2019年4月28日 星期日

The Other Movie Oscars: The 1990s

Please keep in mind three things:

1. I'm only choosing Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress.  Let's be honest and say that these are the only three categories most people care about.

2. I'm only choosing from the movies reviewed in my "Some Other Movies From..." entries.  This means that some of the movies I choose might actually be award-winners from that year.

3. The movies reviewed in my "Some Other Movies From..." entries were chosen because I hadn't seen them before, and/or because of their relative obscurity.  To put an even finer point on it, they were chosen half willfully and half randomly.  I tend to pick 7 or 8 movies featuring people I'm familiar with, and 7 or 8 movies featuring people unknown to me.

4. For fun I'm adding another category, something memorable from a film belonging to a given year.


Best Picture: All About My Mother
Best Actor: Clint Eastwood (True Crime)
Best Actress: Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted)
Most Excruciating Shakespeare Adaptation: 10 Things I Hate About You


Best Picture: Primary Colors
Best Actor: Dennis Quaid (Savior)
Best Actress: Emma Thompson (Primary Colors)
Biggest Trainwreck of a Movie: Lost in Space


Best Picture: The Boxer
Best Actor: Koji Yakusho (Unagi "The Eel")
Best Actress: Emily Watson (The Boxer)
Best Overlooked Comedy: The Wrong Guy


Best Picture: Citizen Ruth
Best Actor: Armand Assante (Gotti)
Best Actress: Jennifer Jason Leigh (Bastard Out of Carolina)
Worst Use of Meryl Streep: Before and After


Best Picture: Ghost in the Shell
Best Actor: No idea, it was a slow year.
Best Actress: No idea, it was slow year.
Most Family Friendly WTF: Top Dog


Best Picture: Death and the Maiden
Best Actor: Tommy Lee Jones (Cobb)
Best Actress: Sigourney Weaver (Death and the Maiden)
So Bad Everyone Needs to See It: Double Dragon


Best Picture: The Age of Innocence
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (The Age of Innocence)
Best Actress: Michelle Pfeiffer (The Age of Innocence)
Best Surgically Enhanced Breasts: Ashlyn Gere (The Night Train)


Best Picture: The Player
Best Actor: Laurence Fishburne (Deep Cover)
Best Actress: Helena Bonham Carter (Howard's End)
Best Black Scientist Obsessed with Temporal Anomalies: Joe Morton (Forever Young, T2, and other movies)


Best Picture: High Heels
Best Actor: William Hurt (The Doctor)
Best Actress: Victoria Abril (High Heels)
Most Stunningly Beautiful Woman: Emmanuelle Beart (La Belle Noiseuse)


Best Picture: Presumed Innocent
Best Actor: Alec Baldwin (Miami Blues)
Best Actress: Meryl Streep (Postcards from the Edge)
Most Inexplicable Movie: The Forbidden Dance

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1991
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (6)
Some Other Movies From 1993
Some Other Movies From 1995

Some Other Movies From 1991

During the first half of 1991 I was a sophomore in high school, and during the second half I was a junior.  I don't remember it as being a particularly good time in my life, but I suppose I learned a few things.

The top 5 movies of 1991 were Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (the one with Kevin Costner), Beauty and the Beast (the original animated version), Hook and The Silence of the Lambs.  Of these movies my favorite is definitely The Silence of the Lambs, with T2 a distant second.

Critical favorites of 1991 were JFK, The Prince of Tides, The Commitments and the above-mentioned Silence of the Lambs.  I still think JFK is a good movie, if a bit overwrought.

Other good movies from that year were The Doors (also by Oliver Stone, and much better than JFK), What About Bob?, Backdraft, Thelma and Louise, Boyz in the Hood, Point Break, The Fisher King, Little Man Tate, Cape Fear, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (pretentious but gloriously so) and RushRush, featuring Jason Patric and Jennifer Jason Leigh, was really overlooked at the time.

For Worst Picture I'd nominate Father of the Bride.  There's just something about Steve Martin (especially in that movie) that makes me want to stab him.

Some Good Ones

1. A Brighter Summer Day

Taiwanese film about Taipei in the 60s.  Among the children of newer KMT arrivals gangs are prevalent, and several high school students negotiate their way through the various factions present in Taipei.  It's easily the best Taiwanese movie I've ever seen, but be warned that it's LONG - and also very serious.  I recommend breaking it into two sittings.

2. La Belle Noiseuse

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the star of this movie, Emmanuelle Beart, could give a dead man a hard-on.  In La Belle Noiseuse she plays an artist's model, and spends most of the film nude.

I don't speak French, but based on a conversation near the beginning of the movie I suppose the title could be translated as "The Noisy Beauty" or even "The Troublesome Beauty."  It's about an artist trying to recapture lost inspiration, and the film makes some interesting points about artists and their muses.

Be warned, however, that this movie moves even slower than A Brighter Summer Day.  It's full of strange conversations about art and lingering shots of an artist drawing and painting on canvas.

Also like A Brighter Summer Day, this movie was a big awards-winner in 1991.  It's definitely one of the more interesting movies I've seen lately, even if it's not exactly an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.

3. The Doctor

Has William Hurt ever been bad in any movie?  Has William Hurt ever even been in a bad movie?  The guy has a stellar track record.  I just looked through his filmography, and the only movie I'm not fond of is The Big Chill, which was still a commercial success.

In The Doctor Hurt plays a surgeon struck with cancer.  He's great as usual, and the supporting cast adds a lot to this film.  With my phobia of doctors and hospitals it was a bit uncomfortable at times, but as movies go I can't think of anything bad to say about it.

4. Delicatessen

French movie about an apartment building in which the residents eat one another.  This was one of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's early successes, released four years before The City of Lost Children.  I liked it a lot more than Amelie, which I also watched recently.

5. Sleeping with the Enemy

A.k.a. "Sleeping with Rich White People."  In this surprisingly unthrilling thriller Julia Roberts tries to escape an abusive husband with predictable Hollywood results.  It's definitely not terrible, but it doesn't do the best job of setting up its characters.  Would I see it a second time?  Nope.

Fun Fact: Julia Roberts appeared in this the year after Pretty Woman.  She wasn't quite a superstar yet, but she was well on her way to being one.

6. Europa

Ooh, symbolism!  But then again it's Lars von Trier, so a certain heavy-handedness is to be expected.  In Europa an American goes to work as a sleeping car conductor in post-War Germany.  Aside from arty splashes of color, most of the movie is in black and white.  It recalls the noir films of yesteryear (in particular some of Hitchcock's earlier movies), and requires a fair amount of concentration, but it's a solid movie with some great visuals.

7. My Own Private Idaho

River Phoenix (remember him?) and Keanu Reeves star as a pair of street hustlers looking for Phoenix's mother.  I think the Shakespearean bit in the abandoned hotel was a misstep, but the rest of the movie is solid.  It was director Gus Van Sant's third movie, and compares favorably to other films he's done.

Fun Fact: Udo Kier is in both this movie and Europa above.

8. High Heels

It's Almodovar, so expect the usual aggressive older women, drag queens and sexual ambiguity.  In this one a Madrid socialite deals with a looming divorce and a famous mother.  It's a great movie, and if you're into John Waters's early films you'll get it immediately.  American critics didn't really understand it, but that's no reason not to see - and enjoy - High Heels.

9. Out of the Rain

The town bad boy returns for his brother's funeral.  Michael O'Keefe stars, with Bridget Fonda as his love interest.  It's a good movie, even if it takes a while to really get going.  It took me a while to realize that O'Keefe played Chevy Chase's protege in Caddyshack.  

10. Fear in the Dark

Documentary on horror movies featuring interviews with William Friedkin, Wes Craven, Clive Barker and several other horror directors.  Very good and an insightful overview of where the horror genre was in the early 90s.

11. Eton College: Class of '91

Documentary on life in one of England's most famous schools.  Forgive my American ignorance, but for all our junior high school, senior high schools, and what have you I'm still a little confused as to what kind of school Eton actually is.  My confusion aside, this documentary offers an interesting glimpse inside this institution, and I found myself simultaneously envying the students their resources and pitying them their daily dose of repression.

Some Bad Ones

1. One Good Cop

Was this "ice" really a thing in early 90s New York?  I can't remember any drug by that name.  Maybe I've just forgotten?

Michael Keaton stars as a cop trying to gain custody of his dead partner's daughters, with Rene Russo costarring as his wife.  It's decent up until Keaton gets the bright idea about paying for his new house, and after that point I kind of wanted to see him tortured to death.  

Oh, and the happy ending is complete bullshit.  Those cartel guys don't ever forget about their money, Mr. Keaton.  You kill one boss, another one is bound to show up sooner or later.

2. Popcorn

A killer disrupts, almost ruins, and/or adds value to a horror movie marathon.  The killer in question is both the least threatening and most inexplicable villain to be found in any of the horror movies I've seen lately, and by the end I was just glad he was dead because it meant he couldn't explain his motivations anymore.  This movie might have worked if they had made it more "meta" in the way that later 90s films like The Matrix and The Thirteenth Floor were "meta," but as it is it's a fairly pedestrian slasher flick that never amounts to much.

Fun Fact: Why the reggae band playing between movies?  Because this entire movie was filmed in Jamaica!

One So Bad It's Good

1. Fast Getaway

Corey "License to Drive" Haim (!), his mulleted dad (who looks a bit like Journey's Steve Perry), and Cynthia Rothrock (remember her?) star.  Haim and dad are a pair of bank robbers.  Rothrock is another bank robber proficient in the ancient art of taekwondo ("hiya!").  I was kinda hoping all of the characters would die in a chemical fire, but it didn't happen.

Fun Fact #1: Her acting ability aside, Cynthia Rothrock is a certified badass with advanced degrees (?) in several martial arts.  She got her start in Hong Kong action movies starring opposite Michelle Yeoh.

Fun Fact #2: The other Corey, Corey Feldman, is not to be found in this movie.  Lame!

One So Bad It's Hysterical

1. Cool as Ice

Vanilla Ice raps.  Vanilla Ice dances.  Vanilla Ice wears ridiculous outfits and rides around on ridiculous motorcycles with his ridiculous biker gang.  And hey, isn't that Ernest Borgnine?  Just about any scene where Vanilla Ice has to speak is hilarious.

Fun Fact #1: Gwyneth Paltrow was almost cast as the love interest in this film, but her father prevented her from taking the part.

Fun Fact #2: This movie cost $6 million to make, and only made $1.2 million back at theaters.

Fun Fact #3: Around the time this movie was being filmed Vanilla Ice was dating Madonna.

Related Entries:

Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (6)
Some Other Movies From 1993
Some Other Movies From 1995
Some Other Movies From 1997

"Elite China" by Pierre Xiao Lu (2008)

"Being so far removed from the new collections and from the season cycle of the fashion industry, Chinese luxury consumers are not particularly sensitive to new fashion trends.  The tardiness of the Chinese luxury market toward luxury innovations ensures that the curve maintains a very long period of maturity and declines very slowly, which means that some luxury models, outdated in the West, can still be sold in Chinese boutiques."

Pierre Xiao Lu is a Professor of Marketing at Shanghai's Fudan University.  He's also a consultant to several luxury firms in China.  I'm guessing he makes a lot of money as a consultant, and this money probably enables him to frequent many of the upscale fashion boutiques he describes in Elite China.

And... me?  Do I buy my watches at Omega, and get fitted for suits and wherever-it-is-that-fashionable-people-get-fitted-for-suits?  Have I ever set foot in a Shanghai Tang?  Have I ever attended a fashion show?  Have I ever flipped through an issue of Vogue?  The answer to all these questions is "No," but hey, I have read all the books in Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians series, so there you go.

I'm obviously not part of the intended audience for this book.  I'm not even remotely interested in the world of fashion, nor am I interested in a multinational partnership between my own, non-existent fashion brand and a Mainland Chinese firm.  But I am interested in China, so this book was of some interest to me.

The more psychological chapters aside, I enjoyed the sections of this book discussing spending patterns in different parts of China.  Since I'm only peripherally involved in that market (I live in Taiwan), I'm fairly ignorant when it comes to the differences between Beijing and Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou, and Xiamen and Hong Kong.

The rest of the book?  Fairly light reading.  Mostly surveys and the interpretations thereof.  Some lightweight psychologizing, and some over-generalizations about differences between East and West.  The weakest part of this book (by far) is the historical synopses of different eras of Chinese history - some of which are just plain wrong.  But hey, this book never pretends to be a work of history, and none of the historical details fudged in it are likely to be a source of embarrassment for outsiders.

If you're the Head of International Marketing for Tommy Hilfiger I recommend this book.  If not, I'd just go read Crazy Rich Asians again.  Kevin Kwan's book is both more entertaining and details more of the fashion trends that really shape people's lives.  Elite China is for the elite, which is I suppose a mark in its favor.

Related Entries:

"China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know" by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom (2010)
"On China" by Henry Kissinger (2011)
"American Sniper" by Chris Kyle (2012)
"How Google Works" by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg (2014)

2019年4月24日 星期三

Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (6)

For reviews of older superhero movies click here and here.  It felt like time to get rid of the "baggage" those older entries carried, so I'm starting again from October 2018's Venom.

Superhero Moves On The Way

The Suicide Squad (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, August 6, 2021 in the States)

The Batman (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, June 25, 2021 in the States)

Morbius, the Living Vampire (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, July 31, 2020 in the States)

Wonder Woman 1984 (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, June 5, 2020 in the States)

Birds of Prey (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, February 7, 2020 in the States)

Joker (Comes Out in Taiwan October 3, 2019)

The New Mutants (Comes Out in Taiwan August 2, 2019?)

Spider-Man: Far From Home (Comes Out in Taiwan July 3, 2019)

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (Comes Out in Taiwan June 6, 2019)

Tell you right now: it's extremely unlikely that I'll be seeing this in the theater!

Avengers: Endgame

What I Liked: Everything.  This movie is awesome from beginning to end.

What I Didn't Like: Only two (very small) complaints: 1) Bruce and Nebula's explanation for their "heist" probably isn't going to satisfy anyone who bothers to think it through, and 2) the part at the end where all the "Marvel superheroines" line up and go into battle seems a bit too much like checking off an item on a checklist.

Future/Sequels: The next MCU offering is Spider-Man: Far From Home later this summer.  No other films have been given a release date as yet.  I think it's fair to say that Marvel will make a big announcement soon.


Wasn't interested.  I suppose I'll download it at some point.  Not in any hurry though.


What I Liked: Zachary Levi and Asher Angel are both examples of great casting, the story is well thought out, and the battle at the end takes some interesting twists and turns.  I consider Shazam! a vast improvement over Aquaman, which was trying to do too much in too short a time, and also Captain Marvel, which was in my opinion one hot mess of a movie.  Shazam! is much smaller-scale compared to those other two films, but its smallness works to its advantage.  It's very focused and to the point.

Mark Strong, who was wasted on Martin Campbell's Green Lantern, has much more to do in Shazam!  Even if his reasons for being "evil" aren't that well thought out, he's still a good (bad) villain.

What I Didn't Like: The battle at the end goes on a bit too long.  I think shortening it would have made for a better movie.  The introduction of the rest of the Marvel Family feels a bit rushed, even if it was gratifying to see them onscreen together.

Future/Sequels: No definite plans for any sequels as yet, but one of Shazam's other villains is introduced in a post-credits scene.  It's early to say, but I think this movie will be well received and I'd be surprised if a sequel isn't announced soon.

Captain Marvel

What I Liked: There's a part about halfway through, when Carol Danvers is reunited with an old friend.  In that part you can see Brie Larson's skill as an actress.

The fight on the spaceship near the end is oddly satisfying, but some of my satisfaction may have to do with 90s soundtrack, and the fact that I was a much younger guy when those songs were everywhere.  Nostalgia, in other words.

What I Didn't Like: Going back to the comic books, I never found Carol Danvers especially interesting, and this movie did nothing to change my mind.  Really, what is her reason for doing anything in this film?  At what point does her character change or make any real kind of discovery?

She's also so much more powerful than anyone she comes up against in this movie.  There's no sense of threat when "danger" strikes.  Jude Law?  Nope.  The Skrulls?  Not really.  Ronan the Accuser?  Their confrontation is a non-event.

I've also got to say, the explanation given for Nick Fury losing his eye really bothered me.  It's always seemed like this event should be of crucial importance, but in the movie it's explained in such an offhand manner.  The randomness of this explanation diminished the entire film.

Future/Sequels: Strap yourself in because Avengers: Endgame is less than two months away.  After Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home Marvel has announced no other films, though if Captain Marvel does well I'm sure we'll see a sequel.  I've heard a lot of talk about an Eternals movie, but we'll see.

I think what's going to make or break a Captain Marvel sequel is the Asian market, especially China.  If it goes over big in Beijing and Shanghai (as Aquaman did) you can be sure there will be another one.  If, however, this movie fails to find an audience in such places, I imagine Kevin Feige will start vaguely alluding to "future adventures" without making any real commitment.

Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Does this one count?  Batman and the Justice League are in it.  It also features the newer and older versions of Aquaman.

What I Liked: It's a funny movie, though not as good as the first.  This said, it's not nearly as hyper as the first one, which might be a relief for those who found the first film slightly overwhelming.

What I Didn't Like: It does drag a bit toward the end.  It's weird to say, but I found myself having to really concentrate on Lego Movie 2.  There are SO many references, to so many things, that after the first hour my brain got tired.  

Future/Sequels: There might be a sequel to the Lego Batman movie, though there's no release date as yet.  There might also be The Billion Brick Race.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

What I Liked: Everything.  In my opinion this movie's awesome from start to finish.  The characters, the plot, the animation, the soundtrack, all of it's great.  I suppose it depends on how it does financially, but Spider-Verse could be a real game-changer for CBMs.

For me the best part of the film was the Bill Sienkiewicz-inspired sequence halfway through.  I've been a huge fan of that guy for years, and seeing his art animated almost brought tears to my eyes.  That version of the Kingpin?  That's all Bill Sienkiewicz.

What I Didn't Like: Small complaint: no Spider-Woman.  I've always liked Spider-Woman more than Spider-Man, and it would've been wonderful to see Jessica Drew (finally) show up in this movie.

Future/Sequels: There's talk that Spider-Woman could feature in the sequel alongside Spider-Gwen and Silk, but such plans are tentative of course.  It's entirely possible that a sequel would feature Spider-Man 2099 instead.


What I Liked: Atlantis looks cool.  Amber Heard is easy on the eyes.  The battle in the end - aside from a ridiculous pause in the action for a predictably romantic moment - looks amazing.

What I Didn't Like: Weird moments of exposition.  Instead of showing the audience what's happening/has happened, the characters in this movie often feel the need to stop whatever they're doing and explain things.  The only part of this movie where the action flows seamlessly is when Aquaman and Black Manta have their big showdown halfway through.

The part in the beginning about Aquaman's parents could have been removed entirely.  It adds absolutely nothing to the story, and starting the movie from the adult Aquaman's first appearance would have made a lot more sense.

This movie gets dumber as it goes along.  By the end I was laughing at certain scenes and bits of dialogue, and I wasn't the only one.  And before someone chimes in with "at least it doesn't take itself so seriously," let's remember there's a difference between laughing WITH a movie and laughing AT a movie.

The small ray of hope being that it's not as terrible as Justice League.  Not that this is saying much.

Future/SequelsShazam!, also set in the DCEU, will be out in a few months.  After that it's a long wait until Wonder Woman 1984.  Aquaman 2?  It's kind of early to tell, but the movie's been doing well in China, and those wanting a completely brainless superhero romp will be all over this one.


What I Liked: After a really clunky beginning there are some great action sequences.  Everything after Venom shows up is much better than the 15 minutes that try (and fail) to set up the story.  The fight between Venom and Riot near the end is very good.

What I Didn't Like: That beginning part.  It feels like they weren't sure what kind of movie they were making.  Horror?  Action?  Science fiction?  Going more for the "body horror" elements would have improved the film, and the spaceship/alien invasion subplot could have been dispensed with altogether.

As clunky as the beginning is, the dialogue throughout the movie is by far the worst part.  None of the actors seem at ease with what they're saying, and a couple of lines are unintentionally hilarious.

Future/Sequels: There are plans for a sequel with Woody Harrelson's Carnage in a bigger role.  I think that after setting up the general premise, a sequel is bound to be better.  Harrelson would also make a great villain.  Last I heard, Sony's next comic-based movie will be Morbius the Living Vampire, with Jared Leto as Morbius.  There may be some crossover between Venom and Morbius.

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1993
Some Other Movies From 1995
Some Other Movies From 1997
Some Other Movies From 1999

"China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know" by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom (2010)

"There are many factors that make it extremely unlikely that the PRC with use military force to try to achieve the long-held goal of "reunification," which remains a stated desire of both the CCP and the Nationalist Party but is not even an aim of the organizations with which the latter now has to share power in Taiwan.  The CCP still clings to the idea that there is only "one China" (a notion that the political separation of Taiwan from the Mainland is a temporary aberration rather than a permanent state of affairs), but it is hard to see how it would end up acting to change reunification from a far-off dream to an immediate reality."

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom is a Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine.  He has written several books on the subject of modern China.

And if any book ever struck me as an impulse buy from someone's trip through an airport, this book is it.  I can just see a man or women on their way to China for the first time, purchasing this in one of those tiny bookshops on the way to a departure gate.  "It's really happening!" I can imagine them thinking, "I'm going to China!  I need a book to help me get ready!"

Which is fine, I suppose.  You've got to start somewhere, and China in the 21st Century is a decent place to start.  Although it's more of a series of questions and answers than an actual book, with its goal being an enhanced understanding of US-China relations.  It definitely completes the task it sets out for itself, and for this reason I would recommend it.

My only complaint is that the author occasionally uses some strange sentence structures.  There were a couple places where I expected a sentence to continue on, but no, it just stopped where it was, dead in its tracks.  This is, I suppose, another way of saying that the author's prose doesn't quite flow as well as it could, and that some of his word choices are questionable.  This awkwardness of language doesn't occur often, but in a book this short it's very noticeable.

Just the same, if you're on your way to China for the first time I suggest picking this one up.  I'm sure you'll see it in one of those bookshops, somewhere between here, there and Beijing.

Related Entries:

"On China" by Henry Kissinger (2011)
"American Sniper" by Chris Kyle (2012)
"How Google Works" by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg (2014)
"Misbehaving" by Richard H. Thaler (2015)

2019年4月23日 星期二

"On China" by Henry Kissinger (2011)

"MAO: [T]here are now some newspaper reports that describe relations between us two as being very bad.  Perhaps you should let them in on the story a bit and maybe brief them.

KISSINGER: On both sides.  They hear some of it in Peking.

MAO: But that is not from us.  Those foreigners give that briefing."

In case you're either very young or have been living under a rock for the past few decades, Henry Kissinger served as National Security Adviser and later Secretary of State under the Nixon and Ford administrations.  After Ford he served as an adviser to more recent Presidents.  One of the great achievements of his time with Nixon was the US policy of "rapprochement" with China, which was part of a larger geopolitical strategy to isolate the Soviet Union.

In On China Kissinger discusses the later imperial history of China, it's opening to the West, and the challenge communist China poses to both the United States and the world order in the early years of the 21st century.  This book ends with the Obama administration and the uncertainty triggered by the financial crisis of 2008.

As someone who's read my share of books on China, I feel confident in saying that Kissinger offers a number of timely insights on the topic of US-China relations, and in the concluding chapters he goes some distance toward outlining the future of this relationship.  Are the two superpowers destined to clash?  Are the political systems and the ideologies driving these political systems inherently incompatible?  Can they give each other enough breathing room to coexist?  The possible answers to these questions are essentially Kissinger's reason for writing On China, and I'd have to say that he does a masterful job of combining specific cultural traits, historical animosities, and geopolitical realities into an overarching narrative that somehow arrives - almost seamlessly - at its destination.

And really, who better to write such a book?  The guy had decades of experience dealing with China, most of it operating at very high levels of diplomacy.  He knew Chairmans Mao, Jhou, Deng, Jiang and Hu personally, and this book is peppered with interesting descriptions of their personalities.  He even manages to simplify the Korean War to some extent - to the point where it almost makes sense.

I think any student of US-China relations should read this book.  Be warned, however, that it's dense.  I'm certain that by the end you'll have a much fuller understanding of current events, not just in China but in the world at large.

Related Entries:

"American Sniper" by Chris Kyle (2012)
"How Google Works" by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg (2014)
"Misbehaving" by Richard H. Thaler (2015)
"China Rich Girlfriend" by Kevin Kwan (2015)

2019年4月13日 星期六

Some Other Movies From 1993

1993 was the year I graduated high school.  I hated high school.  I spent most of that year waiting for it to be June so I could get the fuck out of there.

The top 5 movies of 1993 were Jurassic Park, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Fugitive, Schindler's List and The Firm.  All of these are still good movies, though I think Jurassic Park and Mrs. Doubtfire were overrated at the time.

Other good movies from that year were Philadelphia, The Piano, Groundhog Day, The Crying Game, Army of Darkness, Falling Down, This Boy's Life, Dave, Cliffhanger, What's Love Got to Do with It, Rising Sun, The Wedding Banquet, The Man Without a Face, Kalifornia, True Romance, Demolition Man (good year for Stallone), Rudy, The Remains of the Day, Carlito's Way, The Pelican Brief and the cult classic Tombstone.

My nominee for Worst Picture would be Leprechaun (see below).

Some Good Ones

1. Aspen Extreme

Welcome to 1993.  Even the rich people don't have cell phones, and the guy who wants to be a writer types his stories on an actual typewriter.  

In Aspen Extreme, two guys from Detroit head to Aspen to become ski instructors.  Spoiler Alert: by the end of the movie Our hero has to choose between the "worldly" hot one and the "pure-hearted" hot one.  And if you didn't see that coming from a mile away you just haven't seen enough movies.  

This isn't saying all that much, but as far as ski movies go this is the best I've ever seen.

2. Deadfall

Film noir starring Michael Biehn (!) and James Coburn, with Nicolas Cage chewing scenery throughout.  There's even a scene with Biehn's Navy SEALs costar Charlie Sheen near the end.  Having Cage in such a minor role seems strange now, but 1993 was long before movies like Leaving Las Vegas and Con Air made him a much bigger star.  It also helped that the director is his brother

Critics DESPISED this movie.  I have no idea why.

Fun Fact: Arsenal, a kind of sequel to this movie, was released in 2017 to similar critical disdain.

3. Dazed and Confused

As it turns out I'd seen this one before, but only remembered watching it about halfway through.  It's a pleasant enough 1.5 hours, though you probably won't remember any of the plot points once it's over.  High school in the mid 70s: that's about it.

And man, some of the more famous actors in this movie look so young here.  Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey.  They all look incredibly NOT-old.

Fun Fact #1: Vince Vaughn was almost cast in Ben Affleck's role.

Fun Fact #2: Richard Linklater's later film Everybody Wants Some! is a "spiritual sequel" to this movie.  I like Everybody Wants Some! more than Dazed and Confused.

4. Fire in the Sky

I've seen a whole lotta movies with Robert Patrick, but this is the only one where he seems like an authentic human being.

Aside from him, this story of alien abduction features D.B. "Cutting Edge" Sweeney, Peter "Aspen Extreme" Berg and several others.  It's surprisingly well done, and in some respects resembles a courtroom drama.

Whoever did the creature effects for this movie deserved an Academy Award.  That part on the spaceship is FREAKY.

5. The Age of Innocence

It's worth noting that Martin Scorsese would direct Daniel Day-Lewis again in 2002 for Gangs of New York.  Both movies are set in 1870s New York.  But whereas Gangs of New York is an exercise in gangster manliness, The Age of Innocence is more of a slow burn.

I've never been a big fan of Edith Wharton's fiction, but this adaptation was clearly a labor of love for all concerned.  An attention to detail is evident throughout, and Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder are all excellent in their respective roles.  I'd put it up there Scorsese's best movies.

6. Frank Zappa: BBC Documentary

I'm not a huge Zappa fan, though I do think he was an amazing guitar player.  This hour-long documentary skips over a lot of stuff, but it's a good introduction to his music.  He passed away a short time after it was first aired.

Not Excellent, Not Terrible, They Just Were

1. The Meteor Man

Robert Townsend stars as a schoolteacher granted super powers after being struck by a meteor.  Meteor Man could have said a lot more about life in the inner-city, but instead it wastes a lot of time poking fun at superhero tropes.  This... and the ending.  The ending just goes on and on and on.

Fun Fact: Aside from all the R&B legends, Don Cheadle is in this film too.

2. The Dark Half

George Romero directed this film adaptation of one of Stephen King's more masturbatory novels.  I get why Timothy Hutton signed on as lead - it's one of those roles that actors dream of - but The Dark Half grows increasingly implausible after the first half.  Michael Rooker is also the worst police officer in the history of police officers.

5. Mad Dog and Glory

The characters in this movie aren't that interesting, though David Caruso does a lot with a minor role.  Robert De Niro stars as a cop, with Uma Thurman as a woman lent to him by a gangster.  It enjoys a following comparable to Midnight Run, though I thought it was just ok.

Some Bad Ones

1. The Good Son

Wait... what?  What kind of parents would build a treehouse like THAT for their children?  What's the thinking there?  Parenting via natural selection?  I know it was the ex-neighbor's house, but still...

In The Good Son Elijah Wood faces off against kid psychopath Macaulay Culkin.  It was 1993, so Culkin was riding high after the success of the Home Alone movies.  Elmer Bernstein's score all but overwhelms the movie, and by the end you wonder how the parents in this movie aren't on some kind of CPS watchlist.

2. Indecent Proposal

"Show, don't tell."  But this movie tells way too much, way too early.  There's an involved backstory about how Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson almost lose their house, all without establishing any chemistry between them.  Sure, they have sex on the kitchen floor, but that's no evidence of chemistry.

It was 1993, so Harrelson had just ended his run on Cheers.  It was also the year after he did White Men Can't Jump and the year before Natural Born Killers.  Demi Moore was enjoying newfound critical respect after A Few Good Men, and the disaster that was Striptease was still several years in the future.  Robert Redford wasn't doing much in the early 90s, but by then his career was beyond reproach anyway.

Redford, by the way, is characteristically great in this movie.  Even so, I'm just not buying that ending.  People don't forgive - or forget - that easily.

3. Surf Ninjas

This movie is/was for kids, so there's no need to overanalyze it.  The most famous people in it are Rob Schneider and Leslie Nielson, though they're not the stars.  

One of the kids playing one of the surf ninjas has a Game Gear.  Remember those?  Oh, and halfway through the movie Leslie Nielson proudly announces he has "call waiting."  Remember that?  Yeah, 1993 was a while ago.

4. Les Visiteurs

Well, it's very French.  Jean Reno stars as a knight transported to the modern day during the middle ages.  For all I know French people find this movie hilarious, but it wasn't doing anything for me.  

Wikipedia also tells me it was a huge hit in France.  They made a sequel in 1998, and an American remake (again starring Jean Reno) in 2001.

Horror Cheese

1. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

The final Friday?  Really?  You sure about that?

In this one the series gets more supernatural, with a liberal helping of titties and gore.  The weakest point is probably the soundtrack, which if done better could have added a lot to the movie.  Fans of the series complain that this movie diminished Jason Voorhees in some respects, and I'd agree that yes, it's very anticlimactic in both its explanation of Voorhees origins and his ultimate demise.

Fun Fact: The Necronomicon from the Evil Dead movies makes an appearance in this film.  The connection between Jason and the book of the dead is never explained, but it's still cool to see it in this movie and think about what that connection might be.

One So Bad It Makes Jason Goes to Hell Look Like The Godfather

1. Leprechaun

While I was watching the opening credits I couldn't help but marvel at the fact that there were people who actually wanted to take credit for this movie.  Are things so desperate in Hollywood?  So desperate that you'd want to take credit for part of Leprechaun?  No need to answer that, I know the answer.

To my surprise Jennifer Aniston is in this movie.  It was a year before Friends, so at that point she wasn't famous.  Warwick Davis, who started his film career as an Ewok and went on to star in Willow, stars as the leprechaun.  Watching Leprechaun for the first time in 2019, I can only wonder at the fickle nature of the film industry.

But hey, if you want to see a guy killed with a pogo stick this is the movie for you.

Whoever Says Violence Doesn't Solve Problems Hasn't Kicked Other People in the Head Enough Times

1. Back in Action

Billy Blanks, remember him?  Kind of like the black Jean Claude Van-Damme.  But unlike JCVD he couldn't act for shit.  The actress that plays his sister is fine though, so there's that.

Oh, and R.I.P. Roddy Piper.  He costars with Blanks.  He does a lot of wrestling moves throughout, but Back in Action is nowhere near as good as They Live.  Not even close.

Fun Fact #1: Blanks later fused his Tae-Bo workout program with Christianity, adding a spiritual component to... whatever that was supposed to be.  He now lives in Japan with his Japanese wife.

Fun Fact #2: Roddy Piper (a.k.a. Roderick George Toombs) was about as Canadian as they come.  His father was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and he served in the Canadian Army.  He was also from Saskatchewan.

Fun Fact #3: Aside from his wrestling thing Piper was proficient in boxing and had a black belt in Judo.

Fun Fact #4: This movie doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry.  I suppose I could write one, but I like the idea of it not having one.  The faithful, few though they may be, will find this movie if and when they're ready.  


1. The Night Train

Ashlyn Gere drives a car down a highway and remembers various sexual encounters.  At the end of her drive she has - you guessed it - another sexual encounter.  Watching this in 2019, I couldn't help but wonder how many of the actresses appearing in this movie have their original breast implants, or whether said breast implants were later removed for safety reasons.

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2019年4月10日 星期三

"Choke" by Chuck Palahniuk (2001)

"Just so you know, what you're reading is the complete and relentless story of an addict."

I'm pretty familiar with Chuck Palahniuk.  I've read Fight Club, I've read Invisible Monsters, and now Choke.  He's well known for his "transgressional fiction," and he's particularly well known in the Pacific Northwest, where I grew up.

The protagonist of Choke is both a sex addict and employee of a colonial theme park.  As a way of paying for his mother's hospitalization, he goes to restaurants and pretends (?) to choke on food.  After these episodes of choking he receives financial support from the people who've "saved" him.

Like Palahniuk's other novels Choke is very short, and if you find it particularly interesting you could probably finish it in an afternoon.  It's written in Palahniuk's spare, minimalistic style, and little beyond the characters' inner thoughts are described.  It's very much the direction J.G. Ballard was headed in around the time he wrote Crash, though I think Ballard is a much better writer.

Which is not to say that Choke is bad by any means.  It's actually my favorite of the Palahniuk novels I've read so far, easily eclipsing both Fight Club and Invisible Monsters.  It's also the most simultaneously depressing and funny thing I've read in a while.

I do think, however, that Fight Club has more to say about Western society, again in that J.G. Ballard/Tom DeLillo fashion that we don't see much of now.  But Choke seemed more heartfelt to me, and ultimately more human.  Sure, Fight Club is more quotable, but Choke has more emotion going for it.

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2019年4月9日 星期二

"Purity" by Jonathan Franzen (2015)

"He put his glasses back on and stared straight ahead.  A ghost was in the room with them.  'It's not possible,' he said.  'I don't have a daughter, and even if I somehow did, what are the chances of her living under my roof?"

According to Wikipedia, Jonathan Franzen's most famous novels are The Corrections and Freedom, neither of which I've read.  He was close to winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and he's been referred to as a "great American novelist" by at least one major news outlet.  Purity is his most recent book, and was released five years after Freedom.

In Purity, a young woman goes in search of a father she's never known.  She does so over the objections of her eccentric mother, who's cut all ties with their shared past.  In her search the young woman crosses paths with a number of other people, all of whom have knowledge of her missing parent.

It starts out well, and I liked the main character from the beginning.  Her struggles with student debt and sexual insecurity make her very accessible, even if her neuroses seem a bit over the top at times.  By the end of the novel I was happy she'd found some kind of closure in her life, though certain elements of her sexuality seemed a bit too dictated by the story the author wanted to tell.

Where this book struggles is in the middle, with all of the other characters.  Every woman in this book is a manipulative neurotic, and every man is a cowardly intellectual.  After a while it began to seem like they were all doppelgangers for one another.  As a reader I wanted to like them, but at times they seemed pointlessly eccentric, as if the author made them that way for the sake of stringing the plot along.  I get that he was making some point about the male-female dialectic, and perhaps also how younger generations might transcend this dialectic, but including female characters who weren't manipulative neurotics and male characters who weren't cowardly intellectuals would have given this story a lot more depth.

And then there's the ending.  Kind of a let down if you ask me.  All of that personal drama just to end like that.  It was very frustrating.  And Purity isn't short either.

Would I recommend this book?  No, not really.  I just don't think it's worth the effort.  But would I read another book by Jonathan Franzen?  Yes, I think I would.  There's enough in Purity to make me curious about his more famous efforts, and I think those other novels are probably much better.

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