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Ying xiong (2002)
"Hero": Visionary Meets the Technical
Technical virtuosity versus the eponymous creative vision. As modern movie buffs, we are usually dealt one or the other, but rarely both. The newer Star Wars episodes and to some extent, the Matrix films, tend to be heavy on the technical pyrotechnics, but tend to be short on the pure beauty of visionary cinematography. Movies like "Amelie" and "Lost In Translation" are marvels of the color aesthetic, but their technical brilliance is subtle. One of those rare films that merge the two is the new Jet Li driven vehicle, "Hero" ("Ying Xiong").
This eagerly anticipated film by Yimou Zhang has finally hit the U.S. theaters, even though it was actually released overseas in 2002. Much like its genre predecessor, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", this film shows off the martial art known as wuxia, which deals with swordplay. Both films could be referred to as "wire-fu" since both heavily use unseen wires to allow the actors to appear to float on air, hang by a foot and walk on water. The difference between the two seems to lie in the addition of Matrix-style freeze frame style effects fused with the brilliant color play that Zhang uses to create contrast between versions of events. The combination is truly evocative and yet is still able to maintain the film's sense of integrity to the time period.
The cinematography and effects are truly the main characters in this film, but Jet Li turns in a quietly effective performance as Nameless, the hero of the epic tale that is part Greek tragedy and part ancient Chinese philosophy. In addition to Li, there are remarkable portrayals by Tony Leung Chiu Wai as the introspective assassin Broken Arrow and by the stunning Maggie Cheung as the tenacious Flying Snow.
For all the dazzling effects, inventive cinematography and its quixotic script, "Hero" owes a lot to the legacy of Akira Kurosawa, the legendary Japanese director who created some of the greatest foreign epics of all-time. Much of the storytelling and scenes are straight out of some of Kurosawa's greatest works "Rashomon" and "Ran". Even though Zhang seems to liberally channel the spirit of Kurosawa through some elements, the remainder of the film is purely modern. The use of stop action and slow motion photography is probably a little overused, but the techniques do create a striking tableau of billowy dynamics. The one problem I had with the film lies with the actual use of the subtitles, which are obviously necessary, but it makes one look away from the vivid images that Zhang creates.
If you are a fan of martial arts movies, epic tragedies or just a sucker for vibrant celluloid art, then you are in for a treat as "Hero" will appeal to all of you in some way. As for me...I cannot wait to see it again and catch all the things I missed!
Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie (2004)
This movie should have a Surgeon General's warning!
Scientists estimate that the average human being has around 100,000,000,000 (100 Billion) brain cells (or neurons) and that after the age of 20 we tend to lose them at a rate of around 9,000 neurons per day. There are activities that can enhance that, such as sniffing paint or glue, which can accelerate that loss to about 300,000 a day...remarkable to say the least. In my own research this past week, I have discovered that exposure to the new movie "Yu-Gi-Oh!" makes the paint huffers of the world feel a little better about their eroding brain cells, as I believe I may have lost in the area of about 1.6 billion neurons in the time span of an hour and a half.
Yu-Gi-Oh is a fantasy card game that has taken over our children's lives and depleted our (parents) pocketbooks of hard-earned cash and has given us some of the most confusing conversations we have ever been subjected to. The cards have turned our sons (and some daughters) into poster children for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder without any help in sight. Either my son is OCD or he is a genius, but to follow this game with any type of success, I suspect he would have to be a mixture of both.
This leads me to "Yu-Gi-Oh!" the movie. My 9 year-old son has problems with his handwriting, he has issues with the use of pencils upsetting his tactile senses and his reading could be better, but he can utilize the internet to find the release dates of ANY movie that may, or may not be, in production at any moment. I, on other hand, am lucky if I can remember to shave in the morning. Anyway, he knew months in advance when this movie was coming out and quickly began to pine away the days with a sense of wistful yearning that is usually reserved for Sonic the Hedgehog and Spiderman...I knew at that very moment that my brain cells were at risk.
In the weeks preceding the release of "Yu-Gi-Oh!", I thought of so many ways to get out of seeing this celluloid nightmare. Maybe I would be called away to business in a Third World country...maybe I would be forced to sell soap to the criminally incarcerated...maybe I could pay a babysitter to go to the movie with him. In the end, after debating with my ex and also realizing I was too poor to afford a babysitter, I subjected myself to the experience.
We arrived at the movie theater; my son a portrait of unheralded joy with a hint of trembling angst, and me, saddled with the look of a man who has realized that the Governor is not going to call with a stay of execution...I am resigned to my own fate. As I expected, we got MORE cards upon payment of the tickets, though I did save some money by going to the matinée, so that's a positive. We started to the theater and as providence would have it, the movie actually started early, so we missed the first 3 minutes or so, which probably saved me approximately 300,000 neurons.
I cannot remember that much about the actual movie, but I do remember the "plot" (and I use that term loosely) was just what I thought it would be. It can be broken down into this easy to understand dialogue:
Enemy Guy: "I have this incredible card!"
Yu-Gi: "Oh yeah? Well, I have this incredible card!"
Enemy Guy: "Well, you may think that, but I have this card which combined with this other card makes your card obsolete!"
Yu-Gi: "Ha! You only think that, but I have this face down card that when combined with this magic card and this other spell card combine to create the ultimate monster that you could never dream of stopping!"
This goes on for an hour and a half. I am not kidding. I got you...you got me...I got you again. Finally someone got someone else and a card that was never before seen makes an appearance and changes the dynamics of the film. It was like watching theoretical Dungeons and Dragons geeks if they were to spar on ESPN, only the latter would probably be more entertaining because of the commercials. Speaking of commercials, this is literally an hour and a half infommercial.
Finally its over...its over...its over. I keep having to assure myself that this is indeed the case. In the moments after, I realize that I cannot remember the names of any of my teachers in grade school and that I can no longer pinpoint the exact moment when my hair began to recede. Thankfully, these memories are not as important as others and "Yu-Gi-Oh!" has not taken everything from me. The only thing I can actually remember from the movie is that the Blue Eyes Shining Dragon is not one to be trifle with.
In closing, I would be remiss if I did not quote that great sage Dean Vernon Wormer, "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son". After seeing "Yu-Gi-Oh!" I might tend to disagree.
The Cat in the Hat (2003)
My kid loved it...
...and that is probably the idea...right? I have read some criticisms on this board and others and came away with the general idea that I would hate this. The fact is that I really liked this film and maybe the people criticizing should stop holding off on their indie-film reviews for a film that was going to be an overt massive marketing commodity from the start. To read some of these diatribes you would think that people wanted the exact storyline from the book or something close to it. Well, then it would have been a 15 minute movie. This movie IS what it IS...a campy and silly film geared towards young kids with large disposable incomes and not arrested developmental adults that wish they were young kids with large disposable incomes. Sure...Myers sounded a little too much like the Lion in Wizard of Oz sometimes and yes the screenplay was not on par with On the Waterfront, but my kid laughed and left the theater wanting to see it again. My big problem was that a Beatles classic like "Getting Better" had to be ripped off by some two bit pop band!!!