Reviews

The Spirit

The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) lives in a dark, superficial, and exceedingly familiar place.


The Spirit

Director: Frank Miller
Cast: Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Paz Vega, Scarlett Johansson, Dan Lauria, Samuel L. Jackson
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Lionsgate
First date: 2008
UK Release Date: 2009-01-01 (General release)
US Release Date: 2008-12-25 (General release)
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You're bleeding out of your head.

-- Ellen (Sarah Paulson)

The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) lives in a dark, superficial, and exceedingly familiar place. Yet another graphic novel domain dumped onto the big screen, his city is, he says, "Always there for me. Every lonely night, she's there for me." He's just getting started: "She's my sweetheart, my plaything. She doesn't hide what she's made of, the sweat and blood of generations."

Though he doesn't actually know much about these previous denizens, or really how the city was constructed, the Spirit likes to celebrate his relationship with the place per se. His affection for it precludes soul-searching questions, like how he came to be unkillable, though this serves as the mostly prosaic mystery at The Spirit's center. "My city screams for me," he pronounces, "She is my love, she is my life, and I am her spirit."

And yadda yadda. The Spirit not only lives in a city he sees as a she, he is also surrounded by women, all eager to support him in whatever ways he needs. They show up regularly to be menaced by rapists and thugs so he might save them (thus providing the screams that make him feel manly), as well as to provide flirtatious distractions. When, as happens regularly, the Spirit is damaged in a tussle with a villain, he heads down to the hospital, where he's patched up by the lovely and devoted doctor, Ellen (Sarah Paulson). He tells her that she's special, and she claims to know his body better than anyone. Err, her father, Dolan (Dan Lauria), who also happens to be the police chief, notes that other women know that body pretty well, but Ellen's all starry-eyed and loyal, not to mention shapely and red-lipped, like any good comic book girlfriend. And so she sticks with her superhero, even if he's not inclined to commit in kind.

When Ellen does voice her frustration, she aims it as the Spirit's inexplicable body. "What are you?" she cries, following an especially bloody outcome. Yeah, well, he says in the ensuing voice-over to no one in particular, it's a good question. "Am I a crazy man or am I a man at all? Am I some sort of ghost, some sort of flying Dutchman?" Hmmm. Maintaining one of those non-secret secret identities -- he wears a teeny but probably cool-looking black mask over his nose -- he doesn't let Ellen know that he was once a cop, with a "real name." Killed in action and buried by a grieving cohort, he remembers -- in nightmarish flashbacks -- clawing his way out of his grave but not quite how or why.

Until this film begins, the Spirit has spent precious time pondering his preternatural resilience. Now, however, he 's wondering how he survives multiple bullet and knife wounds, not to mention brutal beatings, most dispensed by a set of bald, thick-necked clones (all played by Louis Lombardi, in a concept derived from Star Trek's Harry Mudd) as well as their criminal mastermind creator, the Octopus (Samuel Jackson). Hero and villain share a mutually abusive, competitive intimacy; as the Octopus puts it, "When me and the Spirit get together, we like to party all night." And by that he means, they beat each other silly with all available implements: "Toilets are always funny!" yelps the Octopus following an assault that's actually rather unfunny. "I'm gonna be the death of you," he insists during a less light-hearted moment, "I'm gonna kill you all kinds of dead."

The Octopus is encouraged in such pursuits by his own loyal vavoomy sidekick, Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson). Dressed variously as an oriental comfort girl and a Nazi dominatrix, Silken understands her place in the plot ("I'm great eye candy") but also has plans apart from her self-obsessed employer, who's increasingly determined to get his revenge on the Spirit while also assuring his status as the only unkillable freak in their deeply shadowed, sharply angled neighborhood. Silken, for her part, has no trouble walking out of the movie when it gets wearisome.

No one else is quite so self-possessed. The key to both men's immediate "issues," no surprise, is yet another woman with cleavage, Sand Saref (Eva Mendes). The Octopus needs something she has, and the Spirit carries something of a torch for her, owing to a childhood romance (during which she insisted she was not his girl, which might explain why he's so insistent on claiming every other girl -- including the feminized city -- as his). "I don't want your world," she protests during one of his self-pitying flashbacks, "I want diamonds and I want sports cars and I want gowns and I want money." To that end, she's becomes a glamorous jewel thief, and has come home only to pick up a package (a gleaming golden something in a suitcase, like the great whatsit in Kiss Me Deadly, just too awesomely beautiful to be shown on screen). Though she's a suspect in a couple of murders, the Spirit insists she can't possibly be the culprit. "You were warm, soft, 100% woman," he mutters in his increasingly tedious voiceover. "Your taste was first class all the way."

Except, perhaps, in her choice of boyfriends. Their inevitable reunion can't resolve the deeply conventional identity issues plaguing both the Spirit and Sand, but it does remind them of why they split up years ago. If only they had come to this realization 108 minutes earlier.

3

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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