2015年10月31日 星期六

"Chimera" by John Barth (1972)

"Polyeidus defended the monster's deadliness on genealogical grounds - both of its parents had been legendary man-killers - but acknowledged that the creature had not left its lair in Amisodorus's deadly service at least since tranquilized by the Polyeidic magic papers, and so could be said to be a threat only to vulcanologists or ignorant spelunkers, whom a posted guard could easily warn off.  He agreed with me therefore that there was no particular need to kill it - or her, if I preferred."

John Barth is an American writer who also taught at various Ivy League universities.  Much of his later fiction was inspired by ideas first put forward by Joseph Campbell.  Chimera is his most famous novel, and it won the National Book Award in 1973. 

This novel - if Chimera can be called a novel - consists of three interlocking stories.  The first of these is a kind of postscript to The One Thousand and One Nights, the second is an update of the Perseus myth, and the third takes extensive liberties with the story of Bellerophon, a hero whose greatest labor was the slaying of the Chimera, the mythical creature that gives this "novel" its name.

Beyond that, Chimera is also the story of a mid-life crisis.  In both Perseus's and Bellerophon's stories we find heroes struggling with a loss of virility, and in Sheherazad's story we find two brothers using this perceived loss of virility as a reason to abuse the female protagonists.  Towards the end, this novel is both extremely self-referential and extremely difficult to pin down, but the author's (and through him, the heroes') struggle to preserve a sense of his/their own virility is a persistent theme.

But again, is it a novel?  Aside from certain themes, there is little to hold the three stories together, though the author does his best to arrive at a conclusion that embraces all three of them.  Just the same, I think the finality of the second story's ending weakens the whole, and it might have been better to present the three stories on their own merits, without trying to present them as a novel.

Taken altogether, Chimera has its strong and weak points.  The use of sex as a plot device grows tiresome, and at times the last story becomes too convoluted for its own good.  I would imagine that readers steeped in the Greek classics would have an easier time keeping track of what's going on, but for the rest of us it can be slow going.  Classics majors will love this book, but readers with more modern tastes will probably feel left out in the cold.

Even so, I thought the conclusion of the second story was quite moving.  I won't give it away here, but the "translation" that occurs really lifted the narrative to another level.  The first story isn't as successful, and the third, well... it's a lot like it's titular hero.  It can't quite get it up at the end.

Compared to Gunter Grass's The Flounder, another, similar book recently reviewed here, Chimera is much more readable, though almost as ponderous.  I can't say that it's a bad book, but it left me a bit disappointed.

2015年10月26日 星期一

"The Power of Myth" by Joseph Campbell (with Bill Moyers) (1988)

"MOYERS: In the Christian story the serpent is the seducer.

CAMPBELL: That amounts to a refusal to affirm life.  In the biblical tradition we have inherited, life is corrupt, and every natural impulse is sinful unless it has been circumcised or baptized.  The serpent was the one who brought sin into the world.  And the woman was the one who handed the apple to man.  This identification of the woman with sin, of the serpent with sin, and thus life with sin, is the twist that has been given to the whole story in the biblical myth and doctrine of the Fall.

MOYERS: Does the idea of woman as sinner appear in other mythologies?

CAMPBELL: No, I don't know of it elsewhere.  The closest thing to it would be perhaps Pandora with Pandora's box, but that's not sin, that's just trouble.  The idea in the biblical tradition of the Fall is that nature as we know it is corrupt, sex in itself is corrupt, and the female as the epitome of sex is a corrupter.  Why was the knowledge of good and evil forbidden to Adam and Eve?  Without that knowledge, we'd all be a bunch of babies still in Eden, without any participation in life.  Woman brings life into the world.  Eve is the mother of this temporal world.  Formerly you had a dreamtime paradise there in the Garden of Eden - no time, no birth, no death - no life.  The serpent, who dies and is resurrected, shedding its skin and renewing its life, is the lord of the central tree, where time and eternity come together.  He is the primary god, actually, in the Garden of Eden.  Yahweh, the one who walks there in the cool of the evening, is just a visitor."

Joseph Campbell was a professor of Comparative Mythology at Sarah Lawrence College.  He wrote numerous books on the subject of myth, the most famous being The Hero with a Thousand Faces and this book, The Power of Myth.  The conversations between journalist Bill Moyers and Campbell that form The Power of Myth were also adapted into a public television series of the same name.

In The Power of Myth, Moyers and Campbell discuss the ways in which myth informs daily life, and also how we might draw meaning in our own lives from ancient stories.  They discuss the origins and functions of romantic love, attitudes toward death, what heroism might mean, sexuality as it relates to divinity, and even how the Star Wars movies draw upon mythic themes.

It's fairly heavy going, but placing all of these subjects in the context of a conversation makes for easier reading, and the discussion is far from dry.  It is, in a sense, philosophy at its best.  It is philosophy as the Greeks intended it - philosophy applied to daily life and daily problems.

And if I have a reservation about this book, it is only that it's a bit backward-looking.  In many of the conversations, Campbell seems to want to turn the clock back to former times, and alongside this wish there is also the requisite idealization of those former times - the idea that they were better than our own.  Such a yearning is to be expected from a man who spent his life studying myths, but I wouldn't trade the "authenticity" of the mother goddess cult for modern medicine, or the romantic longings of the medieval troubadours for modern legal systems.  These things are of a piece, and one cannot revive elements of older, more tradition-bound societies without endangering many elements of our own.  I think it's good to look back and examine where we came from, but the only way is forward, not backward into idealized eras.

But this is a small complaint, and does not take too much away from the book as a whole.  Taken as a whole, The Power of Myth is a thought-provoking book that's also very readable, and such books are few and far between.  I highly recommend it.

2015年10月21日 星期三

"The Flounder" by Gunter Grass (1977)

"Don't worry, Ilsebill.  Naturally the flatfish recovered.  And the trial took its course.  Further quotations from letters were admitted as evidence.  The recipe for Rumford soup for the poor was read: 'Dried peas, barley, and potatoes are boiled for two and a half hours until they form a mash; then soured beer is stirred in; then diced stale bread is fried crisp in beef fat and added; then the whole is seasoned with salt.'  Amanda's violent reaction to this mushy perversion of her potato soup was quoted: 'I wouldn't feed such pap to the Devil himself.'"

Gunter Grass is a German novelist.  He is perhaps best known for The Tin Drum, his novel about life in Germany under the Nazis.  He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999.

The Flounder explores the battle of the sexes from three perspectives.  One of these perspectives could be described as that of the author, or the protagonist, or the male principle.  Another perspective could be described as that of the author's wife, or various women acquainted with the protagonist, or the female principle.  The third perspective is that of The Flounder, a talking fish that has appeared during crucial moments in human history, to the advantage of either the male or female members of the species.

Beyond the above, the story is hard to reduce to essentials.  It encompasses the whole of human history right back to the Ice Age, and traces the slow decline of mother goddess worship in favor of later male deities and Western rationalism.  It is also framed as the feminists' staging of The Flounder's trial, in which they attempt to pass judgment on his previous actions, and how they may or may not have benefited womankind.  It is also the story of several women, and their struggles for freedom from male oppression.  As a story The Flounder tries to do a lot of things, and in the midst of these things it describes outmoded recipes, antiquated religious debates, and political problems that few bother with anymore.

In keeping with the plot, the characters which populate this novel are also difficult to define.  Often they are doppelgangers for one another, or for a larger male or female principle.  This is especially true for the female characters - for although they are described in more detail, they are also left more ambiguous.  Their motives are questioned, and their role in various affairs is debated at length.

As Literature goes, this about as heavy going - and as German - as you can get.  It's very much in the high intellectual tradition of books like The Magic Mountain and Magister Ludi, though it contains an element of ridiculousness that works by Mann and Hesse lack.  But for all its attempted playfulness it's just as difficult to get through, and in terms of thematic material it's equally pretentious.  It lacks the humanity - and maybe also the humility - that made The Tin Drum so good.  It's almost as if Grass were attempting to make up for what he regarded as earlier, less mature, less philosophically sound novels, and was in their place offering The Flounder as his own summa germannica.

I should add that I agree with some feminist critiques of this book.  Many critics have argued that women are objectified in this book, and I think that this is to some extent true.  The female characters in this book are strict reactionaries, and their actions rarely seem guided by an internal logic.  They oppose themselves to the male will, but the deeper motivations - either in a pan-female sense or on the individual level - remain elusive.  They are little more than ciphers, lacking in the three dimensions that comprise an actual living, breathing, female human being.

Yes, Mr. Grass, I get that you don't get women all the time.  But come on now.  They're still people after all.

I went into The Flounder wanting to like it.  The Tin Drum remains one of my favorite books, and it led me to seek out this book.  Yet I'm thinking that even Gunter Grass may have, at a later date, found reasons to doubt The Flounder - and not only for the simple reason that it's very repetitive, and very boring.

2015年10月15日 星期四

1984 and Counting

I'm getting older now, so I suppose it's only natural that I'm developing a fondness for older movies.  This isn't to say that I don't watch the new ones, but I find myself developing a certain nostalgia for the movies of my youth.

The other day, for example, I was watching Ghostbusters for the thousandth time.  Ghostbusters came out in 1984, when I was nine years old, so I was well within the target audience for that film when it was first released.  Yes, I saw the sequel.  Yes, I watched the cartoon.  And yes, I may have even owned the lunch box.

Ghostbusters is, I think, a movie that has stood the test of time.  This is undoubtedly why they're filming a reboot.  The characters are still engaging, Bill Murray is still funny, and it's still spooky without being scary.  It's the perfect Halloween movie, and even though some of the special effects look dated it's still an engrossing film.

After I finished Ghostbusters, I started to wonder about other films from the same year.  Wikipedia has a list of these films, which informed me that the top ten movies from 1984 were, in order, Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins, The Karate Kid, Police Academy, Footloose, Romancing the Stone, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Splash.

Of course some of these movies have aged better than others.  Films like Ghostbusters and Temple of Doom continue to attract new viewers, while others, such as Police Academy and Romancing the Stone, have largely been forgotten.  This is true of any year in film - often, and for any number of reasons, the movies that were once the talk of the town escape the collective memory, while others, seemingly doomed to obscurity at the time of their release, find a new life with a younger audience.

After seeing the above list, I went and rewatched all ten films.  Some of these, like Ghostbusters, I had seen very recently, while others, like Beverly Hills Cop, I hadn't seen since the 80s.  I'd have to say it was interesting to revisit this year in movie history, though some of the conclusions I reached about that year's blockbuster films surprised even me.

For one thing, Beverly Hills Cop is now a deeply boring, talky, slow-paced movie.  It would never pass for blockbuster material in this day and age.  I think what originally sold audiences on this move was a) Eddie Murphy's charm, b) the soundtrack, and c) the word "fuck."  The characters in Beverly Hills Cop go out of their way to say fuck at every conceivable opportunity.  "Fuck you motherfuckers," quoth the young Murphy, "Y'all get the fuck out of here!"

Gremlins is another film that hasn't aged well.  The acting is terrible, the special effects look positively prehistoric, and the story is nonsense.  It's a great example of that "Transformers" kind of popularity, in which an idea present in a movie fascinates people just enough for them to overlook that movie's obvious flaws.

Police Academy and Footloose, however, are just BAD.  Police Academy is so NOT funny, so labored, and so deliberately sophomoric that it almost gets points for being so terrible.  Footloose, by contrast, is one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies ever filmed, and continues to give rise to parodies.

Romancing the Stone?  Who else has seen Romancing the Stone recently?  Or is it just me?  Odds are that I'm the only guy that's bothered to watch this movie in some time, and even though it has a few redeeming features I can't recommend it.

I'd have to give The Karate Kid, Star Trek III, and Splash a passing grade.  Not masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination - though The Karate Kid is still pretty damn good.  And whatever happened to Ralph Macchio?  Is he still around?

One thing that watching all of these movies has brought to mind is how much the world has changed since 1984.  No cellphones.  Computers with minimal amounts of memory.  No Internet.  Huge cars.  Video arcades.  Sweat clothes worn as daily apparel.  Thriller-era Michael Jackson.  Cold War paranoia.  Reaganomics.  The abuse of synthesizers.  Rotary dial telephones.  Huge tinted glasses for women.  Big hair.  Almost no CGI.

This, and many of these movies are tedious by modern standards.  Whereas blockbusters in 2015 are mostly layers of CGI intercut with minimalistic conversation, movies in 1984 put a lot more emphasis on character development, plot twists, and dialogue.  I'm not saying this is/was always a good thing - I'd certainly take Transformers: Dark of the Moon over Beverly Hills Cop - but it is indicative of both the era and the limitations on movie making back then.

So 1984 - was it a good year for movies?  It was certainly a good year for me, but then again I was nine years old at the time, and a lot of these films were like doors to worlds I was just discovering.  I can remember going to see Star Trek III in the theater, and being fascinated by the idea of the Genesis planet.  I can remember seeing The Karate Kid, and wanting to study martial arts.  Many movies from that year made a lasting impression on me, and this is why I keep rewatching the best of them.

2015年10月9日 星期五

A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 1986 to the Present (Revised as of October 9, 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.

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 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.

1. 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.

2. 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.


3. 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.

4. 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.


5. 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.

6. Blade 2 (2002) ****

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

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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."

14. 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.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. 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.

20. 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.

21. 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.

22. 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.

23. 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.

24. 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.


25. 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.

26. 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.

27. 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.

28. 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.

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

I would rank this fifth among the Marvel movies, behind The AvengersIron ManThe 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.

30. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

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

31. 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.

32. 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.

33. 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.

34. 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.

35. 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.

36. 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!

37. 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.

38. 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!

39. 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.

40. 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?

41. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)**1/2

I can't say it's flawless, but I did like it much better than the first Avengers.  It's less talky than the first film, and the battle between Hulk and the Hulkbuster is truly awesome.  Quicksilver seemed a bit  underused, and I would have liked to see more of the Vision, but it's still a great movie.

42. Ant-Man (2015)**

Any great scenes in this movie involve a) Michael Pena, b) shrinking, or c) both.  As for the rest of it?  It starts off well enough, but it takes too long to get going.  "The heist" at the end is a bit of a non-event, but the fight scenes between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket are good.

43. Fantastic Four (2015)*

This movie is not bad up until the four return from Planet Zero.  After that point it's a mess.  Once Reed escapes from the military facility the dialogue is bad, the characters do things that make no sense, and the movie somehow ends without building up any kind of dramatic tension.  It feels like an hour of this film was removed before it hit theaters, and Dr. Doom looks like he escaped from another, much lower-budget film.

On the Way

44. 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.  The SDCC panel for this movie killed it.

45. 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.  After SDCC I know a lot more about this movie, though I can't say that everything learned from that panel has me excited.  Apocalypse looks surprisingly non-threatening in early stills, but maybe he'll look better later on.

46. 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. Marvel's version of Spider-man will also make an appearance.

47. 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.

48. Gambit (2016)

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

49. 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.

50. Third Wolverine Film (2017)

Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold will be returning.  Hopefully they can improve upon The Wolverine, which wasn't the stylistic triumph I hoped it would be.  Hugh Jackman has indicated that they'll be going for "Old Man Logan," though of course Fox will need to change a lot of the story to make up for characters they don't have the rights to.

51. Fantastic Four 2 (2017)

No idea.  Details on the upcoming reboot are hard enough to come by, and this movie is a complete mystery.  Given the negative reviews the first film is getting, I doubt this movie will ever happen.

52. 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.

53. 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.

54. Marvel's Spider-Man (2017)

Sony finally set a release date for this film.  After years of negotiations with Marvel, Tom Holland will finally star as a much younger Spider-Man, with Jon Watts directing.  I thought the Amazing Spider-Man films were... OK, but I'm glad to see the character back under Marvel's supervision.

55. 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.

56. 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.

57. 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.

58. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) 

No details on this movie as yet.  It was announced this week, and the release dates for both Captain Marvel and Black Panther have been adjusted to accommodate it.

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

With a rumored budget of a BILLION dollars, this and Infinity War Part 1 will, if nothing else, be something to talk about.

60. Untitled (2020) 

Have fun guessing.  My guess is that we finally get another Hulk movie.  Yeah, I know about that business with Universal, and yes, he often works better as part of the Avengers, but a Planet Hulk or World War Hulk movie would be amazing.

61. Untitled (2020) 

Have fun guessing here, too.  We can safely rule out Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America.  Ant-Man's sequel and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 are also listed above.  What does that leave us?  Could Marvel have won back the rights to the Fantastic Four?

62. Untitled (2020) 

Go CRAZY guessing!  Ghost Rider?  Daredevil on the big screen?  The Punisher?  Ego the living planet?  The U-Foes?  Spider-Gwen?

"The Crowded Universe" by Alan Boss (2009)

"All the evidence gathered to date by over ten years of planet hunting implies that Earth-like planets should be common in our neighborhood of the galaxy of the Milky Way and, by inference, in other galaxies as well.  But how common is common?  Will essentially every nearby Sun-like star have a habitable world, or only 1 in 10, or 1 in 100, or 1 in 1000?"

Alan Boss is an American astrophysicist.  He worked for NASA on the Kepler Mission.  He has been part of the search for Earth-like planets since the 1980s.

The subtitle of this book is "The Race to Find Life Beyond Earth," but this subtitle is misleading.  This is not a book that mentions SETI or the efforts of similar groups, but rather a book about recent developments in Astronomy and Astrophysics, extending from the late 80s to the year this book was published.  It also describes a lot of the infighting and budget troubles which precluded the discovery of exoplanets.

It doesn't make for the most compelling reading, even though the author does everything he can to keep the tone light and humorous.  Listing off dozens of planets that might be planets, all of which have names like EXO 7896549 or CoRoT 4567883 5a, doesn't make for the most engaging discourse on Astronomy, and a lot of this book is bogged down by definitions of controversial terms within the discipline.

Those seeking an answer to the question of life on other planets will find this book less than illuminating, but those with an interest in Astronomy will probably like it.  As for myself, I liked certain sections, but on the whole the book felt like a false promise.  No one buys a book about "Life Beyond Earth" wanting to read about NASA politics or telescope malfunctions, and aside from such earthly troubles this book has little else to offer.

2015年10月6日 星期二

"Sex and the High Command" by John Boyd (1970)

Dr. Henrietta Carey, leader of the
Fems, was the first woman candidate
for president, and the perfector
a biological skin cream designed to
do away with superfluous men.  It

-from the back cover

John Boyd was the pen name of Boyd Bradfield Upchurch.  He died two years ago, in 2013.  His best known work was The Last Starship From Earth, a book about a parallel reality in which Christ was a revolutionary agitator.*

Boyd was never a big name in science fiction, and if the rest of his output resembles Sex and the High Command, I can understand why.  Sex and the High Command might be excusable if it had been written a couple of decades earlier, but by 1970 we were well beyond the Golden Age of science fiction, and the 60s vibe that this novel purveys is strictly old hat.  It also exhibits a multitude of other problems, some of which I'll go into below.

But first, the story (or lack thereof).  After the above-mentioned doctor Carey discovers Vita-Lerp, she realizes that it a) allows women to achieve orgasm without any external stimulation whatsoever, and b) allows them to bear children without resorting to sexual intercourse with male members of the species.  This discovery triggers an attempt by women everywhere to overthrow the male power structure, to the extent that the government employs nuclear weapons to thwart their ambitions.

And if you're scratching your head at that one, you're not alone.  There is a lot that goes unexplained in Sex and the High Command, and by the end the plot makes little sense.  It's almost as if Mr. Boyd was making the whole thing up as he went along, without any sense of the greater narrative arc within the story.  Events occur and are reacted to arbitrarily, the characterization is inconsistent, and the resolution of this novel is entirely unsatisfying.  It is, in other words, one of the worst science fiction novels I've ever read.

A dedication on the first page reads "To Aristophanes and Lenny Bruce," but I can't help but think that Aristophanes would have been embarrassed by this book.  Aristophanes wrote the play Lysistrata, which in part inspired this novel, but Sex and the High Command has neither the humor nor the cleverness of that famous work.  It is instead a sophomoric attempt to shock its audience with bad language and sex talk.

Worst of all, this book is too similar to Stanley Kubrick's film Dr. Strangelove.  Where as that movie still has a lot to say about politics, armageddon, and even 60s attitudes toward sexuality, the best that Sex and the High Command can offer is lame literary allusions, and jokes that are too crude to be funny.  It promises biting social commentary, but fails to deliver.

If you're looking for a book that explores similar themes much better, I would recommend Theodore Sturgeon's Venus Plus X or Raymond Z. Gallun's The Eden Cycle.  Both are excellent books, both appeared in the early 70s, and both are far, far better than Sex and the High Command.

*most of this was taken straight from the Wikipedia article.