(Sony, 2005) D: Stanley Tong, w/ Jackie Chan, Tony Leung Ka Fai. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NNN
I was wrong. Reviewing Rush Hour 3 in these pages (August 9-15), I claimed that Jackie Chan was "too old for this shit" and went on about obvious stunt doubles and sequences crafted to conceal his limitations.
The Myth proves how off I was. This is Chan's best film since his 1994 masterpiece, Legend Of Drunken Master. It isn't quite up to that high standard, but it still delivers a full complement of highly creative fights and stunts, all building to a glorious wire work finale.
The battle in the rat-trap factory is worth the price of the DVD alone. It's clearly Chan doing his own fights and falls and, while he isn't the man he was at 24 when he made the original Drunken Master, he's still got the moves and the spirit.
Chan's face shows his age - he's 53 - and that helps the story. In the present, he's an archaeologist on the trail of mystical rocks in remote China. It's the familiar Jackie character, but his age and loneliness suggest he needs more than happy-go-lucky adventures.
In his dreams, he's a Qing dynasty general in love with a Korean princess fated to be the emperor's concubine. His battered, weary face makes it easy to believe he's battle-hardened general, and his acting is convincing in role. When the two stories merge, Chan's maturity adds an unexpected layer of poignancy.
In the making-of doc and his commentary, Chan brings unpretentious enthusiasm to some good production stories and remarks about his philosophy of filmmaking.
Despite the high-quality English-language dub, you're better off with the subtitled version. Chan's acting skills don't extend to English dialogue.
EXTRAS Commentary, making-of doc, charity pitch, meditation centre pitch, deleted scenes. Wide-screen. English, French audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
(Sony, 2006). D: Fredi Murer, w/ Teo Gheorghiu, Bruno Ganz. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NNN
Vitus, a high-IQ piano prodigy un easy with his gift, decides to give up music at age 12. From this, Swiss writer/director Fredi Murer fashions a complex, emotionally ambiguous drama that takes childhood seriously and doesn't entirely trust its own follow-your-dream message.
The two kids who play Vitus aren't peddling cute. Fabrizio Borsani, Vitus at six, is always thoughtful and both responsive and reserved emotionally. Teo Gheogrhiu, Vitus at 12, has the heedless arrogance of the super-smart and the hunched shoulders of the oppressed. Even when he's with his beloved grandpa (Bruno Ganz) he barely relaxes, and when he plays we hear more obsession and anger than anything we'd call musical beauty.
Ganz pushes the cute buttons just enough to let us go along with the movie's implausible second half. He gives a good interview in the extras, with some interesting remarks on the value of out-of-sequence shooting.
Murer keeps his visuals simple, his camera on his cast and his storytelling neutral. Even in the supposedly uplifting finale, he finds a strong undercurrent of doubt. The stellar making-of doc shows a man having a very good time at work while it explores the people involved and their ways of working together. Murer reserves the hassles of actually getting Vitus made for his commentary.
EXTRAS Commentary, making-of doc, Bruno Ganz interview. Wide-screen. German audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Mr. Bean's Holiday
(Universal, 2007) D: Steve Bendelack, w/ Rowan Atkinson, Willem Dafoe. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NNN
In the five-minute sketches that introduced him to TV viewers in 1990, Rowan Atkinson's childish Mr. Bean was hilarious. We could focus with him on tiny problems and watch obsession, inventiveness and malice work their wonders. That's hard to sustain in a feature film.
To their credit, Atkinson and director Steve Bendelack have avoided saddling Bean with an elaborate plot. Mr. Bean wins a vacation in Cannes. Along the way he loses his money and passport and acquires a small boy and a young actress. There's not much more, so Atkinson has lots of time to do his thing.
Sadly, the script hasn't loaded him up with things to do. Between the smart, funny sequences, there are long, dreary bits of nothing but Bean mugging for the camera. But check the deleted scenes, all 27 of them, for some good gags. Bean conning a commuter out of his train ticket is lovely. The movie could have used more of that.
According to the well-done making-of doc, Bendelack thinks there's something particularly funny about a comedian in big, beautiful countryside. He's tragically deluded about that, but he gets the most out of the warm Mediterranean light pouring over the land, which makes it a treat for a cold winter evening.
EXTRAS Three-part making-of doc, deleted scenes. Wide-screen. English, French audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
I Know Who Killed Me
(Sony, 2007) D: Chris Sivertson, w/ Lindsay Lohan, Julia Ormond. Rating: NN ; DVD package: N
By normal standards, this is an awful movie, pointlessly gaudy, implausible and senseless, but I Know Who Killed Me isn't playing by normal standards. It's trying to be a giallo, that particularly Italian genre that applies horror movie sensibility to mystery movie content. In gialli, gaudy and senseless are positive values, prime ingredients in brewing the hallucinatory psycho-sexual nightmare that provides the genre's finest moments. Check out the original giallo, Mario Bava's 1964 Blood And Black Lace, and Dario Argento's 1996 The Stendhal Syndrome and you'll see what I mean.
I Know Who Killed Me has a great giallo premise: upper-middle-class good girl (Lindsay Lohan) escapes from a torture-killer but wakes up in the hospital convinced she's a low-life stripper. It's got lots of fine giallo touches, from the blood-dripping stripper's pole through the visual obsession with blue roses to the final graveside image. At times, the film approaches the giddy heights of pulp poetry.
But not often enough.
There are two problems, three if you count the inexplicable failure to include a senseless murder to get us over the big mid-point slump. First and worst is star Lindsay Lohan, who totally lacks the intensity to sell the material and herself as a bad girl. Never has an actor uttered the line "Go fuck yourself" with such lack of conviction.
Second is director Chris Sivertson's decision to mute the psycho-sexual fever. One handyman fondling a stick, one lacklustre striptease and one ho-hum sex scene, none of them really integrated into the story, just don't cut it.
The extras are thin and don't do a thing to enhance the movie.
EXTRAS Alternate opening, alternate ending, extended striptease, bloopers. Wide-screen. English, French audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, December 4
Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End - Two-Disc Limited Edition
(Disney, 2007) More comic swashbuckling with Johnny Depp. Disney is calling this a "limited time" release, so grab it now if you're keen.
(Columbia, 2007). Unrated version of this summer's high school comedy comes with loads of extras.
John Ford: Ford At Fox
(Fox, 1920-1952) Eighteen new titles and six reissues from classic Hollywood's all-time best director, plus loads of extras and a feature-length doc on Ford.
The Painted Veil
(WB, 2006) Unhappy romance grips Edward Norton and Naomi Watts in 1920s China. From the novel by Somerset Maugham.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb