2018年5月31日 星期四

"Papillon" by Henri Charriere (1970)

"The Arab was still making his rounds, inspecting the work, and one fine day we knocked him out with the handle of an axe and dragged him to the ants' nest.  We stripped him and tied him to a tree, bent backwards on the ground, his hands a feet tied with the thick ropes we used for the logs.  We made a few cuts here and there on his body with the axe.  We stuffed his mouth with grass, held in by a gag, so he couldn't shout; and we waited.  The ants didn't go for him till we'd stirred their nest with a stick and sprinkled them on to him.  Then it didn't take long.  Half an hour later there were thousands and thousands of ants at work.  Have you seen flesh-eating ants, Papillon?"

Henri Charriere, a.k.a. Papillon, was convicted of manslaughter in 1931 and sentenced to life imprisonment in French Guiana.  He spent the next 14 years of his life there, attempting to escape whenever the opportunity arose.  Papillon offers his reflections on that experience.

Patrick O'Brian, of Master and Commander fame, did the translation.  I think his choice of 30s American gangster slang is very appropriate, and a more "contemporary" translation would have been less accessible.  Hearing prison guards referred to as "screws" just works for some reason.

Beyond the above, I don't have much to say about Papillon - aside from the fact that it's a great book.  Providing details of Papillon's various escapes seems like giving too much away, and in the absence of such details there's not a lot to be said about his time in French, Colombian, and Venezuelan prisons.  There have been accusations of plagiarism and outright fabrication directed at Charriere, but I feel that these accusations are somewhat peripheral to the book, and that they are better approached after one has finished Papillon.

I'll be seeing the movie soon.  Hopefully it's at least half as good as the book.*

Related Entries:

"Green Island" by Shawna Yang Ryan (2016)
"The Martian" by Andy Wier (2011)
"Arrival" by Ted Chiang (2015)
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead (2016)

*Saw the movie.  Pretty boring if you ask me.  The book is much better!

2018年5月22日 星期二

"Political Order and Political Decay" by Francis Fukuyama (2015)

"Then, as now, the central problem of Chinese politics has not been how to concentrate and deploy state power but rather how to constrain it through law and democratic accountability.  The task of balancing state, law, and accountability that was completed in Japan by the late 1940s has been only partially accomplished in China.  Under Mao Zedong, law virtually disappeared and the country became an arbitrary despotism.  Since the reforms that began under Deng Xiaoping in 1978, China has been moving slowly toward a political system that is more rule based.  But the rule of law is still far from secured, and the regime's sustainability will depend heavily on whether this becomes the main line of political development in the twenty-first century."

Francis Fukuyama is a political scientist based at Stanford University.  He has written many other books, all with some bearing on the subject of political science.

And in case you're already thinking: "Oh my God, this sounds so boring!", I'd have to say that on 9 days out of 10 I'd agree with you.  I'm still not sure what possessed me to buy this book, but having just finished it, I'd have to say that it's not too bad.  It IS boring in parts.  It is most certainly, most definitely boring, but I did learn a few things while forcing myself to read it, and I think the author's thoughts on how governments work (or don't) cast many recent political developments into a new light.

Political Order and Political Decay explores the successes and failures of several national governments throughout the world, holding up liberal democracy as the goal toward which all nations ought to strive.  The author's model of the perfect government often falls back upon democratic participation, the rule of law, and the establishment of an effective (and to some extent independent) bureaucracy.  Most of the book is taken up with regional surveys of governance throughout the world.  As you might have guessed already, the worst examples are drawn from Africa, but surprisingly the best examples are drawn from East Asia and Europe.  The United States, the nation the author calls home, falls somewhere in the middle.

Reading Mr. Fukuyama's thoughts on bureaucracy, I was often reminded of The Death of Common Sense, a book I enjoyed very much.  He also touches upon issues raised in Free Market Environmentalism, and even The Crisis of Islamic Civilization.  I don't think the author of Political Order and Political Decay would disagree in any fundamental way with the authors of these other books, though he might take exception at the application of their ideas on an international level.

Would I recommend this book?  If you like to follow politics, yes.  If, however, you tend to skip that part of the news, you'll definitely want to avoid Political Order and Political Decay.  It may offer timely observations on current political struggles, but it sure isn't light reading.

Related Entries:

"What Money Can't Buy" by Michael Sandel (2012)
"Make Way for the Super Humans" by Michael Bess (2015)
"Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari (2015)
"The Politics of Gun Control" by Robert J. Spitzer (1998)

2018年5月21日 星期一

Some Other Movies From 2004

In 2004 I was living in Seattle and working my way through a Master's in Education.  I was studying books that made me sleepy, and writing papers that made other people sleepy.  By the end of the year I'd be heading back to Taiwan, where I still live.

I think 2004 was a better year for films than 2002.  Sure, it was the year Gigli came out, but I think that on the whole more good movies came out in 2004 than 2002.

The top movies of that year included Shrek 2, Spider-Man 2, The Passion of the Christ, and The Day After Tomorrow.  Of that year's blockbusters, I think Ocean's Twelve was the most surprisingly complex.  Steven Soderbergh put a lot of thought into the Ocean's movies, and although Thirteen remains my favorite, it still amazes me that a movie so elaborate could make so much money.

The Passion of the Christ, however.  I still think it's a good movie, but the reaction to it was somewhat disturbing.  I saw it in the theater, and I can remember hearing children playing in the seats behind me.  A guy (Jesus) is tortured to death for two hours, and this other guy in the audience thought it was family viewing.

Critically acclaimed movies included The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby, Sideways, Ray, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  I love all those movies - particularly the first three - and I've seen them many times.

Some Good Ones

1. The Perfect Score

Much better than I thought it would be.  Six high school students try to steal the answers to the SAT.  I myself never took the SAT, so I have trouble understanding what all the fuss was about.

But hey, it's Chris Evans!  And Scarlet Johansson!  Eight years before The Avengers, these two appeared together in The Perfect Score.  There's even a scene where Evans leads the six students in very Captain America-like fashion, and another scene where Johansson fights security guards in black leather.

2. Team America: World Police

America... FUCK YEAH!!  Of course I'd seen it already, but I was happy to reaffirm the fact that it's hilarious.  "Matt Damon!"

3. Hidalgo

It's not a terrible movie, but I can't say it's tonally consistent.  It starts off like Dances With Wolves, but after Viggo Mortensen visits Saudi Arabia it turns into The Mummy.  I liked parts of it, but this movie about an American cowboy taking part in a middle eastern horse race doesn't always know what kind of story it wants to tell.  I do, however, wish that Mortensen had been in more Westerns.

4. Mean Girls

You'd be excused if you thought it was just another "chick flick."  It's a very funny, and very insightful look at high school.  Lindsay Lohan stars as a girl new to the world of cliques and gossip, with Rachel McAdams co-starring as the school's "queen bee."  

I'm tempted to draw parallels between Lindsay Lohan and Winona Ryder.  They both started young, both had troubles with substance abuse, and both starred in similar movies at around the same age.  For Lohan it was Mean Girls, while for Ryder it was Heathers.  Both are good movies, though I think Tina Fey's writing puts Mean Girls slightly above the earlier Heathers.

5. Vanity Fair

The novel is one of my favorite books, and social climber Becky Sharp is, in my opinion, one of the truly great literary creations.  The movie is relatively faithful to the book, and Reese Witherspoon is a convincing Becky Sharp, although I must say that in director Mira Nair's hands this story is a lot more "Indian" than Thackeray intended.  My one complaint is that Becky's relationship with her husband Rawdon is never quite fleshed out.

6. Layer Cake

Two years before Casino Royale, Daniel Craig starred in this Matthew Vaughn-directed gangster film.  It won't blow your mind but it's pretty good.  

There are also some great shots in this movie.  That shot up through the glass table as they're talking.  That shot in Jimmy's garden after the gunshot.  I don't know whether to credit the director or cinematographer with these shots, but whoever came up with them was a genius. 

7. Soul Plane

It's half dumb and half funny.  If you can get past the fact that Kevin Hart wins a hundred million after his dog gets sucked into a jet engine, and if you can get past the fact that he starts his own airline with zero experience, Soul Plane is an occasionally hilarious movie full of some stunningly beautiful women.

Some Bad Ones

1. The Alamo

Billy Bob Thornton and Patrick Wilson almost save this movie, but it fails to properly introduce its characters, and by the time you get to the end all of the fighting seems entirely pointless.  A movie about the Alamo should end with the Alamo, and not with some anticlimactic skirmish in the woods.

2. Gigli

Yeah, I had to go there.  I'd only seen bits and pieces of this movie before, and it seemed like time to go all in.

It's not so much that the dialogue is a bad copy of something Elmore Leonard or Quentin Tarantino would have written, it's the fact that so little happens.  Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez talk and talk and talk - all the while bringing the plot to a screeching halt.  Is it The Room bad?  Maybe not, but of course The Room was endearingly bad, whereas Gigli is just a chore to get through.

3. Raising Helen

Raising Helen, get it?  Like "raising hell," but her name's Helen!  HA HA HA HA HA

The magically delicious Kate Hudson stars as a woman burdened with three children after her sister and brother-in-law are killed in a freak accident involving airplane glue, a troop of baboons, and a rusty canister of WWII-era Zyklon B.  Or am I making that last part up?  Whichever it is, this movie was super boring.

And I understand why someone would write a will with provisions for the custody of their children, but do most married couples write dual wills with provisions for their simultaneous death?  Seems a bit anal if you ask me...

4. King Arthur

Clive Owen stars as King Arthur in this Gladiator-esque take on the Knights of the Round Table.  Owen gets all the worst lines, and the two Scandinavians - Mads Mikkelsen and Stellan Skarsgard - are far more interesting than any of the other actors.  By the end of this movie I was rooting for Skarsgard's Saxons.

If you want a MUCH better film version of this same story, I highly recommend John Boorman's Excalibur.

5. Without a Paddle

In the same year he appeared with Chris Evans in The Perfect Score, Matthew "Shaggy" Lillard starred with Seth Green and Dax Shepard in Without a Paddle.  This movie about three guys on a treasure hunt is painfully unfunny, but hey, it did make me nostalgic over old camping spots.

6. The Girl Next Door

Hey, it's the dude from Speed RacerAnd the girl Luke Wilson hooks up with in Old School!  The trouble with this movie isn't the B-grade stars, but the fact that the both the protagonist and his would-be girlfriend are completely unlikable.  Of course Elisha Cuthbert looks GREAT in her underwear, but it's not enough to hang an entire plot off of.

7. Open Water

Horror movie featuring two of the whitest people you'll ever meet stranded in the open ocean.  It's one of those "found footage" things; a fad that has thankfully passed us by.  The movie's terrible, but having been stung by jellyfish I can affirm that yes, that shit really hurts.

Fun Fact: In financial terms this movie was an unqualified success.  It made $5 million against a budget of $120,000.

One That Might Be Good or Might Be Bad - I Really Couldn't Tell You

1. Vera Drake

It's so serious.  And SO British.  And I saw one of Mike Leigh's other films, Secrets and Lies, not long ago.  My apologies to Mr. Leigh, but I couldn't go there after watching Without a Paddle.  Maybe someday I'll give it another try.

Related Entries:

A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of May 15, 2018)
Deadpool 2 and Waves of Nostalgia
Some Other Movies From 2002
Avengers: Infinity War: 6 Days and Counting

2018年5月15日 星期二

A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of May 15, 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.

Also, a note on the ratings/stars next to each entry.  These ratings were assigned when the movie came out, and may not reflect my current feelings about that movie.  In other words, I was judging X-men Origins: Wolverine against Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, the other two superhero movies of that year.  Since 2008 there have been a lot more superhero films, and getting three stars in 2018 is a lot harder than getting three stars in 2008.

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.

53. Avengers: Infinity War (2018) ***

Having Thanos as the main character was a bold choice.  That ending was an even bolder choice.  I think that after audiences get past their initial sense of dismay, they'll get behind this movie, though of course the extent of their support remains to be determined.  The story's solid and Thanos is a compelling (if not entirely explained) villain, and the movie does an admirable job of juggling dozens of characters spread across several galaxies.  My one complaint?  The cgi isn't always necessary, and certain characters (Proxima Midnight) ought to have been performed by real, living people.

54. Deadpool 2 (2018) **1/2

Weirdly dramatic in parts, but with enough laughs (and violence) to keep it chugging along.  The first one was funnier, but Deadpool 2 has me looking forward to an X-Force movie - if that ever happens.  The second post-credit scene was almost better than the entire movie.

On the Way

Note: the Fox release schedule is to be treated with the utmost skepticism.  Deadpool 2 is already in the can, but other releases are anybody's guess.  Disney/Marvel has recently acquired the rights to the characters, and it may transpire that Marvel Studios "kills" both the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix and New Mutants films as a way of easing these properties into their cinematic universe.

55. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) 

Ant-Man is still one of the more overlooked Marvel movies, even though it was, in my opinion, far better than Doctor Strange.  Like almost everyone else, I'm curious to see how they work elements of Avengers: Infinity War into this movie.

57. Venom (2018)

The symbiote looks solid, though Eddy Brock resembles Peter Parker a little too closely.  Is that Carnage in the trailer?  The idea of Woody Harrelson playing Carnage has me more excited than Tom Hardy playing Venom.

56. X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Fox gives it the old college try with yet another adaptation of the X-men's most iconic storyline.  That actress playing Jean Grey does absolutely nothing for me, and I'm hoping Marvel prevents this from seeing the light of day.  I'm also not optimistic about first time director Simon Kinberg.

58. 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!  There are many production photos available online.

59. Avengers 4 (2019)

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

60. Spider-Man: Homecoming 2 (2019)

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

61. The New Mutants (2019)

I am/was guardedly optimistic about this one, but they've pushed the date back and those reshoots seem like they're taking forever.  Not a good sign.

62. 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.

63. Gambit (2019)

Don't hold your breath.  I list it here because it's supposed to be entering production soon, but who knows?

64. X-Force?  Deadpool 3?

These films are also supposed to be entering production, but with the Marvel/Disney deal underway their future seems uncertain.  I like the idea of both movies, but then again the idea of Deadpool popping up in a MARVEL movie beats the idea of both movies to death.

Related Entries:

Deadpool 2 and Waves of Nostalgia
Some Other Movies From 2002
A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of April 26, 2018)
Avengers: Infinity War: 6 Days and Counting

Deadpool 2 and Waves of Nostalgia

What a weird world we live in.  Deadpool 2 arrives in Taiwanese theaters today, and I've yet to digest the fact that Cable, Shatterstar, Domino, and even G.W. Bridge (!) will be in the movie.

Have we come so far, only to arrive back where we started from?

I can remember buying that issue of New Mutants #86 in the local comic book store, way back in 1990.  I can remember the craze for anything drawn by Liefeld, McFarlane, Larson, and Lee.  And yes, I can remember the pouches, the shoulder pads, the enormous phallic guns, and the pre-bagged holographic covers with special uranium-tinged ink.  In some ways it was the best time to be a comic book fan.  On other ways it was the worst.

Even then I wasn't a big fan of Rob Liefeld's art.  It wasn't so much the feet, just the fact that his figures looked less fluid than those drawn by his Image cohorts.  My purchase of New Mutants #89 was calculated, given that we all thought (often wrongly) that most of those comics would be worth a fortune someday.

28 years later, and I'll soon be witnessing Cable and other X-Force members in live action.  Cable is a more paramilitary, far less fussy character than his comic book counterpart, while G.W. Bridge is all but unrecognizable.  I can see the likenesses of Shatterstar and Domino in Deadpool 2, though Shatterstar looks - I'll have to admit - a lot less cool.  I've always thought that argument about Domino's supposed "ethnicity" is ridiculous, so I won't bother going there.

I don't mind the changes... yet.  Of course I haven't seen the movie... yet.  Making Cable and G.W. Bridge look like their original comic book versions would have been silly, and no one with any kind of life cares what Domino looks like.  Shatterstar?  He was always going to be hard to pull off.

I just find it hard to believe that all of these characters will be on screen - together - soon.  Who would have figured that in 1990?  Back in the early 90s a Spawn movie would have seemed like a safer bet, but of course we all know how that turned out.  Yeah, I know McFarlane is trying to get a reboot going, but anyone thinking it's not going to SUCK is delusional.

Looking back at that era in comic book history, I'm only sorry that other titles haven't made it to the screen.  I still think a Martial Law movie would be awesome.  I still wish they'd made a movie of Elektra: Assassin.  I still think The One would have made a great film.  We can count ourselves fortunate that Avengers: Infinity War was as good as it was, but the success of that film and the hype surrounding Deadpool 2 makes me a bit sorry that other, less hyped properties didn't make it to the screen sooner.

Just sticking with the Fox properties, I would have loved a Longshot movie instead of X-men: Apocalypse.  Just imagine Mojo and Spiral on the big screen.  I fail to understand why Fox keeps regurgitating the idea of a Gambit movie no one really wants - not when Longshot is so much more self-contained, and when his backstory is so much more intriguing.  And there's a Deadpool 2 connection here, in that Longshot is Shatterstar's dad.

Oh well.  I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with Cable.  He works well as a straight man to Deadpool's clown, even though Cable's backstory is almost incomprehensible.  Josh Brolin is also one of my favorite actors, and if anyone can pull off Cable it's him.

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 2002
A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of April 26, 2018)
Avengers: Infinity War: 6 Days and Counting
Some Other Movies From 2000

SPOILER ALERT: Having seen the film last night, I can now tell you that one of the characters discussed above doesn't appear in the movie!

2018年5月5日 星期六

Some Other Movies From 2002

Up into the 2000s now are we?  In case you're wondering if I ever go outside, I'd like to tell you that yes, I do go outside - very often.  I took part in a triathlon last weekend, I exercise six times a week, and no, I don't still live in my parents' basement.

Watching 4-7 movies per week has put me in the year 2002.  Given that I wrote the Some Other Movies From 1980 entry in September, and that for each entry I watched at least 15 movies, this means that between that entry and this one I've watched over 165 movies, and that's not even counting films that I've seen in theaters.

But perhaps I digress?  Or maybe that was the one time I failed to do so.  Anyway, on to historical/biographical info...

In 2002 I was living in both Taichung, Taiwan, and Seattle, in the great state of Washington.  I was very definitely a dad at that point, married for two years, and on the way to graduate school.  I can't recall anything about my movie watching habits during that time, though I can remember seeing The Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers, Spider-Man, Signs, and the first Ice Age in theaters.  I could be wrong, but I believe I saw all of those movies in either the Tiger City shopping mall or the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department store in Taichung, Taiwan.  I recall being somewhat disappointed by Spider-Man.

Aside from the above-mentioned movies, other big movies of that year included Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Men in Black II, Die Another Day, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and Minority Report.  Of those 2002 blockbusters I think Minority Report was the obvious winner, and that Star Wars Episode II and Die Another Day (a Bond film) represent the worst their respective franchises have to offer.

Some Good Ones

1. 24 Hour Party People

Steve Coogan stars in this pseudo-documentary about the Manchester music scene.  I'm not into any of the bands discussed in this movie, but it's well acted and has some clever twists.

2. Undisputed

Two problems with this movie: 1) Ving Rhames' character, with all his money, wouldn't have ended up in a prison like Sweetwater over rape.  Without an actual video, his lawyers would have had that conviction whittled down to something much less substantial.  And 2) How is he going to reclaim his title after his incarceration anyway?  They would have taken away his boxing license, and without a sanctioned bout his lost title would have remained beyond reach.

The above said, Undisputed is a good prison boxing movie.  Ving Rhames and Wesley Snipes were in great shape, and the movie's thoroughly involving.  The direction stumbles a bit at the outset, but anyone who likes boxing films will enjoy this movie.

Fun Fact: That director, by the way, is Walter Hill, the same guy who directed 48 Hours.  As you might be aware, I'm not a big fan of his work, but he does a decent job here.

3. Bowling for Columbine

For a much more informed look at gun control, I recommend the book The Politics of Gun Control.  It says many of the same things as Bowling for Columbine, but in a much more organized, much less manipulative fashion.

As documentaries go, Bowling for Columbine is literally and figuratively all over the map.  It makes some good points, but these points are often obscured by strange rants about American history, and by Michael Moore's need to place himself in front of the camera as much as possible.  I think it's worth seeing, but I'm sure there are better gun control documentaries out there.

4. Highway

How old were Jake Gyllenhaal and Jared Leto in 2002?  In this movie they look all of 16.  However old they were, they're good together in this pseudo-eulogy of Seattle's grunge scene.  The movie's set in 1994, and Seattle is where the pair end up after eluding vengeful mobsters.

5. We Were Soldiers

Mel Gibson stars as a soldier (general?) leading an elite helicopter squadron during the Vietnam War.  When you think about it, Gibson's been involved in several wars; the First War of Scottish Independence (Braveheart), the Revolutionary War (The Patriot), the First World War (Gallipoli), the Second World War (Hacksaw Ridge), and the Vietnam War (both this movie and Air America).  Aside from Air America, I would have to affirm that all of these movies - if not the wars they portray - are very, very good.

6. Infernal Affairs

I've seen The Departed SO many times.  In case you didn't know, Infernal Affairs is the Hong Kong police drama from which The Departed was adapted.  Infernal Affairs moves a lot slower than the Hollywood version, but it's a good film with a slightly different ending.

7. Irreversible

From a storytelling standpoint, this is the polar opposite of Trapped (see below).  With this movie all bets are off, the story's told backward, and the viewer is left to draw his or her own conclusions.  As one of the two men say in the beginning of the film, "There are no crimes, only actions."

This said, parts of this movie are really hard to watch.  Irreversible is sometimes bundled in with the other "New French Extremity" films, so be warned and bring a strong stomach.  Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassell (two of my favorite actors) deliver strong performances,  and it's both as arty and as philosophical as one would expect.

I find that when critic Roger Ebert used the words "offensive" and "unwatchable" to describe a movie, I usually end up enjoying it a great deal.

8. Jackass: The Movie

Dudes do stunts.  In the course of said stunts dudes often get hurt and/or puke.  Some of the stunts are funny.  Many of the stunts aren't.  Still, if you're bored enough this movie's not bad.

9. Murder By Numbers

Sandra Bullock is GREAT in this movie.  It's definitely not Se7en, but her performance as a detective is some of the best work she's ever done.  Ryan Gosling is in this movie too, and like Jared Leto and Jake Gyllenhaal in Highway he looks all of 16 here.

Some Bad Ones

1. Orange County

I was a bit drunk when I watched this, so I figure that if any comedy was going to be funny that would have been the time.  The whole getting into college motif seemed very tired to me, and the misplaced container of piss gag seemed even MORE tired.  Yeah, it's probably Jack Black's funniest movie, but that's not saying much.

2. High Crimes

Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, and Jim Caviezel star in this military courtroom thriller.  The first half's not bad, but in the second half the plot grows too convoluted for its own good.  Worst of all is the movie's ending, which is just dumb.  Military training?  Who?  When?  Where?

3. Trapped

The trouble with movies like this is that there's a certain morality implied.  Everyone, even the bad people, behave within certain limits.  So you know, for example, that Kevin Bacon's never really going to rape Charlize Theron, for the simple reason that such a rape would alienate this film's target audience.

Trapped is the story of a kindnapping.  They arrive at Theron's house, they take her daughter, and you can probably guess the rest of the plot from there.  Theron and Bacon do their best with a formulaic script, but the direction often puts style over substance.

4. Van Wilder

The dog's name is "Colossus," for chrissakes.  Van Wilder hasn't aged well, but fans of Deadpool might enjoy certain similarities between that movie and this one.  Ryan Reynolds has been a lot funnier in other movies, and gags involving incontinence were already tired back in 2002.

5. The Count of Monte Cristo

Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce star in this film adaptation of Dumas' novel.  It's faithful to the book, lumbers along in uninspired fashion, and you'll probably have forgotten most of the details soon after it's over.  Caviezel would give a more memorable performance in 2004's The Passion of the Christ, and Pearce would star in the much better remake of The Time Machine the same year that The Count of Monte Cristo appeared.

If you haven't read the book, I'd recommend it.  It would be a far better use of your time than watching this film.

Fun Fact: This was Henry Cavill's second movie.  He plays Guy Pearce's son.  ...or does he?

6. The Adventures of Pluto Nash

I think they were going for 48 Hrs. in space.  Eddie Murphy plays a nightclub owner on the moon, with Randy Quaid as his robot bodyguard and Rosario Dawson as his rather obvious love interest.  One can only imagine that Dennis Quaid is continually haunted by the possibility that his career will, at some point, begin to resemble that of his older brother.

Fun Fact: According to this movie, in the future Hillary Clinton will be on the money, and Trump Realty will be selling housing on the moon!

7. Showtime

Buddy cops star in a reality show.  There's a lazy kind of logic in the casting - Eddie Murphy replaying his roles from 48 Hrs. and Beverly Hills Cop, Robert De Niro as the hard-boiled tough guy, Rene Russo as the show's producer, and even William "TJ Hooker" Shatner as the show's director.  But as action comedies go this movie is neither exciting nor funny.  It's not as disastrously bad as The Adventures of Pluto Nash, but it's certainly not good.

One So Bad It's Kind of Good

1. The Transporter

Semi-retarded action movie set in the south of France, with Jason Statham starring a transporter of ill repute.  The plot makes little sense, but that's all part of the fun.  

If you're looking for a good "driver movie" I think Drive has them all beat, but then again that movie's like apples to The Transporter's oranges.  Also in this movie's defense, Taiwanese actress Shu Qi is adorable.

Related Entries:

A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of April 26, 2018)
Avengers: Infinity War: 6 Days and Counting
Some Other Movies From 2000
Some Other Movies From 1998

"What Money Can't Buy" by Michael Sandel (2012)

I don't have much to say about this book.  It's short, the author makes good arguments, and he writes in a very fluid manner about what would be, in another's hands, a very thorny issue.

Here are the two main points he presents in What Money Can't Buy:

"It's worth taking a moment to clarify these two arguments for the moral limits of markets.  The fairness objection points to the injustice that can arise when people buy and sell things under conditions of inequality or dire economic necessity.  According to this objection, market exchanges are not always as voluntary as market enthusiasts suggest.  A peasant may agree to sell his kidney or cornea to feed his starving family, but his agreement may not really be voluntary.  He may be unfairly coerced, in effect, by the necessities of his situation.

"The corruption objection is different.  It points to the degrading effect of market valuation and exchange on certain goods and practices.  According to this objection, certain moral or civic goods are diminished or corrupted if bought and sold.  The argument from corruption cannot be met by establishing fair bargaining conditions.  It applies under conditions of equality and inequality alike."

The rest of this book is basically and amplification and exploration of these two points.  A related point being that markets are never morally neutral, and that commodification always implies certain beliefs and attitudes about the commodity in question.  This, I think, is a very timely observation, and one that I hope we, as citizens of the world, can take a closer look at.

I didn't find this book as interesting or as eye-opening as the author's other book, Justice.  Nevertheless it's still very good and raises many pertinent questions.  If you've read Justice, What Money Can't Buy would be an excellent choice for further reading.

Related Entries:

"The Politics of Gun Control" by Robert J. Spitzer (1998)
Conversation with Bertrand Russell
"Postcapitalism" by Paul Mason (2015)
"The Death of Money" by James Rickards (2014)

2018年5月4日 星期五

"Green Island" by Shawna Yang Ryan (2016)

"It was true: the Generalissimo had sent more troops from the mainland.  He held the philosophy that it was 'better to kill a hundred innocent men than let one guilty go free.'  Rumors claimed that the troops began strafing the shore before they even disembarked."

I can see Green Island from the roof of my apartment building.  I live in Taitung City, less than an hour away from in.  I've lived in Taitung County, where Green Island is located, for 12 years now - much longer than the book's author has ever been resident in Taiwan.  If you add the time I lived on the other side of the island, I've been in Taiwan 18 years altogether.

It's also very possible that I'm more familiar with Taiwan's language and culture than the author herself.  Her biography states that she was born in Sacramento, to a Taiwanese mother and a non-Taiwanese father, and that she only visited Taiwan as a Fulbright Scholar in 2002.  This seems to imply that most of her knowledge of Taiwan comes secondhand, which is of course understandable given both her background and the distance between herself and many of the events she describes.

...and then there's the fact that I've been studying Taiwan's history - in Chinese - for a while now.  I don't consider myself an expert on the subject, but I've been reading books on the topic since at least 2006.  Aside from Education, my academic background also extends to History, and I've been trying to understand Taiwan and how it came to be since I first moved here.

Perhaps I begin with a statement of my credentials because I'm worried about sounding arrogant.  "But she's Taiwanese!" I can imagine someone saying, "What do you know, Mr. Foreigner?"

But is she Taiwanese, really?  Culturally perhaps, and of course everyone's free to choose whatever culture they identify with.  But the fact remains that I've lived here longer, I've studied Taiwanese history for over a decade, and I also have plenty of Taiwanese in-laws to explain how things were, once upon a time.

First, some history:

Up until 1947 Taiwan was a colony of Japan.  Japan won both Taiwan and Penghu (which were then considered separate entities) in the Sino-Japanese War.  After the Ching Dynasty's humiliating defeat, Taiwan remained part of Japan for about 50 years.  After World War II ended, the Allies handed Taiwan over to the Kuomintang (KMT), Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist army.  The KMT subsequently lost their hold over the Mainland, and Chiang Kai-shek and his followers found themselves "marooned" on Taiwan, where they began exercising a repressive amount of control over a restive population.

In Green Island, a doctor is imprisoned on Green Island just after the KMT has taken control of Taiwan.  Unaware of what happened to him, his wife moves from Taipei to Taichung, where she raises her children with her parents' help.  Eventually the doctor returns to his wife, but he is a changed man, beset by a paranoid distrust of authority.

Their story is told from his youngest daughter's point of view.  She outlines the circumstances of both her birth and life in Taiwan before her father's disappearance, and then the narrative flashes forward several years to discuss her father's return.  From there she describes her early 20s, and soon after she details her married life in Berkeley, California, where her husband is involved in anti-KMT activities.  After a mutual friend is assassinated, she and her husband return to Taiwan, where her husband eventually runs afoul of the authorities.  The story concludes in 2003, as the Taipei 101 is being built and the SARS "epidemic" is underway.

I enjoyed the first part of this book... with a few reservations.  The narrator seemed too American at times, especially given the fact that the events described took place in the 1970s, and that her family was very traditional.  I think certain sections could have also used more description, and I often wondered how readers outside Taiwan would picture the events unfolding.  The author doesn't spend much time explaining how things look, and I have the feeling that non-Taiwanese readers would probably transpose elements of other Asian countries into their mental image of Taiwan.

But it's in the California section that, I think, the author really gets into trouble.  The whole espionage subplot is entirely unconvincing.  And in this section the narrator's character is even less consistent, wavering between dutiful Taiwanese wife/daughter/mother and modernized American woman.  Never once does she consider asking other friends and family for help, even though she is at one point cornered by KMT agents.  Never once does she think about calling the police, even though she suspects her husband was involved in a bombing.  She also exhibits a strangely cavalier attitude toward divorce and separation from her husband, even though such sentiments would have been anathema in the village where she grew up.

I don't want to give the ending away, but her return to Taiwan is where things get truly ridiculous.  What happens during her and her husband's "getaway" is completely implausible, given the fact that they were, by that time 1) American citizens, 2) not directly connected to any subversive activity IN Taiwan, and 3) resident in the States for YEARS up to that point.  I get that Taiwan was under martial law, I get that Taiwanese society and Taiwanese law enforcement methods were less permissive than they are now, but I'm just not buying that particular plot twist.

Oh, and that part at the end with the SARS "epidemic."  I was already living in Taiwan at that time, and it definitely wasn't as big a deal as the author makes it out to be.  Yes, people were worried, but it wasn't exactly panic in the streets.  This facet of the book seems particularly manipulative, and points toward a lack of faith in the story the author was trying to write.  A reasoned reflection on the White Terror would have been enough, and it wasn't necessary to liken a momentary media frenzy to the Black Death.

There's also the book's title.  That Green Island spoken of?  The one I can see from the roof of my apartment building?  As it turns out, it only features in one paragraph, very early in the book.  And instead of describing it to anyone's satisfaction, the author uses it as a lazily applied symbol for Taiwan as a whole.

I wouldn't say that Green Island is all bad.  As said above, the early part of the book is surprisingly good.  It's just that the novel seems to collapse under its own weight after a certain point, or perhaps it falls victim to its own, far too wide-ranging intentions.  If you're Taiwanese, or if you're living in Taiwan, I suppose you'll enjoy it, but I wouldn't expect a Taiwan-centric version of The Gulag Archipelago.

Come to think of it, do you know where I first read The Gulag Archipelago?  On Orchid Island, another island visible from my roof!

Related Entries:

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"Arrival" by Ted Chiang (2015)
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead (2016)
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