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Japan

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Jurassic Office Park.


Almost undoubtedly staged, but it still made me laugh: By way of Io9, a man goes to work only to discover the velociraptors have escaped. Clever girl…

Smorgasbord of Vengeance.

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.

Chained to Work.


“‘The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation days and paid holidays,’ said John Schmitt, senior economist and co-author of the report. ‘Relying on businesses to voluntarily provide paid leave just hasn’t worked.'”

A new CEPR report finds — once againthat Americans are working inordinately hard. “Workers in the European Union are legally guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days per year, with 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries. Canada and Japan guarantee at least 10 days of paid vacation per year. U.S. workers have no statutory right to paid vacations.”

Going Up, Sir?

If we are to use the death of the old generation of explorers to spur on a revival in the idea for this generation, let’s also learn from their mistakes. Don’t follow a paradigm which results in 0.0000003 per cent of the planet making it out of orbit; create a new one, which lets this massive achievement change the lives of many, rather than a lucky (or foolhardy) few.

In the wake of Neil Armstrong’s passing, The New Statesman‘s Alex Hern makes the case for moving in the direction of a space elevator. The political argument aside, serious forays into space are clearly hindered by the prohibitive costs of leaving orbit more than anything else. If we are going to get serious about this, a space elevator is a technology that’s worth looking into. Right now, only Japan is on the case.

The Cataclysm in Japan.

“‘I saw people trying to balance on the rooftops like surfers,’ she said. ‘It didn’t work. It was like hell.’” Boston’s Big Picture offers a survey of the horrifying images out of Japan since the earthquake/tsunami double-whammy of last Friday. [Part 2, Part 3.]

‘It’s way past Three Mile Island already,’ said Frank von Hippel, a physicist and professor at Princeton. ‘The biggest risk now is that the core really melts down and you have a steam explosion.” And, in unfortunately related news, an animated infographic at the NYT explains exactly what engineers are trying to avoid at Fukushima Daiichi right now. (It’s not as bad as you may have heard, but, Lordy, it’s not good.)

Marshes of the Moon.

‘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?

Last of the Kon-Tiki. | The Man Twice-Bombed.

Twice he was captured and escaped, once by back-flipping over a snow bank and running off into the woods before his guards could use their weapons. A third time, surrounded by the Gestapo at a maternity hospital in Oslo where he had set up a transmitter in a chimney, he shot his way to freedom with a pistol.” Via a friend, Knut Haugland, WWII resistance fighter and last surviving member of the Kon-Tiki expedition, 1917-2010.

We may “play” Call of Duty nowadays, but this guy lived it. “He particularly objected to the word ‘heroes’ in the title. ‘I never use that word about myself or my friends,’ he told BBC4 Radio in 2003. “We just did a job.” Referring to the glider crashes and the killing of the survivors, he added: ‘Forty-one men were killed, and it could have been avoided. Because of the loss of life, you shouldn’t glorify the story.’Update, and via several Twitterers: Also passing very recently, another unbelievable survivor of WWII: Tsutomu Yamaguchi, 1916-2010. “On August 6, 1945, he was about to leave the city of Hiroshima, where he had been working, when the first bomb exploded, killing 140,000 people. Injured and reeling from the horrors around him, he fled to his home — Nagasaki, 180 miles to the west.

Crazy. He’s like a real-life Pariah for the Atomic Age. “‘I think it is a miracle,’ he told The Times on the 60th anniversary of the bombings in 2005. ‘But having been granted this miracle it is my responsibility to pass on the truth to the people of the world. For the past 60 years survivors have declared the horror of the atomic bomb, but I can see hardly any improvement in the situation.’

Condition’s normal and you’re coming home.

Pilot of the Enola Gay, Paul Tibbets, 1915-2007. “He never apologized for unleashing the devastating explosive force and insidious nuclear radiation that leveled more than two-thirds of the buildings in Hiroshima and killed at least 80,000 people, and perhaps as many as 127,000…’I never lost a night’s sleep over it,’ Tibbets said…He said he wasn’t proud of all the death and destruction and Hiroshima, but he was proud that he did his job well. ‘I didn’t start the war,’ he said. ‘I didn’t do anything except what I was told to do; what I had sworn to do, years before, which is “Fight for the defense of this country.”‘

House: Remember the Comfort Women.

“‘Inhumane deeds should be fully acknowledged,’ said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee…’The world awaits a full reckoning of history from the Japanese government.‘” The House passes a resolution calling for Japan to apologize for its WWII “comfort women” program. [Text.] “Lawmakers want an apology similar to the one the U.S. government gave to Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II. That apology was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Reagan in 1988.” Well, I’m all for offically recognizing historical sins in the past — *cough* slavery *cough* — but, unfortunately, no mention was made in this bill of our own possible complicity in Imperial Japan’s ugly system of forced prostitution. The resolution might carry more rhetorical force if it did.

Small Comfort, greater shame.

“‘As expected, after it opened it was elbow to elbow,’ the history says. ‘The comfort women…had some resistance to selling themselves to men who just yesterday were the enemy, and because of differences in language and race, there were a great deal of apprehensions at first. But they were paid highly, and they gradually came to accept their work peacefully.‘” The continuing furor in Asia over Japan’s ignominious use of “comfort women” (re: forced prostitution) during WWII reaches America, as it comes to light that occupation Japan created a similar “comfort system” for American GI’s in the year after the war (until MacArthur shut it down in the spring of 1946.) “An Associated Press review of historical documents and records shows American authorities permitted the official brothel system to operate despite internal reports that women were being coerced into prostitution. The Americans also had full knowledge by then of Japan’s atrocious treatment of women in countries across Asia that it conquered during the war…Although there are suspicions, there is not clear evidence non-Japanese comfort women were imported to Japan as part of the program.”

Letters Never Sent.

While I thought most critics lavished too much praise on Pan’s Labyrinth, the very similar swells of appreciation for Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima are, surprisingly, much closer to the mark. Eastwood’s first crack at Iwo Jima in 2006, Flags of our Fathers, was to my mind a well-meaning dog, one made particularly lousy by the heavy-handed fingerprints of Paul Haggis all over the film. But (perhaps due to the different screenwriter, Iris Yamashita), Letters is really something quite remarkable. A mournful, occasionally shocking testament to the inhumanity and absurdities attending war, and a elegiac dirge for those caught in its grip, even on the other side of the conflict, Letters from Iwo Jima is an impressive — even at times breathtaking — siege movie. And strangely enough, elements that seemed trite or intrusive in Flags — the desaturated landscape, the minimalist piano score — are truly haunting and evocative here. In fact, Letters from Iwo Jima is so good it even makes Flags of our Fathers seem like a better movie just by association, which, trust me, is no small feat.

As you probably know by now, Letters from Iwo Jima follows the famous World War II battle, ostensibly depicted in Flags, from the Japanese side. Here, nobody cares about artfully raised flags or the Ballad of Ira Hayes — the emphasis instead is on honor and survival. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe, as captivating here as he was in The Last Samurai) has been ordered to lead the defense of the island against the Americans. To this task, he fully devotes himself, despite fond memories of his earlier days on US soil. But it only takes a few walks around Mt. Suribachi for Kuribayashi to figure out it’s pretty much a no-win scenario — the Americans are too many, too productive, and too strong. And once word leaks out that the Japanese fleet has been broken at Leyte Gulf, Kuribayashi and his men — most notably friendly grunt Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), and former Kempetai Shimizu (Ryo Kase) — must slowly come to grips with the fact that they’re not digging cavern defenses so much as their own tomb…a tomb in which many Japanese officers, and not least the headquarters on the homeland, will expect them to die with honor.

What’s particularly surprising here is how unafraid Eastwood is to invert the usual sympathies of a World War II film. It’s not just that the Japanese are the “good guys” here — True, Letters dramatizes the soldiers’ plight by portraying them, particularly Saigo, as just like our fun-loving GI’s at heart. But it also doesn’t shy away from examining a cultural emphasis on dying well that seems completely foreign to the American mind. And, although a wounded American serviceman shows up later in the film, for the most part the US forces are — surprisingly — portrayed here like something out of The Empire Strikes Back, all gleaming, remorseless battleships and Fiery Death from Above. (Some have argued that Eastwood elides over Japanese atrocities in this film, but I’m not sure that’s really fair, unless I somehow just missed the Dresden firebombing subplot in Saving Private Ryan. This is not to say that all war crimes are equivalent or that both sides are equally guilty (although Lord knows it got ugly) — that gets into a moral calculus well outside the bounds of this review — only that Letters seems more interested in portraying war itself as an atrocity, and that enough reference is made to ugly tactics (aiming at medics, for example) that the film doesn’t feel to me like a whitewash.)

The sobering truth at the heart of the grim, moving Letters from Iwo Jima is captured in its penultimate image. (Alas, like too many WWII films, Eastwood opts for an unnecessary contemporary bookend, but it’s not as distracting as the Greatest Generation stuff in Flags. In fact, you might argue that it plays very well off those scenes, in depicting what little survives the war on the Japanese side.) I won’t give it away here…suffice to say that Letters makes clear that War is a demon that rips lives apart and rends men asunder, no matter what side you’re on or for what reasons. Regardless of race, creed, nationality, or ideology, all who invoke its wrath will eventually come to taste tragedy.

Fore!

“Is this the right message to be sending to taxpayers in America, Russia, Europe and Japan — that it’s OK to do a stunt like this?” The Russian space agency weighs the financial pros and safety cons of an orbital chip shot from the ISS. “The golf shot is hardly the first commercial venture in space. The cash-strapped Russian space agency has taken three ‘space tourists’ to the orbiting laboratory for a reported $20 million apiece. An Israeli company, Tnuva Food Industries, paid the Russians $450,000 to show two cosmonauts drinking milk, and Pizza Hut paid $1 million to slap a logo on the side of a Proton rocket and have cosmonauts deliver a pizza to the space station. The Russians aren’t alone. Last year, the Japanese space agency arranged for the filming of an instant ramen noodle commercial on the space station.

No more Dodges / inCurious George.

“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.

Release the Kraken.

And, would you believe it? Boss DeLay wasn’t the only nefarious and nightmarish tentacled creature to be captured in the past twenty-four hours. For the first time ever, Japanese scientists have succeeded in photographing a giant squid in its natural habitat. (I read about this late last night and had some very disturbing dreams about it. After all, there are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.) [Last link inspired by MysVamp.]

We are Dancing Mechanic.

In the quest for artificial intelligence, the United States is perhaps just as advanced as Japan. But analysts stress that the focus in the United States has been largely on military applications. By contrast, the Japanese government, academic institutions and major corporations are investing billions of dollars on consumer robots aimed at altering everyday life, leading to an earlier dawn of what many here call the ‘age of the robot.” And to think I was geeking out over the Roomba just a few weeks ago.

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