2017年3月30日 星期四

The Movies of 2016

Hey it's 2017.  Had you noticed?  If not, Donald Trump is Commander in Chief, Moonlight won the Oscar for Best Picture, and the New England Patriots won the Superbowl (again).

But I'm not here to talk about 2017.  Oh, no.  What I'd rather do is talk about 2016, and the movies from that year.  As you can see I've missed a lot, but with the number of movies coming out all the time this isn't too surprising.  People have to work, after all.

Movies in red are the movies that I consider the best movies of that particular month.

1. January 2016: Kung Fu Panda 3, Eddie the Eagle, Ride Along 2, Jane Got a Gun

I think Kung Fu Panda 3 the one where Po discovers the secret village of pandas.  Then they have to fight someone - but I can't remember why. 

Hugh Jackman puts on his best American accent for Eddie the Eagle, and the movie is inspirational without being overly manipulative.  Who knew that ski jumping could be that interesting?

Half humorless comedy, half car (and boat) commercial, Ride Along 2 only emphasizes the fact that Olivia Munn can't act. 

Jane Got a Gun isn't bad, but the ending is somewhat anticlimactic.  As Westerns go, it's strictly second tier. 

2. February 2016: Hail, Caesar!, Deadpool, Zootopia, Gods of Egypt, Zoolander 2

As much as I usually like the Cohen Brothers, Hail, Caesar! did almost nothing for me.

Deadpool was more than I'd hoped for.  I wish they'd hurry up and start filming the sequel, but at the same time their desire to get it just right is encouraging.

Zootopia's a thinly veiled allegory about racial tolerance.  My younger daughter was obsessed with it for about a month. 

If it had come out in the early 80s, Gods of Egypt would've had its own line of action figures, I'd be under 10 years old, and I would've LOVED it.  As it is, it's an amusingly bad movie that teaches us that the right set of breast implants can decide the fate of mankind. 

Speaking of ridiculous.  Zoolander 2 isn't even enough so to be funny.  Excruciating.

3. March 2016: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Brothers Grimsby, Midnight Special

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was a surprisingly good movie about a female American journalist in Afghanistan.

10 Cloverfield Lane wasn't that great.  Yeah, John Goodman was suitably creepy, but that movie went nowhere fast.

It's fashionable to pile hate upon Batman v. Superman, but I thought it was fucking great.  All this chanting of "not like the comics" originates with people who haven't read enough comics.  Plot holes?  No worse than most other comic book movies.  "Martha?" Why not?  It made sense to me.  I blame many of the bad reviews on critics with short attention spans. 

Everybody Wants Some!!, a film by Richard Linklater, tells the story of a college baseball player, circa 1980.  It's the most homoerotic of Linklater's movies, but it's also very watchable.  I'd be surprised if a couple of the cast members didn't have a serious future ahead of them in Hollywood.  My only complaint?  I really don't think they would have used the term "stalker" that way in 1980. 

The Brothers Grimsby isn't all that funny, but compared to Zoolander 2 it's hysterical.  Penelope Cruz is in both movies! 

It might remind you a lot of 1984's Starman, but Midnight Special is a solid film with some memorable twists.  The ending wasn't as epic as I was hoping for, but it's very good just the same. 

4. April 2016: The Boss, Captain America: Civil War, The Jungle Book, Demolition, Elvis and Nixon

The Boss was really disappointing.  Melissa McCarthy is hilarious given the opportunity, but something about this movie was just off.

I thought Captain America: Civil War was... ok?  Not great, just ok.  Kind of a let down if you ask me.

I kept hearing about how wonderful The Jungle Book was, so I tracked it down and watched it.  I still don't understand what all the hype was about. 

Critics weren't very kind to Demoliton, but I think it's great.  Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a man trying to cope with the death of his wife.  It sounds depressing, but the plot takes some interesting turns and it's quite uplifting near the end. 

If you don't stop to think about it, Elvis and Nixon sounds like a great idea for a movie.  Michael Shannon as Elvis.  Kevin Spacey as Nixon.  Based on an actual event.  But there's not enough of an event to build a movie around, and the first half of this movie - despite Shannon's best efforts - is extremely boring. 

5. May 2016: X-Men: Apocalypse, Money Monster, The Nice Guys, Green Room, Last Days in the Desert

X-Men: Apocalypse is TERRIBLE.  Anyone who says otherwise is either confused or has weird standards for what makes a movie watchable.

Money Monster is also bad.  I only saw it because X-Men: Apocalypse was so bad.  You know how a bad movie makes you want to hurry out and see a better movie?  I mistakenly thought that Money Monster would be better.

I saw The Nice Guys recently.  It's a Shane Black movie with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.  Black's movies are about 50/50 for me, but parts of The Nice Guys are genuinely funny.

Green Room is the story of a punk band seeing something they're not supposed to at a skinhead show.  It gets pretty fucked up from there.  Good movie.  (R.I.P. Anton Yelchin) 

Last Days in the Desert is an arty movie about the days Jesus spent in the desert, prior to his crucifixion.  It reminded me a bit of (the far superior) Last Temptation of Christ. 

6. June 2016: The Conjuring 2, Finding Dory, Central Intelligence, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

I liked the second Conjuring more than the first.  Took my daughters to see this, and they were really freaked out.  (Heh heh)

Finding Dory doesn't quite have the crossover appeal that Finding Nemo did, but I've seen it a couple times now and I still like it. 

Despite a plot that makes almost no sense, there are some funny bits in Central Intelligence.  Both Kevin Hart and The Rock demonstrate that they can carry a film in the absence of a good script. 

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping falls flat, but there are some funny moments.  If you haven't seen it already, Hot Rod is WAY funnier and features a lot of the same actors.  Even Laser Cats is better. 

7. July 2016: The Purge: Election Year, Ice Age: Collision Course, Star Trek Beyond

I know I've seen the second Purge, but I can't remember anything about it.  Ditto for Ice Age XXXIV or whatever number it is.

Star Trek Beyond was a vast improvement over Star Trek: Cumbertrek.  "Beyond" reminded me why I will always like this series more than Star Wars. 

8. August 2016: Suicide Squad, Hell or High Water, Imperium

And you thought X-Men: Apocalypse was terrible?  I present Suicide Squad.  And yet, as a concept this movie had so much going for it.  What a wasted opportunity!

If I was running the Oscars this year, I probably would have given Hell or High Water Best Picture.

Imperium is another overlooked movie.  It's a bit longer than it needs to be, but the fascist conspiracy theme is timely.  Daniel Radcliffe is excellent in it. 

9. September 2016: Snowden, Ms. Peregrine's House for Peculiar Children

Snowden is a good movie that's trying too hard to make a point.  Then again, this isn't a surprise considering that Oliver Stone directed it.

During the Chinese New Year holiday I wound up watching Ms. Peregrine with my in-laws.  Definitely not a great movie, but watchable. 

10. October 2016: The Accountant, Moonlight 

The Accountant didn't blow my mind, but it was good.  I'll probably watch it again one of these days.

It won Best Picture, but I think Moonlight is slightly overrated.  Certainly an excellent film, but it's also the kind of film that politically correct friends want you to like. 

11. November 2016: Doctor Strange, Hacksaw Ridge, Loving, Arrival, The Monster, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, The Edge of Seventeen, Bleed for This, Manchester by the Sea, Nocturnal Animals, Moana, Allied, Miss Sloane, Lion

November of last year seems to be the winner in terms of movies I've actually seen.

Doctor Strange was visually impressive, but it's pretty much the first Iron Man with magic.

Hacksaw Ridge is an amazing movie.  Perhaps my favorite of 2016 after Lion.

Loving is about an interracial couple living in the South.  It's a lot more understated than Moonlight or Hidden Figures, but I think it's a better movie.

Speaking of overrated: Arrival.  I loved Prisoners, but I don't get why everyone made such a fuss over this movie.  As science fiction films go, I'd give it a B+.  Terence Malick-y in the extreme.

The Monster sucks.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk reminded me of why I don't follow Ang Lee anymore.

The Edge of Seventeen is one of the best movies of last year.  Ah, high school.  Thank God it's over!

Bleed for This is an average boxing movie featuring Miles Teller.  Not even half as good as Whiplash.

I liked Manchester by the Sea, and I think Casey Affleck deserved the Oscar, but the story was a bit lacking.  A lot of Affleck's character's actions rested upon the dynamic between him and his ex-wife, and the movie needed more scenes of them together.

Nocturnal Animals is a difficult film to watch, but it's very memorable.  I wasn't surprised it didn't get nominated for Best Picture, or any of the other big awards.  It's just too dark to win those kinds of awards.

Moana?  No, I'm not seven, but I liked it.  A lot, actually.

Allied is a somewhat anachronistic WWII love story.  You can't tell me they would have tolerated even the idea of a Nazi agent in their midst - not back then!

Jessica Chastain deserved an Oscar for Miss Sloane.  That movie probably tries most people's patience, but the ending is terrific.

Lion is the only movie here that made me cry.  Seriously.  The ending made me cry.

12. December 2016: Jackie, Nerdland, La La Land, Frank and Lola, Rogue One, Fences, The Founder, Silence, Hidden Figures, Passengers

Jackie is boring.  I don't care what the critics say.

Nerdland is a cartoon.  And it's boring.  In this case, the critics are right.

La La Land wins the Oscar for Most Excruciating Movie I've Tried to Sit Through Recently.  I completely fail to understand why people gushed so profusely over this film.  I liked the scenes where they weren't singing, but c'mon.  This is fluff.  There were many 2016 movies that were better.

Frank and Lola is a movie about jealousy.  It's not bad, but I had a hard time understanding why Michael Shannon's character acted the way he did.  I think Shannon was much better used in both Midnight Special and Nocturnal Animals.

Rogue One?  Forgettable.  Not bad, but forgettable.

Fences is a good movie that feels a little too much like a play.  Might have been better with a few more scenes away from the house.

Saw The Founder not long ago.  Michael Keaton is GREAT.  Who knew that the story of McDonald's could be so interesting?

Andrew Garfield's Path to the 2018 Oscars: violent movies in which he cries a lot.  Hacksaw Ridge was the first, Silence was the second.  Mark my words, there will be more to follow.  This said, Silence is more intellectual than it has a right to be, though I'm not sure what kind of point it's trying to make.  If religious observance is a personal experience outside the reach of societal norms, why the need for martyrs?

Silence, by the way, would make a truly weird double feature with La La Land.  I can't think of two movies that are more different.

Hidden Figures was good, but it didn't feel either as real or as immediate as other racially-themed movies from the same year.  I thought Moonlight, Loving, and Fences were all better. 

Passengers is a solid science fiction film centered on a morally ambiguous act.  I don't quite understand the negative reactions to this film.  Perhaps critics were expecting a more out-and-out love story?  Perhaps they were expecting Chris Pratt to play the hero?  In a way, this movie's like the reverse of Arrival - a good film with bad reviews - many of which were generated not so much by the film itself but by the pretensions (and preconceptions) of its critics.  This said, about 20 minutes of this movie are completely implausible.

...and this brings me to the end of 2016!  In conclusion, I'd like to offer my list of favorites from the above films.

My Favorite Movies of 2016
(in no particular order)

1. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice*
2. Demolition
3. Star Trek Beyond
4. Hell or High Water
5. Hacksaw Ridge
6.The Edge of Seventeen
7. Nocturnal Animals
8. Miss Sloane
9. Lion
10. The Founder

*No, I'm not insane.  I genuinely liked it.  I LOVED it, in fact.  Give this movie another 10-15 years, and it'll be one of those "cult classics" (like Blade Runner) that people pretend they liked since its theatrical run.

2017年3月24日 星期五

"The Demographic Cliff" by Harry S. Dent, Jr. (2014)

"China now has a new up-the-ante plan for accelerating urbanization even faster, aiming to go from 53 percent to 72 percent in just twelve years by 2025.  That means 250 million more people will be uprooted from their farms and moved into high-rises.  However, such overinvestment by governments can only result in a bubble and a burst, as in Southeast Asia from 1997 to 2002.  China has already seen the largest shift of people from rural to urban areas since 2000 with massive overinvestments in infrastructure at all levels.  In addition, China's timing is poor, as it is upping the ante just as global growth is slowing and its own demographics are slowing."

What does the future hold for the world economy?  Well, according to author Harry Dent, we're about to head straight off a cliff, and right into a "winter season" that may or may not make the Great Depression look like a minor mood swing.

And the reasons for this "Greater Depression?"  - demographic trends within the "developed" nations, coupled with the specter of Quantitave Easing (QE), the cure-all that many countries have been using to keep their economies alfoat.  Falling birthrates make future growth uncertain, and bad governmental policies are creating diseased economies.

But how to fix the problem?  The answer, says the author, is to let the economy crash.  In so doing we'll give our economies opportunity to reset themselves, and to promote innovation.

Yet on the other side of the author's predictions lies the fact that it's 2017, and his gloomy tidings haven't yet come to pass.  He predicts a downturn around 2015 or 2016, and we haven't yet seen a downturn of the magnitude he describes.

And there's also this discussion of sunspots.  The author goes on to link major economic upheavals to sunspot activity, and from there proceeds to a discussion of electromagnetism.  Reading this, I almost expected astrological charts to start popping up, or a discussion of the Illuminati, or references to Atlantis.

Fortunately that didn't happen, and aside from this one weird detour I'd have to say that The Demographic Cliff is a very readable book, with some valid points to make about the world economy and how future events might unfold.  I can't say which of its predictions will be proven true, but I won't be investing in Mainland Chinese real estate anytime soon.

2017年3月18日 星期六

Thoughts on Marvel's Iron Fist

Watched all of Iron Fist, and yes, I deserve a medal.  Below are some thoughts.

1. "Whitewashing"

You can't whitewash a character that was already white.

This said, I wouldn't have minded if they'd cast an Asian actor as Iron Fist, but in that case they might just as well have done Shang-Chi.  People complaining about Marvel casting "people of color" as Heimdall, Nick Fury, or Valkyrie need to get a life.  It's 2017, and many of us would prefer these movies reflect the racial makeup of the world around us.  They're comic book characters for chrissakes.  The most interesting/entertaining interpretation wins.

Episode 1

2. The title sequence is lame.

Really, it's the worst yet.  Not sure what they were thinking with that kung-fu/calligraphy thing.  

3. The fight choreography makes me miss Daredevil.

Couldn't they have at least speeded it up a bit?  Or rehearsed more?  At least then it wouldn't look so incredibly fake.  Some of the later fight scenes are better, but that's obviously not Finn Jones behind the mask.

4. It starts off a little too much like Batman.

A younger, hippy-ish guy returning from his travels in the East?  Heir to a large fortune?  Opposed by an upstart within his father's company?  Where have I seen this before?

5. Finn Jones looks (and sounds) a helluva lot like Leonardo DiCaprio.

Really, he does.  That scene where he carjacks the guy reminded me A LOT of The Departed.  This said, he's not a bad actor.  It's only that he's trapped in a terrible script.

6. Jessica Henwick is FINE.

Hands-down the sexiest woman in any Netflix show yet.  I'd even put her above Elektra.

Episode 2


This episode is much better than the first, though it does drag a bit towards the end.  Joy Meachum is a bit slow on the uptake, but the plot makes more sense.

Episode 3


Jessica Henwick in white shorts and a tank top.  Jessica Henwick in yoga pants.  Damn, girl. 

The scene where Danny tries to "teach" Colleen will probably rub people the wrong way - cultural appropriation and all.  But I think that if the viewer can put his or her sexual/racial sensitivity to one side, it makes sense given where they are in the plot.

9. In too early?

This show might have been better if they'd started with episode 2.  Episode 1 was a clumsy way to get things going.

10. WTF?

Wait, what?  Colleen Wing is all like: "We don't dishonor ourselves by fighting for money," and then she's fighting for money?

Episode 4

11. And now she's fighting for money again.  Apparently to help one of her students?  I don't know for sure, but wouldn't Financial Aid be a better solution?

Side Note: This development makes even less sense given where the students end up in a later episode.

12. The dynamic between Danny and his "adopted" family doesn't seem realistic.  He misses them, they try to screw him out of both his company and his legal name, they try to push him out of penthouse windows, they're giving him the company lock, stock, and barrel, he's protecting them from hatchet-wielding assassins...

Episode 5

13. Hey, that's Rosario Dawson!

The Night Nurse shows up.  This after Jeri Hogarth from Jessica Jones made her appearance in episode 3.  Claire Temple's reticence regarding Matt Murdoch, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage is starting to seem kind of strange.

14. Fight!

Finally a good fight scene.  The fight in the shipping container felt like something from Daredevil.

15. Another familiar face.

Madame Gao, hinted at in previous episodes, is finally revealed.  I am, however, confused as to her allegiances.  Her presence in the penthouse would seem to indicate that she's a member of the Hand, but her much earlier appearances in Daredevil would suggest otherwise.  Maybe this will be explained later on?

Whatever Madam Gao's true designs, I've a party to go to tonight, and further episodes will have to await tomorrow.

Episode 6

16. Better or worse?

This episode has problems, but I think it's closer in tone to the comics that inspired it.  Ward is more interesting as a drug addict, and even though The Hand's version of Fight Club is kind of lame, Danny's fight with his last opponent is one of the best yet.

Episode 7

17. Getting Shakespearean around here...

Wow, the raiding of the Hand's drug operation was a real non-event.  Made me miss Daredevil all over again.  And then a murder at the end.  If this episode had just focused on Ward, and ignored Danny altogether, it would have been much better.

Episode 8

18. Nonsense!

This corporate takeover subplot is nonsense.  On what planet do corporations function like that?

Danny, Colleen, and Claire go to China.  How convenient that there's an English-speaking beggar sitting, inexplicably, in an alley behind the warehouse they're trying to infiltrate!

Episode 9


How dumb ARE these people?  They knew The Hand were fighting them with poisoned swords and spears in China!  Why does it take them so long to figure out that Colleen's been poisoned? 

And yes, the tinfoil throwing star thing is fucking ridiculous.

20. Getting better?

But hey, the bad guy is finally getting interesting.  Hopefully they saved the best for last.

Episode 10

21.Now this episode was MUCH better!

Episode 11

22. Cause for optimism.

Also much better.  The interplay between Davos, Danny, and Colleen makes the whole show more interesting.  This is what the whole thing needed from the beginning: more interesting characters, conflicting in the pursuit of various agendas.

Two more episodes to go, but it's late and I have work tomorrow.  I plan on watching episodes 12 and 13 after that.

Episode 12

23. A quick one.

Snuck in an episode before work.

The biggest problem with this whole series is that Danny's attachment to the Meachums is never explained.  It's not a given that he'd be so devoted to them.  Without such an explanation, his desire to constantly come to their rescue lacks the kind of dramatic weight it would have otherwise had.

The Hand just aren't good strategists.  What the hell happened to these guys since the second season of Daredevil?  Shouldn't they be a lot more menacing?  Shouldn't they have a better plan?  Isn't long range-planning what any good conspiracy relies upon?

League of Shadows > The Hand.

Episode 13

24. Plot wholes.

When you think of all the story threads this series has to tie up in ONE episode, it truly boggles the mind.  There are, for example:

a. Danny's quest to defeat The Hand, or at least stall them until the Defenders series hits Netflix.

b. Danny's desire to rid the Rand Corporation of the Hand, which is, by the way, a job he hasn't really started yet.

c. Danny's identity crisis: is he "Danny Rand" or "Iron Fist?"  Does he belong in New York or K'un L'un?

d. Danny's attempt to overcome his ADHD.  Kidding about this one, but really, he has to be the most ADHD superhero ever.  He makes the Hulk look positively solemn.

e. Ward Meachum's quest to kill his father.

f. Joy Meachum's quest to not be such a clueless retard.

g. Their dad's quest to put them in control of the Rand Corporation, and to eliminate Danny from the picture.

h. The Hand's quest to coerce Danny into joining them.

i. The Hand's larger quest to... do whatever it is that they've been hinting at since the second season of Daredevil.

j. Jessica Henwick's quest to look smokin' hot in tight clothing.  (Actually I think we can check this one off the list)

k. Marvel's quest to create a martial arts superhero that doesn't remind you too much of Batman.  (Sorry, Moon Knight).

l. Probably a bunch of other stuff that I ought to care about, but don't. 

25. "Game over, man!  Game over!"

Come on, Danny.  Did it really take you that long to figure out who the bad guy really was?  It's been obvious for a while now.

26. Olivia Newton-John

Hogarth's quip about Danny being from Xanadu had me thinking.  What if Danny really was from Xanadu?  As in the Olivia-Newton John vehicle of the same name?  He'd be from this 70s version of the future, with lots of singing and dancing, and that would be both SUPER WEIRD and excellent at the same time.

27. "... corrupt your chi..." 

Wouldn't want to do that.  That would suck.

28. WTF? (2)

Who the hell carries a matchbook around?  What is it, 1980?

29. Davos pulls a Baron Mordo.

This was just a stupid idea.  But hey, he's also talking to Joy, who's not that quick on the uptake anyway.  How does he fail not to notice Madame Gao at the next table?

30. Hole plots. 

Let's see, shall we...

a. I don't know, did he?

b. Corporate purge FAIL.

c. No idea.

d. Not too hopeful.  Maybe he can score some meds in the Himalayas?

e. Done, and done.

f. She might even be more retarded than I thought.

g. Didn't work out for him.  Very sad.

h. Looks like maybe they forgot all about it.

i. Who knows?

j. As said above, we can check this off the list.

k. Sorry, Marvel.

The Final Verdict: Fairly disappointing, but slightly better than Luke Cage.

Get ready for The Defenders!  "Mid 2017" (sometime)!  It's gotta be better than Iron Fist, right?

Other Entries on the Marvel Netflix Shows:

Marvel, DC, and Live-Action TV
Marvel's Jessica Jones
Thoughts on Daredevil Season 2
Thoughts on Marvel's Luke Cage

2017年3月14日 星期二

Comic Book Interlude 10

1. "Sin City" (complete) by Frank Miller (1991-1992)

I can remember reading the earliest issues/episodes of this back when they first appeared in Dark Horse Presents.  Hard to believe that was what... twenty-five years ago?

Time flies by and so does life.  Here I am at 42 years of age, reading through the ones I missed.

Still great stuff, in my opinion, and the first film remains one of the most faithful and successful adaptations ever.  It's just a shame Robert Rodriguez's sequel was such a letdown.  I think they just waited too long between movies.

2. "Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw" 1-3 by Kurt Busiek and Ben Dewey (2014)

Talking magical animals resurrect a human messiah figure.  In three issues - that's as far as I got.

I really liked Busiek's Astro City, but this one isn't doing much for me.  Perhaps it gets better later on, but then again there are plenty of other comics.

3. "The Complete Alias" by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos (2001-2004)

As I understand it, these days a lot of comic book readers have reasons to dislike Brian Michael Bendis, but Alias surely isn't one of them.  It follows the travails of ex-superheroine Jessica Jones, and was adapted into a Netflix TV series.

Where the Netflix show fails to adequately characterize Jessica, the Alias series is right on the money.  She is presented here in all her neurotic glory, and as a piece of comic book storytelling I can't recommend this series enough.  It goes left when you think it's going to go right, it goes up when you think it's going to go down, and the dialogue is Bendis at his best.

4. "The Multiversity" #1 and #3 by Grant Morrison and Various Artists (2014)

Is there a plot to be found here?  Not sure, but I have the feeling that the issues all tie together somehow.

At any rate, something's going on in the multiverse, and the heroes of several worlds have to contend with it.  Whatever that something is.

5. "The Sandman" 1-75 + Extras by Neil Gaiman and Various Artists (1989-1996)

Looking back on the late 80s/early 90s from the vantage point of 2017, I think that what Neil Gaiman was really trying to do was make himself into the Sandman.  As ways of getting laid go, there are worse strategies.

I've never been a fan of Gaiman the author.  I've read a couple of his novels, and I thought they were extremely forgettable.  In many ways his career parallels that of the earlier Clive Barker, who was enjoying superstardom when Gaiman was just a guy writing comic books for DC.

Yet while Barker was an author who sometimes dabbled in comics, Gaiman was, I think, the reverse.  He is, no matter how much he'd like you to forget it, steeped in the comic book medium, and it is in this medium that he really shines.  Sandman is a very layered, very well-thought out comic book saga, and every time someone bores me with talk of American Gods, I can't help but reflect upon the fact that Sandman was really much better. 

6. "Transmetropolitan" (Complete) by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson (1997-2002)

Hunter S. Thompson type in the future, speaking truth to power.

I've enjoyed other comics that Warren Ellis has written, but this series did nothing for me.  The whole cyberpunk setting seems very late 90s, and I had a hard time figuring out why anyone would care about anything Spider Jerusalem has to say.  He types a riot out of existence?  Really?  One of the silliest things I've ever read.  

...especially in light of recent political developments.

7. "V for Vendetta" (Complete) by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (1982-1988)

"Making England Great Again."

Enough said.

2017年3月8日 星期三

"Gould's Book of Fish" by Richard Flanagan (2001)

"I had begun with the comforting conclusion that books are the tongue of divine wisdom, and had ended only with the thin hunch that all books are grand follies, destined forever to be misunderstood."

This is the second of Richard Flanagan's books to be reviewed here.  I read/reviewed The Narrow Road to the Deep North last month. 

Published 12 years before The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Gould's Book of Fish is much more lyrical in tone.  It begins with the discovery of Gould's book in a junk shop, from there moves to a mythical history of Tasmania, and ends with the kind of tragedy that the Greeks were famous for.

And if you liked The Narrow Road to the Deep North, I can guarantee that you'll love Gould's Book of Fish.  It's everything that The Narrow Road is and more: the doomed infrastructure project, the fire near the end, and the tragedy of human suffering painted against the paradoxical/beautiful nature of our existence.  It's all here, but Gould's Book of Fish does a far better job of covering similar territory in a different century.  It's sad and whimsical, and when the various story threads come together it's truly something to behold.

If I have a complaint about this book, it's that it moves a bit slowly, but then again the slow parts help build up momentum for the big finish.  Even the greatest novels are slow at times, and it is often the case that these "slow" bits give to the novel a weight it wouldn't otherwise have.  A great book should feel like a journey, right down to the parts where your legs get tired, and you wonder when you'll finally get there.

I have the feeling that The Narrow Road to the Deep North was much better received than Gould's Book of Fish, but I also think that it will be for his book of fish that Richard Flanagan is best remembered.  The Narrow Road to the Deep North might be a triumph of research, but Gould's Book of Fish was both a labor of love and a truly original work of fiction.

2017年3月1日 星期三

A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of February 1, 2017)

Due to the truly astonishing number of Marvel films either released or in various stages of production, I have decided to begin the list below with the first Iron Man, in 2008.  For reviews of older Marvel films look here.

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.

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) ***1/2

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) ***

Still one of my favorite Marvel movies.  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)

Ghost Rider journeys to Europe on an extremely low budget.  The screenplay was probably good, but the direction is all over the place and Nicholas Cage overdoes the "manic" elements.  The only good thing I can say about this film is that the actress who plays "the Devil's baby-momma" is extremely beautiful.  Fun Fact: Idris Elba, who appeared in Thor the year before, is Johnny Blaze's sidekick.

31. The Avengers (2012) ***1/2

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) **1/2

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.

By the way, if you liked this movie you'd probably also enjoy (and find a lot that's familiar in) the Robert Redford vehicle Three Days of the Condor.

38. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) **

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.  Fun Fact: Although played by a white midget (Peter Dinklage) in Days of Future Past, Bill Duke, a rather large black man, plays Bolivar Trask in the earlier X-Men: The Last Stand.

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 Guardians of the Galaxy.  It's less talky than the first Avengers, 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 awful, 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.

44. Deadpool (2016)***

The good news: as far as films within Fox's X-men universe go, this one is second best.  It's not as riveting as X-men: Days of Future Past, but it's better than all the other ones.  Compared to the Marvel Studios films, I'd rank it above lesser efforts like Iron Man 2 and 3, though it comes nowhere near their best.  It's refreshingly profane, yet it struggles during most of the "serious" parts.  A sequel to this movie would probably be much better than the original.

45. Captain America: Civil War (2016) **1/2

I liked it, but it was WAY to long and that fight at the airport seemed entirely unnecessary.  The inclusion of both Black Panther and Spider-Man also did very little to advance the plot, though I was happy to finally see Marvel's approach to these characters.  I think a smaller-scale movie, concentrating on the dynamic between Steve, Bucky, and Tony would have worked much better.

46. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) **

Continuity be damned!  Never mind the fact that many of the events occurring in Apocalypse happened much later (or is it earlier?) in the first three X-men movies.  Never mind the fact that many of the characters from First Class ought to be in their 50s by the 1980s.  The biggest problem with this movie is the villain, and the fact that he's just not threatening.  When you title a movie "Apocalypse" it ought to feel like the end of the world, and this movie just doesn't deliver on that promise.

47. Doctor Strange (2016)***

A former neurosurgeon battles otherdimensional threats.  Benedict Cumberbatch, an actor with an established reputation, is a credible Dr. Strange, though the plot is somewhat formulaic.  The strength of this movie is its visuals, and these are something worth seeing.

48. Logan (2017)***1/2

A solid, dramatic film that may well prove Oscar-worthy.  It's still early 2017, so it's hard to say whether or not the Academy will remember Jackman's performance or Mangold's direction come Oscar time.  But Logan is a good (maybe great) movie that might just stand the test of time.  The last act falters a bit, but the first two acts are excellent.  Not as mind-blowing as The Dark Knight, not as paradigm-shifting as Deadpool, but nevertheless a well thought-out, well executed meditation on pain and loss.

 On the Way

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 return for this film.

50. Deadpool 2? X-Force? New Mutants? X-men? (2017? 2018?)

A sequel to the uber-popular Deadpool is a certainty.  At the time of writing, it appears that The New Mutants will star filming this spring, with another X-men filming this summer.  There are also plans to film either Deadpool 3 or X-Force after that.  Gambit?  Don't hold your breath.

51. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

The Hulk will be in it, though nothing is known about the plot.  Taika Waititi is directing, and Chris Hemsworth will return as Thor.

52. The Black Panther (2017)

Chadwick Boseman plays the Black Panther.  Creed's Ryan Coogler is directing.  Many parts of his backstory were touched upon in Captain America: Civil War.  Little else is known about this movie.

53. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

After years of negotiations with Marvel, Tom Holland stars 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.  Michael Keaton will appear as the Vulture.

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

It was bound to happen.  Thanos is the villain, and his quest for the infinity gems (stones) will probably cause Earth's mightiest heroes a great deal of misery.  The interplay between this and DC's two Justice League movies will be fun to watch.

55. Captain Marvel (2018)

A female superhero film - even if it will appear a YEAR after DC's Wonder Woman.  And Captain Marvel ain't no Wonder Woman!  My guess is that Marvel will struggle with the script for a while, and eventually give up.  Captain Marvel just isn't that interesting a character.

56. Inhumans (2018)

It's 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.  The most recent plan is to release this as a feature film, with a TV series to appear after.

57. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) 

No details on this movie as yet.  The release dates for both Captain Marvel and Black Panther have been adjusted to accommodate it.

58. Avengers 4 (2019)

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

59. 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.  Marvel also knows how bad many of us want this one.

60. 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?  Or will it be Guardians of the Galaxy 3?

61. Untitled (2020) 

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