The Bourne Supremacy

Dir: Paul Greengrass
I liked the first Bourne movie, despite not being the biggest fan of Matt Damon
(although “Gerry” was also good (and completely unseen)). This sequel hurries along at a good clip, keeps its twists and turns to a minimum, and generates enough excitement to qualify it as a decent summer movie, but the film doesn’t do as well under the director Paul Greengrass (“Bloody Sunday”). He comes from the “chased by a bear” school of action shooting (nods to Paul Tatara), and the car chase at the end is completely incomprehensible despite the hero and villain being in different makes of cars. Previous director Doug Liman knew how to move the camera through space and how to simulate weight and movement. Greengrass just shakes the camera a lot. He was hired because of his newsreel/verite style of his previous film, but placing a camera near the wheels of a car is not verite, unless you are just about to be run over.
Typically dark, blue and grey cinematography (even in the isle of Goa sequence) by Oliver Wood, which becomes quite dull to look at. Fortunately, the script isn’t too dumb, and violence comes sudden and silent. It also helps to have Julia Stiles in it, reprising her role as a CIA op, primarily because, well, I think she’s cute. Nice scarf/jacket combo, miss!

Fahrenheit 9-11

Dir: Michael Moore
No, I haven’t just watched Fahrenheit 9-11.
I caught it opening weekend, and I’ve been making return visits since. Most recently, I took my dad to see it (he’s sort of a reformed centrist. When we lived in England he got the Telegraph and the Daily Mail. I’m not too sure if he realised they were Tory papers.)
It was a 1 p.m. showing on a Thursday, and the theater has about 20 people. Instead of the whooping laff-fest of opening weekend, laced with jeers and screams (the appearance of Britney Spears after the horrific Iraq footage prompted a Yamataka Eye-style evisceration from the front row), there was studied silence which later broke into laughter around the time of the “fear of terrorism” segment. And the film still earned applause at the end (which is rare when there’s few in the audience). In the lobby afterwards, one elderly lady was in tears and being comforted by her daughter. Blimey.
It’s still a powerful movie. Whether or not its main function–to toss Bush out of office–succeeds, we won’t know until November. But it also serves in other ways:
* Doing the job of what journalism used to do: making connections, pointing out hypocrisy, showing the President unedited.
* Pushing the meme of Bush’s “seven-minutes-in-a-classroom.” To many of us on the left we knew of this for a long time. But a majority of Americans didn’t, and Bush lied when he told his version of things (he was active, decisive). Watching a bit o’ CSPAN last night, I watched a voter roundtable of calmly talking Americans, all with different views, but all pretty centrist. And the “7 minutes” meme is among them, mentioned and not disputed.
* Reminding us, as documentaries have to do every now and then, that war is hell. But I would say that it’s the American public who have done the best job of telling themselves that war is not about your friend’s guts exploding everywhere but video-game point and click fun stuff. Sure, the Armed Forces ads look like promos for adventure camp (the one with jet skis is a hoot), but how stupid are you to think that’s what the army is? Isn’t this part of our culture-wide arrested adolescence, of how we’ve taken on the teenager’s faith in our own immortality?
* If not creating a new style of documentary, he’s cemented his style as a new genre. It’s not confessional, like Ross McElwee, but it is polemical, up to date (due to digital technology in editing), and appropriates the mass media to explode its methods. Oh yeh, and documentaries can be funny, too.
So far, the only fair criticism I’ve read of the facts (as opposed to Moore’s patriotism, etc. etc.) presented in the film is over at Juan Cole’s blog, in which he smooths out the rather convoluted Saudi-Bush connection. I’m glad Moore gets all this in the movie, but due to pacing, he has to compact enough info for another film into a short segment. It’s not that he plays fast and loose with the truth, but what are actually separate episodes of BushJunta awfulness (the coddling of the Taliban regime, the Karzai-Unocal pipeline connection, the Bush-Saudi conneciton, the Carlysle Group), appear in the film as a linear tale (at least when I watched it this time). And there isn’t time to sit and wonder if that actually makes sense.

Moreover, if it is true that the Saudis have so much invested in this country, then it makes no sense for wealthy Saudi entrepreneurs and governing figures to wish the US harm. Can you imagine the bath Saudi investments took here after 9/11? The Saudi royals and the Bin Ladens lounging about in places like Orlando, who were airlifted out lest they be massacred after the attacks, didn’t know anything about the apocalyptic plots hatched in dusty Qandahar, and if they had they would have blown the whistle on them with the US so as to avoid losing everything they had.
The Saudi bashing in the Moore film makes no sense. It is true that some of the hijackers were Saudis, but that is only because Bin Laden hand-picked some Saudi muscle at the last minute to help the brains of the operation, who were Egyptians, Lebanese, Yemenis, etc. Bin Laden did that deliberately, in hopes of souring US/Saudi relations so that he could the better overthrow the Saudi government.
The implication one often hears from Democrats that the US should have invaded Saudi Arabia and Pakistan after the Afghan war rather than Iraq is just another kind of warmongering and illogical. There is no evidence that either the Saudi or the Pakistani government was complicit in 9/11.

But, of course, it’s usually only “us liberals” who get our panties in a bunch over the intricacies of facts and figures. The BushJunta and their propaganda ministers over at Fox just plain out lie. (However, for a long-ass breakdown of the facts from the right, you could do worse than check out Dave Kopel’s site. See how “fair and balanced” I am? Wow. (Gun rights activist Kopel goes overboard–as is typical–and enters “Moore is a terrorist symp” territory near the end. Yeh, yeh, yeh. Okay, we get it.))
Moore has posted his own footnotes to the film over at his own site.
Finally, it is a very patriotic film, even nationalistic in its exclusion from the film anything to do with the worldwide protests or (apart from two mentions) the Blair government’s role in cooking the Iraq books. But as I said to Jessica, it’s only in America would such a film get made and released during the administration it was criticizing. When I asked her if such a film would be made in her country (revealing the nefarious dealings of Chen Shui-bein and released before his next election) she said “the filmmaker would probably be killed.” When you see the slugfests they have in Taiwan’s parliament, I have no doubt she’s right.
So cheers to Michael Moore, and here’s to sticking it to Bush.
Also, is anybody going to ever take to task the Democrat members of the Senate for not signing the Black Caucus’s complaint letter, as seen in the beginning of the film (one of the few events in the film that I didn’t know about)? How do they justify it? And how do they sleep knowing that a little bit of bravery could have saved this country from four years of savagery?

Glaringly obvious

Here are some sites that I often use, but I’ve never linked to because I assume people know them. I must have forgotten the “ass out of U and me” ur-Prince adage.
Snopes should be in everybody’s bookmarks. A one-stop-shop for Urban Legends, Snopes is up to date on the latest hoaxes. When I get a forwarded email from a friend of a friend of a friend saying “George Bush called fetuses ‘feces’ in a speech” or “Tom DeLay eats children,” I go to Snopes, no matter how much I’d like to believe it. (The latter is absolutely true, however). Snopes also tells you if something is true, with references. I then copy and paste and email the forwarder back. The madness must end!
I just started using Phil Gyford‘s revamped Internet watcher called Byliner. A simple and effective free service, it allows you to track your favorite writers across the web. Find a writer through Byliner’s search engine, subscribe, and then receive emails when that writer has posted a new piece. Obviously this works (as it was designed to) best with newspaper columnists. You can have up to 30 writers on that list.
(Update: As of 2008 Phil Gyford discontinued Byliner.)
I’m also surprised at the people who don’t know about the Internet Movie Database, even people who are obsessed with films. This has been around since the beginning of the Net (I think). Time ya got with the program.
Oh, and brand new is my friend Rachel Howard’s web page and blog. She’s come a long way since our days at the Independent, and now has a book coming out next year, as well as a steady gig as a dance reviewer. I write on dance too, but she knows far more than me. She use big words too. Ugh.

It’s a bleedin’ hyena! Or something.

According to this NBC affiliate report, there’s a mystery animal prowling suburbia, looking like a hyena mixed with a coyote, getting along fine with cats and dogs, and hanging out in the sun long enough to have its photo taken. Will we see a follow up to this? And if it really is a hyena mixed with a coyote, how the hell did that happen in Maryland?
Update: The blogosphere has weighed in and I agree with the “small, mangy bear” theory. We need to shave more animals and familiarize ourselves with their “nude” looks, methinks, for future reference.
By way of BoingBoing

The Return

Dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev
A startling debut from Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev,
“The Return” is a family drama stuctured and shot as suspense/mystery. Two boys, Ivan (Ivan Dobronravov) and the older Andrej (Vladimir Garin), are surprised to find their father (Konstantin Lavronenko), who they barely remember, has returned after a long absense. The father takes them on a long fishing/camping trip, where the two brothers come into conflict with his authortarian behavior. By the time they take a small motorboat out to a deserted island, Ivan begins to suspect his father isn’t who he says he is.
Zvyagintsev’s film is enthralling, and by turns surprising and inevitable in its fateful tale. Neither child is correct about their father, and the father isn’t an ogre. We get a sense that the father was stationed at this island during his time in the army, but what happened there we never find out. His strict nature feels like the only way he can understand relationships. We also see that, having been raised by an overprotective mother, the two kids are coddled and don’t understand their father’s behavior at all. Ivan feels persecuted.
Andrey spends a lot of his trip taking photos, and in his own silent protest (unlike Ivan’s stubborn nature) excludes his father from the frame. It’s understandable, but this tactic comes back at the end of the tale to devastating effect, as do several small plot points, such as failing to follow their father’s instructions. Zvyagintsev never hammers these points home, wisely, but drops a few red herrings.
Limited in release, most of us will have to wait for the DVD release, though the small screen may not do justice to the 24-hour sunlight the filmmakers shot in (up near the Finnish/Russian border).
(A side note: The elder of the child actors died not long after filming, drowning in the lake where most of “The Return” was filmed.)

Lady Snowblood

Dir. Toshiya Fujita
A fast-paced samurai revenge picture with a female in the title role,
“Lady Snowblood” has received this release due to Tarantino referencing it (and using some of its soundtrack) in “Kill Bill.”
Wide-eyed Mieko Kaji (who played the title role in Female Convict Scorpion) stars as Yuki, whose mother died in childbirth, and raised by a hard-assed martial arts-teaching priest. She is raised to complete her revenge against the gang of four who killed her family and raped and tortured her mother. Yes, she has a list, just like in Kill Bill, but things get more complex. Death number one was completed by the mother before her death in prison. Death number two comes easily. But when Yuki tracks down Number Three, she finds a headstone. Seems like he died some time back. However, a young reporter seems to know about her story and a tenuous relationship develops.
All this is set against the Meiji era of Japan, and a climactic fight scene is shot inside a very Western costume ball, where British Admirals dance with Japanese ladies.
If anyone thought the violence in Kill Bill was cartoony or gross, Lady Snowblood has plenty more limb-choppin’, blood spurtin’ action. No matter where Yuki hits with her sword, she is guaranteed to hit a main artery, the result a hissing, arcing fountain o’ blood. Great fun, as is the wah-wah pedal-heavy, jazz-rock score, but Toshiya Fujita plays it straight. It was made in 1973 after all.
This is a very good DVD release by Animeigo, which though it lacks in extras, makes sure that every single thing in Japanese is translated, with multicolored subtitles helping the sometimes speedy dialog. Very few Japanese DVDs have such extensive subtitles.
Japanese film fans won’t be surprised to know Yuki dies in the end, but they may be surprised to see that Yuki came back the next year for a sequel. Did she punch her way out of her six-feet-under coffin? No idea.