Monday, March 5, 2018

Top 20 Films of 2017

20. The Florida Project (Sean Baker)

Sean Baker is an immensely empathetic filmmaker and here he creates a story about people living on the edges of society where the characters are allowed to be ragged, joyful and occasionally unsympathetic, but always real. These are people with agency (the adults, anyway) and thus the film pulls at the heartstrings in a way that a standard indie film poverty porn never could.

19. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska)

A Polish musical about man eating mermaids... need I say more? How about that it's an adult riff on the same fairy tale that inspired Disney's The Little Mermaid? Or that it's beautiful to behold, with its pinks and greens? Or that it balances a lurid grotesqueness with real emotional stakes that'll break your heart?

18. Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison)

Assembled largely from archival photographs and clips of silent films recovered from underneath an old swimming pool in a small Canadian town, Dawson City is a film about the Klondike gold rush and also a film about film itself; how film was first created and how people relate to these flickering images. Featuring an otherworldly and melancholic score by Sigur Ros collaborator Alex Somers, this is a movie about the power and magic of moving images that manages to be pretty magical itself. 

17. Wormwood (Errol Morris)

I can remember reading or hearing, years ago, back in college I think, the vague details of a story about a CIA agent who was secretly dosed with LSD and then went nuts and jumped out a window. Wormwood is about how and why that man went out that window, but also a story about the impossibility of ever really knowing what happened to someone else and how that can nag at the people left behind. It also happens to be a portrait of America's behavior in the Cold War, and how people coped with the profoundly unethical things they may or may not have done in the service of their country.

16. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler)

An unapologetically gnarly crime story that takes its sweet time as the hero slowly descends deeper and deeper into hell. Sharply written and brutally told.

15. Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi)

Though I grew up reading superhero comics and still own boxes and boxes of the fucking things, I've found myself pretty unimpressed generally when the genre moves over into cinema. Marvel's output certainly achieves a baseline level of competency that makes them fairly watchable, but I always find myself thinking that the devotion to servicing a larger storyline and the need to ground the story in something resembling the real world kneecaps many of their films. Thor: Ragnarok, which features a hero who's blissfully disinterested in monologing about what it means to be a hero in whispery close-ups, is one of the only films in this genre that actually gets close to achieving the kind of wild (and wildly silly) galactic pulpiness of a Jack Kirby comic. Which is pretty much the highest praise I can think of.

14. Columbus (Kogonada)

Messy interior lives contrasted against the beautiful precision of modernist architecture. Quiet, empathetic and wonderful. The kind of movie Roger Ebert was talking about when he said that the movies were a machine that created empathy.

13. John Wick: Chapter 2 (Chad Stahelski)

Surpasses the original by leaning hard into the weirdo mythology underpinning John Wick's world and showcasing endless variations in its action scenes. The mirrored museum shoot out (a nod to Lady from Shanghai, no doubt) has John Wick descending into a revenge fueled neon hell of his own making that's beautiful, sad and thrilling all at once.

12. Okja (Bong Joon-ho)

#1 Super Pig! 

11. Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)

With some heavy lifting from the sunny Italian countryside, Call Me by Your Name manages to perfectly capture the woozy heartrending intensity of first love and first lust.

10. Good Time (Ben Safdie and Joshua Safdie)

There's something about being up and about in the middle of the night that makes you feel like you've slipped into an alternate version of the real world, a distorted mirror image that operates by its own rules and is populated by its own cast of characters. That's the world that Good Time takes place in, where Robert Pattinson's Connie is a low life crook and confidence man who's too dumb to stay out of trouble but just smart enough to stay one step ahead of prison. The thrill of Good Time is in watching to see how long he can keep all of the plates spinning and what'll happen when they finally come crashing down.

09. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)

There are lots of things to like about Gerwig's uncommonly good coming of age film, but the moment that won me over came late: Lady Bird is in New York and finds herself feeling adrift. Though she had chafed against her Catholic school upbringing, she steps into a cathedral on a Sunday morning and finds a sense of peace. A small moment for sure, but one that's representative of how Lady Bird the film is so sharply honed in on the specific life of Lady Bird the character.

08. The Work (Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous)

This documentary, shot inside Fulsom Prison, depicts a therapy program where convicts get together to talk through their deepest, darkest emotional pain. Twice a year, men from the outside come in and join them for four days, and this film puts us right next to those outsiders for the world's most intense group therapy session. Men who've robbed and killed break down in intense wracking sobs and howl with rage and pain. The Work is a documentary of such searing emotional intensity that it almost feels like something we shouldn't be allowed to see. Paradoxically, the most intense and moving exorcism comes from a slight, bearded guy from outside the prison, recounting a childhood story that doesn't involve child abuse or violence at all, who finds a catharsis with these other men that'll bring tears to your eyes.

07. Sleep Has Her House (Scott Barley)

An experimental film of jagged digital images of a forest at night. The sounds of a storm approach and crash in for what feels like a nightmare conjured by the planet itself. Builds to a crescendo that resulted in one of the most riveting movie watching experiences I had all year.

06. Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)

Alternate Title: The Kids Are Not All Right. A group of Cool Teens, belonging to some sort of cult, stage a violent terrorist attack and then hole up in a closed shopping mall to hide out from the subsequent man hunt. The fact that the ideology behind the violence is never explained makes the film a deeper, richer portrait of a disaffected generation. Rather than being tethered to one idea, Nocturama suggests that a generation of young people are growing up in a world that's broken and fucked in any number of ways, a world that doesn't want or need them at all. 

05. mother! (Darren Aronofsky)

Just about every review of mother! mentioned how glaringly obvious the central metaphor in this story was. The funny thing, though, is that each review then laid out a different interpretation of what that metaphor was. Maybe it's not quite so obvious? Half of what makes mother! so appealing is the way in the which the film doesn't quite adhere to any one strict interpretation; no matter which direction you come at it there are always some stray threads. The other half is that this is a wild fucking roller coaster ride, shot predominantly in close up, as a woman tries to desperately grapple with her world spinning wildly out of control.

04. A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)

Quivers with the intensity of a stifled inner life and unrecognized creativity. Even when Nixon's Emily Dickinson shuts herself away and lashes out at those around her, you can still feel the passionate intensity that rages inside her.

03. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)

An immaculately constructed romance that reveals deeper and deeper levels as it unfolds. Vicky Krieps, who I had never heard of before, steals the show from Day-Lewis, which is no easy task.

02. Song to Song (Terrence Malick)

Rooney Mara seeks happiness through the way of nature (to borrow a phrase from The Tree of Life) in this love story of beautiful people careening into and out of each other's lives in Austin, Texas. She never knew she had a soul, you see, the word embarrassed her.

01. Twin Peaks: The Return (David Lynch)

Some people care deeply about what counts as a television show and what counts as a movie. I am not one of those people (and let's be real, it's all the same art form). So I don't feel any hesitation in saying that Twin Peaks: The Return was the best film I watched in 2017, number one with a bullet. David Lynch, one of the greatest living American filmmakers, was given millions of dollars to create a 17 hour epic that not only continues a TV show that was canceled 25 years ago but also serves as a capstone to an astonishing career. It's terrifying, beautiful, confounding, hilarious, deeply tragic and profound: it's all Lynch all the way, straight into the bloodstream.

Favorite Performances:

Haley Lu Richardson in Columbus
Cynthia Nixon in A Quiet Passion
Jennifer Lawrence in mother!
Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread
Vicky Krieps in Phantom Thread
Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project
Bria Vinaite in The Florida Project
Armie Hammer in Call Me by Your Name
Timothee Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name
Ana de Armas in Blade Runner 2049
Robert Pattinson in The Lost City of Z & Good Time
Michael Fassbender in Song to Song
Patti Smith in Song to Song
Kyle MacLachlan in Twin Peaks: The Return
Naomi Watts in Twin Peaks: The Return
Laura Dern in Twin Peaks: The Return
Robert Forster in Twin Peaks: The Return
David Lynch in Twin Peaks: The Return

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Top 20 Films of 2016

20. Christine (Antonio Campos)

A portrait of a troubled, depressed woman that never resorts to easy answers or explanations. Director Antonio Campos and actress Rebecca Hall, playing the titular character, are both brave enough to allow Christine to remain occasionally abrasive and unlikable. She's a genuinely troubled person and not a perfect victim. This deeper play for truth instead of sympathy (or a a pat explanation as to why she's depressed) lends the film a lasting power. Oh yeah, and Rebecca Hall gives the performance of the year.

19. Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho)

May have spoken too soon with that performance of the year talk, as Sonia Braga is phenomenal as the lead in Aquarius. She plays Clara, a 65 year old widow fighting against a group of real estate developers trying to buy her apartment. She refuses to sell, but instead of a straightforward story of one woman battling a broken system (though that's in there), Aquarius presents a story of the past, of history and of memory. Unfolding at a leisurely pace, Aquarius is the story of a woman navigating her place in a changing world while still remembering the past.

18. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang-soo)

A filmmaker visiting from out of town meets a young artist and they get to talking. Coffee follows, then dinner and drinks and a party before the night winds down. Then the film resets back to the beginning and we get the whole thing again. Small variations create ripples throughout the second version of the story, as honest candor is revealed to be the clearer path to human connection than sweet talk or flattery. Right Now, Wrong Then is a small film in terms of plot, but its straightforward dual story contains a world of human interaction. A warm, funny and sincere film, one that's honest without being cynical and sentimental without being saccharine. Perhaps the best film yet from prolific South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo.

17. SPL 2: A Time for Consequences aka Kill Zone 2 (Cheang Pou-soi)

A brutal martial arts epic starring Tony Jaa and Wu Jing. Whaddya need, a road map?

This sequel (in name only) to 2005's SPL was the best action film of 2016 and it wasn't even close. A must watch for anyone who loves action movies but who's bored by digital cities getting leveled and giant blue lasers shooting into the sky.

16. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson)

A profound and inventive piece of cinema, director Kristen Johnson presents an auto-biography constructed almost entirely out of footage she shot for various documentary projects over the years. What starts out as sort of a wry look at how the sausage gets made, slowly reveals deeper levels. This is a film about films, imagery about images showing the interplay between the people in front of and behind the camera and how this interplay affects everyone involved. This is a film which will only continue to grow in reputation in years to come.

15. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie)

An efficient and un-pretentious crime film about two brothers (played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who rob banks and the two lawmen who're after them (played by Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham). The script is smart and detailed in all the right ways; the plausible details of the robberies and interactions between the two pairs of men are highlights here and director David Mackenzie slowly ratchets up the tension leading into the big third act showdown. As far as the performances, Foster and Bridges are playing very well to type but Pine and Birmingham are both very pleasant surprises here. I'm already looking forward to the next appearance of Scuzzy Loser Chris Pine.

14. The Neon Demon (Nicholas Winding Refn)

Maybe the best looking film of the year, Nichols Winding Refn's The Neon Demon is a plot-less neon horror nightmare set in the world of fashion modeling. A lot of critics got hung up on trying to piece together what this film had to say about the fashion industry, but they were missing the forest for the trees. This is a fairy tale about Little Red Riding Hood turning into the Big Bad Wolf, and while it may not have much to say beyond that it sure looks great in the meantime.

13. Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater)

A zen comedy about identity starring a bunch of affable jocks in their first week of college. Charming and decidedly low-stakes, this is a Richard Linklater film through and through and all the better for it.

12. Tower (Keith Maitland)

I was skeptical of the premise for this film (an animated documentary about the infamous University of Texas tower shooting) as it seemed a little too cute for such a serious topic. But Tower is a smart film and, most importantly, a humane film. There's no free publicity given to the killer himself and no attempt to explain his actions, instead Tower presents stories of bravery as regular people were forced into a horrific situation. 

11. Louder Than Bombs (Joachim Trier)

A kaleidoscopic exploration of a grief wracked family, Louder Than Bombs draws its power from the way it restlessly changes time periods, styles and points of view between a father and his two sons. This is a film that avoids easy answers while honestly grappling with uncomfortable truths, asking us to interrogate memories and dreams in search of some kind of meaning. Unfairly overlooked on its release, Louder Than Bombs is a film that I hope more people watch in the coming years.

10. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)

An ode to mindfulness and creativity told through the story of a simple working-class life in a simple working-class town. Profound in its subtlety.

09. Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience (Terrence Malick)

Terrence Malick eschews character and narrative entirely in delivering this essay film about the history of life on Earth. Brad Pitt's narration is more functional than profound, but the powerful imagery, which causes you to see various landscapes and lifeforms on Earth in entirely new ways, like an alien visitor, is constantly breathtaking. Voyage of Time finds an almost unparalleled beauty in the natural world, in things both large and small.

08. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (Oz Perkins)

Abstract imagery and beautifully written, looping narration make this one of the most distinctive films of the year. Slowly builds a sense of fatalistic dread until it hits a soul shredding climax. 

07. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)

This movie pulls of a few neat tricks: the production design for the aliens and their ships feels genuinely otherworldly, the cinematography and deliberate pacing combine for a dark, moody tone, the script crafts an actual science fiction story about communication that doesn't come down to a third act fight scene and the performance of Amy Adams grounds a story that packs a genuine emotional wallop. Arrival is the 2016 version of Mad Max: Fury Road, in that it showcases what's possible when talented people work in the world of big budget genre filmmaking while being allowed to stay true to their creativity.

06. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)

Kelly Reichardt finds profundity in spare Montana landscapes and three small stories of women navigating the modern world. By keeping the focus razor sharp on the lives of the three leads, Certain Women is able to chart a vast emotional landscape with only the barest of plotting. A quietly beautiful film in the best possible ways. Reichardt continues to make her case to be considered one of the greatest living American filmmakers.

05. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)

Much has been written about Moonlight by people smarter than me, so I'll just say that I was moved not only by its unrequited love story and search for identity but by the deliberate and restrained nature of its storytelling. That a Wong Kar-Wai inspired gay arthouse love story was able to find a large audience and mainstream critical acclaim was an undeniable highlight in the world of film in 2016.

04. Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick)

I'm a little disappointed, but not really surprised, that this film got savaged by critics. Late period Terrence Malick films are pretty much the dictionary definition of Not For Everyone, and this film continues the almost entirely plot-free stream of consciousness style of filmmaking seen in To The Wonder. That's a film that I liked a lot, but Knight of Cups has the advantage of having a justification for its stylistic eccentricities. The film is a visual representation of the protagonist dreaming, sometimes literally but always metaphorically. The film is framed around the story of a sleeping prince and Rick, being the stand in for that prince, spends the entire film "asleep" and trying to wake up into the life he really wants (which is really just the same search for transcendence that every Malick character undergoes). So Rick goes off on his spiritual quest, trying to shock himself awake, and Malick takes us on a beautiful two hour journey through mansions, strip clubs, night clubs, concerts and the streets of Los Angeles. This quest, far from being the empty perfume commercial that critics have snarked about, has an emotional through line that persists through the film's dream logic and elliptical storytelling. Part of what makes the emotions of the film work is how accurate it is as a portrait of depression and grief; Rick isn't just some bored rich guy but a man still grappling with his brother's suicide and locked into a catatonic state of depression. The entire film is essentially Rick's repeated failed attempts to self-medicate his emotional and spiritual pain with physical pleasure. But those pleasure are always fleeting. Unfortunately for Rick, though, he's hooked and the city of Los Angeles is his dealer.

03. The Witch (Robert Eggers)

A puritan family battles sin and temptation while trying to adhere to their strict religious beliefs. That's scary enough, in a "am I going to Hell?" kind of way. But what if the devil you feared was not only literally, physically real but was lurking in the dark, unexplored woods outside your home? Director Robert Eggers created the most horrifying movie of the year by bringing the spiritual fears of the Puritan settlers to life, and everything from the period dialect to the costumes and the production design makes the world of this film feel terrifying real.

02. Silence (Martin Scorsese)

Martin Scorsese interrogates faith and spiritual hubris in beautifully fog-shrouded feudal Japan. An intense slow burn of a film that asks a multitude of difficult questions and leaves you to puzzle over the answers.

01. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-Wook)

The Handmaiden is not only the best film of 2016, but it might be the most movie of 2016. This is pure maximalism, a constantly twisting plot, exquisite cinematography and the most beautiful costuming and production design of the year. Also outsized are the emotions; under this beautiful surface is a story of two women pitted against each other by controlling men, who instead fall in love and turn the tables. The Handmaiden is the exquisitely produced period lesbian adventure melodrama that everyone needs in their life.

Favorite Performances:
Rebecca Hall in Christine
Sofia Braga in Aquarius
Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri in The Handmaiden
Kate Beckinsale in Love & Friendship
Amy Adams in Arrival
Adam Driver in Paterson
Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea
Tadanobu Asano in Silence
Chris Pine in Hell or High Water

Favorite Cinematographers:
Natasha Braier for The Neon Demon
Rodrigo Prieto for Silence
Emmanuel Lubezki for Knight of Cups
Chung-hoon Chung for The Handmaiden
Bradford Young for Arrival

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Movie Review: Gone to Earth

Rating: 8/10

Michael Powell frequently made films that pitted his characters against a harsh, but beautiful, natural world. The nuns of Black Narcissus had to contend with living in the remote Himalayas, the simple fishermen in The Edge Of The World were forced to come to terms with their way of life dying out due to their remote surroundings and in I Know Where I'm Going!, English social climber Joan Webster found her well laid plans perpetually delayed by an angry sea. Gone to Earth has a similarly specific sense of place, but here Powell (working again with Emeric Pressburger) sets up the civilized world, rather than the natural world, as the harsh and unyielding force.

Hazel (Jennifer Jones) is a young gypsy woman living with her father in the English countryside in the late 1800's. She keeps a book of spells and charms with her and cares deeply for her pet fox (named, appropriately, Foxy). Unfortunately for Hazel, she attracts the attention of an English nobleman named John Reddin (David Farrar) who desires to take Hazel for his own. Reddin, like many an English noble, hunts foxes for sport. Hazel, of course, finds this abhorrent and wants nothing to do with him.

She does agree to marry, though, for the sake of moving out of her father's house. Hazel swears to the mountain to marry the first man who asks her. So, of course, she does get asked for her hand in marriage: the local reverend, Edward Marston (Cyril Cusack), asks for her hand and she fulfills her vow and agrees. Even after going through with this marriage, Reddin continues his pursuit of Hazel, even though she clearly despises him and everything he stands for.

This curious love triangle sits at the heart of the film. Hazel is a woman who lives in harmony with the natural world around her and both of her suitors are seeking to change her (to trap her) in their own way. The minister is actually kind to Hazel, but he still seeks to domesticate her and, notably, to convert her to Christianity. The nobleman, on the other hand, initially tries to tempt her with material pleasures (telling her that she can have a new dress from London every week were she to live with him). Both views are, of course, at odds with what Hazel actually wants as both men are at odds with the natural world. The minister wants to civilize nature while the noble seeks to crush it under his heel.

This tragic melodrama makes Gone to Earth a powerful and touching film and an underrated entry in the Archers canon. As played by Jennifer Jones, Hazel is not a drab sufferer of injustices but a proud, vibrant woman who seeks only to live her life in peace and happiness with the world around her. But "the world's a big spring trap with us in it," as Hazel herself says and no matter how hard she tries she can't escape that trap.

It would be impossible to write about a Powell & Pressburger film without raving about the cinematography and Gone to Earth boasts some of their most beautiful Technicolor work. The interiors are often glowing and orange by fireplace and the forests shrouded in mist. The colors and compositions effectively make the world appear as Hazel sees it: enchanting and wondrous. The wider shots also establish the diminutive nature of man against nature, with people often framed under sprawling tree branches, skies and rolling green hills.

Hazel's mother once told her that the only thing that comes from marriage is "tears and torment" and the men in the film prove her right. It's unfortunate that Gone to Earth isn't more widely available, as it stands as a beautifully shot and powerfully told fairy tale of a woman, who only wants to keep to herself and live at peace with nature, trapped by marriage and crushed by civilization.

Gone to Earth is available on a region free Korean DVD and a region locked British DVD. It has also, as of this writing, been posted in its entirety on YouTube.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Redemption of Fu Manchu

So odious is the picture of Chinese people presented by the character of Fu Manchu that the US government asked Hollywood to stop making Fu Manchu films before and during World War 2. Every stereotype of the "Yellow Peril" is personified in this one character, his knowledge of exotic ancient secrets, association with opium and criminal elements, and evil designs on the West.
As the villain of over 20 pulp novels, Fu Manchu remains something of a pop culture fixture, despite the character's troubled past and terrible reputation. Still, it should be possible to redeem Fu Manchu as the original evil mastermind while discarding the racist elements.
With that said, the novel itself is explicitly and undeniably racist, containing numerous completely un-ironic references to the “Yellow Peril”, and the protagonist even mocks those who might dismiss such a threat: "The 'Yellow Peril'!" "You scoff, sir, and so do others. We take the proffered right hand of friendship nor inquire if the hidden left holds a knife!"
Still the character of Fu-Manchu is evocative, "Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, ... one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present ... Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man."
He could very well be considered one of the early prototypes of both the arch-nemesis character in action-adventure fiction, the mad scientist character and of the super villain character. The racism of the text overshadows all of this, and the “yellow peril” racism firmly attached to the character filters through popular culture in various forms, which can still be seen today. In comics for example, Detective Comics featured an unapologetic Fu Manchu before Batman ever showed up:

Marvel got into the act with the Atlas Era Yellow Claw:
who was, interestingly enough, opposed by the Chinese American detective Jimmy Woo, a rare positive non stereotypical asian character. Because China was allied with America during World War 2, Chinese characters could sometimes escape unscathed as the most vile racism was heaped on the Imperial Japanese. Here’s an example from Captain Marvel 29. These are the Japanese villains that are teaming up with Mr. Mind:
Here are the Chinese soldiers that Captain Marvel interacts with from the same issue:

Marvel seems to have avoided the bright yellow skin and absurdly stereotypical speech patterns normal with such a villain with the Mandarin, who otherwise stuck to the ethnicity, world domination and fiendish arch genius tropes. In more recent times, the Mandarin has kept his “Yellow Peril” name while dropping the Fu Manchu type clothing and facial hair.
The redemption of the Fu Manchu character was begun in a real way by Dennis O’neil in his landmark work on Batman. The character of Ra’s al Ghul embodies many of the characteristics of Fu Manchu, world domination, criminal mastermind, seeming immortality, without the overt racism.
Ra’s al Ghul is still an ethnocentric character, as his “foreignness” assumes a white audience. Whereas Fu Manchu was explicitly associated with China (although he employed all manner of Eastern/non-white people), al ghul is of somewhat ambiguous ethnicity. His foreignness is made clear by his dress, speech patterns and his clearly non-white followers. He is meant to be middle eastern to some extent, but his skin tone is usually very light. Birth of the Demon establishes an origin for him in the middle east sometime during the Crusades, but a definite place of birth is never stated.
Further qualities of Fu Manchu that Ra's al ghul borrowed was the love triangle of sorts between his daughter/subservient Talia al ghul and the hero. Talia is torn between her loyalty to her father and his organization and her love for Batman, just as Kara is torn between her love for Dr. Petrie and her enslavement to Fu Manchu in the original novel.
Things come full circle in Batman Begins, when Ra's al ghul is portrayed by the thoroughly Anglo-Saxon Liam Neeson.

The al ghul of the Nolan films has all the hallmarks of the comic version in a white man. The interesting part of O’neil’s updating of the Fu Manchu character is that the complete removal of all ethnic markers doesn’t completely change the character. A white Fu Manchu would never work, but a white Ra’s al ghul works fine. In Neeson’s Anglo Ra's alghul then, we see the redemption of the Fu Manchu archetype. He is an “other”, a mastermind, a possessor of secret knowledge, but not a racist character.