2018年6月25日 星期一

"The Sympathizer" by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015)

"Everything my guidebook said was true and also meaningless.  Yes, the East was vast, teeming, and infinitely complex, but wasn't the West also?  Pointing out that the East was an inexhaustible source of riches and wonder only implied that it was peculiarly the case, and not so for the West.  The Westerner, of course, took his riches and wonder for granted, just as I had never noticed the enchantment of the East or its mystery.  If anything, it was the West that was often mysterious, frustrating, and really interesting, a world utterly different from anything I had known before I began my education."

Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Professor of English, American Studies, and Ethnicity* at the University of Southern California.  The Sympathizer is his first novel.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2016. 

In The Sympathizer, the son of a Vietnamese woman and a French priest becomes a spy for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.  He later moves to the United States after the U.S. military withdrawal from Indochina, and later still takes part in a doomed expedition to retake Vietnam from the very communist masters he is serving.  As a man caught between races, cultures, and political affiliations, his motives and actions fall under everyone's scrutiny, and he spends much of the book alienated from all but two of his closest friends.

To say that author Viet Thanh Nguyen has a way with words is putting it mildly.  He not so much writes as performs acts of literary subterfuge.  It's been a while since I encountered a writer with both a talent for the language and a mastery of the subject matter, but in The Sympathizer I found both qualities in excess.  It's an almost perfect novel, about which I have only one small complaint.

And that complaint is?  Only that he indulges in "the aspiring immigrant writer" trope, which can be seen in any number of recent books, from Shawna Yang Ryan's Green Island to Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner.  The whole "protagonist as struggling writer" thing has been done to death by some of the most famous names in fiction, and adding "immigrant" to that description doesn't improve it much.  Thankfully the author doesn't spend a lot of time on this somewhat masturbatory, always self-referential plot device, so as said above I voice here a small complaint, not a large one.

This aside, The Sympathizer has a great (and strangely uplifting) ending.  I don't want to give too much away, but let's say it avoids many of the major pitfalls this type of novel tends to encounter, while at the same time bringing all of the elements of the plot together nicely.  I have a hard time imagining that any of the other books nominated for the Pulitzer in 2016 ended in such a resounding fashion, imparting a message that should resonate with any person, regardless of race, culture, or ideology.

Related Entries:

"Farewell Waltz" by Milan Kundera (1973)
"A Matter of Honour" and "Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less" by Jeffrey Archer (1976/1986)
"Papillon" by Henri Charriere (1970)
"Green Island" by Shawna Yang Ryan (2016)

*Not sure if it's "American Studies and Ethnicity," or if "Ethnicity" is an area of academic specialization now.  The Wikipedia article presents his job title without commas.

2018年6月22日 星期五

Some Other Movies From 2008

2008 was not a good year for me.  I was living in Seattle and teaching in various elementary schools there.  It was one of those "personal crisis years," if you know what I mean. 

But hey, they can't all be winners, right?  At least I saw a lot of good movies that year.  And if you like comic book movies, you'll probably know that 2008 was a VERY good year, seeing as it did the release of both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, the first two films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  2008 also saw the release of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, for which Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded an Academy Award.  Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk got by me, but I saw The Dark Knight on its first day in theaters.

And I wasn't the only one.  Christopher Nolan's film was the biggest movie of 2008, with Iron Man coming in eighth at the box office.  Between them lay Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Kung Fu Panda, Hancock (what?), Mamma Mia!, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and Quantum of Solace, one of the most forgettable Bond films.  Rounding out the Top Ten were WALL-E (a great movie) and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.

Let us not forget that The Wrestler appeared the same year.  I've seen that movie so many times that I almost have the dialogue memorized.

Some Good Ones

1. Yes Man

At times this movie will remind you of Office Space, but it's still funny (if not hysterically so).  Jim Carrey has been in his share of bad movies, but he does a good job of toning himself down for this one.

2. Baby Mama

Tina Fey stars as a woman who can't have children, with fellow SNL alumnus Amy Poehler as her surrogate.  This movie's much funnier than the above-mentioned Yes Man.

3. Be Kind Rewind

DIY Hollywood blockbusters could be a lot of fun.  This movie doesn't really get funny until they remake Ghostbusters, but after that point it's pretty good.  My only real issue with it is the Danny Glover subplot.  It's like dead weight bringing the whole thing down.

One huge missed opportunity in this film.  With Glover in the cast, they really should've remade Lethal Weapon.  Hearing him say "I'm too old for this shit!" would have been classic.

4. The Eye

The breathtakingly beautiful Jessica Alba stars as a woman who can see ghosts after a cornea transplant.  I'm pretty sure I've seen the Chinese original, but for the life of me I can't remember anything about it.  The American remake is decent, though far from great.

5. Doubt

Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a commanding performance as a Catholic priest accused of molesting one of the boys in his parish, with Meryl Streep as the nun leveling the accusation against him.  It's a wonderful, thought-provoking film which anticipates current social trends by several years.

6. Rachel Getting Married

Family.  You can't kill them without meticulous planning, and when you try to run away they can always find you with Google.  Anne Hathaway stars as a woman just released from rehab on the eve of her sister's wedding.  It's low budget but very well acted.

Two I Can't Make Up My Mind About

1. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

Ben Stein goes on a crusade for Intelligent Design.  I'm not a believer in this particular theological and/or philosophical viewpoint, but I have to admit that whoever did the editing was quite skillful to make it look like arguments were followed through to their logical conclusions, and to make it look like conversations were conducted in an open and honest fashion.  It's somewhat ironic that the Nazis, those masters of propaganda, are brought up so often in the movie.

I'd love to see an unedited version of that conversation between Ben Stein and Richard Dawkins.  I'm assuming that the reality of that conversation was quite different from what was presented in the film.

2. In Bruges

I know this sounds silly and superficial, but I can't deal with Colin Farrell's eyebrows.  I find them incredibly distracting.  So distracting, in fact, that I had trouble paying attention to whatever he was saying in the film.  I really wanted to give this movie a chance, and I've heard great things about it, but those eyebrows...

Some Bad Ones

1. Appaloosa

One of the most boring Westerns I've ever seen.  Writer and director Ed Harris stars as a marshal with anger management issues, with Viggo Mortenson as his deputy.  Harris was at the top of his game with Pollock, but after seeing this one I began to question his judgement.

2. The Strangers

We Americans sure do love our home invasion movies.  What got me about this one is how SLOW it progresses, and how predictably events unfold.  If you'd like to see a very similar but much better movie, I recommend Funny Games.

3. The Ruins

Four Americans and a German get into trouble visiting a Mayan pyramid.  The premise is somewhat interesting, but the people in this movie are DUMB.  Aside from a delightfully gruesome scene involving a set of broken legs, The Ruins isn't worth bothering with.

Fun Fact #1: If some of those Americans look familiar, there are some very good reasons why.  The med school character was in both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and Pulse, the guy with the curly hair played Iceman in the the X-men movies, and the girl with the brown hair played Lois Lane's coworker in Batman v. Superman.

Fun Fact #2: This movie was shot in Queensland, Australia, of all places.

4. Swing Vote

The U.S. presidential election comes down to a single vote, and a man in small town New Mexico finds himself thrust into the national spotlight.  It starts out well enough, but it goes on too long and I can't imagine his daughter getting that emotionally distraught in just ten days.

5. Flash of Genius

Greg Kinnear stars as an inventor suing The Ford Motor Company after they infringe on his patent.  It's not so much bad as just BORING.  By the time Kinnear's character finally achieves his Pyrrhic victory one can only wonder what the point of it all was.

6. Over Her Dead Body

I bet Paul Rudd wishes he could forget this movie.  His fiancee gets crushed by an ice sculpture on their wedding day, with predictably unhilarious results.  The dialogue is really bad, and the acting isn't much better.  I had to tap out after Rudd's character visited the local psychic.

One So Bad It's Kind of Good

1. Doomsday

Calling it Escape from Scotland would have been more to the point, though it does resemble Mad Max near the end.  The heroine (who has an eye patch and a ridiculous mechanical eye) does a passable Linda Hamilton impersonation, the music is very John Carpenterish, and one of the (badly trained) soldiers is even named "Carpenter."  The last twenty minutes of this movie make absolutely no sense.

Self-Destructive Drinking Game: Every time someone in this movie says "fuck" or "balls" take a shot.  See you in the emergency room!

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Some Other Movies From 2006
Some Other Movies From 2004
A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of May 15, 2018)

2018年6月13日 星期三

"Farewell Waltz" by Milan Kundera (1973)

"'No, I am not overdoing it,' said Bertlef, and then he addressed the cameraman: 'You are under that impression because you merely live in the basement of being, you anthropomorphized barrel of vinegar!  You are filled with acids seething in you as in an alchemist's pot!  You are devoting your life to discovering around you the same ugliness you carry within you.  That is the only way you can feel at peace for a moment with the world.  Because the world, which is beautiful, frightens you, sickens you, and constantly pushes you away from its center.  How unbearable it is to have dirt under your fingernails and a pretty woman beside you!  And so you have to soil the woman before you enjoy her.  Isn't it so, sir?  I am glad you are hiding your hands under the table, I was certainly right to have talked about your fingernails."

Milan Kundera was born in Czechoslovakia, and later moved to France.  He considers himself a French writer, even though his most famous books were written in Czech.  His most famous novel is The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which was later adapted into a film starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

In Farewell Waltz, a famous trumpeter finds out that a young woman he's recently spent the night with is going to have his child.  Not wanting to leave his wife, he persuades her to have an abortion with the assistance of several friends.  The young woman vacillates between compliance and veiled threats, while the trumpeter's friends are slowly revealed in all their eccentricities.

But is it, as the author would have you believe, a French novel?  Not in the slightest.  This novel lacks the irony and nihilism that mark so many French novels, and even beside that it's very Eastern European in character. 

As a novel (of any type) it sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.  It rambles in parts, and some of the characters are less personalities than plot devices.  This is particularly true of the ex-politician, who seems to behave in the most irrational manner.  It's as if the author couldn't come up with reasons for his actions, and in instead launched him into an existential inner monologue about why or why not he might be doing what he was doing.  It might have worked if one felt a genuine sense of uncertainty from the character, but instead of this one gets the feeling that the author couldn't supply the proper motivation.

Those who enjoy Russian writers might like this book.  It has that flavor.  But parts of it could be described as pretentious, and I think that the plot has some issues that are never quite resolved.  It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I have the feeling that Milan Kundera wrote better books.

Related Entries:

"A Matter of Honour" and "Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less" by Jeffrey Archer (1976/1986)
"Papillon" by Henri Charriere (1970)
"Green Island" by Shawna Yang Ryan (2016)
"The Martian" by Andy Weir (2011)

2018年6月11日 星期一

"A Matter of Honour" and "Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less" by Jeffrey Archer (1976/1986)

"He set off at a brisk pace towards the Old Kent Road, conspicuous in his black coat and pin-striped trousers.  He tapped his umbrella nervously before hailing a passing taxi."

The introductory page to this two-novel volume confidently asserts that Jeffrey Archer is a "master storyteller."  What this page doesn't assert, however, is the fact that Mr. Archer is a baron, that he was a member of Parliament for several years, and that he had to resign his seat in the wake of a financial scandal.  Writing novels was a means of reviving his fortunes after his departure from government.

You may have noticed that there is a wide gap between the publication dates of these two books.  The first book, A Matter of Honour, was published in 1976 after Archer lost most of his money in a fraudulent investment scheme.  The second book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less was written when Archer's fortunes were on the rise, not long after he was appointed Chairman of the Conservative Party.  Much of Archer's fiction reflects his personal struggles, and these books are no exception.

In A Matter of Honour, a young man is willed a Russian icon after the death of his father.  What he doesn't know is that the icon hides a document which could, if released in time, alter the complexion of U.S./Russia relations.  The Russians, eager to apprehend the document before it becomes invalid, send a KGB agent to retrieve it from the young man's hands.

On the whole it's an adequate spy novel that made me long for Ian Fleming.  Any sense of suspense is ruined by the improbabilities that litter the plot.  By the end of the book the KGB agent assumes a nearly supernatural aspect, in that he appears almost out of the blue, anywhere, with little explanation.

In Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less four young men are swindled out of their money by a rich American, and in revenge they invent their own schemes for winning the money back.  The author clearly drew upon his own experience for this novel, and for the most part it's very convincing.  

I found the scheme set in Oxford to be the weakest part of the book.  In this part the rich American's actions don't always seem consistent with his character.  Would he really have been so impressed by Oxford traditions?  Would he really have remained so credulous throughout?  The ending to this novel is also a bit unsatisfying, and seems like a bit of cheat.

This said, I think Jeffrey Archer's a good writer.  I'd be happy to seek out some of his other books.  I enjoyed the humor in his stories, and also his light touch with the characters.  At times he reminded me of Anthony Trollope.

Related Entries:

"Papillon" by Henri Charriere (1970)
"Green Island" by Shawna Yang Ryan (2016)
"The Martian" by Andy Weir (2011)
"Arrival" by Ted Chiang (2015)

Rooting for the Rogues

Those following the comic book movie news are probably aware of recent developments with regard to the Flash movie.  At the time of writing they're still revising the script, they've hired a production designer, and several cast members from Justice League (including Ezra Miller) are slated to appear in the movie.

Of course Justice League was a trainwreck if there ever was one, and Warner Bros.' claims that this movie is still "in development" are to be treated with extreme skepticism.  But until we hear otherwise, this movie's a distinct possibility.  And if Aquaman, Shazam!, and/or Wonder Woman 2 overcome the "Justice League curse," it's even more likely that it'll get made.

I don't know about you, but I'm still hoping the Flash makes his next cinematic outing sooner rather than later.  This isn't only because the Flash is my favorite superhero, but also because he has a lot to offer in terms of story.  He's visually appealing, easily recognizable, and easily understood.  In the right hands, The Flash would make a great movie.

Yet I was thinking the other day, what if they turned a Flash movie on its head?  What if they made his Rogues Gallery the heroes, or at least sympathetic antagonists?  What if the story was told from their point of view, with the Flash in the background?

I think such an approach would avoid a lot of problems, and would also go a long way towards forging a more original story.  Ignoring Suicide Squad for a moment, let's imagine that we live in Central City, in the presence of the Flash.  We get up and go to work every morning.  We pay taxes, and eat at restaurants.  We get stuck in traffic.  But everywhere we go we're aware of this presence, this force that rights wrongs, and transports criminals to local jails.  We want to believe that this presence is protecting us from ourselves, but we're never quite sure.  We begin to wonder about the freedom of our actions, and the wisdom of the figure that seems to be impinging upon this freedom.

This presence, of course, is not my invention.  It was touched upon in the Kingdom Come series, though the idea was never (to my knowledge) explored in any depth.  But I've always been captivated by the idea, partly because you'd never see the Flash saving people.  You'd never see him running through the streets.  He'd be largely invisible - not unlike certain communist states.  Would you come to love your scarlet-clad Big Brother?  Or would you come to distrust him?  Would you wonder what future he was steering you toward?  Would you wonder what the mere fact of his presence was doing to your humanity?

I picture this scenario unfolding from a short voice over in the beginning of the movie.  One of the rogues talks about seeing the Flash on TV when he was a kid.  This rogue then discusses aspects of growing up in a place where you're sure to be caught for any crime you commit, and where you could be spied upon by a being moving faster than you can see.  You might see a red blur now and then, but most people only glimpse their city's "savior."

Over time a collection of "individualists" forms - not necessarily criminals, though there are of course criminals in the group.  They meet together, far outside of the city limits, where a careful study of the Flash's activities has shown he never goes.  They begin to air grievances.  They begin to form plans.  It could be that some of their grievances are entirely justified, and it could be that other grievances are just the ravings of antisocial personalities.  They begin to meditate upon bringing down the Flash - either killing him or taking away his powers.  Perhaps their goal is just to shame him, or to cast his activities in negative light.

One of the fun things about such a movie is that Barry Allen can still be a character in it.  He can interact with the rogues at several points in the movie.  They won't even know that he's the Flash.  Perhaps at several points he almost discovers their plan, but other circumstances intervene.  We see him as the Flash, foiling a variety of crimes, but it's not until the end of the movie that our group of misfits face off against the scarlet speedster.

For the final confrontation, I'm thinking of something clever, something similar to a heist film, in that each of the rogues uses his or her set of skills to bring down the Flash.  It would be a very scientific exercise, based on a careful study of the Flash's powers.  They'd have to find the chink in his armor (so to speak), and their plan would progress in careful stages.

I should add that I've always found the "speed force" concept used in the comics slightly ridiculous.  To my thinking it's an explanation that isn't an explanation, and attempts to elaborate on this concept are usually recursive and somewhat lazy.  You might as well say that the god Mercury bestowed his powers on Barry Allen.  So when I say "very scientific exercise" in the paragraph above, I mean that the rogues would be taking advantage of the physical limits of his powers, in whatever order of magnitude the movie chooses to present them.  Giving the cinematic Flash some kind of Achilles heel would be a good thing, and would make it easier to relate to him as a character.  There's not much anyone can do against a guy that runs at the speed of light and passes through solid objects, so you'd have to give him some kind of weakness.

I envision one of two endings for such a movie: 1) one of the rogues almost kills the Flash, but is restrained by another, who has a change of heart, or 2) an even bigger threat arrives, and the rogues realize that they need the Flash to save them from it.  In either event both Flash and the rogues reach an understanding, and he decides to limit his interventions in the future.

Now I hear you saying: "How is this different from Suicide Squad?"  Well, for one thing the plot would be fully thought out.  For another, we already have a "through line" in the form of the rogues' antagonistic relationship with the Flash.  Suicide Squad was a mess of a movie, full of plot holes, and the characters in it were entirely disposable.  This movie would do its best to remedy those problems, though I freely admit that eliminating plot holes in any superhero movie is a challenge.  

Suicide Squad also lacked a satisfying antagonist.  Both the Joker and Enchantress were a huge letdown.  In my version of the Flash, we're not going for any big, cartoon villains like that.  We're going for a certain moral relativism, and for "villains" you can relate to.

All of the above, of course, is just a thought.  Oh, and no "Flash armor" in my version.  Why does the Flash need armor?  And what good is armor with a big open mouth and eye holes?

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 2004
A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of May 15, 2018)
Deadpool 2 and Waves of Nostalgia
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Some Other Movies From 2006

In 2006 I moved to Taitung City, Taiwan, where I still live.  Back then I was teaching at a junior high school.

Given that Taitung didn't even have a movie theater then, and also given the fact that the nearest movie theater was a 3.5 hour drive away, you wouldn't think I saw a lot of the movies from 2006.  But having reviewed the wide releases from that year, I can affirm that I saw just about all of them.  I had a hard time finding the movies from this year that I hadn't seen.

The top ten movies of 2006 were Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, The Da Vinci Code, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Casino Royale, Night at the Museum, Cars, X-Men: The Last Stand, Mission: Impossible III, Superman Returns, and Happy Feet.  Of these movies, I think most people would agree that Casino Royale was the hands-down winner.  Mission: Impossible III wasn't bad though.  It was a definite improvement over Mission: Impossible II.

This said, for me 2006 will always be the year of The Departed.  I have seen The Departed so very many times, and just typing its title makes me want to see it again.  Possibly the best Scorsese movie, with Casino a close second, and Goodfellas not far behind.

Some Good Ones 

1. Shortbus

Hey, it's porn!  No it's not - it's art!

Whatever it is, Shortbus is watchable.  If you haven't heard about it already, it's the story of New Yorkers looking for love, or looking for an orgasm, or looking to be anally penetrated.  There's plenty of graphic sex, but it's not always convincing.  I have two complaints about this movie, and they are: 1) they should have cast more porn performers that could act, rather than actors willing to do porn, and 2) the "Sofia" character is way too neurotic to have ever functioned as either a sex therapist or couples counselor.

Fun Fact: On the wall of "Sofia's" office there are two framed Chinese characters, 救 and 命.  These two characters together form the phrase "Help!" or "Save me!"  The symbolism is obvious, though perhaps less obvious is the fact that no traditionally-minded Chinese person would ever put such a phrase on their wall.  It would be extremely bad luck.

2. For Your Consideration

The Spinal Tap trio tackles Hollywood.  The humor in this movie is so dry it wants to borrow your moisturizer, but it might be the best thing Catherine O'Hara has ever been in.  Earlier films like A Mighty Wind or Best in Show are easier to relate to, but this one is definitely worth watching.

3. Akeelah and the Bee

Good, if slightly predictable movie.  A young girl from south-central L.A. takes part in the national spelling bee.  Great performances from Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett, and yes, it does tug on the heartstrings near the end.

Fun Fact #1: This movie reunites Fishburne and Bassett, who earlier appeared as Ike and Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do With It.

Not-So-Fun Fact: There are entire academic papers devoted to the racial dynamics of this film.  If you want my two cents, it's not like racist Chinese-American fathers don't exist...

4. The Queen

A truly excellent movie.  Definitely one of the best of that year, but also one of the best I've seen in a long time.  As an American, I've always been somewhat mystified by the relationship between the Prime Minister and the royal family, and this movie cleared up a lot of my confusion.

Helen Mirren was one of those actresses destined to play the queen at some point in her career, and in this movie she doesn't disappoint.  As film portrayals of the British monarch go, I'd have to say that hers is the best I've ever seen.

The Queen details the public relations disaster experienced by the royal family in the wake of Princess Di's untimely death.  And yes, like most non-British people, I had a hard time understanding what the big deal was, but the film illustrates the relevance of these events nicely.  Who knew that the workings of modern British government could prove so interesting?

Fun Fact: the actor playing the queen's private secretary (Roger Allam) also played the bad guy in Speed Racer.

5. Annapolis

A riveter tries to become a naval officer.  James Franco stars, with Tyrese (Gibson) as his commanding officer.  It's a good movie, though the score's a bit overdone and this movie bears too many similarities to the far superior An Officer and a Gentleman.

Fun Fact #1: Director Justin Lin, better known for several of the Fast and the Furious movies, would go on to direct both Tyrese and Jordana Brewster in those films.

Fun Fact #2: Due to certain inaccuracies, this movie really pissed off both the U.S. Department of the Navy and the Department of Defense.

Fun Fact #3: Donnie Wahlberg, brother of Mark, appeared in this movie between Saw II and Saw III.

6. The Last Kiss

A relationship movie if there ever was one.  The cast is excellent, with Casey Affleck making a memorable appearance as one of four friends rethinking their future.  BUT trying to stab your boyfriend just because he's kissed another woman is kind of psycho.  Not sure if winning her back is really "winning."

7. The Guardian

Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher star as a pair of coast guard rescue swimmers.  It starts out great, but gets bogged down in training details and unnecessary story arcs near the end.  Costner and Kutcher are both good in this movie, but the script wasn't doing them any favors.  Editing a half hour or so out of this film would have worked wonders.

8. Employee of the Month

It's not hilarious or anything but it has its moments.  Two coworkers compete to win both a car and a hot girl's affections.  The underrated Dax Shepard stars as one of the coworkers, with the superfine Jessica Simpson as the hot girl.  How Beerfest (see below) has a higher score than this movie on Rotten Tomatoes is beyond me.

Fun Fact: Jessica Simpson later dated Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.  She was often blamed for his declining performance on the field.

9. School for Scoundrels

Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Heder, Ben Stiller, Sarah Silverman - a lot of funny people who've been in a lot of funny movies.  I'd like to say it was the funniest movie of 2006, but Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby came out the same year.  Michael Clarke Duncan was in both films.

10. Flags of Our Fathers

Iwo Jima.  That was some nasty business.  Have you seen the footage they shot?  Dudes running in and out of holes with flamethrowers.  In a word: Yikes.

This film, directed by Clint Eastwood, has a subtlety that most war movies lack.  It ventures into both the front lines and the economics of the Second World War, and does so in a way that still seems timely.  It also builds upon the efforts of previous films like Saving Private Ryan and We Were Soldiers without seeming like an obvious copy.

If actor Ryan Philippe isn't proof of Hollywood's fickleness I don't know who is.  He obviously had the talent, he obviously had the looks, but for whatever reason he never quite crossed that threshold into real fame.  What's he up to these days?  He's the star of a USA Network show based on a mediocre film that starred Mark Wahlberg.

Fun Fact #1: Clint Eastwood's son Scott Eastwood is in the beginning of this movie.  It was his first.  His other son, Kyle Eastwood (who appeared on film much earlier in Honkytonk Man), also did some of the soundtrack.

Fun Fact #2: Clint Eastwood and Spike Lee got into a minor feud over this movie.  Lee complained that it featured no black marines, even though they are clearly present in the film.

Fun Fact #3: Saving Private Ryan, We Were Soldiers, and Flags of Our Fathers - Canadian actor Barry Pepper appeared in all three films.

11. Invincible

The setting will remind you of Rocky, but this movie about a local guy trying out for the Eagles is very much its own film.  Mark Wahlberg is entirely believable in the role, and the soundtrack is excellent.  As football movies go, it's not as good as either Friday Night Lights or Any Given Sunday, but it was definitely one of the best movies of 2006.

Some Bad Ones

1. Beerfest

Once in a great while you see what you think is the stupidest movie ever made.  Last month, for me, this movie was Without a Paddle.  Last month I was convinced that Without a Paddle was - without a doubt - the dumbest movie I'd be seeing in a long time.  And yet - what is this I see before me?  Why yes good friends, it's Beerfest, and compared to Beerfest, Without a Paddle is positively intellectual.  I don't know why someone greenlit this movie, and I can't imagine what drugs they were on at the time, but it's bad - so bad.

2. Final Destination 3

I think calling the demonic forces "evil" is very insensitive.  They were considerate enough to let the high school students know when their own deaths were coming, weren't they?  They even added helpful hints, like: "You will be burned to death in a tanning salon." or "You will be decapitated by exercise equipment."  Really, it's the high school students who are the "evil" ones, because who is the real source of emotional distress in this movie?  Why the high school students of course.  Instead of blithely accepting those burnings, and decapitations, and stray nails from nail guns, they insist on fighting their final destination, even when the sensible thing to do would be to lie down, and resign themselves to their fate.

The deaths in this movie are memorable, but in-between those deaths lie oceans of conversation, in which boring people you'd rather see dead discuss their imminent demises.  I, for one, would like to thank the demonic forces that made these deaths possible, because it is only these deaths that make this movie halfway interesting.

3. RV

Yes, Robin Williams is dead now, and that's sad.  But RV still isn't funny.  I'm assuming that he was only in this family-friendly comedy for the paycheck, because the script - a lame pastiche of every road trip movie you've ever heard of - sure wasn't making him any funnier.

Fun Fact: This movie won the Golden Raspberry award for "Worst Excuse for Family Entertainment."

4. Firewall

It's not so much bad as just completely forgettable.  Harrison Ford has his house invaded by Paul Bettany and some paramilitary types.  SPOILER ALERT: I'm pretty sure it's impossible to impale someone who's standing right behind you with a pickaxe.

5. Pulse

An evil presence takes over the Internet.  Or wait, hasn't that already happened?  Whatever the case, this movie squanders what might have been an interesting premise for the sake of jump scares.  I'd like to see the Japanese original.

6. My Super Ex-Girlfriend

G-Girl, huh?  The only thing "super" about this movie is how cringeworthy it is.  Luke Wilson was probably overjoyed to have a big budget movie on his schedule, but Uma Thurman?  She really should have known better.  Surprisingly, Ivan Reitman was the director.

7. Freedomland

So... the police cordon off an entire housing project in New Jersey on the word of an obviously deranged woman without any evidence?  With all those reporters lurking around, I can't imagine that this would have flown in 2006, much less 2018.  Samuel Jackson stars as a detective, with Julianne Moore as the mother of a missing child.  Both of the leads are solid, but the direction's a bit too manic, and the story could have done with some thinking over.

8. Gridiron Gang

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson coaches a football team in a youth detention center.  The Rock's acting skills aren't quite up to the task, though in fairness he's gotten better since then.  My main problem with the movie is that it doesn't seem to know how to present the members of the team, and for this reason the movie seems unfocused.

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