2021年10月14日 星期四

Some Other Movies From 2021

It's 2021 now, isn't it?  Not for long though.  We've got a little over two months left, and then it'll be 2022.

I spent all of 2021 living and working in Fangliao Township, Pingtung County, Taiwan.  There has been a lot of job-related uncertainty.  I've lost a couple friends.  I've gained a couple new ones.  All in all it isn't a terrible year, but I've had better years for sure.

I can't say what the top movies of 2021 are because it's not over yet.

I can't say what the critical favorites were.

I can't say which movie I liked the least, because I'm sure I'll see other 2021 movies in the future.

BUT I can list the movies I've seen so far.  Keep in mind that release dates are different in Taiwan.  Some of the movies below might have been released the year before in the States, some might not have been released there yet.


Excellent

1. Godzilla vs. Kong

I like big stompy monsters.  That's kind of my thing.  This movie isn't perfect, but it features a few big stompy monsters stomping a lot of stompable things.  I appreciate that.  The people I went with were all rooting for Kong.  I was rooting for Godzilla.


Some Good Ones

1. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

In case you're unfamiliar with the comic books, Shang-Chi was always a street level character, tied to the neighborhood where he lived and isolated from most of the rest of the Marvel Universe.  He was very much a product of the 1970s, an era in which Bruce Lee was blowing people's minds.

The more recent movie incarnation is a whole other character.  It's not just that they retooled the Mandarin's backstory, but also the scale of Shang-Chi's powers, the magical elements, and the fact that he's untethered to any single (urban) location.  The MCU Shang-Chi is just a whole lot bigger, and I think this change of scale makes sense given the MCU films that have come before him.  Giving us another street level hero along the lines of the Netflix shows would have been disappointing.  It also wouldn't have made as much sense given the kind of continuity Marvel Studios is creating.

I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I thought I would.  I wasn't super excited going in, but by the time the fight on the bus started I was fully invested.  Simu Liu is a good actor, and Tony Leung, who's carried more movies than I can count, was an ideal choice for the villain.  If someone explained the ending to you beforehand you'd probably make up your mind against it, but as it is they do an excellent job of building up to that fantastical conclusion.

Awkwafina?  I think she was miscast.  She was great in The Farewell - a movie in which she plays a similar character - but her humorous dialogue in Shang-Chi lessened the movie.  The actress playing Shang-Chi's sister - a woman I found insanely attractive - could have just as easily filled the same function in the plot.

Fun Fact 1: Actor Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, almost starred in a Shang-Chi television show in the 1980s.  Bruce Lee was the visual inspiration for Shang-Chi back in the 70s.

Fun Fact 2: Movie martial arts legend Yuen Woo-Ping almost directed a version of Shang-Chi for Dreamworks Pictures back in the early 2000s.  Yuen Woo-ping choreographed the fights in the The Matrix.

2. Zack Snyder's Justice League

Is it akin to the Second Coming of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?  Of course not.  It's unquestionably better than the Joss Whedon version, but I won't argue that it's not too long.  It does fill in some blanks with regard to the earlier version, and I especially enjoyed the added scenes with the Flash, but after watching it I had no desire to see it again.  I think the best version of Justice League is somewhere between Snyder's (far more cohesive) vision and Joss Whedon's more "commercially acceptable" substitute.

If nothing else I'm happy this movie was released because it diffused all the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut agitation.  I'm sure all of those people have moved on to some other cinematic cause, and I'm happy to NOT know what that cause is.

Fun Fact: That scene with Martian Manhunter in the end originally featured John Stewart/Green Lantern.

3. Suicide Squad

SO much hype, but yeah, it's a solid movie.  I wasn't a big fan of James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy films, but this one worked much better for me.  I liked "the fakeout" in the beginning, I enjoyed the gratuitous violence, and in Bloodsport Idris Elba seems to have found a comic book character worthy of his acting ability.

My favorite parts of this movie were Bloodsport and Peacemaker's assault on the rebel camp, and also the scenes involving King Shark.  Harley Quinn shouldn't have been given so much screen time, and Joel Kinnaman - as in the first movie - doesn't have enough to do.  Starro was well done, and making his origins more gruesome was a great idea.

Future: At the present time Gunn seems to have drifted away from the DCEU.  He's been helping the Peacemaker series along, but after production on The Suicide Squad wrapped he'd already started work on the third Guardians of the Galaxy.  There's even a Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special on the way in 2022.


Some Bad Ones

1. Black Widow

I hated it.  Warmed-over Winter Soldier nonsense.  I never thought Black Widow deserved her own movie, and this movie is proof of that.  Spider Woman?  Bring it on.  Ms. Marvel?  I'd love that.  Captain Marvel 2?  Bound to be better than the first one.  But Black Widow?  Why?

I liked David Harbour, Rachel Weisz and Florence Pugh though.  They outshine Scarlett Johanssen in every scene they're in.  The rest of it?  Not doing anything for me.  The worst bit is the villain explaining his entire plot aboard the sky base near the end, and that skydive from said base after it gets exploded is pure impossibility.

Calling this "the seventh highest-grossing film of 2021" also isn't saying much.  That designation is probably untrue now anyway.  Many films had release dates delayed and even pushed to the following year due to the pandemic.

In a Parallel Universe: Emily Blunt almost played Black Widow in Iron Man 2.

2. Army of the Dead

I wanted to like this movie.  I really enjoyed Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead.  I just wasn't feeling it.  It tries a couple novel things: the zombie birth, the zombie animals, but those two gimmicks aside it's very dark and very boring.  I like the kind of actor Dave Bautista's shaping up to be, but this movie isn't that entertaining.

3. No Time to Die

People who entered the series alongside Daniel Craig will probably love it, those who've been a fan for longer probably won't.  For me this wasn't a Bond movie.  It's overlong, it's depressing, and it misses the point of the character.  He's a heterosexual male fantasy after all, and not many heterosexual males fantasize about beautiful women we can't have, villains who plan on torturing and/or killing our loved ones, or the personal sacrifice Bond has to make at the end of this movie.  I think Craig was a good Bond - maybe not the best Bond, but definitely good - and I don't think this was the right way to say farewell to his character.  

4. Dune

What?  I didn't like Dune?  No, I didn't.  Like No Time to Die above I thought it was too long, TOO LOUD, and a burdened by the impression it was trying to make.  If the sequels ever get made I'll happily consider this movie the first half of something better, but taken on its own it doesn't present a very compelling narrative.

I still think Denis Villenueve is one of the best directors out there, but he needs to back away from this "small character against an enormous background followed by loud, unidentifiable noises" thing he keeps doing.  It really worked in films like Sicario and Blade Runner 2049, but it's getting repetitious.  I'll agree that there's not much character development in the book, but this movie makes David Lynch's version look concise by comparison.


Movies I'm Looking Forward To

1. Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Woody Harrelson does "evil" well.  I probably won't see it in the theater but I'm sure I'll see it at some point.

2. The Jesus Music

I know this is a weird choice, but this documentary on the Christian music scene sounds interesting.

3. The Last Duel

Ridley Scott does well with historical epics.  I recently saw the director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven and really liked it.

4. The Velvet Underground

Documentary on the band.  I've been a fan for a long time.

5. Passing

I've been a fan of Ruth Negga since Loving.

6. Eternals

Anyone who likes comic book movies will be lined up to see this next month.  Director Chloe Zhao won an Oscar last year for Nomadland and this movie has everything else going for it.

7. House of Gucci

Another film by Ridley Scott.  Lady Gaga, Adam Driver and Jared Leto in the same movie.  It should be interesting if nothing else.

8. Don't Look Up

Director Adam McKay tackles science fiction with Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and several other famous names in tow.

9. A Journal for Jordan

Denzel Washington is one of my favorite directors, and he'll be directing Michael B. Jordan in this one.  Should be good.

10. Spider-Man: No Way Home

Multiversal madness!  No, Sam Raimi's not directing, but this movie will hold you over until Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness appears.  It's probably a solid film.  I just hope the speculation on who is and who isn't in it doesn't prove more fun than the movie itself.

11. The Matrix Resurrections

If we're lucky it'll blow our minds, if we're unlucky it'll be a derivative sci-fi action movie with good fight scenes.  I'm a huge fan of the 1999 original so of course I have to see it.

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Some Other Movies From 2020

In 2020 I was COVID.  I spent some of that year in COVID, and then I moved to COVID where I am sitting here, writing this COVID.  It was a difficult COVID for sure.

The top 5 movies of 2020 were COVID, COVID 2: The Variant, COVID Crusaders, COVID: Mask Up or Fuck Off and COVID: Let's Hope This Vaccine Works.  I have seen (and hated) all of these movies.

Some critical favorites of 2020 were Wuhan: Journey to COVID, Captain COVID 3: Infinite COVID and The Unbearable Difficulty of Breathing.  Michael COVID was very memorable in Captain COVID 3, but I think the non-linear plot structured employed in The Unbearable Difficulty of Breathing was a little forced, and not suitable given the COVID they were trying to tell.

My favorite movie of 2020 was definitely COVID: The Hysterical, Existential Terror.  It's by far the best in the COVID series, and I look forward to COVID: The Hysterical, Existential Terror 2 this summer.

My least favorite movie of 2020 was COVID Conspiracy, because listening to certain friends talk about that shit all the time gets old.

[Pausing to remove mask and take a long, infectious breath]

Below are the movies of 2020 that I've seen so far.  I'll be returning to this year soon to review some of the movies I missed.


Some Good Ones

1. Bloodshot

This is the last movie I saw in the theater before Tenet appeared almost a year later.  It was a long wait between Bloodshot and TenetBloodshot isn't High Art, but I think that given the quality of the comic book that inspired it it's not bad.  Vin Diesel's costar in this movie, Elza Gonzalez, is also very beautiful.  Everyone I saw this movie with despised it, but we'll have to agree to disagree on that one.

R.I.P. Valiant Cinematic Universe.

Fun Fact: Jared Leto was in negotiations to play Bloodshot before he settled on Morbius.  That movie, featuring the titular vampire superhero (?) has been pushed back to January of next year.

2. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

It has its moments.  Weirdly enough, Rachel McAdams is funnier than Will Farrell in it.

Fun Fact: McAdams prepared for her role by studying videos of Icelandic singer Bjork.


Some Bad Ones

1. Birds of Prey

I liked the fight scenes but that was about it.  Margot Robbie is quite the athlete.  The villain wasn't very threatening, and I thought the overemphasis on "girl power" diminished the film.

2. The Invisible Man

I've enjoyed Elizabeth Moss in several movies but this isn't one of them.  This horror retread doesn't add much to an already tired formula, and the characters populating its bare bones story are all uninteresting in the extreme.

Fun Fact: A lot of people blame The Mummy, but this movie's failure also hastened the demise of Universal's Dark Universe.

3. Tenet

Christopher Nolan helming another movie that only makes sense to Christopher Nolan.  I like John David Washington - he gives the kind of commanding performance his father is known for - but the plot of this movie is nonsense.  It brought back to me, in vivid detail, my annoyance with Interstellar.

4. Wonder Woman 1984

A movie that makes a lot of emotional sense but very little logical sense.  It's gratifying if you don't stop to think about things like Wonder Woman RAPING A MAN, or the whole architecture of wishes at work in this movie.  I'm a big fan of Kristen Wiig, and I was also disappointed with how she was used in this movie.

5. Fantasy Island

Sinister Blumhouse remake of the beloved (and undeniably cheesy) TV series.  Like the people trapped on the island it goes nowhere fast.

6. Extraction

Chris Hemsworth stomps around Bangladesh, merrily shooting whoever gets in his way.  This movie might be action-packed but it's also kinda dumb.  There's a sequel on the way this year.

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Movies of the Late 2010s, Ranked in the Order I Enjoyed Them


To misquote the Book of Ecclesiastes, "Of making lists there is no end, and in much listing there lies a weariness of flesh."  This, however, will be the last list I'll be compiling for a while.  Whenever I happen to finish the "Some Other Movies" entries for 2020 and 2021, I'll be venturing backwards to the early 1970s, and however many movies that involves will undoubtedly add up to a long time.

Of all these lists this one is going to be the most contentious, simply because it's so close to the present day.  Just know that I tried my best, even though comparing the first "Some Other Movies" entry for 2015, which was written three years ago, and the second "Some Other Movies" entry for 2019, which was written right before this one, wasn't easy.

The sheer number of movies I saw in 2019 also presents a problem.  In 2019 I saw over 10 movies for every month, and including the movies listed in the Some Other Movies From 2019 entry would probably give me an aneurysm.  Besides that, those movies have already been ranked to some extent in the same entry.  I included the movies from the Some Other Movies From 2019 (2) entry, but fitting all the movies from the first 2019 entry into this one was just too much for me.

The movies at the top are among my favorites.  The movies at the bottom are, in my opinion, to be avoided at all costs.  I left the year numbers off these movies.  They're all recent films and not that hard to find.

Killing of a Sacred Deer
Blade Runner 2049
Logan Lucky
The Big Short
I, Tonya
Annihilation
The Witch
The Favourite
Your Name
Burning
The Florida Project
First Man
Darkest Hour
Home
A Star is Born
Baahubali 2: The Conclusion
Wind River
Thoroughbreds
Baby Driver
Upgrade
Run All Night
You Were Never Really Here
Raw
Boyka: Undisputed
The Neon Demon
Trolls
American Made
All the Money in the World
Elle
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Cinderella
Pitch Perfect 2
The End of the Tour
Paterson
The Intern
Wolf Warrior II
Padmaavat
The Gentlemen
Battle of the Sexes
Zero Days
Wonder
A Walk in the Woods
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Triple 9
Revenge
Rampage
Dope
Stonewall
Tag
Creed II
Crazy Rich Asians
The Great Wall
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Lady Bird
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Concussion
The Platform
Bohemian Rhapsody
Bumblebee
The Hitman's Bodyguard
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Don't Breathe
Skyscraper
Sing
The Shallows
Legend
Detective Chinatown 2
Wild Card
Hunter Killer
Forgotten
Oceans Eight
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
Cars 3
The Equalizer 2
Hostiles
Woman in Gold
Insidious: Chapter 3
The Free State of Jones
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
The Age of Adaline
Ferdinand
American Ultra
Trumbo
Transformers: The Last Knight
Love
Pitch Perfect 3
A Wrinkle in Time
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
The Meg
Standoff
Criminal
The Forest
Detroit
The 5th Wave
Anna
Now You See Me 2
Poltergeist
London Has Fallen
A Ghost Story
The Nun
Leatherface
Genius
True Story
Irrational Man
Blackhat
Hitman: Agent 47
Gotti
Me Before You
The Good Dinosaur
Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds
Insurgent
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Mary Poppins Returns
Shock and Awe
The Boy
Hunter Prey
The D Train
Keanu
Last Knights
Diablo
Game of Aces
Sausage Party
The Boy Next Door
BlacKkKlansman
Fifty Shades Darker
"The Real Godzilla"

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Some Other Movies From 2019 (2)


Those referring back to the Some Other Movies From 2019 entry will see that I've already watched most of the movies from that year.  What you see below is four of the few remaining movies I haven't.

The following things happened in 2019:
  • U.S.-China tensions surfaced again as the U.S. Justice Department charged Chinese tech giant Huawei with multiple counts of fraud.
  • The Indian air force launched multiple air strikes against targets in Pakistan.
  • Venezuela underwent a sustained presidential crisis.
  • The EU fined Google over breaches of antitrust regulations.
  • A fire engulfed the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a controversial "sovereign internet" bill into law.
  • Thousands of Hong Kong residents protested against their local government.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump pulled America out of several trade and military agreements.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic kicked off with the first known human case in Hubei, China.

Some Good Ones

1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

This movie reminded me a bit of the earlier La Belle Noiseuse.  Both movies explore the relationship between an artist and his/her subject, and both movies relate eroticism to art.  In Portrait of a Lady on Fire this erotic element is at once more explicit and less spoken of, while in La Belle Noiseuse the erotic element is at once more aesthetic and more discussed between various characters.  Both movies also move at a glacial pace, so if you've just watched F9 expect to have trouble focusing on this one.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire and La Belle Noiseuse are both, however, undeniably good movies.  I'd recommend watching either of these movies around midday, after you've had a good nap and a cup of coffee.  That should be the right time.

The director of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Celine Sciamma, was in a relationship with star Adele Haenel (Heloise) at the time of filming.  One could interpret this entire movie as a love letter to Haenel, though Sciamma and Haenel have since parted ways.

Oh, and Valeria Golino is in this.  Remember her?  She was in several American movies back in the 80s.  Her career has since shifted over to Europe, though she's made a few appearances in American TV shows.

2. The Platform

In this Spanish production a man tries to survive six months in a "Vertical Self-Management Center."  It's a very violent film that trades in a lot of symbolism.  I didn't love it, and it felt to me like a novel I would've had trouble finishing.

3. The Gentlemen

Guy Ritchie traffics in British and American gangsters.  Unlike Anna below this movie really is a return to form, with Ritchie outdoing himself in terms of plot twists and memorable exchanges between idiosyncratic characters.  Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam and Hugh Grant turn in great performances, and the movie is familiar in a comforting way.


A Bad One

3. Anna

Speaking of Notre-Dame (de Paris), you can see it in this movie when Anna walks out of the photo shoot.  Most of Anna is set in Paris, which makes sense given that the director, producer and writer is Luc Besson, who'd just wrapped production on the disastrous Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Anna is undoubtedly better than Valerian, and the story, centered around a KGB agent turned supermodel, plays to Besson's strengths as a director.  Costars Luke Evans and Helen Mirren make it slightly better than it ought to be, and there are some good fight scenes, but the movie moves backwards and forwards too much.  Once Cillian Murphy shows up in the tropics it gets very ridiculous very fast.

Fun Fact: Star Sasha Luss was in Valerian too.  At the time of writing her filmography consists of that movie and this one.

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2021年10月10日 星期日

Some Other Movies From 2018 (2)


For further background on the year in film, please refer to the Some Other Movies From 2018 entry.

The following things happened in 2018:
  • Turkey began a military offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
  • Scientists in China cloned monkeys for the first time.
  • The Winter Olympics were held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping became "President for Life" after China's constitution was amended.
  • Americans demonstrated against gun violence and mass shootings.
  • Movie theaters were opened in Saudi Arabia for the first time since 1983, and women there were allowed to drive.
  • Ethiopia and Eritrea officially declared an end to their military conflict.
  • Civil unrest spread across France.

Excellent

1. Burning

Two villagers from rural South Korea rediscover one another in Seoul, only to be separated by a mysterious stranger.  I like how this movie doesn't try too hard to achieve symmetry, and how it avoids symbolism (or in one character's words "metaphor") whenever possible.  Things are what they are, and actions take place against a background of unfolding events.  Most American movies probably would have tried to imbue certain people and places in this film with larger meanings, but this movie leans back into its simple plot, realizing that the human elements in the story are enough to carry it forward.

Fun Fact: The references to Faulkner are not accidental.  This movie was based in part on his story "Barn Burning."

2. The Favourite

Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone star as two cousins vying for influence within Queen Anne's court.  This is director Yorgos Lanthimos' seventh film, following Killing of a Sacred Deer, and with this one I'm officially a fan.  The Favourite tells a compelling story of ambition, and despite what might seem less than involving subject matter it never grows boring.  I'd also like to think that the people of Queen Anne's time really were that vulgar.  It goes a long way to explaining many of the things they did.

Olivia Colman, by the way, won the Oscar for Best Actress for The Favourite..

Fun Fact: Emma Stone is in the midst of filming another movie with the same director, Poor Things, which will be released next year.


Some Good Ones

1. Upgrade

RobocopVideodromeThe Matrix?  Upgrade is somewhere between those three movies.  In Upgrade a man allows himself to be "upgraded" after an attempt on his life, and his subsequent quest for revenge proves to be more than he bargained for.  It's a solid action movie, even if some of the acting isn't quite on par with movies in the "Excellent" category above.  I will say that I admire what they did with what must have been a smaller budget.  They obviously weren't dealing with Matrix-level dollars, and some of the fight sequences were inventively filmed.

Fun Fact: Aside from the star, Logan Marshall-Green, and the accents, this movie is about as Australian as they come.  It was filmed around Melbourne.

2. Solo: A Star Wars Story

Ah, the Star Wars universe, in which futuristic and antiquated technologies coexist.  We can make everything float, but somehow some of the things are still running on tracks.  We can travel several times the speed of light, but somehow it takes a while to get anywhere.

If you can put Harrison Ford out of your mind this is a good movie.  Ron Howard is in tune with the material, and Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote the script, has the kind of background to make it all work.  Alden Ehrenreich is a serviceable Han Solo, and the plot - even though I just watched it and would be at pains to tell you what it's about - progresses at an even pace.

Fun Fact 1: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, perhaps best known for their work on The Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, were the original directors of this film.  They left the project citing "creative differences," and their replacement by Howard led to this being one of the most expensive movies ever made.  It was, all said and done, a huge bomb at the box office, and the worst-performing live-action Star Wars film ever made.

Fun Fact 2: Look real hard and you'll see Warwick Davis, who started his career playing an Ewok in Return of the Jedi.

3. Hunter Killer

Gerard Butler takes on a load of hot seamen.  Alright alright.. calm your homoerotic fantasies!  Puns regarding submariners aside, it's definitely not the worst of Butler's movies, though I could only shake my head at both the military strategy and military discipline on display in this movie.  Is it Oscar-worthy?  Hell no, but there have been worse movies involving sailors, seamen, and combinations thereof.

4. Bumblebee

I'm going to consider this a kid's movie.  For this reason I'm not going to be so critical of it.  Hailee Steinfeld is good in the lead, it trades on a lot of 80s nostalgia, and the movie progresses much you'd expect it would.  It's not Shakespeare, but it's loads better than The Last Knight.

Doubts: I don't think churros were that much of a thing in 1987.  "Carjacking" wasn't a term used until the 90s.  The song "It Takes Two" wasn't released until 1988.  I'm also pretty sure they'd have a more advanced video game console in the house.  Atari 2600 at bare minimum, but more likely a NES or SMS.

5. Rampage

A surprisingly enjoyable spectacle.  I wouldn't think too hard about any of the plot points, but yeah, very enjoyable.  The Rock is suitably engaging, Naomie Harris was a good choice for the love interest, and there's enough monster action to keep fans of the genre interested.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan also steals every scene he's in.  Critics weren't kind to this movie, but they almost never like monster movies.  Those of us who do will probably enjoy the ride.

And I really like this older, evil version of Malin Akerman.  I would like to be one of her henchmen; I would like to do her bidding.  Your will is my command, Mistress.  How may I serve you today?


SOUNDS Lame, but Give it a Chance

1. Tag

Ed Helms and others replay their favorite childhood game on a whole other level.  Jeremy Renner is casually great in this movie, though I would have watched it for Hannibal Buress alone.  Much funnier than I thought it would be, especially since I was never a big fan of the Hangover franchise.

Bet You Didn't Catch It: Chili's dad in the beginning?  That's actor Brian Dennehy.


Some Bad Ones

1. The Meg

China-financed Jason Statham vehicle in which he stares down a giant shark.  The Abyss Lite?  Jaws 2.0?  The Meg is somewhere between those two things, with a dash of China-friendly scriptwriting thrown in for good measure.  The Chinese actress playing opposite Statham makes him look like Robert De Niro.

Fun Fact: The best film in director Jon Turtletaub's filmography is probably Cool Runnings, and no, this isn't exactly glowing praise.

2. BlacKkKlansman

I wanted to like it but no, it's just not a very good movie.  Did people even use the word "clusterfuck" in the 70s?  Did anyone bother to check?  And aside from that, none of the characters in this movie make a great deal of sense, and what's more they're never given moments in which to explain themselves.  How are we to reconcile Black Power with the Klu Klux Klan?  How are we to make sense of police officers investigating an organization that (apparently) hasn't committed any crimes in their area?  How are we to reconcile the student leader's obvious intelligence with the fact that she's too stupid to realize that her boyfriend's a cop?  To add insult to injury, this movie then attempts to shock us with stories of atrocities unrelated to the people under investigation, and to give us caricatures of Klan leaders, all too stupid to distinguish whether or not the person they've been talking to on the phone is the same person they're talking to in person.

Spike Lee has directed much better movies, and even taken as a comedy (?) this movie fails miserably.  In tries very hard to be timely, it seems to hit all the right notes, but in my opinion it only obscures the arguments under discussion, and the film seems to have no "through line" from the character's desire to make the world a better place to the film's conclusion.

I can only assume that a lot of Trump hate fueled this movie's popularity.  As a look at race relations it's not especially insightful or, as it happens, truthful.  There were many discussions of police brutality and systemic racism around the time of this movie's release, and I think those feeling oppressed (however valid their concerns) were perhaps in too much of a hurry to identify with it.  "Non-oppressed peoples," whoever and whatever they may be, might have also been in too much of a hurry to appear as "allies" by endorsing it.

3. Mary Poppins Returns

Emily Blunt stars as Mary Poppins, truly one of Earth's mightiest heroes.  Time and space are her playthings; she bends reality to her will.  Where was Mary Poppins when The Snap occurred?  Where was Mary Poppins when Malekith and his dark elves were rampaging through London?  Where was Mary Poppins when Captain America was fighting the Red Skull and his henchmen?  Could it be that Mary Poppins is fighting a still larger battle against the forces of evil?  Could it be that an even greater endgame awaits?

I can remember seeing the first Mary Poppins on TV when I was a kid.  "Spoonful of Sugar" and all that.  Is this sequel as good?  No, not even close.  Unlike the original this one seems to hit all the wrong notes, perhaps in part because Emily Blunt just isn't Julie Andrews.  The best I can say about it is that it's fairly brief.  Most of the songs fall flat though.

4. Ocean's Eight

On the one hand it's not nearly as bad as I thought it would be, on the other hand it's not very good.  Sandra Bullock leads a group of lady thieves (burglars?) in quest of a historic piece of jewelry.  The first half is OK, but the second half just drags.  Members of the cast blamed a male-dominated media and sites like Rotten Tomatoes for the lukewarm response this movie received, but in my opinion it's just not very good.  It lacks the breezy charm of the movies that came before it.

5. The Nun

Ye olde Conjuring Cinematic Universe.  In The Nun an uninteresting priest and an uninteresting novitiate nun journey to an uninteresting convent/castle in an uninteresting part of Romania to investigate a suicide too abrupt to have been interesting.  I suppose if I was 13 I'd have found it somewhat spooky.  As it is I didn't.

Fun Fact: The novitiate nun is played by Taissa Farmiga, Vera Farmiga's younger sister.

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2021年10月7日 星期四

"Skinny Legs and All" by Tom Robbins (1990)


"'I don't know what system I'd prefer.  But I do know that people who really excel at things - whether it's creating art or running a business - hardly ever make a big fuss about equality, except maybe on the scales of justice.  Equal opportunity, yes.  Equal results, impossible.  The ones who're so upset about everybody not being the same, about competition, about standards of quality, about art objects having 'auras' around them, they're usually people with average abilities and average minds.  And below average senses of humor.  Whether it's a matter of lifting the deprived up or dragging the gifted down, they want everybody to function on their level.  Some fun that would be.'"

Tom Robbins is an American novelist, perhaps best known for his first novel, 1971's Another Roadside Attraction.  He lives in the Pacific Northwest, and has authored eight novels.  His Even Cowgirls Get the Blues was adapted into a movie by director Gus Van Sant.

I hate to dismiss someone this way, but his style of fiction seems to belong to the late 60s/early 70s school of writing, in which drug references are soaked in generous helpings of sex and brought to a philosophical boil.  While reading Skinny Legs and All Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow frequently came to mind, though Skinny Legs and All isn't nearly as obscure as Pynchon's most famous work.  I was also reminded at times of the Illuminatus! Trilogy and even Philip K. Dick.  All of these other books and writers would have been present during Robbins's period of ascendancy, and all speak to a time in American culture when it was cool to experiment with psychedelics, when it was cool to transgress sexual boundaries, and when it was cool to question authority.

Not that it isn't still cool to do one or all of these things, but now it's cool in a different way.  We use different vocabulary to describe our various challenges to authority, and psychedelics, although still around, just don't carry the same sense of the mystery they once did.

Skinny Legs and All is a later work by Robbins, and even though I haven't read his other books I get the feeling that it explores themes that he probably investigated elsewhere.  An aspiring painter and her new husband accidentally revive a Middle Eastern goddess by having sex in a cave, several inanimate objects begin a journey to Jerusalem, a religious zealot attempts to ignite World War III, and two older men, an Arab and a Jew, attempt to operate a controversial restaurant in New York.

Through it all Robbins speculates on the function of organized religion, the nature of God, sexual mores and - you guessed it - the meaning of life.  And why should we care what Tom Robbins thinks about the meaning of life?  Or of the function of organized religion?  Or of the other countless themes which cross his desk?  Because he's cool, man, so cool.  Just check the picture on the back of the book.  Scope those shades.  Yeah, definitely cool.

Looking beyond the relative coolness of the author, I think that the book itself isn't terrible.  I did not love it.  I did not hate it.  I was somewhere in the middle.  It was a lot easier to get through than Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain, which I also completed recently.  But it lacks the philosophical insight of that other, more ambiguous work.  

I didn't find the story told in Skinny Legs and All especially absorbing, but it's unconventional enough to be worth a look.  It's not a groundbreaking work of fiction by any stretch of the imagination, and there are other "counter-cultural" novels that make it look puny by comparison, but the characters are interesting and the situations in which they find themselves are unique.

My biggest complaint about this book is the subplot involving inanimate objects.  This subplot adds almost nothing to the book, and its presence seems to scream writer's block.  I'm guessing the author felt that its inclusion added some much needed levity to the book, and perhaps also went some distance toward explaining a larger historical background, but it just wasn't necessary.

I doubt I'll be reading any of Tom Robbins's books in the future.  I just don't feel any need to do so.

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