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Monday, February 26, 2007

300 - /* this is Sparta ! */

Tonight we dine in hell!

Devotees of graphic sex and blood and violence should have no qualms with the spectacular success of Frank Miller's 300.

In a time long long ago there is a king - a mighty king who commanded and inspired the respect the loyalty of his soldiers. And not just loyalty but love, and he loved his soldiers back openly and warmly.

The magnificent Gerard Butler freshly chiselled from Beowulf and Grendel [and Phantom of the Opera]is Leonidas - the King of Sparta.

Since the age of seven until the age they become men, the boys have been inured and thrown into the rigours of training and pain against each other. Learning stealth and courage. And they grew up to be men. And he to become King.

With the forces of the outside world pressing upon his borders, an emissary from Xerxes of Persia a human who dared to think himself a god came to ask for an offering of earth and water from Leonidas - and in turn his land would be spared, his people saved from the tyranny of slavery, the woman and children unharmed. Contray to the saying do not shoot the messenger, the emissary and his entourage are shoved into the bottomless well. This is the world where only the hard survive, and actions whether they be cruel or kind are decisive.


This is the world of 300 - Frank Miller's newest adaptation blazed across the screen. Any fan of Frank Miller's Sin City have even more violent action and vim and vigour to look forward to. Blood flies without mercy or remorse from the soldiers.

Leonidas is a king among kings - he is cut, buff, strong, he commands his troops with a mighty voice and an open heart - he shows wisdom and courage - he is decisive, he is strong, he is a skillful lover of his Queen who has already borne him a son, a son ready for the trials son who someday will be the next King. He is mighty with shield and sword. With but a handful of 300 of his finest soldiers, he sets out in defiance against the keepers of the oracles [ the most beautiful of Spartan woman who have been brought up to speak as the voices of the gods ] who stay the army itself from marching with Leonidas because it is the high holiday. The story of the 300 is of daring and fortitude and defying the odds - 300 against the legions of Persian ships and the milliards of soldiers they bring. The 300 fight not only with only shield and sword against just Persian men and arrow but the Immortals [ the most cunning and deadliest of the Persian army ] as well as fantastical and phantasmagorical creatures not seen on this earth since the Lord of the Rings. The amazing score reinforces the total sense of nobility and majesty.

The landscape of 300 stretches far and wide in the mountainous valleys where the Spartan army hopes to hem the Persians in - funnel them into the chasm so that the foes' numerical superiority will not matter. The colours on screen are burnished in a patina of golden brown and red. Tanned muscles ripple in amazing one on one battle scenes showing the Spartan soldiers skill with sword and shield, their utter speed shown in stop time, in defence formation their resolve shown in the savage thrust of spear into horse and muscle as wave of soldiers and calvary come upon them or one Spartan against many. And on the first day they are victorious, and build a wall of their fallen foes. But for how long can they last in the face of an endless enemy? Can the Queen persuade the Spartan senate unknownst to them led by politician corrupted by Persian gold to let the Spartan army march north in time to save and aid her King?

Lovers of Sin City will find 300 an enthralling tale of the exemplary example of heroes fighting for their country - with honour and dignity to the end - adhering to their creed: no retreat no surrender that is Spartan law - to be remembered for all time.

Remember us.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

/* Deena sings lead */ - Dreamgirls

Tracing the rise of the Motown scene while taking a sideways look at the rise of the African American from 1962 the Broadway show Dreamgirls on screen brings on the glitz and glamour through the girl trio Dreamers.

The costumes that are slinky and elegant on Deena [Beyonce Knowles}], Effie (Jennifer Hudson) as the replaceable third Lorrell [Anika Noni Rose] of the trio belie the artifice for behind the scens is the machinations of snake oil salesman Curtis Taylor, Jr. [Jamie Foxx] who connives to shove Effie [Jennifer Hudson] out of the lead of the ex-Dreamettes who under his guidance become the backup group Dreams to Eddie Murphy's James "Thunder" Early, a glitzy glamour character who belies the likes of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

While trying to trace the rise and fall of Motown and the ill-disguised Supremes in the 60s and 70s and on the side the black power movement and civil rights, Dreamgirls proves to be a shallow movie and ultimately, the whole of this Christmas release Dreamgirls leaves a bad candy taste in the mouth and a wish you could get the more than two hours of your life back. Bad dreams are made of this.

/* it's a two gold star day */ - kudos for Notes on a Scandal

it's Oscar night and the computer is behaving for three minutes at a stretch so we cannot write much

but we have been blitzing the theatres this week to catch up with as many nominees and nominated films left on our list

we did try though Venus and Les Indigenes eluded our grasp before today - but everybody celebrate the magic that is film tonight

Saturday, February 24, 2007

/* This is not who you are */ - The Number 23

/* Poor little rich girl */ - Factory Girl and the amazing it girl Sienna Miller

Sienna Miller does a remarkable job of bringing the ultimate "it" girl Edie Sedgwick to life in Factory Girl, the re-creation by documentary style director George Hickenlooper [Heart of Darkness, Mayor of the Sunset Strip] of the story between pop artist Andy Warhol and his discovery Edie.

Based somewhat on George Plimpton's interview book Edie, Factory Girl retells the story of Edie Sedgwick during the 60s and 70s and her infancy years masking her deep dark secrets and the insanity that ran in her family. She escapes from California and finds herself mixed up in the life of Andy Warhol and the Factory, an artist's warehouse space where Warhol directed his amateur films such as Vinyl starring his entourage and created the Campbell soup cans montages.

The shots during the film are perfectly faithful to the photographs of Edie Sedgwick who became the "it" girl - with her stunning waifish looks she was the poster model for her generation. Parts in the films such as the tryptich Chelsea Girls and Poor Little Rich Girl - to see and be seen with the Andy Warhol was the apex of her "career". Warhol portrayed in Factory girl as fey and callow by [Memento, The Time Machine, The Proposition star] Guy Pearce is seen as the leading cause of her ultimate demise, abandoning her and leaving her destitute in her exploited and drug-addicted decline. One bright moment of happiness is seen in the company of It ain't me babe Bobby Quinn [a veiled Bob Dylan] nailed by Hayden Christensen, and her biggest mistake was staying with Andy instead of leaving with him. It ain't me babe.

The movie is tragically bookended by her "obituary" in the park about how she wants to be remembered followed by the ending credits with real photos and commentary by actual participants in Edie's life that underly the tragedy but also remember how brightly she shone.

/* 7# - Can I trust you ? */ - Breach

Blood Diamond - /* TIA - This is Africa */ - Leo on the run

The Last King of Scotland - /* This is Africa */

A powerful performance by Forest Whitaker embracing the dark and the light that was General Idi Amin the ruthless president of Uganda. The contradictions between a man so eager to be embraced by his people showing his humour and laughter and the power of persuasion and the brutal putdown of his opposition.


The Lives of Others - /* man can change */

In 1980s East Germany when a Stassi agent meets the words of Brecht one comes up with the remarkable achievement that is The Lives of Others. The German entry for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards this year


Friday, February 16, 2007

Children of Men - */ everything comes down to a battle between faith vs chance */

A bleak look at the future of the world as seen in yet another post-apocalyptic look at England in 2027 London. The youngest being on the planet has just died, Baby Julian he has been monikered, at the age of 18. Ever since 2009 there has been a mysterious pandemic that has eliminated fertility on the planet. There is no future for the human race in a hundred years hence. Theo [ Clive Owen ] lives his life in a numb haze fuelled by Bells whiskey.


Letters from Iwo Jima - /* love, Mom */

After a TCM movie weekend filled with the likes of 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, Flying Tigers and They Were Expendable
comes this disturbing personal and intense look at the battle for Iwo Jima seen from the Japanese perspective.

Clint Eastwood's second directorial foray into the story after Flags Of Our Fathers is ambitious and accurate. The two films share the same body of research with the latter written by Iris Yamashita,more being the story of how General Tadamichi Kuribayashi [ Ken Watanabe ] led his army troops in this forsaken piece of Japan, the manipulated film lends a muted emotion to the affair seen in low contrast.

An archaeological excursion in 2005 digs back into the truth of what happened to the island at the end of the second world war. The island is a memorial with only a shell of what once was, left behind are the series of caves excavated by the labour of the soldiers for the defence of Iwo Jima, itself a coveted stepping stone because of Iwo Jima being just 650 miles from Tokyo.

"They can have this island" complains Saigo, one of the young soldiers trying to survive amidst the sand, the heat, the water and the dysentery. Back in his home of Nagano, he was but a simple baker with a wife and expected child, here he is expected to fight with honour. However as Kuribayashi leads his twenty thousand troops against the invasion by the American fleet, he tells them do not expect to return home. No survivors.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Black Coffee

You will never look the same way at a cup of coffee again after watching this TVO three hour documentary.

... more

TT where are you ?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hannibal Rising - /* we eat or we die */

The new chapter in the Hannibal Lecter series takes us back to 1944 Lithuania during the time of the second world war. The family is fleeing Lecter castle, taking their treasures and their livelihoods with them to a household in the country. It is a matter of conjecture if they have more to fear from Russian looters rampant in the countryside, or the arrival of the German troops and tanks.

Hannibal and his very little sister Mischa watch their parents die at the hands of German bullets and are left to fend for themselves in the house. Looters find the two and hold them captive as they dine with them throughout the brual winter of starvation. His sensitive impressionable mind is very shocked by what fury men will do to survive. He eventually is saved and eight years later finds himself in a school setup in his old home at the castle.

Hannibal henceforth lives in a closed emotional state, his mouth is closeknit during the day only to let out yells at night due to his nightmares reliving the moments of that winter, trying to forget yet remember what happened. His only physical connection to his parents and relatives are photographs of the past.

He escapes from the school - after sneaking rides aboard trains across borders and finds himself at his uncle's place. The uncle has passed on but his Japanese "aunt" [ Gong Li ] raises him in a state of grace at the estate near France and teaches him refinement. She endeavours for Hannibal to be gentle and kind like his father. He reads and she teaches him the art of Japanese kendo and swords. She prays before her god, who is dressed as a mighty Japanese warrior with the mask that has become the trademark of the Hannibal Lecter visage. His aunt who hails from Hiroshima connects with Hannibal, not just because the both of them are outsiders, but because they both have their lives scream back at them at night.

Hannibal Rising is a story well told with a sense of style and muted colours. It's the tale of revenge best served cold. The thrill of the chase by the French police is not on the par of Clarice sparring with Hannibal Lecter, and can one side with Hannibal as he pursues his quest? but Hannibal Rising is american psycho reborn and purviews the character and moral development of the child who died in that winter, and came out the other side a monster.

Fish cheeks anyone?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Manufactured Landscapes - beauty and the beast

The hit documentary Manufactured Landscapes of 06 Toronto International Film Festival and now making a splash in the realm of Sundance this year typifies what TVO and the NFB do best - produce very insightful documentaries with a deep message that leave with you wonder.

China is going through a new industrial revolution as it attempts to keep pace with the demands of a burgeoning populace. The demand for power, fuels, supplies is far greater than their present technologies.

The opening shot of Manufactured Landscapes is a long tracking shot from one end of the factory floor to the other, the camera taking in all the men and women doing their little repetitive tasks as they make toys, or sensors. There is little mechanization, this is assembly line by human labour.

China has become the vast dumping ground of the world's discarded and recycled parts: things such as computer monitors, motherboards are discarded by the millions and end up in China by the hillsideful and are stripped by hand for anything useful: the metal, the wiring, for example.

It is the eye of photography Edward Burtynsky that sees composition amidst the chaos, beauty is in the eye of the beholder amidst the debris - the beauty is in the details.

Director Jennifer Baichwal follows Burtynsky as he clambers amongst the hillside, or perched atop scaffolding or ladders, carrying his 4x5 camera he looks for the composition and the light. The director's cinematographers will dwell on a part of the picture which in itself is beautiful and telling and then zoom back to show the enormity of scale - it's like seeing Blow-Up in reverse. The centre is just a speck in the macrocosm that is China.

The manufactured landscape is a different type of landscape - the kind that is the product of man and his relationship with industrialization. It is industry versus nature. Despite the photographer's intent that he is not trying to take a stance, where at the exhibition that he lets the viewers come their own conclusion, the pictures he say do not try to condemn or glorify what is happening but the pictures speak for themselves.

Manufactured Landscapes goes outside of the country too to see the effects of globalization of industry elsewhere. The two words oil epiphany are two words that come to him. The building blocks of industry come from oil, and China as the new factory of the world is an endproduct. He pictures the deep digs into the earth, the levels of the scars of the quarries and mines which are the accumulation of time are like tree rings. Industrialization is placing a tremendous toll on the natural landscapes, and even more devastating effects upon the people and the quality of their lives. The scavengers on the hillsides dig for the metals in order to work and survive and earn their pay. The leeching of the metals into the ground affects drinking water. Rivers are deadly. The enormous scale of the Three Gorges Dam which is going to level an enormous part of China and sink cities in the process - and the Chinese government is paying its own people to tear down their own homes and cities brick by brick. The people who are being resettled find themselves in new settlements but they are becoming the new impoverished peasants in a new land with nothing to do. There are tragic portraits of old ladies who are reduced to doing nothing but menial tasks : sorting or stripping the parts to survive. Or the lady who refuses to leave her apartment while the tenements around her are demolished for new construction. Burtnysky and Baichal capture this all leaving you to find the shock and awe in all the splendour of manufactured landscapes.