2017年10月30日 星期一

Issues with Thor: Ragnarok

You seen Thor: Ragnarok yet?  I saw it two days ago, and I wasn't all that impressed.

I say this as someone who loved Taika Waititi's other movies.  I've been a fan since Flight of the Conchords.  The guy is seriously funny when working from a script that he himself wrote.

To me the biggest problem with Thor 3 was the screenplay.  Keeping in mind the fact that Waititi undoubtedly added some of his signature humor to the mix, I doubt the screenplay was all that focused to begin with.  As a story it's all over the place, and displays little coherence with regard to either the characterization in this movie or the characterization established in previous MCU films.

And this isn't just another "not like the comics" argument.  When you compare the Thor trilogy to the Iron Man or Captain America trilogies, it's obvious that everyone's favorite Norse god is the least understood of the Marvel properties.

I mean who is Thor, really?  Is he the godlike Viking we remember from our youthful forays into comic books?  Or is he some kind of frat boy comedian?  Is he a female fantasy, or a "hotheaded fool" who rushes into trouble?  Is he a fish out of water, or is he comfortable thinking of Earth as his adopted home?  When you think about it, it's impossible to determine which of the above alternatives Thor really is.  I'm not saying that personalities don't shift and change, I'm not arguing against character arcs, I'm just saying that people tend to be one thing or the other most of the time.  This is how we come to identify with them.  Yet when you compare the Thor seen in Thor: Ragnarok with the Thor seen in the first and second films it's impossible to reconcile the three different versions of the character.

It's the same problem with Loki, although he gets a pass because he's inherently deceptive, and also the god of mischief.  Even so, Loki's constant character switches make it hard to sympathize with him, and in Ragnarok he's little more than comic relief.

There are also the problems of both cosmology and geneology present in the script.  How the hell (excuse the pun) do Loki and Thor not know about Hela if she's their sister?  It was relatively easy for Loki to discover his origins as a Frost Giant in the first film, why then would it take three for both him and Thor to learn that they had a sister that helped their father subjugate the Nine Realms?  And wouldn't Loki have figured out there was a secret room beneath the palace where Fenris and Hela's entire army was kept?  Didn't he know about all the secret entrances/exits into Asgard?

Hela though.  As sexy as Cate Blanchett was in this movie, I found it difficult to take her seriously as the goddess of Hel.  

And where is Hel, exactly?  Does it only consist of that room beneath the palace?  And if so, and if she "draws her power from Asgard," doesn't that make her the goddess of Asgard, not Hel?  Surtur, although misused in this movie, at least had his own realm to speak of.  What does Hela have, aside from ill-defined powers and some serious daddy issues?

This issue aside, there's also the centerpiece confrontation between Thor and Hulk.  Of course everyone loves it when Thor and Hulk fight, and the fight itself is worth seeing, but everything coming before and following after this fight is problematic.

For one thing, the Hulk seen in Thor: Ragnarok is just as annoyingly jokey as Thor is.  Sure, a lot of his humor is "unintentional," but it's jarring nonetheless.  Who the hell wants to hear the Hulk say funny things?  Anyone who knows that character, anyone who loves that character, would find his corny lines in Ragnarok hard to take.  Want to make Banner crack one-liners?  Fine.  But even that scene with Loki in the first Avengers was pushing it.  Joss Whedon could, to some extent, get away with that kind of thing, but in the scriptwriter's (or Taika Waititi's) hands the Hulk is just silly, and far from the monstrous creature that many of us know and love.

This, and they totally screwed two classic comic book storylines by smashing Planet Hulk and Ragnarok together.  Not only are we now deprived of any sort of World War Hulk movie (yes, I know about the "rights" thing with Universal), but we'll also never see Surtur unleashed in all his worlds-ending glory.  For the sake of jokes, two wonderful opportunities for a truly great Hulk or Thor movie have been ruined - completely - for the duration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Shit, man.  I really hope Justice League is better.

"The Politics of Gun Control" by Robert J. Spitzer (1998)

"The disjunction between broad popular support for firmer gun laws and the failure to enact most such laws might be interpreted as a failure of democracy.  Yet the connection between public opinion and public policy is far more complex than is suggested by such a conclusion.  In the absence of a national system of governance by nationwide referendum, it is all but inevitable that such disjunctions will exist.  The explanation rests, first, with the difficulty of translating social regulatory policy preferences into policy enactments.  Like trying to build a house in the middle of a hurricane, the effort to construct or alter social regulatory policy is notoriously difficult because of the passion and intensity surrounding such issues.  The fact takes on added significance when we not that, other things being equal, the enactment of policy is always more difficult that blocking the enactment of policy.  Thus the weight of political inertia rests with gun control opponents."

This book is very short so I'll be brief.  The Politics of Gun Control  discusses the state of gun control in the late 90s.  It details the history of gun control in the U.S., the role of the N.R.A. in public policy, and the legislative difficulties inherent in creating and implementing more effective gun laws in America.  It concludes sometime before the onset of George Bush Jr.'s administration.

And while I've never been a member of the N.R.A., I have owned guns, and my father was once a licensed firearms dealer.  Yet despite these facets of my personal history, I would agree that the N.R.A. needs to be "reigned in," and that stricter gun laws need to be passed and enforced.  People getting shot en masse while attending concerts or school is unacceptable.  More guns on the street will always equal less safety, not more.

I would encourage members of the N.R.A. to read this book, and to really think about what the author is saying.  It is only by reflecting on gun control with a clear head, and by putting propaganda to one side, that we'll end the crisis of public safety that the proliferation of weapons inevitably creates.  It's not about some vague "right" to own a gun.  It's not about some militia mentality that the states themselves rendered meaningless in the early days of the Republic.  It's about safety, and about being able to do your day to day business without fearing assault, rape, and murder.

I think the current breakdown of American civilization (and it is breaking down) has a lot to do with guns.  It's not that we can't fix the problem - just that many of us don't want to.  We don't trust each other, we don't trust our government, and in frustration many of us turn to firearms as the answer.  For the true outcome of such ways of thinking one need only look to any number of African countries.  They may not have the same "right" to own guns, but the social consequences are the same.

2017年10月26日 星期四

A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of October 26, 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)**1/2

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.

49. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) **

If you're one of those people who LOVED the first Guardians of the Galaxy, you'll probably love this one, too.  I wasn't a huge fan of the first installment, and this movie did nothing to change my mind.  The humor in Vol. 2 seemed even more forced, and the characters spend SO much time explaining plot points that it took me right out of the movie.

50. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)****

Gotta say they nailed it.  I can't think of a single bad thing to say about this movie.  The acting, the directing, the special effects, the fight scenes - and they even made me love Iron Man all over again.  I'll be seeing it again soon.

51. Thor: Ragnarok **1/2

Too jokey by far, even if the jokey bits are also the best parts of the movie.  Hela might be one of the better developed Marvel villains, but the Thor and Loki seen in this movie are so watered down as to be unrecognizable.  Who is Thor, really?  What is his personality?  What does he want?  Even Marvel doesn't seem able to answer these questions - and thus the central flaw in their Thor trilogy.  I'm still a big fan of Taika Waititi, and What We Do in the Shadows remains one of my favorite films, but his directorial style obscures what might have otherwise been a solid action movie.

 On the Way

52. The Black Panther (2017)

Chadwick Boseman plays the Black Panther.  Ryan Coogler is directing.  Many parts of his backstory were touched upon in Captain America: Civil War.  Said to be inspired by Blade Runner, I'm assuming most of this movie takes place in Wakanda.    The cast and crew are great - I'm just hoping it's not as jokey as Thor: Ragnarok.

53. The New Mutants (2018)

Josh Boone is directing.  After the recent success of both Logan and the Legion TV series, the Fox X-Men films suddenly seems a lot more viable  The teaser looks more like a horror movie, a development I have no problem with.  Aside from being very beautiful, Anya Taylor-Joy has also been in a lot of good movies.  Her involvement in this one has me optimistic, and I loved the Demon Bear run as a kid.

54. Avengers: Infinity War (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. Deadpool 2 (2018)

Ryan Reynolds reprises his role from the first movie, with Josh Brolin (yes, that Josh Brolin) costarring as Cable.  There are a TON of set pics of this movie on the Internet, and I think it will be pretty good.

56. X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2018)

Fox gives it the old college try with yet another adaptation of the X-men's most iconic storyline.  Hopefully it doesn't suck, but with the way they're rushing this into production I'm not optimistic.

57. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) 

There are many set pics online, but no details with regard to story.  Ant-Man is still one of the more overlooked Marvel movies, even though it was, in my opinion, far better than Doctor Strange.

58. Venom (2018)

This movie is filming now.  Tom Hardy will star as Venom.  Many talented people are involved, and if Sony gives them enough room to work in it should be good.

59. Captain Marvel (2019)

A female superhero film - even if it will appear a TWO YEARS after DC's Wonder Woman.  And Captain Marvel ain't no Wonder Woman!  Production on this movie's still chugging along, though few details are available.

60. Avengers 4 (2019)

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

61. Spider-Man: Homecoming 2 (2019)

If it's half as good as the first one, it should be great!

62. Gambit (2019)

Filming should start soon, though with Fox who really knows.  Gore Verbinski is set to direct, and as far as anyone knows Channing Tatum will still be the star.

63. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2020)

The last one made me sleepy.  A third one?  I don't know, if Adam Warlock is involved I might be more interested.

2017年10月24日 星期二

"The Oceans" by Ellen J. Prager with Sylvia A. Earle (2000)

"...despite the enormous strides we have made in the past century toward understanding the nature of the sea, fully 95 percent of the ocean remains to be explored.  Given the magnitude of what our modest ventures have revealed to date, and given how much more remains to be found... Can we even make an intelligent guess at what it might be?"

Both of the authors of this book have backgrounds in marine science and exploration.  With regard to the actual writing of it, Ellen J. Prager did all the heavy lifting.  Sylvia A. Earle, her more famous colleague, provided most of the inspiration.  Earle has been the subject of a Netflix documentary, and has been mentioned as a possible nominee for the position of Science Laureate.

After a short introduction, the chapters of the book are laid out in a very logical progression.  Their titles are fairly self-explanatory, and are, in order: Oceans of the Past, The Seas of Today, Oceans and Climate, The Geologic Ocean, The Biological Ocean, and A Once Bountiful Sea.  Two afterwards, each written by one of the authors, conclude the book with a look at the current state of the oceans, and how we might modify our attitudes and actions with regard to pollution, fishing, and other ocean-related topics.

Having taken a Physical Geography class in college, most of this material was familiar to me.  The possible exception was The Biological Ocean chapter, which was of course more specific to its subject.  Even so, I found most of the book engaging, and the section on waves was particularly relevant, given that I live 20 minutes from the ocean.

For the most part The Oceans felt like a textbook, and even though Ellen J. Prager has a tendency to overstate the obvious, there were enough interesting factoids to keep me reading to the end of the book.  I can't say that I would bother to seek out either of the authors' other works, but this book was both informative and competently written.

2017年10月18日 星期三

"Permutation City" by Greg Egan (1994)

"And in the meantime?  The privileged class of Copies will grow larger, more powerful - and more threatening to the vast majority of people, who still won't be able to join them.  The costs will come down, but not drastically - just enough to meet some of the explosion in demand from the executive class, once they throw off their qualms, en masse.  Even in secular Europe, there's a deeply ingrained prejudice that says dying is the responsible, the moral thing to do.  There's a Death Ethic - and the first substantial segment of the population abandoning it will trigger a huge backlash."

How "hard" do you like your science fiction?  Do you prefer sword and sorcery with a dash of laser guns?  Or books so conceptually deep that they threaten to split your head open?  Ursula K. Le Guin or Stanislaw Lem?  Starship Troopers or the V.A.L.I.S. trilogy?  Straight-to-film, or unfilmable?  If your answer in each instance is the latter, then you'll love Greg Egan.

Egan is a science fiction writer and computer programmer.  He also has a degree in Mathematics (and it shows).  According to Egan, there are NO pictures of him to be found on the Internet, though you are, of course, welcome to search.  Maybe, just maybe, some of those you find will be the real Egan?

Permutation City is one of his earlier novels.  He's written a lot of them, many with catchy titles like "Dark Integers," "Mitochondrial Eve," and "The Moral Virologist."  Still looking for those laser guns and rocket ships?  Abandon all hope, all ye who enter Egan's bibliography.

So what's this book about, you ask?  Well, the simple answer is virtual reality.  The more complex answer is the nature of virtual reality, and how the virtual might be more "real" than we think.  

Or something.  I'm not sure.  It gets very deep my friend.  It gets very, very deep.  Along the way Egan also speculates on the nature of consciousness, the conditions necessary for the creation of life, and the nature of sanity in relation to a ever-shifting, possibly illusory world.

Long story short (not that this book is that long), Permutation City will FUCK YOUR MIND, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.  If you like books that ask big questions, if you like authors that talk up to you instead of down, then you'll freaking love this one.  It is, I think, the most difficult science fiction novel I've ever read (and I've read a few whoppers), but for those who enjoy thinking (and reflecting) on their science fiction this one's a winner.  Just don't expect Egan to go gentle.  He'll be hitting you over the head with existential quandaries before the end of the introduction.

If You Liked This Book, You Might Also Like:

"The Eden Cycle" by Raymond Z. Gallun

"The Information" by James Gleick

...and You'll Probably Despise:

"Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline

P.S. Egan gets a lot of flack for the "Dust Theory" of consciousness presented in this book.  Some people on the Internet like to think they're VERY clever, and in their oversimplified mode of thinking this theory is easy to tear apart.  There are, however, certain allowances in quantum mechanics for this theory - it's just that Egan doesn't include these allowances in the book.  Given our current understanding of both quantum indeterminacy and entanglement, the Dust Theory does make a certain kind of sense.

Many critics also fail to take into account the sheer volume of information available within the observable universe (In the book, a character mentions that "dark matter" has been fully accounted for, and that the approximate date of a "Big Crunch" can be predicted.)

P.P.S. There is a criticism that runs "Egan only writes for his main audience, which is Egan."  I see some validity to this argument.  While I think Permutation City is fairly accessible (especially if you already have an interest in scientific topics), some of his other stuff is so obscure that one wonders why he bothered to write it in the first place.

2017年10月13日 星期五

"The Oregon Trail" by Rinker Buck (2015)

"I woke up at three in the morning, couldn't get back to sleep, and sat brooding with my legs hanging over the the end boards of the wagon, smoking my pipe.  I could see the outline of the Granites and stars flickered beside Split Rock.  The desert to the west was vast and black, with just a few far-off lights shining weakly from the ranches.  My dread hour lasted until dawn and my flagellant impulses carried me in every direction - Nick was losing confidence in me, Beck would run off, we would deplete our water tomorrow before we reached a ranch or creek."

There are several books titled "The Oregon Trail" - this is the one subtitled "A New American Journey."  But I think there's little doubt that this is - and will remain - the most popular book about the Trail for some time.  When I was in the The States last summer I saw it everywhere, from Seattle clear on down to Utah.

In this version of "The Oregon Trail," two guys from back East engage in a covered wagon trip over what remains of the Trail in 2011.  Their journey begins in Missouri, and ends both several months and several thousand miles away in eastern Oregon.  Along the way they encounter hardship and privation, and the author also muses upon several facets of western U.S. history.

I'll go ahead right now and say that I loved it.  If you grew up in "the West" like I did, if you identify with that region and have learned to love its history you will, too.  It's a long, sprawling trip across several states and back through time, and I'm only sorry that both the book and the expedition it details weren't longer.

Which isn't to say that this book is perfect.  My complaints, however, are small.  For one thing, this book could have used more maps.  Given that the wagon passes through some REMOTE areas, it's often difficult to tell where they are using conventional maps.  

It could have also used less reflections on the author's relationship with his father.  I realize that the publisher was pushing this angle, but the relationship between the author and his brother would have been a more fitting centerpiece of the book, and could have been accomplished without removing the narrative to "back East" quite as often.  Towards the end of this book the fatherly digressions seem somewhat manipulative, and I began to wish the author would just get back to the Trail, and to his story.

An additional complaint - which isn't really about the book itself but rather the route they followed - is why stop in Baker City, Oregon?  Most of the pioneers would have pressed on to the other side of the Cascades, if not Oregon City or Astoria.  Yes, Baker City marked their arrival in the former Oregon Territory, but none of the pioneers searching for new pasturage would have stopped in that area for long.  "Oregon or Bust" meant more than just stepping over an imaginary line.  It meant establishing oneself in the fertile lands nearer the Pacific.

But again, these are small complaints.  On the whole, The Oregon Trail is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it.

Related Entry:

"Historic America: The Northwest" by Jim Kaplan (2002)

Some Other Movies From 1982

Saw all of the movies below recently.  For those wondering how I came upon them, I hereby refer you to the "1982 in Film" article on Wikipedia.

Some Good Ones

1. Gandhi

Is it a great movie?  Of course.  Is it a timely movie?  Always.  With all of this nonsense going on around the world, more people need to see Gandhi.  I realize that this movie's LONG, but the man was the message, and the message was the man, and it's never too late to hear what he was trying to say.

2. The Slumber Party Massacre

Most of this movie qualifies as softcore porn, but it was written and directed by women.  It's aged surprisingly well, and it's definitely a lot better than it has any right to be.  Definitely NOT a horror masterpiece, but still pretty good.  Fun Fact: the director of this movie turned down a job editing Steven Spielberg's E.T. for the chance to do Slumber Party Massacre.

3. Tootsie

Definitely one of the best comedies of that year.  Dustin Hoffman stars as an actor who turns to cross-dressing to advance his career, with Bill Murray (!) co-starring as his best friend.  Given the ongoing preoccupation with gender identity, it's not surprising how relevant this movie still is.

4. Creepshow

Anyone else remember this one?  I watched it many, many times when I was a kid.  It's still one of the best horror anthology movies ever, with memorable performances from the likes of Hal Holbrook, Stephen King (!), Ted Danson, and Leslie Nielson.  Makes me wish Romero hadn't been quite so fixated on zombies.

5. Honkytonk Man

One of Clint Eastwood's less celebrated films.  Erroneously described as a comedy, this drama about a musician headed to the Grand Old Opry is like a less nihilistic version of Leaving Las Vegas.  Very good in an understated way.

6. Night Shift

Not laugh-out-loud funny, but still good after all these years.  Back then Hollywood was probably banking on Henry Winkler and Shelley Long, but more than THREE DECADES LATER Michael Keaton is the biggest star in the cast.  Not as much sex as you'd expect from a movie about pimps posing as morgue workers, but then again it was directed by Ron Howard.

7. An Officer and a Gentleman

I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for this movie.  Not only was it ALWAYS on HBO when I was a kid, but a lot of it was filmed around the Puget Sound, where I grew up.  Between 1978's Days of Heaven, 1980's American Gigolo, and this movie, in 1982, Richard Gere had a nice little run of movies, even if he wouldn't star in anything memorable again until 1990's Pretty Woman.  The director, Taylor Hackford, has also done a lot of good films.  

Fun Fact: Richard Gere is descended on both his mother's and father's sides from the pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower.

Some Bad Ones

1. 48 Hrs.

Hey it's the 80s!  We can say "fuck" now!  Fuck, fuck, fuck!  Pussy, pussy, pussy!  And let's throw in a lot of male bonding for good measure!  I hate you, man!  Fuck you!  Let's fight!  And now that's we had our fight... let's be friends!  Fuck yeah, it's the 80s!  Buddy cops for life!*

At least 48 Hrs. is better than Beverly Hills Cop.  It has slightly more story, and even though he's boring in this movie, Nick Nolte's still a better actor than anyone in Beverly Hills Cop.

One of the best movies of 1982?  Wikipedia says it was, but I'm not seeing it.  Maybe a lot of critics are letting their nostalgia for this movie obscure its mediocrity.

2. Forced Vengeance

Is there such a thing as unforced vengeance?  Passive vengeance?  Dumb title aside, Chuck ("the Truck") Norris** gets into some Hong Kong gangster shit after they kill his boss.  This movie features bad dubbing, terrible fight choreography, and (strangely) one of the most disturbing rape scenes ever.  

Fun (Non)Fact: Chuck Norris' tears can cure cancer.  Too bad he's never cried...

3. Victor/Victoria

Whereas Dustin Hoffman plays a man pretending to be a woman in Tootsie, Julie Andrews plays a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman in Victor/Victoria.  I know the critics loved it, but movies that seem too much like plays are a pet peeve of mine.  The dialogue feels like something I would have been forced to read in drama class, and I never once felt like the actors weren't on a set.

4. Liquid Sky

If it was the early 80s, and you had all your New York art school friends over for the weekend, and you said to them, "Hey, let's make a movie!", the result would be something like Liquid Sky.  I'm inclined to put it in the "so bad it's good" category below, but the soundtrack is headache-inducing.  The "music" used is like John Carpenter on the wrong kind of drugs.

5. Cat People

Nastassja Kinski looked great naked, but this whole movie was just an excuse to show her nude.  There's a certain transgressive element that made this movie seem cool in the early 80s, but the characters do inexplicable things, and Cat People is, for the most part, very boring.  American Werewolf in London it definitely isn't.

6. Porky's

Judged solely against other 80s teen sex comedies, Porky's is fairly disappointing.  It's too talky, the "funny parts" aren't nearly as funny as the actors involved seem to think they are, and I'd be hard-pressed to remember any of the character's names or what they had to do with the plot.  

In it's favor there's a brief scene of Kim Cattrall's perfect ass, an even shorter shower scene, and a scene with some run-down looking strippers in a backwoods club.  Neither a good movie nor enough to masturbate over.

7. Zapped!

Boobies!  And weed!  And Scatman Crothers!  But sadly not enough of any of those to make this movie about a telekinetic high school student interesting.  The bit at his school prom could have been a great send-up of Carrie.

Some That Are So Bad They're Good

1. The Beastmaster

Fucking Beastmaster, dude.  For every Saving Private Ryan there's a Windtalkers, and for every Conan the Barbarian there's a Beastmaster.

Hey look, there's Rip Torn.  And hey look, there's Tanya Roberts (from A View to a Kill, the worst James Bond movie).  So bad it's great!

2. Basket Case

Gotta love Basket Case.  An emotionally disturbed young man brings his deformed, telepathic, homicidal, previously conjoined twin to New York in a basket.  Yes, you read that right.  It probably says more about me than I'd like, but I loved this movie when I was little.

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1980
Roller Disco, Man!
Ten Good Bad Movies
The 10 Most Classic (American) Gangster Movies

*48 Hrs is often referred to as "the first buddy cop movie."  I feel the need to point out, however, that Eddie Murphy isn't a cop in this one.  He's a convict who sometimes impersonates a cop.  I think a lot of people get his roles in 48 Hrs and Beverly Hills Cop confused.

**If you don't get the reference you really should see Foot Fist Way.  That movie's hilarious.