2020年3月27日 星期五

"The Bridge Over the Neroch and Other Works" by Leonid Tsypkin (2012)


"Fedorkin bent close to the doorpost - besides the same unceasing drone behind the door, the old lady's voice could be distinctly heard as if she were talking on the telephone, which made sense since her telephone was located in the foyer by the door - she was going on and on, without pausing in her expressionless, monotonous, o-ing way of speaking, as if she were reading a lecture."

Leonid Tsypkin was a doctor and writer living in the Soviet Union up until the early 80s.  His style of writing could be described as modernistic, and he incorporated a lot of his Jewish heritage into his fiction.

In "The Bridge Over the Neroch" a man contemplates his life, his heritage, and the fate of Russia following the Nazi occupation.  In tone this story/novella reminded me a lot of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, and I liked it about as much.  The paragraphs that comprise this story take up pages and pages of small print, and it requires a lot of concentration on the reader's part.

In "Norartakir" a Russian man and wife visit Armenia (I think).  They experience several misadventures while in that country, and eventually return to Russia, where their son plans on moving out.  Where "The Bridge Over the Neroch" looks back toward WWII, this story looks back toward the Crucifiction.  My favorite parts of this story were the ironic observations on how Jesus' doctrines were interpreted by later generations.

Several other stories close out this collection, but none of them are really long enough to bear commenting upon.  Tsypkin was an interesting writer, but I found his continual failure to arrive at any kind of point/conclusion frustrating in the extreme.  I did like the last story in this collection, "The Cockroaches," but it only takes up a small fraction of this book.

Related Entries:

"The Sea, the Sea" by Iris Murdoch (1978)
"The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene (1940)
"Stamboul Train" by Graham Green (1932)
"Suttree" by Cormac McCarthy (1979)

2020年3月19日 星期四

"The Sea, the Sea" by Iris Murdoch (1978)


"We are such inward secret creatures, that inwardness is the most amazing thing about us, even more amazing than our reason.  But we cannot just walk into the cavern and look around.  Most of what we think we know about our minds is pseudo-knowledge.  We are all such shocking poseurs, so good at inflating the importance of what we think we value."

Iris Murdoch was a British novelist and philosopher.  She was raised in Ireland and studied philosophy at Cambridge.  She was awarded the Booker Prize for The Sea, the Sea during the year of its publication.

In the novel James Arrowby, retired actor and director, moves to a small village in the vicinity of London.  Tired of previous amorous adventures and wanting to pursue a more contemplative mode of existence, he nevertheless seeks romance with an old flame.  His misunderstandings with various women inform much of the plot, and throughout the novel his idealizations of these women and their circumstances contend with the larger social reality he inhabits.

The book starts out well even if it's on the slow side.  I liked the meditative nature of the protagonist's personality and his way of recollecting younger episodes in his life.  He's arrogant and egotistical, but this seems a given when one understands his career on the stage up to that point.

What I had trouble with was the turning point which comes about 1/4 of the way into the book.  After this point the protagonist seems to exceed himself, and his behavior becomes erratic in the extreme.  His behavior, in other words, seems very inconsistent, and the other characters' behavior exhibits this same inconsistency as the book progresses.  You would think character A would never do action B because that is one of his defining traits, but no, character A goes right ahead and does action B because... reasons.

After a certain point this aspect of the book makes the plot seem arbitrary.  The characters don't act in accordance with the way they're introduced, and as a result everything starts to seem very random.  It's as if the author was just smashing this cast of characters into an established plot, regardless of whether their roles in this plot are in harmony with what they as people would actually do.

With this in mind no, I wouldn't recommend The Sea, the Sea.  It's just too frustrating to bother with.  Yes, it won the Booker Prize, and yes, a lot of people like it, but it either lacks a feel for its characters, or the author does a bad job of explaining why her characters do what they do - I really can't decide which it is.

Related Entries:

"The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene (1940)
"Stamboul Train" by Graham Green (1932)
"Suttree" by Cormac McCarthy (1979)
"Cotton" (a.k.a. "The Ballad of Lee Cotton") by Christopher Wilson (2005)

2020年3月15日 星期日

Some Other Movies From 1977 (2)

For further background on the year in film please refer to the Some Other Movies From 1977 entry.

That said, I always feel like 1977 was the beginning of the modern movie.  You had Star Wars, you had Close Encounters of the Third Kind, you had Smokey and the Bandit.  Sure, a lot of the special effects used in these movies aren't all that special by modern standards, but directors were learning how to trim the fat off their movies; how to make them less talky.  Not every movie from 1977 exemplifies this trend - especially not most of the movies below, which were chosen for their relative obscurity - but we were getting there, slowly but surely.

Some things that happened in 1977:

  • The world's first all-in-one computer, the Commodore PET, was released.
  • It snowed in Miami, Florida.  This was the only time that ever happened.
  • Jimmy Carter was elected President of the U.S.
  • Fleetwood Mac released Rumors, still their most famous album.
  • Uranus' rings were discovered.
  • The Cambodian-Vietnamese War erupted.
  • The first Chuck E. Cheese pizza restaurant opened in California.
  • Star Wars opened in theaters across the U.S.  People then set about losing their minds.
  • Spain held its first democratic elections in a long, long time.
  • NASA launched Voyager 2.
  • The Atari 2600 was released.
  • Billy Joel released The Stranger (great album).
  • The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack became the best selling album up to that point.
  • Djibouti and Vietnam joined the United Nations.
Linked entries below can be viewed in their entirety on YouTube.




Excellent


1. The Man Who Loved Women

No, not the Burt Reynolds version.  That came six years later.  This is the original French version.

With as many French movies as I've seen, I'm still not that familiar with Francois Truffaut.  I've seen Day for Night, perhaps his most celebrated film, but that's it.

The Man Who Loved Women details the exploits of a womanizer, and while I'm not proud to say it, I did relate to this character a lot.  Truffaut paints a vivid picture of the womanizer's dilemma, and I found myself liking this film a lot more than Day for Night.

This movie, however, just wouldn't work in 2020.  Nowadays that would be called stalking, and that would be bad.  Perhaps yesterday's romanticism is grounds for today's restraining order?

2. The Hobbit

If you want my unprofessional opinion, this animated version of Tolkein's first book is much better than Peter Jackson's later, bloated attempt.  It tells the same story, but in a way that kids can relate to.  Oh, and the music's great too.

Like Wizards (below), a nice pipe might add to your enjoyment of this movie.  But unlike Wizards, I had no trouble either concentrating upon or enjoying this one.

Fun Fact 1: This was an American-Japanese production.  The Japanese end of things was handled by Topcraft, a studio that eventually morphed into Studio Ghibli, best known for Sprited Away.

Fun Fact 2: In 1978 Ralph Baksi (see Wizards below) released his Lord of the Rings.  After the release of that movie Rankin/Bass released an adaptation of The Return of the King on television.  The Return of the King, even less reliant on American artist Lester Abrams' original designs, looks even more like a Studio Ghibli production.


Familiar with Thackeray's Vanity Fair?  If so, you'll appreciate this movie's worldly cynicism.  It's not sparing in its honesty, and there are neither heroes nor villains populating the story it tells.

In Joseph Andrews Peter Firth.stars as a footman to a wealthy woman.  It was the.film Tony Richardson directed after his firing from Mahogany (see Some Other Movies From 1975 (2)) and it's much, much better than that earlier effort.  It's also genuinely funny, and moreover funny in a way that would have made John Waters proud.

4. The Man with No Name

BBC documentary on Clint Eastwood.  It asks a lot of the questions people were asking about Eastwood at the time.  Is he a good actor?  Is he a good director?  Do his films promote violence?  Do his films have an agenda?  By way of context, in 77 The Gauntlet would hit theaters (a very overlooked movie), and The Outlaw Josey Wales was released the year before.




Some Good Ones


1. Slap Shot

The script had some issues, but this story of a hockey team's final season is one of the better sports movies.  Paul Newman is engaging as the team's star player/coach, and the rest of the cast is good too.  It's easy to understand why this movie has such a following - and not only because of Canadians.

Fun Fact 1: Towards the end of this movie you can see Deep Throat on the theater's marquee.

Fun Fact 2: George Roy Hill, the director of this movie, also directed Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting.

Fun Fact 3: This movie's screenwriter went on to write Coming Home and Straight Time, two other good movies.

2. The Ascent

Black and white Russian movie about soldiers taken captive by the Nazis during World War II.  It's as depressing as you'd expect.  

I recommend watching this on a sunny day.  That way, when it's over, you can go outside, get some sunshine, and think happier thoughts.

As far as Russian movies about WWII go, I didn't find this one as devastating as 1985's Come and See.  The production values in this movie were also a lot lower.  It's a good movie if you're looking for that introspective, Crime and Punishment vibe, and the ending will definitely stay with you, but it requires a certain frame of mind to "enjoy"... if enjoy is the right word.

3. Wizards

A good wizard contends with an evil wizard in a post-apocalyptic future.

And hey, it's Ralph Bakshi, remember him?  By 1977 he'd established himself as an adult-oriented alternative to Disney, and he enjoyed quite a cult following.

I think you'd want to smoke some of your best before approaching this one.  I went into it stone cold sober, and while I could kind of follow what was going on, I had a lot of trouble concentrating on it.  A good buzz would have evened things out nicely.

4. That Obscure Object of Desire

A rich man becomes obsessed with a much younger woman.  This was director Luis Bunuel's last movie, ending a career in French cinema which lasted decades.  The only thing stopping me from placing this movie in the "Excellent" category is Bunuel's decision to cast two actresses in the same role.  It seems like an unnecessary flourish on the director's part.

Fun Fact 1: before Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina were both cast as the younger woman, Maria Schneider was set to play the part.  Her argument with the director prior to filming led him to the idea of casting two women in her place.

Fun Fact 2: Carole Bouquet would go on to star opposite Roger Moore in the Bond film For Your Eyes Only.

Fun Fact 3: Fernando Rey, who stars in this, appeared as the French drug dealer in The French Connection years before.

5. Night Journey

South Korean film about a young woman searching for happiness in a society dominated by men.  I liked it, but I'm not exactly sure what that "rape" scene was about.

6. The Making of Star Wars

"A full-fledged social phenomenon."  Yeah, in 1977 Star Wars was the biggest thing ever.  With all the sequels, prequels, technological advances and corporate takeovers that followed it's probably hard for younger viewers to realize how truly special this movie was, but this documentary does go some distance toward highlighting the scope of its achievement.

The interview with Carrie Fisher in the arcade was the best part of this film for me.  So young, so beautiful.  I haven't seen the most recent Star Wars movie, but the idea of a cgi version of her really bothers me.

7. Anyplace But Here

Bill Moyer takes a camera crew into a New York mental institution.  Some things have changed since the 70s, other things sure haven't.




Weirdness


1. House (Hausu)

Several young girls visit a spooky mansion in the countryside.  In some ways it feels like a Japanese response to the Italian giallo pictures, in other ways it's just weird in the way that the weirdest Japanese movies are weird.




Some Bad Ones


1. Gulliver's Travels

Maybe not bad, exactly, but there's nothing here for adults, and modern-day kids will find it boring.  Richard Harris stars in this talky mixture of live action and animation, and the results are
decidedly underwhelming.

Fun Fact: The director of this movie, Peter Hunt, started his directorial career with the Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service.


TV movie (later released theatrically) starring Nicholas Hammond as the famous web-slinger. I'd already seen this of course, but it had been decades. The soundtrack is memorably funky, but between bits of superheroism it moves at a glacial pace. 

Fun Fact 1: Stan Lee, who assisted in the production, regarded this show/movie as "juvenile."

Fun Fact 2: CBS canceled the show after only 13 episodes. Part of their reason for doing so was a desire not to appear as "the superhero network." Around the same time The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, Captain AmericaDoctor Strange, Shazam and Isis all received the live action treatment on CBS.

Fun Fact 3: They tried to revive this show in the 80s. The revival would have teamed Hammond's Spider-Man (in his black costume!) with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno's Incredible Hulk.




So Bad It's Good


6. The Shaolin Invincibles

In the descriptions of a lot of these Hong Kong movies I'm tempted to write "kung fu."  I mean really, who cares what the plot really was?  For what it'
s worth, two sisters orphaned during the Ching Dynasty seek revenge against the official that killed their family.  Is it a historical drama that continues to enrich our understanding of the time period and our awareness of human nature?  Nope.  Is there kung fu?  Yep.

The More You Know: At a certain point in this movie the bad guys square off against a pair of gorillas.  AND THE GORILLAS KNOW KUNG FU.  The boss gains control over the gorillas by kicking them in the top of their heads.  If you're ever threatened by a pair of kung fu gorillas, now you know what to do!




Erotica (Definitely not Porn)


1. Goodbye Emmanuelle

Emmanuelle and her sexually liberated friends bang each other in the Seychelles.  The star of this one is Sylvia Kristel, not Laura Gemser (the "black" Emmanuelle).  I find Laura Gemser much hotter, but Kristel is definitely a better actress.  This movie'ss also far more polished than anything in the "Black Emmanuelle" series.  It's still far from great, but the Seychelles sure are pretty.

Comparing the two versions of Emmanuelle, the original Emmanuelle and "Black Emmanuelle," I'd have to say the more solitary version played by Gemser makes a lot more sense to me.  Setting Emmanuelle among a group of like-minded libertines does make it easier to write a story around her, but their shared sexual obsessions makes them harder to relate to.

There's also something off-putting about Kristel's circle of friends.  While watching them recruit third and fourth-string sex partners I kept imagining myself in those situations.  People like that, in real life, would probably seem kind of gross.

Related Entries:

Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (11)
Some Other Movies From 1976 (2)
Some Other Movies From 1975 (2)
Upcoming Superhero Movies in the Order I Want to See Them 3

2020年3月12日 星期四

Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (11)

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.

Oh and by the way, I think I'll stop reviewing these movies as a separate genre at the end of 2020.  Endgame has come and gone, the MCU is now an established brand, and to be honest I think most of the best superhero movies are behind us.  2020 seems like a good time to move on to movies as a whole, rather than focusing so much on whatever Marvel Studios, Warner Bros., or Sony are putting out.


Superhero Movies On The Way

Aquaman 2 (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, December 2022 in the the States)

Black Panther II (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, May 2022 in the States)

The Flash (?) (Sometime in 2021?)

Thor: Love and Thunder (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, November 2021 in the States)

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

Spider-Man: Far From Home Sequel (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, July 2021 in the States)

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

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, May 2021 in the States)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, February 2021 in the States)

The Eternals (October 29 in Taiwan, November 6, 2020 in the States)

Venom 2 (Taiwan Release Date Unknown, October 2020 in the States)

Morbius, the Living Vampire (July 31, 2020 in both Taiwan and the States)

Wonder Woman 1984 (June 5, 2020 in both Taiwan and the States)

Black Widow (April 30, 2020 in Taiwan, May 2020 in the States)

The New Mutants (April 1 in Taiwan, April 3, 2020 in the States)



Bloodshot


What I Liked: A guy movie if there ever was one.  If you liked any of The Fast and the Furious franchise you'll probably like this one too.  It's a solid action film.  Oh, and the actress that co-stars alongside Vin Diesel is achingly beautiful.

What I Didn't Like: That "underwater kata" scene is unintentionally hilarious.  It doesn't quite derail the entire movie, but it seemed like an odd choice.  Why was that necessary for Guy Pearce's plot to work?

Future/Sequels: A Valiant Cinematic Universe?  There were plans for Bloodshot 2, two Harbinger movies, and then a movie featuring both Bloodshot and Harbinger.  As of now Harbinger has moved to Paramount Pictures, so all of that's uncertain.



Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)


What I Liked: The fight scenes are cool.  Ewan McGregor - in what little screen time this movie can afford him - makes a great villain.

What I Didn't Like: Everything else.  As a character Harley Quinn is a complete enigma - and not in an interesting way.  Huntress and Black Canary are far easier to relate to, but again, Harley Quinn's endless monologues push them into the background.  To top it off this movie is terribly, existentially boring.

Future/Sequels: Lord I hope not.  Wonder Woman 1984 is due this summer, and James Gunn's The Suicide Squad is due next year, but if the directors of those movies have any sense they'll distance their films from this one.


Joker


What I Liked: This movie is brilliant.  Joaquin Phoenix doesn't disappoint, and director Todd Philips more than rises to the occasion.  Just the way the title pops up in the beginning is masterful.  This is the kind of movie that sparks debates, avoids safe choices, and gets people riled up.  It's also a harrowing portrait of both one man's struggle with mental illness and the uncaring nature of the society he lives in.

What I Didn't Like: This is a small complaint, but I think this movie tried a bit too hard to tie the Joker into the larger Batman mythos.  Having Thomas Wayne in the movie was enough; there was no need to include other members of the Wayne family.

Future/Sequels: Please Joaquin Phoenix, DON'T do another one.  And don't appear in anything else Batman-related.  This one was just about perfect the way it was.  Just leave it there and it'll age like wine.


Spider-Man: Far From Home


What I Liked: Zendaya.  She was my favorite thing about this movie.  Her character holds the whole thing together.  Without MJ this movie wouldn't make a lot of sense.

Also Mysterio's illusions.  I don't think I'm giving any plot points away when I mention them.  His illusions are some of the more visually impressive things in the MCU.

And speaking Mysterio's illusions, the battle at the end is great.  Setting this battle in London was a good choice.

What I Didn't Like: You can see the plot twist coming from a mile away.  Maybe not calling him "Mysterio" right of the bat would have helped.

Future/Sequels: A third one seems likely.  Still no word as to whether this take on Spider-man will tie into Sony's other Spiderverse films.


X-Men: Dark Phoenix


Got bored and saw it the other day.  It was blazing hot outside, and there wasn't much else to do.

What I Liked: For one thing it wasn't nearly as bad as some of the reviews would lead you to believe.  It's definitely NOT great, but if you were able to sit through Apocalypse you'll be able to sit through this one.  It's actually not bad up until Jean visits the house, though after that point...

What I Didn't Like: At times this movie just doesn't make sense.  WHY do the cops show up after Jean visits that house?  And WHY do the two mutant factions fight in New York?  And WHY do the aliens insist on boarding the train from the other end, when they're clearly walking all along its length, thus making it incredibly easy for the X-Men to fight them off?  

To make things worse, Sophie Turner really can't carry a movie.  Watching her interact with some of the other, more talented cast members is truly cringeworthy.  As bad as this movie is, it's still better than X3and yet I found myself missing Famke Janssen throughout the film.

Most inexplicable of all is Magneto.  First he says revenge is wrong and that he's given up on it.  Then someone gets killed and he's all about revenge again.  Then he learns about the Phoenix Force and he's all about saving Jean.  This, and that magnetism/telekinesis battle between him and Jean is the most unintentionally hilarious thing I've seen in a long time.

Future/Sequels: As far as anyone knows, The New Mutants is still coming out next year.  After that it'll be a long wait before we see Marvel Studios' take on the same set of characters.


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.


Hellboy


What I Liked: Uh... it's more... British than the original?  That's good, right?  More interesting?

And uh... the fight with the giants is kind of cool.  Brief but cool.

This movie has the quirkiness that made the Mignola comics good.  Upping the gore was also a good idea.  Not sure about the humor though.  Seems like they should have doubled down on that part.  Making this movie funnier would have also differentiated it from the original.  As it is it strays too close to the Del Toro version.

What I Didn't Like: It's pretty bad right from the beginning.  For me the worst thing was the sequence explaining Hellboy's origins.  This part of the movie ventures so close to Del Toro's version that you can't help but compare this one to that one, and this one is always going to suffer by comparison.  They should have avoided that altogether.

Future/Sequels: Ha ha not likely.


Shazam!


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.




Aquaman

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.




Venom

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 1976 (2)
Comic Book Interlude 11
Upcoming Superhero Movies in the Order I Want to See Them 3
Some Other Movies from 2019

2020年3月11日 星期三

"Science Fiction Stories" edited by Edward Blishen (1988)


"'Not any more.  You came to Earth millions of years too soon.  While you were hiding in the ground waiting for intelligent life to develop here, it was dying back on your own world.'"

Science Fiction Stories is a collection of stories and excerpts aimed at children.  Very few of the stories involve actual scientific concepts, and both aliens and alien worlds feature in many of the stories.

Most of the stories in this collection aren't very good, and the excerpts are, in their way, even more frustrating because their inclusion alludes to larger, better works that weren't reprinted in their entirety.

The stories/excerpts in this collection are:

1. The Boy, the Dog and the Spaceship

A tiny alien arrives on Earth planning to work its way up the food chain via mind control.  Not very memorable.

2. Invisible in London

An excerpt from H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man.  It's good, but this excerpt is also the best part of the book.  After you'd read this, what would be the point of reading the novel?

3. The Dragon of Pendor

Ursula K. Le Guin.  I've never been a fan.  In this excerpt from The Wizard of Earthsea a young mage battles a family of dragons.  Is this really science fiction?

4. Bobo's Star

Far and away the worst story in this collection.  A young boy "raises" a star in a homemade antigravity chamber.  The "science" in this story makes absolutely no sense, and the end is weirdly depressing.

5. The Yellow Hands

An excerpt from The Master, a book I'd never heard of.  A couple kids make a discovery on a remote island.  Science fiction?

6. The Specimen

A boy is abducted by an alien in the English countryside.  It's not half bad until the last few pages.  Then - why would the boy make that kind of assumption?  What are the odds of his being correct?

7. Of Polymuf Stock

Reminded me a little of A Canticle for Leibowitz, though of course this amateurish story is a far cry from that seminal work of science fiction.  In a post-apocalyptic future a boy comes to terms with his genetic heritage.  I failed to understand why the treasure wasn't worth having, or how this caused the boy to reassess his earlier prejudice against the "polymufs."  

8. Hurled into Space

An excerpt from Jules Verne's From Earth to the Moon.  I love that book.  It's one of the weirdest, most strangely depressing things that Verne ever wrote.

9. Goodbye to the Moon

A moon-born child accompanies his father on a trip back to Earth.  It goes nowhere fast.

10. The Shot from the Moon

One of Arthur C. Clarke's contributions to this collection.  It's little more than an explanation of orbital mechanics.

11. The Fun They Had

Short story by Isaac Asimov.  Like "The Shot from the Moon" above, this isn't so much a story as an outline.  Two siblings discuss educational trends in the future.

12. A Fight Between Lizards at the Centre of the Earth

Excerpt from Journey to the Center of the Earth.  Those interested would be better served by either the novel itself or the Rick Wakeman album.

13. The Last Man Alive

Is "Bobo's Star" really the worst story in this collection?  Or is it "The Last Man Alive?"  Now that I think about it, I'm really not sure.  For some inexplicable reason a deadly gas kills most of the people on Earth (except for a guy at the north pole), and this last surviving human takes a series of trains to... somewhere, to do... something.  Apparently the author had a fondness for trains, and this story was his excuse to talk about that.

14. How We Were Tracked by a Tripod

Kid-friendly story about three boys pursued by an alien.  It could be seen as a continuation of Wells' War of the Worlds.  For travelers from another planet (galaxy?), the aliens' technology sure seems impractical.

15. The War of the Worlds (an extract)

H.G. Wells' most famous book.  Even this little sliver of it is much better than almost everything else in this collection.

16. Homecoming

Humans debate whether or not to return to Earth after living on a typhoon-ravaged planet.  For a better (although far from perfect) treatment of a similar topic, I recommend Arthur C. Clarke's Songs of Distant Earth.

17. All Summer in a Day

Ray Bradbury.  What can one say about Ray Bradbury?  On the one hand he was a good, if not great, writer.  On the other hand he seemed stuck in a genre he had little real interest in or appreciation for.  He was happy to jump up and say, "Me!  I'm one of the great American science fiction writers!" but one always got the feeling that he could've cared less about what his contemporaries were doing.

"All Summer in a Day" is one of his "tropical Venus" stories, and it would have flown in the face of any scientific understanding of Venus even back in the 50s.  I like The Illustrated Man, I enjoyed The Martian Chronicles, but I'm not a fan of his Venus stories.

18. Grenville's Planet

Two explorers unwittingly discover alien life.  The ending of this story is somewhat perplexing, and not in a good way.

19. The Fear Shouter

"The Fear Shouter."  Pretty good name for a band.  In this story a young man tries to survive on an alien world.  It's one of the better stories in this collection.  Apparently author Jay Williams had a brief career in American science fiction magazines.

20. The Wind from the Sun

Undoubtedly the best story here, and also by Arthur C. Clarke.  In "The Wind from the Sun" Clarke combines his love of space travel with his love of sailing, and even though the ending isn't great it still easily outshines all of the above stories.

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2020年3月2日 星期一

Some Other Movies From 1976 (2)


This is my second pass at 1976, so for background on the year in film I'll just refer you to the Some Other Movies From 1976 entry.

The other, other movies of that year aside, here are some things that happened in 1976:
  • The Lutz Family fled their house in Amityville (for details refer to The Amityville Horror and The Conjuring).
  • The Concorde embarked on its first commercial flight.
  • The British Parliament established direct rule over northern Ireland.
  • Patty Hearst was found guilty of robbery (for details refer to Patty Hearst).
  • Star Wars began filming in Tunisia.
  • Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started the Apple Computer Company.
  • Stevie Wonder released Songs in the Key of Life (great album).
  • Jimmy Carter replaced Gerald Ford as President of the United States.
  • Mao Zedong stepped down as Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party.
Linked titles can be watched in their entirety on YouTube.




Excellent

1. The Tenant

Like all Roman Polanski movies, I could probably write an essay on this one alone.

In The Tenant Polanski directs Polanski as a man hounded by eccentric neighbors.  It's the last film in his "apartment trilogy," and even though it's on the slow side DAMN that ending is great.  One of the best endings to any movie I've seen in a long time.  Oh, and if that doesn't sell you, (the beautiful) Isabelle Adjani is in this too.  Shelley Winters (!) brings up the rear as the apartment building's concierge.

In terms of movie history, this movie marks the end of Polanski's love affair with Hollywood.  Sure, there were the Manson Family murders which claimed the life of his wife Sharon Tate (see: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), but as 1977 approached he also faced conviction in the U.S. for the sexual assault of a 13-year old girl.  Soon after he absconded to Europe, where he directed the remainder of his vast filmography.

Should I hate Polanski for this?  There are of course only two opinions possible.  Whichever opinion is yours, I hope you won't judge me too harshly for liking The Tenant.




Delightfully Weird

1. God Told Me To

A detective investigates a mysterious individual after a sniper kills several people in New York.  The script was well written and the acting is solid.  Director Larry Cohen did this film a couple years after the slightly better remembered It's Alive, and it's obvious he had a clear idea of what this movie was supposed to be.

Fun Fact: Andy Kaufman - yes, that Andy Kaufman - appears in this for a few minutes.




Some Good Ones

1. In the Realm of the Senses

Japanese film about a prostitute who develops an erotic fixation on a married man.

When I think about sexually explicit dramas, two movies always pop into my head: Shortbus and Love.  In the former you have several people who can act but look incredibly uncomfortable having sex on camera, and in the latter you have people who can't act but manage to look fairly natural in the sex scenes.  I don't think either movie is very good.

In the Realm of the Senses is, compared to the above two films, much better, in that you have people who can act AND get it on convincingly in front of a camera.  My only complaint about this movie is that I really did get tired of the sex.  I wanted to know more about what the characters did outside their little room, and this film has very little of that.

Further Reading: On Wikipedia there's a list of unsimulated sex in film.  Looking for some truly strange movies to watch?  This article would be a good place to start.

2. Doctrine That Divides

BBC documentary about the reclusive Christian sect The (Exclusive) Brethren.  They believe in almost complete separation from the larger, sinful community of non-believers.  I'd never heard of them before, and this documentary asks a lot of interesting questions.




Some Bad Ones

1. Vigilante Force

Kris Kristofferson stars as a deputy cleaning up small town America.  It makes almost zero sense from start to finish.  If you look real close you can see Burt Reynold's future ex-wife Loni Anderson in the casino.

2. A Small Town in Texas

The Last Picture Show it ain't.  And how dumb is this guy?  Five years in prison, just back in town, and not only is he playing mind games with the local sheriff but he's also boosting envelopes full of money from crime scenes.  After that point I'd had enough.

3. The Town That Dreaded Sundown

I seem to be having bad luck with movies set in Texas this month.  Both this movie and (of course) A Small Town in Texas are set in Texas, and Vigilante Force might as well be set in Texas, too.

This movie is a great example of how NOT to tell a story.  The tone is all over the place, veering from creepy to humorous, and every few minutes an unnecessary voiceover interrupts the flow of the movie, offering information that does little to further the plot.  On top of all this there are unnecessary shots of policemen talking into radios, guys looking for car keys, and people reacting to things.  To make it still worse much of this film feels anachronistic.  It's as if it was shot during the previous decade, left on a shelf, and presented for public consumption in 1976.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown is often held up as an early example of the slasher genre, and while it does bring later films to mind (in particular Friday the 13th), it lacks the punch of those later, better movies.  I think modern critics reappraising this film might be doing so with a certain amount of wishful thinking, and perhaps also an ignorance of what made for a good horror movie in the late 1970s.

4. Dogs

For the "so bad it's good" version of this movie start watching at one hour eight minutes.  If the whole move was that bad I'd recommend it.  As it is the two biologist characters spend most of the first hour talking, and in the end they never really explain why the dogs are all turning on people, or what the "linear accelerator" has to do with anything.

The director of this terrible movie, Burt Brinckeroff, came from television.  The star, David McCallum, also came from television and can now be seen on NCIS.  He was Jill Ireland's husband before she marred Charles Bronson.  The most recognizable person in this movie, Linda Gray, would go on to appear in Dallas two years later.




Nope.

1. Bugsy Malone

Alan Parker directed this look at the life of a notorious gangster.  Thing is, all of the roles are played by kids.  It's a gimmicky move that speaks to the weakness of the script.  Scott Baio and Jodie Foster star.  It was Parker's first film, and a hit in the U.K., but a failure elsewhere.  Critics liked it, but then again critics also liked Pretty Baby, a movie I wish I could unsee.  The songs are thoroughly annoying.

1. Murder by Death

FUCK Peter Sellers and his "Charlie Chan" thing.  That's some racist shit right there.  I'll always love Dr. Strangelove, but this one had me reaching for the delete button.  I'm also not a Neil Simon fan, so no great loss.




So Bad It's Good

1. Cannonball!

"That guy's so mean I bet he has to jack off in the morning just to get his heart started!"

What does that even mean?

And no, this isn't Cannonball Run, though it is about the same famous cross-country road race.  David Carradine (NOT Burt Reynolds) stars alongside Robert "Revenge of the Nerds" Carradine and other people whose names I would have difficulty remembering.  There's even a cameo by Martin Scorsese and Sylvester Stallone.

The most memorable thing about this movie - far more memorable than the supporting cast members - is the dialogue, which is truly execrable.  Towards the end you begin to wonder how the actors managed to say half those lines with a straight face.

There was, incidentally, another movie about the same coast-to-coast race the same year.  This was The Gumball Rally, featuring an equally obscure group of young actors.

2.  Hera Pheri

Is it just me, or is there a completely inappropriate joke about gang rape in this movie?  India is/was a perplexing country.  I can't say I always understand it.

Even with that aside, this movie doesn't make a lot of sense after the first half.  Something about a long-lost father?  Or someone who's pretending to be someone else's father?  I'm really not sure.

In Hera Pheri Amitabh Bachnan and Vinod Khanna star as two con men out to strike it rich.  The songs are good and at least it never gets boring.  It's also 180 degrees removed from the more serious Sholay, which was reviewed in a previous entry.

3. Futureworld

Man, I love 70s movies about the future.  One of my favorite things ever.

In Futureworld Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner star as two reporters investigating the Delos Corporation's newest android resort.  It's the sequel to 1973's Westworld, and it's not nearly as good as its predecessor.  But what it lacks in coherence it amply makes up for in sheer cheesiness.  The first half kind of, sort of makes sense, but the second half feels like the scriptwriters were just throwing ideas in for the sake of weirdness.  Hologram samurai that materialize into reality for no perceptible reason?  Check.  Weird dream sequence that does nothing to advance the plot?  Check.  Odd, unresolved subplot involving a maintenance man and his pet android?  Check.

And what was the Delos Corporation's deal, exactly?  All that money to build an adult amusement park, and no thought for security?

Fun Fact 1: this movie features some very early cgi.

Fun Fact 2: Futureworld was the first modern American movie to be released in Mainland Chinese theaters.

4. God's Gun

Super low budget Italian-Israeli (!) Western featuring Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, Leif Garrett (!) and Sybil Danning.  This was one of Van Cleef's last two Westerns, both of which were filmed in Israel.

Fun Fact: Actor Jack Palance was of Ukranian descent.  His real name was Volodymyr Palahniuk.




Porn

1. The Farmer's Daughters

The first half of this movie is hilarious.  Sometimes intentionally so, sometimes not.  BUT I exit stage left where rape is implied.  Rape does nothing for me.  What happens after the convicts enter the farmer's house?  I'll never know.

But Since You Asked So Nicely, the Plot Up Until I Turned It Off: 1. A farmer and his wife have sex while the wife complains about pies she has in the oven.  2. Their three daughters (?) watch them have sex through the window.  3. A young boy (?) comes along, and tells the daughters that watching the older couple have sex is pointless because they only ever do it in one position.  4. The three young women take the boy to a greenhouse for group sex.  5. The girls spank and urinate upon (!) the boy to prevent him from informing their parents (?).  6.  The four begin having sex again, while the boy is inexplicably dry.  7. Three escaped convicts arrive in the area.  8. The three escaped convicts witness the four "frolicking."  9. The escaped convicts break into the house while the farmer and his wife are (still) having sex.  10. Two of the escaped convicts take the farmer hostage, while the third convict gets into bed with the farmer's wife.

Fun Fact 1: One of the three convicts is none other than Spalding Gray, who would go on to a notable career on stage.  His Monster in a Box monologue was adapted into a film.

Fun Fact 2: Gloria Leonard (not her real name), who appears as one of the farmer's daughters, went on to publish High Society magazine and pioneer the phone sex industry.  It's rumored she dated Norman Mailer in the 80s.

Fun Fact 3: Zebedy Colt (not his real name) who plays the "young boy" (even though he was well into middle age at the time), was actually gay.  He had a movie career stretching back to the 30s.

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1975 (2)
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (10)
Upcoming Superhero Movies in the Order I Want to See Them 3
Some Other Movies From 2019

Note: I've also been reading Robert McParland's Best Seller: A Century of America's Favorite Books.  According to this book the two biggest books of 1976 were Gore Vidal's 1876 and Leon Uris's Trinity, a book about the troubles in Northern Ireland.  Woodward and Bernstein also wrote The Final Days, a follow-up on their Watergate investigation, and Gail Sheeley's Passages, a book about different stages of life, was a big hit.  Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire and Clive Cussler's Raise the Titanic were also well received.