Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

Starring Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cécile De France, Jim Broadbent, Karen Mok, Ewen Bremner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sammo Hung, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Daniel Wu, Kengo Watanabe, Maggie Q, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Rob Schneider, John Cleese, Will Forte, Kathy Bates, Robert Fyfe, Ian McNeice, David Ryall, Roger Hammond, Adam Godley

Directed by Frank Coraci

Expectations: Low, but it has Jackie and an Arnold cameo, so…

I haven’t seen the 1956 version of Around the World in 80 Days since I was a kid, but my initial feeling was that it didn’t seem like something that lends itself to Jackie Chan. But this new version isn’t so much a remake as it is a complete fantasy/steampunk re-imagining with Jackie Chan’s style in mind from the genesis. A new sub-plot focuses on bringing Jackie’s talents to the forefront, and while it definitely isn’t the most inspired story line, it’s more than enough to entertain and justify the stunts and fights we all look for in a Jackie movie. Fans of the novel and the classic, Oscar-winning film will likely be disappointed by this re-telling, but I feel like fans of Jackie might really enjoy themselves if they click with the film’s comedic style (which probably skews a bit younger than Jackie’s other US films). I know I did, and to be honest I was expecting a total stinker!

Passepartout (Jackie Chan) robs a precious Jade Buddha from the Bank of England and is in need of shelter. He finds it with Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), an inventor with a rich, creative mind for science. Fogg lacks much life experience “outside the lab,” though, rarely venturing from his home. One of the few places he frequents is the Royal Academy of Science, where he’s regularly laughed at and thought of as an eccentric thinker who lacks the practicality to be useful to the field of science. In a bid to rid themselves of him, the head of the academy, Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent), bets Fogg that his calculation of being able to circumnavigate the world in 80 days is incorrect. The stakes are immense: if Fogg wins, he becomes head of the academy, but if he loses he must give up inventing for the rest of his life. Oh, and a bunch of henchmen are in pursuit of Jackie and his Jade Buddha the whole time, further complicating their travels.

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Mini-Review: Hereafter (2010)

Starring Matt Damon, Cécile de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Lyndsey Marshal, Thierry Neuvic, Bryce Dallas Howard, Mylène Jampanoï, Jay Mohr

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Expectations: High, but somewhat tempered because I know a lot of people had lukewarm reactions to it.

I genuinely have nothing bad to say about this movie. Sure, it is slow-moving, but it is perfectly paced for the story it tells. Matt Damon is superb in his role as a tortured psychic that can legitimately contact people’s recently deceased loved ones. Cécile de France and Frankie & George McLaren hold down their equal share of the film as well, turning in strong, touching performances. These individual stories are each given time to develop naturally, with each character having a unique point-of-view. It is not a Matt Damon vehicle, it is a film that Matt Damon is but a component of. I think therein lies a lot of what the mainstream audience that hated Hereafter didn’t like about the movie.

If I was having a bad experience with the film (as most seem to have had), I may have balked at some of the occurrences in the last half hour. Instead I enjoyed them and while their believability is somewhat in question, the events leading up to them are all logical enough and make sense for each character, so I can easily put to rest any misgivings or calls of Deus ex Machina. At the end of the day, I just want to have a good time at the movies, and the ending offered up here gave me what I wanted.

I also greatly enjoyed that the film never crosses into the religious fantasy afterlife that so many films tend to, and actually presents a few differing viewpoints on the subject. It is unfair to go into the film looking for answers, though, as it will provide none. It is fiction and should be taken merely as a jumping-off point for fun, intellectual discussions with your friends or family (or online acquaintances). It should be noted, though, that the mere existence of the film and the character’s brushes with an afterlife suggests the filmmakers believe in some sort of life after death, but what is truly intriguing about the film’s portrayal is the lack of religion in the discussion. I found that to be a stroke of brilliance.

Hereafter is easily one of my favorite films from last year and was much more deserving of a Best Picture nomination than some of the more lackluster nominees. It is definitely not a film for everyone, but those willing to give Eastwood some time to develop the characters will be rewarded with a moving film.

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