Saturday, November 27, 2021

On Jack London, Jason Bourne, Extinction, In the Heart of the Sea, Etc.

Eugene Burdick on Jack London - The collection The Best Short Stories of Jack London which was published by Ballantine Books opens with an Introduction by Eugene Burdick. It's a short but meaty Introduction. The last paragraph was particularly insightful. Burdick wrote: "London's world will never exist again. The web of law is too tightly drawn, science has made us too invulnerable to the way of nature. But it is precisely for this reason that London's stature as a writer has grown. He can take that lost and savage world and make it live and move for a modern reader. For this reason, if no other, he will not soon be forgotten. It is the mark of the master writer." Burdick's not wrong.

Jason Bourne (Movie) - This is the 5th installment in the Jason Bourne film series. I don't know why they went with the character's name as the title of the movie. If I'm going to make a guess, it was probably a marketing decision. Some marketing monkeys in a glitzy office somewhere did some surveys, collected data, combed through the data, made charts and graphs and came up with the conclusion that more people will watch the movie if it's titled Jason Bourne, not The Bourne Redundancy

As to the movie itself, it was good. But it was not great. It has all the ingredients from the previous films in the series. Herein lies the problem, methinks. The franchise has become repetitive. It was cool to watch someone say "Jesus Christ, that's Jason Bourne" the first time. To hear someone make the same quip four movies later borders on annoying. And I didn't like the plot of Jason Bourne. The writers were lazy. They brought nothing new to the table. Ah yes, I take that back, they introduced something new to the plot - something about a social media platform called Deep Dream. Unfortunately, this was a completely useless subplot. It accomplished nothing. It was so detached from the main plot that if they removed all the Deep Dream scenes on the cutting floor, Jason Bourne would've been the same movie.

Destination Io (Movie) - In his review of this sci-fi picture, Nick Allen gave it 2 stars out of a possible 5. I agree with his rating. He also described the film as "genre minimalism to a fault". I again agree. Io is a movie with great ideas. Unfortunately, with the way the film was handled, these ideas weren't fully brought out. This is one of those movies that make you feel like you should be amazed but you're not. There's this feeling that there's a great movie in it but you're not seeing it. The actors gave commendable performances. The cinematography was great. Unfortunately, the film felt empty. As empty as the dying Earth that served as the setting for the film.

Extinction (Movie) - Michael Pena is a very capable actor but he looks very out-of-place in this sci-fi drama about a civil war between humans and synthetics (robots). This movie is bad. There's a reason it was scheduled for a theatrical run only to be pulled out before it's scheduled release. From the film's Wikipedia page: "It received negative reviews, with criticism for its confused and weak storyline, character development and pacing.

People say Wikipedia is not a very reliable source. In this particular case, Wikipedia is 200% correct. Extinction is beyond confused. It's rife with head-scratching scenes. There's this scene where Pena's character and his wife were being pursued by men with guns. The pursuers were literally seconds behind them. When Pena and his wife reunite with their children on a train station platform, they took the time to stop and hug. Their pursuers were just seconds away from blasting them to pieces. Yet they still have the time for hugs and kisses. It was at this moment that I mulled turning the movie off. But it was already too late. The movie was minutes away from the ending.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Movie) - Adam Sandler is a great actor. That is if he's in a movie where he's actually required to act and not play the stereotyped character he has portrayed in most of his movies. His performance in The Meyerowitz Stories is one of his best, if not his best. The man held his ground against Dustin Hoffman. That says a lot. And of course, Sandler wouldn't have shined here without the help of a great cast which included Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson, and Grace Van Patten. I would also like to take this opportunity to plug Uncut Gems, another movie starring Adam Sandler, the capable thespian, not Adam Sandler, the goof from Grown Ups.

In the Heart of the Sea (Movie) - I found this movie very entertaining. In some ways, it reminded me of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. It has the ingredients of a good film - a capable director in Ron Howard, beautiful cinematography, fantastic soundtrack and an A-list cast comprised of Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland and Brendan Gleeson. So I was surprised to learn that the film bombed at the box-office. It had a production budget of $100 million. It only earned about $94 million. Oof. 

Those aside, there's a web of interesting stories behind the plot of the film. The movie's an adaptation of the book of the same name (In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex) by Nathaniel Philbrick. The book tells the true story of a whaling ship sunk by a whale in the South Pacific. The story of the Essex partly inspired Herman Melville in writing Moby Dick

To those interested in reading more about the Essex tragedy, a book you should read is The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale: First-Person Accounts. The book contains the accounts of Owen Chase (the ship's first mate) and Thomas Nickerson (the cabin boy).

The Commuter (Movie) - When you sit to watch a Liam Neeson movie, you are going to get one of three things - Neeson the serious actor, Neeson the voice actor in an animated movie, or Neeson the action star. 

In The Commuter, Neeson puts on his Taken hat, gets on a train, and beats everybody who gets in his way. I expected this to be another mindless action flick but it surpassed my expectations. I won't go as far as to call it an intelligent movie but it had parts that will have you thinking. It's not that hard to like a movie where the writers actually tried to make the plot smart, original and interesting. As a bonus, The Commuter has a good cast - Vera Farmiga, Sam Neill, and Patrick Wilson.

The Birth of Jesus Christ in History and Legend (Podcast/YouTube) - In this one-hour long podcast, professional skeptic Michael Shermer talks with the American historian and scholar Bart D. Ehrman. Ehrman is well-known for his scholarly books that focused on textual criticism of the New Testament. 

His most famous books are Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Forged, God's Problem, Jesus Interrupted, and How Jesus Became God. In this episode, Shermer and Ehrman cover a lot of topics like the historicity of Jesus Christ, reconciling the Gospel accounts, the probability of the resurrection, theodicy, the problem of evil, why Muslims and Jews do not believe in Jesus, and more.