Jan 16, 2010

Movie Reviews @ The Temple

Red Cliff – You have no freaking idea how excited about this movie I was. I’ve been excited for movies. I was excited for 9. I could barely wait for the LotR sequels. But I have been waiting for this movie for years. I have been waiting for the idea of this movie for literally a decade. Dynasty Warriors 2 ushered me into the world of Luo Guanzhong, the writer of the Three Kingdoms saga, the chinese equivalent of the Iliad. I had played the Romance games for years before that, but I was never hardcore enough to get into them seriously. I played the shit out of DW2, and every sequel. I think I maxed like 20 or 30 characters in DW4. I loved these games so much I read the 1000 page epic that is the Three Kingdoms. That shit is like the bible, this guy begat that guy, this person fought on this plain against this dude for this building. It was dense. But I did like it a lot, and I love the stories. So, yeah, I have been waiting to see this story done for a long time. I know it had other incarnations, a couple TV shows in china, but I wanted a big ass cool movie, and I got it. I think it’s probably not for everyone, the movie is nigh inpenetrable to someone unfamiliar with the story. Besides the fact that it’s in chinese, besides the fact that there’s several major characters and 10s of minor ones, besides the fact that we’re all a little racist and the chinese actors look alike. On top of that, there’s Zhou Yu, and Zhao Yun! C’mon! But I was eating it up, because I already knew it all. (though I was confused for almost the entire movie because they were having this guy Kongming do all of Zhuge Liang’s stuff! I forgot Kongming was his casual name). Besides the crazy plot, the movie is some romance (not really necessary, if you ask me, and by far not the focus of the book, but oh well, I guess you gotta have it in a big movie) and battles. The fights aren’t amazing. They are pretty damn cool, but they are kinda chinesey. Not full on crouching tiger, not exactly floating dancing on the rooftops, but a little light in the loafers. But there are still some legitimately great fights. The coolest part, as it god damn well should be, is the strategy. This period, in both the book and obviously the games, is famous for its strategy. Zhuge Liang is practically the personification of strategy in chinese history. The way they deal with the strategy is really cool too. It could easily have been magic, there is a lot of magic in the book and the games, they are fantastical tales. As the Iliad has gods and goddesses and super human heroes, so does Three Kingdoms have astrology, magic, and super human heroes. But they take a very practical and cool view of these things. The blinding light is plated shields, the astrology/magic winds is more meteorology and observation. It’s still a little outside of reality, but it’s not runes and spells. Honestly I would have been okay with runes and spells too, but this was better. I also really love how they managed the warrior cult. These books (and again, games) are strongly focused on the greatness of the primary warriors. The games are built around you taking one hero into battle, laying waste to 100s or 1000s of enemies, fighting other heroes and defeating the whole army solely based on that fight. The book is a romantic tale of the humble greatness of Liu Bei, the fighting supremacy of Guan Yu, the noble leadership of Zhou Yu, and the military genius (surpassed by no one but Sun Tzu) of Zhuge Liang. These men are idolized like superheroes or demigods. The movie really sticks with this glorification. Hell, there’s an entire formation built around trapping the enemy army in a confined area so the heroes can beat the shit out of them 1 on 100.  It’s totally awesome, totally appropriate. Anyway, back to the broader view, If you are into braveheart or chinese kung fu stuff, this will probably do you well. Though it is long, 2.5 hours, it went pretty quick for me, I was into it. I have since read that the full (2 movie) chinese version is almost 5 hours. I want to see this so bad, but it’s in chinese and only been subtitled into spanish for some reason, which breaks my nerdy little heart. I’ll find a way, though. Might have to learn spanish. UPDATE: I found a copy, english subtitles, next time I have 5 hours, it’s on!

Avatar Update: I forgot to mention in my review. My big problem with 3D that remains is depth of focus. 3D forces you to focus on what it wants you to focus on. The guy, not the tree. The gun, not the face. The jet, not the dragon. Granted 2D does this too. But if I’m going to be “immersed” I oughta feel like I’m looking around a real world and focus on whatever I damn well please. 3D will not exist until it is hyperfocal, or (even fancier) it tracks eye movement and focuses as appropriate. Hyperfocal is easier though. So, get on it, Visionary Director From 2017. Also, people are starting to make me not like this movie by their over exuberance. It is a technologically fantastic movie. It is NOT a great movie otherwise. It’s a silly natives story that’s been done to death and has holes up the wazoo (which seems recursive, but oh well). Just say its pretty and move on, jeez. And no that chick does not deserve an Oscar. It was a good performance for motion capture, definitely an achievement, but that doesn’t make it anything remotely near amazing acting. Don’t make me hate this movie, fanboys!

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – Meh. I’ve said before here that I had signed off by the 5th book. I know I read this one because some of the details seem familiar, but I couldn’t have told you a single thing about it besides the death at the end. The movie is fine, it’s more of the same potter stuff. An awful lot of bullcrap about teenagers kissing, which I remember from the book. I can’t really imagine caring less. And in as much as my major complaint about potter is that it became all about the characters and plot, which is the weak part of the books, especially as guided by Rowling’s middling writing. There’s barely any wonder, little magic, and no excitement. This movie was the peak of this boring mountain. At least the last movie had that crazy ass wizard battle. This didn’t even have that. No dragons, no griffons, basically no quidditch, no real wizard battles. Unless you write harry/hermoine/ron/snape slash fiction, I don’t see why this movie would matter much.

Fiddler on the Roof – This movie was pretty good. Probably my favorite of the musicals that I don’t love. The music is good, it’s very catchy. But it’s not wonderful in any way that inspires me. I like sunrise sunset an awful lot. And the other songs are fun, just not more than that. The musical feels a lot like a stage production in parts. The father coming in on a road with a horse and a cart talking to the viewer or to god is very stageish. I don’t really like when he talks to the viewer, but I’m okay with him talking to god by way of narration. It works pretty well. The movie looks convincing, except for the stage feeling, of some jewish village in russia. I knew the movie was about jews, but that was it. It’s actually a supremely depressing movie. Though I did enjoy it, I have no need to ever see it again, it would just bum me out. I don’t like the music enough to get sad! The whole arranged marriage thing is baffling, and that it still happens today is even more so. But the movie is about resisting that, so it ends up good. The experience of jews throughout the last couple thousand years is just astounding. I mean, a lot of people hate a lot of people. We (americans) have treated black people, native americans, and japanese people really despicably. We also have given a pretty hard shaft to every other minority, but those are mostly about power, land, money, and xenophobia. Not good things, but distantly understandable. There have been lots of civil wars, genocides, ethnic cleansings, but they are all local, and people confuse themselves into thinking those things equal power, prestige, or honor. But the extent to which people throughout history have gone out of their way to hunt down and destroy or take the lives of jews is just impenetrable to me. To send an army to some village to kick them out of your country when their influence doesn’t even extend past that village’s borders is unimaginable. This is not news to anyone, I know, but I’m not sure I’ve written it down before, so there you go.

Children of Dune – This is the SciFi (I think?) miniseries that combined Messiah and Children. I don’t want to live blog this, but I’m 15 minutes in, and so far I don’t like the actors they chose for Stilgar (too white, too bald, no beard), Wensicia (too old and why is she the schemer now?), or Mohiam (far too young). And as a rule, the effing desert people shouldn’t be pasty northerners that look like the last time they saw sand was a playground. Okay, no more live blogging, I’ve seen it all now. It was alright. There was some cool things they did, a lot of it isn’t great. The movie is too interested with Leto’s chest and abs. I know he had to be shirtless to show the sand trout thing, but why was he half naked the 4 hours before that? The weirding way is better than the Dune movie, but this came out after the matrix, I’d think you could do it a little better. The CGI in general isn’t wonderful. Even for scifi in 2003, it seems like they should be better. The laser tigers particularly look pretty lame, more cuddly than threatening. The worms are pretty cool, but I think they went overboard. It continues this strange idea that Fremen’s eyes glow, which is dumb. The worm in Dune was immense, menacing, and used sparingly. These worms pop up every 5 minutes with 75% of their length not only above ground, but also sticking straight up into the air! It was pretty cool to see the stealing of a worm, though. But, all things considered, I guess it was a pretty decent adaptation.

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