2014年5月26日 星期一

Movies of the Early 90s

In 1990 I was 15 years old, and in 1994 I was 19.  For most of this time period I was a miserable high school student, and during 1994 I was a recent graduate, jobless and uncertain as to what future path my life might take.  It was, in other words, not the best of times for me, though I do cherish some memories of friends and family from that time.

1990-1994 was the era of George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton, it was the era in which glam metal gave way to grunge, and it was the era in which my hometown, Seattle, became synonymous with everything fashionable.  The Sega Genesis had replaced the Sega Master System, and the Super Nintendo had replaced the NES.  The Internet was becoming a fact of daily life, and dot-com companies were on their way up... and up... and up... until... 

Biggest Movies of 1990: Ghost, Home Alone, Pretty Woman, Dances with Wolves, Total Recall, Back to the Future Part III, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Presumed Innocent, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Kindergarten Cop

Ghost.  Man, I despised that movie.  Girls liked it though, and I suppose if I had been old enough to really date I would have been dragged into a movie theater to see it.  As bad as it was, however, it wasn't as bad as the Home Alone movies, which grew more insipid with each installment.

Back to the Future III was forgettable, as were Die Hard 2, Presumed Innocent, and the first live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Dances with Wolves and Totall Recall were good movies from that year.  Kevin Costner won many awards for Dances with Wolves, and Total Recall was one of Schwarzenegger's best films.

Schwarzenegger's Kindergarten Cop, which came out the same year, was (like the Goonies) set in Astoria, Oregon, where I spent time growing up.  I watched it again yesterday, and even though I'd have to say that it's NOT a good movie, I still enjoyed the exterior shots of Astoria.

Honorable Mentions: Misery, Goodfellas, Wild at Heart, Nightbreed, Lord of the Flies, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Navy Seals, The Exorcist III, Darkman, King of New York, Avalon

Both the book and the movie of Misery were good.  I say this as someone who is not a big fan of Stephen King.  The movie adaptation of Lord of the Flies was also equal to the beloved novel.

Goodfellas is one of the classic mob movies.  It's also a classic guy film.  Equally violent was David Lynch's Wild at Heart, which was one of the best films from that year.  Anyone who likes Goodfellas will probably also like King of New York, featuring Christopher Walken in the lead role and Laurence Fishburne and Wesley Snipes in very early performances.  Avalon is another great drama from 1990, though it's not violent like the films mentioned above.  

Nightbreed, Exorcist III, and Darkman were great horror offerings from the same year.  Sam Raimi created Darkman after failing to secure the rights for The Shadow.  Exorcist III was genuinely scary, and helped people forget Exorcist II.  Nightbreed shows Clive Barker in his prime, the cult favorite who also gave us Hellraiser and the underrated Rawhead Rex.

Ford Fairlane and Navy Seals are not especially good films, but I remember them being popular among guys my age.  The guys in my high school German class talked about Ford Fairlane endlessly, and Michael Biehn had another brush with fame in Navy Seals. 

Biggest Movies of 1991: Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Beauty and the Beast, Hook, The Silence of the Lambs, JFK, The Addams Family, Cape Fear, Hot Shots!, City Slickers

I can remember seeing Terminator 2 in the theater on the first day it came out.  That theater was jam packed full of people.

I liked JFK and City Slickers, and Silence of the Lambs was great.  Cape Fear was possibly my favorite movie of that year.  The other hit movies of 1991 are probably better forgotten.  Both Robin Hood and Hot Shots! could be considered missteps in otherwise fruitful careers.  

Honorable Mentions: Barton Fink, The Fisher King, Thelma and Louise, The Doors, New Jack City, Backdraft, The Rocketeer, Boyz n the Hood, Point Break, Little Man Tate, Rush, Once Upon a Time in China, Raise the Red Lantern

Of the movies listed above, The Doors and Rush are my favorites.  I'm not even sure why I like Rush so much.  Jason Patric was amazing in it.  That guy never got as much attention as he deserved.

Anyone who liked Captain America: The First Avenger will undoubtedly find a lot to like in The Rocketeer.  The two movies are similar in many respects, and they share the same director!

Raise the Red Lantern, a Chinese film, marked the emergence of China's film industry from the shadow of Hong Kong.  The beautiful Gong Li is the star of this film.  Once Upon a Time in China, which is really more of a Hong Kong production, was one of Jet Li's early hits. 

Biggest Movies of 1992: Aladdin, The Bodyguard, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Basic Instinct, Lethal Weapon 3, Batman Returns, A Few Good Men, Sister Act, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Wayne's World

God, another Home Alone.  The Bodyguard, Lethal Weapon 3, Sister Act, and Wayne's World were also terrible.  Just about anything featuring Whoopi Goldberg should be avoided.

Basic Instinct and Batman Returns were decent movies, but far from spectacular.

A Few Good Men and Bram Stoker's Dracula were two good films from that year.  A Few Good Men featured Tom Cruise and Demi Moore, and Gary Oldman shined in Dracula.  That movie was so much better than the vastly overrated novel. 

Honorable Mentions: Scent of a Woman, Unforgiven, Chaplin, American Me, The Cutting Edge, Thunderheart, Deep Cover, Boomerang, A League of Their Own, Honeymoon in Vegas, Pet Sematary 2, School Ties, The Last of the Mohicans, Hero, Of Mice and Men, A River Runs Through It, Candyman, Reservoir Dogs, Malcolm X, Bad Lieutenant, A Few Good Men, The Crying Game, Day of Atonement, Hard Boiled, Orlando, Romper Stomper

Unforgiven - hell yes!  One of Clint Eastwood's best.  I have seen that move more times than I can recall.

Robert Downey Jr. almost experienced a renaissance with Chaplin, but unfortunately his substance abuse put a quick end to that.  He wouldn't really break into the big time until sobriety and Iron Man.  A late bloomer for sure.

The Cutting Edge is not a good movie, but that actress who plays the ice skater is so freaking hot.  What was her name?  It's escaping me at the moment.

If you squint your eyes while watching School Ties you can just make out Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as Brendan Fraser's classmates.

The Last of the Mohicans was a fantastic movie, and it was as good as the novel.  It wasn't Daniel Day-Lewis' best performance (I would bestow that honor upon Let There Be Blood), but it was up there.

Malcolm X was an excellent historical drama, and Bad Lieutenant was probably Harvey Keitel's best film.  The remake with Nicholas Cage was also good.

Thunderheart, Deep Cover, Day of Atonement, and Orlando are overlooked films from that year.  Anyone who likes gangster films ought to like the Jewish take on the genre found in Day of Atonement.

Biggest Movies of 1993: Jurassic Park, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Fugitive, Schindler's List, The Firm, Indecent Proposal, Cliffhanger, Sleepless in Seattle, Philadelphia, The Pelican Brief

I have never understood why Mrs. Doubtfire was popular.

Schindler's List and Philadelphia were undoubtedly the best hits from this year.  In Schindler's List Spielberg tackles the Holocaust, and in Philadelphia Tom Hanks turns in a strong performance as an AIDS patient.

Cliffhanger was one of those movies you had to see in the theater.  It doesn't look half as cool on a small screen. 

Honorable Mentions: The Piano, What's Love Got to Do with It, Groundhog Day, Farewell My Concubine, The Wedding Banquet, Dave, Rising Sun, The Man Without a Face, Kalifornia, True Romance, Demolition Man, Fearless, The Remains of the Day, Carlito's Way, Tombstone, Boxing Helena, A Bronx Tale, The Crush, Falling Down, In the Name of the Father, Menace II Society, Ninja Scroll, The Saint of Fort Washington, Sommersby, Stalingrad, Wide Sargasso Sea

Michael Douglas is awesome in Falling Down.  That movie is classic.

The Saint of Fort Washington is another movie that is sadly overlooked.  Both Danny Glover and Matt Dillon turned in great performances.

The German movie Stalingrad is grim, but like Das Boot it is one of the great WWII movies.

I realize that Quentin Tarantion only wrote True Romance, but it is still one of my favorite Tarantino films.  The critics might love his most recent films, but I haven't liked a Tarantino movie since Kill Bill Vol. 2.

Groundhog Day and The Man Without a Face are two movies from this year that I have watched more times than I can count. 

Biggest Movies of 1994: The Lion King, Forrest Gump, True Lies, The Mask, Speed, The Flintstones, Dumb and Dumber, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Interview with a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, Clear and Present Danger

Damn Forrest Gump got annoying.  It was good, but it wasn't that good.  My favorite of this year's hits would be Interview with a Vampire.  I can remember reading a lot of Anne Rice at the time.

Honorable Mentions: Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Ref, The Paper, Surviving the Game, The Crow, Maverick, Little Buddha, Wyatt Earp, Natural Born Killers, The Shawshank Redemption, Stargate, The Professional, Clerks, Crumb, Immortal Beloved, Priest, Wolf

Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers, The Shawshank Redemption, The Professional, and Clerks were excellent movies from 1994.  Gary Oldman was even better in The Professional than he was in Bram Stoker's Dracula.  Clerks was the first and only reason to watch a Kevin Smith movie.  That guy really got lost in his desire for attention.

Crumb is a documentary about the comic strip (comic book?) artist.  It is an interesting documentary.

2014年5月23日 星期五

"X-men: Days of Future Past" (2014)

This movie was released in Taiwan two days ago, but I didn't see it until today.  If you haven't seen it yet, you might want to avoid reading what follows.

For more context on this film, you are welcome to read my Review of Every Marvel and DC Superhero Movie from 1951 to the Present

1. The Story

The remaining X-men face a bleak future, as a non-mutant elite uses a robotic corps of Sentinels to hunt down any mutants not already confined to concentration camps.  Kitty Pryde, able to use her powers to send minds back into the past, sends Wolverine back to 1973, in the hope that he can alter the past and thus save the future.  With the X-men of 1973 at his side, Wolverine tries to prevent Mystique from assassinating Bolivar Trask and uwittingingly becoming the catalyst for a mutant apocalypse.  Magneto aids the X-men at first, but he later develops his own agenda after failing to kill Mystique.  They track Mystique to the White House, where she plans on killing Trask, only to have Magneto reappear and attempt to frighten humanity into submission.  Mystique then subdues Magneto, saves the lives of both Trask and Richard Nixon, and the grim future that awaits them all is thereby averted.

2. How It Compares to the Other X-Men Films

This is by far the best entry in the series.  The direction reminded me why Bryan Singer was famous in the first place, and the performances are excellent.  The script for this film is miles ahead of anything seen previously, and displays an attention to detail only glimpsed in X-men: First Class.  What's better: this movie doesn't just feel like Wolverine and the other X-men.  Everyone involved with this movie outdid themselves.

3. How It Compares to Other Marvel Films

Before seeing this film, I would have laughed at the suggestion that any X-men film could compete with ANY Marvel Studios film, or even any of the Sony Spider-man films.  After seeing it, however, the entire series of X-men films has risen in my estimation.  As superhero movies go, I would rank this up there with the best of them.

4. Trivia

There are so many X-men films that connections to previous films in this series are only par for the course.  And while corrections to flawed continuity might be an interesting topic to explore, the number of X-men films (seven now, and counting...) does not make this an easy task.

A post-credits scene features Apocalypse, who will feature in the upcoming sequel, X-men: Apocalypse.

5. What's Coming Next

The above-mentioned X-men: Apocalypse is now in active development.  There is also another Wolverine sequel in the works.  There are always rumors about a Deadpool or X-Force movie, and with the success of this film these projects seem more likely to happen.

"Godzilla" (2014)

Q: Why did it take them so long to uncover fossil evidence of creatures so large?

Q: Why was a nuclear plant supervisor so concerned about seismic activity that the rest of Japan had apparently disregarded?

Q: How likely is it that any creature would be able to feed on radiation for long periods of time?  Wouldn't the prolonged exposure trigger irreversible errors in their DNA?

Q: Why would such creatures seek out human-made sources of radiation?  Isn't the primary source of radiation the sun?  Wouldn't such creatures do better to absorb their energy directly from the sun, just as plants do?

Q: What is the point of animals that only mate every few million years?

Q: What is the point of an "alpha predator" that does not consume what it kills?

Q: How would the Japanese scientists have hidden their discovery from satellite photography?  And from the Americans who were already stationed in Okinawa?

Q: If previous atomic "tests" in the South Pacific were merely an attempt to eradicate Godzilla, why would they assume that an even larger blast would destroy all three creatures at the same time?  And what about the effect this thermonuclear explosion would have on the atmosphere?  Would a nuclear winter be worth killing all three creatures at the same time?

Q: Why transport the nuclear missile by train?  Why not just shoot it through the stratosphere?

Q: Why the half-hearted evacuation of the Bay Area?

Q: Why store the most important zoological find in human history in Yucca Mountain?  Radioactive or not, wasn't there a better place to put it?

Q: Why was it so easy for the soldier character to hitch a ride with the other soldiers transporting the missile?  Why wasn't he asked for ID?  Why didn't they request clearance?

Q: How could they have gotten the nuclear device to a safe distance that fast?  Or how could they have removed the soldier to a safe distance that fast?

Q: What would have been the point of irradiating the entire globe in an attempt to kill these creatures?  Wouldn't their very existence suggest that there are other, similar creatures dormant below ground?  Wouldn't the nuclear detonation - however successful - lure other such creatures to the surface?

Q: What is the point of a monster movie wherein the monsters take a backseat to drawn-out subplots involving separated family members?

Q: Why did I think this would be a good movie?  Am I so easily deceived?

2014年5月21日 星期三

"2666" by Roberto Bolano (2004)

"Bottom line: the kid gets himself a degree and a wife, who moves to Mexico with him.  So then the short Mexican grandkids aren't so short anymore, they're medium, and meanwhile their skin's getting lighter too.  These grandkids, when the time comes, set off on the same journey of initiation as their father.  American college, American wife, taller and taller kids.  What this means is that the Mexican upper class, of its own accord, is doing what the Spaniards did, but backward.  The Spaniards, who were hot-blooded and didn't think too far ahead, mixed with the Indian women, raped them, forced them to practice their religion, and thought that meant they were turning the country white.  Those Spaniards believed in a mongrel whiteness.  But they overestimated their semen and that was their mistake.  You just can't rape that many people.  It's mathematically impossible.  It's too hard on the body.  You get tired.  Plus, they were raping from the bottom up, when what would've made more sense would be raping from the top down.  They might have gotten some results if they'd been capable of raping their own mongrel children and then their mongrel grandchildren and even their bastard great-grandchildren.  But who's going to go out raping people when you're seventy and you can hardly stand on your own two feet?"

Roberto Bolano was a Chilean novelist who spent many years in Mexico.  He passed away in 2003, and "2666" was published after his death.  The novel is divided into five parts, though it is said that a sixth part was discovered by researchers going through his estate.

This book is HUGE, and it's difficult to discuss as a whole.  The print is also really small, and I was only able to read around 50 pages at a time.  By the time I got to the end, my memory of the first and second parts was fuzzy.

Part One: The Part About the Critics

Four Literature critics form an association over their shared devotion to Archimboldi, a mysterious German-language author.  One of these critics, an English woman, becomes romantically entangled with two of the other critics.  All three of the male critics vie for the English woman's affections while they attempt to solve the mystery of Archimboldi's true identity.  Their search leads them to Santa Teresa, Mexico, where one of the critics has a change of heart.

Part Two: The Part About Amalfitano

Amalfitano, professor of Philosophy at the University of Santa Teresa, remembers his mentally unbalanced wife, who has absconded to Europe in search of a poet.  Amalfitano's increasing eccentricity is a source of worry for his daughter, who tries to be the voice of reason.

Part Three: The Part About Fate

Oscar Fate's mother passes on, and after her death he must journey to Santa Teresa, to cover a boxing match for the magazine that employs him.  While in Mexico he learns of the killings that are taking place there, and also runs into Amalfitano's daughter, whom he falls in love with.  After a night out on the town proves sinister, he flees Mexico with Amalfitano's daughter.

Part Four: The Part About the Crimes

Young women fall victim to a serial killer (or serial killers) in Santa Teresa, and the inept police force does its best to find the killer(s).  

This is the longest part of the book.  In it are discussed many features of Mexican society, and also this society's grudging relationship with the United States.  Some sections are quite gruesome, and the picture painted of Mexican prisons might be even scarier than what one finds in Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy.

Despite its strengths as a portrait of modern Mexico, this part is extremely repetitious.  It also introduces many plot threads that are never resolved.  It brought to mind some of James Ellroy's books, in particular "The Black Dahlia."  The difference being that Ellroy does this kind of story much better.

Part Five: The Part About Archimboldi

In this part a young Hans Reiter grows to manhood in pre and post WWII Germany.  He joins the army, sees action in both France and Russia, returns to Germany, and begins writing books under the pseudonym Benno von Archimboldi.  After this his fame grows steadily, and he spends the following years traveling through Europe.

This was by far my favorite part of the book.  Parts of it reminded me of Gogol's short stories, and also Gunther Grass' "The Tin Drum."  The characters are all interesting and it never grows dull.

Conclusion/Parting Impressions

As a novel?  This book is less than the sum of its parts.  The Part About the Crimes is egregiously long, and the plot points left unresolved in this part of the book make for an unsatisfying read overall.  Add to this the fact that the last part may not really be the last part, and one is left with the impression of an experiment gone wrong, or at least an experiment left incomplete.

Yet there are some parts of this book that are worth reading.  I would encourage you to read Part Three and Five.  It seems to me that the parts of this book could be in any order, and reading Parts Three and Five first will not diminish your enjoyment of this book.

I'd like to read Bolano's earlier novels.  This is perhaps the deepest impression that "2666" made upon me.  It's not an easy book, it's definitely not a short book, but it has made me curious as to what Bolano's earlier - and more complete - efforts might be like.

If you don't like long, cryptic books I would avoid this one.  If, however, you're looking for a challenge you might give "2666" a try.

2014年5月15日 星期四

Movies of the Late 80s

Now the late 80s I remember much better.  I was between ten and fourteen at the time, and I could see just about anything I wanted.  This was also when VHS tapes were easier to rent, and films were transferred to tape much quicker.

1984-89 saw the rise of the big action stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, the continued dominance of Spielberg, and the appearance of newer directors such as Oliver Stone, James Cameron, and Tim Burton.

Many of today's biggest movie stars can also trace their careers back to this time.  Robert Downey Jr. inhabited the teen comedy ghetto, a young Christian Bale featured in Empire of the Sun, and Tom Cruise was really making a name for himself with a string of hit movies.  Tom Hanks, who had earlier hits with Splash and Bachelor Party, had another hit with Big. 

Biggest Films of 1985: Back to the Future, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rocky 4, The Color Purple, Out of Africa, Cocoon, The Jewel of the Nile, Witness, The Goonies, Spies Like Us

I can remember Back to the Future being very popular at the time.  I can't help but think that Christopher Lloyd (and not Michael J. Fox) was a big reason those movies were successful.  I watched this film again recently.

Rambo II was the movie that every ten year old yearns for.  That scene where he runs up the hill (just before his capture by the Vietnamese) is so ridiculous that it's fantastic.  Stallone would also face off against Dolph Lundgren in Rocky 4 the same year.  "Eye of the Tiger" baby!

I can remember watching Cocoon and The Goonies in the theater that year.  I had an easier time relating to The Goonies.  Much of the Goonies was also filmed in and around Astoria, Oregon, where I spent a lot of time as a kid.  I also loved the Nintendo game! 

Honorable Mention(s): American Ninja, Better Off Dead, Brazil, Commando, Day of the Dead, Enemy Mine, Fright Night, Invasion U.S.A., The Last Dragon, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Mask, Pale Rider, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Police Story, Ran, Re-Animator, Real Genius, Summer Rental, Weird Science

American Ninja, Commando, The Last Dragon, and Invasion U.S.A. are all terrible movies, but they are indicative of the times.  Most boys in the 80s were obsessed with ninjas and survivalist white dudes.  One of the posters for Commando features Schwarzenegger brandishing the same gun and striking exactly the same pose as Stallone did in the Rambo II poster.

Better Off Dead, Real Genius, Summer Rental, and Weird Science were your average teen comedies, but they featured early performances by John Cusack, Val Kilmer, and Anthony Michael Hall.  If you look closely you can see Robert Downey Jr. as one of the bullies in Weird Science.

Day of the Dead, Fright Night, and Re-Animator were good horror films from the era.  I thought a remake of Fright Night was unnecessary (especially since Chris Sarandon was the only reason the original was cool).  Re-Animator was probably the best horror movie that year.

Pale Rider is one of Clint Eastwood's best films.  Great movie.  Seen it many times.

1985 was also when Jackie Chan started to make his presence felt.  Police Story is still one of his best movies. 

Biggest Films of 1986: Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, Platoon, The Karate Kid Part II, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Back to School, Aliens, The Golden Child, Ruthless People

Top Gun was a colossal hit, in part due to the soundtrack.  Man that movie was everywhere.  I saw it again recently, and I'd have to say it isn't all that great.

Platoon was one of the best Vietnam films, right up there with Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, and Hamburger Hill.

Back to School brings back a lot of memories.  Rodney Dangerfield was having a good time in 1986!  Again, there is Robert Downey Jr.

Aliens was so awesome.  Of course the first movie scared the piss out of me, but Aliens managed to up the ante.  Michael Biehn was always almost a big movie star. 

Honorable Mention(s):  The Mission, Howard the Duck, Armor of God, A Better Tomorrow, Big Trouble in Little China, Blue Velvet, Cobra, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Fly, Gung Ho!, Highlander, Sid and Nancy, Stand By Me

The Mission is an excellent movie.  At the other end of the spectrum, Howard the Duck is so bad that it should be seen at least once.

Armor of God and A Better Tomorrow were two classic Hong Kong films that came out the same year.  That fight scene at the end of Armor of God is one of the best ever.

Big Trouble in Little China was a different kind of film from John Carpenter.  Now that I live in Taiwan, it's hard not to view it in racial terms, but if you don't think about it too hard it's a good movie.

Cobra, featuring Stallone and soon-to-be ex-wife Bridget Nielson, is also so bad it's good.

David Cronenberg's The Fly is epic.  Not only is it Cronenberg's best film, but it's one of the all-time classic horror movies.  David Lynch's Blue Velvet is equally great, but weird in a different way.

Biggest Films of 1987: Three Men and a Baby, Beverly Hills Cop 2, Fatal Attraction, Good Morning Vietnam, Moonstruck, The Untouchables, The Secret of My Success, Stakeout, Lethal Weapon, The Witches of Eastwick

Oh Christ, Three Men and a Baby.  Forgot all about that one (perhaps I repressed the memory).  Directed by Spock!

As you might have guessed from the presence of both Stakeout and Lethal Weapon, 1987 ushered in the era of the buddy cop film.

If you judged this year by the highest-grossing films, it was a depressing year for movies.

Honorable Mention(s):  The Last Emperor, Wall Street, Angel Heart, Bad Taste, Empire of the Sun, Evil Dead II, Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, Hellraiser, Innerspace, Masters of the Universe, Nekromantik, Overboard, Planes Trains and Automobiles, Predator, Prince of Darkness, Raising Arizona, Robocop, The Running Man, Street Trash

The Last Emperor is a great film, and Joan Chen is/was super hot.  Wall Street, Angel Heart, Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, and Raising Arizona were other great "serious" (arty) films from the same year.  Empire of the Sun was one of Christian Bale's first movies.

A lot of good horror this year.  A remake of Prince of Darkness, given our current understanding of quantum theory, would almost write itself.  Bad Taste, a horror movie about homeless people, was sadly overlooked at the time.  Hellraiser looks kind of corny now, but I suppose they were working with a small budget.

Also a good year for Schwarzenegger, with Predator and the Running Man released the same year.  The original Robocop, which competed for the same audience, is far better than the remake.

Perhaps the strangest release of 1987 was the Masters of the Universe movie.  By 1987 no one was buying the toys that inspired the film, and the movie was, as expected, a dismal failure.

Biggest Films of 1988: Rain Man, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Coming to America, Big, Twins, Crocodile Dundee II, Die Hard, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, Cocktail, Beetlejuice

Rain Man went some way to proving that Tom Cruise could really act, though it was certainly Dustin Hoffman that made that film a success.

Who would bother to see Who Framed Roger Rabbit now?  At the time the mixture of real people and cartoon characters seemed state-of-the-art, but with the modern prevalence of CGI it seems downright old-fashioned.

I can remember seeing Die Hard in the theater.  I never understood the popularity of those movies.  Whatever Stallone or Schwarzenegger were doing the same year(s) always seemed cooler.

Crocodile Dundee.  Ahhhh... exotic Australia.  "Now that's a knife!"

Honorable Mention(s):  The Accused, Rambo III, The Abyss, Akira, Alien Nation, The Blob, Bloodsport, Colors, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, The Great Outdoors, The Last Temptation of Christ, License to Drive, Mississippi Burning, Scrooged, They Live, Willow, Young Guns

Rambo III!  In Afghanistan!  Bet you didn't know that Stallone films often prophesize the future!

The Abyss is a great James Cameron film.  Both Michael Biehn and Ed Harris are great in it.

Akira really blew my mind when I first saw it.  Back then there was no way to legally acquire the movie, so we were all trading VHS tapes of it.

The Blob wasn't all that great, but that blob thing sure was freaky.

Bloodsport marks the arrival of Jean Claude Van Damme, who was always ready to do some "Van Dammage." (Sorry, couldn't help myself).

The Decline of Western Civilization Part II was right in line with the music I liked back then.  Metal was in full force, and I was an avid listener.  Dave Mustaine has all the best lines in this movie.  Remember when that guy wasn't a right-wing asshole?

License to Drive SUCKS, but it does features the two Coreys, Haim and Feldman, who will be familiar to all who grew up in the 80s.  Corey Haim died from drug-related complications not long ago, and Feldman has (unfortunately) survived to front a ska band.  I'm not wishing anyone dead here, but I sure do hate ska.

The Last Temptation of Christ and They Live are probably my favorite movies from this time.  The former was a controversial film starring Willem Defoe and Harvey Keitel, while the latter is one of John Carpenter's best.

Why bother with those Lord of the Rings movies when you could see Willow?  Also a cool arcade game!

Biggest Films of 1989: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Batman, Back to the Future Part II, Look Who's Talking, Dead Poet's Society, Lethal Weapon 2, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Ghostbusters II, The Little Mermaid, Born on the Fourth of July

I never thought Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was that wonderful.  Same with Batman.  Both movies were severely overhyped.

Lethal Weapon 2 was even more annoying that the first movie, and Ghostbusters II was kind of a disappointment.

Born on the Fourth of July was the second film in Oliver Stone's Vietnam trilogy, following Platoon.  It was also a good movie.  The last film in this trilogy, Heaven and Earth, was BAD.

Honorable Mention(s): Glory, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Black Rain, Casualties of War, Erik the Viking, God of Gamblers, Leviathan, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Pet Sematary, Tetsuo: the Iron Man

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure is one of the reasons people bother with Keanu Reeves.  Not a good reason, but one of the reasons.

God of Gamblers continues to enjoy enormous popularity in Asia.  I'm not sure how many sequels they made to this movie, but the first is undoubtedly the best.

Leviathan and Pet Sematary were good horror movies from that year.  There was another movie that year, Deepstar Six, which was very similar to Leviathan.

Testuo: the Iron Man is one of the strangest films you'll ever see.  In some respects similar to Eraserhead.

2014年5月13日 星期二

Movies of the Early 80s

In 1980 I was five years old, and in 1984 I was nine.  My memory of the early 1980s is far from perfect, but I do remember those five years with a certain amount of nostalgia.

I hope I will be excused for giving the dramas of 1980-1984 short shrift.  I was just a little kid after all, and I wouldn't have been able to sit through Coal Miner's Daughter, On Golden Pond, or any other films of that nature.

Most Popular Movies of 1980: The Empire Strikes Back, 9 to 5, Stir Crazy, Airplane!, Any Which Way You Can, Private Benjamin, Coal Miner's Daughter, Smokey and the Bandit 2, The Blue Lagoon, The Blues Brothers

The Empire Strikes Back was HUGE.  I was only five years old at the time, and even I remember how huge that movie was.  Do you remember the toys?  Every time I see this movie I think about all of the action figures and playsets I had.

Of the other movies listed above, The Blues Brothers has to be my second favorite.  Carrie Fisher, who was (of course) Princess Leia in Empire, also appears in this film as John Belushi's crazy ex-girlfriend.

My memories of the other films are dim, but I do remember that Burt Reynold's "Smokey and the Bandit" series was quite popular.  I've probably seen them.  I just can't remember.

Honorable Mention(s): Raging Bull, Kagemusha, Altered States, Cannibal Holocaust, Caddyshack, Flash Gordon, The Shining

Hard to believe, but Raging Bull wasn't in the top ten that year.  It won awards, but it didn't make a lot of money.  

Kagemusha is one of Akira Kurosawa's best pictures.  

Altered States is a truly weird film and worth seeing.  

Cannibal Holocaust is an Italian horror movie, is still banned in several countries, and is also very good.  

Who hasn't seen Caddyshack at least 20 times?  

Flash Gordon was an average film, but has one of the best soundtracks ever.  "Flash!  Aaaaaahhh!  He's a miracle!"

The Shining was another classic from Stanley Kubrick, and remains one of the best horror films ever made.  In my opinion it is much, much scarier than the book.

Most Popular Movies of 1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark, On Golden Pond, Superman 2, Arthur, Stripes, The Cannonball Run, Chariots of Fire, For Your Eyes Only, The Four Seasons, Time Bandits

Raiders, man.  Raiders.  I still love that movie.  During Christmas of that year my dad (unwisely) gave us a pair of bullwhips.  In case you didn't know, it's really easy to hurt yourself (or your brother) with a bullwhip.

Superman 2 was also great.  Terrence Stamp made a great General Zod.  After this one, the Superman films became decidedly silly.

Like Caddyshack, who hasn't seen Stripes at least 20 times?

How many people actually remember what Chariots of Fire was about?  I'm not sure if I do, but that soundtrack has certainly lived a life of its own.

I can remember seeing Time Bandits at the Aurora Village Theater when I was six years old.  I didn't really understand the film at the time, but I grew to appreciate it later.

Honorable Mention(s): An American Werewolf in London, Clash of the Titans, Escape from New York, The Evil Dead, Excalibur, Nice Dreams, Polyester, Scanners

Also a great year for horror, with An American Werewolf in London, The Evil Dead, and Scanners coming out the same year.  Of these three, the original Evil Dead is probably my favorite.

I'm guessing that other men in my age group have seen their share of the original Clash of the Titans.  This was made back in the days before CGI, when they had to animate models of all the monsters.

Kurt Russell is super bad ass in Escape from New York, and this was probably the beginning of John Carpenter's "golden age."

Excalibur is a wonderfully trippy film.  Very British.  I know people who find it boring, but I really enjoy it.

Nice Dreams is my favorite Cheech and Chong movie.  I have seen it more times than I can remember.

Polyester is, in my opinion, the last of John Waters' really good movies.  I nearly have the dialog from it committed to memory.  "Dexter, dinner's ready!"

(Dis)Honorable Mention(s): Mommie Dearest

This movie might be a train wreck, but it is one of the most watchable bad films ever made.

Most Popular Movies of 1982: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Tootsie, An Officer and a Gentleman, Rocky 3, Porky's, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, 48 Hrs., Poltergeist, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Annie

Spielberg had earlier hits with other movies, but in my opinion E.T. was the film that really broke him into the mainstream.  That movie was everywhere, and even Michael Jackson was going mental over it.

I always thought that Tootsie was an immensely overrated movie.  Its premise was hard to buy into, and it tried too hard to make a point.

Rocky 3 featured Stallone vs. Mr. T.  Rocky hype would reach its pinnacle with Rocky 4, but this movie was also an event.  Not sure if this was before or after Mr. T. starred in the A-team TV show.

I still think Star Trek 2 is the best Star Trek film.  That whole dynamic between Kirk and Khan was epic.  I love it when Kirk yells "Khaaaannnnn!" into the communicator.

Poltergeist has to be the most overwrought horror film ever.  I'll admit that it sort of scared me when I was seven, but watching it as an adult I am constantly struck by the ridiculous amount of overacting present in that film.

Honorable Mention(s):  Twilight Zone: The Movie, Gandhi, Conan the Barbarian, Blade Runner, The Thing, Tron

The Twilight Zone movie really creeped me out at the time.  I can remember watching it late at night on HBO, back when cable television first appeared.

The Thing is one of the greatest horror movies ever made, and remains the best film that John Carpenter ever directed.  I saw this again recently, and it's still awesome.

Gandhi is a classic movie.  Definitely one of the first historical epics to grab my attention.

Blade Runner is a great science fiction movie, and has had a lasting effect on cinema.  The look of this film influenced a lot of later directors.

My brother and I thought Conan the Barbarian was just about the best thing ever when it came out.  We had this LP that told the story of the movie (remember those?), and we listened to it almost every day.  The soundtrack for this one is also great.

Like Conan, Tron also had a lasting effect on my consciousness.  This was one of the first films to feature CGI, and Walter/Wendy Carlos' soundtrack rivaled Conan's soundtrack for coolness.  I only wish Tron: Legacy, the much-delayed sequel, hadn't been so lame.

Most Popular Movies of 1983: Return of the Jedi, Terms of Endearment, Flashdance, Trading Places, War Games, Octopussy, Sudden Impact, Staying Alive, Mr. Mom, Risky Business

I was only eight at the time, and even I recognized the fact that Return of the Jedi was more of an excuse for a toy line.  It's a good movie, however.

I've seen Trading Places many, many times.  Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy were excellent together.

War Games, Mr. Mom, and Risky Business are probably my favorite of the above movies.  In War Games Matthew Broderick faces off against a sentient computer.  In Mr. Mom Micheal Keaton learns how to be a stay-at-home dad.  In Risky Business Tom Cruise learns how to be a pimp (!).  When I think of the 80s, I usually think of these three movies first.

Honorable Mention(s): Christine, The Dead Zone, Krull, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, National Lampoon's Vacation, Scarface, Star 80, Strange Brew, Superman 3, The Survivors, Videodrome

Christine, The Dead Zone, and Videodrome were/are some excellent horror movies.  Videodrome is crying out for a remake.

Krull was NOT a good movie, but I loved it when I was eight and it spawned one of my favorite arcade games.

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, National Lampoon's Vacation, Strange Brew, and The Survivors are all good comedies.  The Survivors isn't all that funny, but I used to watch in on HBO so I have some memories there.  Strange Brew makes me wish that those two guys had made other movies that good.  I defy you not to get the theme song from "Vacation" stuck in your head.

Scarface and Star 80 are two movies that have aged extremely well.  Scarface is one of those guy movies that will never die, and Eric Roberts is amazing in Star 80.  The recent Lovelace bore a strong resemblance to Star 80. 

Most Popular Movies of 1984: Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins, The Karate Kid, Police Academy, Footloose, Romancing the Stone, Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock, Splash

I never understood what the big deal about Beverly Hills Cop was.  I thought it was just OK.

Being nine years old at the time, I was in the target audience for Ghostbusters, Temple of Doom, Gremlins, and The Karate Kid.  I still think that all of these movies are great with the exception of Gremlins.  That scene in Temple of Doom where the guy gets his heart ripped out really freaked a lot of us out when we were kids.  And it wasn't even rated R!

I had forgotten how big those Police Academy movies were.  Steve Guttenberg, where are you now?

Footloose: another great soundtrack, and the beginning of Kenny Loggins' return to fame.  Or was Top Gun earlier?  I'm not sure.  Every kid in my elementary school had the cassette tape of Top Gun and Footloose handy.

I can remember seeing Star Trek 3 in the theater, and being unimpressed.  Then again, anything that came after Star Trek 2 would have been disappointing.

Honorable Mention(s):  Amadeus, The Killing Fields, Bachelor Party, The Bounty, C.H.U.D., Dune, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Once Upon a Time in America, The Razor's Edge, Revenge of the Nerds, Starman, The Terminator, This is Spinal Tap

Amadeus is a great movie.  It is sadly forgotten by most.  The Killing Fields and The Bounty have also largely been forgotten.

Once Upon a Time in America seems to have remained in the popular consciousness, perhaps because of the films Sergio Leone did with Clint Eastwood.

The Razor's Edge was never a big film, but it proved that Bill Murray could do a drama.  It is also much better than the original novel.

C.H.U.D. is so bad it's good, and if you look really hard you can just make out John Goodman as a policeman.  Bachelor Party is also so bad it's good, and that woman Tom Hanks spends the movie fantasizing over was super hot.

Dune is classic.  A lot of people consider this a dud, but as a fan of Frank Herbert I would have to say that it was an artistic success.  Don't watch the Director's Cut though.  It will put you to sleep.

Gotta mention Revenge of the Nerds.  Just gotta.  That movie was the quintessential 80s comedy.

Starman is another classic from John Carpenter, though it is by no means a horror film.  Vangelis did the soundtrack.  Remember Vangelis?

Many people forget that The Terminator was almost an underground film at the time.  It was made on a (relatively) low budget, and both James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger were still on their way to fame and fortune.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I would have to give This is Spinal Tap an 11.  That movie is timeless.

2014年5月3日 星期六

Disgusting, Disturbing, and Just Plain WRONG 3

The results of yet another horror movie binge.  I watched many of these movies during a single weekend, and yes, that weekend did make me feel a little weird.

Contracted (2013)

After hooking up with some random guy at a party, a waitress finds that she's contracted the worst STD ever.  Most of this film is gross in a rather conventional way, but there are a couple of scenes that had me grimacing.  Not a bad film, but could have been much better.

The ABC's of Death (2012)

A series of horror shorts, with each short based upon a letter of the alphabet ("A is for Alzheimer's, B is for Botulism," etc.).  Some of the shorts are quite stupid and lazily done, though some of the shorts near the end are good.  The shorts by the Japanese directors are hands-down the strangest, while French director Xander Gens' offering stands out as the best of the bunch.

Resolution (2013)

I'm not sure if I'd classify this as a horror film.  In tone it reminded me a lot of Donnie Darko.  It's a very surreal film, and it felt like the kind of movie more experimental horror directors were making in the late 70s.  A man handcuffs his friend to a pipe in order to conquer his friend's drug addiction, he discovers a set of odd photographs in the basement, and everything gets steadily more bizarre from there.

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Something of an homage to the golden age of Italian horror films.  Toby Jones (Arnim Zola from the Captain America films), travels to Italy to work in a recording studio.  This movie isn't remotely scary, but fans of Argento might like it.  I had a truly difficult time getting through this one. 

High Tension (2003)

One of the most-cited films of the "New French Extremity" movement.  Two girls spend the weekend in a country house, only to have a razor-wielding maniac ruin their fun.  It's gory but not overpoweringly so (I watched the unrated version), and the plot twist at the end is difficult to buy into.  I've heard people rave about this film, but it seemed uninspired to me.

Inside (2007)

Another film from the New French Extremity.  After a car accident in which she loses her husband, a pregnant woman falls victim to a deranged nurse who has invaded her house.  This movie is stomach-churning, and also really good.  DO NOT watch this movie after a large meal!

Stitches (2012)

Irish movie about a clown who comes back from the dead to ruin a teenage boy's birthday party.  Standard slasher fare, with a lot of gore and bad puns thrown in for good measure.  It's not great - maybe not even good - but the "balloon animal" scene near the end is quite memorable.

V/H/S 2 (2013)

Another set of short films, these in the found footage format.  The first film makes absolutely no sense (Who would drown that fast?  What?  No CPR?  Why cut out your own eye?), the second is fairly derivative, the third - an Indonesian film - is pretty good, and the last is very silly.

Would You Rather (2012)

A group of people participates in a game, each hoping to escape personal and financial difficulties.  A very good movie, despite the fact that Sasha Grey is a terrible actress.  A little bit like the Saw films, but less gory. 

Frontier(s) (2007)

Sort of a French version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Five people rob a Paris bank and end up the victims of a sadistic Nazi family.  It's not as gory as I expected, and perhaps a little too similar to movies featuring Leatherface.  The lead actress, however, gives a great performance. 

2014年5月2日 星期五

"The Overcoat and Other Tales of Good and Evil" by Nikolai Gogol (1832-1842)

"'I can't understand,' he used to say, 'why some artists are so keen on slaving and drudgery.  In my opinion a man who wastes several months on a picture isn't an artist at all.  He is simply a hack.'"

Nikolai Gogol was a Ukrainian-born Russian writer, known primarily for "The Overcoat," one of his short stories, and "Dead Souls," one of his novels.  He is also known as a proponent of literary realism within the Russian school, though many of his stories also contain elements of fantasy.  He was a contemporary of Dostoyevsky, and his writings influenced both Bulgakov and Nabokov.

This book includes five stories, and these stories are presented in the order of their publication.  The first story is "A Terrible Vengeance," followed by "The Portrait," "Nevsky Avenue," (sometimes referred to as "Nevsky Prospect"), "The Nose," and "The Overcoat," published in 1942, the year that marked both the publication of "Dead Souls" and the end of his writing career.  Gogol would die of illness ten years later, plagued by conflicting emotions with regard to his literary output.

The first story, "A Terrible Vengeance," is a bizarre sort of fairy tale.  In this story a Cossack chieftain contends with his father-in law over the affections of his new bride.  The father-in-law happens to be a sorcerer, and none of the characters in this story come to a happy end.  It is a fairly one-dimensional story, and the twist at the end seems rather arbitrary.

"The Portrait" follows the career of a painting as it falls into various hands.  The man in the painting is a satanic figure, and the religious overtones present in "A Terrible Vengeance" are also present here, if muted slightly.  Gogol has a lot to say about the role of the artist in this piece, and there are perhaps moments where his artistic pretensions get the better of the narrative's pacing.

"Nevsky Avenue" tries to be the story of an avenue, though the digressions into the exploits of two men seem to distract from the author's original intention.  Parts of this story show a promise that Gogol would realize in later stories.

"The Nose" is more like something Kafka would have written.  A government official wakes to find his nose missing, and and the story paints an interesting portrait of St. Petersburg.  It has none of the pacing issues present in the earlier stories, and the conclusion, although strange, is satisfying.

"The Overcoat" is by far the best story here, though the supernatural ending probably won't sit as well with modern readers.  Just the same, it is an excellent short story, and it makes me want to seek out Gogol's "Dead Souls."