2019年12月17日 星期二

Comic Book Interlude 11

Recent comics read recently.

1. Afro Samurai (all)

A black samurai messiah wanders around a medieval/futuristic version of Japan.  The art is interesting in a non-linear way, but the story is just barely there, even for a comic book.  I can get why people like it.  It does a decent job of walking that high noon/samurai/"representation" aesthetic.

2. Tales of the Dark Multiverse #1: The Death of Superman

Ever wondered what would have happened if Lois Lane had turned evil after the death of Superman and gained his powers?  What?  No?  You never wondered about that?  Me neither, and the art isn't all that great either.

3. Empowered (Volume 1 to whenever I stopped reading it)

The life and times of a superheroine in the context of softcore porn.  As with Afro Samurai, I get why this comic has a following.  It's not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it's often funny and the main character is engaging.

4. Soviet Girl: The End of the Soviet Union #1

More softcore porn.  Russia's lesbian version of Captain America kicks ass and takes names.  A lot of the art in this comic was rendered via computer.

5. Spider-Man: Life Story #1-6

Spider-man's life story told in six decades.  It ends just about as you'd think it would, and relies way too heavily on all that Clone Saga nonsense.

6. Punisher: Soviet #1

Garth Ennis returns to familiar territory.  I really liked this one, and I'd be eager to read future issues.

7. Terminator Salvation: The Final Battle Volumes One and Two

This comic ties the pre-Dark Fate Terminator movies into a larger narrative.  Issues of causality aside, it's well written and the art is very good.  I've never been a huge fan of the Terminator franchise but I have to admit this was WAY better than I thought it would be.

8. Olympia #1

Kirby-ish comic about gods (or is it comic book characters?) crossing over into our world.  It's very "meta," and having only read 1.5 issues I can't say if that's a good thing yet.  I'd read some more if I came across them.

9. 2000 A.D. prog 2160

Hey, Pat Mills is still writing comic books!  I was a huge fan of both Nemesis the Warlock and Marshal Law.  Aside from his bit there's a lot of Judge Dredd-related stuff.  Some is good, some is bad, and some is indifferent.  I'm still unfamiliar with this "Fall of Deadworld" series, but I liked what little of it I read.

10. Batman: White Knight Presents Von Freeze #1

Mr. Freeze's backstory.  It's alright.  Kind of cool that Klaus Janson is still around.

11. Blade: Blood and Chaos

Don McGregor, remember him?  He was a bigger deal in the 70s, as one of the the younger generation of comic book writers who were breathing new life into the genre.  His writing style remains as wordy as ever, to the point where you wonder how Blade has time to utter so many sentences in the midst of a swordfight.  Bart Sears did most of the art, and although I've never been a huge fan I like that his characters are more fluid now.

12. I Killed Adolph Hitler

One of those Fantagraphics jobs.  An assassin travels back in time to kill the Fuhrer.  Not a bad read.

13. He-Man and the Masters of the Multiverse #1

DC does He-Man, Crisis on Infinite Earths style.  I was recently surprised to learn that He-Man is one of the few characters to have killed Superman.  Not that that has anything to do with this comic.

14. Harleen Books One and Two

Harley Quinn's origin story.  I liked it a lot and I'd be eager to read future installments.

Related Entries:

Upcoming Superhero Movies in the Order I Want to See Them 3
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (9)
An Incomplete List of Weird and Ridiculous Things in Flash: The Silver Age Vol. 4 (1966ish)
Comic Book Interlude 10

2019年12月12日 星期四

Albums That Changed My Life 7: "Rust in Peace" and Other Thrash Albums

So after getting into Iron Maiden I entered my metal phase.  For whatever reason I never really got into the other NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) bands, though I do remember liking Def Leppard after seeing them on MTV.

Instead I went backward.  As I bought up Iron Maiden's discography, I noticed that a lot of the older, (and to me) more obscure albums on the shelves were actually much cheaper.  For this reason I started listening to bands like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.

I loved all that stuff for a while, but I guess none of those albums managed to resonate with me until years later.  I suppose a lot of it had to do with my age at the time, and also the fact that they those albums sounded a bit quaint and old-fashioned to my adolescent ears.  I would change my mind later of course, but back then I was looking for the next big thing.

Enter Megadeth and "Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?"  The first time I heard this song was on MTV's Headbanger's Ball, and even before the song was over I'd kind of forgotten about Iron Maiden.  Megadeth just sounded so new.  They had the attitude, they weren't dressed like girls, and their music sounded great over a pair of earphones.

Dave Mustaine, unknown to me then, had been around during much of my brief obsession with Iron Maiden.  While I was discovering Maiden he was playing in Metallica.  A lot of the other thrash bands also had roots in the early 80s, but many of us didn't discover this until much later on.  Our awareness of these bands began with the TV and radio shows that promoted them, and these TV and radio shows only appeared several years into their respective careers.

I branched out into Anthrax, Metallica and (to a lesser extent) Slayer.  I grew my hair long.  I had a denim jacket with patches.  I started wearing a lot of black, and I bought T-shirts of my favorite albums.  I probably looked ridiculous at times, but comments about how I looked only set me more firmly on the path I was traveling.  The "Big 4" (Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer and Metallica) led to Suicidal Tendencies, Sepultura and Testament.  Every month I was discovering a new band, and learning a new song by heart.

This went on until the end of high school, when I have to admit that grunge/alternative stole some of the space from my once sprawling thrash collection.  But until 92 or so I was an avowed metalhead, hating nothing more than the slow, poppy strains of glam bands like Cinderella, Ratt and Poison.

I think this is what drew a lot of people to thrash metal in the first place: a shared hatred of "glam" or "hair" metal.  We knew what we hated, and this made us love what we loved even more.  Motley Crue?  FUCK that noise!  Bon Jovi?  Christ, what's wrong with you?  Yeah, it seems kind of silly in retrospect - especially given the ironic way in which the glam/hair metal bands are followed now, but back then the threat was real, and those of us who knew about REAL music had to band together.

Looking back at that time, there are some definite standouts among the thrash albums of that era.  As said above, my introduction was through "Peace Sells," but there were a lot of other great albums released during that period.  Megadeth's (mindblowing) "Rust in Peace" and "Countdown to Extinction."  Metallica up to (and not including) "The Black Album."  Anthrax's "Persistence of Time."  Slayer, a band I didn't really appreciate back then, had a spectacular run of albums up until "God Hates Us All."  All of which is not to mention the bands from Florida, Sweden, Germany, other parts of Europe and elsewhere.  Seattle even had its own thrash band, Metal Church, who are sadly forgotten.

But yeah, grunge.  For many of us grunge made thrash seem old in the way that thrash made the NWOBHM bands seem old.  It's sad to say, but musical styles fall out of fashion, and thrash was no exception.  Claim whatever loyalty to metal you will, you're not likely to hold on to your Metallica T-Shirts when everyone around you is suddenly sporting Nirvana or Mudhoney.

I can only hope you won't judge me too hard for this.  I was after all a teenager living in Seattle, and those grunge bands were our own.  I never disavowed my love of thrash, I never threw away any cassette tapes or CDS, but as the 90s rolled in I developed a definite preference for Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Soundgarden.  Alice in Chain's Dirt tour was the first big concert I ever went to, and by that time the thrash bands were already fading from our collective consciousness.

Not that I didn't get back to thrash later on.  After passing through grunge, jazz, glam rock, progressive rock, and whatever other phases I did manage to reunite with that copy of "Rust in Peace," purchased so many years previous, and worshiped so devoutly.

And you know what?  It still sounds awesome today.

Related Entries:

Albums That Changed My Life 6: Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast"
Albums That Changed My Life 5: Rush's First Album and "Power Windows"
Albums That Changed My Life 4: The Top Gun Soundtrack
Albums That Changed My Life 3: Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band's "Trout Mask Replica"

2019年12月4日 星期三

"The Devil Wears Prada" by Lauren Weisberger (2003)

Lauren Weisberger is an American novelist.  She grew up in Pennsylvania, went on to work at Vogue, and has since written several novels.  This book, The Devil Wears Prada, is largely autobiographical, and was inspired by her months (years?) working at Vogue.

In The Devil Wears Prada, a recent college graduate applies for a job at premier fashion magazine Runway in hopes of kickstarting a writing career.  Soon after she finds herself working for Miranda Priestley, Runway's Editor-in-Chief and darling of the fashion world.  As the title of this book would lead you to expect, Miranda Priestley then proceeds to make the protagonist's life a living hell for the next several months.

I'd seen the movie years before, so nothing in the book was a big surprise.  The chief difference being that I enjoyed the movie a lot more than the book.  Other differences between the movie and the book?  They are:

1. The lead character's labored "Jewishness."  Salt bagels, for whatever reason, are mentioned often.  I think the author did this to emphasize the protagonist's distance from the larger, "whiter" culture of the fashion world, but the use of the word "Jappy" in the beginning of the book, and mentions of the fact that she can't tell her Indian roommates apart achieve the opposite effect.

2. The proliferation of gay men.  In the book gay men dominate the offices of Runway magazine, and none of them veer far from stereotypes.  Nigel, the character that Stanley Tucci played so brilliantly in the movie, appears for only a moment in the novel, and the role of "gay friend" is fairly evenly divided between Nigel and another character, James.

3. The character of Miranda.  In the book Miranda is more of generalized British crazy woman.  Fortunately the writers of the screenplay realized that fleshing out Miranda a bit more was essential to the story they were trying to tell, and thus the movie's script gave Meryl Streep a lot more to work with.  Making Miranda more human/easier to relate to went a long way toward explaining the protagonist's grudging admiration for her.

4. Miranda's absence from the first 1/4 of the book.  This, to me, was the strangest thing about the novel.  Miranda doesn't really show up until you're a fourth of the way in, and by that time the "threat" that she represents has been dulled by her distance from the protagonist.  I get that the author wanted to set up the protagonist's background before entering into her conflict with Miranda, but that setting up period could have been a lot shorter.

5. The role of fashion.  As the protagonist accompanies Miranda to Paris the role of fashion in this story does become more obvious in the book, but up until the second half it's largely absent from the narrative.  One improvement the movie made was introducing that argument between the protagonist and Miranda over her fashion choices early on.  This emphasized the role of fashion in the overall story, and also made a nice point about the role of fashion in the larger culture.

6. The boyfriend.  In the book Alex is a teacher working in the inner-city.  I think the author chose this profession for him because it highlighted the different career trajectories pursued by the protagonist and her boyfriend, and also helped explain why their relationship stalled later on.  In the movie, however, he was an aspiring chef.  From my point of view making him a chef is more practical, because it makes him more a part of the urban culture they both share.  It also makes him more likely to be with the protagonist in the first place.

7. The ending.  In the movie the ending's a lot simpler.  Anne Hathaway's character comes to a realization about Meryl Streep's character, and that's about it.  Yeah, she bangs the cute writer guy - another departure from the book - but overall the ending of the movie is more to the point.  In the book several plot threads come together around a shared tragedy, and by the end the protagonist is free to pursue her true ambition and become a writer.  I think both endings work, even if in the book's case one of the characters at the center of that tragedy could have been better developed.

All in all I'd have to say that both the book and the movie are good, but the movie is a clear improvement over the novel.  If, like me, you've seen and enjoyed the movie, you'll find a lot to like about the book.  It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and it's an obvious first effort by someone new to writing books, but it's a fairly well put together story.

Related Entries:

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett (2009)
"What Chinese Want" by Tom Doctoroff
"The End of Cheap China" by Shaun Rein (2012)
"Elite China" by Pierre Xiao Lu (2008)

2019年11月28日 星期四

The Remembrance of Earth's Past Trilogy by Cixin Liu (2014)

"There's nothing wrong, of course.  Existence is the premise for everything else.  But, Princeps, please examine our lives: Everything is devoted to survival.  To permit the survival of the civilization as a whole, there is almost no respect for the individual."

Cixin Liu also wrote The Wandering Earth, a short story collection reviewed here recently.  Along with The Wandering Earth, the Remembrance of Earth's Past Trilogy represents most of Liu's fiction published/translated in English.  This trilogy consists of The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest and Death's End.  Another translation of Liu's fiction, Ball Lightning, appeared in 2018.

1. The Three-Body Problem

In The Three-Body Problem humanity makes first contact with the Trisolarians, an alien race inhabiting the Alpha Centauri system.  This book has firm roots in Chinese history, and the debate concerning who the Trisolarians really are and what contact with them means is more informed by China's domestic politics than the concerns of humanity as a whole.  The Earth-Trisolarian Organization (ETO), a resistance group attempting to bring about either the redemption of humanity or its extinction, bears some strong resemblances to the Falun Gong movement in China.  The government's response to the ETO also resembles what the CCP did/is doing to that movement.

The reasoning behind the "sophons" is somewhat ridiculous, and the subplot involving the online game/right of passage wears out its welcome, but this novel has enough interesting twists and turns to be worth the effort.  Also in its favor is the way in which the PLA/UN dispose of the ETO's floating fortress.

2. The Dark Forest

The Dark Forest details what happens with The Wallfacer Project, a plan to save humanity by designating four individuals "wallfacers."  These four wallfacers hatch secret plans to negate the threat posed by the Trisolarian invasion force.  For each wallfacer there is a "wallbreaker," individuals whose sole purpose is to reveal one of the four wallbreaker's secret plans.

This book is WAY too long, and the wallfacers' plans come across as completely arbitrary creations, divorced from any kind of pragmatic necessity.  The manner in which the wallbreakers discover the wallfacers' plans is also arbitrary, rife with a kind of comic book logic.  "Aha!" says the wallbreaker, "I see that you've bought shoe polish today!  Because you've bought shoe polish I can tell you're planning to polish your shoes, and because you're going to polish your shoes you're planning on attending a secret meeting.  Because you're planning on attending a secret meeting I can therefore infer that you're...."

And why even go to the extreme of The Wallfacer Project anyway?  Why not just create a way of "speaking" via touch, and communicate in that way through water, fabric or some other medium?  I can't think of any way for the sophons to spy on that, and it would have been a lot cheaper than making four people into erstwhile messiahs.

Anyway, you get the point.  The distant future seen in The Dark Forest, not unlike the near future seen in The Three-Body Problem, resembles modern China a great deal.  It gets to the point where you wonder why so many of the people have Chinese names, why so much Chinese is spoken, and why the characters are somehow not surprised by how non-international the future is.

I also couldn't figure out why the Earth defense forces didn't try to divine more of Trisolaris' plan from the remnants of the ETO.  They're meeting online, sometimes even revealing themselves to the world, and no one ever thinks to question them on this subject?  It's a fairly obvious thing to overlook.

Liu's answer to the Fermi Paradox is... novel, but not all that convincing.  What he fails to account for is the lifespan of civilizations and other factors behind their extinction.  I do like the "dark forest" metaphor, but it completely discounts the vast age of the universe, its size, and the possibility that many civilizations would encounter either a technological or environmental bottleneck limiting their size and/or duration.  For an author who claims a talent for understanding abstract ideas, the way he glosses over this idea is hard to swallow.

3. Death's End

Now here's a long book.

What happens in it?  Well, humanity spends a lot of time agonizing over "Dark Forest deterrence" and what to do about the Trisolarian threat.  A part of it resembles Neal Stephenson's Seveneves, in that humanity strives to create viable colonies in other parts of the solar system.  Another part resembles Dr. Strangelove, in that humanity holds the threat of mutually assured destruction over the heads of the Trisolarians.  A third part even resembles Superman II, with an undisclosed alien race unleashing an other-dimensional threat against our solar system.

But in general it just goes on and on and on, presenting a rather arbitrary narrative that spans billions of years.  The Wallfacers are replaced by the Swordholders, mankind moves further and further out into space, and yet a group of (by now) ancient Chinese people are continually revived from suspended animation so that they can hold the fate of our species in their hands.  By the end it really does get kind of ridiculous, and while reading it thoughts of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series kept popping into my head.

For me the weakest point of Death's End was the characters.  They don't really do much aside from observe, and even though they seem to hold the destinies of worlds in their hands the "right" or "wrong" of their choices is only obvious after the fact.  They never lose their tempers, they never get embarrassed, and the worst thing any of them experience is a sense of sadness after accidentally dooming mankind for the fourth time that week.

This is really too bad, because inserting compelling characters into the narrative would have made this trilogy SO MUCH better.  As it is it just fizzles out, and the reader is left to wonder why he or she spent so much time reading The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest and Death's End in the first place.

4. Would I Read Anything Else By Cixin Liu?

Sure - if it was shorter.  I maintain that his short story collection, The Wandering Earth, is worth reading.  Not all of the stories in that collection are great, but I do think Liu is much better when it comes to sustaining shorter narratives.

As for The Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, let's just say that I'm glad I can go read something else now.

Related Entries:

"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (2016)
"Seveneves" by Neal Stephenson (2015)
"The Wandering Earth" by Cixin Liu (2017)
"Orion" by Ben Bova (1984)

2019年11月1日 星期五

"Suttree" by Cormac McCarthy (1979)

"Supposing there be any soul to listen and you died tonight?

"They'd listen to my death.

"No final word?

"Last words are only words."

Cormac McCarthy has been discussed here many times.  This is the eighth of his novels I've read, and the seventh to be reviewed here.  You're welcome to check the sidebar for other reviews of his books.  Suffice it to say that Blood Meridian remains my favorite.

Suttree is the story of Cornelius "Buddy" Suttree, a fisherman living in a houseboat on the banks of a river in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Suttree lives a somewhat Bohemian existence fishing and collecting an odd assortment of friends.  He spends time in and out of jail, and is content to live life in the moment, no matter how unpleasant that particular moment might be.

As a character Suttree is definitely among the most interesting of Cormac McCarthy's creations, probably because McCarthy modeled the character on himself.  I don't think I've gotten such a sense of personhood from any of McCarthy's other books, and this was a nice change from his other, bleaker stories in which characters who are little more than ciphers ask existential questions and try not to die.  Suttree felt like a living, breathing person, and his story - although seemingly random at times - felt very personal and very real.  There are certainly McCarthy novels that end with a bigger bang, but the depth of characterization that went into Suttree gives it both a beating heart and an easy smile.

This aside, the first few pages of this book are no picnic.  In his descriptions of Knoxville McCarthy pretty much outdoes himself in terms of obscurity, and those unable to skim will find themselves consulting the nearest dictionary.  The good news is that after the first few sections it gets much easier; the bad news is that those first few sections require a well-lit, quiet room where you can think over what you're reading.

It should also be said that Suttree isn't without a sense of humor.  It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but the characters often find themselves in humorous situations, and these situations make the book much better.

All in all I'd recommend Suttree, but only if you've read McCarthy's other novels.  It can be maddeningly verbose, and I was sometimes tempted to skip over certain sections.  I didn't however, and I'm glad I saw it through to the end.

Related Entries:

"Cotton" (a.k.a. "The Ballad of Lee Cotton") by Christopher Wilson (2005)
"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett (2009)
"The Story of My Teeth" by Valeria Luiselli (2015)*
"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (2016)

*Cormac McCarthy probably wouldn't like the last two books listed above.  He has voiced a distaste for magical realism.

2019年10月31日 星期四

Albums That Changed My Life 6: Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast"

I knew about Iron Maiden before hearing their music.  In the second grade (I think) my friend Peter had a poster of the Powerslave cover on his bedroom wall.  Eddy, in all his monumental Egyptian glory, squinted at me from the poster, daring me to give them a listen.

I should add that my parents never had an opinion about the music I listened to.  I wasn't raised in a strict and/or religious household, and I was given freedom to explore my interests.  Even so there was a feeling of transgression around Iron Maiden, as if it was something slightly evil.  Of course as I got older this sense of evil only made their music more attractive.

A few years later I finally heard them on the radio.  It was late at night in Seattle.  It was probably cold and dark outside.  KISW's Metal Shop was on the air, and as I sat there alone in my bedroom the DJ solemnly announced that the next song up was "Number of the Beast," by a band called Iron Maiden.

It was the most evil thing I'd ever heard and I immediately loved it.  It was dark, it was loud, and it was full of the most delightful screaming I'd ever heard.

Soon after I went out and bought a copy of Number of the Beast from the local Fred Meyer.  I can't remember the exact year, but I think their newest album at the time was either Seventh Son of a Seventh Son or Somewhere in Time.  After Number of the Beast I used my allowance to buy the rest of their studio albums  - the self-titled debut, Killers, Piece of Mind, and so on.  My favorite album at that time was probably Powerslave.

"2 Minutes to Midnight."  Yeah.

But you know what?  As with Rush a lot of that band's catalog hasn't aged well for me.  The videos, the spandex, the operatic vocals, and the memories thrash bands that came soon after put them on a lower tier.  They were definitely revolutionary for their time, but you could also say that they were working from a formula established early on.  Seeing or hearing Iron Maiden now always give me a certain sense of nostalgia, but the profundity I once found in them is gone, never to return.

This said, I do still enjoy their first album.  "Remember Tomorrow," "Iron Maiden," and all that.  Paul Di'anno might not be the singer Bruce Dickinson is, but the songs he did with Iron Maiden now seem less cartoonish, less fixated on the theatrical.

Related Entries:

Albums That Changed My Life 5: Rush's first album and "Power Windows"
Albums That Changed My Life 4: The Top Gun Soundtrack
Albums That Changed My Life 3: Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band's "Trout Mask Replica"
Albums That Changed My Life 2: Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come's "Journey"

2019年10月30日 星期三

Upcoming Superhero Movies in the Order I Want to See Them 3

The previous entry in this series is to be found here.  Back when I wrote that, "Spider-Man: Homecoming 2" was the farthest movie out, and I saw that film - renamed Spider-Man: Far From Home - last summer.  Seems like the right time to do another one.

So what's on the horizon?  Here are the movies we can be relatively sure of, although in the case of The Flash Warner Bros. is always ready to play with my emotions:

Aquaman 2 (December 2022)
The Flash (July 2022)
Black Panther II (May 2022)
Shazam 2 (April 2022)
Thor: Love and Thunder (November 2021)
The Suicide Squad (August 2021)
Spider-Man: Far From Home Sequel (July 2021)
The Batman (June 2021)
Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (May 2021)
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (February 2021)
The Eternals (November 2020)
Venom 2 (October 2020)
Morbius, the Living Vampire (July 2020)
Wonder Woman 1984 (June 2020)
Black Widow (May 2020)
The New Mutants (April 2020)
Bloodshot (February 2020)
Birds of Prey (February 2020)

...and of course there are ideas/plans for other superhero movies floating around Hollywood.  If Bloodshot is successful there will be a Bloodshot 2, followed by a cinematic adaptation of Harbinger.  Of all the studios, Sony's plans are probably the most difficult to anticipate, and Warner Bros. always reserves the right to change its mind.

I'll be grouping these movies according to "Gotta See It," "Might Go See It," and "It's Streaming, Why Not?"  Under these headings I'll be listing the movies from most to least anticipated.

Gotta See It

1. The Flash

Yeah, this movie's still doubtful but I'm dying to see it.  My dying to see it has nothing to do with Ezra Miller, Justice League, or even BvS.  The Flash has always been my favorite superhero, and until proven otherwise I think a solo movie featuring him would be the greatest thing ever.  The guy who directed It: Chapter One and It: Chapter Two is on board for this (at least for the moment), and this only makes me want to see it more.

2. The New Mutants

Anya Taylor-Joy as Magick!  That's some spot-on casting right there.  I worry that after the merger Marvel Studios has retooled this movie beyond recognition, but a cinematic adaptation of the Demon Bear story could be great.  Recent developments have me wondering if it's even going to be released theatrically, but if it is I'll go see it.

3. The Eternals

I think this movie will be Marvel's attempt to add an "upper level" to their cinematic universe, and for that reason it has me intrigued.  I was never a big fan of these characters in the comics, but I'm looking forward to seeing how they connect up to the rest of the MCU.  As much as I prefer DC's New Gods, Warner Bros.' plans for that movie become even less relevant after The Eternals.

4. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness

I'm hoping this will be the mindfuck I wanted the first one to be.  It will also star Elizabeth Olson, an actress I'm happy to stare at for a couple hours.  Hopefully this movie will distance Stephen Strange even further from Tony Stark, in that he came across as "magic Iron Man" in the first movie.

5. The Batman

It should be solid.  The director has a proven track record and Robert Pattinson has been gaining indie cred for a while now.  I also like the recent addition of Paul Dano to the cast.

6. Wonder Woman 1984

The first one wasn't awesome, but I think with the mythology out of the way this one will be a lot of fun.  Patty Jenkins has directed some great movies, Gal Godot is able to carry a movie, and having Maxwell Lord as the villain is an interesting idea.

Might Go See It

1. Thor: Love and Thunder

I'll reserve judgement until I see the trailer.  Natalie Portman is one of my favorite actresses, but I found Ragnarok disappointingly jokey.  I do like the idea of Jane Foster becoming Thor though.  Again, we'll see...

2. Black Panther II

I really enjoyed the first one.  I just hope the second isn't more of the same.  Putting less of the sequel in Wakanda might be a good thing.

3. Spider-Man: Far From Home Sequel

Marvel can make another one.  I wasn't blown away by Peter Parker's European Vacation, but you just never know with Spider-Man.  There are a lot of good stories there, and maybe the next one will be better.

4. Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I love kung fu movies, but if they tie this too closely into the rest of the MCU Shang Chi is probably going to suffer by comparison.  If they keep it small, if they keep it relatively grounded, it should be good.

5. Venom 2

Woody Harrelson as Carnage!  If anyone knows how to play psychos it's Woody Harrelson.  I'm worried about first-time director Andy Serkis, but the return of Tom Hardy bodes well for this movie.  I just hope they're working from a better script.

6. Morbius, the Living Vampire

Given that Venom was surprisingly... not bad I'm intrigued by this movie.  After the Suicide Squad fiasco Jared Leto has something to prove, and he's certainly been good in a lot of good movies.  I know next to nothing about the character, but it'll be interesting to see how Sony expands the universe.

7. Shazam 2

Not dying to see this, but maybe they'll do something cool with that multiverse concept introduced in the first movie.

It's Streaming, Why Not?

1. Aquaman 2

I was so totally not into the first movie.  The first movie was talky, full of plot holes, and generally trying way too hard to do way too many things.  I have no reason to think the sequel will be any different.

2. Birds of Prey

The recent trailer did nothing for me.  I have the feeling this movie is for young girls, and young girls only.  Margot Robbie was excellent in I, Tonya, but I can't find a single redeeming thing about this movie to hold on to.  Huntress?  Black Mask?  Who cares?

3. The Suicide Squad

I'm not a fan of James Gunn.  I'm sure it'll be better than the first one, but better by how much?  There's an outside chance I'll go see it in the theater, but only if the reviews are stellar.

4. Black Widow

Maybe it will be awesome, but I'm not sure how this character justifies her own movie.  Nothing in the previous MCU films makes me want to see this, and Scarlett Johansson has been in plenty of bad films.

5. Bloodshot

The trailer wasn't awful but it gave too much away.  If this is awesome and the Valiant universe becomes a thing I'll be as excited as anyone.  ...but I'm not holding my breath.  

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 2019
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (9)
The Other Movie Oscars: The Late 1970s
Some Other Movies From 1978

P.S. It's kind of fun to go back and read the first of these entries, written way back in 2014.  Sometimes I was right on the money, other times I was way off.

2019年10月25日 星期五

"Cotton" (a.k.a. "The Ballad of Lee Cotton") by Christopher Wilson (2005)

"'It makes them stupid, sir?'

"'Stupid and proud of it.  Two-thirds way through the twentieth century and they're still cropping cotton, brooding over the Civil War.  And, as if they aren't retarded enough already, they chosen to pick a fight with civilization.  And what weapons have they got?'

"'What, sir?'

"'Fire, dynamite, bullets, and rage - all left over from Gettysburg.'"

The digital age just passed some authors by.  They got to a certain level of popularity - rose no higher - and then vanished into relative obscurity before anyone could sit down and write their Wikipedia page.  This author is a case in point.  I suppose I could sit down and do write that page myself, but I doubt I'll ever come across his books, and right now the only other piece of information I have is the fact he lives (lived?) in London.

Cotton is the story of Lee Cotton, a white child born to black parents in Mississippi.  Lee spends his early years negotiating Southern racial politics, and after an assault he undergoes a series of transformations which offer a unique perspective on race and gender in the United States.

As novels go it was OK I guess.  Nothing special.  The author tries very hard to be funny, but he doesn't always succeed and he never seems sure of where he's going.  In its Southern aspects this book reminded me a lot of Forrest Gump, though I've only seen the movie and for all I know it's quite different from the book that inspired it.

At any rate Cotton is very light reading and doesn't try to hard to be deep.  The author also has (had?) a talent for writing, and I'm thinking that his more recent books are probably better.

Related Entries:

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett (2009)
"The Story of My Teeth" by Valeria Luiselli (2015)
"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (2016)
"Libra" by Don Delillo (1988)

2019年10月24日 星期四

Some Other Movies From 2019

The Oscars have come and gone.  The winners were:

Best Picture: Parasite
Best Director: Bong Joon-ho, Parasite
Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Best Actress: Renee Zellweger, Judy
Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

And for further context, the Golden Globe winners were:

Best Motion Picture: 1917
Best Performance in a Motion Picture - Drama - Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Best Performance in a Motion Picture - Drama - Actress: Renee Zellweger, Judy
Best Performance in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy - Actor: Taron Egerton, Rocketman
Best Performance in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy - Actress: Awkwafina, The Farewell
Best Supporting Performance in a Motion Picture - Actor: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Best Supporting Performance in a Motion Picture - Actress: Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Best Director: Sam Mendes, 1917

And for still further context, the nominees for the Golden Raspberries (Razzies) are:

Worst Picture: Cats, The Fanatic, The Haunting of Sharon Tate, A Madea Family Funeral and Rambo: Last Blood
Worst Director: Fred Durst, The Fanatic, James Franco, Zeroville, Adrian Grunberg, Rambo: Last Blood, Tom Hooper, Cats, Neil Marshall, Hellboy
Worst Actor: James Franco, Zeroville, David Harbour, Hellboy, Matthew McConaughey, Serenity, Sylvester Stallone, Rambo: Last Blood, John Travolta, The Fanatic
Worst Actress: Hilary Duff, The Haunting of Sharon Tate, Anne Hathaway, The Hustle and Serenity, Francesca Hayward, Cats, Tyler Perry, A Madea Family Funeral, Rebel Wilson The Hustle

...and if you want my opinion on all of the above, I agreed with the Oscars this year.  The Golden Globes also made sense.  The British Academy Film Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards for the most part concurred with the Oscars and the Golden Globes.  The Golden Raspberries?  I'd give Worst Picture to The Haunting of Sharon Tate, haven't seen Zeroville so no comment on Worst Director, I'd give Worst Actor to Matthew McConaughey and Worst Actress to Hilary Duff.

For another perspective on the the films of 2019 I recommend checking out both the winners and nominees for the Independent Spirit Awards.  There are some seriously overlooked movies there.


Some Good Ones

Escape Room.  The hot actress from Daredevil and some other people get trapped in a series of puzzle rooms.  A lot like the Saw movies without as much gore, but the way the rooms work is somewhat interesting.

Rust Creek.  A woman survives alone in the woods after two men attack her.  It's NOT awesome, but fairly watchable as these things go.

American Hangman.  Also not a great movie, but Donald Sutherland's in it and the film makes a few interesting points.  Why the "American" though?  Why not just call it "Hangman?"

A Dog's Way Home.  Family-friendly movie that manages to check off all the boxes.  This movie's weak point is the cgi cougar.  I get that filming an actual cougar would have been tricky, but it looks super fake.

The Upside.  Kevin Hart takes a job as a nurse working for the paraplegic Bryan Cranston.  Definitely the best movie of this month.

Glass.  M. Night Shyamalan is a lot like Quentin Tarantino for mein that his movies are usually exercises in style over substance.  This movie also has enormous plot holes.  Even so, the leads all give great performances.

Close.  Noomi Rapace stars as a personal security expert in the Middle East.  It's a solid action movie with some interesting twists.

Some Bad Ones

Replicas.  Wow this movie is so, so bad.  The science is nonsense and the plot gets more and more retarded as the minutes tick by.  Not sure why Keanu Reeves elected to star in this one.  Maybe his agent was on vacation.

The Final Wish.  Aladdin - but as a horror movie!  And yes that's just as bad as it sounds.

The Kid Who Would Be King.  Family-friendly movie centered around the legend of Camelot.  It doesn't seem to know who its audience is.

So Bad It's Good

Serenity.  As in The Beach Bum (see below), Matthew McConaughey plays a thoroughly unlikable person who does questionable things.  The plot of this movie is so amazingly contrived, the villain is so laughably evil, the telepathy subplot is so ridiculous, and the sex scene between McConaughey and Anne Hathaway is one of the cringiest things I've seen in a while.


Some Good Ones

Velvet Buzzsaw.  Subtle horror movie and less than subtle critique of the art world.  Jake Gyllenhaal is characteristically great, and I also liked Toni Colette as his friend/adversary.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.  Not as funny as the first but still good.

What Men Want.  Not nearly as good as What Women Want but alright as these "representational" movies go.  This said, Taraji P. Henson is WAY better in The Best of Enemies (below), and it also compares unfavorably to Little (also below).

Cold Pursuit.  Like a lot of people, I saw the trailer and thought "The Grey without the wolves," but as it turns out this is one of Liam Neeson's better movies.  It has a great, dark sense of humor and the script was well written.

The Prodigy.  Completely forgettable but it had potential.  A killer possesses a young boy.

Fighting With My Family.  My favorite of this month's movies.  I was ready to dismiss it as an advertisement for the WWE, but actually found myself tearing up at the ending.  Give it a chance.  You won't regret it.

Some Bad Ones

Miss Bala.  A Mexican-American woman gets kidnapped by a cartel in Mexico and is forced to join a beauty pageant.  It starts out good, but the script lacks focus.  I have no doubt that Gina Rodriguez is way better than this movie.

High Flying Bird.  Lord this movie is preachy.  Steven Soderbergh directed this look at race and politics in the NBA.  Even the most fanatical NBA fan will find it excruciating.

Isn't It Romantic.  There's nothing is quite as bad as a comedy that fails to be funny.  Rebel Wilson gives it her all, but the chuckles are few and far between.

Alita: Battle Angel.  Saw it in the theater.  Just go watch the anime.  

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.  I've never liked these movies, so it was no surprise I didn't like this one too.

So Bad It's Good

Happy Death Day 2 U.  A horror version of Groundhog Day, or Edge of Tomorrow, or whatever movie you'd like to pick wherein someone is obliged to repeat the same day over and over.  The use and abuse of scientific concepts in this movie made me smile.


Some Good Ones

Greta.  It doesn't quite stick the landing. but it'll remind you why people liked Neil Jordan, Chloe Grace Moretz and Isabelle Huppert in the first place.  Has some great scenes.

Triple Frontier.  I was surprised by how good this movie was.  Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, and several other ex-mercenaries try to rob a cartel boss in South America.  One of the best action movies of 2019.

Five Feet Apart.  Yeah it's silly, yeah it's predictable, but it's cute in the way all rom-coms should be.  Those put off by the subject matter (terminal illness) should give it a try.

The Highwaymen.  Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson try to catch Bonnie and Clyde in the midst of the Depression.  It drags toward the end but the first half is good.

Never Grow Old.  One of the best Westerns I've seen in a long time.  Emile Hirsch reminds you why he was so good in Into the Wild and John Cusack is great as the villain.  It's a very dark, brooding movie along the lines of Unforgiven.

Triple Threat.  It's silly fun.  Seeing the guy from Ong Bak and the guy from The Raid in the same movie is delightful.  The plot?  Eh, don't bother, but there are some good fight scenes.

Us.  I think Jordan Peele is overrated and this movie did nothing to change my mind.  This aside, it has an interesting premise and I think it will be remembered as one of the best horror (?) movies of the year.

Hotel Mumbai.  A lot of critics dismissed this Australian-Indian movie as exploitation.  It's definitely too long for its own britches but it does manage to build up a lot of tension.

The Dirt.  The story of Motley Crue.  A new documentary on the band would have been better, but it works well enough.  Gotta love how Grunge looms over the last half hour of this movie.

Some Bad Ones

Captain Marvel.  In my opinion the worst Marvel movie.  Brie Larson remains lifeless throughout, and I wouldn't be able to explain the plot if you put a gun to my head.  It's pure filler and nothing more.

The Kid.  Yawn.  Billy the Kid in a movie.  Again.  As much as I like Dane DeHaan and Ethan Hawke this movie was really dumb.

Wonder Park.  Family-friendly movie about a girl who creates/imagines an amusement park after the death of her mother.  This one borrows a lot from Up.  I fell asleep about thirty minutes in.

Captive State.  Political commentary masquerading as science fiction.  They Live it ain't.

The Aftermath.  God this movie is predictable.  The minute Keira Knightley meets the handsome German dude you just know they're going to end up banging each other.

Dumbo.  I tried.  I failed.

The Beach Bum.  I suppose you could view this movie as a "celebration of life" but Matthew McConaghey is so thoroughly irritating in it that the only thing I wanted to celebrate were the end credits.

So Bad It's Good

Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral.  Believe it or not, this is the first of Tyler Perry's movies I've seen.  It is so, so bad.  Kind of hypnotically bad.


Unplanned.  Anti-abortion diatribe.  You know you're in trouble when the credits list off family contributions that funded the film.



Her Smell.  Fame is a helluva drug.  I've had some experience with it via a somewhat famous relative, and I think I know enough about it to know I don't want it for myself.  Great in small doses, but poisonous in larger amounts.

Her Smell is the story of a girl rock band and their fall from grace.  The star of this movie, Elisabeth Moss, probably deserves an Oscar.  The sound design is also excellent.

Some Good Ones

Shazam!.  It's brainless fun.  I never bothered to see it a second time though.

The Best of Enemies.  It starts out well, stumbles near the middle, and picks itself up nicely near the end.  I'll watch Sam Rockwell in anything, and Taraji P. Henson is much better used in this movie.  I'm getting tired of movies/books about the Civil Rights Movement, but the relationship between Rockwell's and Henson's characters is genuinely touching.

Little.  Like What Men Want above, this is a retread with the main character's race and gender changed.  Tom Hanks was miles away from this movie, but it has a light touch and doesn't overstay its welcome.

Avengers: Endgame.  Not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, but considered as the culmination of TEN YEARS' worth of movies it's an unqualified success.  We've all seen it, so I won't bore you with the details.

The Wind.  Settlers in the Old West encounter a malevolent presence.  It starts out good but seems to lose its way halfway through.  I liked it, but concentrating on the dynamic between the two couples would have made for a better movie.

Fast Color.  A toned-down version of the X-men.  The lead actress almost holds it together, but the "abilities" they go on about could have been explained better.  The ending is also hard to buy into.

Body at Brighton Rock.  Surprisingly effective movie with some subtle nods to Italian Giallo.  It seems like some kind of 80s teen comedy throwback in the beginning, but after the body is discovered it manages genuine creepiness without resorting to gore.

I Trapped the Devil.  Less a horror movie than a meditation on the nature of evil.  SLOW, but if you're looking for something atmospheric you'll probably like it.

Penguins.  Disney documentary about - you guessed it - penguins.  Many, many animals were harmed in the making of this film.  But hey, everybody likes penguins, right?

Some Bad Ones

Pet Sematary.  As a fan of the original I was extremely disappointed.  It tries to surprise you with a certain death, but none of the characters act with any kind of rationality.

High Life.  EXTREMELY arty, extremely low budget science fiction movie about a group of prisoners trying to do... something with black holes.  Ex-vampire and future Batman Robert Pattinson stars.  Don't bother.

The Haunting of Sharon Tate.  Hilary Duff's vanity project, based on the famous murders.  Not only is it terribly written, terribly acted and terribly directed, but it's also in extremely bad taste.

The SilenceA Quiet Place ripoff starring Stanley Tucci.  If the monsters are blind and stupid, are they really such a threat to humanity?

Hellboy.  B movie from beginning to end.  Milla Jovovich in any movie is a big warning sign for me.

The Curse of La Llorona.  It LOOKS good but it made me sleepy.  Wikipedia says it's supposed to tie in with The Conjuring films, but I had no idea.

So Bad It's Good

After.  This movie clearly wasn't made for dudes like me, but it did have me laughing.  It's an adaptation of Wuthering Heights, complete with brooding British hottie and his daddy issues.  The girl's mom and would-be-ex-boyfriend are completely psycho.


I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu.  The original was NOT good.  Aside from a general fear of rape I don't understand why people keep reviving this franchise.  The actress from the original returns for this foray into cheap exploitation, and like the rednecks involved it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.  Hard pass.

Breakthrough.  CHRIST wants you to see this movie - I'm not exactly sure why.  Something something about an adopted kid almost dying.  I didn't make it to the almost dying part.  Once I hit the part with Topher Grace addressing the congregation I had to abort mission.  Get it?  "Mission?"



Poms.  Loved this movie.  Diane Keaton, one of my favorite actresses and a certifiable national treasure stars in it, and this story of a seniors' cheerleading squad is sure to leave a smile on your face.  Keaton, by the way, is also in The Tomorrow Man (below).  This film would make a good double feature with 2011's Valley of the Sun.

Parasite.  South Korean film about a family falling prey to another family of con artists.  It's a masterful film, and when I think of 2019's "Best Picture" it's a toss up between Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and this movie.  For a Japanese equivalent consult Akira Kurosawa's High and Low.  For an American/Western equivalent consult The House of Sand and Fog.

Some Good Ones

Brightburn.  Evil Superboy, if Superboy was from a planet of wasp-like aliens.  It's not terrible, but it definitely squandered a great premise.  There's some good gore in it.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters.  After the physical and emotional onslaught that was Avengers: Endgame, this was the monster movie I needed.  People who complained about the plot failed to register the fact that it's a monster movie.  The spectacle of giant monsters stomping cities was the entire point.

The Tomorrow Man.  John Lithgow stars as an aging survivalist who finds love in small town U.S.A.  A good movie that doesn't overstate itself.

Ma.  Easily one of the best horror movies of 2019.  Octavia Spencer and Juliette Lewis are both great in it, and even if it's on the slow side it's still excellent.

The Intruder.  Rich couple from the city buy a house from a creepy dude in the country.  It's the premise behind Pet Sematary (above) and it's also the premise behind The Intruder.  Dennis Quaid is creepy throughout, and yeah, although formulaic, it's still better than Pet Sematary.

Always Be My Maybe.  OK, the part with Keanu Reeves is embarrassing, but the rest of this movie is solid.  The children of Asian immigrants find love despite different attitudes toward success.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.  Zac Efron does a good psychopath.  My only reservation about this Ted Bundy biopic is its length.  The courtroom scenes really are a lot longer than they need to be.

The Perfection.  Shades of Weinstein.  Or is it Epstein?  Whichever "stein" it is, it's weird and I like weird.  It's not without a certain affectation (the scenes where time reverses itself are more distracting than explanatory), but yeah, it's a good horror movie.

Tolkien.  Unpopular Opinion: the Lord of the Rings movies were massively overrated.  To make matters worse, much of what one sees in the latter parts of the trilogy were additions by the screenwriters.  The books, taken in their original form, were never going to work as movies.  But I think this movie, about Tolkien's early years, works a lot better.  In it Tolkien definitely receives the Hollywood treatment, but it's still entertaining.

Booksmart.  Basically a gender-swapped version of Superbad.  Don't let this description put you off the movie though.  It's really funny. 

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum.  "And the Oscar for longest, most laboriously choreographed fight scene goes to..."  It's silly fun.  I'd watch the next one.

The Professor.  Ivy league professor Johnny Depp shapes young minds and faces his own mortality.  It'll remind you of a lot of other, better movies (and books), but it's not bad.

The Professor and the Madman.  I gotta be honest and say my mind wandered.  It could be the beer I was drinking, or it could be the movie itself.  Mel Gibson stars as a Scotsman trying to write the Oxford English Dictionary, with Sean Penn as an American who assists him.  I think I might try to watch it again sometime.  It might have been the beer.

A Dog's Journey.  Hey it's Dennis Quaid again, last seen in The Intruder (above).  A dog gets reincarnated, heartstrings are plucked, and dogs are generally appreciated.  It's the sequel to A Dog's Purpose

...and I'd like to think the next entry in this series will take a sharp left turn and venture into horror.  I'm thinking A Dog's Centipede: Final Sequence.  Remember "3 Hund" from the first movie?  In this way the two franchises could be combined into a "Human Centipede/Dog's Journey Cinematic Universe," or HCDJCU for short.

The Sun is also a Star.  The son of Korean immigrants and the daughter of Jamaican immigrants find love in New York.  It's incredibly heavy-handed and contrived, but charming nonetheless.

Some Bad Ones

Rocketman.  I know a lot of people loved it.  I'm also an Elton John fan.  But I'm just not into musicals.  Sorry?

Long Shot.  Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen star in this unfunny comedy.  It's in a long tradition of comedies featuring hot women who can act and comedians who want you to think they can.  How is it this movie has an 81% CinemaScore and The Tomorrow Man (above) only has a 46%?

Pokemon Detective Pikachu.  I am so totally not the intended audience for this movie.  No surprise I didn't like it.  It gets more interesting after Ryan Reynolds/Pikachu shows up, but yeah, not my thing.

A Souvenir.  Very British and very boring.  I got about 20 minutes in and had to quit.  Critics loved it, however.


The Hustle.  Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway star as con artists.  Painfully unfunny.



Shaft.  As much as I enjoyed Evil White Boy Christian Bale this is SO much better than the last one.  Tim Story, who has a much lighter touch than John "Let's Meditate on Race Relations" Singleton, is a much better choice for director.  On top of all that this movie is consistently funny, and Sam Jackson has all the best lines.  I really hope they make a sequel.

Some Good Ones

The Last Black Man in San Francisco.  Two friends from the other side of town squat in a house near the Golden Gate Bridge.  It's heavy-handed but very atmospheric.

Change Land.  Seth Green directed, wrote and starred in this movie about two friends on vacation in Thailand.  It's an absorbing and understated movie.  I wouldn't mind watching it again.

Plus One.  Hey, it's Jack Quaid, son of Dennis!  You'll want to dismiss this as a rom-com, and yeah, this story of college friends who attend weddings together is a foregone conclusion, but the leads are adorable and it's genuinely funny.

Murder Mystery.  YES it's an Adam Sandler movie, but look at the supporting cast.  Nothing mindblowingly original in this one, but it's pretty funny.

Some Bad Ones

Dark Phoenix.  Fox's X-Men franchise goes down in both literal, metaphorical, and computer-generated flames.  It's SO bad.  Is The New Mutants even going to appear in theaters after this debacle?

Men in Black: International.  One of the most forgettable movies I've seen in a while.  I just finished watching it and I'd be at pains to tell you what it was about.  Never been a big fan of this franchise, but the third entry is still the best.

Yesterday.  A musician wakes up to find himself living in a world where no one's ever heard of the Beatles.  It starts out cute, but this movie strains its own credibility.  There's the musician and his "manager," who in real life would have slept with each other in the first thirty minutes, and then there's the entire history of Western pop music, which would have collapsed in upon itself without the Beatles.

Annabelle Comes Home.  Speaking as someone who enjoyed The Conjuring 1 and 2, this movie is amazingly boring.  Even compared to the Child's Play reboot (below), which came out the same time, it suffers by comparison.

Being Frank.  A son discovers that his father has a secret.  The performances are good, but the script/story is a problem.  This story tries to walk a difficult line between funny and tragic, all the while sacrificing the viewer's suspension of disbelief to do so.


The Dead Don't Die.  Jim Jarmusch's take on zombie apocalypse.  As much as I liked Ghost Dog, I'd have to say this movie is a real bore.  Got through about twenty minutes and had to turn it off.

Killers Anonymous.  Some nonsense about a group of assassins.  I just couldn't get into it.  As with The Dead Don't Die I got about twenty minutes in and had to abort mission.


Toy Story 4.  I've never understood the appeal of these movies.  I guess you could say I'm a member of the wrong generation, but naw, I've liked plenty of the other kid-friendly cgi spectacles both before and after the Toy Story franchise.  Maybe it's because I find the idea of living toys kind of... creepy?

Ophelia.  My first thought was no way, they were not trying to create a Shakespeare Cinematic Universe (SCU) with the girl from Star Wars.  But yeah, it's Hollywood, and yeah, they did.  I'm sure Shakespeare rolls over in his grave every time someone watches this.

So Bad It's Good

Child's Play.  The one thing you should know about this movie is that IT'S ALL VIETNAM'S FAULT.  If the dude at the factory had just kept Chucky's "violence inhibitor" in place all the bloodshed could have been avoided.  I mean, what the fuck Vietnam?  The rest of this movie knows it's terrible and may even be proud of the fact.  Give it a spin.  You might find yourself liking it.



Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  The story of two friends around the time of the Manson Family murders.  It's much better than Tarantino's last film, which for me was the equivalent of watching paint dry, and it's also much, much better than The Haunting of Sharon Tate, which was also released this year.  The ending turns history - and Hollywood - on its head in brilliant fashion.

Some Good Ones

Spider-Man: Far From Home.  The plot doesn't make a great deal of sense but it's endearing in a goofy way.  For me Zendaya was the highlight of the movie.

Midsommar.  I can't say it works as a horror movie, but as a drama it succeeds.  It hints at a lot of things it never follows up on.  I freaking loved Hereditary by the way.

Crawl.  A father and his daughter trapped under a house, during a hurricane, with crocodiles.  Every time I see director Alexandre Aja's name in movie credits I think two things: 1) The Hills Have Eyes reboot was awesome, and 2) He was heavily involved in The Pyramid, which was terrible.  Luckily for me Crawl is one of his good movies.  And hey!  There's (Canada's) Barry Pepper!  Been a while since I've seen him in a good movie!  Good job, Barry Pepper!

Stuber.  An Uber driver and a cop join forces to fight crime.  It's completely derivative but surprisingly funny.  Dave Bautista is much better in this movie than in Escape Plan: The Extractors (below).

Point Blank.  This movie can't decide if it's a lighthearted, Midnight Run kind of thing or a gritty police drama.  80s music?  Fun!  Dudes abusing pregnant women?  Not fun!  Even so, Anthony Mackie and Frank Grillo are both good in it and I've seen much worse examples of whatever genre this is.

The Farewell 別告訴她.  A Chinese woman living in New York returns to China to visit her ailing grandmother.  Chinese is obviously Awkwafina's second language, but she's a surprisingly good actress.

The Lion King.  Disney continues to update its back catalog.  This "live action" version follows the same story beats as the cartoon.  If you're a kid you'll like it.  If you're not you probably won't.

Skin.  A white supremacist tries to escape the movement.  Skin reminded me of two others movies: Manchester by the Sea and Imperium.  The former because it's centered around a man trying to make things right after making a terrible mistake; the latter because of the white supremacy theme.  I didn't like Skin as much as those two earlier films - mostly because the protagonist isn't as sympathetic - but it's still well put together.

Some Bad Ones

Escape Plan: The Extractors.  Kind of a lower-budget, Chinese-American version of The Expendables.  Sylvester Stallone stars as a man searching for a Chinese heiress, with Dave Bautista as his sidekick.  I haven't seen the other movies in this series, and also have no intention of doing so.

Darlin'.  "Feral" has been done much better in other movies.  In Darlin' a feral girl is taken in by the church.  No tension is generated, and the characters are completely uninteresting.  It might have been better if they'd upped the gore quotient, but no, they didn't do that.

The Red Sea Diving Resort.  It's hard not to compare this movie to Argo and The Red Sea Diving Resort suffers by the comparison.  None of the characters are adequately developed, and it can't quite decide if it's going for action or drama.



The Operative.  A woman with a mysterious past is sent to spy on Iran.  Leads Diane Kruger and Martin Freeman are convincing throughout and the screenplay was well written.

Brittany Runs a Marathon.  A young woman learns how to take control of her life through running.  This movie had me tearing up near the end.  I could totally watch it again.

Some Good Ones

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.  Leave your brain elsewhere.  Have a few beers.  Maybe invite a friend over and make some popcorn.  In that context Hobbs & Shaw is a pleasant experience.

The Kitchen.  After several gangsters go to prison their wives take over the family business.  I liked it, but: 1) it never really establishes why the wives are better at running the gang, and 2) wears out its welcome toward the end.  It's unfavorably compared to Widows, which I haven't seen, so maybe I'll be revising my opinion later.

The Peanut Butter Falcon.  A bit too long for its own good, but this story of a man with Down's syndrome who crosses paths with a man on the run is well acted and hits all the right notes.  It wouldn't surprise me if Shia Labeouf won an Oscar one day.

Light of My Life.  A father and his daughter try to survive after a plague kills most of the world's women.  Casey Affleck stars in, wrote and directed this one, and while it's good I can't say it offers anything that Children of Men and The Road haven't done already.

After the Wedding.  An American woman strikes a devil's bargain to acquire money for a school in India.  The excellent Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore star.  My only complaint about it is that it's a little to easy to anticipate what's coming.

Gwen.  A Welsh family contends with an ambitious quarry owner.  It'll remind you of The Witch.  The cinematography is beautiful, but damn this movie's depressing.

The Angry Birds Movie 2.  Surprisingly funny.  I haven't seen the first one, so not able to compare the two.

Ready or Not.  A newly married bride finds herself participating in a twisted game of hide and seek.  I'm not sure if it works as well as the more straightforward Would You Rather, but the actress who plays the bride is excellent.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette.  A family copes with a mother's depression.  It's not bad, but its backstory gets in the way of the larger story its trying to tell.  The character Cate Blanchett plays reminds me a lot of my mother.

Good Boys.  If Booksmart is Superbad with girls, Good Boys is Superbad with sixth-graders.  I'd be at a loss to say which is the funnier comedy of 2019, but they're both very good.

Burn.  Things take a turn for the weird after a desperate man arrives at a gas station.  The first half of this movie is awesome, though it wears out its welcome in the second half.  A great effort by a first time director.

Official Secrets.  Kiera Knightley stars as an intelligence analyst tryingt o keep Britain out of the Gulf War.  It's ok, but you'd be better served by Oliver Stone's Snowden.

Some Bad Ones

A Score to Settle.  Not bad maybe, but definitely not good.  Nicolas Cage stars as a man out for revenge.  Some of the most cliche dialogue you'll ever hear, and you'll see the plot twist coming from a mile away.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold.  Yeah, the actress who plays Dora is super cute, but who is this movie for?  Given that anyone interested in the cartoon wouldn't be older than five, why put Dora in high school?

The Art of Racing in the Rain.  A movie narrated by a dog that's somehow not for children.  And why the fuck would a dog care about car racing anyway?

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.  Supposedly for "younger horror enthusiasts," but how many of those younger horror enthusiasts would have the patience for this movie?  It's really, really boring.

Angel Has Fallen.  Gerard Butler stars as a secret serviceman charged with attempted assassination of the President.  It's a story that tells itself in the first half.  The second half is little more than random bits of violence.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged.  Four shapely young women find themselves pursued through an underwater Mayan city by blind sharks.  At several points this movie flirts with "so bad it's good" status, but at other points it's a real chore to get through.  The star of this movie is Sylvester Stallone's daughter.

Blinded by the Light.  I fucking hate Bruce Springsteen.  Absolutely cannot stand him.  So this story of a Pakistani boy in England who develops a love for the Boss was completely lost on me.  And oh, those scenes where the students engage in rebellious acts to the tune of songs like "Born to Run" and "The River?"  Nausea.  Pure nausea.

The Fanatic.  John Travolta stars as an autistic (?) man stalking a celebrity.  Say what you will about Travolta - he's certainly been in some bad movies - but for every three bad movies there's one that's actually good.  I'm on the fence about this one.  Travolta is good (if slightly over the top) in it, and the story's somewhat novel, but the ending falls flat.  This is a film aiming for that Taxi Driver vibe, but it somehow fails to reach that goal.

Don't Let Go.  A voice from the past helps a detective solve a murder case.  The police procedural parts of this movie are pure nonsense, but the real problem is that it's just not interesting.

Overcomer.  Sitcom-quality Christian movie about a coach rediscovering his spirituality.  In this movie's defense it's less amateurish than other Christian movies I've seen this year.

Jacob's Ladder.  Not sure what the point of this movie is.  If you've seen the original you'll see the plot twist coming, and if you haven't this remake makes it even easier to anticipate.  All this film really does is add more gore to the mix.



The Goldfinch.  A young boy bonds with a painting after the tragic death of his mother.  It requires a fair bit of concentration, but if you can calm yourself down enough for it it's very good.  This said, critics despised this movie, calling it as "lifeless" and "boring."  I loved it though.

The Sound of Silence.  Peter Sarsgaard stars as a man who "tunes" apartments.  It's a cool idea, and Sarsgaard is riveting throughout.

Hustlers.  The role Jennifer Lopez was born to play?  Quite possibly.  Constance Wu is also great as her partner in crime.  Yes, strip clubs are depressing places, and this movie doesn't shy away from that.

Judy.  The life and times of Judy Garland.  Renee Zellweger's been nominated for an Oscar for this one, and I think she deserves it.

Some Good Ones

It: Chapter Two.  Pennywise the clown returns to small town Maine to scare the fuck out of people.  It's not as good as the first and the ending is something of a foregone conclusion, but it does generate some scares.

Running with the Devil.  Nicolas Cage stars in this look at the cocaine trade.  The first have is well-paced and well-written, even if the movie loses steam toward the end.  Oh and look!  It's Canadian Barry Pepper!

Bloodline.  Seann William Scott!  Remember him?  The guy from American Pie.  No, not that one.  The other guy, Stiffler.  In Bloodline Scott stars as a full time high school guidance counselor and part time psychopath.  He's good in the lead, even if there's not quite enough to keep this movie going.

The Laundromat.  Steven Soderbergh-directed movie about international finance.  Meryl Streep is great in it, but it's extremely heavy-handed and the "comeuppance" received by Oldman and Banderas' characters doesn't justify the runtime.

Some Bad Ones

Ad Astra.  Pretentious space opera along the lines of High Life (above).  Brad Pitt tries to rescue his dad from madness and along the way physical laws are broken.  Just go see First Man.  It's way better.

Fractured.  Hey, it's Sam "Avatar" Worthington!  Haven't seen him in a while!  He's actually quite good in this movie, but this story of a man searching for his wife and daughter overstays its welcome.  Cutting thirty minutes off it would have worked wonders.

Prey.  I fail to understand how someone's dad getting stabbed to death by carjackers equals being sent to a Survivor-style camp in Malaysia.  I also fail to understand how any group in Malaysia - public or private - would be party to dumping rich Americans on uninhabited islands in that country.  Whatever.  You know that island's not really uninhabited, right?

So Bad It's Good

Rambo: Last Blood.  A better title would have been Rambo: Build the Wall.  At this point it's obvious that Stallone has completely lost touch with what made the character great in the first place, and in this installment he broods around and exacts vengeance - all without any police officers on either side of the border lifting a finger.  The violence in the second half is so over the top (get it?  get it?) that I couldn't help but laugh.



Joker.  Joaquin Phoenix, what can I say?  One of our time's great actors.  Director Todd Philipps also rises to the occasion, and even if it resembles films like Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy it also brings something new to the table.

The Kill Team.  A soldier learns the price of killing.  There have been a ton of great war movies, but I'd gladly add this one to the pile.

The Lighthouse.  Two men try not to kill each other and/or go insane while tending a lighthouse.  It's satisfyingly atmospheric even if I had to take a break halfway through.  It deserves the good reviews it's received.

The Current War.  George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison contend over the matter of direct current vs. alternating current.  The cinematography might be the best of 2019, and Michael Shannon is, as usual, awesome.

Some Good Ones

Low Tide.  A band of teenage burglars come across a bag of gold coins.  Very well put together movie.

Dolemite is My Name.  It took me quite a while to realize that 1) Rudy Ray Moore was an actual person, and 2) I'd already seen Dolemite years before.  In my opinion the only problem with this movie was the way it was marketed: they were trying to sell it as a comedy when it's really more of a drama.  Approach it as a drama and you'll enjoy it, approach it as a comedy and you'll be disappointed.

Little Monsters.  A zombie apocalypse almost ruins a kindergarten field trip.  It's not bad, but it could have been funnier.

Jojo Rabbit.  A little German boy learns how to be - or how not to be - a good Nazi.  I didn't find this movie as funny as I thought I would, but it's built on an interesting premise.

The King.  Never mind the fact that 15th century English would sound like gibberish to us, the way people in this movie talk is still chock full of anachronisms.  "A prized scalp?"  "Fucking?"  This aside, it's appropriately grave and there are some nice period details.

Countdown.  A new app tells people when they're going to die.  The first 3/4 of this movie is entertaining, but it could've done without the Catholicism.  It also gets a little retarded toward the end.

Wounds.  Armie Hammer stars as a bartender who picks up the wrong cell phone.  Definitely one of the best horror movies of 2019.  The only reason I don't put it in the "Excellent" category is that it gets a bit stage-y at times.

Some Bad Ones

In the Tall Grass.  Several people find themselves trapped in a field.  Thing is the story is kind of cool, and the first half is pretty good.  The second half, however, is a problem.  The characters make some inexplicable choices and it tries too hard to be arty.

Gemini Man.  A movie full of wtf moments if there ever was one.  Will Smith's conversations with himself grow steadily more embarrassing as the movie progresses.

Wrinkles the Clown.  Horror "documentary" about a clown that scares kids for money.  It's driven by a very thin premise and gets boring fast.

Zombieland: Double Tap.  People crack lame jokes and shoot zombies.  It tries hard to be funny but isn't.  You know what this movie needed?  Ryan Reynolds!

The Gallows: Act II.  Two sisters are terrorized by a haunted play.  This movie's very boring, even if the twist at the end is better than it ought to be.

Black and Blue.  Police drama that desperately wants to be Training Day... or End of Watch... or Colors... or any number of other, better cop films that straddle the racial divide.  Naomie Harris is such a great actress that she almost holds this thing together, but despite her best intentions it has plot holes big enough to drive a police cruiser through.


El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.  I never understood the craze for the TV show.  After trying to watch the movie I still don't understand it.  I got about halfway through and had to turn it off.



Motherless Brooklyn.  Noir film directed by, written by and starring Edward Norton.  Definitely on the slow side, but it builds to a satisfying conclusion without stretching its credibility.

Ford Vs. Ferrari.  This movie's like a well-oiled machine.  Both Bale and Damon are great in it.

A Good One?  You Be the Judge...

Terminator: Dark Fate.  Con(s): It's a far cry from T2.  But of course it is.  That movie was lightning in a bottle.  How could they copy that?  How could they do it again?  Pro(s): It's great to see Linda Hamilton, and this is a solid action movie.

Some Good Ones

The Irishman.  Another Scorsese masterpiece?  Not quite.  The de-aging of the stars was unnecessary, and parts of this movie find the director treading familiar waters.  It's undeniably good, but skipping the first hour makes for a much better viewing experience.

Doctor Sleep.  If you want to enjoy this movie this first thing you need to do is put The Shining out of you mind.  Easier said than done I know.  Horror movies are 90% atmosphere, and The Shining had crazy amounts of atmosphere.  This said, this movie suffers from two flaws, which are: 1) the actress playing the villain can't maintain the kind of presence demanded by the role, and 2) this sequel alludes too closely to its predecessor.  Doctor Sleep isn't bad, but no (of course!), it's not the The Shining.

Marriage Story.  Kind of like a latter day, less bitter version of Scenes from a Marriage.  Scarlet Johansson and Adam Driver star.  Johansson and Driver are good in the lead roles, but the supporting characters get all the best lines.

Honey Boy.  Shia LaBeouf wrote and stars in this movie about his father.  This and The Peanut Butter Falcon (above) were his two films of 2019, and although I think he's better in that movie this one is good, too.  LaBeouf is at a lower point in his career right now, but he's an unquestionably talented actor and I'm sure we'll hear from him again.

Klaus.  Animated movie about the origin of Santa Claus.  It's about as derivative as you'd expect, but of course it's for kids so that's no surprise.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  Pro: that sequence between Mr. Rogers pulling out the puppets and the journalist's "waking up in the castle" is excellent.  Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys are also great in the lead roles.  Con: the premise is a little too obvious, too on the nose for me.  I liked it, but something about this movie doesn't quite feel... earned?

Waves.  A family experiences a crisis.  It's a well written, well directed, well acted movie marred by some overly artistic cinematography.  The moments where the camera rotates 360 degrees and the weird prism effects were particularly irritating.

The Good Liar.  Ian McKellan and Helen Mirren star in this movie about a con artist courting a widow.  It's well acted, but parts of the story are very implausible.

21 Bridges.  Chadwick Boseman stars as a detective hunting a fugitive.  From a police procedural standpoint this movie's on par with the Die Hard franchise, but Boseman remains an actor good enough to keep the whole thing chugging along.

Dark Waters.  Mark Ruffalo stars as an attorney defending a West Virginia farmer against Dupont Chemical.  Long before the MCU, moody, Southern, conspiracy-centric movies like this were Mark Ruffalo's speciality, and he's on firm footing here.  The weird thing about Dark Waters is Anne Hathaway, who vanishes into the woodwork as Ruffalo's wife.

The Report.  Adam Driver stars in this look at the CIA's interrogation program post-9/11.  It's on the slow side but worth watching.

Some Bad Ones

Harriet.  The life and times of Harriet Tubman.  This movie couldn't be more melodramatic if it tried.

Midway.  Warning Sign: when the heroes in your big, dramatic war movie were all playing villains in last year's big movies.  And how did they manage to make Pearl Harbor seem boring?  Quite an achievement when you think about it.  The 70s version of this same story is no masterpiece, but somehow this version manages to be even worse.

Not My Thing

Knives Out.  Daniel Craig leads an impressive cast in this murder mystery.  Trouble is that I'm just not into murder mysteries.  It's certainly a well put-together movie, but yeah, just not into murder mysteries.


Playing with Fire.  Unfunny comedy about California firemen starring John Cena.  I only got about ten minutes in.  That was enough for me.

Last Christmas.  Part rom-com, part love letter to George Michael.  The characters are so deliberately quirky that my mind was wandering within the first ten minutes.  Keep trying, Emilia Clarke.



A Million Little Pieces.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson stars as an addict going through rehab.  My mom has gone through this, and yeah, it felt very real to me.  The few critics that saw this movie weren't fond of it, but I thought it was great.

Uncut Gems.  Adam Sandler plays a jeweler with a gambling addiction.  None of the characters in this movie are likable, but the story is engaging and Sandler is terrific in the lead role.

Just Mercy.  Michael B. Jordan stars as a defense attorney, with Jamie Foxx as a convict on death row.  It's a very moving film that isn't afraid to examine the meaning of justice from several different angles.

1917.  Beautifully photographed movie about two British soldiers sent behind enemy lines.  Those expecting Hacksaw Ridge or Saving Private Ryan will want to calm themselves down for this one.  Just the same it's excellent.

Bombshell.  What a wonderfully subversive movie.  Take Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie and put them right in the middle of Fox News.  What have you got?  A movie that says a lot about America - both bad and good.  For me "best movie of 2019" is a close race between Bombshell and Her Smell, but yeah, this movie is definitely great.

Some Good Ones

Jumanji: the Next Level.  Pretty much as advertised.  Our heroes go into a video game (again), funny stuff happens, and various animals cause mischief.  Oh, and Karen Gillan is fine.

Richard Jewell.  A security guard is accused of terrorism.  It's not as engrossing as The Mule, Clint Eastwood's previous film, but it's good in an understated way.

Little Women.  Good, but despite its length it rushes certain things.  It also had a lot to build on.  There's a play, several movie versions, several TV versions and even an opera.  One of the best movies of 2019?  I wouldn't say so.  Again it's good, but not that good.

6 Underground.  Cartoonish action movie in which Ryan Reynolds leads a squad of mercenaries.  Certain plot elements are pretty fucking silly, but it's an enjoyable couple of hours for those willing to turn their brain off.

Some Bad Ones

The Aeronauts.  Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne star as a couple of people in a hot air balloon.  Just go read/watch Around the World in 80 Days in one of its many iterations.  This movie adds little to that formula.

Togo.  I suppose if you wanted a kinder, gentler version of Willem Defoe's character in The Lighthouse you could watch Togo.  This Disney movie about sled dogs is beautifully photographed, but it's completely boring and completely predictable.  Hasn't Disney done this kind of film several times already?


Playmobil: The Movie.  I thought this might be like The Lego Movie.  You know, funny and sarcastic.  Turns out it's Disney-style musical.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.  I'm so done with Star Wars.  I have no doubt this movie is better than The Last Jedi but I still have no desire to see it.

Cats.  I tried.  I was figuring on "So Bad It's Good" status, but the minute the cats showed up I got a bad case of the heebie jeebies.  This is one creepy looking movie.

Related Entries:

Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (9)
The Other Movie Oscars: The Late 1970s
Some Other Movies From 1978
Some Other Movies From 1976

NOTE: Sorry about the colors.  I was trying to color code for Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated movies, but Blogger's HTML Wizard took exception to this type of of chromatic exceptionalism.  The result is that some movies are highlighted in the wrong color, and others are highlighted in more than one.