughts on Marvel's Luke Cage

I realize that I'm a bit late coming at this one.  I got hold of it the first day it was released, but I've been busy with work, and I haven't been able to watch it as quickly as I usually do.

Below are some thoughts... 

1. The fight scenes are boring

The thing that made Daredevil so cool was the fight scenes.  That fight down the corridor with the Russian mobsters, for example.  Luke Cage, by comparison, just walks into a place, gets shot a few times, and that's it.

2. There's no sense of risk

Luke Cage, as far as anyone in the show knows, is invincible.  He gets hit, he's ok.  He gets shot, he's ok.  He gets hit by a rocket launcher - and he's still ok.  Without the threat of harm, most of the events which unfold in the series are completely uninteresting.

Which isn't to say that Luke Cage might not have some intriguing vulnerabilities which could be exploited by his adversaries.  The people he loves, for example.  Or perhaps, as one character suggests, he might be susceptible to drowning or poisoning.  But for whatever reason, his enemies don't think it's worth their while to probe him for weaknesses, and we're left with a strange situation in which they attempt to fight him in the most conventional manner possible - even though they've seen such methods fail again and again.

This is also true of the "Judas bullet" they use in later episodes.  Diamondback has a rifle with a scope, he's firing from a short distance away, and yet he proceeds to shoot Luke Cage in the stomach.  Why not shoot him in the head - either from the beginning or later on, in the theater?  And why only shoot him in the shoulder afterward, allowing Luke to escape?

The whole thing that made Daredevil so compelling was his vulnerability.  He could either be hurt physically, or emotionally through people he cares about.  This is another reason why his fight scenes were better - after they concluded you saw either Daredevil's injuries, or the reactions of his friends to these injuries. 

And why is Luke Cage so terrified of going back to Seagate Prison?  He has super powers.  I really don't think it's the same ball game once you've got super powers.  What are they going to do at Seagate?  Put him in solitary?  With only concrete walls to hold him in?  The guy can punch through steel!

3. Mike Colter is a terrible actor.

I'm just going to go ahead and put this out there.  When you think of all the other, more talented black actors they could have cast in the role, it's hard to figure why they settled on Mike Colter.  Yes, he's handsome.  Yes, he's big.  But he lacks what other, better actors live and breathe by: presence.

I realize they're too old, but just imagine what someone like Denzel Washington, Laurence Fishburne, or Delroy Lindo might have done with a role like Luke Cage.  No doubt they'd struggle with the awkward dialogue, but in those moments where they had to project their inner conflict, you'd really feel what they were going through - even if they said nothing at all.

4. Some of the people in this show are GREAT actors, but they struggle with bad dialogue.

Alfre Woodard being the prime example.  She could have done so much more with a better script.  The actor who plays Cottonmouth is also excellent, but he's often reduced to a stereotypical heavy.  The actor who plays Diamondback, despite getting some of the best dialogue, spends most of the time chewing scenery, and responding to other characters' badly written lines with a gravity they don't deserve.

And why doesn't anyone in this show ever use the word "fuck?"  It works overtime to throw in slang, even for the white characters, but at the most anyone ever says is "shit" or "bitch" or "nigger."  Are you trying to tell me that people in Harlem don't use the word "fuck?"  Really?

The people writing this show had a line to walk between slang and "normal" speech, and they failed spectacularly in this regard.  It gets better in the later episodes, but not by much.

5. The music is cool.

This is one of the few good things I have to say about Luke Cage.  The music is always good.

6. Misty Knight is a wasted character.

Honestly, what does she DO in this show?  She almost always shows up too late to do anybody any good, and her inability to identify the perpetrators of any crime prompts one to question how she ever made detective in the first place.

7. What is Luke Cage trying to do?

"Clean up Harlem?"  Why?  How?  He has to know that defeating Cottonmouth (or Diamondback) is only the tip of the iceberg, and that neighborhood-specific villains don't exist in reality.  Harlem is just one part of a very big, very populous city, and eliminating the one bad guy who happens to live in his neighborhood just provides more breathing room (and territory) for other bad guys, outside of that neighborhood.

What I'm trying to get at here is that a lot of the problems that Luke Cage attempts to fix are more global that he'd like to admit.  For all his busting up safe houses and bringing down local gangsters, he ought to realize that he's just pushing the criminal element outside of his neighborhood, NOT outside the city.

Yes, Daredevil's base of operations is Hell's Kitchen, but at no point in that show do they imply that he's set on cleaning up that part of New York in isolation.  His battles with the Kingpin and The Hand range all over New York.

8. The writers didn't do their homework.

One of the things that made Daredevil so great was the attention to detail.  You can tell that they bothered to research how the criminal justice system works in New York.  Not only from the legal aspect, but right down to how land is zoned and how beat cops do their job.

In Luke Cage all of the prison officials, policemen, and reporters are little more than cardboard cutouts, appearing and disappearing whenever the story seems to require it.  They are, in other words, not really people at all, and this is a shame because fleshing them out better would have given the show better legs to stand on.

The police procedural aspects of this show improve a bit by episode 8, after Misty assaults Rosario Dawson's character, but it's still a far cry from what has been done in countless other, police-related shows.

9. This show lacks balls.

This show is, to some extent, topical, but it needed to embrace that topicality, and not shy away from it so much.  There are so many squandered opportunities - opportunities to talk about police brutality, about gun control, about the democratic process, and about the ways in which a community can address societal ills.  In the end it's just good guys vs. bad guys all over again.

10. Many of the critics are either too blind or too scared to judge this show on its own merits.

No way does Luke Cage deserve the praise it's receiving.  No way does this show deserve 4.5 stars out of 5.  No way does it deserve a "B" rating.  No way does it deserve descriptive phrases like "beautifully crafted" or "the best Netflix/Marvel series so far."

I'd give it 3 stars out of 5.  Maybe 2.5.  I'd give it a solid "C."  And nothing about this show is "beautifully crafted," except maybe the music.  The best Netflix/Marvel series so far?  Not even close. 

11. In conclusion...

Out of the Netflix shows thus far, I'd have to rank Luke Cage dead last.  Daredevil's second season was probably my favorite, even with the weak conclusion.  Behind Daredevil's second season I'd place the first, which meandered a bit, but featured some excellent plotting and characterization.  Behind this I'd put Jessica Jones, which had a great villain, but a lead character's whose actions seemed inconsistent with her character.  In many respects Luke Cage combines the weaknesses of all three shows, having a weak ending, a lack of focus, and a character that often does inexplicable things.

(I realize that in my previous review of Jessica Jones I put it above Daredevil's first season, but I have since changed my mind.)

Here's hoping Iron Fist is better.  I know one thing: after watching Luke Cage sleepwalk through fight scenes, I'd love to get back to some kung fu fighting.