Rush Hour (1998)

rushhour_1Starring Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tom Wilkinson, Tzi Ma, Ken Leung, Elizabeth Peña, Mark Rolston, Rex Linn, Julia Hsu, Chris Penn, Philip Baker Hall, John Hawkes

Directed by Brett Ratner

Expectations: Interested to revisit it.

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And so begins my descent into madness — I mean, the American films of Jackie Chan. While I have always been happy that Jackie achieved global success, his transition to Hollywood definitely leaves a lot to be desired in terms of quality filmmaking. For newcomers to his work, I suppose the flashes of fearless stunts and athleticism are welcome and shocking additions to the American action film, but to anyone who’s seen one of his Hong Kong films, it’s hard not to be somewhat disappointed with the watered-down Jackie Chan present in Rush Hour. That being said, Rush Hour is just about exactly what a “Jackie Chan comes to Hollywood” movie should be, providing the audience with an ample amount of action and lighthearted comedy.

Jackie Chan has often said that Hong Kong directors know action and American directors know story. Rush Hour isn’t the best showcase of this “knowledge of story” that Jackie speaks of, but there is a fundamental difference in the way Hollywood films are structured that is in evidence. If you look at a movie like Mr. Nice Guy, it’s easy to see how the story was built up around the action set-pieces in a way to string them together as seamlessly as possible. Lots of Hong Kong films feel similarly (but Jackie is wrong, there are plenty of Hong Kong directors who understand story!), whereas Rush Hour is clearly set up with the story as its foundation and the action arising where it can. It’s kind of a subtle distinction in Rush Hour, as the story is pretty thin. It’s a key difference, though, and consequently there aren’t any huge, extended action scenes in Rush Hour.

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Lincoln (2012)

lincoln-poster_743x1100Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Expectations: Low. I expect it to be boring.

Personally:
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Technically:
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Contrary to what the title suggests, Lincoln isn’t a biopic. It’s the story of how Lincoln the politician, despite all the odds stacked against him, managed to pass the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery in the United States. And that’s pretty much it. If you’re not into political maneuvering, specifically 150-year-old political maneuvering, do not watch this movie. It won’t do anything for you, because it’s not for you. This one’s strictly for the history buffs, the people who gleefully dig into historical texts and huge scholarly examinations of centuries-old presidential tenures. For them, I’m sure this is easily one of the best films of 2012. But for me, it was a slow, lengthy movie that had a climax without any excitement as the outcome is already well-known by any self-respecting American. Is there really anyone out there that white-knuckled it through the vote counting scene, as the filmmaking would suggest you’re supposed to do? I highly doubt it. Maybe kids, but I can’t imagine kids would even make it that far.

My favorite scene was the film’s first, an incredibly brutal, muddy Civil War battle. I know that’s cliché for the action movie lover to say, but it’s not an action scene. It’s impeccably well-filmed, and its careful use of slow motion brings the brutality of this long-dead, close quarters style of war to life; I felt transported back in time. The following scene shows Lincoln conversing with a couple of black soldiers after the battle, and here the illusion shatters. Two white soldiers walk up, and I swear on everything that is good in this world my first thought was, “I wonder where Bill & Ted here left their phone booth.” Then my girlfriend basically said the same thing, without any prompting or suggestions from me. These guys were awful, just awful, and in the shots of Lincoln talking to these guys you can also clearly see the rain shooting in opposite arcs from the sprinklers perched above the camera’s line of sight. These are small components of a short scene in a long movie, but they were merely the beginning of my issues with the film.

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Mini-Review: Winter’s Bone (2010)

Winter’s Bone (2010)

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser, Garret Dillahunt, Dale Dickey, Shelley Waggener, Kevin Breznahan, Ashlee Thompson, Tate Taylor, Sheryl Lee, Cody Shiloh Brown, Isaiah Stone, Ronnie Hall

Directed by Debra Granik

Expectations: High. I’ve heard nothing but good things.


It has been a long time since I’ve felt this conflicted about my feelings for a movie. The film ended and I was at a loss for words. I had to recount the entire narrative in my head to see if I had missed anything, if there was some missing link hidden in the frost for me to uncover. I pondered the film for a while after viewing, trying to wrap my head around why things were the way they were. Once I came to terms with these facts, I respected the film more for what it was, but I can’t say that watching Winter’s Bone was a pleasant experience.

Plainly put, it’s boring. The pace is very slow, which fits the location and the characters perfectly, but everything is so muted and calm that it becomes easy to miss key information and lose track of the plot line. This is definitely a movie in the camp of films that expect the viewer to meet it halfway. That all being said, Winter’s Bone is a very well-made film technically. The color scheme never strays too far from the cold gray and blue world of a snowy winter, but somehow director Debra Granik is able to make every shot interesting and emotive of the situation. The acting from the entire cast is excellent as well, with John Hawkes standing out as the best of the bunch. The characters are an interesting bunch for sure, skillfully blending intelligence with a backwoods mafia vibe. They never seem like the stupid hillbillies that usually inhabit these types of movies, instead echoing real people with real lives. While I think the script has a few logic jumps that don’t make sense (could just be my boredom), overall it must be commended for its realistic characters. I do wonder how much of this comes from the novel it is based on.

At the end of the day though, Winter’s Bone remains a boring movie that I can’t really recommend, but it’s not a bad movie either.

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