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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Arnold Quick Takes: The Long Goodbye, The Rundown, The Kid & I

longgoodbyeThe Long Goodbye (1973)
onestar

Starring Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson, David Arkin, Jim Bouton, Warren Berlinger, Jo Ann Brody, Stephen Coit
Directed by Robert Altman

Raymond Chandler is one of my favorite authors. After many, many years of procrastination, I finally read The Long Goodbye last month. It instantly became one of my favorite books from any author, and it is by far Chandler’s best. To put it bluntly: Robert Altman’s film version is a horrid adaptation of one of the best books I’ve ever read. Yet, this is a film with a fantastic reputation among film buffs! I can only surmise that they haven’t read the book. I understand that Altman’s goal was to subvert the detective genre with The Long Goodbye, but what I find most interesting is that Chandler’s novel does this better in many ways already. Much of the novel’s complexity is completely lost, and while some that is to be expected in any adaptation, it is very clear from the beginning that Altman was never interested in actually adapting Chandler’s novel. He supposedly didn’t even read the whole thing! The style, soul, and substance that made The Long Goodbye such a resonant piece of work are unceremoniously sucked out and replaced with an entirely different, Altman energy. I honestly don’t know that a faithful adaptation of The Long Goodbye could work as a film, but this sole attempt literally gets every aspect of the novel wrong. Even taking my love of Chandler out of the equation, the film itself hardly feels worthy of praise.

Oh yeah, I was watching this because of Arnold’s cameo. Even this was a disappointment! Arnold doesn’t get to say anything, although for what it’s worth, he sports a weird mustache and strips down to his underwear in one of the oddest gangster confrontation moments I’ve ever seen. WTF.  And don’t even get me started on the recurring Long Goodbye theme song… [and then, then I made a noise like this — HHUUUAAHH  HHUUUAAHH  HHHUUUUUUUUUAAAAAAAAHHHHH] I’ll stick with the book, thank you very much.

the_rundownThe Rundown (2003)
twohalfstar

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Walken, Ewen Bremner, Jon Gries, William Lucking, Ernie Reyes Jr.
Directed by Peter Berg

The Rundown was the first starring role for The Rock, and he easily proved that he could be a capable leading man. It’s not a great film by any means, but it has an odd charm that most mainstream films, especially ones from this era, don’t have for me. Arnold’s cameo isn’t anything more than the quick line, “Have fun,” but in this single moment during the film’s opening, Arnold effectively passes the bodybuilder-turned-action-hero mantle to The Rock. He’s a perfect fit, too; he’s got the body, the charisma and the acting chops to do very well. And now, 13 years later, he definitely has! But The Rock isn’t Arnold, so The Rundown isn’t the type of movie that Arnold himself could have starred in. The Rock is given a few hand-to-hand fights, and the action choreographer (Andy Cheng) wisely incorporated wrestling takedowns and the like into the choreography to take advantage of The Rock’s special skill set. Capoeira figures largely into the film’s most impressive fight, as well as some excellent wirework. I was honestly taken aback by how much I liked the choreography. It felt very Hong Kong-influenced, so when I discovered that Andy Cheng was a stunt double/member of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team for a few years, it all made sense. Overall, the action is pretty good, the comedy not so much, but it was still a lot more fun than I remember it being.

The Kid & I (2005)
threestar

Starring Tom Arnold, Eric Gores, Linda Hamilton, Joe Mantegna, Henry Winkler, Richard Edson, Shannon Elizabeth, Brenda Strong, Arielle Kebbel, Yvette Nicole Brown, Gabrielle Sanalitro
Directed by Penelope Spheeris

The Kid & I genuinely surprised me. It’s well-written and it boasts a great cast with a bunch of fun cameos (including Shaq and Arnold as themselves). I wasn’t expecting anything, but I was instantly won over by the unexpectedly dark suicide humor that opens the film. What makes the film even more interesting is that it’s a blend of fact and fiction. The film revolves around Tom Arnold writing a vanity project for a billionaire’s kid to star in, and the kid is played by Eric Gores, son to real-life billionaire Alec Gores. The Gores family lives next door to Tom Arnold, so the film serves as both the vanity project AND a sort of documentary peek inside the making of the movie. This kind of thing could have easily gone off the rails, but the cast performs admirably and it is impressively well-directed and edited. I’ve wanted to delve into the work of Penelope Spheeris for a while now, but The Kid & I solidifies that inclination to explore the work of this interesting and varied filmmaker.

Quick Takes: Hardware, Snowpiercer, Brotherhood of Blades

968fullHardware (1990)
threehalfstar

Starring Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, Mark Northover, William Hootkins, Carl McCoy
Directed by Richard Stanley

I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about Hardware over the years. It’s an ultra-fun killer robot movie that is legitimately frightening in parts, and it’s one of those rare genre films made with such visual flair and artistry that it could easily crossover into the more highbrow conversation on film. Absolutely fantastic cinematography is around every corner, as are tons of wicked gory delights. The robot does seem rather stupid at times, but if I reformed myself from a pile of scrap metal and broken parts I wouldn’t be all there either. This is the kind of movie to whip out when someone says disparaging things about low-budget movies.

snowpiercerSnowpiercer (2013)
twohalfstar

Starring Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, Ewen Bremner, Go Ah-sung, Alison Pill
Directed by Bong Joon-ho

After reviewing the Snowpiercer graphic novels, I was really stoked to see what Boon Jong-Ho would make of them on-screen. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as thrilled with the results as I thought I’d be. Snowpiercer is a very entertaining film that moves quite briskly, but for a story all about class struggle I found it to be rather shallow. Tilda Swinton is brilliant in her supporting role, though. Definitely well-made and worth watching, but I guess I expected something more cerebral than this was. Even still, a great English debut for Bong.

brotherhood-of-blades-posterBrotherhood of Blades [繡春刀] (2014)
twohalfstar

Starring Chang Chen, Ye Qing, Chin Shih-Chieh, Wang Qian-Yuan, Ethan Li Dong-Xue, Nie Yuan, Zhao Li-Xin
Directed by Lu Yang

I think I might like Brotherhood of Blades better on a second watch. I would have my 50% knowledge of what was going on to build on, and I wouldn’t have any expectations that it was a wuxia film. It’s actually a period-set action drama with no supernatural elements, so I was rather disappointed that it didn’t live up to my expectations. As a period drama it excels, though. Fantastic costumes go a long way, and the cast Brotherhood of Blades wear some damn fine duds. The fights aren’t all that special, though, with unhealthy amounts of uninspired choreography, quick-cut editing, and the shutter speed thing from Saving Private Ryan. It makes for action that is VERY modern, and I’m just too old school to embrace it. Yes, even in 2015 when these techniques are at least 15 years old. If you like Chinese costume dramas and modern action, you should definitely try this one.

The Acid House (1998)

Starring Stephen McCole, Maurice Roëves, Garry Sweeney, Jenny McCrindle, Simon Weir, Iain Andrew, Kevin McKidd, Michelle Gomez, Gary McCormack, Tam Dean Burn, Alison Peebles, Ewen Bremner, Martin Clunes, Jemma Redgrave, Arlene Cockburn, Jane Stabler

Directed by Paul McGuigan

Expectations: Moderate and curious.


I didn’t know much going into The Acid House, and that was perfect. All I knew was that it had an ugly cover on Netflix, and that the Scottish accents were supposedly so thick that in some screenings it ran with subtitles for those unable to decipher the “English” being spoken. And immediately upon starting The Acid House, I knew exactly what they were talking about. Not the characters mind you, the rumors about it being indecipherable. But like a friend that helps you stagger home from the pub, Netflix was kind enough to provide subtitles on its Instant stream by default, so even Yanks like myself can get the full experience from The Acid House. This worked out great, as honestly I would’ve been lost otherwise.

The Acid House is an anthology film adapting three short stories from the work of Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting. So when, just a few minutes in, I thought the film was remarkably similar in tone and style to Trainspotting (a film I saw several times in my teenage years), it all made sense to learn it came from the same brain. But where my memory of Trainspotting tells me that film was shocking, realistic and heartbreaking, The Acid House is shocking, fantastical and hilarious. I loved it, start to finish, but this is definitely not a film for everyone.

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AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)

Starring Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen, Ewen Bremner, Colin Salmon, Tommy Flanagan, Joseph Rye, Agathe de La Boulaye, Carsten Norgaard, Sam Troughton

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Expectations: Super low. There’s no way this can be good.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Yes, you saw those stars right. No one messed with my graphics. Against all odds, AVP is a highly enjoyable film. It successfully brings together the elements necessary, all while still feeling somewhat connected to the Alien and Predator franchises. I wouldn’t call it canonical, and it definitely doesn’t feel like it matches up with previously established timelines, but when you’re dealing with a film that hinges on two killer aliens battling for supremacy, none of those things should matter. There’s some shit in this movie that is so audacious that I have no choice but to give it a hearty laugh and enjoy the shit out of it. I’d love to say what my favorite of these moments was, but the big reveal is kind of a big deal in the film, so I wouldn’t want to rob anyone of the pleasure it delivers.

In terms of story, AVP is mostly clichéd, mercenary filmmaking. This works to the advantage of AVP as our minds aren’t bogged down trying to understand some heady plot. We also don’t need to worry about remembering the characters, as they don’t really matter either. What does matter is that scientists at the Weyland corporation have picked up a strange heat signature in the ice in Antarctica, and they quickly determine it’s emanating from a pyramid 2,000 feet under the surface of the water. So Lance Henriksen, playing some ancestor of Bishop’s creator, brings together a kick-ass team to go investigate it. As expected, shit goes down something fierce and the audience is there to lap it up every step of the way.

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You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010)

Starring Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Lucy Punch, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Pauline Collins, Anna Friel, Ewen Bremner, Neil Jackson, Celia Imrie

Directed by Woody Allen

Expectations: Moderate, heard nothing but bad things, but I love Woody’s films.


You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is not one of the high points of Woody Allen’s filmography of the last few years. It got lots of bad reviews and I have yet to talk to a single person who liked it. After watching it, I kinda get why everyone is against it, but it reminded me a lot of the Louis CK “Miracle of Flight” joke. People complain about the minutia of their horrible flying experiences, but never remember that they are basking in the glory of the miracle that is human flight! You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is like this, where you can complain about parts of it, but at the end of the day, it’s still as gorgeously shot and well-crafted as any other Woody Allen picture and I for one am always happy to bask in his cinematic glory.

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger follows a large set of varied people unhappy with their current situations. Anthony Hopkins has a late life crisis and leaves his wife of forty years, Gemma Jones. Their daughter Naomi Watts is married to struggling writer Josh Brolin, but he’s infatuated with the woman across the way and Watts is falling for her employer. The film hinges around these strained relationships and the varied ways they go, but the heart of the film is Gemma Jones’s character and her newfound faith in fortune-telling.

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