Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Xi Yan (The Wedding Banquet)

You're witnessing the results of 5,000 years of sexual repression.
- Guest at wedding banquet, Ang Lee's cameo

Xi Yan is fabulous. Sure, the plot's a bit of a stretch: the protagonist is Wai-Tong, a gay Chinese businessman living in the US with his American boyfriend Simon. His parents won't stop hounding him about getting married b/c his dad really wants a grandchild so finally one day, Simon suggests that Wai-Tong marries one of his tenants, Wei Wei, which will kill two birds with one stone: satisfy Wai's parents and also allow Wei Wei to stay in the US. there's this really awesome line from the movie where Simon finally manages to convince Wai-Tong to do this: by bringing up tax breaks for married couples. And while the scenario of the fake marriage is a bit far fetched, the characters are all so well developed and you end up caring about them all that it doesn't matter in the end. You just hope that everything works out. It seems like they will, but then again...you've never sure.

I miss the more intimate feel of some of Ang Lee's earlier movies. Xi Yan does a really good job depicting the dynamics of an Asian family, especially the cultural gaps b/n generations. It showcases so many fantastic moments: Wai Tong finally telling his mom and expressing how much he really wanted to share his world with them, the mom scrambling for the purse, the dad walking faster than Wai Tong, Simon helping Wei Wei cook behind the parents' back, Wai-Tong's overenthusiastic college buddy at the wedding, Simon wiping Wai-Tong's mouse with a napkin after he kisses Wei Wei, the mom talking to Wei Wei about how her son will be straight once he sees his son and Wei Wei trying to explain to the mom that this isn't how it works, and the dad talking to Simon and how neither of them understands.

Princess Mononoke

Cut off a wolf's head and it still has the power to bite.
-Lady Eboshi

Ashitaka is not a cheerful, worry-free boy. He is a melancholy boy who has a fate. I feel that I am that way myself, but until now, I have not made a film with such a character. Ashitaka was cursed for a very absurd reason. Sure, Ashitaka did something he should not have done - killing Tatari Gami. But there was enough reason to do so from the humans' viewpoint. Nevertheless, he received a deadly curse. I think that is similar to the lives of people today. I think this is a very absurd thing that is part of life itself.
-Hayao Miyazaki

I feel like despite how great the dubs are compared to a lot of other anime for Miyazaki movies, there's always quite a lot lost in the translation and that there are a lot of subtleties that you won't quite get unless it was in its original language. While as a Miyazaki fan, it's probably blasphemous to say this, I can't quite bring myself to like this film that much. It's epic. It has lovely animation, a gorgeous gorgeous score (probably my favorite out of all of Joe Hiashi's stuff), and a good message. However, it's difficult for me to feel connected with the characters. I do like what the characters stand for and how most of them are quite multi-dimensional- like Lady Eboshi, who's so cruel to nature and rather harsh in her tactics, but ultimately compassionate to her fellow humans- she buys the contracts of prostitutes from brothels and employs and cares for lepers.

Les Triplettes de Belleville

Is that it, then? Is it over, do you think? What have you got to say to Grandma?
-Madame Souz

A very weird, bizarre movie. Sketchy Belleville mafia members who look like rectangles, grenades for getting dinner (frogs), a kick butt grandma, an awesome car scene, faux Disney castle, using a dog as a tire, etc. It was a generally enjoyable, although the animation is a bit odd, even creepy at times.

Fantasia 2000

It's cute, great animation, but doesn't measure up to the original Fantasia, which is probably one of my favorite movies ever.

The Dark Knight
Sometimes the truth isn't good enough, sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded...
What I love about this movie is that it's one of those movies where you notice something new each time you watch it. The first time, I was ensnared by Heath Ledger's Joker and the overall darkness of the film, psychologically and otherwise. That scene where the Jokerfied corpse hits the mayor's window still makes me jump and shiver. The second time, I was fascinated by Dent and Gordon's respective forces and their ideologies. Eg. Dent referring to County as Gordon's fortress. The most recent time, by the idea of what it means to be an outcast hero and filling in the finer points of the plot and how it all connects, and even though I miss Batman Begin's Bruce Wayne (the energy and ferocity he had in the first one where he was fighting X prisoners at once), I did love how longing and desperately hopeful he looked when he prodded Dent at dinner and found out that he was willing to take up Batman's mantle.

I still don't love it as much as the first one, but I do love the complexity, the intermittent scenes in which three story lines or more are progressing all at once. The warehouse sequence and the first string of Joker attacks are all fantastic. And the ending, the last fifteen minutes or so when it's Batman, Dent, and Gordon at the old warehouse and the last narration is pretty flawless b/c it brings everything back together: Fox finding that the computer system self destructs, Alfred burning Rachel's letter...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

In Short:: Sci Fi Kick and others

I, Robot

Pleasantly surprising and quite likable. What I liked most was that despite the fact that it was a summer block bluster, it wasn't always a typical one. In particular, I like how the movie kept throwing surprises at you; Sonny not being evil, the CEO not being the villain, the wink, what actually happened during Spooner's accident, etc. Although I initially was sort of turned off by all three of the main characters, they all ended up growing on me. Especially Sonny, the emo robot. Some of the things he said were quite pensive and thought provoking.

Sonny: [Looking around at the robots while he is about to be "killed"] They all look like me. But none of them are me.

As for Dr. Susan Calvin, she sort of annoyed me throughout the beginning when she kept explaining everything in a very inaccessible way that not even scientists/doctors talk to each other like that, so how could Will Smith's cop character understand any of that? It's hard to find scientists protrayed in movies well, and while Dr. Calvin wasn't perfect, she sort of became more real and way more likable as the movie went on.

Susan Calvin: [about Spooner's motorcycle] Please tell me this doesn't run on gas! Gas explodes, you know?

As for Calvin and Spooner's interactions, I like how they referred to each other by last name and how they don't actually hook up w/ each other at the end. There's, of course, the smiles at the end, but I like that they don't force it on you.

Detective Del Spooner: You must be the dumbest, smart person in the world.
Susan Calvin: And you must be the dumbest, dumb person in the world.

Now I really want to go and read the original Asimov short story.

2001: A Space Odyssey

: I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

A very good movie, very well done. People have described it as a "movie painting," and I think they're absolutely right; I can't think of a better way to describe it. It provokes thoughts, emotions, questions, and it's definitely a movie I will need to re-watch. In particular, I like how the movie is able to convey so much with so little dialogue and how it is quite haunting and eerie in some parts. Eg. the space scenes when all you hear is someone breathing.

And as for Hal, he's one of those characters who you hear so much about that it's hard for them to live up to the expectations bestowed upon them, but Hal is superb. He's very eerie...very stunning, very memorable...again raises questions always raised by AI in sci fi.

The Great Mouse Detective

An adorable take on Sherlock Holmes as a mouse. Not particularly memorable but still a good movie nonetheless.


Bob Rusk: I don't know if you know it, Babs, but you're my type of woman.

Likely my favorite Hitchcock film. Vertigo's still probably the best of his movies, but Frenzy has everything that I love about Hitchcock: plenty of dark humor, suspense, mystery, etc. The characters are far from perfect, but they're all so likable and believable. In particular, I liked the interactions between the detective and his wife. And the ending is just fantastic; it brings you to a moment, a really tense, suspenseful moment that you weren't quite sure the movie could pull off given it's earlier humorous tone, but it's really something quite special at the end when all the three main male characters are together in a room.

Friday, June 26, 2009

And he shall smite the wicked and plunge them into the fiery pit

All my life I memorize their faces
Knowing them as they will never know me
All my life I wonder how it feels to pass a day
Not above them
But part of them...
Give me one day out there
All I ask is one
To hold forever

-Quasimodo, Out There

So many times out here
I've watched a happy pair
Of lovers walking in the night
They had a kind of glow around them
It almost looked like heaven's light
I knew I'd never know
That warm and loving glow
Though I might wish with all my might
No face as hideous as my face
Was ever meant for heaven's light

-Quasimodo, Heaven's Light

It's really hard to think of another character as deserving of a happy ending as Quasimodo. It's heartbreaking to think of how lonely his life was- locked up in the tower, carving figurines of the townspeople with talking gargoyles his only friends and Frollo teaching him how hideous and terrible he was every day. It's the cruelest, worst sort of manipulation. And at the end, there's not even enough Disney magic to get him the girl.
I think that as a kid, that's partially one of the reasons why I never liked Esmeralda so much b/c I wanted him to end up w/ her. Re-watching it now, I realize what a fabulous character she is. She's brave, smart, and most of all kind and good. I love the part where she's in the church praying for others while everyone around her is praying for themselves...and she does it b/c she can get by with what she has and that's enough for her.
There are some very dark/interesting themes in Hunchback. I sort of like how they used the church but then also see it as sort of inconsistent. I'm glad they didn't use it as a deus ex. machina. The priest was powerful enough at the beginning to prevent Frollo from killing Quasimodo but then, if the priest himself was so protective of the outcasts, why didn't he do anything to help Quasimodo? Why didn't he step in to help raise him?
I also really appreciated how they handled the love triangle. Phobeus, although sometimes is a bit like a typical guy, is decent, kind, and a hero too. It was heart breaking to see Quasimodo break down when he sees Esmeralda and Phobeus together for the first time, but then the scene after that in the Court of Miracles when Phobeus steps back and gives Quasimodo a lot of the credit really says a lot about his character.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

RIP Michael Jackson. A lot of people have already put in their two cents on this so I won't really contribute anything further. I am however a bit sad that I first heard about his passing via a facebook status update...

If I were still at MIT, I think I'd be tempted to do the Thriller dance down the Infinite Corridor, something we'd planned to do, but never got around to doing.


Timon: Gee. He looks blue.
Pumbaa: I'd say brownish-gold.
Timon: No, no, no. I mean he's depressed.
Pumbaa: Oh.

I re-watched The Lion King today. I haven't watched that movie in ages, and I've forgotten how fantastic it is. While I love Pixar and what it's doing with its animations (Wall-E, Ratatouille, Up, Monster's Inc, etc), a part of me still really misses the Disney cartoons from the 90s: Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, and Aladdin. This is probably an over generalization, but I miss how it was okay for things to be more *epic* back then. There were a few boy bands and pop stars who dominated the charts instead of artists with catchy songs that disappeared quickly. And cartoons were more...I feel like Pixar movies tend to be more about individuals, and center around how these individuals change the world around them (sometimes this results in huge changes in the actual world) but the movie isn't necessarily about how they're going to change the world, more around their personal growth. Okay, so maybe the old 90s Disney movies were like that too, scratch that.

I think The Lion King epitomizes Disney epicness in a very good way. It's probably, imho, the best Disney movie from that time, and it's a close second favorite (right behind Mulan, which I hold a soft spot for). Animation-wise and musically (catchy songs and Hans Zimmer score =<3), it's so very beautiful like in the beginning when the birds flock over a waterfall to get to Pride Rock and when Simba's alone and calling out for Musafa in the barren cavern. Also, I really love how when Simba's walking up Pride Rock to claim the throne, you see it from his perspective; he quivering and staring at the ground- what a journey it has been. From a story telling perspective, I really like how well they balanced humor and actual, drama. eg. Timon and Pumba's little interludes during "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" and Rafeiki fluctuating between guiding mentor and insane monkey when he shows Simba Mufasa again.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Intro and Traffic

So a brief intro. Since I have a lot of free time this summer and will be watching a lot of movies and hopefully reading a lot of books, I'm going to be using this blog to review the stuff that I read/watch. (mostly keeping this to keep a personal record)

Today I watched Traffic from way back in 2000, which was really good. For the most part, I enjoy ensemble movies b/c it's always fun seeing characters and storylines intertwine. It's also good when the individual story lines themselves wouldn't have been as compelling like in Love Actually.

What I really liked about Traffic is the storytelling- the pacing is fabulous and it does a really good job seamlessly weaving all of the different stories together. It's also impressive that the director, Steven Soderbergh did so much of the filming himself. I also like that the movie really assumes the audience's intelligence; it throws a lot of information, a lot of characters, at you at once and is quite subtle and not preachy (like Crash...which was good but definitely overrated). I definitely think I need to rewatch the movie for the Mexico storyline b/c I don't think I quite caught all of it.

Favorite scenes:
-Del Toro "seducing" the assassin in the gay bar. It's a short scene but a really good/amusing/pretty hot one.
-Loved all the interactions b/n Chelade and his DEA partner and Ruiz, the witness they arrested/were protecting. I can't find the quote online but Ruiz and Cehlade's character have this conversation about how everything that the DEA does is really pointless in the long run b/c there will still always be people doing drugs so why should it matter that they catch a few drug runners since none of it matters.
-*spoilers* the bug planting scene
-When the "drug czar" finally finds his daughter