Archive for May, 2008

Tribeca - Fighter

Posted in Movies on May 16th, 2008

Finished off Tribeca incredibly well once again. Just like last year I was somewhat skeptical of the movies I was seeing on my last day and somewhat burnt-out from having seen so many films. And just like last year, the movies I saw on the last day turned out to be amazing and were completely worth it. Fighter is a Danish movie about Aicha, a Muslim high school girl who wants nothing more than to be a martial arts fighter. Her family is very traditional and her father regards her infatuation with martial arts as unladylike and refuses to let her train with any team where boys and girls fight together. Obviously, this is unacceptable to Aicha who starts sneaking off to train with a local mixed team. The film is definitely about growing up and finding one’s identity, but it is much more about how hard it is for girls trapped in traditional families, but living in liberal countries, to try and reconcile the freedoms they see around themselves with their desires to be true to their families and their culture.
At no point in the film is a rejection of the Muslim culture something Aicha considers. Instead it is about how can she reconcile her culture with her dreams. And it is about how her parents, especially her father, cannot and will not understand that and refuse to compromise on his vision of what a Muslim daughter should be. The acting and directing are superb. The special effects and wire work in the fight scenes are as crisp and coherent as any I’ve seen in a long time (compare against the crap they had in Three Kingdoms). Five out of five.

Tribeca - Lioness

Posted in Movies on May 16th, 2008

Team Lioness was the name given to female Army soldiers who were sent out as support teams with male soldiers in Iraq. Their missions usually involved raiding houses where insurgents were suspected to be hiding. The females were needed because cultural and religious beliefs prohibit men from patting down females. So rather than have to deal with dozens of freaked out and angry Iraqi women (as well as inciting cultural hatred), Team Lioness came along to deal with the female searches. Nothing sounds so bad, so far. However the problem with fighting an insurgent war is that there is no battlefield, there is no end to combat. So while a mission might be intended to be a simple raid, it could quickly turn into an all-out firefight. Essentially, a non-combat mission becomes a combat mission. And this is exactly what happened repetitively to Team Lioness. Now American law prohibits female soldiers from engaging in combat and, in fact, none receive front-line combat training (just like male support staff). So what happened in Iraqi to these women was most likely illegal and clearly outside their mission profile.
The documentary looks at the aftermath for some of these women and how they are trying to deal with being in combat, having to kill people, losing some essential part of what they feel makes them human. It is not prescriptive or particularly ideological: there is never a moral statement on the war in Iraqi or whether these women should have been fighting. But it still manages to raise a number of very difficult questions for its viewers. Hit the jump for more.
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NZ: Day 18

Posted in NZ, Travel on May 16th, 2008

Drove back down to Auckland. First stop was the aquarium, where finding parking was a clusterfuck. But we managed to get a parking space and went to Jack Tarley’s Ocean Adventure or whatever it is called. We got to see baby penguins, which were very cool, and walked through their clear acrylic tanks which had fish, sharks, and rays swimming all around you. There was also a recreation of Scott’s South Pole camp, from his fatal attempt to reach the pole, which was cool. My sister was much more interested in the animals, so we did not spend as long in the camp. All told, it was smaller than I expected, which was a little disappointing. But it was a good time. Spent the rest of the day wandering around Auckland, though lots of things were closed because it was Sunday and Easter. This made it hard to find a bookstore for my sister (something we rectified at the airport, where everything was open) to acquire British science fiction books in, for their vastly superior covers. Got some lunch at a little Italian place, got some drinks at an outdoor cafe, and then headed off to the airport. The flight back was pretty fucking rough with the turbulence. Never really been on a flight that bucked and rolled so much. Kept trying to fall asleep and kept failing as the entire bottom of the plane felt like it was trying to escape. But we made it through fine, which was nice. The food options were pretty much as lame as they were on the way out, but whatever. Made it to LA fine and the trip was over.
For as much stuff as we did there, I really feel like we only scratched the surface. There are numerous multi-day tramps I would have loved to do, as well as national parks where we did a single hike which have many more cool hikes to offer. In terms of the touristy stuff, I think we hit most of the high points, so that was fine, but a trip back to do much more of the outdoor adventuring is totally in order.

NZ: Day 17

Posted in NZ, Travel on May 16th, 2008

Drove up to the Waipoua forest area on the peninsula at the north part of the island. The hike I had planned for us was the Hauturu Highpoint hike. It starts off as a cool loop hike up the side of a waterfall, which we both had a lot of fun climbing. You then get to a turnoff for the high point. The sign there said it was another 2km to the top and it was steep the entire way. Rather than face a mutiny from my sister, who probably would have thrown me over the waterfall if I had made her climb up that, we just skipped the highpoint and completed the loop. It wasn’t the intense hike I was hoping for, but the forest area was really beautiful. On the way back from the hike, we stopped off at the kauri forest groves and saw the largest trees in New Zealand. We actually tried to take a hike through the forest, but after conferring at length and deciding the correct way to proceed, we managed to end up walking in the wrong direction back into the parking lot. This is what happens when two people with no sense of direction attempt to find their way.
We drove down into Dargaville and found our hotel. It was not the world’s most impressive hotel, but was fairly nice given how small the town was. We wandered for a long time trying to find somewhere to eat dinner and finally ended up a surprisingly good Indian restaurant. The guy who waited on us was crazy, but the food and beer were good. My sister actually ate Indian food, which was impressive. I was almost as stunned as I was the night she willingly ordered a mushroom appetizer. Crashed out in our hotel. Last night in NZ.

Tribeca - Dying Breed

Posted in Movies on May 5th, 2008

Boring and uninventive horror film from Australia. Wasn’t particularly scary, wasn’t particularly well made, all the characters were just annoying. It gets a two.

Tribeca - Trucker

Posted in Movies on May 5th, 2008

A sometimes funny drama, about an independent woman who makes her living as a trucker being forced to deal with the son she had years before who she now has to care for. The real strength of this film are the performances of all three of the lead actors. Michelle Monaghan is just awesome as the lead; as the director pointed out afterwards there were plenty of scenes where she never had to say anything because she could say so much with her body posture and her face. Jimmy Bennett is also great as the kid, avoiding any of the cloying overacting that is so common among precocious kids trying to pander to an adult audience (the ‘isn’t he so twee’ phenomenon). And Nathon Fillion is just the man. I’ve never seen him in a role where he wasn’t just awesome, and this film is no exception (it probably helps that all his roles are fairly similar).
I’m torn between giving this a four or a five. It didn’t strike me as being quite as good as the other dramas I gave a five (Let the Right One In, for example), but there is nothing glaring that stands out to indicate if should get a four. It is the sort of situation where I’d love to give a four and a half, but that’s not the rules of scoring films in the festival. So it gets a five.

Tribeca - Gunnin’ for that #1 Spot

Posted in Movies on May 5th, 2008

Another sports documentary and another relatively mediocre effort. The ESPN portion of the Tribeca Film Festival has turned out to be something of a disappointment because it played host to a lot of subpar efforts. Now most of them haven’t been particularly bad; I gave both the Bobby V documentary and the Iranian soccer movie fours because they did do a decent job of addressing an interesting subject. Gunnin’ for that #1 Spot was a look at the Elite All-Star game played by the top 24 high school students in the country on a famous streetball court in Manhattan.
The first part of the film consists of profiles of eight of the players, from different backgrounds and different parts of the country, which is then followed by footage of the game. I was left wondering why I was really supposed to care about the player profiles. There wasn’t any sort of arc or narrative tying it together, so it was just a bunch of people talking about the pressures of being a high school athlete these days. And that is certainly an interesting subject, but it wasn’t really the subject of this documentary, so while it was tangentially addressed, it was not the focus. The actual game footage was amazingly shot and edited, so that was a lot of fun to watch. But overall there was little point to this film. It didn’t inform enough to be a serious doc or entertain enough to just be fun. It gets a three.

Tribeca - The Auteur

Posted in Movies on May 5th, 2008

Funny movie featuring naked people, porno spoofs of famous movies, unrequited love, and lots of marijuana. Not a whole lot to complain about. There isn’t really any substance here, but I don’t think there was intended to be any. The movie set out to be a raunchy good time featuring lots of bad puns and it succeeds admirably. Seriously, the world needs more movies like Full Metal Jackoff. Four of five.

Tribeca - Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon

Posted in Movies on May 5th, 2008

Boring, pointless period epic from China, about the Five Tiger Generals and their war against the Cao kingdom. There was no plot worth mentioning, the fight scenes were boring and often suffered from excessive camera shake rendering them incoherent, and none of the characters were likable or sympathetic. It was, pretty much, a complete waste of my time. It gets a two, because it wasn’t painful to watch, but I can’t think of a good reason to recommend that anyone see this film.

Tribeca - Secrecy

Posted in Movies on May 3rd, 2008

The increased trend of the executive branch of the government to label everything as top secret to hide its complicity in numerous assaults on the American democratic institutions is clearly worrying to those of us who care about the Constitution and civil liberties. This documentary is an overlong and unfocused look at some of those problems, which will probably bore people much than it will serve to motivate them. The entire film consists of talking heads discussing different points of view about national security and secrecy. To make it slightly more visually interesting, they include lots of shots of pieces of paper label SECRET and some occasional quasi-abstract animation of . . . stuff (hard to say what it is supposed to be).
But the people who are talking are usually talking past each other: I don’t think there was more than one situation where anyone directly confronted and discussed a point made by someone else, something caused by the fact that all the interviews were conducted separately and by the failing of the filmmakers to ask the right questions or at least present the answers coherently. And because the entire film is without a real plot and without narration, its focus continually wanders. There are two stories that weave in and out of the dialog which are meant to be examples: a court-case from the fifties which set the precedent for judicial respect of national secrets (preventing court cases from proceeding if the government asserted it would hurt national security) and the recent Hamadan vs. Rumsfield case over the Guantanamo Bay detainees. But these two examples are dragged out over the entire course of the film (maybe an attempt to add some narrative tension to the film?) and very few of the surrounding comments directly address the issues raised by these cases.
Secrecy gets a 3 out of 5 for presenting some interesting issues, but failing to be a coherent documentary.