Wednesday, November 30, 2011
To be, or not to be, that is the question: probably the best known lines in English literature. All of us studied Hamlet at one time or another in high school and listened to our respective teachers wax philosophically how this is the ultimate meditation on death; whether to live or die. But this soliloquy is bigger than suicide, as the emo Hamlet renounced it earlier in the play. In fact, Hamlet contemplates the nature of action, a theme also found in Rocky Balboa.
In this film, the sixth in the franchise, actor/writer/director Sylvester Stallone was determined to end the series on a higher note than the lacklustre Rocky V. When we catch up with Rocky he is long retired from boxing and lives a quiet life as a widower (his wife, Adrian, died from cancer a few years previous). He runs a small restaurant named in honour of his late wife where he tells old boxing stories to customers.
Like a modern-day Willie Lowman, Rocky searches for meaning in his life; he battles personal demons over Adrian’s death and his eroding relationship with his son. Unlike Lowman, however, he has “stuff in the basement” which can only be released through the means he has always expressed himself; boxing.
When ESPN broadcasts a computer simulation between Rocky (in his prime) and the current heavyweight champion Mason “The Line” Dixon (undefeated, but is ridiculed for never going up against a real contender), Rocky is inspired to take up boxing again. News of Rocky’s return to the ring and controversy over the computer simulation inspire Dixon’s promoters to hold an exhibition bout to bolster the champ’s declining popularity.
I know what you’re thinking; where is the connection with Hamlet? Stallone provides several moments in the film that discuss the theme of action, most notably in an impassioned speech Rocky gives to the Licensing Commission for a boxing license and to his son, who blames his personal failures in life to living in his famous father’s shadow. Rocky counters and tells him that to succeed in life, "it ain't about how hard you hit; it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward," and that blaming others won't help his situation.
Stallone also cleverly utilizes the Dixon character, played by real life boxer Antonio Tarver. Rather than portraying Dixon as a villain, he is shown as a parallel to Rocky in that the only kind of respect that matters (to fighters and people in general) is self-respect. A sub-plot involving a reunion with a now adult “Little” Marie (from the first film) and her teenaged son blossoms into a father/son relationship with “Steps” and an implied, possible romance with Marie demonstrate how much a caregiver Rocky is. Of course, the film wouldn’t be complete without Rocky’s best friend and brother-in-law, Paulie (Burt Young) and his old trainer, Duke (Tony Burton). Interestingly, Stallone, Young, and Burton are the only three to appear in all six films.
Rocky Balboa isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it does provide a nice bookend with the original film; one need not watch the others in the series to understand the story, but there are references to people and objects from the previous films. Most importantly, it wouldn’t be a Rocky film without a training montage and third act fight, which is filmed in several ways. The lead-in to the fight is similar in style to an HBO pay-per-view broadcast, in which real-life HBO Boxing commentators Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, and Max Kellerman call the ringside action.
Stallone has redeemed himself with this (likely) last sequel. He also inspires us to reach for the golden ring and not to give up on our dreams, however unlikely they look to others.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Born November 29, 1964
I think Don Cheadle is a great actor. When he’s attached to a film, I make a point of seeing it. He brings charisma and intensity to his roles that make him absolutely enthralling to watch on screen. I remember when I first saw Cheadle in a film. It was in Boogie Nights. That film showcased the talent of so many great actors in what was a formidable ensemble cast, and with Don Cheadle, it made me sit up and ask, “Who is this guy?”
Before Boogie Nights, Cheadle had several guest starring roles in a variety of television shows including The Golden Palace (the short-lived Golden Girls spin-off) and Picket Fences. Though Boogie Nights was the first film I saw Don Cheadle in, it was not his breakthrough film. His breakout role was opposite Denzel Washington in Devil in a Blue Dress. So good was his performance that many thought that an Oscar nomination was inevitable, but it didn’t happen for that role. Instead, Cheadle garnered much interest and began working a lot and nabbed roles in some impressive films.
In Out of Sight, he teamed with Steven Soderbergh in the first of several ensemble films that they would make together. Cheadle played bad so very, very well and delivered some hilarious lines as Maurice “Snoopy” Miller like, “The man don't just have to die, Foley. I mean, he could accidentally hurt himself falling down on something real hard, you know. Like a shiv, or my dick.”
Cheadle became somewhat of a fixture for Soderbergh after Out of Sight and one of his stand-out roles was as a federal drug agent in the director’s unflinching and powerful film Traffic, which traces the drug trafficking ring in North America through several parallel stories. Later on, he was cast alongside George Clooney, Brad Pitt et al in the highly-successful and entertaining Ocean’s Eleven heist film series based on the classic Rat Pat film. Cheadle got a lot of guff for butchering the London accent he used in the film, but he was a welcome addition to the great ensemble cast nonetheless.
The Ocean’s Eleven series wasn’t Cheadle’s first connection to the Rat Pat. Prior to appearing in that film series, Cheadle delivered an outstanding performance as Sammy Davis Jr. in the HBO film The Rat Pat. Cheadle nailed Davis’ affable showmanship and intensive, high-energy tap dancing moves to deliver an uncanny portrayal of the late entertainer. Cheadle was rewarded with a Golden Globe for his performance.
A few years later, Cheadle nabbed a richly-deserved Oscar nomination for his role as Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager whose hotel becomes a refugee camp after warfare erupts between the two classes of native Rwandans – the Tutsis and the Hutu - when the president is assassinated. Cheadle absolutely sunk his teeth into this role to deliver what is by far his most passionate and empathetic performance. The material demanded it and Cheadle proved that he was up to the task and then some.
Up next for Cheadle is the new Showtime comedy series House of Lies, in which he will play a cutthroat management consultant who will use whatever means necessary to give his clients the information they want. I don’t know about you, but the new series had me at Don Cheadle.
Monday, November 28, 2011
My husband was watching There Will Be Blood on television the other day. Even though it was near the beginning of the film when I walked in to find him watching it, my mind immediately skipped to the final scene. Somehow, the madness depicted at the conclusion of the film fits. It’s one of those astonishing and unexpected conclusions that leaves you contemplating long after the credits role. For me, the entire film is quite beyond a definite impression. It’s neither good nor bad – it’s strange, unclassifiable, obscure at times, yet unique. It’s a creative force with so many layers (touching and poignant moments, scenes of terror and ruthlessness, aspects of peculiarity and moments of grandeur.)
There’s no doubt that Paul Thomas Anderson’s work here is phenomenal. The film is beautiful to look at, and together with Daniel Day-Lewis, the two create a character in Daniel Plainview that is like no other character in film. Plainview is an outsider who comes from nowhere. He’s a nomad without ties to anyone or anyplace. He’s closed-off from intimacy, unfeeling, brutish and driven by a demented ambition for money. He feels no remorse and no regret, for he succeeds at the expense of others. “I hate most people,” he bluntly declares at one point. He has an adopted son whom he appears to feel something for, though it is difficult to discern what his feelings are. Plainview creates the impression that he’s a family man by using his son as a prop to work business dealings in his favour, and then when his son is deafened when an oil well explodes, he grows cold towards him and the two become alienated.
Plainview must compete against organized religion and its supporters in the community in which he wants to drill. In pitting organized religion against oil drilling, Anderson dramatizes the battle between the two characters who personify those opposing realms – Plainview and a young priest named Eli Sunday. It is the pitting of these two foes against each other that sets the course for the film’s final scene. The two characters are suspicious of one another from the get-go and constantly strive for domination over the other. Both humiliate and are humiliated by the other. Plainview promises to let Eli bless his first well, but when the time comes, he deliberately ignores him and a lifelong mutual hatred and contempt is forged.
Fast forward a few decades. Plainview has become a drunkard and is more isolated than ever, trolling around his big empty mansion and descending into madness. Eli pays Plainview an unexpected visit and the two foes face-off in Plainview’s own private bowling alley. Eli has come because he would like to broker a deal for the oil drilling rights to the Bandy ranch. Plainview agrees, but only if Eli will admit that he is a false prophet and that God is a superstition. He manipulates and bullies Eli until Eli finally concedes. Then cruelly, Plainview reveals that he drained the Bandy ranch of oil already, having owned all of the wells around it, and thus there is no oil left to be had. As if that humiliation weren’t enough, Eli admits that he’s broke due to too many bad investments and asks Plainview for help. Plainview chases Eli around the bowling alley, out of his mind with rage and lunacy, drooling at the mouth and roaring like an unhinged animal. Then he beats Eli to death with a bowling pin. When his butler comes in to see what the commotion was about, Plainview simply says, “I’m finished.”
It’s a stunning conclusion that will either fill you with disdain or with satisfaction depending on which side of the fence you’re on since people either approve or disapprove of the way the final 20 minutes of the film play out. As over the top and weird as the final scene is, I think it effectively shows the final evolution of Daniel Plainview. When we first see him at the start of the film, he’s inside a deep, dark hole in the ground hacking at the earth with a pickaxe looking for silver. And at the end, he’s in a different deep, dark hole of sorts – completely alone and consumed by madness with nothing left to conquer and nowhere else to go. He’s cooped up inside his mansion where before he was outdoors pillaging the earth. Anderson brings Plainview full circle in the final act from a triumphant oil magnate to a crazed and damaged man.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
The holiday movie season is upon us and with it comes the second blockbuster season of the year with what promises to be a mixed bag of a line-up with blockbuster films like Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” the dark thriller “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” the highly-anticipated Sherlock Holmes sequel, the all-star ensemble romantic comedy New Year’s Eve and family films like The Adventures of Tintin and The Muppets. This is also when movie studios make a final push before the start of awards season by releasing Oscar bait, and this year is no exception with Steven Spielberg’s War Horse set for release.
This time in the movie world often treats moviegoers to some great film fare. Consider the holiday movie season of ’08 that gave us Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Doubt. This year promises to be just as good with big name stars starring in some pretty interesting vehicles and there’s plenty of variety too.
I found this year to be a rather underwhelming one for movies, but there look to be some real game changers set for release in the last two months of the year that could help salvage a rather mediocre year in film.
Here are a few selections from the 2011 holiday movie season:
This is a Roman Polanski film that teams Jodi Foster and John C. Reilly with Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz as parents who decide to meet after their kids have a schoolyard brawl. With a cast this great, there’s no doubt we’ll be treated to some superb performances.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Gary Oldman stars as a disgraced British spy who is hired secretly by his government to uncover a double agent working for the Soviets who has infiltrated MI-6. This film is based on a novel and early buzz is that it’s a great international thriller.
I haven’t seen Charlize Theron in anything worthwhile in quite some time, so it was a welcome surprise to see her headlining the new Jason Reitman-Diablo Cody vehicle Young Adult. Theron plays Mavis Gary, a writer who returns to her hometown to relive her glory days and with the hopes of reuniting with her married high school sweetheart.
The Iron Lady
Meryl Streep does what she does best in the intimate biopic about Margaret Thatcher – she immerses herself in the role to completely embody the character. The film documents the strides made by the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to break through gender and class barriers in a male-dominated society. I think it’s safe to assume that Streep will likely receive her 14th Oscar nomination for this role.
New Year’s Eve
Gary Marshall recycles his last movie idea, but instead of taking place on Valentine’s Day, his new film takes place on New Year’s Eve. Once again, he’s assembled a large ensemble cast, only this time, he tells a series of intertwining stories of a group of New Yorkers on New Year’s Eve.
We Bought a Zoo
I’m happy to see a directorial effort by Cameron Crowe since he hasn’t made a feature film since 2005’s forgettable Elizabethtown. We Bought a Zoo is a film based on true events that tells the story of a recently-widowed father who moves to a beautiful estate miles outside of the city that also doubles as a dilapidated zoo.
The Adventures of Tintin
This marks Steven Spielberg’s first animated movie. He animates the popular comic book character Tintin using a performance-capture process similar to the one used to create Gollum in Lord of the Rings.
What film are you most looking forward to seeing this holiday season? Let us know in the comments section.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Wondering what bloggers have been chatting about this week?
Here is Your Reading and Listening Schedule for Today:
9 am: Episode 23 of The Movie Club podcast compares the films Crash and Crash.
10 am: Episode 27 of The Demented podcast, dissects the films Bad Day at Black Rock and The Good, The Bad, The Weird.
11 am: Tyler writes an interesting piece on the evolution of the road movie.
12 pm: James takes in the one continuous shot camera work of Russian Ark.
1 pm: Dan went to the St. Louis International Film Festival and shares his thoughts on the film Headhunters.
2 pm: Joel list five films that need a proper blu-ray release.
3 pm: Mulitplex Slut provides a positive review of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia.
4 pm: Speaking of von Trier, Mette shares her thoughts Dogville, a film which many people hate but I love.
5 pm: Stevee takes in Krysztof Kiesloski’s wonderful Three Colours trilogy.
6 pm: Dan reviews my all-time favourite Woody Allen film Hannah and her Sisters.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Blending romantic comedy with elements of fantasy, the film involves a screenwriter, Gil (Owen Wilson), who travels to Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents for a vacation. Struggling to finish his first novel, Gil does not receive any emotional support from Inez or her parents. They feel Gil should forget about his novel and stick to writing successful films. Falling in love with the city, and seeking inspiration, Gil decides to take a stroll around Paris at midnight. Little does Gil know that he is about to be magically transported to Paris in the 1920s. Considered the “Golden Age” by Gil, he encounters numerous literary, artistic, and philosophical icons including Zelda (Alison Pill) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll). As if the journey was not exciting enough, Gil meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard) who may just be his perfect match.
Midnight in Paris is a wonderfully astute film that explores the romanticism with nostalgia. For Gil the past is viewed as the pinnacle of artistic inspiration. He is mesmerized by the intellectual conversation and the limitless creativity that the artists exude. This is in stark contrast to the stifling life that he is building with Inez. However, Allen is clearly using Gil to point out how we often look longingly towards the past instead accepting what the present has to offer. This is emphasized when Adriana, who is from the 1920s, views the Belle Époque as the true Golden Age.
Another element that makes the film work so well is the script. Allen’s dialogue in this film is on par with some of his great works of the 70s and 80s. Part of the fun in watching Midnight in Paris is seeing which famous icon will pop up next? Whether it is Josephine Baker or Henri Matisse it never gets tiring when a new face appears. Allen seamlessly integrates these characters into the story without missing a comedic beat.
For their part, the cast does a great job of bringing all of Allen’s historical characters to life. Corey Stoll in particular is fantastic as Hemingway. He brings a roguish charm to the role that makes it obvious why a woman would fall for him, and guys like Gil wish they could be him. Whether he is talking about why writers should never read other writers’ works, or hitting on Adriana, Stoll is a treat to watch. It should also be noted that Owen Wilson delivers his best performance in years as Gil. Unlike other actors who have worked with Allen, Wilson never feels like he is doing a direct parody of Allen. Sure the Woody Allen influence is there, but Wilson’s usual style of acting is more present in this film. While it can be annoying in other films, it plays beautifully here.
As with all Woody Allen films, the director does not hesitate to take comedic jabs at himself throughout the film. In one scene Gil sheepishly states “wonderful but forgettable, sounds like like a film I’ve seen. In fact, I may have wrote it”. Fortunately, Allen does not have to worry about that problem with this film. Midnight in Paris is an enjoyable film that reminds us that we should not be nostalgic for Woody Allen works of the past because he still has the ability to turn out gems in the present.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
The Ice Storm
The Bourne Ultimatum
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Home for the Holidays
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The topic of leadership in the workplace came up over lunch today, and naturally, Office Space came to mind. After all, the film’s got universal appeal. If you’ve ever worked in an office, or worked any place for that matter, you can surely appreciate how spot-on Office Space depicts workplace politics and corporate mentality, and it does so with such hilarity. Like Scott Adams’ Dilbert cartoon, Office Space succeeds so well at satirizing the notion that office life is a nightmare and that office work is spirit-crushing and soul-sucking.
Mike Judge made Office Space a smart, modern-day office comedy because he paid attention to the tiny details and satirized the things we’re all familiar with – things that even slightly exaggerated, generate the intended comic effect. Think about Peter’s commute to work. He’s sitting in his car stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic when a man with a walker slowly, traveling faster than anyone in a vehicle, bypasses him. Think, too, about Milton, Peter’s disgruntled co-worker, whose cubicle is relocated so many times that he eventually winds up in a cubicle that’s walled-in on every side. Recall when Peter’s supervisor reminds him that all reports must now come with a cover sheet. Then another manager comes along and reminds him of the same thing. And then another. Judge’s insinuation is that when the jobs of managers overlap and the same information is being relayed repeatedly, there’s no real need for all those managers.
Office Space succeeds because it recreates the office work environment so accurately. The vapidity of the corporate world and the blandness of cubicle life are rendered so familiar by the simple yet effective cinematography and set design and by the cast of characters that surround Peter. The four gray walls that house the guy who’s just happy to be working and the guy who’s on the verge of losing his mind resonate with any former or current cubicle workers.
Office Space grossed unremarkable numbers at the box office, but thankfully, it found life on video, DVD and cable so though very few people saw it in theatres, everybody’s seen the film. It’s a memorable movie that succeeds due to its sly and smart satirical comedy rather than on physical or gross-out humour. Judge’s view of office life as a banal, meaningless and unsatisfying culture where the minutiae of corporate beaurocracy is overwhelming and the work sucks – makes for a funny, entertaining and smart observation and the fact that a comedy can ring true and be funny is a pretty rare feat. On paper, a scene with three guys smashing a printer with baseball bats in a field may not sound all that compelling or funny, but that scene is easily one of the funniest in the film and Judge brings to life what has surely been a fantasy of many an office worker who've felt completely fed up by paper jam error messages on printers that have no paper jam.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
It is a shame when a film with such a talented cast (Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins, Emma Stone, etc.) fails to reach the level it strives for. What starts off rather promising quickly becomes conventional and rather silly. Really, why must every romantic comedy have a break up scene in the third act? This brings me to my main issue with the film, it only has thirty minutes worth of actual story. The whole subplot with Dylan (Timberlake) and his father (Jenkins) feels tacked on last minute instead of authentic. It completely disrupts the fun flirty rhythm of the first two acts. The elaborate use of the Flash Mob completely destroys any last ounce of reality that the film was attempting. I also would have loved to see Woody Harrelson’s Tommy utilized a lot more. He was one of the more entertaining supporting characters. As far as romantic comedies go, Friends with Benefits is not as edgy as the commercials lead you to believe. It is a rather conventional film that has a few amusing moments but, is ultimately forgettable.
Ichi the Killer is one of those films that you really cannot recommend to the casual film viewer. Takashi Miike fills his film with dark humour and brutally sadistic violence that will have viewers wincing during several scenes. The plot involves the death of a mob boss, Anjo, at the hands of an assassin named Ichi (Nao Omori). While the rest of the gang seems content with moving on with their lives, Anjo’s sadomasochistic enforcer Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) is determined to avenge his fallen mentor. Although the premise offers Miike plenty of room to play, the excessive violence against women is rather tough to watch. Miike often juxtaposes scenes of almost cartoon level violence with dark comedic humour, sadly the jokes wear thin the third time you see a female character get brutally beaten. Those who enjoy absurd levels of blood and violence may find Ichi the Killer enjoyable. Unfortunately, the film does not compare to Miike’s other more memorable works, and it is not one that I will be revisiting in the near future.
Ichi the Killer is part of our "The Must See List" series.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Melancholia is a film divided into two distinct parts, the first entitled “Justine” and the second “Claire”. The titles refer to the two main protagonists of the film, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The first half of the Melancholia focuses on Justine who has arrived with her fiancée, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), at Claire’s vast estate to get married. What should be a happy day for the couple turns out to be anything but as Justine gradually distances herself from everyone, especially Michael and Claire, as she sinks into depression. Justine’s divorced parents (Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt) also disturb the event with their constant bickering.
The tone of the film changes in the latter half as the film focus on the possible impact of a planet called Melancholia. The planet takes over the place of a prominent star in the sky, shown in the first part, and seems to be heading towards Earth. Justine is now suffering from severe depression and is living with Clarie and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland). Claire is increasingly worried that the end of the world is near, but John seems convinced that Melancholia will pass by Earth. While John takes pleasure in examining the planet with their son Leo (Cameron Spurr), Claire struggles to not let her fears effect daily routines. As tension rises and emotions erupt it becomes clear that only Justine knows the true fate of Melancholia.
Slowly paced and in a constant state of melancholy, von Trier’s film will definitely test some viewer’s patience. Those who stick with it will be greatly rewarded as Melancholia is a wonderful film that ranks among the year’s best. Melancholia is reminiscent of the Canadian film Last Night in regards to how both films offer a realistic and sombre approach to how certain people process the possibility of the pending apocalypse. While Melancholia clearly defines what may cause the world to end, which is something Last Night excludes, it never resorts to big boisterous scenes that would often be found in this genre. Instead von Trier builds tension through the strain of the family’s emotions. Depression is used both as a catalyst for family conflicts and to unite family members.
The role reversals that Justine and Claire slowly go through is one of the main reasons Melancholia is such a mesmerizing film. Claire is the dominant one who tries to keep up the appearances of a family that has it all together. However, the second half shows that she is merely hanging on by a thread. Whereas Justine seems weak at the beginning, but her eerily calm demeanour in the end only helps to emphasize von Trier’s overall point. The fantastic performances of Dunst and Gainsbourg allow the reversals to work well. Dunst offers her best work to date in a role that demands subtle nuances instead of grand gesture. Gainsbourg continues her strong work of late and ensures that Claire complements Justine perfectly. Kiefer Sutherland is also a treat to watch as the money conscious John but his character is a little too one note in comparison to well rounded Justine and Claire.
The only thing more outstanding than the performances in the film is the gorgeous imagery. The first seven minutes alone are nothing short of brilliant. Lars von Trier expands on slow motion camera techniques he toyed with in the opening of Anitchrist to provide a dreamlike representation of what is occurring in Justine’s mind. Instead of merely relying on stunning images, such as when Justine is walking in her wedding dress while weighed down by roots and vines, von Trier ensures that each scene plays an important role in the film later on. There is much to say about the visual splendour of Melancholia, but the film has great impact if you go in not knowing too much. Though slowly paced, and somewhat of a downer in regards to tone, Melancholia is an outstanding film that offers a unique look at depression and how mankind handles crisis. It is a film that is bound to test viewer’s patience, but it is an exceptional film that rivals the year’s best.
Melancholia is part of our "The Must See List" series.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Wondering what bloggers have been chatting about this week?
Here is Your Reading and Listening Schedule for Today:
9 am: Episode 44 of the Damn Good Movie Show podcast talks Immortals and shares amusing insight into what it is like to work on a low budget movie starring Samantha Morton.
10 am: Episode 92 of The LAMBcast podcast, dissects the film Moon.
11 am: James writes an honest and self-reflective account of the ups and downs that come with being a movie blogger.
12 pm: Joe, a blogger I met while in line at Reel Asian, reviews two of the festival titles, Surrogate Valentine and Pearls of the Far East.
1 pm: Speaking of Reel Asian, Shannon, our blogging partner in crime for the week, raves about the Lily Eng showcase. Shannon also extensively covered the Reel Asian festival, be sure to give it a read.
2 pm: Lisa shares her thoughts on The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, a film that I enjoyed when I caught it at Hot Doc earlier this year.
3 pm: Ryan takes a stab at guessing the Oscar nominees for both the animated and documentary categories.
4 pm: Pete lists the Best Films of the 2000s.
5 pm: Sasha talks about the awesomeness that is Hackers.
6 pm: I am a little late with this last one, but I am posting it nonetheless. Bob went on a horror film spree last month and made a great compilation of the films he watched:
Friday, November 18, 2011
Kurt Russell shares the hero role with Dennis Dun who play, Jack Burton and Wang Chi respectively, two friends who become embroiled in the dark Chinese sorcery that resides in the underbelly of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Russell’s Burton is the source of so many laugh-out-loud one-liners that are delivered in unstopping rapid fire throughout the film. Russell created a great character in Burton – a loveable buffoon and wiseass with über (yet displaced) confidence and a big mouth. He’s so out of his element and is repeatedly taken by surprise, but it doesn’t faze him. He’s got more balls than brains and his attempts at heroics continually result in his falling victim to a series of hilarious mishaps, but he stands with his friends to fight for what’s right and he’s got superb reflexes to boot.
In an early scene, Wang and Jack make a bet. Wang, who’s just lost all of the money he’d saved to welcome his fiancée back from China, tries to make the money back by betting Jack double or nothing that he can split a beer bottle in half with a meat cleaver. When Wang brings the cleaver down on the bottle, it shoots across the table and Jack catches it before it clocks him in the face, proving he has brilliant reflexes. This scene is important in establishing a key hero’s gift in Jack that Carpenter deliberately delays using until the climactic scene stealer at the end of the film.
Jack comes face to face with Lo Pan – a 2,000-year-old fleshless sorcerer thanks to a curse by the Gods for his offences. Lo Pan longs for a girl with green eyes whom he must marry to break the curse and to become flesh again. In the sequence of climactic scenes at the end of the film, Lo Pan has married Wang’s green-eyed fiancée – Miao Yin – breaking the curse on him to become flesh and whole again. A huge battle has ensued between the forces of good – Jack and Wang et al – and the forces of evil – Lo Pan and his army led by The Three Storms (bizarre beings that seem to have supernatural powers representing Thunder, Lightening and Rain.) Lo Pan flees his wedding ceremony and escapes to his lair with Jack and Gracie Law – Jack’s love interest in the film – in hot pursuit. Jack and Gracie share a passionate kiss before Jack goes toe-to-toe with Lo Pan and winds up confronting him, unaware, with a mouth smeared in red lipstick. Jack whips his knife at Lo Pan trying to kill him, but he misses the mark and Lo Pan picks up the knife and hurls it at Jack. At this point, Carpenter calls upon Jack’s special gift – his awesome reflexes – and Jack catches the knife, hurls it back at Lo Pan, stabbing him square between the eyes. The evil sorcerer falls like a ton of bricks and Jack responds with another of his classic one-liners, “It’s all in the reflexes.”