All Reviews by Jason
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon introduced many American
viewers to the Chinese wirework genre. If you liked Crouching Tiger
but haven't seen a martial arts movie since then, go rent Hero. It's
not only more compelling than Crouching Tiger, but also more
visually impressive, as Hero's highly stylized fight scenes fill the
screen with vibrant colors.
Jet Li plays a celebrated, nameless hero who comes before the King
of Qin to tell the story of how he single-handedly defeated the King's
deadliest enemies. However, the King quickly realizes that there's
more to this hero than he's willing to reveal.
If you only know Jet Li from his lackluster American films (like The
One and Cradle 2 the Grave), this is a great introduction
to his vastly superior Chinese filmography, which includes the amazing
Once Upon A Time In China trilogy. Originally released in 2002,
Hero was brought to the states this past summer with Quentin
Tarantino's name attached as producer in order to give it some extra
visibility. And Hero deserves all of the spotlight it can get.
It's not only the best Kung Fu film in years; it's also one of 2004's
best films, period. (PG-13) Rating: 5
and the Prisoner of Azakaban
While the first two Harry Potter films were easily the
best work of director Chris Columbuss career, they were still
as tame and uninspired as the rest of his lackluster oeuvre, which
features forgettable hits like Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire.
With this third entry, Alfonso Cuaron, a Mexican director best known
for his sexy road flick Y tu mama tambien, takes over and imbues
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with a welcome sense
of dark humor and an inspired visual flair that Columbus never could
have mustered. Its also great to see Gary Oldman, one of the
perennial heavyweights of overacting, appear in a role where the majority
of his screen time consists of a screaming mug shot, endlessly looped
on magical wanted posters throughout the film. Oldman plays the recently
escaped prisoner of the films title, who, of course, is intent
on ending the spell-casting career of the heralded Mr. Potter.
In his third year at Hogwarts, Harry is still the campus superstar
and Quidditch hero. He still draws the ire of the wily Professor Snape
(played to the hilt by Alan Rickman). He has the same group of friends
(a collection of child actors whove improved greatly over the
last few years), an ever growing collection of enemies, and the expected
new assortment of mystical creatures (like the skeletal soul-sucking
Dementors) and oddball classes (Emma Thompsons quirky, nearly
blind Professor Sybil Trelawney lectures on crystal ball gazing and
how to divine the future from tea leaves).
The films complicated yet entertaining climax, involving time
travel, a conniving rat, an angry werewolf and plenty of magical wand-waving,
packs more punch than the previous two films, both of which overstayed
their welcome by about 30 minutes. The Prisoner of Azkaban
runs a little long as well, but its still a far more kinetic
142 minutes than its predecessors. Lets hope that like the young,
trouble-making wizard himself, Potters filmmakers will continue
to take risks, however slight, with their billion-dollar franchise.
(PG) Rating: 4
Spider-Man 2 does more than just improve on its predecessor in
every way. And it's more than simply the best superhero film of all
time. It even goes beyond being among the best scripted, best directed,
most moving, most awe-inspiring and most downright enjoyable films
Thanks to a team of top-notch screenwriters (including Pulitzer prize-winning
novelist Michael Chabon), Spider-Man 2 ranks as one of the
best written action films ever made, right up there with Die Hard,
The Matrix or even Raiders of the Lost Ark, and actually
it's far more moving than any of those three. Spider-Man 2
is conversely funnier and more serious than the original film. Its
hard to imagine any movie with a spandex-clad main character being
more emotionally powerful than this one.
The script nails everything that makes lovable loser Peter Parker
(Tobey Maguire) such a compelling and enduring character. His web
slinging and crime fighting may earn him the adoration of children
everywhere, but it certainly doesn't help him hold down a steady job,
keep up his grades or commit to the woman he loves. Even his super-strong
alter ego Parker can't win, what with publisher J. Jonah Jameson (brought
to life in another hilarious performance by J.K. Simmons) slamming
him as a menace in every issue of the Daily Bugle newspaper
and Parker's best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco), dead-set on
getting vengeance against the wall-crawler in the name of his late
father, Norman Osborn, a k a the Green Goblin.
As if all that wasn't enough, now Spidey seems to be suffering a bit
of superhero performance anxiety, causing his powers to short out
at the most inopportune moments, like when hes swinging between
skyscrapers or facing off against Doctor Octopus, a misguided scientist
with a set of creepy, metallic arms. Veteran character actor Alfred
Molina is perfect as Doc Ock: never over the top but always menacing.
The effects are flawless, the jokes fresh, the character
well defined, the emotions real and the action inspiring. Overall,
this is the once and future Citizen Kane of comic book superhero
flicks. (PG-13) Rating: 5
Michael Mann is an incredibly talented director, though you wouldn't
know it from his last film, the mystifyingly awful Ali. Collateral
is a return to form for the man who made Manhunter (THE best
Hannibal Lecter film) and Heat (which boasts one of the five
greatest shoot-outs ever filmed).
Tom Cruise plays a ruthless hitman who's traversing the city, committing
several murders in one night. Despite Cruise's usual stellar performance,
the spotlight belongs to one of the year's hottest and most surprising
actors. Jamie Foxx is enjoying plenty of Oscar buzz for his turn as
Ray Charles in Ray, but his performance in Collateral
as a taxi drive pressed into aiding a hitman is equally impressive.
Collateral's only missteps are its occasional implausabilities
and unnecessary secondary characters.
Mark Ruffalo plays an L.A. cop whose purpose in the movie I'm still
trying to understand. Just as mysterious is the FBI, who appears and
then unceremoniously disappears, only flirting with raising the film's
level of tension. Still, the tension between the two leads is more
than enough to keep you invested for two hours. The is another one
of the year's best. (R) Rating: 4