Friday, August 29, 2008

Pro-Obama Bias?

In Quebec (if not Canada in general), has anybody noticed that our media excessively focuses on Barrack Obama in the coverage of the upcoming American general election?

The question certainly deserves to be asked. You want to know where Barrack Obama is? Take a remote control and CBC News at Six will show him in a congress. Moreover, speaking about ideas, most of our lazy journalists only covered what they see as Obama's most beautiful ideas: his staunch willingness to withdraw American troops from Iraq, his national health care plan and (guess what?) his desire to bring changes no matter what that means.

Moreover, many Canadians find Obama very charismatic. Which makes us wonder if these Canadians support the Democratic Party's leader the same way some people like Justin Trudeau. Obviously, this shows us that for most Canadians, image matters more than concrete ideas.

Above all, most Canadians don't seem to care what Barrack Obama intends to do with our bilateral economic relations. In fact, should he get elected, Obama will show his protectionist attitude toward us. In other words, Obama's election, though it might look good for some people, would jeopardize the NAFTA's very existence.

Moreover, Canadians seem not to care about Obama's demagogic remarks that we, Canadians, steal Americans' jobs while it's third-world countries that are the prime suspects. After all, factory owners, for example, wouldn't move their factory in Canada, because Canadian workers are definitely not worth as much as a - let's say - poor Asian worker. Think about it: once the USA decides to withdraw from the NAFTA, our exported products will be hit by a border tariff. Thus, it will make it even harder for us to export our products, for more than 80% of our exportations go to the USA. Moreover, foreign goods sold in our market will be more expansive. Is it seriously what many Canadians want?

On the other hand, John McCain, the leader of the Republican party, is an advocate of free-trade. However, our reluctance to see him at the White House is quite understandable for a few reasons that come to our mind. In fact, McCain 1) is not in favour of a full or gradual withdrawal of the American troops from Iraq; 2) wouldn't consider investing in research for alternative energy; and, for instance, 3) his lack of qualms when he panders to the religious right-wing people in the USA.

Finally, though Obama and McCain do have good ideas on certain issues, one thing is sure: no matter who Americans will elect as their president in a few months, there are certainly unpleasant things to expect. To be really honest with you, I support neither Obama and McCain, just to let you know.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hitman: The Movie

Two words suffice in order to describe Hitman: entertaining and, at the same time, insipid.


Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant), a gun-for-hire, works for a criminal agency known as "The Agency". On a mission to Russia, when the agency's client asks Agent 47 to change his plans in order to eliminate a Russian presidential candidate, things go wrong. In fact, as he tries to kill a Nika Boronina (Olga Kurylenko), a woman described as a "witness" by the client, Agent 47 is tracked down by Interpol and the Russian secret services. Or is Nika's murder supposed to cover something up?

No matter how lame this film is, let's try to find a bright side to it. The truth about it is that it really kept me entertained, considering that I watched it to refresh from my labour. In fact, I found the gunfight scenes so well shot. In addition to that, you also get to see some amazing hand-to-hand fight sequences. Nonetheless, if French director Xavier Gens is good at manipulating the camera, the same thing can't be said about his talent to tell a story.

Indeed, Hitman fails to be good because of the lame script. While there's not much to understand about the storyline, Hitman takes itself way too seriously. In fact, when the action begins, that is Agent 47's mission in Russia, the movie piles up many sub-plots just to look complex. Unfortunately, these sub-plots add no dramatic interest to the movie. This means that the movie badly talks about Agent 47's quest for something. Moreover, while the plot is supposed to get Agent 47 involved in a complex political situation, the effects of this situation is not explored at the end of the movie. Instead, any entertainment fiends would agree that the pathetic display of sub-plots has one advantage: it brings us spectacular action scenes.

Obviously, it seems that the scriptwriter doesn't understand that good action sequences - separated by a period of less than 10 minutes - don't make a story! Moreover, the sub-plots come so quickly that it gives to the character unconvincing mood swings. While Timothy Olyphant (known for the TV series Deadwood), Dougray Scott (Mission: Impossible II) and Olga Kurylenko (Paris, je t'aime) are certainly good actors, the insipid dialogues don't help them to actually portray really well the changes of emotions and thoughts from their characters.

Finally, while there's not much to enjoy from Hitman, let it be said its pros are: Olga Kurylenko's - whom I'm dying to see in Quantum of Solace - exotic beauty and the well-made action sequences. As for the cons, well, it's just too bad that this adaptation from Eidos' video games franchise had to be so ripped off by an incompetent scriptwriter. Hopefully, the film manages to stay faithful to the video games.

Rating: 2.5/5

***


USA/France (2007)
Length: 93 minutes
Genre: Action thriller
Screenplay: Skip Woods
Directed by: Xavier Gens
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, Olga Kurylenko, Robert Knepper and Ulrich Thomsen

Monday, August 11, 2008

Grey Owl

Although Grey Owl has a lot of potential, it's just painful to watch.

In the 1930s, a Canadian fur trapper named Archie "Grey Owl" Belaney (Pierce Brosnan), a white man who claims to be an Ojibwe, encounters Gertrude Bernard, an assimilated Iroquois who relies on him to revive her Native roots. Afterwards, when she sees that Grey Owl kills beavers for a living, Gertrude will ask him to embrace natural conservationism, which means only harming Mother Nature to satisfy fundamental needs. While he gets media attention both in Canada and the UK, Grey Owl will be known for his opposition to urban expansion.

First of all, the story giving life to the movie certainly has a lot of potential, because it deals with environmentalism, a subject that touches us. However, Grey Owl is not worth your time for two reasons: a script filled with loopholes and an uneven performance by the cast.

Speaking about William Nicholson's script, although we would like to feel attached to the characters, the story does a bad job in depicting the characters through their thoughts and motives. In fact, director Lord Richard Attenborough (Jurassic Park) didn't bother to explore Archie's fascination for the Native way of life, since being a white makes him a fake Native in the eyes of people at that time. As for the character of Gertrude, we barely get to know why she wants to go back to her Native roots through Grey Owl.

Of course, the script could have been better, but the thin and bland dialogues don't illustrate the potential depth of the two main characters. In fact, with thin dialogues (more fit for a bad TV series' script) that suggest rather than clarify things, the movie doesn't manage to put things back into their historical context to let us thoroughly understand why Archie and Gertrude rejects the Canadian way of life. Add to that a corny love affair between Archie and Gertrude that looks more like a spur of the moment to make us sob.

Even worse: what makes the movie even more painful to watch is the uneven performance by the cast. While Pierce Brosnan's (GoldenEye) performance is barely appreciable, Annie Galipeau's is extremely dull. In fact, whenever Galipeau - despite being relatively attractive - says something on screen, she looks like a robot that can't emote.

Finally, Grey Owl is definitely the worst Canadian movie I've seen up to now. If you watch it out of curiosity, you'll notice that you just wasted your money.

Rating: 2.5/5

Grey Owl
Canada/UK (1999)
Length: 117 minutes
Genre: Historical drama
Screenplay: William Nicholson
Director: Richard Attenborough
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Annie Galipeau, Stewart Bick and Charles Edwin Powell

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Over-Coverage of China

A few days ago, I came across an interesting post (in French) written by an old high school friend of mine. According to him, our media has focused too much on abuses of human rights made in China since the Summer Olympic Games will take place in Beijing, the Middle Empire's capital city. After all, in the last ten years, the Olympics have always taken place in Western countries and on the eve of the events, our media mostly paid attention to the athletes and their possible performance.

Just like my friend Léonard, I do agree that we, Westerners, have a propensity to criticize China's government for its repression. However, does our media actually represent our dream to see the world become a haven for democracy?

I don't think so.

Obviously, China is certainly not the only country that can claim responsibility for acting like a moron on the eve of the Olympics (article in French). In fact, who in Canada heard that nine countries (Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Virgin Islands, Netherlands Antilles and Liechtenstein) refused to send women at the Olympics?

These nine countries did it for different reasons. For instance, the Virgin Islands, the Netherlands Antilles and Liechtenstein are small and can't afford to send women at the Olympics, according to Anne-Marie Lizin, a Belgian senator. However, it's no surprise that the rest of the previously mentioned countries are all predominantly Muslims.

Which brings me to my point: when human rights are abused in China, we'd rather massively rant on about it in our news. However, when it's Muslim countries that do it, our media turns its back to them or just barely talk about it. Evidently, I have nothing against Islam and civilized Muslims, but if we care so much about our civilization's values, shouldn't we just stop thinking that abuses of human rights are only done in China? With that said, criticism about China's record on human rights have their place in our media. Nevertheless, people should try to look further than that.

The most ironic thing about that is that our media finds it so easy to criticize what some homegrown Muslim shames of ours do or say (like the imam Saïd Jaziri or those who beat Tarek Fatah to a pulp).

This is where my observation stops. For now. Geez, sometimes, as a Canadian, I'm often ashamed of our media.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ran

Although I saw few movies from Japanese movie director Akira Kurosawa, I'd straightforwardly say that Ran is his best movie ever.


This re-adaptation of William Shakespeare's play King Lear tells the story of the aging Great Lord Hidetora Ichimonji who has three sons (Taro, Jiro and Saburo). Hidetora divides his land in three for his sons and expects them to stay united. However, Hidetora Ichimonji, while being officially retired, wants to keep some prerogatives related to the title of Great Lord. At the light of this, Saburo, Ichimonji's most honest son, is banished for questioning his father sanity. On the other hand, Taro and Jiro, while pretending to love their father, individually conspire to strip Ichimonji's from his title to have the full control of their father's lands without any share.

While Shakespeare's King Lear is certainly an outstanding play, it doesn't necessarily depict its characters the same way it is done in Ran. The most beautiful thing about this is Kurosawa's ability to talk briefly - albeit in an elegant way - about the leading characters' past. Thus, it confers to Ran a visible psychological depth through clever dialogues thanks to scriptwriters Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni and Masato Ide.

Besides, these beautiful dialogues are actually the movie's pillars. In fact, like a boxer who jabs his opponent without mercy, Ran throws at us its most radiant jewel, which is its thematic wealth. With that said, Kurosawa mainly uses the story's premises to explore the theme of a relation between a father and sons. With the indirect display of feelings through a self-imposed cold attitude, we may think that Jiro and Taro actually loves their father.

However, in an Asian society that doesn't tolerate subjectivity at all, it's with Jiro and Taro's conversations made behind their father's backs that we get to see how rubbish their filial love is. Furthermore, the portrayal of such a hypocrisy gradually leads us to Kurosawa's visual argumentation about the absurdity of war with the movie's stunning cinematography. To that matter, I'm thinking about the bloody war scene in which the film's score (written by Toru Takemitsu) plays while the ambient sound is muted. After all, it's surprising how Kurosawa can beautifully illustrate his anti-war stances with a very violent scene.

Finally, even though the movie fights its way through with some relatively useless scenes (i.e. some parts of Ichimonji's journey in the wilderness with Kyoami and Tango), Ran is certainly worth watching. Of course, the willingly cold acting style may make many Westerners cringe. However, rest assured: the actors manage to handle their character more skilfully than one would think for we have to appreciate what the characters' indirect affirmations imply to understand the story. All in all, this Jidaigeki (時代劇) is definitely one of the best Asian movies ever made.

Rating: 4.5/5

***


Japan/France (1985)
Length: 160 minutes
Genre: War drama
Screenplay by: Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni and Masato Ide
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu and Daisuke Ryu

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