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.

threestar


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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Batman Begins (2005)

Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Rade Serbedzija, Rutger Hauer, Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe, Mark Boone Junior, Morgan Freeman, Larry Holden

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Expectations: High. This is the third time around with this one.


When I first saw Batman Begins in 2005, I thought it was pretty good. I was impressed by it for sure, and I thought that Christopher Nolan was definitely the right man for the job. I had become a fan of his with Memento, so I was excited to see him ascend to the big leagues of cinema. I re-watched Batman Begins in 2008, right before seeing The Dark Knight in the theater, and found it to be better than I remembered. Re-watching it now, a couple of weeks after the release of the third and final Nolan Batman film, I am absolutely floored by how great it is. Batman Begins is a brilliant piece of work, expertly taking the Batman franchise and elevating it far beyond anything that Burton or Schumacher could have ever dreamed of doing. Nolan did the impossible: he made a Batman film that walks the line between realism and comic book thrills, without ever crossing the line into the schmaltz that categorized every film in the 1989-1997 series.

Batman Begins is exactly what the title suggests, an origin film for Batman. Instead of wasting half the runtime on setting up a villain that will only be vanquished by the end of the film, Batman Begins focuses on what makes Bruce Wayne and Batman tick. Batman doesn’t appear until an hour into the movie, but the story is so thrilling and well told that it doesn’t matter. I know I said in my review of Batman that I loved how they ditched the origin and got straight to the Batman, and I do, but the character setup on display here is flawlessly pulled off. It succeeds in making Batman a psychotic, tortured man with toys, but one that we care deeply about. His arc over the course of the film never lets up, keeping Bruce/Batman always at the forefront of our thoughts. And to have three villains, all of them largely unknown to the public at large, and then to not provide any of them with origins proves definitively that the current superhero movie formula that everyone else uses is null and void. Seriously, have any other filmmakers seen this movie?

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The Ghost Writer (2010)

The Ghost Writer (2010)

Starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, James Belushi, Eli Wallach

Directed by Roman Polanski

Expectations: Low. As much as Polanski is a great, this looks like it will be so-so.


 

The Ghost Writer, the new film from Roman Polanski, is a thinly veiled tale about Tony Blair Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), a British ex-Prime Minister who is being accused of war crimes, specifically of turning terrorists over to the CIA so that they could be tortured. One of the terrorists died and now while the shit hits the fan, ghost writer Ewan McGregor must come in and help Lang finish his memoir. Lang’s previous ghost writer was found washed up on the beach, a belly full of booze and the cause of death questionable. McGregor gets down to business and over the course of the film uncovers some information his unfortunate predecessor was investigating when he died.

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