In brief, AMAZING. If it’s playing anywhere near you, run and see it immediately. (It only has about two more days left in the USA.) If not, see it on DVD when it comes out.

This is a difficult movie to review because I don’t want to give too much away. It not only has several surprising plot twists, but also a lot of gorgeous imagery that’s wonderful to see for the first time, when you don’t know it’s coming. So I won’t say much about the plot.

Baahubali is an original historical fantasy that plays out like it was based on an ancient myth. Though it doesn’t have the complexity of character or moral ambiguity or intellectual heft of The Mahabharata or Ramayana, those epics and other the ancient tales of India clearly inspired its epic scope, archetypal themes, and magical imagery.

Classic tropes from Indian legend – the boon, the rivalry between princes with disastrous consequences, the humble but loving mother who adopts a son with a destiny, the mountain in the clouds, the war formation the enemy doesn’t expect, the woman wronged who demands bloody revenge – all make appearances here, and are given their proper, larger-than-life weight. The hero reminded me of Bhima in personality and physique, but a number of incidents were clearly inspired by the life of Krishna. For instance, the baby held above the waters echoes Vasudeva crossing the flooded Yamuna to hide away the infant Krishna.

The song I linked in the last post is a version of a hymn to Shiva, the Shiva Tandava Stotram, which is attributed to Ravana. I’ll quote some of it because even in translation (by P. R. Ramachander), you can feel its power and beauty and sensuality. (Remember how magnificent it sounded in Telegu.) That is the sort of ancient writing, still living today, which inspired this movie.

The celestial river agitatedly moving through his matted hair,
Which makes his head shine with those soft waves,
And his forehead shining like a brilliant fire
And the crescent of moon which is an ornament to his head,
Makes my mind love him each and every second.

He, with the shining lustrous gem on the hood
Of the serpent entwining his matted locks,
He, who is with his bride whose face is decorated
By the melting of red saffron kumkum,
And He who wears on his shoulder the hide
Of the elephant which was blind with ferociousness,
Makes my mind happy and contented.

A lot of the movie walks the fine line between magnificence and camp, but even when it’s ridiculous, it’s gloriously ridiculous. This is what you get when you put together an extremely talented director steeped in Indian myth, a brilliant cinematographer determined to tell the story visually so even people who don’t understand the dialogue will love it, and a totally committed cast, and have them all go for broke. Sometimes this results in "Did somebody order a LARGE HAM?” hamminess. More often, it captures the larger than life spirit of myth.

When a woman reveals her secret plan for revenge, a strong warrior staggers backward from the force of it. A desperate prayer to Shiva is answered with a boon that allows a dying woman to walk underwater. A man whose destiny is to climb the unclimbable mountain falls a thousand feet, only to rise to climb again. A sleeping warrior on a riverbank, her arm dangling in the water, is seduced by a prankster lover who swims through schools of bright fishes to paint a tattoo on her hand. If you ask why he was in the river and where he got a set of underwater paints, you’re missing the point.

A lot of the power of myth is in its lack of naturalism. Events occur and choices are made not because of the realistic motivations of ordinary humans, but because archetypal stories are playing out. If Baahubali had been more realistic and less theatrical, it wouldn’t be half as magical.

It was the most expensive movie ever made in India, and while the CGI is occasionally a little shaky, it uses its budget to the max. When CGI first came upon the scene, I thought it would be used to create fantastical worlds and creatures – sense of wonder brought to sight. And sometimes it is, but more often it’s used to create big, pointless, repetitive explosions. Baahubali uses CGI to create beauty and wonder. Just look at the waterfall and the city in the trailer. The entire movie is like that.

(Plus blood-splattering battle sequences and bull-wrestling. I’m glad they put the disclaimer that no animals were harmed and all animal falls are CGI at the start of the film rather than the end, because otherwise I’d have been concerned.)

Though I’ve emphasized huge! Epic! Grand! In my review, there’s also lots of nice little touches. Many of the characters have marks on their foreheads, like bindi, which helpfully identify them when you’re trying to distinguish Magnificent Warrior Dude # 1 from Magnificent Warrior Dude # 2. (This isn’t usually difficult. They all look quite different, and also have different Magnificent Moustaches. But given my general terrible facial recognition skills, I appreciated it.) The hero has a coiled cobra, the mark of Shiva. A pair of princes are marked with a sun and moon. There’s a complete throwaway bit, lasting maybe five seconds, where a pair of bull-masked dancers butt heads, that is SO COOL. I also enjoyed the funny-on-purpose moments.

My only real criticisms are political rather than artistic. There’s a song/dance number where the hero melts the warrior heroine's icy heart via stylized fighting and pulling off her clothes. It’s clearly meant to be about him breaking her emotional barriers with his sincerity, sensuality, and passion. But, well. Not to mention the unfortunate implications of what was actually intended, where she embraces her femininity and warmth… and then totally forgets how to fight so he can rescue her. And then there’s the attack of the dark-skinned barbarians, with its own set of unfortunate implications.

In a more enjoyable use of traditional gender roles (traditional in India), there is not one! Not two! But THREE awesome middle-aged moms! One is a loving mother raising a son she doesn’t quite understand. One is a total badass who rules a kingdom with cool authority after taking on a regency with a baby in one hand and a bloody dagger in the other. The third initially seems passive, turns out to be anything but, and has one of the best scenes in the entire movie. (For the benefit of my one reader who’s actually seen Baahubali: a handful of twigs.)

Be warned: Baahubali ends on a very dramatic TO BE CONTINUED!!! Well, it is subtitled “The Beginning.” But I ate up all three hours and would have happily sat through three more. The first hour, especially, is pure magic. I haven’t felt so transported in a movie theatre since the opening scenes of The Fellowship of the Rings.
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I will write a real review later, but in brief, this is a south Indian historical fantasy that plays like a myth transferred straight to the screen. It's absolutely gorgeous to look at, is full of moments straight out of legend, has a fantastic score and amazing action sequences, and also has a number of surprising plot twists.

It's only playing in the US for about two more days, and should be seen on the big screen. I haven't enjoyed a movie this much in literally years.

Trailer. (Not subtitled, but the movie has English subs.)

One of my favorite songs.
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rachelmanija: (FMA: Ed among the ignorant)
( May. 26th, 2015 09:43 am)
I was on vacation, and the one movie theatre in town had only two options. It was this, or Pitch Perfect 2. I have not seen Pitch Perfect 1. Also, I like George Clooney. Tomorrowland it was!

Oops.

If one of those old-school sf fans who keeps trying to make teenagers read Heinlein juveniles was hired to make a big-budget movie as propaganda for optimism, they might well have created Tomorrowland.

The plot, as best as I can summarize it without too many spoilers, is that a little boy tries to build a jetpack in 1964. He is encouraged by a mysterious little girl, Athena, who tells him to hope and keep trying and to believe in optimism and the future. Then the movie jumps ahead to Casey, a genius teenage girl who believes in hope and trying and optimism and the future. We know this because most of her dialogue early on consists of stuff like, “Keep trying! You can’t give up hope! Believe in the future! Cynicism is bad! Optimism is good!”

Then she gets a magic button that transports her to a cool future straight out of Analog circa 1950. (In one of the few actual cool bits in the movie, her physical self and surroundings in the current world continue to affect her self in the future; when she moves, both her selves move, so if she walks into the wall of her present-day house, she smacks into an invisible barrier in the future. Sadly, not much is made of this.)

And then she meets Athena, who proceeds to direct her on a plot coupon collecting adventure. There are random killer robots. And also George Clooney, the idealistic little boy, now grown up and bitter. Casey lectures him on optimism, in case you missed her speech the first time. But even if you missed it the first two times, it’s okay; she gives it about six more times. And if you miss those, you still won’t miss the speech, because other characters give it too. Repeatedly.

I liked the girl who played Athena. She had a surprising amount of technical skill. I did not like the girl who played Casey, but I think that was at least as much the fault of the script as the actress. Clooney had the advantage of playing the bitter guy, which meant he had the least number of paens to optimism.

I appreciated the message – you can change the world, but first you have to believe that change is possible; optimism is not stupidity and despair is not wisdom; the future might be pretty cool – but I did not appreciate that about 50% of the total dialogue consisted of explicitly stating the message. After about the twentieth time some character robotically recites something like, “Optimism is good! Despair is bad! Believe in a bright future!” I started feeling like I was in the Brave New World. Which is not at all what was intended.

Also, considering that the entire movie was about the idea that the future is cool… the future was not actually that cool. It had robots, jet packs, floating swimming pools, and floating trains. The swimming pools were neat, but by now kids have seen lots of movies depicting cool futures, and pretty much all of them have a more comprehensive and appealing vision of future coolness than “things that float.”

And also, the future was not actually the future. It was a pocket dimension. I think. It was explained several times, collecting additional plot holes and confusingness with each iteration.

This was by no means the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It had some good bits. And it was at least bad in a different way than big-budget kids’ movies are usually bad. I normally find Disney movies highly competent but slick. This was not slick. It was a hot mess. I suspect that there was so much interference from so many people, many of them probably trying to make sure the audience could follow it, that it ended up simultaneously convoluted and simplistic, over-explained and confusing. And while it was not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, it is very possibly the most anvillicious.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 13th, 2015 10:17 am)
I didn’t like it. Squee-harshing below.

For context, I entirely or mostly enjoyed both Captain America movies, The Avengers, and Iron Man I and III, and found both Thor movies and Iron Man II at least moderately amusing. So it’s not that I don’t like the franchise.

Spoilers! Squee-harshing! Tiny amount of squee regarding Jeremy Renner's biceps! Read more... )
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rachelmanija: (Books: old)
( Jun. 10th, 2014 10:55 am)
I am looking for a movie reference for something I'm writing that meets a few qualifications:

1. Romantic. Must strongly feature a heterosexual romance which is played straight, as it were. The movie can be dark/cynical/ironic in general, but the romance has to be taken seriously. I'm looking for the kind of grand, lush quality as Bride with White Hair or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

2. Not fantasy, not wuxia, not science fiction, and NOT A WAR MOVIE. Ideally, it would be contemporary, but historical might be OK.

3. Must feature action or violence, ideally involving guns. Ideally involving lots of guns. No movies where all the action is traditional martial arts.

4. Must have a noticeably awesome soundtrack. Ideally this would largely consist of songs rather than being orchestral. But not a musical. That is, the characters shouldn't be singing.

To get a sense of what I mean by this, most Quentin Tarantino movies, The Godfather, and Blade Runner fit the "noticeably awesome soundtrack" requirement. It's not that the songs themselves need to be brilliant works of heartbreaking genius, but they need to be used well/interestingly/memorably within the movie. People who liked the movie should include the awesomeness of the music in their post-movie discussion.

5. No old mainstream classics like Casablanca.

Optional but this would be nice: Protagonist should be Asian or Asian-American.

Also optional but nice: A quirky/indie/offbeat vibe.

I miiiight drop the "action" qualification for a quirky Asian movie that fits all the other criteria.

Tarantino has several movies that almost fit, and I might end up going with one of his if I don't find something better.

I feel like the movie I'm looking for was probably directed by Tsui Hark, Wong Kar-Wai, or John Woo, and the right one just isn't coming to mind. The main things I'm stuck on are that I can't recall which movies have good soundtracks or made interesting use of music. Did John Woo ever direct a movie where the actual main emotional relationship was a straight romance rather than a relationship between men?
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rachelmanija: (Princess Bride: Let me sum up)
( May. 12th, 2012 08:26 pm)
I am often underwhelmed by things fandom goes berserk over, but that was very, very enjoyable.

I expected to love Black Widow. Especially since several people, including my father, emailed me specifically to say, "Go see The Avengers. You'll love Black Widow." But I had not expected to love the Hulk, whom I had previously found quite boring. (In comics. I haven't seen any of the Hulk movies.)

Also, and this is largely due to his camaraderie with Black Widow, but I thought Hawkeye was the hottest of the men in the movie. I do love a man with a long-range weapon.

Feel free to put spoilers in comments.

PS. Regarding previews, Brave looks surprisingly good. Tim Burton is finally releasing Frankenweenie! And Sasha Baron Cohen continues to be anti-funny.
This weekend [personal profile] oyceter and I watched two of my favorite movies, both starring Brigitte Lin, Peking Opera Blues and The Bride With White Hair. I hadn't seen either in a while and both stuck in my memory more as a series of great scenes strung together than as coherent narratives.

I can't improve on Oyce's review of Peking Opera Blues, except to say that it has some of the best elaborately choreographed scenes of door-slamming farce I've ever seen, that it's poignant and sweet in addition to being funny and hot, and that I can't believe that I forgot about the all-girl drunken pajama party. Also, Brigitte Lin is hot.

Our copy had some hilariously mangled subtitles, of which my favorite was, "Here's a woman - knock her up!" (Lock her up. Later, someone says, "We have to rescue the men - they're knocked up at the police station!")

It's a genuinely great movie - a classic. It's out of print and has been for some time, but copies are still floating around for sale at what, given its quality, are reasonable prices: Peking Opera Blue (Digitally Remastered Edition) DVD.

In The Bride With White Hair, Brigitte Lin plays a girl who was raised by wolves and then is captured and enslaved by an evil cult. Later, she meets a really hot guy. It doesn't end well. Obviously, I identified a great deal with this storyline.

To give a slightly more detailed plot description, after being raised by wolves, Brigitte Lin is captured by the evil, incestuous male-female conjoined twins leading the evil cult, who force her to become a killing machine. She has no name, and is sad and lonely. Then she meets Leslie Cheung, who is the star pupil of a kung fu school. He romances her and gives her a name, but the male twin has his eye on her, and the female twin is jealous...

(Oyce and I had recently listened to the Johnny Cash song "Thirteen," which we think is about a genetically engineered super-soldier, and which goes, "Got the number thirteen tattooed cross my neck... I was born in the soul of misery/never had me a name./They just gave me this number when I was young.")

This isn't quite the great work of art that Peking Opera Blues is, but it's very engaging, entertaining, beautiful to look at (shot almost entirely in dreamy, blue-hazed soft-focus), packed with excellent action scenes, funny, bizarre, and sexy. And it has Brigitte Lin and Leslie Cheung as long-haired, melancholy, star-crossed lovers. She kills people with her hair, and there are long, loving shots of his finely muscled back and shoulders.

Oyce and I had both seen this before, but not for a while.

"There's this great sex scene under a waterfall," I reminded her.

"Oh yes! That was good."

We watch the sex scene under the waterfall. Some time passes.

"I didn't remember it being this long," I said. "Not that I'm complaining!"

"Or this detailed," said Oyce.

Some time later, I added, "I can't believe I forgot the underwater cunnilingus."

Much as Peking Opera Blues has a scene in which Brigitte Lin is whipped and tortured, but in which the emphasis is on her stoicism and bad-assery as much as her vulnerability, this has a scene in which the evil cultists won't let her leave unless she runs a gauntlet... over red-hot coals! (To my immense amusement, a young cultist shyly waves her a fond good-bye right before this starts.) She is beaten! And stoned! And falls into red-hot coals! And is burned, because she's not allowed to use her kung fu! But she triumphantly staggers to her feet... and stalks out to meet her lover, dressed in wedding red.

"Two movies in which Brigitte Lin is bad-ass and gets whipped and is bad-ass some more," I remarked. "It's like a film festival!"

"I'd go to that festival," said Oyce.

"We could call it Flog Fest."

A classic wuxia fantasy and tragic love story, with red-hot coals, evil cults, maniacally cackling conjoined twins, raised by wolves, decapitated head-cuddling, illusion-casting, tragic white hair, and Brigitte Lin and Leslie Cheung having sex under a waterfall. You know you want to see it.

The Bride with White Hair
rachelmanija: (FMA: Ed among the ignorant)
( Feb. 27th, 2010 09:48 am)
This awful movie was based on a popular book which I haven’t read due to lack of interest in the subject matter and apparent aim at a younger audience than usually appeals to me, The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan. I assume the books are at least somewhat better, because it would be nearly impossible for them to be worse.

Teenage Percy Jackson lives with his mom and his stinky, domineering, violent step-father. I got to the movie a bit late, and walked in just in time to catch Percy openly insulting the step-father. I was baffled by Percy’s demeanor, which in no way was that of a teenage boy mouthing off to an abusive adult, but was cocky and smug without a trace of underlying fear. At that point I thought that the writers and director were working solely from Hollywood clichés rather than attempting to reproduce even the suggestion of actual human behavior. Later I realized that while this was true, it was also true that Percy was a two-note character, and his notes were cocky and smug, with a side order of daddy issues. Imagine Jack from Lost recapping his most annoying moments and played by an 18-year-old who can’t act, and you’ll imagine Percy Jackson.

Percy finds out that he’s the son of Poseidon, and that his stereotypical and unfunny comic black sidekick is a satyr and his sworn protector. (Assigned by whom, given that Poseidon is out of the picture, is never explained.) Percy is attacked by a harpy, and he, the satyr, and his mom run off to a summer camp for the children of Greek gods. On the way, his mom is apparently killed before Percy’s eyes. Percy’s reaction to this is to look sullen and misty-eyed for about five seconds, then to smugly and cockily show off at camp for the next twenty minutes of screen time, without further reference to his mother who was just killed while he watched helplessly.

At the camp he meets the daughter of Athena, who is introduced as being an expert in strategy. (She does not ever strategize during the movie.) She spars with him, then informs him that she has strong feelings for him but she’s not sure if they’re positive or negative. If I could get past the issue of teenagers (and human beings) not talking like that, I’d still be hung up on the fact that to have strong feelings after one sparring match, the actors would need to have chemistry. They don’t.

Hades (character design ripped off from the Balrog in LOTR, except not actually cool-looking) appears and says he’s holding Percy’s not-dead mom hostage. Percy the Cocky and Smug, No-Personality Girl, and Stereotypical Black Dude go on a plot-coupon collecting mission to get her back.

I hated just about everything about this movie. It’s poorly directed, edited, acted, and written. The dialogue consists almost solely of unfunny Hollywood wisecracks. The action sequences lack suspense, the young actors are terrible and all look about twenty-eight, the old pros aren’t as good as they could be, there’s a total lack of genuine wit, and the characters are unlikable and don’t have clear motivations. Xena did this sort of story a lot better.

The magical elements are not well-explained. Once Percy gets to demi-god summer camp, he suddenly gains power over water, the power to heal, semi-invulnerability, and “I know kung fu” instant martial arts skills. It’s never clear whether he always had these abilities but wasn’t aware of them, or whether the summer camp is a magical space which catalyzed them in him, or what. He never struggles to access or use these abilities or seems surprised at them, which added to the lack of clarity of plotting and my lack of sympathy for him.

There’s a running joke in which Percy walks directly in front of archers lined up to shoot at targets. This might have worked if he was clearly doing it to mess with them. But since he just seems oblivious, it makes the hero look like a moron for the sake of a joke that isn’t even funny.

The worldbuilding is inconsistent. The characters sometimes know a lot about Greek mythology, but sometimes implausibly don’t so they can fail to figure out for ages that a bunch of statues of terrified people might indicate the presence of Medusa, and then seem like geniuses for figuring out that Medusa can be killed by a reflection.

There’s never any sense of jeopardy. Percy is given stacks of magical items without having to fight for, earn, or even learn to use any of them. (I count five: a magic shield, a magic sword, flying shoes, a magic map, and the eponymous lightning bolt.) He gets flung around in battles, but not only never acquires cuts or scrapes that way, he never even gets dusty or gets his hair messed up. I get that he’s semi-invulnerable, but a godly dust-protection shield? (The lack of cuts and scrapes is also part of the inconsistent magic, as he does get cut by swords a few times.) Much as Bond’s bloodied knuckles gave Casino Royale an unexpected sense of genuine danger, Percy’s airbrushed countenance drained even the chance of suspense from The Lightning Thief.

Speaking of fighting, it was terrible. The primary move is to spin around in circles, making yourself dizzy and exposing your back to your opponent, and then to smash your swords together. It was like watching eight-year-olds playing with light sabers.

I saw this with its target audience, several 12-year-old boys. They didn’t like it either.
rachelmanija: (Princess Bride: Let me sum up)
( Jul. 6th, 2009 11:08 am)
Not the Ben Affleck Armageddon, the Andy Lau Armageddon.

A disjointed, over-stuffed, intermittently coherent movie (or possibly several movies jammed together) made watchable and, if in company, extremely amusing, by the presence of the gorgeous Andy Lau and by its high WTF quotient.

I began watching this by myself. In the first two minutes, a priest spontaneously combusts. Then it cuts to sad computer scientist Andy Lau, moping adorably on his yacht. One of the very best features of this film was Andy Lau curled up sadly in chairs, sofas, etc. Oyce and I kept wanting to hug and cuddle him.

And then something happened that made me fall off my sofa laughing hysterically. I stopped the film, deciding that I needed to watch it with Oyce to watch her reaction to this.

Dehydrated humans can be reconstituted -- just add water! )

Armageddon
[livejournal.com profile] oyceter, [livejournal.com profile] yhlee, and others will be getting together over the 4th of July weekend. We want to watch insane cracktastic Hong Kong (or mainland) movies! The crazier the better! Artistic quality is a plus but not actually required; entertainment quality is!

These movies must be commercially available on DVD via easy sources like Netflix or neighborhood video shops. I am very sad that the genuinely excellent Peking Opera Blues is NOT easily available, nor are the excellently cracktastic 2002 or Wicked City.

We have already had group viewings of Heroic Trio. We are definitely going to see Andy Lau's Armageddon, which I started to watch myself, but when a priest spontaneously combusted within the first five minutes, I decided it was better saved for group viewing. (Please do NOT spoil the even more hilarious thing that happens soon after, I want to spring it on them.)

We are also going to watch the Red Cliff movies.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 16th, 2009 12:00 pm)
I'm an Old-Skool Trek fan, one of the ones for whom shirtless, sweaty Sulu with a fencing foil was a pivotal moment in my sexual development.

I mostly adored the new movie, and would see it again with great pleasure. Spock was awesome: interestingly different from Nimoy's character, but still convincingly Spock. The movie's main pairing was Spock/Uhura, which I would have never thought of in a million years but which was sweet and hot and mature and awesome. Actually, for me the movie was all about Spock, Spock/Uhura, and Uhura, and all else was gravy.

But I was sad at its demonstration of exactly how far movies haven't come in terms of equality since the original Trek. The original series was progressive for its time in many ways: it had American primetime TV's first interracial kiss (though aliens made them do it), it had Sulu and Uhura on the bridge, and it had a sympathetic Russian character when Russia was America's top enemy.

And, of course, in many ways it wasn't progressive at all: women were love interests, moms, or telephone operators, didn't get to kick ass unless they were evil, and were all stuck in miniskirts. The attempts to deal directly with racism and other social issues were well-meant but also awful and anvillicious.

The new movie preserved virtually all the ways in which the original was sexist and blinkered, and additionally failed to be progressive for our time.

Much as I loved Uhura and her relationship with Spock, every single significant female character in the entire movie was either a mom or a love interest. Women still don't get to command or kick ass. And they're all still stuck in the ridiculous miniskirt uniforms, and mostly looked vastly uncomfortable in them. Every woman on the bridge seemed to be telepathically projecting, "Please God don't let the camera see up my skirt."

The point of Chekhov in the original was not that he had a funny accent. It was that he was a proud citizen of a country that, at time of airing, was America's # 1 enemy. The modern USA equivalent of Chekhov would not be Chekhov, but a crew member from Iraq or Afghanistan.

Gay, bi, lesbian, and/or transsexual crew members would also be progressive for our time. Of course there were none.

I'm sure the writers and director justified all this as being faithful to the original. In fact, it's selectively faithful. Without getting too spoilery, there are textually justified departures from the original, plus more that are there without being explained.

The original series had more female crew members. The movie chose not to include Yeoman Rand or Christine Chapel, let alone Number One. (Since Rand's actual job duties were unclear, at least to me, on the original series, they could have put her in security. Her shirt would still be red!)

The characters aren't identical to the originals. Chekhov looks nothing like Original!Chekhov. Kirk has a very different background. Spock is a different take on Spock. Spock and Uhura weren't romantically involved in the original. Romulans in this movie don't look at all like Original!Romulans. Basically, the filmmakers decided to change the things that they thought would be fun and cool to change, and decided to keep the (mostly sexist) elements that they thought would be fun and cool to keep.

Anyway, like I said, I did enjoy the movie very much. I critique because I love: because I want to imagine myself part of that world. What always bothered me as a kid watching reruns of the original was that a girl like me would have no place on the Enterprise. Forty years later, I still wouldn't.
I watched part I of Red Cliff, John Woo's adaptation of a teeeeeny bit of the story of the Three Kingdoms, a famous epic about how China was split into three warring kingdoms. It is so excellent!

It has Takeshi Kaneshiro as Zhuge Liang (the brilliant guy with the feather fan) and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as Zhou Yu, a guy whom Oyce tells me is usually not the main character, but is totally awesome in this and has one of the best character intros I've seen, involving a whole bunch of soldiers, a little boy, and a flute. Chang Chen, the hot desert guy from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, is also in it but I think I didn't recognize him.

There are epic, epic battles with actual strategy! There is a bad-ass fighting princess and her corps of trained soldier-maids! A tortoise provides a key tactic! A man fights with a spear in one hand and a baby he's protecting in the other! There are tons of swordfights shot so that you can actually see what's going on, not in the obnoxious yet strangely fashionable choppy method where all you can see are fragmentary snippets. There is a great deal of scheming and politicking. And, this being John Woo, there are white doves.

There is also Tony Leung partially naked, but sadly he is paired with an excruciatingly boring actress who had me snoozing during the sex scenes, which is quite a feat since this is Tony Leung we're talking about. Perhaps to make up for that, there is a great deal of slashy meaningful glances and even a (kind of long) duet between Leung and Kaneshiro.

It's definitely one movie in two parts. I eagerly await my video store's receipt of II.

In the meantime, please rec any of the following:

1. A good translation of The Three Kingdoms.

2. Movies, comic books, or other Three Kingdoms media. Hot actors and non-boring actresses a huge plus.

I have a Three Kingdoms comic book, but am having trouble following it due to the extreme condensation of a very long story with a cast of thousands. Red Cliff was much easier, since it has hot actors and only focuses on a single episode involving a limited number of people.
rachelmanija: (Brigitte)
( Mar. 28th, 2009 02:12 pm)
This is a famously beautiful, artsy, and incomprehensible wuxia film by Wong Kar Wai, starring every famous Chinese actor ever. It was released to general admiration and perplexity a number of years ago, but the negative was damaged and subsequent DVD copies were muddy and hard to find.

This year Wong Kar Wai restored the negative and re-cut it to make it more coherent, then re-released it. This is the version Oyce and I watched. It is indeed very beautiful and hypnotic. It is also almost entirely bewildering. We kept wondering, “If this is the more coherent cut, what the hell was the original like?” After we finished it, we looked it up online. Apparently the main changes were to heighten colors and cut two battle scenes. That explains a lot. We also noted that the imdb commenters said that the movie was a beautiful, haunting meditation on love, memory, and identity, but none of them attempted to summarize the plot.

Leslie Cheung lives an emo lonely life by himself. People periodically visit him, and he sends them out on missions or advises them or gives or receives wine that may or may not cause amnesia. This is especially confusing as the story is not linear.

Brigitte Lin first appears as a princess. Then she appears dressed as a man. As a man, she hires a swordsman to kill her sister’s lover. Then she reappears as the sister, and hires him to kill her brother. She reappears as the brother, and confesses that she is in love with her sister.

We were very confused as to whether they were one person with a split personality or two people played by a single actress, and if they were one person, what gender that person was supposed to be. The fact that they were played by Brigitte Lin was less enlightening than it could have been, as one of her more famous roles is that of a man who castrates himself to gain power, and then becomes the ambiguously gendered Asia the Invincible and shoots lasers at Jet Li.

We eventually learn that she is indeed one (female) person in love with her male twin personality. MPD twincest: a situation we had never before encountered, even in manga!

This is all shot with gorgeous flickering shadows cast upon their faces by a spinning birdcage whose sole purpose is to cause that lovely effect.

There is a long scene in which a woman writhes upon a horse in an extremely sexual manner. I was disturbed by this, but thought I was being a perv. I looked at Oyce. She was cringing back into the sofa. The camera panned across to include the horse’s penis.

Then there is a story in which Tony Leung (there are two Tony Leungs in this movie – more identity confusion!) is a blind swordsman. He may or may not also become amnesiac later, I was confused. He is either in love with his brother’s wife or his best friend’s wife. When trying to recount this plot to [livejournal.com profile] seajules, I said, “He is in love with his best friend’s brother.” Sadly, no. (Oyce says it was his best friend’s wife, and Leslie Cheung was in love with his brother’s wife.)

Meanwhile or maybe not, a woman is desperate to get revenge for the death of her brother by bandits. She camps out on Leslie Cheung’s doorstep with a mule and a basket of eggs she hopes to trade for revenge. Seasons pass. She still has the same eggs. When she finally gets a swordfighter to take up her cause, he almost gets killed. Leslie Cheung says, “Was it worth it, to sell your life for an egg!”

“I ate the egg,” the swordsman replies.

Oyce and I chorused, “No wonder you’re dying!”

At the end, the camera stays on Maggie Cheung’s exquisite face while she delivers a five-minute monologue which possibly explained everything. But both of us were so hypnotized by her extraordinary beauty that when the shot ended, neither of us could recall a single word she said.

Buy it from Amazon: Ashes of Time Redux
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Sep. 15th, 2008 07:30 am)
An entertaining, though perhaps not actually good, Korean film about a cooking competition.

In the prologue, two cooks compose exquisite blowfish sashimi platters for a panel of judges. "They're poisoned!" chorused [livejournal.com profile] cofax7 and [livejournal.com profile] laurashapiro.

[livejournal.com profile] rilina, [livejournal.com profile] oyceter, and I, more used to the conventions of Asian media, said, "Eh? Why would they--"

The panel of judges proceed to vomit and keel over. Poisoned!

Cut to several years later. A cooking contest offers as prize an ancient knife used by a chef to hack off his own hand during the Japanese occupation of Korea as a protest against the overlords. The grandsons of the chefs seen in the prologue are competing. There is a good chef (handsome, honest, owns a cow he loves like his own little sister) and a bad chef (puffy face, greasy hair, cheater, no cow.) There is also The Girl, who plays even less part in the story than The Girl usually does. Also, she does not actually participate in a romance. She's just there.

It was all fun and games until a stage of the contest required perfect charcoal. It turns out that perfect charcoal is only made by one man... on Death Row! Evil Chef visits and stupidly mocks Death Row Dude. Death Row Dude tries to bite his nose off, but unfortunately fails. Then we see the sepia flashback of tragedy and woe! Once he was a small starving child, abandoned by his destitute mother who was forced to turn to prostitution and being the kept woman of an abusive man. He learned to burn charcoal, which slowly blinded him so he had to wear Coke-bottle glasses. (I flashed back to the pony going blind from coal dust in the YA Agony Awards.) When he tried to stop his mother from being beaten, she turned on him, and then he stabbed her abuser with a charcoaled branch. And then was executed. But he tells the charcoal secret to Team Good Chef before he dies.

For the next contest, they need perfect beef. The hitherto Good Chef kills the cow he loves like a sister! The cow cried! The Girl did not argue against this! There is a random scene of some other guy fisting some other cow. We all boggled.

There is also assisted suicide and Alzheimer's. A guy dresses up in his old Army uniform, bends over, and begs his old Army buddy to beat him. The old Army buddy does. If this was a better, or just better-known movie, a thousand slash fics would have been born.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Feb. 25th, 2008 10:10 am)
I had an unusually sociable weekend.

On Friday, I went over to [livejournal.com profile] branna's place and cooked lamb chops with a spice rub. They were delicious, perhaps due to both of us checking them carefully for the right degree of doneness, me by poking them to test the texture and then cutting them to test appearance, and [livejournal.com profile] branna sticking in a meat thermometer. Unfortunately, I ruined the asparagus by forgetting about them for, judging by the disgusting texture, about twenty minutes.

On Saturday, [livejournal.com profile] yhlee and I and her friend A went to Koreatown. We arrived early, and bought two bags of Corvette-flavored cupcakes. Then we proceeded to this fantastic teeny restaurant in a strip mall and had fried fish, salad over purple rice topped with chunks of raw fish, flying fish roe, and spicy sauce, and (my favorite) a soup listed on the menu as "delicious soup" which consisted of richly flavored broth with chunks of melt-in-your-mouth potato and just-chewy-enough flat, hand-torn rice noodles. I know it sounds boring, but seriously, it was not "delicious," but delicious.

The panchan (side dishes) included chunked radish kimchi, shredded radish kimchi, marinated fish cake, and delicious shoestring potato potato salad... with raisins. (I picked those out.) Then we went to a bakery and I got a slightly salty pounded rice dough pancake stuffed with red bean paste and a fantastic chocolate croissant. The employees all screamed something when I dropped some coins in the tip jar. I hope it was "TIIIIIIIP!" not "LOUSY TIPPPPPPER!"

Last night [livejournal.com profile] jeremytblack and I went to an Oscar party at [livejournal.com profile] chickflick1979's place. I brought home-made cake and Corvette cupcakes. Both were sadly underappreciated, I regret to say. But the party was very fun and the guests were great.

The only nominated films I'd seen were Sweeney Todd and The Bourne Ultimatum, so I had no dogs in the race. I always seen Coen Brothers movies, but missed their curent one in the theatres. What is Michael Conway about? The clips looked good.

I adore Tilda Swinton and have since Derek Jarman's Edward II, in which she played Isabella as a vampire, and was thrilled to see her win an Oscar and take the opportunity to discuss her agent's ass and the Batsuit. But less thrilled with her supremely unflattering garbage bag dress. Generally, I was unimpressed with the clothes. Feathers are in. Why? They cover up women's lovely cleavage, and wave gently and distractingly like sea anemone tentacles.

Jeremy tells me that if you have seen Daniel Day Lewis' undoubtedly extremely brilliant film, his acceptance speech about golden trees sprouting from his director's head does not sound crazy at all. I will take his word for it. I am sure the movie is a work of staggering genius. I have been put off it by the previews, which all show Day Lewis ranting maniacally while the camera doesn't move (three hours of that? Yikes), and by my general burn-out on depressing three-hour movies about white guys, which make me want to run back to Outfest to see cheerful ninety-minute movies about gay Thai schoolboys and Scottish-Indian lesbian chefs.
Same as in previous post, but the full story in one place and html corrected. Thanks Moi!

Here it is again! )
The casting, most of the performances but especially the girl who played Lyra and Ian McKellen as the voice of Iorek Byrnison, the art direction, Nicole Kidman's outfits, Daniel Craig being hot, and the scene in which Lyra meets the other bear king: GOOD!

The script, the direction, the pacing, the tension, the overall concept, the length (too short), the sense it made (very little), the jaw-droppingly inappropriate ending, and the daemons (except in long shots): BAD!

I wonder what people who hadn't read the book made of the movie, because it seemed almost entirely incoherent. If I hadn't already known, I would have had no idea who half the characters were, why anyone was doing anything, or why any of it mattered.

A nine-year-old boy I know, who did not like it and hadn't read the books, had a most perceptive comment: "You never worried about the main characters, because every time they needed help, someone just showed up and gave it to them." Very true!

As all the connecting material that explains who people are and why they're doing what they're doing and how they got there was cut, the following characters show up completely out of the blue to rescue Lyra and deliver exposition: the Gyptians, Iorek Byrnison, Lee Scoresby, and Sarafina Pekkala. By the end of the movie, we know who Iorek is and what motivates him, but the others are still great big mysteries and walking plot devices.

The movie mainly consists of incomprehensible infodumps alternating with uninspired action sequences. The more people explain, the less we understand. The writer and director ought to have taken a lesson in show don't tell.

It was an extremely bad idea to have almost the first sentence spoken be narrative explaining that daemons are people's souls, as anyone arriving late or still getting into the mood will miss it. Animating the daemons was also a bad idea. They look fake. Pan's voice is way too young and timid-sounding. The early scene in which a man is shot and lies dying, with his ferret daemon trying to comfort him, was cut; it really would have helped establish what daemons are and how important the relationship is. I guess it was deemed too dark, like when we realize that severing the bond between human and daemon kills them both. This was also cut, also to the detriment of the entire movie.

The only scene which really captures the book is the one in which Lyra meets Ragnar, the bear king; it's gorgeous and eerie and tense, and seems to have come from a different movie entirely.

Lyra is spectacular, and most of the acting and casting is excellent, but they can't save the movie from its BAD script and direction.

about that inappropriate ending... )
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This is one of my favorite movies. I think I've seen it six or seven times, maybe more. Even so, I'm not entirely sure how this director's cut differs from the earlier one; both remove the clunky narration, cut the (not very) happy ending, and add in the unicorn dream. The score is notably clean, but I'm not sure exactly what was added. I don't remember the snatches of a kabuki chant that play when people enter JF Sebastian's apartment, but that may just be that this time around was the first time I knew what they were.

For those of you who haven't seen it, Harrison Ford is a "blade runner": a licensed assassin who kills runaway replicants, who are androids who are human in almost every respect, but stronger, faster, tougher... and with a four-year lifespan. He's sent to track down four replicants, led by Rutger Hauer in an unforgettable role and performance. It's sf noir, set in a future Los Angeles. Like most sf about androids or robots, it's about what it means to be human.

Actually, I suspect that many of you who haven't seen it already wouldn't like it; there's Asian characters talking in broken English, and the whole landscape is so dystopian that its Asian influence can be read as part of its wrongness, though I think it was intended as extrapolation. Also, the central romance works much better if you take it as a fucked-up relationship between two profoundly damaged people which begins with a rape and culminates in Stockholm Syndrome, than as the passionate affair it was probably intended to be. (I mean Deckard and Rachael. Roy Batty and Pris may be profoundly damaged, but their relationship doesn't seem notably unhealthy.)

That being said, it is still one of my very favorite movies, for Roy Batty and Pris and JF Sebastian, and the terrible and beautiful confrontations toward the end. And C-beams glittering off Tannhauser, and tears in rain.

Though some of the worldbuilding isn't quite consistent (Earth seems both under and over populated, for instance; the reason for the replicants' limited lifespans is given as insurance against rebellion, and as an unavoidable byproduct of their existence) it feels like an utterly convincing other world, full of the odd and unexplained details that make it seem real, yet bound together by tightly knit themes that make it seem a unified whole:

Cut for spoilers.
Read more... )
After getting burned out on Outfest several years ago by seeing six heartfelt coming-out movies in a row, I returned to see two... heartfelt coming-out movies.

Luckily the passage of time had burned out my burn-out and made heartfelt coming-out stories more interesting to me. Also, one was set in Thailand and one is Glasgow. When you're dealing with a very old story, an unusual setting can help a lot to make it seem fresh and new.

Right By Me was a Thai movie about gay high school boys, shot on a budget of what looked like about eight dollars. Nat is an out and proud queen who's not-so-secretly in love with his best friend, the semi-closeted semi-jock and full-on-romantic Tat... who is madly in love with the completely closeted and conflicted Ek, a popular jock with a girlfriend. Luckily for Tat, who is very smart, Ek needs a tutor...

In addition to being graced by one of the most attractive and charming screen presences ever, playing the bespectacled "good boy" Tat, this was sweet, funny, engaging, and just a whole lot of fun. I don't think it has a regular US release, but it might appear on DVD.

Nina's Heavenly Delights is an English/Scottish co-production (I think) about a young Scottish-Indian woman who fled Glasgow on the eve of her arranged marriage, ostensibly because she didn't love her fiance but really because she's a lesbian. She returns to Glasgow when her father, who owned an Indian restaurant, dies, only to find the restaurant about to be sold. With the help of a lovely young woman who conveniently is the part-owner of the restaurant, Nina must enter a televised curry contest to save it!

This one looks like a million bucks despite its low budget. Unfortunately, the script is even more predictable than the plot outline suggests-- I could predict a lot of the dialogue word-for-word. It's saved by its sweetness and sincerity, and by a fantastic Bollywood number at the end, in which every characters participates in a huge dance number, in character. Regent will release this in the USA in early October.
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Yesterday I was at my old college UCLA to do some research at the library. Afterward, as I was passing by the Theatre Arts movie theatre which screens free films on an irregular schedule, I approached the box office to get a schedule of screenings. Before I could say what I wanted, a ticket was thrust into my hand. So I took it and went into the theatre, where I saw a screening of The Wind that Shakes the Barley, a film about the Irish rebellion in 1920, directed by Ken Loach, starring Cillian Murphy from Batman Begins and 28 Days Later.

As soon as the director and subject matter were announced, I had a strong feeling that it would end with Murphy's character a) hanged, b) shot by a firing squad, c) shot in battle. To avoid spoilers, I will not tell you which if any of my guesses were correct. I will, however, say, a) depressing, b) unwatchably horrifying torture sequence, c) despite Loach's obvious sympathy with the Irish people and the Irish rebels/terrorists, he leaves it very much up to the viewer to decide if armed rebellion/terrorism actually was a good idea in either the long or even short run, d) Murphy's extraordinary eyes are not lit to display their spooky beauty, which I guess is appropriate since it's not that kind of movie, but disappointing to me despite his excellent performance, e) depressing, f) Iraqis will make movies just like this some day.
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