2018年2月27日 星期二

"Alan Turing: The Enigma" by Andrew Hodges (1983)

"His sexuality might at best elicit a similar condescension, but more likely the associations of evil, tragedy and disease.  Above all, it was a matter on which society still demanded silence.  Such silence was for him tantamount to an uneasy game of deceit, and he loathed pretence.  But as chief consultant to GC and CS, he was living at the heart of yet another imitation game, doing work that did not officially exist."

Alan Turing is best known as one of the key figures in the development of computers.  He grew up in England, studied Mathematics at Cambridge, helped break the German Enigma code during World War II, helped construct the British ACE - one of the earliest computers - and pioneered work in morphogenetic fields.  He took his own life in 1954.

And you know what I would do if Alan Turing was somehow right here, in this room?  I'd give him a hug.  Why?  Because that's what he really needed - a hug.

Unfortunately, and instead of hugs, he got the double repression of being a homosexual in pre- and post-WWII Britain.  It was a place where being a heterosexual was difficult enough, but being gay?  We're not talking about "the love that dare not speak its name" here, we're talking about imprisonment, hormone injections, and even lobotomies.  I can't imagine how hard it must have been for him, trying to fit into a society that was never, ever going to accept him.

As for Andrew Hodges' biography of Turing, it veers between boring, interesting, and extremely pretentious.  I'm still not entirely sure what he was on about in that last chapter, but I suspect he may have been overthinking the matter.  He had very little to work with after all, given both the "shame" surrounding Turing's later years and the fact that much of Turing's work during WWII was classified.

Oh, and if you haven't seen it already, check out The Imitation Game.  It's much more entertaining than this book.

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2018年2月21日 星期三

Some Other Movies From 1994

In some ways 1994 doesn't seem all that long ago.  I graduated high school the year before, I had a job, and I was - for all intents and purposes - an adult.

But in other ways it does seem like a while back.  Many of the people I know now weren't even born then.  It was my first job.  No one I knew had cell phones.  We didn't spend much time thinking about the Internet.

If I had to pick a best movie out of all the movies released during that year it'd be Forrest Gump.  A lot of other people would probably pick Pulp Fiction, but I think Forrest Gump has aged a lot better.  The Ref, The Paper, and Quiz Show were also pretty good.

Some Good Ones

1. The River Wild

Meryl Streep, her estranged husband, her son, and two shady characters take a Deliverance-style rafting trip towards a suitably dramatic conclusion.  It's not bad, though all of the actors involved have appeared in better films.

2. Cobb

Tommy Lee Jones delivers one of his best performances, with Robert Wuhl (whatever happened to Robert Whul?) costarring as a reporter interviewing the baseball legend.  If you can get past the fact that the protagonist is extremely unlikable it's a great movie.

3. Blown Away

Hey look there's Tommy Lee Jones again - this time with a terrible Irish accent.  Jeff Bridges stars as a bomb expert facing off against Jones' IRA terrorist, with predictably explosive results.  Unlike Cobb it's NOT a great movie, but it's watchable and most of the scenes involving bombs are well done.  (well done, get it?)

4. True Lies

I think I was too hard on this movie the first time I saw it.  I can remember seeing it in the local multiplex, and back then I was both tired of Arnold Schwarzenegger and taking this film way, way too seriously.  After watching it for the second time 24 years later, I'd have to say that it's a solidly put together movie.

And whatever happened to Tom Arnold?  He had his share of screen presence.  And Tia Carrere?  She was beautiful.

Sad to say, however, that this movie's been in the news fairly recently.  The actress who played Schwarzenegger's daughter, Eliza Dushku, claimed that she was sexually abused on the set.

Not-So-Fun Fact: A True Lies sequel was put on indefinite hold after the 9/11 attacks, due to director James Cameron's subsequent distaste for "terrorism-themed" movies.

Much More Fun Fact: Tia Carrere posed for Playboy, though the results are surprisingly unsexy.

5. Brainscan

Edward Furlong - that most early 90s of young actors - and Frank Langella star in this low-budget horror movie about virtual reality.  The "Trickster" character makes it feel more 80s than 90s, but this movie's still better than it has any right to be.

6. Death and the Maiden

As anyone who's been reading this blog for a while knows, I'm a big fan of Roman Polanski.  Yes, I'm aware of his personal history.  But I think that you have to separate the art from the artist, and what someone's done in their personal life shouldn't always color appraisals of their films.

Sigourney Weaver should have won the Academy Award for this movie, but instead it went to Jessica Lange for Blue Sky.  And while I haven't seen Blue Sky (yet), I'd have to say that Weaver was robbed.  That scene where she talks about how she was tortured.  Damn.  I almost had to turn the movie off.

Ben Kingsley, for that matter, is in fine form in this story of past crimes and retribution.  The scenes in which he "confesses" are among the best that he's ever done - or (I assume) that anyone will ever do.  Death and the Maiden is a great movie, and even though it's hard to watch I highly recommend it.

7. The Client

How many movies have they made of John Grisham's books?  I don't know, and I'm lazy to look into it now, but it seems like a lot.

Susan Sarandon stars as a lawyer representing a young boy whose life has been threatened.  Tommy Lee Jones appears in this one too, this time as opposing counsel.  I've seen a lot of courtroom dramas recently, but this one kept me interested all the way through.

8. Guarding Tess

1994 was a strange year for Nicholas Cage.  Not only did he star in the disastrously bad Trapped in Paradise (see below), but the same year he also starred in the MUCH better Guarding Tess.  In Guarding Tess he plays a secret service agent assigned to former first lady Shirley Maclaine.  A very good movie that reminds you that Nick Cage really can act when he wants to.

Fun Fact: Nick Cage named his second son Kal-El.  No one knows if this is because of the aborted Tim Burton Superman movie he almost starred in or just because he really loves comic books.

9. The Crow

The ill-fated Brandon Lee stars as the Goth superhero par excellance.  Some of the effects look dated, but it's still an entertaining movie.  Director Alex Proyas probably longs for the days in which he could still capture this level of zeitgeist.

10. Iron Will

A Disney movie about dog sledding!  Featuring a handsome young man and... Kevin Spacey!  Oh no!  The presence of the current Antichrist aside, it's still a decent movie.

11. Renaissance Man

Quick!  What's Mark Wahlberg's first movie?  You guessed it - Renaissance Man.  This movie is so OLD that there's even a song on the soundtrack where Marky Mark raps.  And yes, it's somewhat painful to hear now.

Critics despised this movie in 1994, but I think it's alright.  Danny Devito stars as a civilian teacher of below average military recruits, with Gregory Hines costarring as a hard-nosed army trainer.  Not exactly suspenseful, but then again none of Penny Marshall's films are suspenseful.  If you don't overanalyze it, you'll probably find it somewhat heartwarming.

12. No Escape

Ray Liotta stars as a convict consigned to life in a penal colony.  Martin Campbell directed.  Liotta did this one four years after Goodfellas, and three years before Copland.  It's a good movie, though about as predictable as Renaissance Man.

Some Bad Ones

1. Airheads

Quite possibly the most "early 90s" movie ever made, and also the movie that Brendan Fraser would prefer that you forget.  Three would-be rock stars take over a radio station.

This movie really only has three things going for it: 1) Chris Farley, who needed more lines, 2) that moment where Beavis and Butthead call into the radio station, and 3) Nina Siemaszko in that sexy, sexy dress.

On the other hand the two great sins committed by this movie are that 1) it's just not funny, and 2) it totally misread its audience.  By 1994 the L.A./Sunset Strip scene was decidedly uncool, and musical tastes had moved far away from the likes of Motley Crue and Poison.  There's even a swipe at "Seattle bullshit" halfway through the film, despite the fact that Fraser and co. are flannel-clad for most of the movie.

2. The Next Karate Kid

Now wait a minute - if Mr. Miyagi's a naturalized citizen, and he's lived in the States since freaking World War II (50 years at the time of this film's release!) how is he still speaking with such a heavy accent, and referring to everyone as so-and-so san?  Is he trying too hard to hold on to his cultural roots in Japan?  Or is he conforming to a stereotype?  I know one thing, that "so-and-so san" business would NOT have flown in the U.S. military at the end of World War II.  No matter how enlightened his superiors might have been, they would NOT have been cool with that shit.

If you're wondering which one this is, it's the "girl Karate Kid" movie featuring Hillary Swank.  And yes, once again, Pat Morita.  Like Ralph Macchio before her, Swank is similarly "troubled," and - you guessed it - she learns to overcome her grief through the power of karate.

The biggest problem with this movie is that there's so little karate in it.  For almost the entire first half - no karate.  This, and Japanese monks dancing to The Cranberries.  Super cringe.  And Mr. Miyagi buying Swank's skimpy prom dress and then teaching her how to dance.  Super duper cringe.

Swank is damn sexy in those jeans though.  Oh, and Michael Ironside is somewhat amusing as the fascist school self-defense instructor.  And who's that?  Is that Walt(on) Goggins yet again?  ...last glimpsed in 1992's Forever Young?  Why yes, I believe it is!

Fun Fact: Despite starring in this disaster of a film, Hilary Swank went on to win two Academy Awards for Best Actress.

3. Trapped in Paradise

Nicholas Cage, Jon Lovitz, and Dana Carvey star as three criminally-minded brothers in this Christmas-themed comedy.  It's PAINFUL.  Carvey spends most of the movie doing this Robert De Diro-on-helium accent, Lovitz is annoying, and Cage is characteristically overwrought.

One So Bad It's Actually Kind of Good

1. Double Dragon

Man, I played the hell out of the arcade game back in the 80s.  Trouble is that the movie came out in the 90s, and by that time even the NES and SMS versions were old hat.

It's funny how little fighting this movie based on a fighting game actually has, but the acting is terrifically bad, and the plot is nonsensical enough to be amusing.  If they'd invested in a good fight choreographer (and people that could really act) it might have been halfway good in a good way, but instead it's BAD in a good way.

Fun Fact: Jean Claude Van Damme appeared in Street Fighter the same year.

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Two Books I Read During Winter Break

I don't think either of these books deserve their own, individual posts.  One because it's so short, and the other because it's so insubstantial.

(I'll let you guess which is which)

1. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Is this book really that deep?  Or is it just deliberately obscure?  Your guess is as good as mine - although I did enjoy The Prophet.  

I read it during one of the more difficult moments in my life, and parts of it did help me through that particular crisis.  But again, I have a nagging doubt that the author wasn't so much spreading wisdom as reveling in obscurity.  Want to sound wise?  Confounding categories and avoiding definitions will get you there every time.

2. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Come on Neil, isn't this a bit easy and/or lazy?  I get that you added some of your own "touches" to these stories of gods and monsters, but this is Young Adult fare at best, and involved VERY little effort on your part.  

I'll agree that these stories are entertaining, but they were entertaining before you offered your own spin on them, and they'll be entertaining long after your version is forgotten.  And besides all that, those looking for a clearer understanding of Norse mythology would do better to seek out any number of more academic treatments.

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2018年2月13日 星期二

A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of February 13, 2018)

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.

By the way, if you liked this movie you'd probably also enjoy (and find a lot that's familiar in) the Robert Redford vehicle Three Days of the Condor.

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)**1/2

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.

48. Logan (2017)***1/2

A solid, dramatic film that may well prove Oscar-worthy.  It's still early 2017, so it's hard to say whether or not the Academy will remember Jackman's performance or Mangold's direction come Oscar time.  But Logan is a good (maybe great) movie that might just stand the test of time.  The last act falters a bit, but the first two acts are excellent.  Not as mind-blowing as The Dark Knight, not as paradigm-shifting as Deadpool, but nevertheless a well thought-out, well executed meditation on pain and loss.

49. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) **

If you're one of those people who LOVED the first Guardians of the Galaxy, you'll probably love this one, too.  I wasn't a huge fan of the first installment, and this movie did nothing to change my mind.  The humor in Vol. 2 seemed even more forced, and the characters spend SO much time explaining plot points that it took me right out of the movie.

50. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)****

Gotta say they nailed it.  I can't think of a single bad thing to say about this movie.  The acting, the directing, the special effects, the fight scenes - and they even made me love Iron Man all over again.  I'll be seeing it again soon.

51. Thor: Ragnarok **1/2

Too jokey by far, even if the jokey bits are also the best parts of the movie.  Hela might be one of the better developed Marvel villains, but the Thor and Loki seen in this movie are so watered down as to be unrecognizable.  Who is Thor, really?  What is his personality?  What does he want?  Even Marvel doesn't seem able to answer these questions - and thus the central flaw in their Thor trilogy.  I'm still a big fan of Taika Waititi, and What We Do in the Shadows remains one of my favorite films, but his directorial style obscures what might have otherwise been a solid action movie.

52. The Black Panther (2017) ***1/2

My favorite thing about this movie is the world-building.  As a piece of world-building Wakanda rivals Peter Jackson's Middle Earth, and Jackson built Middle Earth with the aid of Tolkein's novels.  I've also read my share of Black Panther comics, and I can't think of many precedents for what Ryan Coogler and co. managed to get onscreen.  Black Panther is a well put together movie, and my only reservation is that there isn't much tension leading up to the film's climax.

On the Way

54. Avengers: Infinity War (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.  Now that the long-anticipated Justice League movie has proved itself to be a steaming pile of sh*t, Infinity War will stand in a class of its own, the culmination of 10 YEARS' worth of movies.

55. Deadpool 2 (2018)

Ryan Reynolds reprises his role from the first movie, with Josh Brolin (yes, that Josh Brolin) costarring as Cable.  I like what I've seen from the trailers, and I'm looking forward to it more than Infinity War.

56. X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2018)

Fox gives it the old college try with yet another adaptation of the X-men's most iconic storyline.  Hopefully it doesn't suck, but with the way they're rushing this into production I'm not optimistic.

57. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) 

There are many set pics online, but no details with regard to story.  Ant-Man is still one of the more overlooked Marvel movies, even though it was, in my opinion, far better than Doctor Strange.

58. Venom (2018)

A LOT of disappointment surrounding the teaser trailer.  I'd have to agree that NOT showing Venom was/is pretty weak.  I'm still optimistic about it, but damn, it would've been nice to have seen Venom somewhere in that teaser.

59. Silver and Black (2019)

Is this movie still a thing?  Sony plans to make a movie centered around Black Cat and Silver Sable, but I doubt it will ever hit theaters.

60. The New Mutants (2019)

Josh Boone is directing.  The teaser looks more like a horror movie, a development I have no problem with.  Aside from being very beautiful, Anya Taylor-Joy has also been in a lot of good movies.  Her involvement in this one has me optimistic, and I loved the Demon Bear run as a kid.

61. Captain Marvel (2019)

A female superhero film - even if it will appear a TWO YEARS after DC's Wonder Woman.  And Captain Marvel ain't no Wonder Woman!  Production on this movie's still chugging along, though few details are available.

62. Avengers 4 (2019)

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

63. Spider-Man: Homecoming 2 (2019)

If it's half as good as the first one, it should be great!

64. Gambit (2019)

Don't hold your breath.

65. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2020)

The last one made me sleepy.  A third one?  I don't know, if Adam Warlock is involved I might be more interested.

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