Review of "Forbidden City Cop"

Forbidden City Cop‘s plot, such as it is, is of the evil Gum Kingdom’s quests to conquer the Chinese Empire. The simpleminded and friendly Emperor is no match for the clever Gum barbarians, and from the offer of a concubine to the capture of a space alien, the Emperor believes & accepts every Gum entreaty. It’s up to doctor who moonlights as an Imperial Bodyguard and inventor, Ling Ling Fat (“008”, Stephen Chow), to save the day.

Chow’s films are a combination of lighthearted physical comedy and commentary on culture. The recent Shaolin Soccer (2001) is a masterful example of this, combining the rise of an improbably sports team (a la The Longest Yard) with a realist examination of contemporary urban China. Forbidden City Cop is an earlier example of the same themes, deftly combining western imports (UFOs, the Academy Awards, spy thrillers) with traditional (ancient heroes, an Empire in distress) and contemporary (kung fu) themes.

The only downside was the subtitles, sometimes hardly readable because of their positioning on the screen. Still, the film was funny and cute, and I recommend it. I rate it 8 / 10.

Rent from Greencine. (Currently out of stock at Amazon.)

Review of "Dark Days"

Dark Days is an amazing movie, and thanks to DVD technology it’s even a better disk. Which this film. Watch these movies.

The film “Dark Days” chronicles the lives of “home owners” living under the Amtrak tracks in New York City. For the past twenty or thiryy years abandond sections of the New York subway were used as housing by the homeless. In the dark drank tunnels, the residents had guard dogs, locked doors, and thanks to the soviet-style infrastructure of the subway, electricity. Residents ranged from the mentally fried, to thieves, to a man you can’t help rooting for. The documentary unexpectedly complicates as armed Amtrak police order the eviction of the hidden city. The ending is almost too cinematic to be true, though generally happy endings are dogged by the eventual deaths of three people you grow to know.

A True Independent

The “making of” documentary, called “Dark Days: The Making of A True Independent” tells the equally amazing story of how the work came to be. When the filmmaker says, “I wasn’t thinking of making a film at worst,” your first reaction is “of course…..” Then you learn that had never made a movie before, had never used film before, and had never short video before. I don’t want to ruin any of the incredible events from between the director hearing of the underground city to the multiple Sundance awards, because I want you to see for yourself.

Dark Days and Dark Days: The Making of a True Independent are both incredible. Dark Days itself slows down a bit in the middle, so the 40 minute mark may be a good time to fire of the making-of featurette. Combined, both make two solid hours. I rate this film 9 / 10.

Rent from Greencine. Buy from Amazon.

Review of "A Prairie Home Companion"

A pretentious train wreck of a good idea, A Prairie Home Companion is exactly like the film version of the radio show that it is. Only worse. While while A Prairie Home Companion is merely a pretentious few hours of nostalgia, the movie is a cavalcade of all that is perceived by stupid by a distant, out of touch elite.

Radio like you’ve never seen it before. Or would want to.

The idea behind A Prairie Home Companion, for those who haven’t visited Garrison Keiler‘s Lake Wobegon for themselves, is that one can somehow listen to a radio show from sixty-some years ago. Old style advertisement, music, and dramatic shorts make you think “this is clever” when you first hear it. Followed rapidly by “What else is on,” because A Prairie Home Companion is far better as a nostalgia trip than either a recreation of the world that was. Nor it is very funny. A laugh every fifteen minutes isn’t “funny.”

In spite of these faults, the radio program at least knows what it is nostalgic for: late 1940s radio in the upper Midwest. The film only knows that it’s a show for “stupid” people, and that all such country bumpkins are alike.

So one personality has a thick and painfully thick Minnesota accent. Two are cowboys, because presumably farmers and ranchers were coterminous in place and time. We have southern revival-style music mixed freely with paeans to specific Minnesota placenames. An “angel” walks with a soul singer, neither having much to do with the show’s sense of place.

A Joke, but not a Funny one

In A Prairise Home Companion, Hollywood presents up with a coalition-of-the-oppressed view of the past. Countryfolk are stupid, ignorant, and all the same. To complete the effect, throw in an arrogant businesslike Texan whose “eyes do not focus” and a suicidal sophisticate played by Lindsay Lohan. Yes, Lindsay Lohan.

I give it five out of ten. If you’re into pain with occasional bursts of pleasure but don’t have a knife handy, A Prairie Home Companion is for you.

Rent from Greencine. Buy from Amazon.

Iran is worthless

Barnett, T.P.M. 2007. I expect more reasoning than that. Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog. March 31, 2007. Available online:

Neither an asset nor a liability

Great thinker Tom Barnett kindly responded to a question I had on his blog yesterday. To his comment that “”I think that if Bush attacks Iran on his watch, he’ll screw up the Big Bang permanently” I asked “Why?” His response, and my follow-up, is below

Are we supposed to bomb by the list?

Tom’s referring to the Index of Economic Freedom (hat-tip to Catholicgauze) which places Iran’s economic freedom in the “repressed” category, between Angola and Republic of Congo (by comparison, the United States is free, Norway is mostly Free, Mongolia is moderately free, and Vietnam is mostly unfree.)

Of course it does not make sense to use war as our only tool. Along with peace, war is one of two tools. But Iran’s disconnectedness (outside of oil) does mean that Iran is not much of an engine of liberty. Destroying the Islamic Republic of Iran is hardly a duty. But nor would it be worse than, say, the loss of Syria or Togo.

Yes, I think pushing the region toward needed change is more important than getting our rocks off on Iran right away. If that doesn’t make me seem tough enough, then so be it

Iran had a great potential to be a source of change, if Tehran and Washington had acted different between 2003 and 2005. In the same way, the Japanese Empire was a potential force for good before the 1930s. But Iranian attacks on Americans these days are as real as Japanese attacks on Americans were then.

Iran has failed as a major vehicle for change. The safety of Tehran is not more important than the destruction of Tehran.

We need to think more effects based and less bombs on target–as in, how about we trigger a revolution in Iran as quickly as possible?

The quiest way to trigger a revolution would be from above, as was the case in Serbia. Whether that would be a good thing is a different question.

Do you think that attacking the regime now will get us that? Or do you think, given past experience with Iran, that such an approach will prove counterproductive?

Look where we’ve pushed connectivity and won: former Soviet Union and China and Vietnam.

Look where we’ve pushed isolation and propped up dictators: Cuba, North Korea, Iran.

And look we’re we’ve perused connectivity through force: Serbia and Iraq. At best, we get a government we want. At worst, we get the sort of violence that already exists in the Afro-Islamic Gap.

My argument has been simple and consistent: topple totalitarian regimes and soft-kill authoritarian ones.

In the absense of other events, this would be a great idea. But we have (wisely) topped authoritarian regimes in the past (Italy and Japan) while out of necessity we have (wisely) soft-killed totalitarian regimes as well (China during Nixon and Mao.

And show some respect for sequencing and load-bearing.

Indeed. And in our quest to overloading through feedback and feed-forward, topping Iran is a wash.

That’s why I’d advocate doing what is necessary to make Iraq work and let Shiite Iraq play Poland to Iran’s Soviet Union.

The problem here is that tyranny does best when the economy relies on exporting raw materials. An Iraq under Iranian domination is even more mattressed by oil. Furthermore, widespread & correct Iranian perception of the backwardness of Arab culture may limit what lessons the Iranians will learn from Iraq.

Grand strategy isn’t just pulling triggers

Nor it it about not pulling them. It’s about pulling them when we should and not pulling them when we shouldn’t. In Iran, it doesn’t matter.

Thanks to Tom for the conversation, and to Curtis and all other commentators as well!