2015年5月24日 星期日

Mad Max: Fury Road and the Decline of the Superhero Film

Have you seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet?  Have you also, by any chance, seen Avengers: Age of Ultron?  These two films are both still in theaters, and it's hard not to compare them.  A lot of Internet chatter is doing just this, and it's impossible not to have an opinion on which of these films is better.

For me there's not a lot of soul searching involved: Mad Max: Fury Road is an excellent movie - perhaps one of the best action films to come along in decades.  Fury Road offers us a world on the brink of collapse, in which characters do whatever they can to survive.   Fury Road portrays our own weaknesses and strengths, reflected through a story that plays upon universal themes. 

Avengers 2, by contrast, offers only another installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, wherein paper-thin characters take part in contests that feel entirely contrived, without any real consequences for anyone.  Sure, Quicksilver dies at the end (or does he?), but what we're left with is a rehash of movies we've seen before, set in a universe without any real surprises.

Those more intimately aware of director George Miller's career might have heard of his failed attempt to bring the Justice League to the big screen: "Justice League: Mortal."  With Mad Max: Fury Road fresh in my mind, I can only regret that this film never happened.  It might have been a revolutionary undertaking.  Or it might have been a colossal failure.  But whatever it might have been, it would have been more interesting than whatever Marvel is offering up these days.

Don't get me wrong.  I loved Iron Man.  I loved The Incredible Hulk.  I loved Captain America: The First Avenger.  I was as excited as anyone when The Avengers hit theaters, and I was decidedly pleased with the results.  Joss Whedon deserved the praise he got for that film, even if it was a bit too talky for its own good.

But really, what can the superhero genre offer us now?  Is there some great superhero movie waiting in the wings?  If so, I have trouble imagining that such a movie would come from Marvel Studios, stuck as they are with the formula they've created.  It may be that Fox makes another X-men movie as good as X-men: Days of Future Past.  It may be that the Fantastic Four reboot is as inventive as I hope it will be.  And then there is the DC Cinematic Universe, "gritty and steeped in realism," which might offer a welcome alternative to what has come before.  I really don't know, but given Marvel's plans, I have difficulty imagining that either Ant-Man or Captain America: Civil War are going to up the stakes in any meaningful way.

What we might be witnessing here - in the absence of any great innovation by Marvel, Fox, Sony, or Warner Bros. - is the decline of the superhero film in general.  This decline isn't something I'm actively wishing for (no one wants to see a great Flash film more than me), but it may be that "superhero fatigue" will begin to make itself felt on a larger scale.  

It seems very likely that Ant-Man, arriving in theaters two months from now, will prove a disappointment for Marvel.  The trailers for the upcoming Fantastic Four also aren't getting the best reviews, and enthusiasm for this film would seem to be at a low point.  I'd be happy if both are good movies, but I'd be lying if I said my appreciation for superhero films hasn't been diminished by Avengers: Age of Ultron.  I'm getting a bit tired of guys wearing capes and battling over the fate of the world.  I'd rather see a film that featured characters who are more vulnerable, and also more flawed.

I'm looking forward to X-men: Apocalypse and Captain America: Civil War.  I'm also looking forward to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  But every time I read about these upcoming films, I remember that last half of Fury Road, and I begin wondering what other, non-superheroic films are on the horizon.  Someone at Marvel, Sony, Fox, or Warner Bros. will need to start taking more risks with their material if they want this fad to continue.  They'll also need to begin ignoring those who treat comic books as if they're the King James Bible.  OK, yeah, the source material is important, but it's not the word of God.

Otherwise, if all we're left with is filmed comic books, many of us will begin looking for alternatives to super-powered (white) guys and predictable three-act structures.  If all we're left with is repeats of what has worked for Marvel Studios before, this craze for superhero films might just come to a screeching halt.

Human Centipede 3 (Full Sequence)

"Death Rape!  Death Rape!  Death Rape!"

I'm not saying this because there have been a lot of great horror films recently - there haven't - but Human Centipede 3 is the best horror film I've seen in a while.

Unlike the first two films, which were pretty much gross-out contests centered around the idea of creating a "human centipede," the third installment is more a critique of the American prison system.  I'm not saying that this critical element makes the third film better, but it is a new element in the series, and as such brings a bit of freshness to the franchise.

Human Centipede 3 is not as violent as the second film, and it lacks the atmosphere that made the first Human Centipede my favorite in the series.  Even so it has its moments, and there are a lot of memorable lines strewn throughout the movie.  I could recount many of these lines from memory, but I think that to do so would diminish your enjoyment of the film.

It's not a cinematic masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a solid B-movie with more originality than any horror film I've seen in quite a while.  A lot of critics fawned over "It Follows," but in my opinion Human Centipede 3 is a much stronger effort.  Then again, how many good horror films are truly appreciated by movie critics?

To be sure, some of the acting in this movie is terrible, and the conclusion is downright silly, but as an exploitation picture it offers a few twists and turns that we haven't seen before, and this is praise enough for a film that was so long in the making.  I know I said I wouldn't spoil any of the lines for you, but that "Thank God for Africa!  Thank God for female circumcision!" line had me laughing out loud.  It's a very irreverent film, and I enjoy that.

If you're looking for a good, solid horror film I'd recommend the first Human Centipede.  If you're looking for something truly gross, I'd recommend the second.  If you've seen those two, well, you know what the third is offering.  It's not Oscar worthy, but it's not bad.

2015年5月19日 星期二

"Remembrance of Things Past" (Volume 1) by Marcel Proust (1913)

I TRIED to read this book, I really did, but it's like being trapped in a very small room with an extremely annoying man who keeps reminding you about some pointless incident from his childhood.  Honestly I have better things to do, and better books to read.  Life is too short for Proust.

2015年5月17日 星期日

"The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas (1844)

"No; his name is the Count of Monte Cristo."

"There is not a Count of Monte Cristo," said Debray.

"I do not think so," added Chateau-Renaud, with the air of a man who knows the whole of European nobility perfectly.

"Does any one know anything of a Count of Monte Cristo?"

"He comes possibly from the Holy Land, and one of his ancestors possessed Calvalry as the Mortemarts did the Dead Sea."

"I think I can assist your researches," said Maximillian, "Monte Cristo is a little island I have often heard spoken of by the old sailors my father employed.  A grain of sand in the center of the Mediterranean, an atom in the infinite."

If you're wondering why I haven't posted here in so long, part of the reason is that "The Count of Monte Cristo" is a LONG book.  It is so long, in fact, that it took me three weeks to read it.

This said, it didn't feel as long as some other, much shorter books I've read recently.  "The Better Angels of Our Nature," for example, was much shorter, but I felt like I was reading it for months.

In the novel, Edmond Dantes returns to France after a long period spent at sea.  He is warmly received after his long journey, but little does he know that his happy prospects are coveted by three other individuals, and these three men conspire to have him thrown into prison.  Dantes spends the next fourteen years in a dark cell, and after his escape he returns to France styling himself the count of Monte Cristo.  His desire to avenge himself on the three men dictates much of what happens afterward, culminating in his triumph over his former persecutors.

Compared to other novels by Dumas (and Auguste Maquet), I liked this one less than both "The Three Musketeers" and "The Man in the Iron Mask."  It felt overlong to me, and some of the scenes seemed unnecessary.   It is certainly well-written, but some of the characters grow tiresome, as do certain digressions into their shared history.  Unlike "The Man in the Iron Mask" and especially "The Three Musketeers" - both of which flowed seamlessly from beginning to end, "The Count of Monte Cristo" stumbles a bit, despite moments of unquestionable greatness.

One of the most enjoyable things about reading a book like this is contemplating the long, long shadow it has cast over our culture.  Reading it brought so many other books, movies, and even rock albums to mind.  It is a vastly influential book, and should be read for this reason, if no other.

And besides its vast influence, it really is quite good.  If you've already read "The Three Musketeers" and "The Man in the Iron Mask," I would highly recommend it.