In the “Cool Things We Could Build Too If We Weren’t Addicted to Austerity” Department, architects plan to build a nifty Mobius-inspired bridge near Changsha. “The pedestrian bridge is 150 metres across and 24 metres high, spanning the river via a number of different spaghetti-esque pathways at different heights.”
“N***a, is you takin’ notes on a criminal f**king conspiracy?” Buzzfeed‘s Matthew Zeitlin explains what the banksters at J.P. Morgan could learn from Stringer Bell and the New Day-Co-Op. “[S]pelling out in a spreadsheet your exact intentions about hiring specific people for their parents’ help for specific deals is probably not considered best practices.”
I’m from The Future, you should move to China: Forbes’ Bruce Upbin examines a theoretically quick and easy way to learn Chinese characters…or, at least, a few of them. “There are some 10,000 Chinese characters in common use. Basic literacy, according to the Chinese government, starts at two thousand characters. A solid grasp of a daily Beijing newspaper requires knowing around three thousand. An erudite Chinese reader should recognize five to seven thousand characters. How about eight?
Lots of scores to settle and cold dishes served in the trailer bin of late…
Antebellum musician Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) finds himself way down on the wrong side of the Mason-Dixon line in our first look at Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, also with Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, and Alfre Woodard.
Some strange musical cues here, including the themes from Pearl Harbor and The Wolfman (the latter used to better effect in the original, still-creepy Tinker Tailor teaser). In any case, I liked Hunger and Shame less than most, but I’d be up to give this a go.
Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em: Josh Brolin discovers to his dismay that he can check in but never leave in the red-band trailer for Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, also with Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli, Lance Reddick, and James Ransone. I’m still trying to un-watch the original — some things involving octopi and tongues I wish I never saw in that there film.
One good remake deserves another: Deserve’s still got nothing to do with it as Ken Watanabe fills Clint Eastwood’s shoes for Sang-il Lee’s Yurusarezaru mono, the Japanese remake of Unforgiven, also with Akira Emoto, Koichi Sato, and Yuya Yagira. From The Seven Samurai to The Magnificent Seven, there’s a long and fertile history for this sort of cultural exchange, so I’d watch it.
What I likely won’t be watching is Sergei Bodrov’s fantasy epic Seventh Son, based on a series I haven’t heard of called The Wardstone Chronicles, even if it does have Jeff and Maude Lebowski operating on opposite sides of the ball. (Between this and R.I.P.D., Bridges seems to be in full “paying for an extension to my house” mode these days.)
I thought at first this might be based on Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, but then I remembered they already made a lousy adaptation of that a few years ago. In any case, also along for the ride: Ben Barnes, Kit Harington, Alicia Vikander, Djimon Hounsou, Jason Scott Lee, and Antje Traue.
When bad things happen to his brother (Casey Affleck), Christian Bale goes vigilante to take down the local ne’er-do-well (Woody Harrelson) in the first trailer for Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace, also with Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe, Forrest Whitaker, and Sam Shepard. (TL;DR: Bale meets Death Wish meets Winter’s Bone.) Alrighty then.
When bad things happen to his brother (Matt Barnes), Ryan Gosling goes vigilante to take down the local ne’er-do-well (Vithaya Pansringarm) in the newest trailer for Nicholas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives.
Along with presumably another hyper-catchy soundtrack like Refn and Gosling’s Drive, this also has the added benefit of Kristin Scott Thomas apparently doing her “Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast/Ralph Fiennes in In Bruges” turn. As with Oldboy, I expect this to be hyper-violent, tho’.
And finally Wong Kar-Wai, Yuen Woo Ping, Tony Leung, and Zhang Ziyi band together to tell the story of Ip Man (again) in the newest trailer for The Grandmaster. This still looks to me like an unnecessary remake of the third Matrix movie, but you can’t fault the pedigree involved.
Update: One more down the pike today: Benedict Cumberbatch channels Julian Assange, and has some Social Network-style angst with his partner Daniel Bruhl, in the first trailer for Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate, with Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Peter Capaldi, Carice van Houten, Dan Stevens, Stanley Tucci and Laura Linney. Linney’s smarmy “truth, justice, and the American way” line is wince-inducing, but otherwise this could be promising.
Update 2: Blanchett, meet Blanche DuBois? After Madoff-y husband Alec Baldwin becomes only the second person in America to be prosecuted for misdealings during the financial crisis, Cate Blanchett learns how the other half lives in the first trailer for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, with Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay(?), Michael Stuhlbarg, and (hopefully) the Woodster’s new best friend, Louis C.K.
Some very troubling news for MMORPG cheats to consider: The Guardian reports that prisoners at Chinese labor camps are now forced to gold-farm for hours on end. “If I couldn’t complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things.” Ugh, don’t subsidize this, people. If you can’t farm the stuff yourself, find another hobby. (Arthas pic via here.)
“Along with modern humans, scientists knew about the Neanderthals and a dwarf human species found on the Indonesian island of Flores nicknamed The Hobbit. To this list, experts must now add the Denisovans.” Researchers discover evidence of a fourth separate species of ancient man in the caves of Siberia. “The implications of the finding have been described by Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London as ‘nothing short of sensational… [W]e didn’t know how ancient people in China related to these other humans.‘”
“When historians look back to the moment when the post-Cold War reign of American power ended, they may well settle on 2010 as a crucial year. Everywhere, it seemed, there were signs that the long-predicted “rise of the rest” had finally occurred, whether in the newfound assertiveness of fast-growing China or the impatient diplomacy of new powers like Brazil and Turkey. Foreign Policy’s second annual list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers fully reflects that new world.“
As above, Foreign Policy has picked its Top 100 Global Thinkers of the year. And, while there are some really atrocious choices on here (for example, the man at #33, who much more deservingly made the list in the next entry too), the article is worth a perusing regardless. (FWIW, #65, #68, and #80 seem really iffy to me as well.)
“‘It’s really wet,’ said Anthony Colaprete, co-author of one of the Science papers and a space scientist at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. He and his colleagues estimate that 5.6% of the total mass of the targeted lunar crater’s soil consists of water ice. In other words, 2,200 pounds of moon dirt would yield a dozen gallons of water.“
In keeping with recent studies, NASA is set to announce that there appears to be quite a lot of water on the moon, which would greatly facilitate setting up shop there. Alas, “the U.S. likely won’t be involved in manned voyages to the moon anytime soon…But other countries are gearing up. China has pledged to land astronauts on the moon by 2025, and India has plans to do the same by 2020. Japan wants to establish an unmanned moon base in a decade.” And, hey, why go to the moon when you can spend a decade in Afghanistan?
Also in the trailer bin, Zhang Yimou of Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower pays homage to the Coens with A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop, the Chinese remake of Blood Simple. (Also, dudes, “Chinamen” is not the preferred nomenclature.)
In Britain’s New Statesman, John Naish looks at the national security and job implications of our falling behind on green tech. “The more the military thinks about green technology, the more it sees how it goes hand in hand with improving operational effectiveness…Afghanistan is the principal driver for Nato nations. Resupply convoys can be eight miles long and they in effect say: ‘Please hit me with a roadside bomb.’ Up to 60 per cent of the convoys carry fuel and water. If you reduce that need for supply, you save lives.”
See also the “clean energy is a national security issue” argument made by Operation FREE (mainly in terms of Iran and its $100 million a day in oil profits): “‘There’s no greater threat to our national security than our dependence on oil.’ Marine veteran and Operation Free member Matt Victoriano told Kerry.‘” To be honest, I could really do without the implicit saber-rattling involved with some of this argument. But let’s face it, that’s how we got a space program.
“The change is negligible, but permanent: Each day should be 1.26 microseconds shorter, according to preliminary calculations. A microsecond is one-millionth of a second.” So, on the bright side, I guess that means we’ll all live to be a little older. The devastating 8.8 earthquake in Chile has apparently permanently shortened Earth’s day.
“Such changes aren’t unheard of. The magnitude 9.1 earthquake in 2004 that generated a killer tsunami in the Indian Ocean shortened the length of days by 6.8 microseconds. On the other hand, the length of a day also can increase. For example, if the Three Gorges reservoir in China were filled, it would hold 10 trillion gallons (40 cubic kilometers) of water. The shift of mass would lengthen days by 0.06 microsecond, scientists said.”
“‘This is the worst nightmare one can encounter,’ he said. Asked whether Georgia and Russia were now at war, he said, ‘My country is in self-defense against Russian aggression. Russian troops invaded Georgia.‘” Well, so much for that whole settling-differences-through-sports shebang. On the day of the Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing, Russia has apparently invaded nearby South Ossetia, next to Georgia, on reports (or is it simply the pretext?) of a Georgian incursion and ethnic cleansing in the region.
It’s still unclear (to me, at least) exactly what is going on over there. According to Georgia president Mikhail Saakashvili (and the current CNN reports), Russian troops have “been amassing at the border for the last few months. They claimed they were staging exercises there and as soon as a suitable pretext was found, they moved in.” According to Russian president Dmitry Medvedev (and some witnesses in the AP story), Russia is going in to protect Russian citizens in South Ossetia from both ethnic cleansing and a Georgian attempt to retake the breakaway region, which apparently Saakashvili has been promising to do for awhile. “Russia ‘will not allow the deaths of our compatriots to go unpunished’ and ‘those guilty will receive due punishment…My duty as Russian president is to safeguard the lives and dignity of Russian citizens, wherever they are. This is what is behind the logic of the steps we are undertaking now.‘” So, somebody‘s up to no good here on Opening Day, and, with competing claims to the region at hand, matters could soon get much worse.
In any case, at the moment we’re calling for an immediate cease-fire in the region, and have reasserted that “the U.S. supports Georgia’s territorial integrity.” More to come, I’m sure.
As I’m sure you’ve heard, Central China experienced a devastating earthquake today, killing thousands. This follows the nightmare cyclone in Burma (not Myanmar), a.k.a. Katrina writ large, which may now have claimed upwards of 100,000 lives. [Donations.] As with the 2004 tsunami, it seems almost criminally obtuse to keep nattering on about superdelegates and movie trailers while such large-scale catastrophes are unfolding. But, what is there to do?
“Today’s American system values upheaval; it’s been a while since we’ve seen too much of it. But Americans who lived through the Depression knew the pain real disruption can bring. Today’s Chinese, looking back on their country’s last century, know, too. With a lack of tragic imagination, Americans have drifted into an arrangement that is comfortable while it lasts, and could last for a while more. But not much longer.” The Atlantic‘s James Fallows examines the unstable financial codependence between China and the United States, and how it could all too easily unravel. “Lawrence Summers calls today’s arrangement ‘the balance of financial terror,’ and says that it is flawed in the same way that the ‘mutually assured destruction’ of the Cold War era was…With allowances for hyperbole, something similar applies to the dollar standoff. China can’t afford to stop feeding dollars to Americans, because China’s own dollar holdings would be devastated if it did. As long as that logic holds, the system works. As soon as it doesn’t, we have a big problem.” Update: Make that 1.53 trillion.
Attempting to be Last Tango in Shanghai by way of Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book, or at the very least to cast straight sex in as taboo a light as the gay love of Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution is, the lurid promise of its NC-17 rating notwithstanding, sadly a bit dull. As with most of Lee’s oeuvre, the film is ravishingly beautiful throughout, and it recreates WWII Shanghai much more evocatively than, say, Soderbergh’s The Good German did Berlin. But, at two hours and forty minutes, the film also feels overlong, and its central conceit — female agent deep undercover, deep under the covers — is burdened with entirely too much in the way of backstory. Lust, Caution isn’t a bad film by any means, but, its occasional explicitness notwithstanding, it doesn’t make for a particularly memorable one either.
As Lust, Caution begins, it’s 1942 in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, and four wealthy women, seemingly above the harsh impositions of wartime, exchange gossip and veiled state intel over a friendly game of Mahjong. Among this quartet are Yee Tai Tai (Joan Chen), wife of the secret police chief (Tony Leung), and one Mak Tai Tai (Tang Wei), the young and beautiful spouse of a Hong Kong importer. But, as we soon discover (after she leaves the game and makes a suspicious phone call in an English cafe), Mak Tai Tai does not in fact exist. Rather, we are to learn in a very extended flashback (it’s Michael Clayton all over again), she is Wong Chia Chi, a resistance agent whose journey to that Mahjong table began four years earlier, as a displaced schoolgirl in Hong Kong. Falling under the spell of a handsome, earnest young patriot (Wang Lee Horn) then, Wong, a lover of movies, begins appearing in nationalistic plays to much acclaim. And, when it is decided by her schoolyard coterie of six that more drastic action should be taken to fight the Japanese invader, she takes on the role of an importer’s wife to lure a key collaborationist, the aforementioned Mr. Yee, to his demise.
But trapping Mr. Yee poses several quandaries for these budding freedom fighters. For one, there is the rather delicate matter of how an inexperienced virgin could pass for a married woman. For another, this Yee is no provincial rube, but a man who’s at once deeply careful and extremely untrusting. Most problematic, Mr. Yee is no ugly, oafish lout, but the one-and-only Tony Leung, and hardly anybody in this world looks better smoking artfully in period suits than Tony Leung. Nevertheless, the kids go for it…with mixed results. And, when a spy is needed by the real Resistance to trap Mr. Yee a few years down the line, they find one ready-made in Wong, who takes on her role anew with even higher stakes. Only now, she discovers, Mr. Yee is more cruel than he first lets on, and very much into the rough stuff, sexually speaking. And, more to the point, once the Pandora’s Box of her own sexuality has been jarred open by Yee, Wong begins to lose herself in the part, to the detriment of all…
WWII spies, steamy, illicit sex…this seems like it should be an enticing concoction, to be sure…obviously it was right up Verhoeven’s alley in Black Book. But, as several reviewers have put it, Lust, Caution turns out to be much more cautious than it is lustful. Even if you factor out the extra hour of padding here, that’s a problem. Ang Lee’s films, among them Crouching Tiger, The Ice Storm, and Brokeback, have always been noted for their delicacy and artful restraint, which is frankly why he may not have been the best choice for this material, about a couple who lose themselves in sexual passion. The much-discussed sex scenes aren’t as puritanically minded as the nightmare visions of Requiem for a Dream, but there’s a definite coldness and frigidity about them, as if neither participant is having very much fun. They’re not so much erotic as they are animalistic, all acrobatic contortions and grunted yelps. I guess you could argue that’s the point — the two are driven not by love at all but by an inexplicable earthy necessity, and Lee even cuts to a growling German shepherd to forward that idea along. But, if that’s the case, if it’s all just physical — then why — spoiler here — when a key slip-up is made by one of the lovers, doesn’t it happen while in the throes of passion, rather than when one is presented with the sight of a shiny (dare I say gaudy?) bauble?
The acting in Lust, Caution is universally good, with special plaudits going to Tang Wei and Tony Leung. And sex is usually handled so sophomorically in films that I feel bad for faulting Lee’s unabashed use of it to further the story along here. But take away those few explicit scenes, and you’re left with a rather conventional snooze of a cloak-and-dagger movie, however lusciously filmed. And even the sex here could’ve used some of the sensuous warmth of Shanghai-born Wong Kar-Wai’s work. Sadly, when it comes to lust and caution in this film, Lust, Caution pretty much foregoes the red-light, and ends up raising more red flags than a Mao rally.
It is the hour of the rat for the Tang Dynasty, chrysanthemums bloom throughout the Middle Kingdom, and opulence comingles with palace intrigue in the halls of the Forbidden City. For the Emperor (Chow Yun-Fat, both fierce and serene), in his Divine wisdom, has seen fit to slowly and secretly poison his Empress (Gong Yi, equally good), by means of a deathly black fungus added to her daily medicine. The Empress, meanwhile, strains to rekindle her romance with the Emperor’s first son (by a previous marriage), the Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), but he only has eyes for a fetching maid (Li Man) in the imperial employ. (In fact, she is the daughter of the doctor administering the poison.) And also residing in this increasingly broke down palace are the Princes Jai (Jay Chou) and Yu (Qin Junjie), both of whom discover they have their own roles to play in the schemes of their feuding parents, particularly after the ailing Empress weaves a plot of vengeance to coincide with the coming festival…
Also milling about the Forbidden City is a cast of hundreds: the cooks, maids, laborers, soldiers, ninjas (Yes, this film has ninjas, or at least their Chinese equivalent), and ladies-in-waiting that make up the infrastructure undergirding the Tangs’ divine rule. Zhang goes out of his way here to emphasize the sheer amount of sweat and toil expected of this teeming support staff for even the most mundane task — It takes at least four servants to administer the Queen’s medicine and considerably more to cart the Emperor to and fro. Yet, Zhang seems to suggest, these people are as much part of the story as the resentful royals. They are the props of the extravagant ritual, rigid hierarchy, and striking beauty that characterize the Tang’s rule, and they are ennobled by knowing and playing their appropriate role in this imperial order. Whether or not you agree with this sentiment (and Zhang himself seems to cast doubt on it by the final shot), it does make for several breathtaking scenes of elaborate ceremony throughout the film.
And, yes, some of these are battles. To be honest, both Hero and House probably exhibited better fight choreography. If you come to Curse expecting a martial arts extravaganza akin to those films, you may well leave disappointed. I found the final Helms’ Deepish “silver versus gold” sequence to be too bloodthirsty (beheading prisoners and such), too unrealistic (here, more than anyone else in the film, physics don’t apply) and too obviously CGI for my taste. That being said, there are a few notable melees interspersed throughout the picture, most of them involving the black-clad, scythe-wielding “Flying Monkey”ish ninjas of the Imperial Army, who tend to swoop down from above and bury their scythes in the nearest possible revolutionary with extraordinary aplomb. (Sigh. Only one movie after Iwo Jima, and war and violence are already being made to look artful again.)
By way of a friend, the State Department releases its mandated yearly human rights report for 2005 (here), finding cause for alarm in Iran, Russia, China, Venezuela, Burma, North Korea, Belarus and Zimbabwe and (surprise, surprise) progress in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report doesn’t delve into human rights violations here at home (although China tries to fill that gap in response every year), but it does unequivocally state — in bold, no less — that “countries in which power is concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers tend to be the world’s most systematic human rights violators.” Hey y’all might be on to something. Deadpans the head of Amnesty International: “The Bush administration’s practice of transferring detainees in the ‘war on terror’ to countries cited by the State Department for their appalling human rights records actually turns the report into a manual for the outsourcing of torture.”
The LA Times examines the beginnings of the second lunar space race, which will involve, among others, the US, Europe, China, and India. “Some researchers even have a name for the first lunar city: Jamestown, in honor of the first English settlement in the New World.“
“‘We’re like a stock exchange. You can buy and sell with us,’ says Alan Qiu, a founder of the Shanghai-based Ucdao.com. ‘We farm out the different jobs. Some people say, “I want to get from Level 1 to 60,” so we find someone to do that.’” Via a friend in the program, the NYT examines Chinese online gaming factories. “Most of the players here actually make less than a quarter an hour, but they often get room, board and free computer game play in these ‘virtual sweatshops.’“
“I was trying to escape. Obviously, it didn’t work.” If it’s any consolation, Dubya, we all feel just as trapped. In one of those resounding visual metaphors that capture a presidency and that life occasionally kicks up for all to see (the last one being Dubya’s fiddling during Katrina), our leader gets stymied by a locked door while trying to evade a reporter’s questions about his China trip (which were pretty softball, given all the things he could’ve been asking these days.)
In somewhat related news, in the relatively sanguine Post story about the door incident, the following depressing information is included: “In five years in the presidency, Bush has proved a decidedly unadventurous traveler…As he barnstormed through Japan, South Korea and China, with a final stop in Mongolia still to come, Bush visited no museums, tried no restaurants, bought no souvenirs and made no effort to meet ordinary local people…[Laura Bush] once persuaded him to go to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, only to see him burn through the place in 30 minutes. He dispensed with the Kremlin cathedrals in Moscow in seven minutes. He flatly declined an Australian invitation to attend the Rugby World Cup while down under.”
“Fighting over the ‘evolving standards of decency’ underlying the Eighth Amendment’s ban on ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ the 5-to-4 opinions reflect an all-out war between the proponents of a living (or at least medium-rare) Constitution and those who want to see it dead (or perhaps well-done, with a nice pinot).” Slate‘s inimitable Dahlia Lithwick explains the Kennedy-Scalia sniping undergirding the Supreme Court’s very welcome 5-4 decision to ban juvenile executions. To keep things in perspective, the only other nations besides us that have put juveniles to death since 2000 are China, Iran, Pakistan, and the Congo…not exactly what you’d call the Axis of Freedom.
Some food for thought for my Asia-Pacific sections today (by way of Prof. Armstrong): Historian John Dower compares the Iraq imbroglio to Japanese expansion in Manchuria. Before rejecting his argument outright, at least consider the source. Dower knows a great deal about America’s experiences in postwar Japan — more, I’d wager, than anybody working in the Dubya administration.
For much of its running time, Hero is a strikingly kinetic and poetic piece of work that lulls you in with its languid rhythm and sensual colors. As you may or may not know from the ads, a nameless warrior (Jet Li) comes before the rightly paranoid Emperor Qin (a very good Chen Daoming) to tell him of how he managed to eliminate the province’s three most dangerous assassins (an all-star line-up of Donnie Yen, Maggie Cheung, and Tony Leung, with the lovely Zhang Ziyi thrown in to boot.) But, faster than you can say Swift Boat, the Emperor tells Nameless he’s full of it, and offers his own explanation for recent acts of heroism, which are further revised as the film goes forth.
As I said, these various retellings move slowly — even despite the fighting — but with purpose, and are made distinct from one another through color shifts that are at once exquisite and bewitching. But, eventually we come to the end of the story, and therein the problem lies. For, as it turns out, the moral that undergirds our recent contemplations is a pretty reprehensible one (and one you’d think might have been re-evaluated in light of the last century): Namely, that brutal, despicable tyrants must be allowed their cruelties and massacres for the sake of the State.
When this Machiavellian might-makes-right proposition was first uttered by the characters, I thought perhaps I was misreading what was going on. But, no, they go through with it, and almost all of the major characters we’ve been following take a dive in varying fits of nationalistic self-sacrifice, so that the Emperor Qin can gloriously maim, loot, and murder his way into uniting the Middle Kingdom. And, thus the film concludes with the glaring contradiction (pointed out by my friend Jeremy) of mooning over lovers to-be-reunited in “a place without borders” while extolling The Great Wall, still probably the most impressive border every built by humankind.
In sum, Hero is a sumptuous visual feast that’s operating several levels above most schlocky American action pics (including the recent Kill Bills of its US “presenter.”) But the underlying moral sensibility of the final moments is so repellent that it seriously detracts from the film. Call me an incurable Western individualist, but if excusing the crimes of one’s leader for the sake of the (Mother, Father, etc.)Land is heroism, then I’m with Tina Turner. Take it elsewhere, Raggedy Man.
As space cadets around the nation hoped, it now looks like China’s recent foray into the stars will draw dividends stateside…Apparently, Bush is about to announce a US return to the moon. “‘You’ve got the Chinese saying they’re interested — we don’t want them to beat us to the Moon. We want to be there to develop the sweet spots,’ Republican Senator Sam Brownback says.” Now here’s a Dubya campaign initiative I can get behind.