2014年12月24日 星期三

20 Great Novels

In the spirit of listing things, here are 20 books that I happen to think are great.  I know that listing things can be a frivolous occupation, but I really did put some thought into this list!

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

The story of a serial killer, or a man who thinks he might be a serial killer, told from the serial killer's point of view.  Often cited as an example of "transgressive fiction," this book is still banned in many countries, and remains controversial today.  It is, nevertheless, a great book, and is much better than anything else Ellis has written.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

"Ubik" is derived from "ubique," the Latin word which gives us ubiquitous.  The plot is hard to describe, and the ending of the book feels like a hallucination.  It's not Dick's weirdest book (I'd give that honor to "Lies, Inc.), but it is probably his best.

The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas

I've read a lot of books set in the 1700s, but this is one of the few that made me feel like I was somehow present during that time period.  It's also a great adventure story with some gruesome turns.  Based (to some extent) on an actual person.

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maughaum

Maughaum wrote several great books, and his life has inspired a literature of its own.  "Of Human Bondage" is regarded by most critics as his masterpiece, and many of the story elements present in this book are autobiographical.  It is the story of a man born with a club foot who joins the medical profession.

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

During his lifetime Theodore Dreiser was perhaps more famous for another novel, "An American Tragedy," but in my opinion this novel is far better.  It is the story of a girl from the country, the man who loves her, and the consequences of a robbery.  It is often cited as an example of "naturalism" in fiction, and there is a realism to the motivation (or lack of motivation) behind the characters that continues to elude many modern authors.

Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy

The last book in McCarthy's Border Trilogy, this book explores a doomed love affair in Mexico.  In this novel McCarthy combines the literal elements from "All the Pretty Horses" and the more existential elements from "The Crossing" into a powerful story of human frailty.  The climax of this book has stayed with me.

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

Verne wrote a lot of great books, but this one is probably my favorite.  I will agree that in "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" Verne found both a more interesting protagonist and a more fully realized villain, but something about "Journey to the Center of the Earth" seems more essentially Verne.  The album by Rick Wakeman is also pretty good.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Devil visits Soviet Russia with hilarious results.  This novel is my favorite Russian novel ever, and it's only too bad that its creation was surrounded by so much personal tragedy for the author.  Parts of this book are so over-the-top they had me laughing out loud.  An absurd book with a lot to say about human nature.

Jazz by Toni Morrison

I think that Toni Morrison is slightly overrated, but "Jazz" is nonetheless an excellent book.  It is the story of a love triangle that develops between three black New Yorkers with deep ties to the South.  The more impressionistic passages mimic the style of music that gave the book its name.

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

With regard to Stanislaw Lem, one of my favorite science fiction writers, I am torn between "Solaris" and "Peace on Earth."  "Solaris" is a more serious meditation on how mankind might interact with a truly alien consciousness, while "Peace on Earth" is a more comedic book exploring the theme of paranoia.  This book will have you thinking.

The Godmakers by Frank Herbert

"God Emperor of Dune" is perhaps my favorite of Frank Herbert's many books, but this one is great as well.  The title describes the story perfectly: the making of a god.  Herbert was perhaps at his best when exploring more philosophical themes, and in this book he writes to his own strengths.  Very original and thought-provoking.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

If you were an extraterrestrial visitor wanting to understand Western science fiction, I would heartily recommend "Foundation."  More a loosely connected series of short stories than an actual novel, it remains one of the most influential science fiction novels ever written.  Asimov certainly had his faults as a writer, but this is a great book.

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

Required reading for anyone into Fantasy, and still one of the best examples of world-building in literature.  The "good vs. evil" motif might wear on modern readers, but I think that Tolkein was in keeping with the sagas that inspired his books.  The decades of abysmal fantasy writing that followed would only be relieved by George R. R. Martins "Song of Ice and Fire."

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

This is one of the most tortured books you'll ever read, describing a doomed love affair between the author and another man's wife.  Graham Greene wrote a lot of great books, but this one would have to be my favorite.

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

Something of a dark horse here, James Ellroy is famous for his crime/noir novels.  He has often described himself as "a modern-day Tolstoy," and while I wouldn't agree I do think he's a great writer.  "The Black Dahlia" is by far the best of his books, and is somewhat autobiographical in nature.  Don't waste your time with the movie.

Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams

This book is part of the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series.  All of the books in this series are good, but I think "Life" is the funniest.  The plot for this book was originally intended as a six part story for the Doctor Who television show, but the BBC rejected it.  Proof that TV executives don't know much about anything.

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Probably Faulkner's best known book, and another look at the decaying South.  This is also an early example of how Joyce's stream of consciousness technique translated into an American context.  This book is often singled out as being "difficult," but it's nothing compared to some of Faulkner's other books.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Despite his reputation, Fitzgerald really didn't write all that much.  He left behind five novels - all of which I've read - and "The Great Gatsby" is the only of his books that I would describe as "classic."  It is, nevertheless, a great book.  Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald?  In my opinion, Hemingway never wrote anything half this good.

1984 by George Orwell

Orwell's prophecy about the future of authoritarianism.  Several million North Koreans are living this book right now.  It's dark, it's political, and it's very human.  Even so many decades after its first publication, this book packs quite a punch.  Let's just hope that 1984 remains in our past, and not in our future.

2014年12月20日 星期六

"The Winds of War" by Herman Wouk (1971)

Herman Wouk was born in 1915, and somehow, 99 years later, he continues to be alive.  He is almost a work of history unto himself.

He wrote a sequel to this book, "War and Remembrance," in 1978.  Both "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance" were also adapted into television miniseries back in the 1980s.  None other than Robert Mitchum starred as Pug Henry.

"The Winds of War" is the story of Victor "Pug" Henry, a naval officer with hopes of commanding a battleship.  At the beginning of the story he, his wife Rhoda, his sons Warren and Byron, and his daughter Madeline are living in the United States.  Pug is then called to serve as the naval attache to Berlin.  His wife Rhoda is a rather venial woman, and Pug's assignments around the globe put strain on their marriage.  As tensions increase between Germany and England their sons are married, join the Navy, and become the fathers of sons in their own right.  The daughter, Madeline, pursues a career in New York.

The whole thing is very (soap) operatic, with a series of improbable events leading America's entry into the war.  Pug Henry is a likable enough character, but I found his romantic dilemmas inconsistent with his character.  Most exasperating of all is Byron's wife, Natalie, who at several points in the story puts both herself and her unborn child in harm's way.  She is so annoying, in fact, that at several points in the story I wanted her to die.

But the true weakness of this book lies not in characterization.  Its true weakness lies in the author's compulsion towards historicity.  His need to narrate certain historical elements pulls one right out of the story, and this book would have been a lot better if it hadn't got bogged down in details.  The chapters featuring the musings of the fictional General Roon were particularly pointless, and could have been excised without hurting the novel.

This said, it's easy to see why "The Winds of War" proved to be such fruitful subject matter for a TV miniseries.  It practically screams "TV miniseries" from beginning to end.  In this it strongly resembles other such books from the 1970s, books like James Clavell's "Shogun" and Colleen McCullough's "The Thorn Birds."  

Reading "The Winds of War" now, one wonders what happened to such historical epics, and why they have fallen out of fashion with modern readers.  Perhaps it has something to do with modern sensibilities, or perhaps books like "The Winds of War" just oversaturated the market.  Having waded through this book, I am inclined toward the latter opinion.

So do I recommend this book?  Not really.  It's just not very good.  But if you're on a train or an airplane, and happen to find a copy of it lying around, you might use it to divert yourself for a few hours.  If nothing else, it's REALLY long, and it will help you pass the time as well as any other historical epic from that era.

2014年12月16日 星期二

20 Great Movies

I realize that I lean a bit too heavily in the direction of superhero and horror movies.  By way of addressing this imbalance, I'd like to talk about some of my favorite movies.  Some of these movies will of course fall within the superhero and horror genres, but I'm thinking about quality here, and not genre.

1. The Wrestler

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, starring Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei.

I've been a fan of Aronofsky's since "Pi," but this is my hands-down favorite of his movies.  Mickey Rourke stars as an aging professional wrestler, and Marisa Tomei is his would-be love interest.  Rourke's performance in this movie is stunning, and he really ought to have won the Academy Award for it.  I've seen this movie more times than I can remember.

2. The Departed

Directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon.

Scorsese has been directing feature films since 1967, and many of these have gone on to win multiple Academy Awards.  "The Departed" is one of his more recent films, and certainly one of his best.  The Boston city police square off against organized crime.  It's a move full of memorable lines and excellent performances.

3. Unforgiven

Directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman.

Clint Eastwood has done a lot with Westerns over the years.  In Unforgiven he stars as an aging outlaw out for one last score, and the buildup to his confrontation with Gene Hackman is a masterpiece of pacing.   I'd be hard put to say which is better - this film or "Pale Rider" - but both are great films.

4. The Doors

Directed by Oliver Stone, starring Val Kilmer and Meg Ryan.

I can't say that I've loved every movie that Oliver Stone directed.  "JFK" was trying too hard to make a point.  "Heaven and Earth" was terrible.  "Natural Born Killers" was too hyperactive.  But in "The Doors" Stone managed to tone himself down just enough to make a great movie.  And who would have thought that Val Kilmer would make such an excellent Jim Morrison?

5. Bad Lietentant (1992)

Directed by Abel Ferrara, starring Harvey Keitel.

This movie is not nearly as famous as others on this list, but I've loved it for years.  Harvey Keitel always had the potential for super-stardom, and this film is proof of that.  Abel Ferrara is on firm footing with regard to the subject matter, and Keitel is a revelation as a corrupt police officer.  None other than Werner Herzog directed a later version of this film with Nicholas Cage.

6. Se7en

Directed by David Fincher, starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman.

When one looks at recent trends in horror movies, many of these trends can be traced back to "Se7en."  It's bloody, it's atmospheric, and you know from the first act that it's not going to have a happy ending.  Kevin Spacey isn't in this movie for very long, but his brief appearance knocked him up several notches in the Hollywood hierarchy.

7. Sling Blade

Directed by Billy Bob Thornton, starring Billy Bob Thornton and John Ritter.

If you ever find yourself wondering why Billy Bob Thornton is in so many movies, you should see "Sling Blade."  This is the movie that made his career.  Thornton stars as a released mental patient who becomes friends with a young boy.  Thornton and the young boy would also star opposite one another in "Friday Night Lights" an excellent movie about high school football.

8. L.A. Confidential

Directed by Curtis Hanson, starring Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce.

This is still the only movie that captures the spirit of James Ellroy's prose.  It's set in L.A., and the action centers around a corrupt police force.  Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe can both thank this movie for kickstarting their careers, and Kim Basinger is also mesmerizing as the woman caught between them.  I only wish "The Black Dahlia" had been this good.

9. The Apostle

Directed by Robert Duvall, starring Robert Duvall.

A lot of people seem to have missed this movie when it appeared in theaters, but it has built up quite a following since.  Robert Duvall stars as a preacher who might also be a murderer, hiding in the country and spreading the Good Word.  Like "The Wrestler," I have seen this movie more times than I can remember.

10. Traffic

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring Michael Douglas.

Great movie about the American War on Drugs.  Michael Douglas makes an unusual attempt to understand the problem, while at the same time coping with his daughter's substance abuse.  It's an expansive film, and shows the issue from many surprising angles.  If you like this one, "Syriana" and "The Insider" are also very good. 

11. American Psycho

Directed by Mary Harron, starring Christian Bale.

The novel that spawned this movie is one of my favorite books.  Before anyone really knew who Christian Bale was, he starred as a self-absorbed psychopath in "American Psycho."  Along with "Se7en" and "Monster" this is one of the best movies about a serial killer ever.  And if you liked this movie, I highly recommend the book.

12. Monster

Directed by Patty Jenkins, starring Charlize Theron.

Charlize Theron stars as real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos.  Theron would win the Academy Award for her performance in this film, and I think the Oscar was well deserved.  Christina Ricci, who has also been excellent in other films, costars as her lesbian lover.  Where "American Psycho" is cartoonish, this one is heartbreaking.

13. Borat

Directed by Larry Charles, starring Sacha Baron Cohen.

If you haven't seen Sacha Baron Cohen in the "Ali G." show you should really check it out on YouTube.  His "mock-interview" style kicked into high gear with "Borat," and this film was a surprise hit for the actor-comedian.  "Bruno," the sequel to this film, is also very funny.  It's only too bad that the Freddy Mercury biopic stalled.  Cohen would have been great in that role.

14. No Country for Old Men

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem.

Probably my favorite Coen Brothers movie, this one was adapted from a novel by Cormac McCarthy.  Tommy Lee Jones stars as a small town lawman trying to track a killer, and Javier Bardem almost steals the show as an assassin in the employ of a drug cartel.  Woody Harrelson, an actor who should probably have won some kind of award by now, is also terrific as the bounty hunter. 

15. Eastern Promises

Directed by David Cronenberg, starring Viggo Mortenson.

A movie about the Russian mafia in the U.K.  One of my favorite actors, Vincent Cassell, has a great part in this movie.  This movie still hasn't gained the attention it deserves, but perhaps in the next few years it will build up more of a following.  If you liked this one, Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" is also very good.

16. Anvil!  The Story of Anvil

Directed by Sacha Gervasi, starring Anvil.

The only documentary here, about a Canadian heavy metal band that has seen better days.  Revisiting the rock stars of 20 years ago is usually a depressing exercise, and catching up with Anvil is no exception.  The movie does, however, sound a hopeful note at the end.  Anyone who loves "This is Spinal Tap" will find a lot to like in this movie.

17. Black Swan

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, starring Natalie Portman.

Like Aronofsky's "The Wrestler," this one explores the intersection of sport and art.  Natalie Portman stars as a ballerina intent on playing the iconic role in Swan Lake, and Vincent Cassell appears as her mentor.  It's not just a movie about ballet, but also a movie about the pressure inherent in high-level performance.

18. Martyrs

Directed by Pascal Laugier, starring Morjana Alaoui.

Along with "Audition," this might just be one of the most disturbing horror movies ever made.  A young girl escapes from sadistic kidnappers and grows up to exact revenge.  The film gets steadily stranger from that point on.  It's super violent but also has a lot to say.  Watch it at your peril, and don't say I didn't warn you!

19. Silver Linings Playbook

Directed by David O. Russell, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.

This film is something of a black sheep here, for the reason that although I loved the movie, I didn't love the ending.  Up until that ending, however, this is a great film.  Bradley Cooper tries to adjust to everyday life after a spell in an institution, and Jennifer Lawrence is an aspiring dancer.

20. August: Osage County

Directed by John Wells, starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.

Meryl Streep should have won another Academy Award for this film.  It's set in Oklahoma, where three sisters return home after the disappearance of their father.  Every scene at the dinner table is unforgettable, and Julia Roberts turns in an inspired performance as the oldest of the three daughters. 

2014年12月5日 星期五

The Suicide Squad Movie

The Suicide Squad movie is due out in 2016.  The identity of the director, David Ayer, has been known since Warner Bros. announced their upcoming slate of DC films two months ago.  Cast announcements date back to this week!

What is the Suicide Squad?

Suicide Squad is one of DC's more underwhelming comic books.  It features a cast of super villains, pressed into serving the US government (or S.T.A.R. Labs, or whoever), by taking part in a "suicide mission" that will likely involve heavy casualties.  Hence the name: Suicide Squad.

The team roster varies, but Deadshot, a gun-wielding assassin, is probably the best known member of the team.  Amanda Waller, the Nick Fury of DC Comics, is also closely associated with the Squad.  In more recent incarnations Harley Quinn, the Joker's female consort, has become more popular.

Who is David Ayer?

David Ayer is the guy who directed "Fury," the WWII film starring Brad Pitt.  He has also directed "Harsh Times," "Street Kings," "End of Watch," and "Sabotage."  He has also written several memorable films, such as the underrated "Dark Blue" the first "The Fast and the Furious," and the excellent "Training Day."  His movies tend to center around law enforcement or military types, and are generally driven by a great deal of testosterone.

Despite the surprisingly mediocre "Sabotage," a recent Schwarzenegger vehicle, his film output is remarkably consistent.  "Fury" is a great movie, and made me even more excited about his next project. 

Which Characters Are in the Movie?

From the recent casting news, we know that Deadshot, the Joker, Harley Quinn, Rick Flag, Enchantress, Amanda Waller, and Captain Boomerang are in the movie.  Lex Luthor will also cameo.

I think putting The Joker in this movie is a no-brainer.  With the next solo Batman film still far out on the horizon, it's a smart move to put one of DC's most recognizable characters in the film.  I'm sure a lot of people will show up just to see yet another actor take on this high-profile role.

Who Has Been Cast?

So far Wll Smith has been cast as Deadshot, Jared Leto will be the Joker, Tom Hardy will be Rick Flag, Margot Robbie will be Harley Quinn, Jai Courtney will be (Captain) Boomerang, and Cara Delevinge will be Enchantress.  There is also talk of Oprah Winfrey being cast as Amanda Waller.

I am particularly excited about Jared Leto.  The guy just won an Oscar, after all.  I've been a fan of his since "Requiem for a Dream," and it will be interesting to see what he does with this character.  Casting Margot Robbie from "The Wolf of Wall Street" is also an inspired choice.

I am far less excited about Will Smith as Deadshot, but then again David Ayer is used to working with major stars, and odds are that he'll bring out the best in Will Smith.  Let us not forget that for every "After Earth" or "I, Robot" there is a "Pursuit of Happyness."  Say what you like about the guy, but he can definitely act.

What Can We Expect?

I have never been a big fan of the comic book, but on the strength of David Ayer and those already cast I'd have to say that this movie is going to be awesome.  I'm expecting Jared Leto to chew some major scenery as the Joker, and the characters easily lend themselves to the kind of stories that David Ayer is accustomed to telling.  Compared to Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy," this movie is even further out of left field, and it has the potential to be an even bigger success.

2014年11月30日 星期日

"Crash" by J.G. Ballard (1973)

"Without thinking, I visualized a series of imaginary pictures I might take of her: in various sexual acts, her legs supported by complex sections of machine tools, pulleys and trestles; with her physical education instructor, coaxing this conventional young man into the new parameters of her body, developing a sexual expertise that would be an exact analogue of the other skills created by the multiplying technologies of the twentieth century."

J.G. Ballard was an English novelist who passed away in 2009.  He began his writing career as an author of science fiction, and later moved into the "serious literature" category with "Crash," "Empire of the Sun," and other novels.  This novel, "Crash," inspired a movie of the same name by director David Cronenberg, and "Empire of the Sun" was given a cinematic treatment by none other than Steven Spielberg.

In "Crash," the author develops a sexual fixation on automobiles following a traffic accident.  In so doing he crosses paths with the enigmatic Vaughan, a man attempting to engineer the death of Elizabeth Taylor.  All of the characters in this novel are extremely promiscuous, obsessed with sex, and completely amoral.

As transgressive fiction goes, this novel is extremely well written, and never grows dull.  It can, however, be a little nauseating at times.  The author spares no end of detail with regard to his sexual liaisons, the car crashes he views, and the various bodily fluids they elicit, and "Crash" at times resembles a cross between a medical textbook and and an automobile owner's manual.  It's a good book, but reading it requires a strong stomach.

Anyone who enjoyed "American Psycho" or "White Noise" will find a lot to like in this short novel.  It says a lot about our relationship with technology, and despite being 41 years old it still feels like it could have been written yesterday.

2014年11月29日 星期六

"The Man in the Iron Mask" by Alexandre Dumas (1850)

"For a blunderer, the souvenir he had evoked was a rather skillfully contrived piece of baseness; for by the remembrance of his own fete he, for the first time, perceived its inferiority to that of Fouquet.  Colbert received back again at Vaux what Fouquet had given him at Fontainbleau, and, as a good financier, returned it with the best possible interest."

Alexandre Dumas was born the same year as Victor Hugo, and died five years earlier.  He is known for his romantic adventure novels, of which "The Man in the Iron Mask" is one.  He wrote all of his famous books in collaboration with Auguste Maquet, a man who may have contributed more to Dumas' fame than even Dumas himself would have liked to admit.

"The Man in the Iron Mask" is also the sequel to "Louise de la Valliere," and features the famous Three Musketeers.  This book finds Porthos, Athos, Aramis, and D'Artagnan much older and wiser, and the four become embroiled in a plot involving a mysterious masked character who inhabits the Bastille.  The ultimate fate of this masked character is never adequately addressed in the novel, and we are left to wonder whether Aramis' plan truly succeeded.

My favorite part of this book was the labyrinthine sort of courtly etiquette which D'Artagnan lives and breathes.  Nothing is ever said directly, and conversations follow a tortured, circuitous route around their intended subjects.  One imagines that anyone attempting to navigate the court of Louis XIV would have found in a slip of the tongue disastrous consequences, and in the counsels of friends and foes alike there would have lurked a multitude of meanings, both intended and unintended.

As an adventure novel, this book works admirably, even if the fate of the man in the mask is bungled.  One surprising thing about this novel is just how dark the ending is, featuring an extended meditation on old age, the passage of time, and the vanity surrounding earthly attainments.  I'm not saying that "The Man in the Iron Mask" is an overly profound sort of book, but it does offer some startling reflections on politics, sexuality, and the way that life ought to be lived.

If it's a bit uneven and long-winded it can be excused these faults.  It's still a good book, and it - unlike some of the characters that populate its pages - has aged extremely well.

2014年11月21日 星期五

The Films of Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan has directed some of the most profitable films (and film trilogies) in film history, and his style of film making has had an undeniable impact on scores of other directors.  His films are often characterized by their dark tone and intellectual themes.

I have been a fan of Nolan's films since Insomnia, in which Robin Williams turned in one of his finest performances.  I later went back and saw Memento, and from that time on I've seen all of Nolan's films in the theater.  While I think that some of his movies have definite flaws, he is definitely one of the most independent and original film makers that Hollywood has seen in some time.

What follows is a list of his films, and my opinions on each.

1. Following (1998)

I have yet to see this movie.  It is more of a student film, and none of the cast members have (so far) gone on to fame and fortune.  A young man follows strangers around London.

2. Memento (2000)

Guy Pearce stars as a man with serious memory lapses.  It's a wonderfully moody film, driven by an excellent script.

3. Insomnia (2002)

Al Pacino travels to Alaska to investigate a murder, and his inability to sleep during the long Alaskan summer forms a key element of the plot.  Robin Williams is terrific in this movie, and it was sadly overlooked at the time.

4. Batman Begins (2005)

This movie, along with Marvel's Iron Man, was what really got the superhero film genre going.  Nolan's more realistic take on Batman was a welcome relief from earlier, more cartoonish incarnations.

5. The Prestige (2006)

Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale face off as rival magicians around the turn of the century.  If you look very closely you will notice a surprising cameo by David Bowie.  This might by my favorite of Nolan's films, and I have seen it many times.

6. The Dark Knight (2008)

Maybe the best superhero movie ever, and also a prescient commentary on the loss of individual freedoms in modern America.  Heath Ledger turns in an Oscar-winning performance as The Joker, and the whole thing builds up to a big, triumphant finale.

7. Inception (2010)

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a corporate spy capable of infiltrating people's dreams.  The visuals are stunning, and the variable passage of time would also be explored in Interstellar.  In my opinion Inception was the best movie of 2010.

8. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

A somewhat disappointing end to Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy.  This movie felt overlong, and lacked the twists and turns that made both Inception and The Dark Knight so great.  While Anne Hathaway was excellent as Catwoman, I almost wish that Nolan had never made this movie.

9. Interstellar (2014)

Nolan's most recent film, and perhaps the film that suffers most from his already weighty reputation.  There is an ambition in this movie that's admirable, but it's trying to do too many things at once.  I'll probably have a more concrete opinion on this film after I've seen it again on DVD.

10. His Next Film? (?)

Nolan is the producer on several of Warner Bros. upcoming superhero properties, but he's wisely avoided announcing any further plans with regard to directing.  He has stated a wish to avoid the superhero genre in the future, and I think this is a wise decision.  I'm hoping that whatever he does is a bit smaller in scale.


2014年11月14日 星期五

The Greatest Heavy Metal Bands of All Time

What is heavy metal?  Is Led Zeppelin heavy metal?  Is Linkin Park?  Is Pelican?  Any genre of music is hard to pin down, and there are always bands that bring the best (or worst) parts of genres together.  My idea of heavy metal might also be different from yours, depending on what elements we consider "essential" to a heavy metal band.

And which band started heavy metal?  Is it Steppenwolf?  Is it Black Sabbath?  Is it Blue Cheer?  Is it Judas Priest?  All of these bands could claim to have originated heavy metal, and they could all be wrong.  Again, it all depends on what elements are essential.  Is it enough to sound like heavy metal?  Or do you also need to dress the part?  Is the answer in your album cover?  In your devotion to dark themes?

And how to we define "greatest"?  Is it the heavy metal band that sold the most albums?  Is it the most influential band?  Is it the most inventive band?  Some bands were truly ahead of their time, while others were following a trend to its logical conclusion.  Certainly all of these elements go toward making a band "the greatest," though some may predominate over others.

With all of this in mind I offer my own list of "Greatest Heavy Metal Bands of All Time," excluding some because I think they exist too far outside the genre, and others because I don't think they merit the adjective "great."  Take it for what it's worth.  If you disagree with me, I'd be happy to know why.

1. The 1970s: Origins of Heavy Metal

Black Sabbath

If you ask me, the first heavy metal album was the first Black Sabbath album.  They had the look, they had the riff-heavy sound, and they had the satanic album covers.  They were also a great band.  In my opinion, every album the original lineup did with Ozzy was classic, and to those albums I would add the three albums they did with Dio (Mob Rules, Heaven and Hell, and Dehumanizer).  I think that Vol. 4 is the best Sabbath album, though of course it's hard to pick a #1 out of that particular discography.

Judas Priest

God damn Rob Halford can sing.  Judas Priest were almost metal too early.  Parts of both Rocka Rolla and Sad Wings of Destiny must have put people off at the time, but by the time this band recorded British Steel they had cemented their reputation as one of the all-time greatest heavy metal bands.  Sad Wings is probably my favorite Priest album, just because it's so unusual.


Rainbow was formed out of the ashes of Elf, Dio's band, and one of the many Deep Purple lineups.  The three albums they did with Dio are all classic, and Rainbow really brought a level of virtuosity that the genre hadn't seen before.  Of these three albums, Rainbow Rising has got to be my favorite.


You could argue that AC/DC isn't a heavy metal band, and you might be right.  Their sound was never far removed from the blues greats that inspired them, but they definitely had a big influence on the genre.  In my opinion Back in Black will always be the definitive AC/DC album, but I have since grown into the earlier Bon Scott albums.


You only need one Motorhead album, and this would be Ace of Spades.  The rest of their output is fairly similar, but Ace of Spades casts a long shadow.

2. The 1980s: The NWOBHM and Thrash

Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden is the band that launched a thousand imitators.  Back in the early 80s their sound was so new, and their look was so striking that many people didn't even know what to make of them.  Pretty much everything they did up until the departure of Bruce Dickinson is great, and some of their recent albums have also been surprisingly good.  I think that most would pinpoint either Number of the Beast or Powerslave as their best album.


Metallica continues to be one of the most visible bands on the planet.  This visibility has been both bad and good for the band.  The albums they did with with Cliff Burton are their best, though I have a fondness for ...And Justice for All.  These guys invented shredding.  Or Dave Mustaine did.  Depends on who you ask.


Dave Mustaine, guiding force within Megadeth, started his career as the lead guitarist for Metallica.  He is something of an asshole in real life, but he made some great music.  Everything Megadeth did up until Countdown to Exctinction is great, and Rust in Peace might just be my favorite metal album of all time.


Slayer has made so many great albums that I wouldn't know where to start.  They tended to be more "underground" than either Metallica or Megadeth for most of the 80s, but their popularity has surpassed Megadeth's since then.  Reign in Blood still gets me riled up, though Seasons in the Abyss is probably my favorite Slayer album.

3. The 1990s: Cross-Pollination


Whatever people say, Soundgarden were a heavy metal band in the best sense of the term.  I've never really understood "grunge" as an appellation... and I'm from Seattle.  Their cover of "Into the Void" should settle the argument by itself.  Everyone should own a copy of Badmotorfinger.

Alice in Chains

Another band grouped under the grunge banner, but they were even more metal than Soundgarden.  They're not quite as prominent as they once were, but Facelift, Dirt, and the self-titled Alice in Chains remain classic.  Layne Staley will be missed.

Faith No More

Where grunge didn't suffice, many people in the 90s took to using the term "alternative."  Faith No More weren't from Seattle, so that was they label they were stuck with.  This band never got the credit it deserved, but their Mike Patton-era albums continue to influence a lot of people.  King For a Day, Fool for a Lifetime and Angel Dust should have been much bigger hits than they were.


Yes, Venom had a song by the name of "Death Metal," but Death are just as often credited with creating the genre.  They hailed from Florida, and never saw widespread success during their classic period, but their albums Human, Individual Thought Patterns, and Symbolic will rock your world.


Undertow, Aenima, and Lateralus are among the best metal albums ever made, and singer Maynard James Keenan is still one of the most unique vocalists ever.  I wish I could say I liked this band at the height of their popularity, but it took me a while.  I can remember seeing them on the second stage of a Lollapalooza, but I wasn't able to hear them.


I'm sure a lot of people find this band headache-inducing, but I have been a fan since the late nineties.  I think Destroy Erase Improve is their best album, but I also like Obzen.  If there is such a genre as Mathcore, no one is more Mathcore than Sweden's Meshuggah.

4: The 2000s: Metal Goes Global


Excellent band from France.  Most of their lyrics touch on environmental themes, and their music comes on like a sledgehammer.  I've owned all of their albums, and I think The Way of All Flesh is the best.


From Sweden, the country where metal often goes to get better.  Opeth is a very eclectic, very technically proficient band, and some of their music can wear a bit thin.  I didn't like their last album all that much, but Blackwater Park and Watershed are excellent.


Mastodon are an American band with progressive leanings.  Their last album seemed a bit uninspired, but Remission and Leviathan are HEAVY.  I sometimes wish they would stop emulating King Crimson and just play what comes naturally.

Dillinger Escape Plan

This is the band most often associated with the "math rock" label.  In tone they are very similar to Meshuggah, and they've been around for about the same length of time.  Miss Machine is a fantastic album.  They are probably the only band that can truly sound "poppy" and evil at the same time.

5. The 2010s: Searching for the Next Big Thing

I haven't heard it yet, not to say it's not out there.  Here's hoping something good surfaces soon...

2014年11月11日 星期二

"The Hunchback of Notre-Dame" by Victor Hugo (1831)

"Or rather, his whole person was a grimace.  A huge head, bristling with red hair; between his shoulders an enormous hump, a counterpart perceptible in front, a system of thighs and legs so strangely astray that they could touch each other only at the knees, and, viewed from the front, resembled the crescents of two scythes joined by the handles; large feet, monstrous hands; and, with all this deformity, an indescribable and redoubtable air of vigor, agility, and courage, strange exception to the eternal rule which wills that force as well as beauty shall be the result of harmony.  Such was the pope whom the fools had just chosen for themselves."

Victor Hugo also wrote "Les Miserables," the much-adapted story of the French Revolution.  He was very concerned with social justice, and also the preservation of Paris's architectural heritage.  He is one of France's best-known authors, though his reputation in France largely rests upon his poetry.

"The Hunchback of Notre-Dame" is set in Paris in the late Middle Ages.  Most of the action is set in the great cathedral, and the plot unfolds around a love triangle involving Claude Frollo, the archdeacon of the cathedral, the gypsy Esmerelda, and Phoebus, the vain captain of the king's archers.  Along the way the hunchbacked Quasimodo also falls in love with Esmerelda, with the religious life of Paris serving as a backdrop for their thwarted passions and fleeting triumphs.

It's a good book, though I must add that I read the author's "restored version" which includes two added chapters on the architectural history of Paris.  These two added chapters bring the narrative to a screeching halt, and the author's musings on the future of architecture are at best quaint, and at worst tiresome.  Aside from these two chapters, however, the remainder of the book is excellently written, and everything builds to a satisfyingly tragic climax.

I've also read Hugo's "Les Miserables," and I'd have to say that I liked that book much better.  "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame" is a great novel, but it's much longer, much more burdened with detail, and requires a lot more concentration.

2014年10月31日 星期五

Upcoming Superhero Movies in the Order I Want to See Them

Between 2015 and 2020 there will be TWENTY NINE new superhero movies released between the four major studios.  That averages out to five or six a year!  Some of these movies, like Ant-Man, have been in the works for some time.  Others, like Captain Marvel, were only announced last week.  In the 80s, even a movie version of Batman was scoffed at, and in the next few years a host of second and even third string comic book characters will be getting their own, big budget adaptations.

More sobering is the fact that by 2020, when Green Lantern and Cyborg finally hit theaters, I'll be 45 years old.  It almost makes me glad that Marvel, Sony, Fox, and Warner Bros. didn't announce MORE movies.  For some strange reason, I just don't want to know which superhero hits the screen on my seventieth birthday.

I've divided these films into three categories: Might See It, Probably See It, and Gotta See It.  I'll start with the movies I'm least interested in, and work my way up from there.

Might See It

27. The Amazing Spider-Man 3 (2018)

I have almost no interest in seeing this film.  Andrew Garfield is a great Spider-man, but they really need to do something different with this franchise.  As it is, I almost feel like I've seen this movie already.  By the time this comes out, we will have seen SEVEN Spider-man universe films, and unless they start taking some chances with the franchise, I doubt we'll see much of interest in the third Amazing Spider-man.

26. The Sinister Six (2016)

This will be the sequel to The Amazing Spider-man 2, which was by all accounts an exceedingly average movie.  None of the villains in Amazing Spider-man 1 or 2 were especially compelling, though perhaps Chris Cooper will have the opportunity to add some much needed gravity to this film.  If I hear that Venom is in this I'll be more excited about it.

25. Captain Marvel (2018)

I don't understand why Marvel fans have been clamoring for this character.  I've read some of the Captain Marvel comics, and I don't see what the excitement is about.  It's possible that after I hear about directors, cast, and so forth I'll be more interested in this film, but the character by herself does almost nothing for me.

24. Inhumans (2018)

The Inhumans have never been interesting comic book characters, but I have the feeling that Marvel is going to alter these characters to make them fit into its cinematic universe.  There are certainly some possibilities in the idea of a "sleeper cell" of superhumans, present throughout much of human history.  As with Captain Marvel, I'm waiting to hear more about it.

23. Third Wolverine Film (2017)

It will probably be OK.  I saw both X-men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine on DVD, and I doubt I'll go out of my way to see this one in the theater.  How old will Hugh Jackman be in 2017?  If he keeps this up he's likely to break a hip!

22. Green Lantern (2020)

The Green Lantern is rarely an interesting comic book character, though I liked what Darwin Cooke did with him in DC's "The New Frontier."  I think that limiting his powers is crucial if this is going to be an interesting movie.  The Ryan Reynolds version was a bit too godlike for my taste.

21. Justice League Parts 1 and 2 (2017 and 2019)

I am skeptical about both of these films, but I'll be happy to change my tune after Batman v. Superman comes out.  If Batman v. Superman is good, then I'll be much more optimistic about Justice League.  However good Batman v. Superman is, however, it will still be directed by Zack Snyder.

20. Ant-Man (2015)

I like Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas, but I've never liked Ant-Man (or DC's The Atom, for that matter).  It will probably be a decent movie, but I doubt that it will blow my mind.  If it's more comedic that might be a good thing.

19. Fantastic Four 2 (2017)

I'm ranking this low because I know almost nothing about the Fantastic Four reboot, due out next year.  Fox has been VERY quiet about this film, and if that movie tanks this might not even get made.

Probably See It

18. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017)

Call me crazy, but I didn't think Guardians of the Galaxy was all that great.  Yeah, it was kind of funny (chuckles, not belly laughs), but along the way they burdened the movie with too many characters, and also decided to throw physics out the window.  It will probably be a decent film, but I'm not dying to see it.

17. Fantastic Four (2015)

I like that Simon Kinberg wrote the script.  I also like that it will be more "scientific" in tone.  I just wonder why we haven't heard more about this film.  It is, after all, due out next year.  Josh Trank is a good director, but none of the cast members have me intrigued.  Kate Mara isn't half as hot as Jessica Alba, and Michael B. Jordan isn't half the actor that Chris Evans turned out to be.

16. Deadpool (2016)

I'm hoping that this is the movie that makes us forget about Green Lantern.  Deadpool is a great character, and they could have a lot of fun with this one.  The "test reel" shows a lot of promise, and Fox seems to know what it's doing with the X-men characters.  Could be very good.

15. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Good: Academy Award-winner Chris Terrio is writing the script.  Bad: Zack Snyder is directing, and Wonder Woman's costume looks terrible.  I'd give this movie a 50/50 chance, but of course like everyone else I've got to see it.  If this movie is good, DC/Warner Bros. has it made.  If this movie is bad, DC's cinematic universe could be in trouble.

14. "Female Spider-Man Universe Film" (2017)

I'm only ranking this so high because it might be a Spider-Woman film.  Of course I would rather that Sony DIDN'T make a Spider-Woman film, and left this character to Marvel, but I'll take whatever I can get.  Spider-Woman/Jessica Drew has always been one of my favorite comic book characters, and I'd love to see her on the big screen.  If this movie turns out to be Black Cat, then I'll wait for DVD.

13. The Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 and 2 (2018 and 2019)

I'm just wondering how Marvel is going to do justice to the Infinity Gauntlet storyline in cinematic form.  Yes, this will be two movies, but then again that storyline spans the galaxy, if not the entire universe!  It could be amazing, or it could be numbing.  I guess we'll see in 2018.

12. Aquaman (2018)

I've always liked Aquaman, and Jason Momoa should be terrific in the part.  I have the feeling he'll be appearing in Batman v. Superman, Justice League, or both, so I'll probably have more of an opinion on the enterprise in 2017.  As it is, Aquaman could be an interesting film.

11. Cyborg (2020)

I'd be equally happy with a Deathlok movie, but in this respect DC beat Marvel to the punch.  I'm glad we'll be seeing more superheroes of color, and Cyborg could be good.  He'll be in Batman v. Superman, so I'll have a stronger opinion after I see that.

10. Shazam (2019)

When I was little Shazam (a.k.a. Captain Marvel) was one of my favorite characters.  The Rock will make an excellent Black Adam, and I have the feeling that this movie will be a winner for Warner Bros.  Having Dwayne Johnson on board is a good sign.

9. Wonder Woman (2017)

No, I'm not a fan of Gal Godot, but I've wanted to see a Wonder Woman film for a long time.  Ideally they will have recast Wonder Woman by the time this film enters production, but I'm not holding my breath.  Wonder Woman has a great backstory, and she is one of the most unique comic book characters ever.

Gotta See It

8. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

I know a lot of people are down on Thor: The Dark World, but I liked that movie.  I am a big fan of Walt Simonson's run on The Mighty Thor, and The Dark World more closely resembled that version of the character.  With Thor: Ragnarok they have an opportunity to even more closely approach that kind of Thor, and I look forward to seeing Surtur, one of the great Marvel villains, on the screen.

7. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

In the third Captain America we'll see Cap and Iron Man take sides over the superhuman registration act.  The Black Panther will also appear in this movie.  As a comic book event, I felt that Civil War was a bit over-hyped, but it's a compelling idea nevertheless.  And who knows?  Maybe Marvel will have the rights back to Spider-man by the time this enters production!

6. X-men: Apocalypse (2016)

I thought X-men: Days of Future Past was a great movie, and I look forward to more of the same from X-men: Apocalypse.  Like Surtur, the Red Skull, or Ultron, Apocalypse is one of the all-time great Marvel villains, and this movie should be quite a spectacle.  Hoping I'll see Cable in this film as well.

5. Suicide Squad (2016)

This is one movie that should be kid-unfriendly.  If you're not familiar with the comic book, the Suicide Squad are a group of supervillains coerced into working for the government.  I realize that Sony is trying a similar thing with its Sinister Six film, but most of Spider-man's foes aren't half as colorful as some of those found in the DC universe.  Putting the Joker in this movie would be an excellent (and lucrative) decision.

4. The Flash (2018)

The Flash has always been my favorite superhero, and I'm hoping to see a movie that does the character justice.  I've been watching the TV show, and while it's good it's not as good as a Flash movie could be.  If I was writing the script, I'd be going for either "Flash of Two Worlds" (Jay Garrick!) or something that involves the Reverse Flash killing Barry's wife/fiancee in the first act.

3. The Black Panther (2017)

Chadwick Boseman, the actor already cast as the Black Panther, is excellent.  If you don't believe me, check out the James Brown biopic "Get on Up."  A movie like this could really put the Marvel cinematic universe into an international context, and it will be great to finally see a black superhero (aside from Blade).  I'm hoping that the Wakanda of this film really mirrors the struggles and successes of modern Africa.

2. Doctor Strange (2016)

Doctor Strange?  Yes, Doctor Strange.  I've been wanting a Doctor Strange movie since forever.  Kevin Feige has spoken of incorporating some quantum theories/parallel dimensions into this film, and that gets me excited.  A Doctor Strange movie, if done right, could really mess with people's minds - in a good way.

1. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

The preview for this movie is above.  This is the only movie listed here that has a preview as yet.  As much as I liked The Avengers, I am even more anxious to see this film.  Ultron is their greatest villain, and this movie won't have the burden of explaining how all these heroes met each other in the first place.  Should be excellent.

2014年10月30日 星期四

A Review of Every Marvel and DC Movie from 1951 to the Present (Revised as of April 2015)

The Men in Black films have been left off this list, even though the characters are now the property of Marvel Comics.  The original comic books were not published by Marvel, and this is the reason I left them off this list.  I have also omitted Stamp Day for Superman, which was produced by the US Government, and cannot be classified as a feature film.  There are also a few "DC imprint films" (Road to Perdition, A History of Violence, Stardust, The Losers, Gen 13, RED, and RED 2 that are not here for various reasons.

Dr. Strange (1978) and Fantastic Four (1994) are not here either.  The former is a TV pilot, and never saw theatrical release, and the latter was only made to retain the rights to the characters.

And there are also the "novelty" superhero films, such as 3 Dev Adam, "Indian Superman," and "Italian Spider-Man."  These movies are/were exercises in copyright infringement, and never saw theatrical release outside of their countries of origin.  Many of these films are good for a few laughs, and can be seen in part or in their entirety on YouTube.

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.
1950s, 1960s, 1970s

1. Superman and the Mole Men (1951) *

You can watch this whole movie on YouTube.  It is, by some accounts at least, the first feature film featuring a DC or Marvel superhero.

2. Batman (1966) @

You can also watch this one on YouTube.  I've read that at the time this came out, the two stars of the show were banging just about anything in a skirt.  Good times!

3. Superman (1978) ****

This film is classic, and is STILL one of the best superhero films ever made!  The scene where Lois "dies" really freaked me out when I was a kid.


5. Superman 2 (1980) ****

This one might be even better than the first Superman.  Terrence Stamp was fantastic as General Zod, the plot was well thought out, and many scenes in this movie are iconic.  See it if you haven't already.

6. Swamp Thing (1982) **

Wes Craven directed this before he rose to fame with A Nightmare on Elm Street.   As a child it was one of my favorite films, though I can't say I like it quite as much now.  Adrienne Barbeau was HOT.

7. Superman 3 (1983) **

Not quite as good as the first two Superman films.  Also quite jokey, but Richard Pryor was in it, so what could you expect?  Gotta love the "bad Superman" sequence.

8. Supergirl (1984) @

Supergirl, one of several kryptonians who survived the destruction of Krypton by fleeing to "inner space," does battle with an evil sorceress.  The actress that plays Supergirl is hot, but this movie makes almost no sense from beginning to end.

9. Howard the Duck (1986) @

I must confess that the shot of Leah Thompson in her panties gave me one of my first hard-ons, way back when I was 11 years old.  This movie is so awful that it demands your attention.

10. Superman 4: The Quest for Peace (1987) **

A lot of people like to go on about how terrible this one is, but it's not really trying to be a good film in the first place.  Christopher Reeve takes his last run at being Superman, and the whole thing is predictably silly.  Would have been cooler if "Nuclear Man" had been Firestorm.

11. Batman (1989) **

Tim Burton's 1989 movie phenomenon.  This is the movie that revived the genre after years of stagnation.  Pretty slow compared to more recent films, but a lot more like Bob Kane's original Batman comics.  In some ways, Michael Keaton is still my favorite Batman.  Fun Trivia: for the three weeks Jack Nicholson spent filming his scenes as the Joker he earned $6 million, in addition to a percentage of the box office gross, which amounted to something between $60 and $90 million!

12. The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) **

A surprisingly watchable movie.  More humorous than the first one, and Swamp Thing looks less rubbery.  It's too bad they never made a third one, because the run Alan Moore did on the comic book would have produced some really trippy movies.  Fun Trivia #1: Heather Locklear is in this.  Fun Trivia #2: The actress that played Faora in Superman II is Dr. Arcane's mistress.

13. The Punisher (1989) **

This is the Dolph Lundgren version.  It is on a lot of "worst of" lists, but I think that in many ways it is closer in spirit to the original Punisher comics.  Not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but not that bad either.


14. Captain America (1990)

This movie almost arrived in theaters, until the studio responsible realized how awful it was.  It makes little sense, it's surprisingly boring in parts, and the Red Skull bears an unfortunate resemblance to Skeletor from 1987's Masters of the Universe.

15. Batman Returns (1992) *

This didn't seem so much a movie as an excuse for a toy line.  By 1992 I was already sick of Tim Burton and his quirkiness, and this movie did nothing to change my opinion of him.  Yeah, Michelle Pfeiffer was a damn sexy Catwoman, but that fact alone did not save this film.

17. Batman Forever (1995) *

This is where Joel Schumacher stepped into the Batman franchise, and the results are unsuprising.  It's a shiny, pretty movie star world that proves unbearably dull.  It would have been bad enough, but Jim Carrey's overacting makes it so much worse.  Fun Trivia #1: Bruce Wayne breaks a henchman's neck after Two-Face disrupts the circus.  Fun Trivia #2: During a subsequent discussion, Wayne mentions to Dick Grayson/Robin that "The circus must be halfway to Metropolis by now."  Fun Trivia #3: Jon Favreau, who would go on to direct both Iron Man and Iron Man 2, is in this movie for about a second.

18. Batman and Robin (1997)

Gluttons for punishment would have seen this in the theater.  I was probably next door, watching a better film.  Seeing the apocalyptic performance Arnold Schwarzenegger gives as Mr. Freeze, one marvels that Batman Begins ever got made at all.

19. Steel (1997)

Shaq plays John Henry Irons, an ex-soldier who develops a suit of armor and then sets out to rid the inner city of high tech weaponry.  Some terrifically bad puns in this movie.  It was aimed at kids, and the plot makes little sense.

20. Blade (1998) ***

Now HERE is a good movie.  Not only was Wesley Snipes super cool, but the script was good and the direction was competent.  Kris Kristofferson also made a great sidekick.  My only complaint about this one is that the vampires just seem to "splash" out of existence.  It's kind of unsatisfying.


21. X-men (2000) *

I have never been a big fan of the X-men, either the films or the comic books.  This movie seemed very melodramatic to me, and I think without Hugh Jackman's performance as Wolverine this movie would have been a complete disaster.  As it is, it's forgettable.  Fun Trivia: Joss Whedon, of Avengers fame, helped write the screenplay for this movie.

22. Blade 2 (2002) ****

This movie is classic.  Blade 1 was already pretty good, but Blade 2 turned up the volume on everything.  It's super violent, super cool, and it is the reason someone needs to unearth Wesley Snipes for Blade 4.

23. Spider-Man (2002) **

I was as psyched as anyone else when I heard this movie was coming out.  With Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire involved, it seemed like a sure thing.  Then the Green Goblin almost ruined the movie for me.  Nothing against Willem Defoe, but that suit was ridiculous.

24. Daredevil (2003)

This has to be one of the worst superhero movies ever.  Ben Affleck didn't have the build to play The Man Without Fear, and the plot to this movie was a mess.  Bullseye was somewhat interesting, but this movie could have done without Elektra.

25. X2: X-men United (2003) **

I thought this was slightly better than the first film, but still not that great.  Had Brian Singer stayed on for X-men 3 and really built towards the Dark Phoenix saga, this would have been a better movie in retrospect.  Like the first, a bit corny.

26. Hulk (2003) ***

I can't see this as the unqualified disaster that it is often made out to be.  This is definitely one of the more intellectual superhero movies, and I liked the battle between The Hulk and the Absorbing Man at the end.  Could have been better, but could have been a lot worse.

27. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) *

No wonder Alan Moore wants nothing to do with Hollywood.  Movies such as this one prove his point.  This movie lacks the sense of irony that made the comic book so good, and one wonders what the hell Sean Connery was thinking.

28. The Punisher (2004) *

After Dolph Lundgren, it was Thomas Jane's turn to play Frank Castle.  This movie was better than Lundgren's, but it doesn't have the darkness that made the comic book so interesting.  Jane would have gone on to play Castle again in Punisher 2, but grew frustrated with the process involved.  Can't say that I blame him.

29. Spider-Man 2 (2004) ****

This is one of the great ones.  This movie hits the ground running, and the whole thing flows seamlessly from beginning to end.  Alfred Molina was a revelation as Dr. Octopus, and this movie is everything the first one wasn't.

30. Catwoman (2004) @

Halle Berry plays Catwoman, Sharon Stone plays the villain, and Benjamin Bratt plays the most clueless detective in the world.  The DC comic book character in name only.  That scene where the cats bring Halle Berry back to life is hilarious.  So bad it's good!

31. Blade: Trinity (2004) *

What a disappointment this one was.  Blade 2 was excellent, but this third installment was just stupid.  Why would Jessica Biel start listening to her MP3 as the vampires are attacking?  Wouldn't she want to hear what was going on?  Fun Trivia: Wesley Snipes was THIS close to playing the Black Panther in a movie adaptation of the Marvel character the same year, but the studio felt he was too recognizable as Blade.  A Black Panther film is still in active development at Marvel Studios, and the character is rumored to appear in the upcoming "Avengers: Age of Ultron."

32. Constantine (2005) ***

This oft-overlooked movie is worth your time.  It might not be classic, but it's a solidly put together film with an interesting protagonist.  The guy that plays the devil near the end is great.

33. Elektra (2005) *

Not a terrible movie, but not that good either.  Jennifer Garner stars as Elektra, and she would have looked just like the comic book character if she had only dyed her hair black.  A watered-down version of everyone's favorite female ninja assassin.

34. Batman Begins (2005) ****

Hell yes.  This was a movie Batman as we always wanted to see him.  Not the neurotic guy with all the gadgets, but the kind of guy who could kick your ass.  The scarecrow is awesome here.

35. Fantastic Four (2005) ***

Any movie featuring Jessica Alba in a skin-tight costume is going to have my attention.  The Thing looks kind of rubbery, but Tim Story did a good job with the material.  The battle at the end reminds you of the better FF comics.

36. Man-Thing (2005)

Low budget horror movie in which environmentalists square off against an evil petroleum company.  Man-thing doesn't appear until the movie's halfway over.  This film was shot in Australia, and many of the actors' accents are less than convincing.  A real chore to sit through.

37. V for Vendetta (2005) ***

Great film, made by the Wachowskis of Matrix fame.  Hugo Weaving is fantastic, and even if they dumbed down the source material it's still worth your time.

38. X-men: The Last Stand (2006)

Unspeakably bad.  This movie makes you feel sorry for Hugh Jackman.  Not only did this film almost destroy the franchise, but it also butchers one of the classic runs in the comic book.  Fun Trivia: this film was based on a comic book story written by Joss Whedon, with elements of The Dark Phoenix Saga added on.

39. Superman Returns (2006) **

Not as bad as some people make it out to be.  Yeah, Superman does come off as a stalker, and I don't know why they had to do so many of his flying scenes in CGI, but the part where Kevin Spacy and co. deliver a beatdown is excellent.

40. Ghost Rider (2007)

Ghost Rider STILL deserves a better movie.  Nicholas Cage is annoying throughout, and I have the feeling they were trying too hard to make this movie kid-friendly.  Peter Fonda couldn't have been less threatening as Mephisto.

41. Spider-Man 3 (2007) **

If they had just cut Venom out of this movie it would have been a good film.  As it is, Venom contributes almost nothing to the plot, and one gets the feeling that he was added as an afterthought.  Not terrible, but not that good either.

42. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) **

There are people who hate this movie, but I don't have any problem with it.  Galactus could have looked a lot cooler, and the movie stumbles near the end, but again there is Jessica Alba.

43. 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.

44. The Incredible Hulk (2008) ****

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.

45. The Dark Knight (2008) ****

Still hands-down the best superhero movie ever made.  And yes, I liked The Avengers.  The plot is complex, the performances are amazing, and the direction is first-rate.  How could Nolan have ever topped this one?

46. 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.

47. The Spirit (2008)

Fuck this movie is bad.  I saw Sin City so many times I had the lines memorized, and with The Spirit I was hoping for something similarly classic.  Unfortunately, Frank Miller isn't quite as good in the absence of Robert Rodriguez.

48. Watchmen (2009) ***

Two problems with this movie: the actors are too pretty, and way too much kung fu fighting.  Aside from these two problems, it is faithful to the comic book and works on many levels. Snyder might have bungled Sucker Punch, but this movie gave me hope for Man of Steel

49. 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.


50. 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.

51. 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.

52. Jonah Hex (2010) *

Josh Brolin stars as an ex-confederate soldier who can talk to dead people.  John Malkovich is the villain.  It was almost a good movie, but the soundtrack ruins the better moments and it gets pretty corny near the end.

53. 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.

54. 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.

55. Green Lantern (2011)

The movie had everything going for it.  I'm not even a big fan of Green Lantern, but when I heard about the director and the cast I got really excited.  Unfortunately the road to Green Lantern is paved with good intentions.

56. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) ***

I would rank this fifth among the Marvel movies, behind The Avengers, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor: The Dark World.  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.

57. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

Can't bring myself to either rent or download this film.  I can't.  I just can't.

58. The Avengers (2012) ****

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.

59. 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.

60. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) **

This movie just bored me.  It's over three hours long, and Bane is unintentionally hilarious at times.  Anne Hathaway makes a great Catwoman, but that's all I can say in favor of this film.

61. 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.

62. Man of Steel (2013) **

Half of a great movie, and half of a Michael Bay movie.  It starts out well, even though some of the details surrounding Krypton don't bear thinking about.  Henry Cavill is a great Superman, but Zack Snyder was trying too hard to please too large an audience.

63. 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.

64. The Wolverine (2013) **

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. 

65. 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!

66. 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.

67. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) **1/2

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!

68. 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.

69. 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?

70. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Going to see it tonight!

On the Way

I'm leaving Sony's Spider-man films off this list.  With the recent deal between Sony and Marvel Studios, the future of this franchise seems very uncertain.  Marvel's take on Spider-man will probably appear in Captain America: Civil War, plans for a solo film are definitely in the works, but it's too early to say when the next Spider-man film will hit theaters.

71. Ant-Man (2015)

This movie has been "in development" for something like forever.  Paul Rudd is featured as Ant-Man, and Michael Douglas plays his mentor.  This movie concludes Phase Two of Marvel's cinematic universe.

72. Fantastic Four Reboot (2015)

Josh Trank directs a cast of relative unknowns in this newest interpretation of Marvel's first family.  This film will be more scientific in tone, and instead of traveling into outer space Reed Richards and co. travel into another dimension.  The trailer looks pretty good.

73. Deadpool (2015)

Everyone's favorite wisecracking mutant mercenary gets his own movie.  Deadpool (as played by Ryan Reynolds) appeared in X-men Origins: Wolverine, but this will be a soft reboot of the character.  Reynolds was born to play Deadpool, and this R-rated take on the character looks good so far.

74. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Henry Cavill will reprise his role as Superman, Ben Affleck is Batman, Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman, some guy I've never heard of is Cyborg, and Jason Momoa will appear as Aquaman.  Warner Bros. has constructed some very ambitious plans around this film.  We'll see if it works out.

75. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

More of a sequel to X-men: First Class, this film will focus on the origin of the mutants.  Apocalypse was always one of my favorite X-men villains.  This film will take place in 1983, and will hopefully also feature Cable.

76. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Captain America and Iron Man face off over the superhuman registration act.  Marvel has already stated that the Black Panther will appear in this film, and there will certainly be a host of other superheroes on hand. Rumor has it that Marvel's version of Spider-man will also make an appearance.

77. Suicide Squad (2016)

Hell yes Suicide Squad.  As with Deadpool, this could be a great film if they don't water it down too much.  Will Smith will star as Deadshot, Margot Robbie is Harley Quinn, and Jared Leto plays the Joker.  David Ayer is set to direct, and I'm thinking this one will be pretty good.

78. Doctor Strange (2016)

All I can say is... finally!  I've been waiting for this movie for so long.  Scott Derrickson is directing, and Benedict Cumberbatch will star as Stephen Strange.

79. Gambit (2016)

Channing Tatum will star as Gambit.  This one is straight out of left field, and there are few details available.

80. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017)

Who would have thought the first Guardians of the Galaxy would be such a success?  And who would have thought that a sequel would be on the way so soon?  Most of the original cast and crew will probably return for this film.

81. Third Wolverine Film (2017)

Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold should be returning.  Hopefully they can improve upon The Wolverine, which wasn't the stylistic triumph I hoped it would be.

82. Fantastic Four 2 (2017)

No idea.  Details on the upcoming reboot are hard enough to come by, and this movie is a complete mystery.

83. Justice League Part 1 (2017)

Having set up the general premise in Batman v. Superman, Warner Bros. will introduce this superhero team to the big screen.  Confirmed members are Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and Aquaman.  The Flash and Green Lantern also seem likely.

84. Wonder Woman (2017)

Likely contingent upon the success of Batman v. Superman.  To me the idea of this movie is a no-brainer - a female superhero(ine) with a great back story.  Hopefully Warner Bros. finds the right director.

85. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

We'll probably see Surtur in this one.  I'm thinking this could be the movie that really sets Thor apart.  The first Thor film wasn't very good, the second one was much better, and this one might just be great.

86. The Black Panther (2017)

Chadwick Boseman will play the Black Panther.  I think it's safe to say that elements of his backstory will appear in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Nothing else is known about this movie at this time.

87. The Flash (2018)

Ezra Miller will play the Flash.  No other details available.

88. The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 (2018)

It was bound to happen.  Thanos will be the villain, and his quest for the infinity gems (stones) will probably cause Earth's mightiest heroes a great deal of misery.

89. Captain Marvel (2018)

A female-centered superhero film, even if it's a year after the proposed female-centric films by both Sony and Warner Bros.

90. Aquaman (2018)

Jason Momoa will play Aquaman.  No other details available.

91. Inhumans (2018)

It's kind of hard to imagine the Inhumans in the absence of the Fantastic Four, but I'm sure Marvel will figure out a way to make it work.

92.  Shazam (2019)

The Rock (OK, Dwayne Johnson) has already been cast as Black Adam.  Word is that this film will exist outside the main DC cinematic continuity.

93. The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 (2019)

I would hazard a guess that this is going to turn up the volume on EVERYTHING.

94. Justice League Part 2 (2019)

So not only are we getting the second Avengers film, but we're also getting a second Justice League film in the same year.  It boggles the mind.

95. Cyborg (2020)

Ray Fisher has already been cast as Cyborg.  I imagine he'll turn up much earlier in the Batman v. Superman film.

96. Green Lantern (2020)

A reboot of the character.  No other details available.