Metropolis: The Future According to People From the 1920’s

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This was my first silent film ever, and I quite enjoyed the experience, mainly because the actors have to exaggerate so much, and that is very entertaining. Especially when the main actress thought that groping her own breasts was the best way to denote distress. And I’m pretty sure I saw characters grab their heads in despair every two minutes. But most astonishingly, the look of the main character gives proof that Johnny Depp is immortal. I knew he was a little off. I bet it had something to do with Helena Bonham Carter.

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Metropolis comes all the way from 1927 Germany, and is directed by Fritz Lang. It is a sci-fi dystopian film about a futuristic city in which the rich live in sky scrapers while the poor live and work underground. Privileged Freder (Gustave Frolich) decides to join the workers underground. He meats the beautiful Maria (Brigette Helm) who preaches peace to the workers and tells them to wait for the mediator who will unite the hands (the workers) and the brains (the rich). However, the mad scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) creates an evil robot woman who looks exactly like Maria, and watches as chaos ensues.

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I enjoyed watching this movie. As my first silent film, it was a very interesting experience. And I feel Metropolis was very ahead of its time. But if you forget the beautiful cityscape and special effects (in context of the time) I do have a few complaints about the story. It was quite simplistic, and the characters extremely flat. Freder, the hero, only goes underground because he sees Maria and thinks “Boobs! I must follow!” Then he sees the workers and suddenly becomes the legendary mediator. That is an important transformation that is not very well established.

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Even worse, the audience is not told at all who Maria is. You first meet her when she’s preaching in a cathedral, so you can only guess she’s an important religious figure. But the film doesn’t even try to provide a background for her, or establish motivation for her actions. But I forget. This movie came from the 20’s, when women weren’t important.

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And even Rotwang, the mad scientist character is just a flat cut out. He wants to make Metropolis fall, but we are never told why.

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Despite all these problems, I think Metropolis is still worth seeing. Especially if you’ve never seen a silent movie before. It’s a very interesting experience. Taking into account this movie’s story limitations but also it’s very innovative artistic appeal, I give this movie a 4 out of 10.

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

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My regular readers know I have ridiculously high standards for movies. Because of this, very rarely do I watch a movie and feel compelled to voice the word “wow” aloud. But I did today when I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for the first time.

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This film, produced in 2000 and directed by Ang Lee, was an American, Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong co-production. I was surprised to find out that it is based on a famous Chinese novel, the fourth installment of The Crane Iron Pentalogy by Wang Dulu. The plot follows the famous Chinese warrior Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) who seeks to avenge the death of his master at the hands of the villain Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei). However, the elusive Jade Fox has been training a disciple (Jiao Long), a skilled princess fighting to escape an arranged marriage who has quickly surpassed her master. Li Mu Bai and the woman he loves, Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) fight to end this threat to China.

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I have seen martial arts movies before, mainly Bruce Lee stuff because for a time I dated a Kung Fu black belt who forced me to watch them with him. I remember these movies as having spectacular action, but simplistic, cliché stories. However, that was not the case for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The fantastic martial arts scenes (you, know, people flying on wires, kind of like the Matrix but without Keanu Reeves) were breathtaking, but the story was incredible too. And the characters complex. Each character seemed torn between different desires. Li Mu Bai was torn between avenging his master,  retiring in piece, and expressing his feelings for the woman he loved. Yu Shuh Lien in turn was also torn between a woman’s duty and her feelings for Li Mu Bai. And Jen, probably the most complex of all, is torn between fighting for freedom, her love for Lo (Chang Chen) a daughter’s duty, and also doing what is morally right.

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And the action was stunning. Some of the most beautiful movements of the human body I have ever seen, even though they are made in an attempt to kill someone.

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I do have one complaint, however. In the scene when Li Mu Bai defeats the Jade Fox, everything suddenly looked very fake. The Jade Fox comes after Li Mu Bai with this machine gun-like dart gun and Li Mu Bai blocks them all with his sword until he shatters the metal dart gun with his blade in a very stupid looking way. It really disappointed me. Even though in the rest of the movie, characters are running through the air, it looks natural. But this scene did not. It’s like seeing an expensive Broadway show where a two dollar herpes infested hooker has snuck into the chorus line.

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Despite that one out of place scene, I really enjoyed this beautiful movie of  love, loss, and honor. I give it a 9 out of 10.

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Oh, and a word of advice, don’t watch the English dubbing. I enjoyed it much more when I watched it in Madarin with English subtitles, because the English dubbing  just seemed fake.