2018年7月23日 星期一

"Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)

"Like most humanoids, I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the 'monkey mind' - the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl.  From the distant past to the unknowable future, my mind swings wildly through time, touching on dozens of ideas a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined."

Yeah, yeah I know what you're thinking.  What the hell is HE doing reading THIS book?  Let me just say that it was given to me by a friend, and that it was sitting in my living room for almost two years before I finally picked it up and read it.

My reasons for breaking my silent, two-year boycott of this book?  For one thing, I saw the movie for the first time recently.  For another thing, I'm going to Bali in two days, and was interested to know what the author had to say about that part of Indonesia.

In case you're unfamiliar with either the book or the movie, Eat, Pray, Love is a memoir detailing Elizabeth Gilbert's search for spiritual fulfillment in Italy, India, and Indonesia.  Italy and its famous cuisine forms the "Eat" section of the book, the author's time in an Indian ashram forms the "Pray" chapters, and her time in Bali forms the "Love" part at the end.

As you might expect, it's all very New Age-y and charged with enough estrogen to fuel several missions to extrasolar planets.  It's also about as far from my usual reading choices as you can get.  I can remember the craze for this book when it came out, but owning as I do a functioning, heterosexual penis I figured - along with most other guys - that Eat, Pray, Love just wasn't for me.

After reading it, however, I have to say that the book's a lot better than the movie.  The movie is a more conventional relationship film, whereas the book is more of a search for spiritual truth.  I'm not saying that the spiritualism put forward in Eat, Pray, Love isn't without certain inconsistencies.  I'm not saying that it isn't superficial in some respects.  But I think that on the whole the book is more consistent than the movie, and that it does have certain depths that the movie never ventures into.

Yet there is a glaring presence in this book that's never quite acknowledged, and that presence is MONEY.  The author gives a fairly straightforward account of her personal/spiritual struggles in New York, but fails to recognize that her "spiritual journey" wasn't just spiritual but also monetary in nature.  It costs a lot of MONEY to live in Italy, India, and Indonesia for four months each, and even aside from this fact there's the reality that this book is, in itself, a product and a source of financial gain for the person writing it.  

So, egocentric comparisons to medieval nuns and Indian holy men aside, one has to acknowledge the fact that her spiritual awakening wasn't just achieved through meditation and prayer, but also through the use of MONEY.  This, and the goal of writing it may not have been altogether altruistic.  I have, in other words, no doubt that she was thinking more about MONEY and less about spiritual problems when she signed her book deal in the first place.

And then there's the easier criticism: that the author is just picking and choosing elements of different (Eastern) religions, and warping them to conform to conclusions she's already arrived at, long before writing this book.  This is one of the reasons that Eastern religions are so attractive to Western people, because you can pick and choose, because you are unconstrained by the sociocultural medium in which these religions truly live and breathe.  It's often easier to claim to be a Buddhist when you don't live in a primarily Buddhist society, just as it's often easier to claim you're a Christian when all of the people around you are Buddhists.  In such a situation you are largely free of the orthopraxic demands such religions make, and even matters of orthodoxy can be taken in a more academic light, distanced from matters of life and death, hell and heaven.

But, you may be wondering, aren't I overthinking Eat, Pray, Love?  Maybe I am.  But in the face of a book that speaks so often about God and the life worth living, I feel the need to point these things out.  After all, the easy answers might be the ones we want to hear, but they aren't necessarily the ones we need to hear.

Elizabeth Gilbert, I think, knows that such is the case already.  Equivocation, however, would have probably made her next set of travel plans that much more difficult to achieve - and pay for.

And we wouldn't want that now, would we?

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 2010
"What Money Can't Buy" by Michael Sandel (2012)
Two Books I Read During Winter Break
"Home Below Hell's Canyon" by Grace Jordan (1954)

2018年7月21日 星期六

Some Other Movies From 2012

2012 was the year Marvel's The Avengers came out.  At the time of writing this movie is the sixth highest-grossing film of all time, having been overshadowed by the more recent Avengers: Infinity War.

As years go, 2012 was a good one for movies.  Besides The Avengers, 2012 also saw the release of Skyfall, one of the best Bond movies, and also Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, and Django Unchained.  One of my personal favorites from that year is The Master, a film loosely based on L. Ron Hubbard's early years and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix.

Some Good Ones

1. A Royal Affair

Danish film about a German doctor who develops a dangerous relationship with the Danish royal family.  Alicia Vikander is at her most breathtakingly beautiful, and Mads Mikkelsen is excellent as Dr. Struensee.

2. Act of Valor

A team of Navy SEALS haphazardly violate the sovereignty of other countries.  This movie is so manly it has an enormous erection, pointed directly at your face.  The action bits are good, but unfortunately the (real) Navy SEALS involved are terrible actors.  Thankfully their dialogue is minimal, and it's never too long before the action starts up again.

3. Safe House

Kinda like Assault on Precinct 13, but with spies and set in South Africa.  Ryan Reynolds plays the same character he played in Smokin' Aces, and Denzel Washington characteristically chews the scenery.  It's not great by any stretch of the imagination, but definitely watchable.

4. Trouble with the Curve

Clint Eastwood stars as an ageing baseball scout, with Amy Adams as his estranged daughter.  Whoever wrote the script did an excellent job, even if the fact that NONE of the other scouts notice the baseball hopeful's trouble with curveballs seems a bit implausible. 

5. This is 40

I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would.  I suppose the fact that I'm now 43, with daughters of similar ages helped.  The wife character is hard to relate to, but Paul Rudd is consistently funny.

6. Deadfall

If this had been a Quentin Tarantino movie, he would have worked that dinner table scene at the end TO DEATH.  Thankfully this isn't a Tarantino movie, and is instead a well put together film about two robbers trying to escape to Canada.  Eric Bana shows the kind of acting chops he evidenced in films like Munich, and Olivia Wilde is also good as his sister.

7. Katy Perry: Part of Me

A tour in the life of Katy Perry.  In 2012 she was at the peak of her career, and my daughters were counted among her biggest fans.  This tour diary details her quest to capture the hearts of 14 year olds everywhere, and also her battle against cellulite.  Oh - and her marriage to Russel Brand also disintegrates.  It's a fairly interesting look at pop music in 2012, and affirms the fact that yes, behind every Katy Perry is a freaking ARMY of gay men.

8. Quartet

Dustin Hoffman directed this movie about several musicians in a retirement home.  It loses momentum about 3/4 of the way through, but Billy Connelly delivers one of his best performances.

9. The House at the End of the Street

A mother (Elizabeth Shue) and daughter (Jennifer Lawrence) find out they might have a killer living next door.  It's a decent horror movie with some good twists, and one, state park-sized plot hole.

Some Bad Ones

1. Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie

Not even Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly could save this one.  Two guys decide to manage a mall after losing a billion dollars.  There are a couple of funny bits in it, but the majority of jokes fail to land.

Fun Fact: This movie opened in only 24 theaters worldwide.  It made a little over $200,000 in the U.S. during its theatrical run.

2. The Devil Inside

Found footage movie about exorcisms.  It's super boring, and the ending is a real cop-out.  What's more, I can't think of a single good thing to say about it.

3. Man on a Ledge

Sam Worthington!  Remember him?  In 2012 he was still riding high off the success of both Clash of the Titans and Avatar, though six years later his name is less familiar.  Maybe that Avatar sequel - whenever it does actually come out - will put him on the map once again.

In Man on a Ledge he plays an ex-con trying to prove his innocence through an elaborate scheme involving a suicide attempt.  The only problem is the scheme is TOO elaborate, and by the end of the movie the whole thing's so implausible that one has trouble paying attention to the various plot twists.  And why, in this type of movie, are dirty cops always trying to execute people on the roofs of buildings?  Aren't they worried about all the windows, and how visible they probably are?

This said, Man on a Ledge received a higher RT score than the above-listed Act of Valor - which just goes to show that most people prefer giant plot holes to formulaic action.

Fun Fact #1: Before he was cast in Avatar, Worthington was so down on his luck that he was living in his car.

Fun Fact #2: Worthington auditioned for the role of James Bond in the early 2000s, but lost out to Daniel Craig.

4. Project X

Three high school students throw a party that quickly spins out of control.  It's another one those found footage thingamajigs, and it's shockingly unfunny.  During the whole 2 hour runtime I laughed maybe once.  Just go see Superbad again.  It's way better.

5. Red Tails

Executive produced by George Lucas, this story of negro pilots during WWII is full of his signature bad/over-expository dialogue - and worse acting.  About twenty minutes in you start to feel sorry for Michael B. Jordan, who had much better movies waiting in his future.

Also can't help but think the insubordinate nature of the pilots' conversations is somewhat disrespectful to the memory of the Tuskegee airmen.  How would they have been able to function without some kind of military discipline?  And who would have trusted them if they didn't?

6. The Words

This movie's well acted and it tries very hard to be deep, but it's SLOW.  Several writers cross paths, both in reality and in their imaginations.  The cast is great and I wanted to like it, but I fell asleep - twice - after the halfway mark.

7. The Guilt Trip

Barbara Streisand stars as the overbearing mother, with Seth Rogen as her henpecked son.  And of course they travel cross-country by car.  And of course zany things happen.  And of course by the end they've reaffirmed their love for another.  Most damning of all, this movie just isn't funny.

8. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding

A bride has second thoughts on the eve of her wedding.  It's well acted but terribly boring.  I made it halfway through before sleep overcame me.

Two So Bad They're Kind of Good

1. Red Dawn

Once again a group of young Americans practice insurgency in the face of an ill-defined invasion.  Chris Hemsworth does his best with a terrible script, and the North Koreans display an almost complete lack of military know-how.  If the original was the movie the NRA really wanted you to see, the remake is more like something the Trump Administration hopes you identify with.  (God damn North Koreans!  Coming over here and stealing our jobs!  Time to build another wall!)

Fun Fact #1: the villains were originally supposed to be Chinese.  The studio, however, was worried about alienating both Chinese investors and Chinese moviegoers, so at the last minute they changed the villains' nationality.  They even went so far as to digitally change signs from Chinese to Korean.

Fun Fact #2: The movie is set in Spokane, Washington, with a few exterior shots in Seattle, but most of it was actually shot in Michigan.

2. The Man with the Iron Fists

The Rizza and the Asian Dolph Lundgren use kung fu to mutilate bad guys.  This movie is so bad it's positively endearing.  And full of hot women, too!

But wait!  Isn't this movie, like, cultural appropriation?  And isn't cultural appropriation BAD?  Or is it ok when other (American) minorities appropriate Chinese culture?  Should I take to the Interwebs over this one, championing the cause of social justice?  Or should I applaud the fact that everyone in this movie (aside from Russell Crowe) could be counted among the oppressed?  I'm so confused!  Someone tell me what to do!

Fun Fact #1: to confuse matters further, this film was shot in Shanghai, and did pretty well in China.

Fun Fact #2: there were plans to crossover this film with Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, but scheduled conflicts prevented RZA from appearing in Tarantino's film.

Related Entries:

A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of July 4, 2018)
Some Other Movies From 2010
Some Other Movies From 2008
Rooting for the Rogues

2018年7月19日 星期四

"Twelve Years a Slave" by Solomon Northup (1853)

"The hands are required to be in the cotton field as soon as it is light in the morning, and, with the exception of ten or fifteen minutes, which is given them at noon to swallow their allowance of cold bacon, they are not permitted to be a moment idle until it is too dark to see, and when the moon is full, they often times labor till the middle of the night.  They do not dare to stop even at dinner time, nor return to the quarters, however late it be, until the order to halt is given by the driver."

I think it's only fair to state that the contents of this book were dictated by Solomon Northup to another man, David Wilson.  Wilson was a lawyer and politician active in the abolitionist cause.

This aside, the historical record agrees with everything set down in the book.  Solomon Northup, a native of New York, was indeed abducted by slave traders while in Washington D.C., and he spent the next 12 years as a slave on a cotton plantation in Louisiana.  In Twelve Years a Slave he offers a harrowing account of his years in bondage, and I have no doubt that his narrative (and similar books) served to widen the gulf between the northern and southern states prior to the Civil War.

But I have to be honest here and say that reading Twelve Years a Slave was a real chore for me.  It's not that I disagree with anything recorded in this book, and it's not that I find fault with the overall account of Northup's troubles.  It's just that it's written in the style of a pamphlet, and its sole purpose is the conversion of the reader to the abolitionist point of view.  This means that the pace of the book is slow, that the prose is labored, and that the author often reaches his conclusions in the most roundabout way.

Despite its short length, Twelve Years a Slave is far from light reading.  And not being a work of fiction, it goes out of its way to establish the factual nature of the events it describes.  The working of cotton plantations and sugar cane refineries are detailed for the edification of 19th century northern readers who wouldn't have been familiar with such things, and some of the more human elements, which might have made the book more accessible to modern readers, are discarded for the sake of legal "proofs" which underpin the veracity of the story.

You would, in other words, be far better served by watching the movie.  Nothing in this book absent from that movie, save for a court case that goes nowhere and helps no one.

Related Entries:

"Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
"Papillon" by Henri Charriere (1970)
"The Underground Railroad" by Coulson Whitehead (2016)
"Crow Killer" by Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker (1969)

2018年7月17日 星期二

"Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell (1936)

"As she chattered and laughed and cast quick glances into the house and the yard, her eyes fell on a stranger, standing alone in the hall, staring at her in a cool impertinent way that brought her up sharply with a mingled feeling of feminine pleasure that she had attracted a man and an embarrassed sensation that her dress was too low on her bosom."

Is it the great American novel?  Is it the great novel of the South?  Is it racist propaganda?  Is it undeserving of its reputation?  Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind is is certainly some of these things, but not all of them.

For the record, I enjoyed this book immensely.  For me it worked both as a love story and as a historical novel.  And I say this as someone who approached it without either a great interest in love stories or Southern history.  I also say this as someone who tries to approach every novel with an open mind, and as someone ready to accept a novel on its own terms, without too much thought about what kind of message it should impart.

Even so, a book as old, as celebrated, and as fashionably reviled as Gone with the Wind has drawn many criticisms over the years.  I feel the need to address at least some of these criticisms here.  The four major criticisms are as follows:

1. It's too long.

This I think is a valid complaint.  There are moments in this book when the level of detail is a real strength, and when it lends to the events described an immediacy and vividness that they wouldn't otherwise have, but there are also times when this book just gets SLOW, and when I began to ask myself if it wouldn't be better just to skip ahead.  The passages centering around Scarlett and Rhett's relationship are always interesting, but I feel like some of the early Reconstruction stuff could have been left out, particularly the business about Scarlett's mill.

2. It's racist.

Well... yes, of course.  It's a book about a society predicated on racism, so of course it's racist.  The real question is, does it promote racist values?  I don't think so.  When Mitchell uses words like "nigger" and "darky," when she describes African-Americans in animalistic terms, she's describing a worldview prevalent in the South at that time.  Using vocabulary other than that used in the pre- and post-Reconstruction South would have made Gone with the Wind feel anachronistic, and would have distanced the reader from the story.  

The descriptions of African-Americans in this book are indeed degrading, and fail to tell the whole story of who these people were - but that's the whole point.  People of Scarlett and Rhett's class would have failed to see them as the individuals they truly were, and would have also failed to recognize the personal struggles that shaped their behavior.  In this, I think, Mitchell is only holding true to the time period she's describing.

3. It glamorizes the Ku Klux Klan.

This is a really weak argument.  It will ring false for anyone who's actually bothered to read the book, especially given the fates that befall several Klansmen and the Klan itself in the novel.  None of the main characters take the Klan all that seriously, and the characters that do end up looking somewhat ridiculous because of their devotion.

4. It's boring.

This depends on what sort of books you favor.  If you like sprawling Victorian novels you'll love Gone with the Wind.  If you like authors such as Faulkner you'll find in this novel the "foundation" over which they wrote.  If you like Dickens, you'll love Rhett Butler.  If you like historical novels you'll like this one, too.

If, however, you like clipped, modern sorts of novels, you'll probably hate Gone with the Wind.  If you're looking for philosophical abstraction and impressionistic prose, you'll find almost none of that here.  This book is a slow burn, and if you have the patience you'll be rewarded.  If you lack the patience, however, you probably won't be bothering with this novel in the first place!

Related Entries:

"The Sympathizer" by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015)
"Farewell Waltz" by Milan Kundera (1973)
"Papillon" by Henri Charrierre (1970)
"Green Island" by Shawna Yang Ryan (2016)

2018年7月4日 星期三

A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of July 4, 2018)

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.

Also, a note on the ratings/stars next to each entry.  These ratings were assigned when the movie came out, and may not reflect my current feelings about that movie.  In other words, I was judging X-men Origins: Wolverine against Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, the other two superhero movies of that year.  Since 2008 there have been a lot more superhero films, and getting three stars in 2018 is a lot harder than getting three stars in 2008.

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.

52. The Black Panther (2017) ***1/2

My favorite thing about this movie is the world-building.  As a piece of world-building Wakanda rivals Peter Jackson's Middle Earth, and Jackson built Middle Earth with the aid of Tolkein's novels.  I've also read my share of Black Panther comics, and I can't think of many precedents for what Ryan Coogler and co. managed to get onscreen.  Black Panther is a well put together movie, and my only reservation is that there isn't much tension leading up to the film's climax.

53. Avengers: Infinity War (2018) ***

Having Thanos as the main character was a bold choice.  That ending was an even bolder choice.  I think that after audiences get past their initial sense of dismay, they'll get behind this movie, though of course the extent of their support remains to be determined.  The story's solid and Thanos is a compelling (if not entirely explained) villain, and the movie does an admirable job of juggling dozens of characters spread across several galaxies.  My one complaint?  The cgi isn't always necessary, and certain characters (Proxima Midnight) ought to have been performed by real, living people.

54. Deadpool 2 (2018) **1/2

Weirdly dramatic in parts, but with enough laughs (and violence) to keep it chugging along.  The first one was funnier, but Deadpool 2 has me looking forward to an X-Force movie - if that ever happens.  The second post-credit scene was almost better than the entire movie.

55. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) ***

WAY better (funnier) than the first one.  The Bill Foster subplot is a weak point, but the characters are well thought out and their relationships are intriguing.  If you go into this one expecting a comedy with occasional bursts of action you won't be disappointed.  Still having trouble believing that this is the 20th Marvel movie!

On the Way

Note: the Fox release schedule is to be treated with the utmost skepticism.  Deadpool 2 is already in the can, but other releases are anybody's guess.  Disney/Marvel has recently acquired the rights to the characters, and it may transpire that Marvel Studios "kills" both the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix and New Mutants films as a way of easing these properties into their cinematic universe.

57. Venom (2018)

The symbiote looks solid, though Eddy Brock resembles Peter Parker a little too closely.  Is that Carnage in the trailer?  The idea of Woody Harrelson playing Carnage has me more excited than Tom Hardy playing Venom.

56. X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Fox gives it the old college try with yet another adaptation of the X-men's most iconic storyline.  That actress playing Jean Grey does absolutely nothing for me, and I'm hoping Marvel prevents this from seeing the light of day.  I'm also not optimistic about first time director Simon Kinberg.

58. 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!  There are many production photos available online.

59. Avengers 4 (2019)

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

60. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

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

61. The New Mutants (2019)

I am/was guardedly optimistic about this one, but they've pushed the date back and those reshoots seem like they're taking forever.  Not a good sign.

62. 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.

63. Gambit (2019)

Don't hold your breath.  I list it here because it's supposed to be entering production soon, but who knows?

64. X-Force?  Deadpool 3?

These films are also supposed to be entering production, but with the Marvel/Disney deal underway their future seems uncertain.  I like the idea of both movies, but then again the idea of Deadpool popping up in a MARVEL movie beats the idea of both movies to death.

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2018年7月3日 星期二

Some Other Movies From 2010

The top 5 movies of 2010 were Toy Story 3, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1, Inception, and Shrek Forever After.  It was a big year for CGI, and the technology was used - and abused - with great frequency.

Alice in Wonderland is, by the way, a terrible fucking movie.  I'm sure that Lewis Carroll turns over in his grave every time someone watches it.  Why make a Lord of the Rings-style movie about what was essentially an exercise in word-play?  And why desecrate one of the most classic works in English literature?  It boggles the mind, and also speaks to the illiteracy of modern audiences.  And if that sounds pretentious, so be it.

My favorite movie of that year?  Probably Black Swan, but The Fighter is pretty close.  The above-listed Inception is also great, and Edge of Darkness, MacGruber, The Town, and True Grit are all worth seeking out.

Some Good Ones

1. Green Zone

SPOILER ALERT: Soldier Matt Damon never does find those weapons of mass distraction.  Damon plays a military-type person deployed in scenic Iraq, with Greg Kinnear playing against type as an evil politician.  Damon's freedom of movement is a bit far fetched, but it's still a well put together movie.

2. The Oath

Documentary on Al Qaeda.  Most of the conversations center around a man unjustly (?) imprisoned on Guantanamo Bay, and concern his close friend, a man who was once Osama bin Laden's bodyguard.  For the most part it's an interesting look at the game board from the other side of the table.  Remind me to never go for a taxi drive in Yemen.

3. The Kids Are All Right

Julianne Moore and Annette Bening star as a lesbian couple whose children seek out their birth father.  It's a very good movie, and Mark Ruffalo really takes it to another level.

4. Piranha 3D

Tits, ass, and prehistoric fish with a taste for human flesh.  Alexandre Aja directed much better movies, but this one is corny enough to be fun.  I especially enjoyed the girl with her hair stuck in the boat propeller.  The severed penis?  Gratuitous even for this movie.

This movie is basically Jaws in a lake.  One of the best things about it is the Richard Dreyfuss cameo in the beginning.  Not only does he meet his end in a familiar fashion, but he's wearing the same outfit he wore in Spielberg's 1975 classic.

5. The Ghost Writer

A writer is called upon to polish the memoirs of a retired Prime Minister.  Pierce Brosnan has been in his share of not-so-good movies but this isn't one of them.  It's a well put together film with some interesting twists.  Be warned, however, that it's a Roman Polanski film.  I'm not a fan of conflating a director's work with his personal life, but this movie does have that stigma attached to it.

Not-So-Fun Fact: the "New England" parts of this movie were actually shot in Germany.  Why?  Because Roman Polanski isn't allowed back into the United States!

6. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

The actress that plays the princess is smokin' hot.  Jake Gyllenhaal, however, has been in MUCH better movies.  It's a Disney film based on a video game, so the quality of this movie (or the lack thereof) should come as no surprise.  If you go into it expecting John Carter you won't be disappointed.

Fun Fact: Disney had high hopes for this movie.  They were planning on turning it into a Pirates of the Caribbean-type franchise.

7. She's Out of My League

Flash forward 8 years, and the most famous people in this movie are T.J. Miller and Krysten Ritter.  But back then they were playing second fiddle to the likes of Jay Baruchel and Alice Eve, who play the mismatched couple whose romance takes everyone by surprise.  It's not hysterically funny, but TJ Miller has some good lines.

Two That Aren't Very Good, But Which Might Inspire a Good Discussion

1. Eat Pray Love

This movie could be easily dismissed as "rich white people problems," or even "everything wrong with Western civilization today," but it's fairly entertaining and Julia Roberts gives a good performance as the lead.  Roberts journeys to Italy, India, and Bali after her divorce, and yes, a hot shirtless dude does show up near the end.

I'm going to Bali in a few weeks, and I have doubts that it will be much like it is in this movie.

2. Hubble 3D

For an Imax documentary about the most expensive telescope ever, there's very little actual Hubble footage to be found in this film.  Most of the footage concerns either life on the ground or aboard a space shuttle, and none of it's anything you haven't seen elsewhere.

Some Bad Ones

1. The Killing Jar

Badly written and for the most part badly acted.  Michael Madsen struggles valiantly against a mediocre script, but at the end of the day this movie fails to develop either sympathy for the characters or interest in the fact of their impending doom.

Fun Fact: Michael Madsen is the brother of actress Virginia Madsen.  Both Michael Madsen and Virginia Madsen have been in WAY better movies.

2. Love Ranch

Director Taylor Hackford has done better, and both Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci are wasted on this movie.  Mirren stars as the manager of a brothel in the Nevada desert, with Pesci as her husband and co-manager.  This movie has its moments, but quickly wears out its welcome.

One funny thing about it is how easily it is to imagine that Pesci is replaying his role from Casino, assuming Scorsese's far superior film had a different ending.  It's easy to picture Pesci's character from Casino somehow surviving all the carnage at the end of that movie, and resurrecting himself as a small-time pimp near Reno.  This said, Pesci's character from Casino would have undoubtedly had a more interesting reaction to Mirren's betrayal near the end of the film.

3. Repo Men

A pair of ex-soldiers repossess artificial organs from those unable to pay their medical bills.  The premise doesn't make a lot of sense, especially given that this is set several decades in the future.  In some ways this movie reminded me of Equilibrium, another movie that didn't make sense when you thought about it, but where Equilibrium had cool fight scenes and Christian Bale, this movie doesn't have anything to distract from its creaky plot.

And that "romantic surgery" scene at the end is one of the stupidest things I've seen in any movie in a long time.

One That's So Bad It's Good

1. From Paris with Love

Action movie set in - you guessed it - Paris.  Jonathan Rhys Meyers struggles mightily with the lead role, but ultimately fails to convince, and John Travolta is simply ridiculous as the spy friend who shoots up half the city.  Luc Besson's involvement, however, keeps the movie entertaining.

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