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Sunday, August 30th, 2015
11:03 pm - Hugos 2015 (Da-dee da-dee da-dee da-dee uh That's all Folks.. For Now)

"The price of liberty is eternal vigilance" - unknown

"He who lies down with dogs, wakes up with fleas"  -Ben Franklin

So, it was a week ago today that I returned from Worldcon in Spokane, aka Sasquan.

I was also at the Hugo Awards.

My personal recollection is not one of animus or celebration of defeat, but relief. No one was absolutely sure which way the voting would go (though I had an idea, and as it turns out I was right). Perhaps applause at "No Award" was a bit much, but I noticed no celebration from the host when No Award was given, and all he did was ask people not to boo. I have seen from one data point that at least one of the booing came from a slate vote supporter, and they felt put upon, as the host was keeping them from expressing their displeasure. I think he was completely right, however - booing was not be appropriate in that venue.

To the slate-voters, I say: I'm sorry if you're offended, but you left the other voters with what they felt was no choice. One does not surrender to bullies and terrorists, and that is pretty much what this slate campaign amounted to.

It's not that people necessarily have a problem with the content you might have wanted. I for one can get a little tired of advocacy and identity fiction, even when I agree with it; perhaps especially when I agree with it.

And if you - or the slate-runners - had truly wanted to push a certain sub-genre of the genre, you should have pointed up the positives of that sort of sub-genre, or of the works themselves. It's always best to lead with - and stick to - the positives.

(You also would have been better served nominating better fiction; honestly, my problem with most of these things weren't their politics as much as the fact that they just weren't very good. I think that's because That Man just wanted to watch the whole awards burn…. he's said so before)

Instead, there were various attacks launched at the supposed make-up of the voters, the sexuality of certain members, and the political angles - supposedly - of the voting pool. Not a way to win friends and influence people.

As irrationalrobot put it to me, you can't poop in the punchbowl, loudly proclaim you pooped in the punchbowl, and then be outraged when no one will drink the punch.

I would suggest in the coming year, if you are unhappy with the stories nominated by the voters of Worldcon in the past, nominate other stories. But nominate stories you've read and enjoyed. Don't let anyone else make up your mind for you. That should be the only criteria for nominating stuff. And if your nomination doesn't make it to the ballet? *shrug* These things happen. But at least you can say you honestly nominated something you really liked, and you put your own opinion in.

And, also, please remember - this constant, divisive political conflict in EVERY aspect of our lives is not good for us, or our country. It has to stop, or it will end very badly. Talk to people, don't yell at issues.

Because, I guarantee you, who won the Hugo award this year, or next year, is not going to be important for the history of our country. Really. There are more important things to worry about.

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Sunday, July 5th, 2015
11:16 am - Movies From the Library

OK, so I checked out some movies from the library. Not sure why, I didn't have a lot of time, but here they were :

"After Earth": Well, if Will Smith was trying to get back into comedy, he succeeded on how silly the science is. Really,  the science is so bad a Texas school board could poke holes in it.

"300:Rise of an Empire": Two worlds: "Unnecessary" and "Totally"

"The Counselor" : An interesting Southwestern noir collaboration between Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy, but MY GOD is it bleak. Michael Fassbender plays the title character in an impossible no-win situation, Penelope Cruz is actually winsome throughout the film (for the all good it does her), Javier Bardem has weird hair, and Cameron Diaz is the most flint-hearted bitch in history. And Brad Pitt spouts clever lines like "... they don't really believe in coincidences. They've heard of them - they've just never seen one."

"Hangmen Also Die!" this was an even more interesting collaboration, won between Fritz Lang and Bertolt Brecht, made during the depths of World War II, on the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in occupied Czechoslovakia. I'd never even heard of this film before, and I thought of myself as being up on Lang.

Turns out that one of the reasons I'd never heard of it is that is was labeled "subversive" by those genius film critics on HUAC. Indeed, it is Brecht's only American film credit. The film was buried because of Brecht's being blacklisted after his appearance at HUAC.

While this film was made less than a year after the events, it has utterly no connection actual historical reality. It's not a bad story,  but it's just that, a story. Their Heydrich is not like the real Heydrich, and the facts of his assassination is completely different from what actually happened. The Nazis are of course nasty and brutal, though no less than reality; in the end, to pull some sort of light out of the darkness, the people of Prague pull off a con worthy of Mission:Impossible, but as a piece of rousing wartime drama, it doesn't have the charm of "Casablanca". It is an interesting look at the only collaboration between two great artists.

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Sunday, May 17th, 2015
10:05 pm - SIFF 2015 - I'll See You In My Dreams

After a morning of much walking and a turgid Metro experience, I finally got SIFF Cinema Uptown only 10 minutes after I wanted to be there (an hour before showtime), and the line for "I'll See You in My Dreams" was already down the block into the alley. I think a lot of the women were there to see Sam Elliot in person.

This film is very sweet, but it also doesn't pull its punches either. It doesn't wrap everything up in a pretty bow. Blythe Danner plays  an older woman having to deal with loss. And suddenly two men pop into her life, an aimless pool boy, and the oh-so-suave and direct Sam Elliot (Best Opening Line Ever: Upon seeing Danner looking at vitamins, he says without introduction "You don't need any of that; you're just fine the way you are").

The film straddles a fine line between humor and pathos; there are genuine laughs, mostly with Danner's friends, but real emotion of loss too.

Both the director and Sam Elliot were there, saying this sort of film needs word of mouth, so that's what I'm doing . Yeah, I'm sure Charlize Theron capping rapists or Dwyane Johnson running from falling skyscrapers may be fun, but this has genuine human emotion.

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Saturday, May 16th, 2015
9:42 pm - SIFF 2015 - Snow on the Blades
After a blah morning (fire alarm!), I went to my first SIFF film of the season, a Japanese film called "Snow on the Blades".

In 1854 Japan was forced open to trade by the U.S.
Inevitably, there would be losers.

This is the story of a samuari who failed in his duty in the last days of the Shoganate, and how he spends the next 12 years trying to correct that error. But it is really justified?

This film is beatifully shot, and has great compassion for its characters, especially the women. But, while the director (who was there) says it was a gentle film, and he hopes it wouldn't put us to sleep, there was no chance of that. These were very well-rounded characters. At least one scene cause spontainious applause. It's not your typical samurai bloodbath. It's a lot better.

I do not think I will not see a better film this festival. You're on notice, SIFF. The bar has been raised. 

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Saturday, April 25th, 2015
5:08 pm - The Assumption of Default
So, today with scarlettina and our friends Sean and Debi we saw Oklahoma! at the Cinerama in it's fully restored glory.

Yes, it's a gorgeous movie adaptation of a classic Broadway musical, everyone is talented, it's funny...etc.

But I couldn't help noticing that it takes place in a curiously ethnically cleansed version of Oklahoma. There's not one non-White face in the entire film. Not one Black, Hispanic, or Native face.

That last really struck me as part of the cruel joke that Oklahoma actually is. The state's name means Red People in Choctaw. They were one of the Five Civilized Tribes pushed there on the Trail of Tears, along with the Muskogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Cherokee - who, by the way, brought 2,000 black slaves with them - hello! Black people! - because the Five Civilized Tribes lived in towns like White people. But, no they had to go, since someone found gold in Georgia, and, hey, while we're at it, let's clear out Alabama and Mississippi too. And when the gold peters out, we'll build large plantations worked by slaves. Because we're Southern Gentlemen. Yeah... right.

Oh, and all that land we promised in the Indian Territory? Just Kidding!!  White settlers, railroads, and cattle barons want that land so..... deal with it.

Now, I'm not saying that the story of Curly, Jud, and Laurey needs to be some cry of Native justice. I don't want to be that guy. But it's .... well, ethnic cleansing to at least not admit such people existed there. To make them completely invisible. At the very least, show the reality of people in the broader community.

And, also (still thinking about the complaints of Some People at the Hugos), if a story isn't the "simple" adventure you wanted, but instead talking about things involving "Race", gender, sexuality, or (worse still) Girls (eww!), ask yourself these two questions:

1) what does the absence of these things tell me about what I assume to be the "default" setting for things?

2) what is it about their presence that upsets me? Why does their presence upset me?

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Monday, April 20th, 2015
10:44 pm - The Hugos are Broken…. and It's All My Fault!

OK, it's not entirely my fault, but I did, as it turned out, have a nominating membership, and could have nominated stuff had I been paying attention. Not that my own eccentric tastes (and feeble knowledge) would have made the ballot, but at least I could fee like I'd contributed.

But, as many of you are no doubt aware, there has been a kerfuffle involving nominations for the Hugos; a slate of candidates of certain political slant. If it had been a stylistic or commercial issue, that would have been one thing. But this is clearly is a socio-political agenda.

I and everyone else who could have nominated should have nominated. All those who can vote should vote, if we care. Because while the spirt of the awards may have been violated, the rules weren't violated. These groups took advantage of a usually small, disunited nominating process. But if there's a problem with democracy, the answer is more democracy, not curtailing democracy (believe me, I'm sure someone will propose it).

And the answer to free speech - especially free speech that you don't like - is more free speech. Remember the coda Ray Bradbury put into Fahrenheit 451, essentially chastising everyone who didn't like the way his stories were written and asked him to rewrite his stories, his response is that they should write their own. There should be more stories, not fewer, even - and perhaps especially - the ones you disagree with. "They" wish to be seen as persecuted martyrs; don’t give them that. If you adopt the ways of your enemy, you become no different than your enemy. While it is possible that this pooping-in-the-sandbox may bring forth exactly the sort of thing they are afraid already exists, I say don't give them the satisfaction; judge each thing on its merits as writing. As it should be.

And next year, spring for the $40 and nominate things that you liked.

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Saturday, March 8th, 2014
12:32 pm - Frankenstein
So, last night after a sudden serendipity from scarlettina, I got to see Book-It Rep's production of "Frankenstein".

This was the third production of Frankenstein that I've seen in as many months. Well, experience. I saw the National Theatre's filmed production of it directed by Danny Boyle and starring Benedict Photopatch, then I read the book.

For those not familiar with Book-It Rep, they only do book adaptations and they try and make the adaptation as close to a reading of the book as possible. So this was actually quite a faithful adaptation as possible. Yes, there was some streamlining to the plot, but not enough to ruin the story or drift it too far from the plot (I'll only tell what if asked).

Book-It isn't exactly the richest theater, but they did really creative things with lighting and shadows, just using backlighting and curtains. I even liked the score. The Creature himself had sort an Aztec Zombie thing going on, with long glossy black hair and pale green contacts. Our view of Frankenstein is of course polluted by electricity (more so than in the source), which this production filled in with lit "Leiden Jars" (lightning undoubtedly being beyond their budget).

The actor (who of course scarlettina knew ) playing Victor Frankenstein looked like either Robert Downey Jr. or Orlando Bloom, but was very good as well. Clearly the younger members of the audience were surprised by the creature. They do a good job of balancing out the essentially moral vacancy of both the creator and his creation.

So, if you want to see a good stage production of Frankenstein - and you can get there by Sunday -- go to Book-It Rep. 

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Sunday, February 23rd, 2014
11:30 am - Outrage
So, the other night scarlettina and I were discussing outrage, and I need to refine my thinking. Her feelings were that she no longer could bring herself to the levels of outrage cable TV wants her too (that's right, right?). And this was a program whose views she agrees with.

My feelings are that the anger on cable TV - however much you may agree with the position - is largely a ginned-up outrage circus. The issues discussed almost never get resolved, and even if they are, they never seem to address the underlying structural problem with our government.

Now, what I'm trying to avoid here is the notion of the crank saying "oh, you're angry about that?? Here's what you should REALLY be angry about!!!" I don't want to go all Uncle Conspiracy on this. But the fact of the matter is that the 24 hour cable news networks are not in the business of solving political problem; they are in the business for jacking up the ratings. The more they preach to the angry choir, the more they can charge to advertise Suger Wackys. It's a circus.

I know people who go to bars as part of an organized event precisely so they can yell at the TV of the "opposition" party's response to, say, the State of the Union. Do you really think this does any good? I ask. Talk about futility.

Meanwhile, the "government" is a duopoly in whose best interest that absolutely nothing gets done and that people are angry about that, but blame the other guy. And why is it exactly in a society that prides itself on Freedom and freedom of choice (certainly in the commercial sphere), the third most populous nation on Earth, 350 million people, has only two sizes of politics to fit all???? And don't mention some "third" party like the Libertarians and the Greens. Under the current system, they have about as much chance of being elected to higher office as I do being crowned Miss America.

A few years ago I heard a great NPR interview with Sherman Alexie, and the interviewer, in pro-forma leftie NPR fashion, said "of course we don't have free speech" to which Alexie, stopping her, said "Oh, no - we have free speech in this country. Nobody listens to us, but we have free speech.  

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11:00 am - Into Darkness
So, another Noir City has come and gone this year. Actually saw all 16 films this year, and there were a could of classics (The Third Man, Wages of Fear, Rififi) and a few obscure new revelations (Too Late for Tears was a blast, just for the dialoge, Brighton Rock was new to me, and Hardly a Criminal was the first Argentine noir I've ever seen), and I really wanted to see Drunken Angel because it was the first Kurosawa film with Toshiro Mifune.

The curator, Eddie Mueller, made this year's offerings international, to point out that "noir" was a worldwide phenomenon, mostly in reaction to the World War II. I can see his point, and it recalled what I thought of the excellent but horribly named Mob City, that half the country had some form of PTSD; World War II even shows up in the excellent video game L.A. Noire.

But for me, Noir really grows out the pulp magazines, the hardboiled fiction, and are a great response to the restrictions of the Hollywood production code, especially when telling dark stories. The French term is of course quite clever; the film is both physically and morally dark. Yet for me it reminds me (and going mash up the quote) of Raymond Chandler's valediction for Dashiel Hammett,  that he was grateful for Hammett's taking murder out for the drawing room in the hands of real people who commit it for real reasons, and about the dark alley that the detective must walk down. Film Noir are the stories of the People, more than other of the output of Hollywood. 

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10:13 am - Tales with Hoffman
It seems a lot of the people I know are viscerally upset about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. For myself, well, I think it's sad - pathetic, actually - and intellectually I know it's a loss to art, but I'm having a hard time mustering up all that much sympathy for the man himself.

I don't know whether or not it's an unexpected outbreak of Puritanism on my part, or simply a difficulty in finding sympathy for a man with far more advantages and gifts than I have doing something techtonically stupid. But to be fair I have no idea why he was doing what he was doing (I wonder if he did). Could have been heartbreak, could have been nerves about being able to perform (actors in my experience are not all that stable, often as not, especially regarding performance issues), or, as they say in Trainspotting, "what they don't tell is, drugs feel great!". Given my lifelong avoidance of addictives, I wouldn't know that either.

I do feel bad for those he left behind, especially his kid. They shouldn't have to go through this (which makes me think this was all a monumental act of hubris on his part).

One thing that did come to mind, while attending Noir City , the memory of a film that would slip right into the noir genre, Owning Mahowny, in which a compulsive gambler who's also a bank manager (Hoffman) falls into the hands of a casino operator (John Hurt). Let's just say it wasn't good for the bank. But Hurt makes an observation about compulsive gamblers, that they don't think they deserve to win, and they keep gambling until they loose big because that's the way things are supposed to me. The periods of winning are almost incidental.

And I can't help wondering if that wasn't what was going on.......

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Monday, January 20th, 2014
12:21 am - Not All That Bad
Today I was supposed to get a little more practice driving my car, or at least try and sell some books, but that didn't happen.

(I also had the weekly phone call to my mom, which was less stressful than I'd feared)

There were two pieces of pure joy, for a day when I didn't leave my apartment (What? And go out in the middle of Seahawks madness?)

1) the return of "Sherlock" - loved the title's nod to the original first "return" story.

2) finishing listening to "Ready Player One", the audiobook read by Will Wheaton. Wheaton does a fine job reading the book, but I just realized that perhaps my problem with audiobooks in that I like to put my own imagined voices on books, rather than have a narrator supply them.  The novel itself was fun, if a little too 1980s in its obsessions, but at least at few points it questions these. 

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Monday, January 6th, 2014
5:34 pm - So, My Pain Has a Name...
Bad alternator.

I forget what this will cost me, but somewhere in the 3 figures. But at least I know. 

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Sunday, January 5th, 2014
10:24 pm - Movies - American Hustle
Went to see American Hustle with scarlettina yesterday afternoon. I highly recommend it. Another great David O. Russell character piece. Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence look gorgeous in nearly every scene, and they are great. As are Bradley Cooper, Louis C.K. as his bullied boss, a sympathetic Jeremy Renner, and especially Christian Bale. 

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10:17 pm - Time to be a Grown Up
That's my phrase for the year so far. Time to be a grown-up. About things.

Today, specifically, the car.

For those not in the know - my late sweetie willed me her 2002 Toyota Rav4. With a manual transmission. Problem is, I don't know how to drive a stick. And it's a little bigger than anything I would have gotten for myself.

So I don't drive it very often. Ok, hardly it all since I don't know what I'm doing and don't have any insurance for it yet.

Trouble is, it seems to have electrical issues. It had problems before I took possession, and eventually I got a new battery. Which also has refused to start twice now.

So, today, after having a good friend give it a jump start, I parked it at the auto service center just outside my window. Where I can see it right now. So tomorrow will be my first adventure in auto repair. If it's not an issue of me driving  it more.

Time to be a grown-up about the car.

(yeah, I know, I need to come a decision about this car). 

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Saturday, March 2nd, 2013
8:12 pm - Noir City 2013
Another Noir City at SIFF has come and gone…
Eight Nights, 14 FilmsCollapse )

trimmed for your amusement..

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Saturday, October 6th, 2012
6:19 pm - Looper
Went and saw "Looper" today. It's a good old-fashioned bloody (and, oh, I do mean bloody) action thriller time-travel story. I like the director's other work (Rian Johnson also directed the great "Brick" and "The Brothers Bloom"), and this is a big step up for him. He's worked with Joseph-Gordon-Levitt before, and I like him. Here he's almost unrecognizable because he shares a character with Bruce Willis, well on his way to being the Charlton Heston of SF films of the early 21st century (there's this, 12 Monkeys, Surrogates, and of course The Fifth Element). And it works.

The less you know about this movie, the better off you'll be. And of course the ad campaign gives away some crucial plot points (bastards!). But suffice to say it hits a number of time travel troupes, from Grandfather paradox to predestination paradox, all while letting the bullets fly. This is a serious R rated movie. There are at least two parental horrors that I counted. But it's a good science fiction movie (even with the occasional "but who thought THAT was a good idea" head scratchers thrown in.

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Sunday, June 10th, 2012
5:39 pm - SIFF 2012 #15 (the end) - Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods
Today was the last day of SIFF 2012, and for my last SIFF film, there was the rather odd Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods, which marks the only time in SIFF history I can recall when there were two Thor-themed kids films in the festival.

Wickie is not a very good Viking. Unfortunately, his father is the chief of their rather silly village (called Flake, but pronounced Flakey, and they are), and in the first shot of the film Wickie is literally trying to follow in his father's footsteps. But Wickie would rather think about things... and negotiate. But the men of the village, in the opening raid, find an ancient text promising "the treasure of the Gods" and Wickie's father is promptly kidnapped by the rival Sven the Terrible, and Wickie - through some arcane law - is now the leader who must rescue him.

This is a silly little film, aimed - I think- at kids in the single digits. ALL of the characters are comic (ok, maybe not one) in some fashion or another, there is NO body count, and it's mostly goofy slapstick. Which I suppose is fine for a German film looking for an international audience. The 3D is fine, though except for one gag involving a dentistry arrow, I'm not sure why it's in 3D. Lord knows it's not The Lord of the Rings but it was amusing, mostly, and it seemed to entrain the kids who were there.

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Monday, June 4th, 2012
10:30 pm - SIFF 2012 #14 - Overheard 2
Tonight's feature was a Hong Kong thriller about stock manipulation, Overheard 2. From what I can tell, even though I've never seen it, this film has little or nothing to do with the film that came before it, "Overheard", although it seemingly also featured the corporate world and electronic surveillance.

The story opens with a huge and illegal stock manipulation underway, being watched over by someone who's bugged the entire office. But don't worry - it's a Hong Kong thriller, there's a car chase soon enough. This chase ends in a crash, which brings in the cops, who find a bug, and because it wasn't them, it brings in a cop so honest he arrested his own wife for fraud. He and his team begin tracking the spy.

It's got a rather complicated plot, and it rides the anti-corporate zeitgeist quite effectively. But it manages never to be dull, which is a strong point in its favor.

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Sunday, June 3rd, 2012
7:45 pm - SIFF 2012 #12, #13 - Dragon Pearl and Xingu
Today's double feature featured two every different films:

Dragon Pearl was an odd little children's film. It was reminiscent of the live-action films for children in my youth. In a prologue we're told about the magical dragon's pearl. Then, two kids, an Australian boy and Chinese girl, join their parents for an archeological dig in China (where is not made clear, but it looks like a nice little modern town, almost certainly a movie studio backlot). Before the son (to father Sam Neil, who gets to speak Australian) even arrives, his father has prevented the theft of a priceless book - sinister forces are at work! Then the kids encounter a comic temple caretaker, who introduces them to a magical temple resident.

I think that the Australians must just be more naive and gentle than we are. That's not a criticism of the movie, just that an American film - certainly a big studio release- would be louder and stupider. There were a lot of kids in the audience (mercifully well-behaved) and they seemed to enjoy it just fine, even some rather small ones (I'd say about 5). The semi-comic temple caretaker isn't a racist caricature, he's just comic (and a master of broom-fu); he's even funny in Chinese.

And that's my first criticism - my suspension of disbelief was snapped by the idea that two Chinese characters would be speaking English to each other even when there was no one else around (there was a little bit of subtitling but I'm sure they didn't want too much). Plus, the acting isn't going to win any awards. But I can see the festival's comparison to Spielberg.

Xingu was a completely different film, an historical epic of mid-20th Century Brazil and the founding of the largest indigenous peoples' park - larger than Belgium - in the world, just over 50 years ago, by a trio of brothers from Sao Paulo. Expansive emerald vistas and surprisingly large native villages appear in this story about civilizations and transformations. Is any contact good contact? There are also complicated questions of sexual politics and sibling conflict. And the cheerfully corrupt Brazilian government (though thankfully the story avoids the complicated twists of Brazilian politics.

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12:23 am - SIFF 2012 #11: Dragon
More kung-fu goodness tonight with Dragon, whose actual Chinese title is more like "Martial Arts Hero". It stars current Sino-Japanese Hong Kong favorite Takeshi Kaneshiro and the awesome Donnie Yen. It involves a seemingly simple case of a humble village paper-maker taking down two hardened criminals. One investigator can't let the case go.

There's a lot of great action in this, but a story as well, that revolves about the question of whether a man's nature is changeable or not. Also if things are what they appear (and how sometimes perhaps they are). Kaneshiro's investigator shares features with Wilhem Dafoe's in Boondock Saints and, at the risk of spoiling the story, there's a recent movie by a Canadian director derived from a graphic novel which Dragon has strong echoes of.

The landscape of South China is also shot beautifully in this film. Just as last night's movie gave the audience a view into upper-class China in the early 20th century, this one shows us rural clan life in southern China. Unlike "Woman Knight", however, the martial arts didn't take me out of the story, because in many ways they were the story. Plus, it's also nice to see Donnie Yen's reluctant sad-sack face about to put the hurt on someone.

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