Thursday, November 19, 2009

Red Cliff (Chi bi) - Exquisite

In Red Cliff (Chi bi), the people of China’s southlands face a power-hungry Prime Minister bent on taking over the entire country. Compelling story telling, exquisite visuals, and captivating battle scenes weave together to create a brilliant cinematic tapestry.

After conquering the entire Chinese northlands in the name of the Emperor, ambitious and ruthless General Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang), who appoints himself Prime Minister, sets his eyes on the southland. In order to get there, he has to enter the territory protected by Liu Bei (Yong Yu). Desperate to protect the lives of his people, Liu Bei asks his strategist, Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to ask the leader of the southern province Zhou Yu (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) for help. When it’s impossible to ignore the realities, Zhou Yu decides to join the fight against Cao Cao. They make their stand at Red Cliffs, their stronghold.

The plot flows like water from a pitcher. The writers, Chan Khan, Kuo Cheng, Sheng Hyu, and writer-director John Woo chose the speed and temperature of the water. As the audience sits and watches the story unfold, they can feel the warmth of the characters, the crashing of the shields and the cool calm of strategy. There isn’t much emotion they can’t extract from the audience. At one point I found myself with my mouth wide open, sitting on the edge of my seat, my heart pounding, and my eyes furrowed.

The costuming adds incredible depth to the film. The elite are so clean, their clothing flowing and regal. The soldiers’ uniforms are cheap and dirty looking. The soldiers’ shields glimmer in the beginning of battles and dull at the end. The subtle changes in costuming as the story moves on gives the movie depth and makes the story believable, because the unconscious red flags are not going off.

Woo takes the time introduce the ideas of formations, discipline and tactics to the watcher. They don’t just out-fight the enemy, they out-think them. He has enough respect for the audience that he is willing to cut them in on the how, as much as the what and why.

The war heroes in the story aren’t supernatural, they aren’t magical; they are just extraordinary men doing extraordinary things. Their hand to hand combat is noticeably better than all the rest of the soldiers but it doesn’t cross the line into fantasy.

The martial arts in Red Cliff kick ass. (Ok, I had to.) I found myself dodging spears, stepping left and right to avoid northern soldiers. Everyone who takes up most of the frame in any battle sequence knows how to get the audiences’ heart rate up. Heck, there is even a man who mows through horses like a dwarf – and that will make perfect sense once you see the movie.

There’s real humor in Red Cliff too. It is obvious that Woo doesn’t throw it in there just for the sake of making the story funny, but that even in little slices of life, like those in Red Cliff, life presents little bits of humor. In order to make a complete story, even a war story, humor must be present.

Girly-girls will enjoy the sensual and romantic aspects of the film. More non-traditional women will enjoy the active role women play. There are two women in the movie, one with unrestrained femininity and one tomboy. Both do their part for the war.

The battle scenes captivate, not only because of the graphic violence but because of the subtle emotion, steely strategy and attention to visual details. Do not miss this movie. It’s worth the time to go to the small-run theater and see this film. Man or woman, old or young, everyone will enjoy this masterpiece.

Twilight: New Moon - Yeah, like, whatever

Twilight: New Moon is a 14 year old girl’s dream movie. It reminded me of the romances I had as a teenager – a wreck.

Something happened before Twilight: New Moon began, what that was, the audience doesn’t know. It’s obvious there is a romance between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and they really love each other. Oh yeah, and Edward is a vampire but we never actually see him chew on anyone so we know that because…they told us so. All of the sudden, Edward leaves Bella unprotected from Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre) but it’s not clear why. The whole Cullen family is there, but I don’t know why they matter. Then Edward get sad. There is Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) who Bella leads on for most of the movie. He has a dark secret. Then Bella, Jacob and Edward do some stuff and get ready for the next movie. Uhm, that’s like…pretty much it.

Now before you ask me, “Didn’t you see the original?”, no I didn’t and that shouldn’t matter. I have a ten buck rule. If I have to pay ten bucks, it better be worth ten bucks. If I have to pay to rent the movie before, and then pay to see the movie, it’s not worth it. Each movie, even a sequel, has to have a beginning, middle, and an end. Twilight is one hundred percent middle. It’s insulting to the audience that they can’t be bothered to put together an entire movie.

The one plus side is there is a pack of half naked hunky-boys that run around the forest. Unfortunately for me, they are playing teenaged kids, so it’s hard to think of them of as sexy little beef cakes without feeling dirty.

What they do put together is a slapdash bit of soap opera drama. There is no real drama, no real romance, no tension, no real danger, not much of anything. The only thing is has in spades is intense eye contact.

They stare at each other from afar. They stare at each other up close. Their eyes dart back and forth. Their eyes melt. They go cold. They open wide. They close. In extreme cases, they turn away. I’m going to watch the out-takes on the DVD because I will bet dollars to doughnuts there are moments where the actors couldn’t hold it together when they were close and staring at each other and started to break up laughing. It will probably be the most entertaining part of the DVD.

There’s just nothing to Twilight: New Moon. There’s no plot and horrible acting. There is certainly nothing worth watching.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Who is the newest writer for Skeptical Inquirer? I AM!

Over the past few weeks I've been talking with Skeptical Inquirer Magazine about writing reviews for skeptics on their website. I'm elated to say the kinks have been worked out and it's official; I'm their voice in the dark (theater). This is a fantastic opportunity for me to write for people like me and I couldn't be more excited that it is with SI. It's more than a little embarassing how much I've been dancing around my house, the store, in bed, at the DMV, and in my car.

This is a huge opportunity for me, no only because this jumps me from strictly online reviews to potentially print but it also puts my foot in the door to write about things that really matter to me in the future. I am by far the most average person at the magazine, which is mostly written by phd's, professors, and well respected scientists, etc. It essentially spring boards me into a new league of both writers and skeptics. It is an amazing jump in status, credibility and opportunity. I'm psyched.

I hope you read some of my reviews or even subscribe to the magazine.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Christmas Carol - More Like a Christmas Crisis

Animated and in 3D, Charles Dickens’ beloved holiday story, A Christmas Carol, spills onto screens again. A garish demonstration of the capabilities of the new 3D technology, the story only pops out when it possesses an opportunity to show off the technology.

Scrooge (Jim Carrey) is a miserly old man who holds tight each penny in his pocket. After his business partner, Marley (Gary Oldman) dies, Scrooge loses all perspective, turning even surlier than he was before. Devoid of all Christmas spirit, Scrooge tries to drain the spirit out of everyone around him. The spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come (All voiced and drawn to look like Jim Carrey) warn him about the consequences of inhospitality and holding on to his money too tightly.

Robert Zemeckis should hold his head in shame for such a disgusting display of technology driven plot. He both “wrote” and “directed” this version of “A Christmas Carol.” A responsible director-writer would make Marley, the Spirits and Scrooge feel like they within hands reach by re-arranging the 3D to places in the plot that are enhanced by the extra dimension. Instead, he created a masturbatory mess.

The plot is carved back to the bare minimum and stripped of all opportunity to connect with the audience emotionally. In fact, Zemeckis relies heavily on that fact that A Christmas Carol is so ubiquitous that he commits the sin of Cliff’s Notes. Taken on its face, having no prior knowledge of A Christmas Carol, a viewer would see it as shallow and infuriating. The plot is replaced with scenes meant to show off the remarkable 3D technology. 3D Scenes drone on twice as long as the plot they are supposed to enhance. The floor drops away, fingers are pointed at the audience, and characters are dangled from different angles. In fact, no opportunity to sacrifice the plot for the technology was missed.

Even still, the 3D is so good, it might have been fun to watch this tech demo if the voice acting was varied, interesting and sincere. It wasn’t. Jim Carrey plays Scrooge in all five stages of his life, as well as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future and he does it terribly. Scrooge lacks any depth, has no resonance, all changes seen seem forced and shallow. The Ghost of Christmas Past can only be appreciated by a herpetologist or a speech pathologist and I am neither of those. The Ghost of Christmas Present’s insipid laughter made me consider leaving the theater, but that would mean abandoning my mother-in-law in her seat, and even I’m not that mean. The only saving grace in Carrey’s performance is that the Ghost of Christmas Future barely talks.

Radio Disney brought teams of children to see A Christmas Carol at the press screening I attended. There were scenes that frightened the tiny so badly that they began to cry, scream and cuddle up in the arms of their mothers. There were times during A Christmas Carol I considered jumping into my mother-in-law’s lap and cry like a baby.

This may go down as a rumble worthy topic at family holiday parties because my hubby’s-mummy liked A Christmas Carol. I suggest instead of wasting money seeing such a despicable waste of a classic story, spend the same money seeing the play at a local theater.