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December 31, 2004

House of the Flying Daggers

2004.China.Zhang

*

Director of Hero, Yimou Zhang, tries his hand at more mythmaking with the nicely visualized but otherwise failed House of the Flying Daggers. Perhaps in response to one of the few general criticisms of Hero, a lack of story, Zhang imbues House with a Romeo-and-Juliet-type tale and a barrage of plot twists that are meant to serve as the foundation for the film’s pretty pictures. They don’t, and the result is a plodding, heavy mess whose only accomplishment is to work against the lightness and acrobatics of the film’s fight (and dance) sequences which, while above average, are less spectacular than those in Hero. Maybe it’s due to the absence of Christopher Doyle as cinematographer, but House feels like it was shot by someone with good visual instincts but not enough training. Adding to an already patience-testing experience is inane dialogue, such as in an early scene set in a torture chamber in which one character informs another, “Before you is a torture device,” after we have been treated to a string of shots of the various mechanisms in close up. Also mildly irritating, and at times embarrassing, are the flowery lines spouted by the main characters, which are about as elegant and subtle as Michael Mann’s coyotes in Collateral. Overall, House is overlong and overblown. It refuses to believe in its own emptiness, fighting, to its very end, to convince you that something worthwhile and profound is going on. It’s not. What you see is what you get, and that, unfortunately, is not enough.

If you want to watch a beautiful film (with well composed shots steeped in colour symbolism) which has a good narrative (based on Shakespeare and great at balancing the epic and the personal), see Kurosawa’s Ran.

December 28, 2004

Maria Full of Grace

2004.USA.Marston

2.0 / 4.0

Marston’s directorial debut is a sometimes riveting, other times hackneyed, but ultimately affecting depiction of the life of a “mule”, or human drug container. Anchored by a good performance by Catalina Sandino Moreno, the film almost transcends the limitations imposed on it by forced conflicts and melodrama. At its best, Maria Full of Grace is a primer on drug smuggling that excels in its realism. At its worst, it’s a Latino soap opera with pointless romances, family bickering and blunt, overbearing symbolism. The shots of roses and the parallels between Maria and Carla are tolerable. But the last shot of the film, with a pregnant Maria walking in front of a giant sign that reads: “It’s what’s on the inside that counts” to the tune of a bland, indie rock song, is overkill. In Marston’s defence, the tension between realism and symbolism has been around since at least The Bicycle Thieves. However, if Maria Full of Grace had chosen one over the other it would have probably made a better film. Still, as a debut film it’s good for both Marston and Moreno. As anything else, it’s not bad but not as good as you’ve probably heard.

December 19, 2004

War on Information

In the past week several websites offering links to bittorrent files were taken offline. A recent surge in pressure exerted by the Motion Picture Association (www.mpaa.org) on these link providers forced their demise. Some, like Phoenix Torrents and Suprnova (Slovenia), which saw over a million visitors a day, made the decision to cease operation before legal action was brought against them and their users. Others, like Youceff Torrents (France), which had its servers raided by police, had little choice.

Importantly, these sites did not host “illegal” files but only pointed to them. However, faced with the almost unlimited power of multinational conglomerates, the creators and administrators of these sites neither have the resources, money, or time to do battle in court. Most bittorrent link sites operate for no profit, and sometimes struggle to pay server costs with money from donations and web ads.

In a predictable twist, the war against bittorrent, file sharing, and the freedom of the internet has already devolved to propaganda (Luther, the printing press and the Church anyone?). Recent news articles available through Yahoo and Reuters about the bittorrent phenomenon have equated the technology with terrorism:

“Some of the BitTorrent host sites, like SuprNova.org, generate a daily list of new seed files added by users. The site recently had listings for movies such as "Van Helsing" and ‘Wimbledon’, which is not scheduled for release on DVD for another three weeks.

Some sites offer digitized broadcasts of "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," computer games like "Star Trek: Klingon Academy" and "Half Life 2," e-books on the physics behind an atomic bomb, even footage of kidnap victims in the Middle East.” (from here)

Regardless of one’s stance on so-called “piracy”, bittorrent also allows for the transfer of legal files such as classic literature, taped concerts, and freeware software. Textbooks are offered, but they are neither restricted to physics or to the creation of atomic bombs (Cold War nostalgia, perhaps?). God forbid the evil that shall be unleashed on us all if people educate themselves! Still, a youth addicted to drugs is easier to control than one with a thirst for knowledge. As to the clips of beheadings; they’re online. Along with clips of anything else you can think of, including a funny one of George Bush picking his nose and various cartoons and short films.

More of this type of Spin is surely to come.

But whatever the MPAA can bring itself to shove down our throats, the fact remains that file sharing is good for the individual. It allows people to gather information, listen to music, and watch films that they would otherwise likely not experience. Even if, and it’s debatable, bittorrent is detrimental to the film and music industries, the betterment of society should supersede that. The government, a body elected by the people to serve the people, cannot put the desires of a corporation above those of the people.

Separation of Corporation and State? (here)

(Especially funny is the attitude of companies such as Sony, that produce music, films, CDs, DVDs, computers, CD burners and DVD burners. Opposed to “piracy” they may be, but while it’s going on they seem content to profit from it.)

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the entire situation is that bittorrent is like a medium inside the internet. It's not merely the sending and receiving of a file, but a nique way of doing so. Think of it like a road, with many possibilities and uses. Should our roadways be destroyed because there are accidents? Should telephone use be restricted because someone can use it to plan a bombing?

THEY are using all means at their disposal to convince you that file sharing is evil before you can decide for yourself. (see “piracy” at dictionary.com: here)

Napster’s dead.

Fool me once, won’t get fooled again.

The war is on.

December 18, 2004

The Incredibles

2004.USA.Bird

* *

Well made computer-animated feature about a family of superheroes that's neither Pixar’s or director Brad Bird’s best work. Boringly long, periodically unfunny and surprisingly violent, The Incredibles nevertheless manages to moralize nicely about the strength of the nuclear family and all forms of tolerance. Erroneous black character Frozone and French mini-villain Bomb Voyage are satirical highpoints while the by-the-book structure is irredeemable even by parody. The film’s oft-lauded mass appeal is a greater victory for film business than filmmaker, and its excellent critical reception is perplexing. Moreso The Mediocres than The Incredibles, the film is nevertheless mildly entertaining and visually impressive. And, it must be said, Elizabeth Pena has a deliciously sexy voice that couples well with Elastigirl’s fantastically rotund bottom.

Back by the pond.

Phew.

With essays and exams coming to a halt, I can start watching movies again! I've decided, in a shameless aping of Scott's site, to keep my reviews short and to start attaching ratings ("Ebert-like" 4-star system). Seems so much funner this way.

Ducks out.