Saturday, April 30, 2016

Review Hub - Ratchet & Clank


The Ratchet & Clank series of games has come a long way since the original game's release in 2002, having expanded into alternate forms of media (including a comic mini-series), along with a new game and a movie that have been released that each re-imagine the original game's events. In honor of said movie's release, below is a collection of links to every Ratchet & Clank review on the blog up to this point, sorted in chronological order by logo style. (Links to Second Opinions and other versions of games will be posted next to the main review link in parenthesis.)


Original Logo

   



Second Logo

      



Non-Canon (As of Into the Nexus)

 



Re-imagining

 

Ratchet & Clank (Film) - The Movie, Based On The Game


Having played practically the entirety of the Ratchet & Clank series and become a fan of it, I was immediately on board with the idea of a theatrical feature when it was announced a few years back. I became more interested in the movie after learning that not only was Insomniac Games, the creator and developer of the Ratchet & Clank series heavily involved in the movie’s production, but also that Rainmaker Entertainment was doing the animation (under their previous moniker, Mainframe, they did the animation for the Beast Wars and Beast Machines portions of the Transformers franchise, which were considered groundbreaking for their time and the former of which won a Daytime Emmy). As the release date got closer, I even replayed the original Ratchet & Clank game and spent a lot of time playing the re-imagining of said game just to keep myself hyped for the movie. Having seen the movie in 3D, though somewhat disappointingly in a largely empty theater, I would say that the experience and hype were definitely worth it.

The plot of the movie is, of course, similar to that of the recent game based on this movie (including the plot twists aimed at Ratchet & Clank veterans), which is also based on the original 2002 game, but it flows more like a movie rather than the movie’s plot incorporated into gameplay. Plot elements from the original game are taken in an interesting direction in the movie, with some plot points cut where necessary to help the flow of the story. At the same time, it’s interesting how some gameplay elements from the games are used in the movie, such as the ability to switch between weapons on the fly (or Quick Select, as it’s called in the games) being explained by a device that allows the user to teleport weapons to their hand from an off-site storage locker. Like the re-imagined game, some retcons are made that I think make for a better story, such as the integration of Dr. Nefarious (Armin Shimerman) into the plot and Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) being a selfless nice guy from the get-go rather than starting off as being a huge, selfish jerk to everyone around him. There are also some cleverly-inserted in-jokes from within the series and to other PlayStation titles, including a tease for the upcoming Sly Cooper movie.

In this continuity, Ratchet wants to join the Galactic Rangers.

The movie is well-casted in the voice department, with James Arnold Taylor (Ratchet), David Kaye (Clank), Jim Ward (Captain Qwark), and Armin Shimerman (Dr. Nefarious) returning to voice their characters from the games, as well as some actors you wouldn’t have expected to hear in Ratchet & Clank, such as Paul Giamatti (Chairman Drek), John Goodman (Grimroth), and Sylvester Stallone (Victor Von Ion); notably, Stallone’s widely-mocked slurred Rambo voice is not present, rather sounding more like his normal speaking voice. As I’ve said about the recent game, the voice actors are definitely bringing their experience with their characters to the table, and Giamatti and Stallone (for reals this time) provide interesting interpretations of the returning characters that they voice. Though new character Grimroth doesn’t get very much screentime, I still thought John Goodman did a good job in voicing the character, particularly in portraying the character’s master/student relationship with Ratchet.

Ratchet & Clank during their first meeting.

The animation is, put simply, amazing, as there was clearly a lot of care put into animating the characters and their body language, as well as Ratchet’s Lombax tail. The animation of the weapons and their abilities is also great at recreating how they function and making them work within the context of the movie. Though the Groovitron, one of my favorite weapons from the games, does not make an appearance, I think the movie worked well enough without it. Also, the music, while not remixing anything from the base game, is still great at capturing the essence of a given scene and character’s emotions (though I can’t recall if any of it is from the re-imagined game).

The Ratchet & Clank movie can be considered a good way to get someone into the Ratchet & Clank franchise, though it is clearly more aimed at Ratchet & Clank fans. There is some fantastic humor in the movie, both meta and not meta, as well as some bits of older-skewing humor that some audiences that fit within the PG rating would probably not get. While it’s funny how text-messaging jokes are incorporated, there is mention of “hashtags” at one point, though the reference is still funny within context since it’s very brief and is more non-specific. Overall, the movie is a well-made love letter to the 15 years of the Ratchet & Clank series and its fans, for whom this is definitely a must-see, and I advise staying through the credits. Since this joint-development between Insomniac and Rainmaker turned out spectacularly, this makes me more excited to see if the same result can be achieved with Sly Cooper when it makes its way to theaters.

Stubs - Purple Rain


Purple Rain (1984) Starring Prince, Apollonia Kotero, Morris Day, Olga Karlatos, Clarence Williams III. Directed by Albert Magnoli. Written by Albert Magnoli and William Blinn. Produced by Robert Cavallo, Joseph Ruffalo and Steven Fargnoli. Color. USA Run Time 111 minutes. Drama, Musical

With the sudden passing of Prince, everyone is reexamining his career as an innovator, a musician, a cultural icon and as an actor. Since this is primarily a film blog, we will concentrate on the latter. While we are fans of Prince’s, we are not rabid fans. We did re-watch Purple Rain as a tribute and have been listening to the Sirius channel set up as a tribute while we’re writing this.

As a follow up to his most successful album to date, 1999, released in 1982, Prince made the same move other successful musicians like Elvis Presley and The Beatles had made previously, into the realm of filmmaking, with the release of Purple Rain in 1984.

Supposedly the idea for the movie was dreamed up by Prince himself, while he was on tour supporting the 1999 double album. Semi-autobiographical in nature, the initial screenplay was supposedly darker in nature. Prince also had hoped to cast Vanity of the Vanity 6 in the film, but she had left his management by then and moved on to a solo career. To replace her, Prince cast Apollonia Kotero, an actress he had seen on television.

Purple Rain was filmed in and around Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis, with one pickup done in Los Angeles (the hotel where Apollonia stays when arriving in town is in downtown LA). Several scenes were shot at the First Avenue Club, which the movie made famous and which later turned into a center of the mourning for the deceased star.

The title of the film. The Kid (Prince) is performing "Let's Go Crazy".

The film starts with The Kid (Prince) and his band, The Revolution, playing “Let’s Go Crazy.” The band is one of three house bands at the First Avenue Club. There is also Morris Day and The Time and Dez Dickerson and The Modernaires. While their music has a similar sound and the groups dress somewhat similarly, none are as talented or look as good as Prince and his band.

Wendy (Wendy Melvoin), guitar, and Lisa (Lisa Johnson), keyboard, want The Kid to listen to their music.

But things are not good behind the scenes. Wendy (Wendy Melvoin) and Lisa (Lisa Johnson), the band’s guitarist and keyboardist, are not happy off with The Kid. They have begun writing songs, but he never listens to them.

The Kid doesn't take Wendy and Lisa's music very seriously, using ventriloquism  to turn them down.

There is pressure at the club, as Billy (Billy Sparks), the club owner, is always wanting full houses. While The Kid is good, he’s not bringing them in like he used to. (Maybe it’s because he appears to do only one song a night.) Morris, who likens himself to be a great entertainer, is always pressuring Billy to get rid of The Kid. Morris convinces Billy that he needs a female group performing at the club.

Morris Day (Morris Day), on the right, tries to convince Billy (Billy Sparks) to get rid of The Kid. 

And there is trouble at home as well for The Kid. His Mother (Olga Karlatos) and Father (Clarence Williams III) fight often. A former musician, Father is always threatening Mother and when The Kid tries to intervene, he is thrown to the floor.

The Kid's home life is volatile as Mother (Olga Karlatos) and Father (Clarence Williams III) fight.

Into this comes Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero), a singer from New Orleans, who has come to Minneapolis, hoping to get a gig at First Avenue. Apollonia is tricky and conniving, first she skips out on a $37 plus taxi fare, even though she has the money. After taking a room at a rooming house across the street from the club, she manages to sneak her way in when the bouncer, Chick (Charles Huntsberry), is otherwise occupied. While she doesn’t see Billy, she does get the attention of both Morris and The Kid.

The Kid, who looks more like he's dressed for the stage
than a trip to the lake, takes Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero) for a long bike ride.

The Kid acts first, taking her on a long motorcycle ride out into the country. When they stop lakeside and talk, she tells him why she came and asks for his help. But at first, he says no, telling her that first she needs to purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. That seems to be all the encouragement she needs to strip down to her panties and jump into the water. The Kid tries feebly to stop her, because they’re not at Lake Minnetonka. He then drives off, leaving the half-naked woman alone, but he comes back telling her to get on the bike, only to pull up when she tries to get on. Repeat and repeat, before he lets her on his bike.

If it means stripping to get The Kid's help, Apollonia is very willing to oblige.

When they go to his house, his parents aren’t fighting anymore, just the opposite on the living room couch. They sneak into The Kid’s room through a window and make love.

The next morning, Morris, being driven by his sidekick Jerome (Jerome Benton), try to pick Apollonia up by offering her a gig with his band. She accepts.

That night, when she comes over to The Kid’s house, she brings him a guitar she’d seen him eyeing, having hawked a gold anklet to come up with the money. The Kid gives her one of his earrings to wear, sort of like a friendship ring. But when she tells him that she’s going to sing with Morris, he slaps her hard, knocking her to the ground.

The next night, when he’s on stage, he eyes her with Morris and sings “Darling Nikki,” a sexually explicit song, the performance of which humiliates Apollonia, who runs off in tears, which angers both Morris and Billy, further jeopardizing the Kid’s position at the club. Billy will later confront The Kid, making mention of his father’s wasted musical talents, adding that he’s following in the same path.

The debut of the Apollonia 6, her new group, is a big success. Their only song, “Sex Shooter,” is probably the weakest of the songs in the movie, but the women’s attire pleases the males in the audience, as they’re dressed scantily in corsets, stockings and high heels. To show their appreciation, some of the men throw dollar bills at them, like they're strippers rather than musicians.

Apollonia proudly displays her ample talents on stage.

After her performance, The Kid grabs her away from a drunken Morris and takes her off on his bike. They argue and she abandons him.

When The Kid returns home, he finds the house is a mess and that his mother is gone. Down in the basement, his father is lurking with a gun. His father, apparently distraught over something, shoots himself in the head. After an ambulance takes his father away and The Kid is questioned by the police, The Kid tears apart the basement to release his anger. As he does, he finds a box of his father’s musical compositions; this is after his father tells him that he doesn’t write them down.

The Kid finds a box of his father's music, which apparently
triggers a change in his attitude about Wendy and Lisa's music.

The next day, he plays the cassette of Wendy and Lisa’s song and starts to compose his own lyrics to go with it. That night at the club, he announces the song “Purple Rain” as having been written by Wendy and Lisa. As seems to be his practice, after the one song he prepares to leave the club and ride away on his motorcycle. But before he can he realizes that the audience really likes his song, so he goes back to the stage and plays two encores, winning the approval of everyone, including Billy and Morris.

Even Morris Day and Jerome (Jerome Benton) approve of The Kid's performance.

During his performance of “Baby I’m a Star,” we see shots of The Kid visiting in his father in the hospital and kissing his sleeping mother, who is at his bedside. Also, we see The Kid organizing his father’s compositions with Apollonia there as well.

The movie ends as abruptly as it began with a tableaux of The Kid on stage. Snippets of the songs from the movie play under the credits in a rather uneven medley.

When it was released on July 17, 1984, the film did fairly well at the box office, making about $68.4 million off a budget of $7.2 million. Reviews were fairly positive, but not overwhelmingly so. And Prince won an Oscar for Best Original Song Score, the last person to win that award. This was enough success to allow Prince to pursue other film ventures. Purple Rain was followed up by three more films, each of them directed by Prince himself: Under a Cherry Moon (1986), Sign o’ the Times (1987) and Graffiti Bridge (1990), the latter being a sequel to Purple Rain. However, none were as successful as his first.

Prince was a very dynamic performer in Purple Rain, giving his all for the fans.

At its best, Purple Rain is a concert film, especially those scenes featuring Prince and the Revolution on stage at First Avenue. Prince is a unique and interesting performer to watch on stage. He can sing, dance and shred the guitar with an onstage persona that is part James Brown, part Jimi Hendrix and part Little Richard, perhaps the first performer to play publicly with gender roles. His songs are best when they’re catchy and dance-able, which thankfully most of them are in this film. But this is strictly the Prince show, while his band the Revolution backs him up, with the exception of Wendy and Lisa, the others have few lines and are not even named, though they do receive credit.

Oh, yeah, these guys and some other people are also in the Revolution.

Morris Day and the Time, which started out as a side-project for the prolific Prince, are definitely a step down. Likewise, Dez and the Modernaires are really just fillers. Further down the talent tree are the Apollonia 6, who’s greatest talent seems to be their bodies. Since there are only three members the 6 comes from the number of breasts, which should tell you something about the quality of their singing. Apollonia's own singing career didn't last much longer, as Prince realized she didn't have much of a voice.

Morris Day leads the Time on stage.

The film suffers from many ailments, including a rather thin plotline and a lack of motivation for its characters. The father beats his wife and then shots himself, but besides mother keeping a messy house, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for the father’s behavior. If he’s a mean drunk, that’s never made clear. The only professional actors in the film, Olga Karlatos and Clarence Williams III (remember Link from the old TV series The Mod Squad), seem somewhat wasted here. Karlatos, who gets higher billing than Williams, doesn’t really have that many lines of dialogue.

Clarence Williams III is somewhat underused in Purple Rain.

And say what you will about Prince’s versatility, acting was not his strong suit. His The Kid character comes off as a narcissistic asshole to nearly everyone, including his band mates, the club manager and his girlfriend. He regularly performs one show gigs, which is no way to create a career, doesn’t let his bandmates have any say in the music they play, he pulls the old get on my bike joke with Apollonia and actually slaps her across the face when she says something he doesn’t like. Not a wonderful guy. For a performer, he comes off surprisingly stiff in front of the camera when he’s not on stage.

Blame it on the director, Albert Magnoli, who worked for Prince, that characters seem to react without motivation or get messages that as a viewer I’m not really sure are there. As when Prince sings “Darling Nikki,” Apollonia knows it’s meant as an assailment against her. I know that because she reacted like it was, but given the types of songs Prince was known for playing, this one, about a woman masturbating in public, didn’t seem like it was that much out of line with the rest of his oeuvre nor aimed at Apollonia because she was seeing someone else. Maybe it's me.

The Kid’s family life story seems totally superfluous, as if showing trouble at home would give the story more depth. There really isn’t enough of it to make it worth all the screen time it has. The original concept apparently called for a darker story, so maybe this is left over plot, at least that's how it plays.

Purple Rain is the film that many have turned to following Prince’s death. The film came back to theaters for a limited run and was shown for free by the Minnesota Twins at their stadium in honor of the town’s favorite son. While it is certainly his best film it is honestly not a great movie. It is worth seeing for any Prince fan, that’s for sure. His performances are for the most part very engaging and would be worth the price of admission. But if you’re looking for a great story to go along with the music you will be disappointed.

Perhaps Prince’s memory is best served by what he was known for, his music.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Stubs - Rush Hour


Rush Hour (1998) Starring Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tom Wilkinson, Chris Penn, Elizabeth Pena. Directed by Brett Ratner. Screenplay by Jim Kouf, Ross LaManna. Produced by Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman, Arthur M. Sarkissian. Color. USA. Run time: 97 minutes. Comedy, Action, Thriller, Crime

Sometimes you come by a movie for odd reasons. One recent Saturday evening, after seeing a matinee of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder at the Ahmanson Theater, we went to Chinatown to take a look around and to have dinner. We ended up dining at Foo Chow, which proudly declares on the side of their building that Rush Hour was shot there.

After a delicious dinner, we decided to check out Rush Hour, a film I must admit to avoiding when it was first released, when we got home and found the movie was available to watch.

The story begins on July 1, 1997, the last day of British rule in Hong Kong. Detective Inspector Lee of the Hong Kong Police Force (Jackie Chan) leads a raid at a shipping bar wharf, looking for numerous Chinese cultural treasures that are being smuggled out of the country by a mysterious crime lord called Juntao. While the raid is successful, he finds Juntao’s right-hand man, Sang (Ken Leung), who manages to escape.

Lee makes his announcement to Solon Han (Tzi Ma), the Chinese Consul, at a farewell dinner with the departing British Commander Thomas Griffin (Tom Wilkinson). Han is also about to be named the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, stationed in Los Angeles. Han’s young daughter, Soo Yung (Julia Hsu), has a special relationship with Lee and on his way out, talks to him about moving to LA. He tells her that everything will be all right.

Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) informs the Chinese Consul,
Solon Han (Tzi Ma), about the seizure of stolen items.

Turns out, he appears to be right. She seems to be happy when she gets into the limo that will take her to her first day of school, even singing to the English-language pop song on the radio. But she doesn’t make it to school. Her limo is re-routed and then ambushed. While her bodyguards are shot and killed by Sang in a Los Angeles Police uniform, Soo runs. But Sang must have anticipated that, since a man on a motorcycle rides by and scoops her up.

Soo Yung (Julia Hsu), who has no idea she's about to be kidnapped, sings
 out loud along with the radio much to her bodyguards' chagrin.

FBI agents Russ (Mark Rolston) and Whitney (Rex Linn) inform Consul Han about the incident and while he appreciates their help, he insists on calling in Lee to help with the case, reminding the FBI that he and his daughter are Chinese citizens. The FBI has no interest in having a foreign interloper hanging around and decide to have someone chaperone Lee around town and keep him out of their way and safe from harm. Feeling that it would be a waste for an agent to do it, they decide to outsource it to the LAPD.

LAPD detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) meets with FBI agents
Russ (Mark Rolston) and Whitney (Rex Linn) about his new assignment.

Enter James Carter (Chris Tucker), a reckless detective who doesn’t treat his would-be partner Detective Tania Johnson (Elizabeth Peña) with much respect. Carter likes to work alone and does so on an undercover case alone, arresting an arms dealer, Clive (Chris Penn), when he tries to sell him plastic explosives. While Carter makes the arrest, two LAPD officers end up being shot, one losing a pinky, and Carter explodes Clive’s car in the middle of Hollywood Blvd.

When the FBI call Captain Diel (Philip Baker Hall) looking for a patsy, he is more than happy to rid himself of Carter. Carter doesn’t realize this and thinks this is a big opportunity to finally work at the FBI, which is where he thinks he belongs. It is only after he leaves does he find out, via a call from the other officers, that he learns he’s been tricked. To show them, Carter decides to solve the case himself.

At LAX, Carter meets Lee’s plane and then proceeds to take him on a tour of Hollywood. But Lee wants to get to the consulate and manages to get away, even after Carter handcuffs him to his car’s steering wheel. Carter does track him down, having his car towed to the consulate.

Lee doesn't like the tour of Hollywood Carter is trying to take him on and tries to lose him.

Agent Russ is not happy with Carter and is reprimanding him when Sang calls. Carter answers the phone and arranges for a ransom of $50 million to be delivered in a couple of hours. Carter keeps Sang on the phone long enough for the police to trace the call to a warehouse. Even though Lee tries to warn them not to, the FBI sends a team of agents into the building. But it’s a trap and a bomb goes off with the agents nearby.

Lee sees Sang on the street nearby and takes chase. Thanks to Carter’s bungling, Sang manages to escape, but does drop a detonator on the way. Carter takes it to Johnson, who is training for the bomb squad. She helps them trace the detonator to Clive, who is still in custody. Lee guilt trips the hardened Clive into admitting he’s working for Juntao, whom he met at a restaurant in Chinatown, Foo Chow.

Carter's would be partner, Detective Johnson (Elizabeth Pena), is training to work on the bomb squad.

Carter and Lee go to Chinatown and case the restaurant. While they’re walking around, they finally bond, as they talk about their relationship with their fathers. They even get into braggadocio about their fathers who were also both policemen: Carter says his father once arrested 15 by himself; Lee counters that his arrested 25; Carter ups the ante: “My daddy once saved five crackheads from a burning building, by himself.” To which Lee says, “My daddy once caught a bullet with his bare hand.”

Lee and Carter bond while they're waiting in Chinatown.

Carter goes into Foo Chow alone, pretending he’s Juntao’s lawyer and demands to meet him. He’s taken upstairs, where he sees a surveillance video showing Juntao carrying Soo Yung into a van in the alley. But Sang has no plans to let him go and orders his men to kill him. Enter Lee, disguised as a waiter from the restaurant. He rescues Carter, but Sang once again gets away. But Carter and Lee don’t realize that they’ve ruined the drop, which was also supposed to take place at Foo Chow.

Lee comes to Carter's aid.

Tired of Carter’s meddling, they arrange to send Lee back to Hong Kong and Carter is sent back to the LAPD to be disciplined. But Carter has other plans. He contacts Johnson and asks for her help. Then disguised as an airplane mechanic, he gets onboard Lee’s plane and persuades him to help finish the case.

Meanwhile, Griffin, who has heard about the kidnapping, comes to see his old friend Han and offer his assistance. He also reveals more about the Hong Kong Police Department’s past relationship with the mysterious Juntao and his criminal syndicate.

Since the last ransom drop was blown, Sang has agreed for more money, but to be delivered at the opening of a Chinese art exhibition at the Los Angeles Convention Center. This is the same art Lee had recovered from Juntao at the beginning of the film.

Han and Griffin, for some reason, are at the lectern and Han has trouble, considering his daughter is still kidnapped, getting through the speech. Griffin takes over for him. Carter, Johnson and Lee are also there, disguised as guests.

Carter, Johnson and Lee arrive at the Chinese art exhibit.

Carter makes a show of telling the guests to leave for their own safety and many do. This, of course, angers the FBI, who are still putting together the payment in one of the upstairs offices. During the hubbub, Lee watches Griffin walk over to the bar and retrieve a remote detonator from Sang, who is dressed as a waiter.

Everyone finally recognizes that Griffin is in fact the mysterious crime boss Juntao. He threatens to detonate a bomb vest that Soo Yung is wearing. He wants the ransom money as compensation for all of the priceless artifacts that Lee and the Chinese government had taken from him.

While Griffin is talking, Carter manages to sneak out. Figuring that Soo Yung must be being kept nearby, he finds her in a van. He tries to get the vest off, but he can’t do it. Instead, Carter drives the van into the building and brings Soo within range of Griffin. If he detonates the bomb vest, he will die, too.

Johnson, using her training, manages to get the vest off of Soo Yung. Meanwhile, Griffin heads to the roof with the bag of money to rendezvous with an escape helicopter. Lee takes the vest and pursues Griffin up the interior scaffolding.

Carter goes after Sang and the two engage in a shootout, wherein Carter shoots Sang dead. Lee manages to catch Griffin just below the roof and the two get into a fight and end up dangling from the rafters. Griffin, holding onto the vest around Lee, falls to his death when the fabric of the vest breaks. The fall kills Griffin. But even without the weight of Griffin pulling him down, Lee is losing his grip. Before he falls, Carter manages to maneuver a banner under him and catch him safely.

Han and his daughter Soo Yung are finally reunited. As a reward, Han sends Carter and Lee on vacation together to Hong Kong. But before he leaves, Carter is offered a position with the FBI by Agents Russ and Whitney. While this would be a dream come true, Carter rudely refuses their offer due to their earlier mistreatment of both him and Lee. Carter gets on the airplane with Lee, who starts singing Edwin Starr's "War", annoying Carter.

When it was first released, Rush Hour had no guarantee for box office success. The project had been around for a while, originally in development at Hollywood Pictures and then Touchstone Pictures before ending up at New Line. At the time the film started shooting on December 1, 1997, its stars, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, were far from household names, even though they had been in films prior. But after the film made $140 million in the U.S. and another $104 million, there didn’t appear to be a bottom for either of their careers.

As a child, Chan would appear in several films, including Big and Little Wong Tin Bar (1962), The Love Eterne (1963) and Come Drink With Me (1966). Later, he studied at the China Drama Academy, a Peking Opera School run by Master Yu Jim-Yuen where he excelled at martial arts and acrobatics. During the early 1970s, Chan would use this prowess as a stuntman in Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973).

Chan working with Bruce Lee.

Interested in his work, Chan was contacted by Willie Chan, a Hong Kong producer, who starred the actor in a series of films including Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978) and Drunken Master (1978).  His first Hollywood film was The Big Brawl (1980) and he had a minor role in Cannonball Run (1981). After his film The Protector (1985) failed at the box-office, Chan concentrated on making films in Hong Kong where his career blossomed with such films as Police Story 2 (1988), Police Story 3: Super Cop (1992) and Drunken Master II (1994) and Police Story 4: First Strike (1996). Rush Hour would be Chan’s first big success in the United States. Just as it would be for his co-star Chris Tucker.

Tucker had only been in films for five years.  He got his start as a stand-up comedian, before moving into films with The Meteor Man (1993) and House Party 3 (1994). Earlier roles in Money Talks and The Fifth Element, both released in 1997, earned him nominations, but for the Razzie Awards as Worst New Star, not the sort of recognition most actors seek out. His appearance in Rush Hour would lead to Rush Hour 2 (2001) and Rush Hour 3 (2007), both co-starring Chan, but nothing in between.

While Chan would build on his newfound fame and continue to make films in both Hong Kong and Hollywood, Tucker didn’t. In fact, after Rush Hour 3, he dropped out of films before a supporting role in Silver Linings Playbook (2012). Not sure why he was absent from films for so long, but given the strength of his performance in that film, it seems a shame.

Even though Hollywood is courting the Chinese market and despite the recent television series remake, it's hard to imagine that Rush Hour would be made today. While I haven’t watched it, I doubt the series, in this day and age of Political Correctness, would include the same derogatory language that was admissible in 1998 would see the screen today without an R rating. Carter refers to Lee as “Chow Mein” and to other blacks as “nigga,” something that wouldn’t be allowed today without a lot of outcry and criticism.

Add to that, Carter’s treatment of officer Johnson as little more than a sex object. In the beginning, he doesn’t take her seriously and that’s not only because she’s a woman.

Carter: I don't want no partner, I don't need no partner and I ain't never gonna have no partner. Did Kojak have a partner?

But even when he does need her help he still asks her what colored panties she’s wearing. But while the Carter character doesn’t start out all that likeable, by the end of the film, he does seem to come around on all counts.

Chan’s Lee character is more likeable. He really only wants to do the right thing, which is help find Soo Yung. He is able to combine his obvious martial art skills with good comedic timing in stunts that seem in the vein of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. He seems unafraid to put himself in dangerous situations for the sake of the film.

He is a fish out of water and his knowledge of American culture is, at least to Carter’s taste, several decades behind the times. Carter likes the Beach Boys and the song War by Edwin Starr, which charted in 1970, almost three decades before our story. Lee tries to fit in, copying Carter’s actions, but gets into trouble when he asks a black bartender the same question Carter had, “Whassup, my nigga?”

For a comedy, I honestly can’t remember too many laugh out loud moments. Also, there is a lot of shooting and explosions, which are very suited to the cop drama it is at its core. It’s not that I didn’t like the film, but I don’t think it’s a great comedy.

Still, Rush Hour is a fun film to watch and, if you’re in the right mood, one I could recommend. If you’re, like me, unfamiliar with much of the work of Jackie Chan, then this is an Americanized introduction. If you want to watch some of his martial art films, then you’re on your own.

I’m not sure of how much of a rush, pardon the pun, I’m in to see the two sequels or the television series based on the film, which is, from what I understand, an episodic retelling of the film. Sometimes Hollywood doesn’t know how to leave a good idea alone.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Ratchet & Clank (2016) - The Game, Based On The Movie, Based On The Game


Tying in to the upcoming movie later this month, Insomniac has released a re-imagining of the original Ratchet & Clank game for PS2 for PS4 (or, as they dub it, “the game, based on the movie, based on the game”). This is not an HD remake of the original game or a complete reboot of the franchise, but rather it’s a game similar to the original, but done a little differently. On multiple levels, I was excited for this game, and, though there was a pre-order mishap, the game did not disappoint in any way.

The basic premise of the game is similar to that of the PS2 original, however there are some key differences. For one thing, as seen in movie trailers, Dr. Nefarious (Armin Shimerman) is also involved in the plot, and Ratchet’s (James Arnold Taylor) personality matches that of how it is starting from Going Commando (not a total jerk), and the plot seems to be influenced by this change in personality (not that I mind). However, as it is based on a movie that is also based on a game, it may spoil you on some events of the movie since some cutscenes are scenes from the movie; thankfully, it’s not the entire movie, but it does display key plot points. The game is also narrated by Captain Qwark (Jim Ward), since the framing device is him telling the story to an inmate while in prison (said inmate was also looking to play a Ratchet & Clank hologame based on a holofilm based on the events of the original Ratchet & Clank, leading Qwark to explain what really happened).

The gameplay is more in line with that of later Ratchet & Clank games, with the weapon options being a mix of the original game’s and those of later games, as well as some new ones, such as the Proton Drum. While you can use the Glove of Doom from the original game and the Warmonger from a later game, Mr. Zurkon and the Groovitron (my personal favorites) are also in this game, which can make things a lot easier. Some items from the original game, (including the Trespasser, Hydrodisplacer, and the Swingshot) are also tied to button prompts this time, which removes the hassle of juggling the items with the Quick Select. Raritanium is also (perhaps ironically) easier to come by compared to other games, as are Gold Bolts, which, when collected, unlock items in the Extras menu.


The Groovitron will even work on the Blargian Snagglebeast.

A new addition to the game is cards, which can be found either in packs or in singles by defeating enemies; completing sets of 3 can net you a bonus, and you can trade in duplicate cards for a new card. In addition, there is a special set of 9 R.Y.N.O. cards, which you will need to obtain the R.Y.N.O. rather than having to have an unreasonable amount of Bolts (which are also much easier to come by). The cards themselves feature characters and locations spanning across the entire (canon) history of Ratchet & Clank, and flipping over the card tells you more information about what is depicted, including its game of origin. This alone adds a good amount of replay value, as I am currently (as of this writing) in the process of collecting all the cards.

The graphics of the game are simply amazing, coming close to the actual movie coming out and displaying the potential of the PS4; though the original game is from two console generations prior, the difference between it and this new game is like night and day. The music of the game is also good, with at least some tracks being new versions of tracks from the original game’s soundtrack along with some new flavor to match the game’s different tone. The experience from returning voice actors (James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Jim Ward, Armin Shimerman) really shines through in their respective characters, and is quite possibly some of their best work in the series yet. Returning villains Chairman Drek and Victor Von Ion are voiced by new actors, turning in good performances that work better for this new interpretation as well as doing amazing impressions of their voice actors from the movie; Drek is voiced in the movie by Paul Giamatti, which can be heard in some of the movie clips, though Eric Bauza performs well as Drek to the point that I thought it was Giamatti; similarly, Mark Silverman as Victor Von Ion does a spot-on impression of the character’s VA in the movie, Sylvester Stallone, to where I could not tell the difference. 

This re-imagined Ratchet & Clank is a perfect jumping-on point to the Ratchet & Clank franchise. It feels just like a Ratchet & Clank game should, plus it manages to feel fresh in the process of going back to the series’ roots. It seems to slightly date itself though with an offhand mention of social media and hashtags in one moment (in the context of Gadgetron Headquarters trying to get good word on their products), but the game itself is overall fun in spite of that, especially with the addition of the card-collecting mechanic. As mentioned above, I give fair warning in that it might spoil the major events of the upcoming movie the game is based on, though I still look forward to seeing the movie regardless. Made for the 15th Anniversary, this game clearly shows how much Insomniac cares for its IP, and I hope they continue to treat Ratchet & Clank right going forward.