Monday, March 29, 2004

DVD Review: Hero & Journeys With George

A two-fer! These are short, not detailed, so I combined them.

First, is Hero, the new film from Chinese director Zhang Yimou. I found this at DVD Freaks on Cooper, in a Chinese version, but they said it's already being pulled from distribution as an American company will be releasing it to theaters later this year! And I'll go see it again.

I rented this solely on the DVD box and the recommendation of the guy at DVD Freaks. I knew nothing about it. Turns out that it stars folks like Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Tony Lueng, Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi! Zhang Yimou is the director of such movies as Farewell, My Concubine and Raise the Red Lantern, well known arthouse films.

This movie is simply stunning. The costumes, set design, color design, staging, shot composition and cinematography are beautiful to behold. Shot after shot in this movie has the power of painting to it. I kept reaching for the remote to freeze the frame, time and time again. If you've seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon you'll know what I mean, but this movie is light and bright where much of CT,HD was dark. Breath-taking is an overused word, but it so applies in this case.

For example, in one shot we see two women fighting in a large wood. Huge deciduous trees with lots of space around them; every leaf is autumn gold and there's a constant rain of golden leaves across the frame as though it's a rainstorm. During a pivotal moment in their fight, every single leaf slowly begins to transform into a bright magenta. Every one! It's spectacular and jaw-dropping.

I could go on forever with listing beautiful shots. The director also uses the elements of wind, water and fire -- and the colors magenta, lime, azure and white in his costumes. You may never in your life see a movie so rich and wondrous.

Sadly, the plot is a bit thin, involving assassinating an emperor, and the style of the director calls for the actors to hold still for long stretches. This movie does drag. But Maggie Cheung is radiant; in early scenes her hair is down and across her face, with her makeup it gives her an evil appearance that belies her true nature. I didn't recognise Tony Lueng until I got to a featurette that had some English titles! And the actor who plays the Emperor does so very much with so little, making him thoroughly believable.

I can't recommend Hero as a film. It's nearly two hours long and feels like more. But as an art study it will stay with you for days. I will see it in theaters just to have some of those images blown up wall-sized. And I'm gonna rerent it one day to get a dozen or more screencaps. Stunning, stunning, stunning.

Our second feature is a documentary, Journeys With George, about an NBC staffer on the 2000 campaign trail with George W. Bush. If I were the Republican Party, I'd be buying screen time on every channel I could to run this 80 minute film! Bush comes across so well -- relaxed, charming, charismatic, people-focused, friendly -- that you cannot help but like him.

The film was made by Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Minority Speaker and staunch Demorat. Alexandra is also a Democrat (a Bill Bradley Dem as we later learn) and skeptical of Bush when they start. She clearly falls for him. Watching their interactions is humorous and insighful of Bush the man. Throughout a lot of the movie we watch Bush come back to the press plane to joke and joust with the reporters. He's clearly in his element and yet he seems to keep them at a distance while rarely being less than nice.

There are some jarring moments, as when we see Bush celebrating with a bottle of non-alcoholic beer. I've never trusted non-drinkers who still will drink that O'Doul's crap. It's like they don't want to completely sever the ties and still want to flirt with alcohol a bit. Also, we see NBC correspondent David Bloom reporting a couple of times. It's unreally ironic to see him cover the candidate who will win, then take us to the war that will claim Bloom's life. But there are some other moments, like Bush trying to find out what it would take to get Pelosi's vote or Karl Rove spitting out the candidate finish to an obscure primary race from the previous election, that entertain.

All in all, this is recommended to anyone. If you're a Democrat, you'll gain some understanding into who Bush is, why he isn't dim and why he inspires loyalty, and why he's so likeable. If you're Republican, you'll be reminded of the charming and laughing side that sometimes gets lost in Washington in the post-9/11 era. And like I said, the Republicans should be showing this movie as often as they can.


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