Joe's Movie Reviews

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rush Hour 3

The word on this second sequel to the Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker original is that it is one of the worst movies of the year, according to the the bulk of the nation's critics. Then there are those die-hards you can always rely on to provide positive reviews for the newspaper ads: according to them, "Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker have never been funnier!" Well, if they had never been funnier than they are in this movie, they wouldn't be as famous as they are today. But the film still isn't the complete turkey many would have you believe.

It starts out promisingly enough, with Tucker completely lost in the Prince song playing on his headphones, singing and dancing along... problem being, he's supposed to be directing traffic, and his dance routine is causing more than a few problems. (In "Rush Hour 2" Tucker was a bit too manic and over the top for my tastes, so the fact that I found several of his scenes here to be actually funny is a good sign. I also enjoyed his "Lou Costello" role in a kind of variation of "Who's On First?".) The presence of Max Von Sydow (significant supporting role) and Roman Polanski (two cameo scenes) give the film a little class (Von Sydow more than Polanski), and in spite of his being a bit past his physical prime, Jackie is still capable of doing some amazing stunts.

HOWEVER... the plot, such as it is, isn't much. If you've seen the original "Rush Hour", you've essentially seen this one (a lot of movies, like the Jason Bourne series, repeat elements from one film to the next, but many... including the Bourne films... manage to do so with more imagination and panache). And it's becoming increasingly obvious that Jackie is in it either just for the cash or because of some kind of contractual obligation. I've rarely seen any star of any film who so clearly has no enthusiasm for what he's doing, and the joy and enthusiasm Jackie brings to his best roles is one of his great appeals. Virtually the only time you see him smile is during the out takes over the closing credits. And after a first half that at least shows a certain minimal amount of creativity and sense of fun, the picture falls apart as it goes on and revives only briefly when Jackie does one of his best stunts (watch for the French flag in the Eifel Tower scene).

There are a lot of other movies you could see to get a better idea of what Jackie Chan at his best can do. Many of them are quite recent, too... but most of them are made in Hong Kong, not Hollywood. And Chris Tucker at his best? Check out the FIRST "Rush Hour", or Ice Cube's "Friday". If you're already a fan of this film's stars, it won't destroy your fondness for them and will even provide you with a few memorable moments to add to their "galleries" of highlights. But for those who aren't, this would definitely not be the best first Jackie Chan or Chris Tucker film to see... or the best first "Rush Hour" to see either, for that matter.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

If A Reviewer Writes A Review, But No-one Is There To Read It, Does It Make Any Sense?

It's just like with characters like Jason, Freddy Krueger and "Halloween"'s Michael Meyers (and how often in life have I been compared to that crowd!)... every time you think you've finally got him and he's gone for good, he comes creeping back (usually to a smaller and smaller audience each time, too). Well, here's my equivalent of those cheesy pictures: Joe's Corner returns. There are a few movies I've seen in the past month and a half or so that are simply so good I had to recommend them, so here are some brief comments on five of them. Of course, there are also some turkeys I've seen during this same time, but those are beyond the scope of this current column, so you will find absolutely no reference whatsoever to movies like "Mr. Brooks", "Disturbia" or "Fantastic 4: Rise Of The Silver Surfer" here. Nope, sorry... you won't even see me mentioning their names. What? What do you mean, I already... ahh, forget it.

1. "Death At A Funeral". A British comedy (directed by American Frank Oz, maker of films like "Little Shop Of Horrors" & "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels") that raises the question "Why aren't more wacky comedies set at funerals"? After seeing this movie, I have to wonder myself. One of the classic disfunctional families of all time gathers together for the funeral of the family patriarch, hoping for a traditional, respectful service and nothing more. But when family jealousies intrude, when an American stranger (Peter Dinklage of "The Station Agent") shows up trying to blackmail the family with some secrets about dad, and when one of the family members unknowingly takes some home-made LSD thinking it to be a tranquilizer and goes more than a little crazy, things become quite a bit more undignified than a respectable British family would like. I honestly haven't laughed this hard at any comedy this year... it might beven be MORE than a year. I'm a bit of a sucker for British humor, of course, and this film is a prime example of it... the most outrageous, outlandish situations played with a totally straight face by people who have no idea that what they're doing is supposed to be funny, causing it to be all that much funnier as a result. I cringe at the thought of how utterly stupid this story could have been if Hollywood had gotten hold of it first and turned it into an Adam Sandler vehicle. See it now before that inevitably happens.

2. "The Bourne Ultimatum". People have sometimes accused me of being a film snob, only going for independent, art house or foreign language type films. Absolutely not true: I grew up (to the extent that I have, of course) on commercial Hollywood movies, and few things leave me feeling more satisfied than watching a really good Hollywood production that does the things commercial movies can do best as well as they can do them. It's simply that as time goes by, Hollywood seems to be doing that kind of thing less and less. With "The Bourne Ultimatum", we get a brief respite from that trend. In this third installment, amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne comes to the conclusion of his search for his true identity, and finds the men responsible for turning him into the killing machine he has become. He does this in a movie that gives us a perfect blueprint for what all action movies ought to be like, but very few are (and practically none that are made in America). Actual good acting, a solid, twisty script, a lead character who accomplishes as much with his brains as with his fists and guns (although he's good with those, too)... and perhaps most importantly, absolutely no computer generated special effects. If you see it on the screen, it's really happening, which helps enormously towards making the whole thing believable. And of course although the ending brings things to a nice conclusion, it does at least leave open the possibility of more Bourne adventures. Well, the Robert Ludlum estate has authorized Eric Van Lustbader to write more Bourne novels, and he's turned out a couple already, so who knows? If the film could be on the same level as the first three, I would welcome another go-round.

3. "Please Vote For Me". Watch for this one on cable, in the video stores, wherever you can find it. Screened a few times over two days recently at Minneapolis' best theatre, the Riverview, this documentary from China shows, in both amusing and somewhat scary ways, that many of the elements of modern American elections seem to be deeply ingrained even in children in other parts of the world. A group of Chinese school children are introduced for the first time to the concept of democracy and voting by being allowed to run for Class Monitor, a position that previously had been by appointment only. Before long, they're involved in "debates" consisting basically of each candidate saying nothing at all about why you should vote for them and just devoting the whole time to insulting their opponents and talking about why they're so evil (nothing like that could ever happen in American politics, right?). Then there's also the dirty tricks, the single issue campaigning, the nepotism... these kids have literally no idea what voting and campaigning is, but they take no time at all becoming miniature versions of Richard Nixon, Karl Rove and George W. Bush. I'm not sure whether this movie is ultimately scarier or funnier. It's probably so effective because it's so much of both. In any event, catch it if you possibly can. It will be a long time before you forget it.

4. "Hairspray". Another example of what Hollywood can do right, but often doesn't. I approached this movie with extremely mixed feelings, based on the experience of the highly disappointing film of the musical version of "The Producers"... and Mel Brooks actually wrote BOTH of them, including the songs in the musical! So how could the new "Hairspray", with absolutely no input from John Waters other than an opening scene cameo, possibly be good? Well, it's not good... it's extremely, delightfully good. Unlike "The Producers", the songs here actually relate to the story, and are terrific songs in their own right (I still get "You Can't Stop The Beat" stuck in my head several weeks after seeing the movie). The cast is absolutely sensational, including Christopher Walken (finally getting to show the song & dance stylings he mastered on Broadway), Amanda Bynes, newcomer Nikki Blonski, and, surprisingly, John Travolta in the Divine/Harvey Firestein role of Edna Turnblad (giving the role a surprising touching vulnerability)... and of course Michelle Pfeiffer (we all remember from "The Fabulous Baker Boys" that she can sing). It's been a long, long time since I've seen a musical film filled right from the opening scene (with Blonski's wonderful "Good Morning, Baltimore") to the final one ("You Can't Stop The Beat") with such a sense of absolute fun. This is why musicals were once so popular. If more films could equal this one, they could be again.

5. "Away From Her". Canadian actress Sarah Polley, who is only 29, makes her writing & directing debut adapting a short story by Susan Minot about an older married couple (played by Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsett) who face serious challenges to their 45-year relationship when the wife comes down with Alzheimer's disease. Can their relationship continue as it's been? Well, no... but what will it become? And can the husband manage to make some extreme personal sacrifices for his wife's sake, knowing that they will be traumatic for him? The ultimate, most important reason I go to the movies is to experience a story that draws me in so completely that I forget I'm watching a movie and feel like I'm experiencing someone else's real life. In a really good year, that might happen three, maybe four times. It happens with unusual power and strength in "Away From Her". At 29, first-time writer & director Polley has made an amazing film that makes real life seem like the most exciting and dramatic thing you could experience (it often is, but not enough film makers seem to realize that). A lot of people I try to talk to about this film say they think it sounds depressing. I suppose you could look at it that way, but it also says a lot about the power of love, and how even the most extreme circumstances can never really completely wipe it out. Does that sound depressing to you? Take the chance and see "Away From Her". It is SO satisfying to be able to say, on those all too rare occasions, "THIS is why I go to the movies".