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Reviews: March 9, 2008

9 Mar, 2008 By: Home Media Reviews


Stargate: The Ark of Truth
Street 3/11
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South Park: Imaginationland
Street 3/11
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The Phoenix Lights: We Are Not Alone
Prebook 3/14; Street 4/22
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Outlaw
Street 3/11
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Quick Take: No Country for Old Men
Street 3/11
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Sleuth
Street 3/11
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The Cellar Door
Prebook 3/11; Street 4/8
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Summer Palace
Street 3/11
Palm, Drama, B.O. $0.04 million, $24.99 DVD, NR.
In Mandarin and German with English subtitles.

A lot has been made of director Lou Ye's screening of Summer Palace at the 2006 Cannes festival without the consent of Chinese authorities. The story has it that he was subsequently banned from filmmaking in his native land for five years. One assumes that it was an intentional, if not defiant, gesture, and the rebellious, petulant spirit of the film would seem to bear that out.

Not surprisingly, it's the depiction of the incidents in Tiananmen Square that the censors objected to — it's still officially a taboo subject in China. It's also the defining moment in Ye's characters' lives. Yu Hong (Hao Lei) is a young woman freshly arrived at Beijing University from a provincial town. Callow and inexperienced, she soon flings herself headlong into a turbulent, on-again-off-again relationship with campus dreamboat Zhou Wei (Guo Xiaodong). The pitch of their emotions closely mirrors China's political climate, and the dramatic Tiananmen demonstrations are presented as a high point that is both social and personal.

This lead-up is only half the story, however, as Ye is just as interested in the aftermath of this moment as he is in its beginnings.

Over the years, Yu's life does not become the hoped-for success that her collegiate experience seemed to portend. On the contrary, it is fraught with ennui and disappointment, and yields nothing more promising than a secretarial job. The rest of her friends move into ex-pat circles in Germany, and while they lead slightly more glamorous lives, they seem no happier for it.

Summer Palace ultimately proves not a passionate, agitprop narrative, but rather a sobering meditation on compromise and reduced expectations. — Eddie Mullins


Westinghouse
Prebook 3/11; Street 4/8
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Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)
Prebook 3/11; Street 4/8
City Lights, Documentary, B.O. $0.1 million, $26.98 DVD, NR.

Jason Kohn's award-winning, acclaimed documentary on the cycle of political corruption and crime in modern-day Brazil is one of the rare films worthy of its advance praise.

His unflinching and illuminating film profiles the heroes, villains, victims and businessmen who are at the heart of this tug-of-war. Among those profiled: powerful politician Jáder Barbalho who, despite stealing millions of dollars meant to help the impoverished Amazon, is practically untouchable; a kidnapping victim who describes having her ears cut off, a common practice; a surprisingly humane plastic surgeon who makes a fortune creating new ears for victims; and a kidnapper who doesn't do it for a windfall, but so he and his family can survive in the slums.

What emerges from the interviews is that a small, very dedicated group of people help to keep the situation in check (such as it is), and that there is little glamour in being a criminal or a crusader for justice. Either way, it's grueling. Frightening questions also arise. From where is the next generation of gritty, overworked cops and dogged, unflappable prosecutors coming? Will the financial rewards of crime and the manipulative power of politics attract more people than it repels?

Fans of substantive, comfort-challenging documentaries such as Capturing the Friedmans and Bowling for Columbine will hold Manda Bala dear to their DVD collections. Those with weak stomachs, please note: The film contains some graphic violence, and is not for the squeamish.

The DVD includes director's commentary, exclusive featurettes and Spanish subtitles. — Pete Croatto


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