Thursday, November 29, 2007

Beowulf (Animated Action 2007)

I'm not sure how much publicity this film had prior to its release, but I didn't know that it even existed. This movie was a mix of storytelling and modern CG modeling. The animation reminded me of Final Fantasy, but with more advanced graphics and effects. I wonder how things will look 10 years from now.

Although I've heard of Beowulf, I'm not familiar with the story, so it was all new to me. To be perfectly honest, this film wasn't really impressive. Sure, the special effects were good and some of the action seemed very life-like, but there wasn't a lot of true character development. There only seemed to be 3 scenes of great importance and the rest of the movie was just filler.

It's getting highish marks on IMDB, but I'll have to disagree with everyone. It really wasn't that good. See for yourself just might float your boat, but it certainly wasn't for me.
Rating - C

Mao Zedong by Jonathan Spence (Book 2006)

Yes, more random reading taking place. Since most of the books I find here are historical in nature, I'm sure that category doesn't interest anyone who is actually checking my site, so I'll keep it short.

This book is one of those small gifts that's usually placed near the checkout line at Barnes and Nobles. Because of this, it will most certainly lack detail, depth, and content. It reads much like a short summary would, rather than an actual book. So maybe that was the intention of the author? Who knows, but what I do know is that I didn't come away with any deeper sense of understanding as to the historical events that affected China for the better portion of the 20th century.

All I know is that this Mao character somehow magically rose through the ranks to become the reigning leader of the country. It never ceases to amaze me when I read something about some random, charismatic person becoming a leader and affecting the lives of millions. Stalin, Lenin, Putin, Hitler, Mao...none of them were the smartest, the most clever, nor the most experienced, but they all managed to consolidate and control governmental and political power in their respective countries. Weird.

Anyway, to be honest, this book wasn't that good. It was much too short and didn't provide enough important details. My time was wasted because I don't remember a damn thing I just read.
Rating - Low

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Superbad (Comedy 2007)

Prior to leaving this summer, I had heard that this movie gave Knocked Up a run for its money, but I didn't have a chance to go see it. I'll say it now that all the rumors were true.

This movie was crude and hilarious. The dialog was very accurate in terms of HS/college lingo and the subject matter was also on par. I let out pretty hardy laughs on numerous occasions, so that's a very good sign. Like all films, some parts were a little slower and unnecessary, but overall it was a damn funny movie. In my opinion, it didn't beat Knocked Up, but it was definitely the second runner-up.
Rating - A

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sicko (Documentary 2007)

So Michael Moore pumps out yet another controversial film, but this time he's attacking the health care industry. Did he have what it takes to make a compelling argument? I think that a "hell yes" would be in order. For starters, I never trusted insurance companies to begin with because they are a profit-driven industry that only loses money when they are supposed to handle the needs of their clients. This system is kinda jacked because there is a conflict of interest thing going on when the only ways they can make more money is to 1) Get more clients to pay a monthly fee 2) Make it harder for clients to get their insurance payout. Simple logic was illustrated in this film to be exactly what insurance companies in the health care industry do. They would jack regular, working Americans just so they could collect more money. Your only hope is that either you don't get sick or you work for an organization that has a lot of pull, like a State or Federal Agency.

This film opened my eyes to health care in the UK and Canada. I've always heard about their free health care systems, but have never actually seen people on film talk about it. All I got to say about that is that those countries are 1st world, a regular system of capitalism functions there, and people can still be wealthy. Why then are we not also on that bandwagon? Again, this leads to me to start bashing the rich because that is mainly what the problem is. Rich people have a loud voice, and then you combine that with rich companies that can hire lobbyists. With that duo, you have a powerful say in government policies that effectively kills any chance of a federalized health care system. I will probably never make a shit ton of money, but I would rather pay more taxes just so that this aspect of my life would be taken care of. I'm not much of a humanitarian, so I would not be taking this stance for the benefit of all the people who couldn't afford it. I would mainly support this type of system so that a working Joe like me would not be screwed over further down the line.

The whole section on France was a little too much though. A government worker helping out around the house when you're preggers and have a baby? Yeah that seemed to be a waste of resources, but I guess it keeps people employed, right? I don't ever see that happening in the US just because we are all too selfish and I could picture hella people taking advantage of that system...same goes with the 24/7, on-call doctors.

Like all controversial films, there is another side of the coin that hasn't been discussed. Even though Moore did a fantastic job describing how crappy our system is, I would like to see the rebuttal argument coming from a person who is adamantly against federalized health care. Anything that person would say that directly supports the HMOs, the industry, and the rich could be automatically thrown out, but anything else would be fairly interesting. I would love to see a debate on this topic.

The section of this film pertaining to Cuba was a little bit over the top and it seemed staged in my opinion, but that was the only part of this whole documentary that came with any negative baggage.

I like Michael Moore's style of film making though. He dumbs down complex ideas and puts real faces to the lives that are affected by the subject matter. It makes all his movies a lot more convincing and digs up some empathetic feelings from the audience. Good stuff overall.
Rating - A

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (FPS PC Game 2007)

So guess what DVD man has? Software! Yay...yes I was totally just bored out of my mind, wandering around looking for something to do, when I so happened to peer into a box that he had and a ton of pirated PC games were in it. Of course I would've rather purchased it from an EBgames back at home legitimately, but I'm in China...a country where it's hard a fuck to find exactly what you want. Who would've thought? I guess that's one great thing about America. When you have money and you want to blow it, the country's commercialistic design totally caters to your wants and needs.

In a one liner: This game was hella fun. It's good to see these FPS moving away from WWII. It's always fun to kill some Germans, but that gets old after a decade or so of the same crap.

The game played just like a movie, except you're in it. It had very intense game play, partnered with the music and atmosphere to back up everything. The visuals were good, except I had to turn down a ton of settings to have it work at my native resolution. The weapons were great, especially this anti-tank launcher called a Javelin. Oh God was it fun to shoot this thing. The first person campaign was a little short, but it was definitely well-designed. I don't play multi-player, so I didn't test any of that out. I'll be keeping this as my de facto test game when I get a new vid card or some other hardware.

I see that this game also got released to the 360. By all means, get it. It's very fun and well worth the money...and then you can sell it.
Rating - High

Bee Movie (Animated 2007)

It's been quite a while since Jerry Seinfeld did anything in film or television, but why did he decide to use this movie that he wrote as some sort of catapult to get back into the game? He really should make another TV show because that is where I think his career started and ended.

This movie was made by Dreamworks, so that automatically says two things about it: they have a huge budget to play with and the story will be overly-simplistic, highly predictable, and totally linear. Whenever Dreamworks makes a film, it always turns out to be blah. After watching this, I immediately thought of Madagascar, because it also had non-memorable characters, visual overkill, and a boring plot.

I know I'm not 10 anymore, but would I actually have been entertained by this when I was that age? Let's hope not because it wasn't that good.
Rating - C

Lawrence of Arabia (Drama 1962)

They sure don't make movies like they used to, and thank God for that. This was one of those films that you always heard about but never saw because they were considered a classic and you just didn't have time for those types of slow movies.

Since there was a huge lull in new DVDs being supplied by the DVD man, I had to resort to these types of measures in order to remain entertained. Hopefully I won't have to do this again, because I just don't have the patience to watch super-long movies with a fixed intermission in the middle.

To start out, I do respect the peeps who made this because they didn't have computers and nice CG stuff to artificially create landscapes and armies. They had to do it the old school way, which was to go on location, have a shit ton of extras, and having very expensive takes to get the needed shots. While the cinematography was top notch, considering the year it was made, the acting lacked realism and passion.

The plot was fairly solid, so at least it was well written, but Peter O'Toole was just that...a tool. He always seemed to be overacting and making crappy facial expressions to show that he was disillusioned or going mad. I didn't find him convincing at all, and because he was the main character in the film, that made the whole thing stink a little. Maybe back in the early 60s this type of acting was standard, but these days it is not.

I felt like I wasted many hours of my life by watching this...I was neither educated nor entertained. Not all Arabs can speak English either...
Rating - C

Friday, November 23, 2007

Living in China (November 24, 2007)

Yes I know...I've not been making any updates as of late, but that's only because there was nothing really special to report on until just a few days ago. To start off, our resident DVD man has not been getting any new shipments, so there has been a shit ton of new movies released that I've not seen because I can't get 'em. Also, for the last few weekends, I've been feeling a little under the weather so I've not been going into Beijing as often.

But yeah, as everyone knows, Thanksgiving was just a few days ago and all of us American teachers were totally looking forward to some home-cooked goodness. Even though it wasn't exactly home-cooked, it was close enough and totally reminded us of home. One of the go-getter teachers found a place called Grandma's Kitchen which was located in Beijing close to the subway line and had a full American menu. Reservations were made and all of us met up at 7:30PM. Even though we had their business card with a map on the back, this place was hard as fuck to find. Note to businesses out there: have better directions with little mini-maps.

After we found the place, we were greeted with a nice little Thanksgiving menu, presenting us with various choices that were available for the evening. If you look very closely you'll notice that the menu was missing something so important that I can't even begin to tell you how disappointed we were. I'm sure you saw it, but yes, no mashies. Under BBQ Pork Ribs they did have "mushed potatoes", but in truth, it didn't truly exist there either. We had to default to sweet potatoes, aka yams, for the evening. If my sister would've been here she would've totally revolted. Who seriously thinks that they can have a Thanksgiving meal without mashies??

While flipping through their real menu, one of us spied something that has been eluding us ever since we got into this country. You got it, Dr. Pepper!! Oh was so yummy. I didn't even care that it had high fructose corn syrup. All that mattered was that it was a delicious, all-English can of liquidy goodness.

The first thing that came out was the appetizer. Other people ordered this stuffed mushroom thing, but I ordered bacon-wrapped shrimp. Yes, this is something that my sister would have just loved. What a great concept...wrapping something in's just like adding Ranch to everything back at home; you can never go wrong...well almost never.

The next item was a salad. They shouldn't have even called it a salad because there were literally like 5 leaves with onions and bacon on top. Very boring and unnecessary...they should have purchased more potatoes for mashies instead of making this crappy salad.

Next was the soup. I ordered minestrone while others had pumpkin. I'm not sure if it came out of a can or not, but it still tasted good.

Next was the main course. The turkey was delicious, the beans were O.K., the gravy was not real gravy, I didn't eat the vegetables, the sweet potatoes were good, and yes that was a marshmallow. It was very good considering that we were sitting in China, but they still need a lot of work to make it taste like a real American meal.

For dessert I had an apple pie while others had pumpkin pie. I tasted both and they were both pretty decent. It was a nice little conclusionary snack to our big meal.

It was pretty late when we actually finished up, so we had to take a taxi back to Yanjiao. Yes, 6 people including the driver in a little Hyundai And it was for me because I managed to gank shotgun.

Prior to dinner, a few of us headed into Beijing a little earlier to go do some shopping. I again traded in a bunch of RMB to USD and noticed how the exchange rate has dropped yet again. 7.5 is now 7.4 which means that I was able to get more USDs for my RMBs. This also means that the US dollar is losing value and that's a bad thing.

While walking around, we were approached by many vendors trying to sell us stuff. We brushed off many of 'em, but then one guy was selling DVDs instead of clothes, and guess what he had: all of the new movies that we were not able to get back in Yanjiao. Between me and another teacher, I think we ganked around 8-10 new releases, so the movie reviews will be back on the presses in no time.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone
Happy Shopping!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Day Night Day Night (Drama 2006)

This was a silent indie film that I saw a trailer for over a year ago. It essentially followed around a girl who was preparing to be a suicide bomber in New York. It took a very calm, analytical approach to the factor of time, as the main female actor went through the hoops to get to her final destination.

The feel of the movie was much like United 93. There was minimal talking and a lot of drawn-out, observational scenes. From the audience's point of view, you got to feel what emotional anxieties existed for the girl at different parts of the film.

It was a different type of movie, but not necessarily good or bad. Depending on one's point of view, it could go both ways. I personally thought it was O.K., but there was no Eureka at the end of the tunnel.
Rating - C

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Shoot 'Em Up (Action 2007)

I'm not totally sure if this movie even made it into theaters, but a friend of mine did mention it a few months back. This film was definitely unique even though the action became way too repetitive after the first 10 minutes.

I don't even know how I'm supposed to describe this movie because it was all over the place, sorta like Pulp Fiction only with less story. It did have an
all-star cast, as well as plenty of guns, but it just wasn't entertaining.

Good try in making something different, but next time don't use Michael Davis as the writer and director.
Rating - D

Monday, November 12, 2007

Living in China (November 12, 2007)

So this weekend a few of the other teachers and I went to go clothes and antique shopping. The shopping did not turn out as well as I'd hoped for, although it did work out for one of the other teachers. I don't know if it's because you have to bargain and have no idea if someone is taking you for a ride, or if I just have an overall problem with "cheap" stuff. But whatever the reason, it totally prevented me from buying anything for myself.

A good friend of mine once said, "It's the clothes that makes the man", and even though I'm sure it was nabbed from a movie, it does actually hold some value. While shopping, I kept on looking at things, messing with the given price, doing crazy calculations on my cell, and every time the cost was just too close to US market value that I could not put my foot down on any sort of purchase. Things are just too untrustworthy here. You buy something and sometimes it works perfectly, but other times you buy something and things start falling apart or clothes will start ripping because of the shawdy quality of goods.

In the US I would rather go without something than to have a piss poor version of a product. Why then would I change my purchasing habits only because I'm on the other side of the world? One reason I suppose is because I'm freezing, but then again, my pickiness has taken hold and I am left with nothing new for my wardrobe. Sigh... Yes, I'm very glad that this is currently the extent of my life concerns.

After going to the clothing market, we headed to this crazy outside antiques market. They had all sort of old stuff there. Yes, most of the things that looked old were probably reproductions or straight-up fakes, but it was still pretty neat to wander around. Usually I'm not one for art, but there were a few booths with stuff that I liked. The bad thing about our visit was that we got there right when people were packing up their shops for the night. Next time we'll have to make it a day trip to go there and hopefully come back with some goodies.

The Great Raid (Action 2005)

Well there is certainly a reason why nobody ever heard of this film until it was quickly removed from the theaters. Movies are supposed to have stories, just like most books are supposed to have stories. There is a distinct difference between a documentary and a story with actual characters and a plot. This film tried to take historical information and turn it into an action drama. It didn't work out all that well.

The movie was about a mission that took place near the end of the Pacific Campaign during WWII. The task was to free a bunch of P.O.Ws from a Japanese prison camp. That's all nice and dandy for something off of the History Channel, but for a movie, they failed to integrate a plot, actors, and character development.

I think Pearl Harbor is a fine example of a historical event that was "Hollywooded" into a feature film. They took one event, added a few fictitious characters, mixed in a fictitious, 3-way love story, and added a crapload of music and special effects. Bam! You have your movie.

Instead of doing the same thing that Michael Bay did, John Dahl did something not worth mentioning. This film was a first person version of a documentary. The narration, actual film clips, and everything in between cannot be considered a movie. The focus of this project was way off base and the director should have seen it from the get-go. Making this event into a movie was a mistake.
Rating - D

Saturday, November 10, 2007

No Reservations (Drama 2007)

Well you can't get any more average than this movie was. If you've seen the trailers then you already know what this film is all about. Nothing is actually gained by watching the drama play out on screen. Aaron Eckhart rarely gets any leading rolls, but he held his own for this one. Catherine Zeta-Jones hasn't been in a real film in a very long time, so this was probably something small to get her back on the horse.

Besides money, I'm still baffled as to why she decided to marry Michael Douglas. Nasty...just old and nasty.
Rating - C

Friday, November 09, 2007

American Gangster (Crime Drama 2007)

It's been a while since someone produced a great, solid film, but now we have one. This was a pretty sharp movie. It seemed a whole lot more realistic than Scarface, mainly in regards to plot, but the actual premise was very much the same. It does go to show that corruption is everywhere all of the time.

Both Denzel and Crowe performed up to their standard par, so that definitely helped out. I didn't notice anything bad about this film. It was engaging, interesting, and fairly realistic. I like gangster movies, but I think the crown still goes out to Mobsters or The Untouchables.
Rating - A

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Home of the Brave (Drama 2006)

I suppose good intentions has to mean something when making a movie, but just that will not carry a film towards success. I felt sorry for this film because I knew what it was trying to do, to bring to light the many mental and emotional problems that war can cause to a soldier; but the way they addressed these problems, it in terms of a movie, was just so bad. The plot was very fragmented, it lacked in-depth character development, and it did not flow like a single story should. It was more like having 4 short stories artificially mushed together.

Samuel L. Jackson is still a great actor, just like Jessica Biel is still a crappy actor, so at least we know that both of their careers aren't flukes. 50 Cent played a stereotypical angry man, who could not deal with the level of self-control needed to be a functional member of civilian society. The new guy, Brian Presley, did a pretty blah job and was not too impressive.

Kudos goes out to what the writer and director "tried" to do, but in the end their efforts were wasted. They concentrated way too hard on displaying the extremes of emotional war wounds. This changed the film from being a realistic movie, into a very exaggerated one, and it was not convincing at all.
Rating - D

Monday, November 05, 2007

Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China by John Pomfret (Nonfiction Book 2006)

It's funny how after spending a few weeks in a country where you can't read a damn thing, you will pretty much pounce on anything with English written in it. I've purchased a few newspapers here, but they were all hella simplified and were specifically written for a Chinese audience trying to learn English. One of the older teachers here had this book in his collection and after reading the premise, I was hooked.

The story is crazy stuff. A few years after China "opened up", the author, in his last years of undergrad, applied to be a foreign student in a University here in China. In a nutshell that meant that he would be one of the first white guys to step foot in this country in a very long time and that he would allowed to directly mingle with the locals in his same age category. This was such a big deal because this country had been locked down for so many decades, kinda like how North Korea currently is. The author got over to China, adjusted to the lifestyle here, integrated into the student body, made a good number of friends, and stayed in contact with them through their careers. Now all of his former roommates/classmates are businessmen, party officials, army officers, writers, and teachers.

Because of the fact that he was able to shoot the shit with them during their 20s, he got the hear a bunch of stories relating to their lives growing up, their parents' stories, and even some grandparents' stories. The importance of these stories lies in the fact that there were two very important things that happened to China after the 1940s: The Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution.

I didn't know much about either of these things prior to coming over here because my Chinese courses in college were pretty much about historical ancient China. From what I gather, these two events killed millions of peeps had maintained a continuous reign of chaos for many years.

A comparison I like to make is if all of the Evangelical Christians in the US went ape shit and started killing people and pullin' federally sanctioned Inquisition type stuff throughout the country. Without the support of the cops or the military, most people would be forced to fend for themselves. But one good thing about our country is that we have guns, so if something like China's Cultural Revolution happened in the US, I would probably just drive to a gun shop, load up on ammunition, and sack up.

Of course we also tend to question many things, including the government, so we would hope that the majority of us would not be like sheep, although look at the situation we're currently in...

But back to the book. All in all it was a very interesting read because it was about real people, real stories, and real history. This guy lived in this country for many years and accumulated a ton of information right from the horse's mouth. I believe that's a very hard thing to pull off because people here really don't reveal stuff about themselves and because a lot of stuff is censored.
Rating - High

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Living in China (November 4, 2007)

I can't believe it's November already. October kinda just flew by for me, mainly because I didn't have to work that many hours, but that will soon change with this upcoming week as one more class will be added to my schedule.

There's really not a lot going on these days because it's so friggin' cold outside (55°F). The Internet totally bogs down during the evenings because all the students are inside screwing off on their computers instead of going outside to wander down the walking streets. Of course everything speeds back up when their dorm electricity gets cut :-)

Yeah, as you can read from my last movie review, I actually got to see a film in a theater this weekend. It was 75RMB, which is roughly equivalent to the prices we pay in the US. It had stadium seating and was hella clean, probably the cleanest theater I've ever been in, but I think it's because it's new, not because of actual sanitary standards. It also had assigned seating, just like airplanes or any fancy concert.

The rest of my weekend was me being coaxed into going into Beijing multiple times even though I didn't want to go. During my stay here, I try to make many "out of character" decisions to see if there is anything I am missing out on. The answer, I think, is no. People in both North America and on this continent seem to like wandering around with no apparent goals or destinations in mind, and they actually have fun doing it. I enjoy leaving home, only to complete a specific task and then to immediately return after that task is completed. I suppose that's an unchangeable personality trait because I was bored out of my mind while being squished into many Subway trains and having people invading my personal bubble wherever I went. The company I was with was good and all, but I just found it so annoying to be sitting on some stone steps in the middle of Beijing doing absolutely nothing. I would rather be staring at a monitor, mashing the keyboard while playing some game, or sleeping. Why go outside when you can be inside?

Lust, Caution (Chinese Foreign Drama 2007)

Well this was officially the first movie I've seen in a theater in this country. Luckily, it had English subtitles so some peeps out there at least recognize that a small portion of movie-goers can't fully understand Chinese.

This film was about intrigue and methodical planning. The main chick, Wei Tang, was an insanely good actor. Because there were so many silent facial scenes, she did an incredible job keeping up her "game face". I was impressed. The other people in the movie were all side dishes in comparison to her.

The plot was good, but very slow, like The Green Mile slow. I wanted to sleep so bad at some points, but not becasue it was boring, just becasue it took forever to move the story along. The ending was very anticlimactic, but I guess it goes hand-in-hand with Ang Lee's subtle art direction.

If you're into well done, slow-paced movies, then you might have the patience for this one. Most people I know would not be able to get through it though.
Rating - B