‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny’
When it came out 16 years ago, Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was no mere martial arts film. It was a downright tony wuxia for Westerners who’d never heard the term “wuxia,” who’d never bought a Shaw Brothers bootleg before, whose knowledge of Hong Kong/Chinese action cinema may have only been Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Where the first “Crouching Tiger” was grand and lyrical and melancholy, its belated sequel is a straight-up, junky, more or less anonymous ass-kicker — closer to a knock-off than a continuation.
Michelle Yeoh is back, as is legendary stunt choreographer Yuen Woo-ping (who also directed), and many of the elements are the same: there’s a young upstart, a cucumber cool love interest (Donnie Yen), plus some mean jerks after the titular sword. It’s also rushed, clocking in at just around 90 minutes, acted in sometimes strained English (as opposed to strained Mandarin), and, in its climax, indulges in some hideous CGI green screen. It also knows to deliver the goods, early and often. With lowered expectations it’s still a delight, especially when Yen is pulling a Stephen Chow and taking out a squadron of baddies by stomping on their feet.
‘The Look of Silence’
Two years ago the Oscars failed to hand their Best Documentary trophy to “The Act of Killing,” Joshua Oppenheimer’s brazen and hugely important film about the Indonesian genocide of the 1960s, whose perpetrators were not only not punished but treated like national celebrities. And then they did the same to his follow-up, which returns to the subject, but with a more sober, serious tone.
Where “Killing” hung with the remorseless killers, “The Look of Silence” stays close to the survivors, chiefly the brother of a victim, who confronts numerous perpetrators, forcing them to acknowledge — though often not — that they helped in the killing of maybe a million innocent people. We tend to think of evil as a disease whose infectees must be stamped out like roaches. Oppenheimer’s films argue that what’s truly useful is understanding them, finding empathy with those who’ve done the unimaginable. Only then, these two films passionately and patiently say, can we get to the root of evil at its most banal.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
Speaking of belated sequels, few will go to bat for the late Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman.” But her sole other book is not only an unstoppable classic, but ditto the movie made from it. Gregory Peck was never more Gregory Peck than he was as Atticus Finch, goodly father and lawyer who becomes a hero to his daughter by taking the right side on racial relations. If released today it would be (rightly) criticized for focusing on the do-gooder liberalism of white characters while largely ignoring the black characters being defended. But as a kid’s introduction to being on the right side of social issues, few can touch it.
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