July 6th, 2004

Around the World in Eighty Days

This amusing film is almost-but-not-quite-totally-unlike either Verne’s novel or the spectacular 1956 version starring David Niven and Cantinflas. The major distortions are imposed due to the presence of Jackie Chan, which results in the grafting on of a sub-plot very similar to that of ‘Shanghai Knights 2,” although in this case, it is Chan’s character who has been dispatched to bring the stolen artifact back to China and defeat the evil warlord--. In fact, Chan, who has single-handedly burgled the “Jade Buddha” from the Bank of England (!), also manipulates Fogg and Lord Kelvin into making the wager that sets off the journey, as a means to help escape police pursuit.

In this version, Phileas Fogg is a rather crackpot but nevertheless effective inventor who is intensely annoying to Lord Kelvin, head of the Royal Society, who does not consider him a “real” scientist. Kelvin, played by the always watchable Jim Broadbent, is also the villain of the piece, who not only cheats so that he can be rid of Fogg, but also is in cahoots with General Fang (Karen Joy Morris) in a deal to sell her illicit arms to prop up her corrupt power in China. Kelvin is written as a cartoon villain, who rants and throws things at his fat, foolish, and fearful henchmen when things go wrong. (Some writer must have had it in for the great figures of Britain’s colonial period, since Kelvin’s cronies are called “Lord Salisbury,” “Lord Rhodes,” and “Colonel Kitchener.” Any resemblance to actual historical persons is indeed coincidental.) Although Kelvin was indeed an arrogant fellow and actually did say, in 1900, “There is nothing more to be discovered,” in fairness he limited that remark to his own field of physics—not invention in general—although he was very skeptical of heavier-than-air flight—he doesn’t deserve to be blackguarded in this fashion.

That irritant aside, the movie is an entertaining if mindless romp. Some of the scenes are very cleverly done, particularly the Paris sequence in which Chan fights off a bevy of Tong thugs at an Impressionist art exhibit with no one else being the wiser. On the other hand, the following balloon escape goes on too long and seems calculated to show off Chan’s capacity for self-abuse. Steve Coogan does a good job as the oblivious Fogg, Cécile De France is very engaging as Monique La Roche, the struggling artist who attaches herself to Fogg in Paris, and Karen Joy Morris (a.ka. Man Wai Mok) is appropriately exotic and sinister as General Fang. The now-notorious cameo by Arnold Schwarzenegger as “Prince Hapi” displays his underrated talent for comedy to good effect.

Of course in any Chan film, fight scenes are very much the raison d’etre, and this one is no exception. I appreciate the way in which Chan usually manages to both do something new—in this case, using a human being, the hapless Inspector Fix, as a weapon—and shows off some of the ancient forms of kung fu, as in when he defends himself using the horse-mounting bench during the China sequence.

As I said, pure fluff. The ending of course holds no surprise for anyone familiar with Verne or the earlier film. See it for matinee prices, as we did.

Fahrenheit 9/11

On July 5th we did the patriotic American thing and thumbed our noses at our government by going to see Michael Moore’s anti-Bush rant, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Not that ranting is a BAD thing--. Actually, the piece was much less strident than reviews had lead us to believe, although still quite merciless in its attack on our administration’s fatuities and dishonesties. Is it fair? No. Is it balanced? No. Is it good cinema? Sure is. There wasn’t much there that we weren’t previously aware of, but there was some new information, and all of it packaged in very accessible and affecting way. This is the kind of scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners criticism we have been getting from characters like Limbaugh, Hannity and Coulter for years. They have had the gall to claim that they are ‘fair and balanced’ and whine about ‘liberal media bias.’ Well—“Fahrenheit 9/11” is what liberal media bias really looks like. The right has been asking for it for years, now they’ve got it, and they can’t take it.

If you’re a committed Bush supporter, I doubt this film will change any minds. If you are doubtful at all which way to vote this November, by all means, see it now. And if you are supporting “regime change at home,” go and see it as a way of sticking out your tongue at the neocons. (Not to mention Michael Eisner of Disney who also, as Snoopy says, “deserves to be BLEAHED.”)