Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Undoubtedly the major cinema event of the week, if not of December, and for fans, probably the most anticipated picture of 2013. Part two of a trilogy based on what was the slimmest of JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth novels, the massive three part treatment of a relatively simple story has provided director Peter Jackson the kind of freedom he never had in the densely plotted Lord of the Ring adaptations. He also has the kind of budgetary reach that any director would kill for, based on the massive success of those earlier movies. And Jackson delivers in spadefuls, creating a second installment that surpasses the first in its energy and momentum. The story is mysterious and exotic, but it is told with a geniality that was buried under the portentousness of the first series. Running two hours and 40 minutes, the action never sags, and for fans and newcomers alike, The Desolation of Smaug offers the kind of rollicking adventure story that we have not seen since the best of the Indiana Jones movies.
Oshin was originally a TV series that proved one of the most watched Japanese TV dramas of all time when it was first released in the mid-1980s and was hugely popular in Taiwan and around Asia. It is the story of a young girl who grows up in impoverished circumstances and endures through many, many, many hardships (the original series ran for 297 episodes), and is set at the end of the Meiji era and into modern times. Oshin has become an iconic character recognized around Asia even by people who did not watch the series, a symbol of endurance through hard times and forbearance in the face of adversity. In the movie, the role of the young Oshin is played by Kokone Hamada, who according to publicity material, was selected from 2,471 applicants for the role. Oshin is unapologetic melodrama, and it is advisable to have a plentiful supply of hankies or tissue to see audiences through to the end.
I’m So Excited
A new Pedro Almodovar film is always to be welcomed, though it has been a long time since the master of the neurotic has achieved the kind of unsettling weirdness of Law of Desire and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which made him an international name. In I’m So Excited it is clear that the director and the cast are having the time of their lives in an entertaining romp that follows the crew and passengers of an airplane that is experiencing technical problems on a journey that is likely to end in flames. Death is looming, and this being an Almodovar film, the thing that is on everybody’s mind is sex. Death and sex are the foundations of Almodovar films, and in I’m So Excited, neither has seemed so much fun. Taken for what it is, there is plenty to keep fans entertained.
Sometimes it just isn’t that easy to hate Vince Vaughn, who comes up with some truly terrible movie ideas, but also occasionally manages a mix of comedy and sentiment that is difficult to loathe. Such is the case with Delivery Man. The story follows David, an affable underachiever who discovers that he has fathered 533 children through anonymous donations to a fertility clinic 20 years ago. Now he must decide whether or not to come forward when a number of them file a lawsuit to reveal his identity. Family, fatherhood, responsibility and bonding all get a workout, and David discovers something about how life can be made to have meaning. Vaughn’s usually snarky tone has been smoothed out with mid-life crisis philosophizing, and curiously enough, this is what makes Delivery Man an above average comedy.
No one epitomizes the rise of celebrity culture more than the character of Marilyn Monroe, and Love, Marilyn, a documentary in which the great and good of Hollywood read from newly discovered journals and letters left by the actress and speak about her, takes a revealing look into the personality behind the icon. There is also archive footage from those who knew her and worked with her. Director Liz Garbus has brought together a list of Hollywood royalty that ranges from Lauren Bacall to Glenn Close, Joe DiMaggio to Lindsay Lohan. The picture of Marilyn Monroe revealed here is something utterly different from the dumb blonde of popular mythology, and fleshes out a character who worked relentlessly, overcoming what even friends suggest was somewhat limited acting skill, to be a great actor and a happy person. Both were incredibly difficult tasks.
Chen Zhiwu (陳志武) says that the COVID-19 crisis puts into sharp focus that we are in a new cold war, with China and the US being the two protagonists. “It’s almost literally in front of us,” says Chen, Director of Asia Global Institute and Chair Professor of Finance at the University of Hong Kong. Political observers were hesitant, Chen says, even up to the beginning of this year, to confirm a new cold war was underway. “But ... the coronavirus has made clear the clash in values and way of life between what China would like to pursue, and what
For tourists visiting Hualien, Taroko National Park (太魯閣國家公園) is the first order of business. But if you find yourself in the city with half a day to spare — your train back to Taipei will leave mid-afternoon, say — it’s hardly worth busing out to Taroko Gorge. Instead, borrow or rent a bicycle or a scooter, or hail a cab, and set out for one of these attractions. At only one of these places is there an admission charge. CISINGTAN SCENIC AREA A literal translation of Cisingtan (七星潭) would be “Seven Stars Pond,” but there’s no pond here, just the vast Pacific
To bring sustainability and prosperity to their farms, some agriculturalists in southern Taiwan have embraced innovative types of companion planting. In contrast to the monoculture that dominates much of the rich world’s farmland, companion planting is the cultivation of different crops in proximity, usually to optimize the space, for pest control or to enhance pollination. The symbiotic relationship between cacao trees and betel nut, which may be unique to Pingtung County, is striking when one visits the cacao plantations maintained by Choose Chius (邱氏可可) and Wugawan (牛角灣) in Neipu (內埔). The history of growing cacao in Taiwan goes back to Japanese colonial
I had really hoped that this film would be a Taiwanese answer to the American camp classic Snakes on a Plane, but Spiders on a Ship — er, Abyssal Spider (海霧) — takes itself way too seriously. One major gripe about Taiwanese commercial features is that they are prone to being unnecessarily over the top, but that’s the one element that could have made Abyssal more watchable. The lack of camp is especially disappointing since director Joe Chien (錢人豪) first made his mark with the intentionally trashy horror movie Zombie 108 (棄城Z-108). Released in 2012, it is considered Taiwan’s earliest