The opening salvo in what producers probably hope will be a long running franchise, the release of Jack Reacher, could not have come at a worse possible time. The original material comes from a series of thrillers by writer Lee Child, who has already produced 17 Jack Reacher novels, in which the eponymous hero, an ex-MP who has chosen the life of a drifter, nevertheless ends up useing a mix of profound insight and physical strength to solve crimes. The fact that Tom Cruise has been cast as the hero might be a sufficient turn off for fans of the books. The fact that the first installment, based on a novel titled One Shot, about a sniper killing of innocent people heading home from work, resonates in all the wrong ways with the trauma created by the Sandy Hook shootings, might turn others off. For those who don’t care about either of these issues, Jack Reacher is a superior thriller that has both a good plot and solid action sequences.
Chinese Zodiac (十二生肖)
Jackie Chan (成龍) has produced some of the most memorable action features to come out of Hong Kong’s film industry, but now, with age and the impact of the Hollywood experience, his stunts have been toned down. Unfortunately, he has not grown as a filmmaker, and efforts to inject more drama and character interaction into his films has rarely been successful. Jackie Chan films were always primarily about Jackie being the wonderfully talented Jackie, and all the rest was just background for his star turn. Chinese Zodiac is a by-the-numbers story about a master thief who discovers his conscience and uses his skills to help recover treasures looted from the Summer Palace during the collapse of the Qing dynasty. Chan is a skilled operator, and some of the special effect scenes look good, but the story itself feels cobbled together, and the introduction of rather obvious wire work tells a story about Chan’s acrobatic abilities all by itself.
The story of a video game villain who wants to be a good guy provides the pretext for a joyride through the world of arcade games that mixes up technical finesse with a solid dose of storytime sentimentality. Wreck-It Ralph doesn’t want to wreck things anymore, so he starts hopping through a multiverse of games, meeting up with all kinds of new friends from early version pixilated Pac-men to high-definition street fighters, and trying to save the world. Ralph is voiced by the talented actor John C. Reilly, and the absence of A-list stars from the cast is a bonus. It is a look back in wonder at the potency of games and the hold, like it or not, they have over our imagination. Tight pace, life affirming, uplifting and just a little bit sad, Wreck-It Ralph is festive season gold.
Ripples of Desire (花漾)
Following on from Spider Lilies (刺青), another lush historical romance from Taiwanese director Zero Chou (周美玲) featuring a cast of young local stars. Michelle Chen (陳妍希) and Ivy Chen (陳意涵) play a pair of courtesans, sisters with vastly different ideas about love and their prospective paths in life. They are protected and exploited by their madam, played by show host Sandra Ng (吳君如) as they navigate the dangerous shoals of love. A big budget production, but despite the lavish costumes and set pieces fight scenes, the acting retains too much the flavor of a TV soap opera.
Another Woman’s Life
Based on a French novel by Frederique Deghelt, starring Juliette Binoche and directed by Sylvie Testud, herself an accomplished actress (Sagan and Lourdes) and novelist in her own right, Another Woman’s Life is one of those high-concept films that sound superficially interesting, but which fail to either make sense or create believable drama due to an unwillingness to explain the central conceit. Binoche is an engaging young woman who falls asleep one day and wakes up a decade later with no memory of her intervening life. She has become a high-powered executive, pushed her marriage to the brink of divorce and become a mother. Suddenly she has no understanding of her new life, and this is used to generate some fish-out-of-water humor, but audiences are likely to be too confused to laugh.