Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Karate Kid

"Sweep the leg."

A Chinese handy man agrees to teach an American boy who's become the target of bullies how to defend (and discover) himself through martial arts.

What's the only thing more unexpected than an enjoyable 80's remake? Unlike The A-Team, my knowledge of The Karate Kid is extensive and
seen through the warm fuzzy filter of a happy childhood memory. Just like The A-team, I went into The Karate Kid open to anything, but expecting very little- and came out quite surprised. So, what's the only thing more unexpected than an enjoyable 80's remake? Two in a row. But this one does much more to earn my acclaim than manage not to be bad, it seems it may very well have managed to bottle the lighting.

They would have you believe this is a whole new movie. 'The familiar is gone! This isn't just a remake, it's a reinvention!' they say. But that, my friends, is a filthy lie. Gone are Daniel and Mr. Miyagi, it's true. And a move fr
om New Jersey to California has become a one from Detroit to China. Under these very obvious changes, however, is a remake that spiritually follows the original with a nigh unheard of faithfulness. I would guess that Director Harald Zwart is a fan of the 1984 motion picture, he certainly handles the material like one.

While small the cast is strong, going out of their way to carry scenes that- in true Karate Kid fashion- are so completely full of sentiment that you wonder how they fit anything else in the frame. Of all the leads, Jackie Chan seems to be having the most fun. He plays the curmudgeon Mr. Haan so well that had I never seen him smile before, I'd probably believe that he never had. He manages to arrive at the end of the film with the audiences love deservedly heaped upon him. Conversely, Taraji Henderson is both spot-on and all but wasted, as
she is far to often. She reaps her revenge when she snaps up one of the biggest laughs of the movie.

As Dre (Daniel) Parker, Jaden Smith proves many things, one of them unfortunately being that he lacks his father's flare for comedy. Fed line after line of genuinely funny material (perhaps even at Will Smith's behest; He and mother Jada Pinkett Smith produced), Jaden struggles to deliver- shining instead in moments of high drama. That he can stand toe to toe with Henderson and hold up his end of the scene is enough to prove that. Even with out the laughs Jaden Smith proves himself here, showing his first and very impressive flashes of leading man material.

I will admit that Kung Fu is far more beautiful than Karate in my eyes, and this film only reinforces my belief. Add that to rather impressive fight choreography and you have one place I would easily choose the new over the old. But unlike Avildsen's original outing, Zwart wastes most of his beautiful martial arts on camera work that makes it all but moot. I often found myself wishing I could see what was going on but the shots given were tight and stifling, leaving me to imagine that something cool must have happened rather than actually letting me see it for myself. This alone comes up far short of what it would need to hurt the over all experience, but still- it's a lesson directors need to learn.

Something Zwart does very well, however, is balance the obvious cultural inferences of location and cast. He manages to impress upon the audience a sense of China's majesty and culture, without making the movie feel like a public service announcement, and at the same time, managing to side step pot holes full of stereo-types. In terms of race, Zwart gets the viewer to at once stare at it, and pay it no mind; no easy feat. The truth is that boiled down this is a story where a gang of Chinese kids repeatedly attacks the only black kid in the movie, just as the original pitted our dark haired, olive skinned "hero" against an Aryan main "villain". The story could easily be lost here in the wrong hands. But amid a myriad of moments reminding you that these are young men who are not devoid of conscience (just as in the original:"I'm sorry David, I'm sorry!"), Zwart keeps the focus where it belongs, (re)weaving instead a tale about the affect teachers have on their pupils, for better or for worse.

So, does the new Karate Kid work? Well, I saw it more than a week after i
t was released, early on a Sunday afternoon- and the house was still near full. In the audience were Karate kid veterans and new comers alike, all of which burst into cheers and applause at the end of that fated martial arts tournament. I will freely admit that this was easily the most uplifting movie I've seen in theaters in a long, long time- but I wouldn't pin it all on Zwart and company. I think that the success of The Karate Kid is not as much about the fine movie Zwart has crafted as it is a reflection of the universally accessible story it's built around. The same thing that made the original a classic for my generation, will very likely earn it the same treatment for this one.

The Reel Deal Recommends:
Rumble in the Bronx: A Jackie Chan must see.
Smokin' Aces: Far too little of Henderson in a great action meal.
The Pursuit of Happyness: A great victory story starring Smith Sr. and Jr.

I just thought this picture was hilarious.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A review of the A-Team, from someone who knows next to nothing about the series.

"I love that show! ...Is that the one with the genie?"

A covert operations team searches for answers after they're convicted of a crime they didn't commit.

My entire awareness of The A-Team as a television series is having it's theme song memorized from when I was a little kid and my father would fall asleep with the T.V. on. He wasn't watching The A-Team, mind you; he was watching old Mission Impossible episodes. But after back to back burning fuses that red and black van would come roaring into view- and I would again be bored to tears. And there you have it, everything I know about The A-Team. Luckily, as a motion picture it manages to be a bit more memorable.

Through what may very well be one of the longest opening sequences in action movie history we are re/introduced to our team members: Hannibal, Face, Murdock, and B.A. Baracus- played by Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copely and Quinton Jackson, respectively. All find there way to shine -even Jackson, who's no Oscar winner but proves impressive for a U.F.C. Title-holder-turned-actor. The most interesting performance is, by far, Copely's. More important than the fact that it's highly entertaining, this role serves as elegant proof that his spectacular debut in last years hit District 9 was far from a fluke.

That the characters are the whole reason for this movie is a fact that shines like a beacon from it's first moment to the roll of the credits. No matter how over the top the action- and believe me, it's over- the people manage not to get lost in the shuffle, er, explosions. This I attribute to director Joe Carnahan, who proved with his well crafted actioner Smokin' Aces, and the dark and gritty Narc, that he's well aware action is no substitute for story- even if it's only enough story to justify the aforementioned action. The A-team manages to never come up short on booms, while still keeping us interested in the people behind them. No easy feat.

A television adaptation is tricky buisness -I think we've all seen how bad they can go (*cough* My Favorite Martian *cough*)-and while the The A-team is well done, it's far from innocent. Listening to Jackson drop 'Fool' after 'Fool' while desperately trying not to sound like Mr. T gets old very fast, though in his defence the plot takes care of that soon after. It's almost like the writers knew they couldn't get away with leaving something like that out, so they got it all out of the way right off the bat and then never looked back. Other Series throw-backs are delivered with more subtlety, and spaced across the film so as not to arouse too much suspicion, a fact I am very thankful for.

The A-team offers little to challenge the mind, it's true. But why would it? This movie is meant to be a good time, and in this it succeeds. I was in for a very big surprise when I sat down in my seat, and for what it's worth The A-Team gets my vote for best "Summer Blockbuster" yet this year... And I'd just like to mention how much I did not expect to be saying this. I have my doubts about how long it could manage to hold on to the title with so many heavy-hitters yet to hit the field, but for now it's in the lead. Whether it's short lived as king of the hill or not, The A-Team is back and, as far as I'm concerned, better than ever. But then, how could I hate it with Major Dad on the roster.

Reel Deal Recommends:
(I tried to walk away from this section but my heart just couldn't let go)
Darkman: Liam Neeson in a movie worth watching if only to have seen it.
Midnight Meat Train: Cooper and Jackson star; Oddity makes it worthy.
District 9: If you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Get Him to the Greek

"It kind of reminded me of a dark, gothic, Neil Diamond."

A meek record company intern is tasked with corralling an outrageous British rock star and delivering him to a show that could single-handedly make both of their careers.

By now we all know what you do when you assume... But all the same I have to admit some assumptions that I made. When I first found out about Get Him to the Greek and realized that the rock star in question was none other than Aldous Snow, the fictional mega music star from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I made my first assumption: That Jason Segel wrote this movie as well. I've made no secret of my love of Segel's work, so under this assumption- my excitement piqued. Though Segel co-produced, I soon discovered that it was in fact written by Nicholas Stoller, who directed both movies. It was here, in my fan-boy-esque disappointment, that I made my second assumption: That because it was not written by Segel, it wouldn't be nearly as funny.

And that children, is why we don't assume. Though it can't come through on the same amount of poignant moments, I don't think Get Him to the Greek was ever supposed to. Stoller's goal is obvious and simple: pipe as much unadulterated Aldous Snow into the audiences face as possible, and give him a straight man side-kick to balance out the diet. This is exactly what he does- and he does it well. "Over the top" seems like a a misdiagnosis here. I would say instead that this movie was made under the assertion that there is no top.

This spiritual sequel follows in the footsteps of it's predecessor, lampooning the entertainment industry and celebrity culture. Not only does it knowingly jab at the ridiculous lives we encourage our celebrities to lead, but also how out of hand the pop music industry as grown. At one point we hear the "album version" of Infant Sorrow's track 'Let's Get Fucked', and then the radio version: 'Let's Have Fun'. These are the sort of jokes that work the best for me- and Get Him to the Greek is full of them.

As a straight man, Jonah Hill shows he still works, letting Brand and Elisabeth Moss -and in one scene my beloved Colm Meaney- dominate him, to hilarious result. While this is a chain of impressively strong links, by far the most surprising performance comes from Sean Combs (I'm sorry, I just don't think I can seriously refer to a grown man as 'Diddy'), who manages to turn what one might think is going to be a cameo into a decent (in rapper-turned-actor terms that reads: 'Oscar Worthy') and entertaining performance. The entire movie quickly becomes Jonah Hill's character in front of a firing squad, and as it turns out- all the rifleman are crack shots.

My biggest complaints come in the form of the transitions. While all of the set-pieces are hilarious, the set-ups aren't always that strong. At times you can feel the movie struggle to get to where you know it wants to be. It's kind of like a child sledding- getting back to the top of the hill can be grueling, but the pay off is worth it. The bigger the hill, the better the ride, the worse the set up. And then there's the fact the vomit money-shots still just aren't funny to me. I'm starting to feel like maybe I'm the only one... But neither of these things is enough to ruin the movie, especially since the vomit humor is pretty short-lived.

Get Him to the Greek is not a movie for everyone, this much I know. I think the simplest way to tell whether your in or out would be to think back. If you thought Aldous Snow was a hilarious secondary character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, then this movie could be right up your alley. If even in the background he was still a bit much for you, or just plain wasn't funny, then I can't imagine Russel Brand sans collar and leash is something you should bother spending your money on. As for me, I laughed loud, and I laughed often. With a movie like this I think that has to be enough.

Watcher X says: "That was ridiculous... They did everything right."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Video Five!!

No, you didn't mis-read the title. The Video Five!! is an idea I've been batting around for a while now. So when the subject Impressive Eaters came around (inspired by an odd dream I had a couple weeks back) it seemed like the kind of list that was better seen in action than explained in text. And so here we are, five of my favorite gastrically talented beasties.

This is a first attempt so please, be gentle. And while I will definitely be doing more in the future, this is not a complete over haul of Five!! in general. Most will continue to come to you in the standard text/image form. But every once in a while, with a particularly apt subject...

Viewer Warning: It wasn't until I really got into making this Five!! that I realized just how much the subject lends itself to gore. While not pervasive, there are certainly a handful of gruesome images within the following video. If your the sort who lacks the intestinal fortitude for such imagery please refrain from watching, and I promise I'll make it up to you with a more universal topic in the next Video Five!! My apologies.

Honorable Mentions:
The Glutton, Se7en
While certainly a rather impressive eater, he dies in the end because he is unable to stomach his meal. Most unimpressive in my opinion.

Devastator, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Quality of the movie aside, his intake is quite impressive. However, not only does he not swallow the massive amount of sand he hoovers in (distributing it from vents in his back instead), but the one time he does actually try to "eat" something, he not only can't swallow it, but gets a hole in his face for the trouble.

So what do you think, did I miss any of your favorite buffet masters? Sadly after I completed the video I realised that I had left out one of the most impressive eaters of all, The Blob! *Sigh,nobody's perfect.

Monday, June 7, 2010


"We can keep her."

Two cutting edge geneticists attempt a final experiment before the autonomy of their lab is reascended, and knowingly open Pandora's box.

Perhaps the first thing I should write in this review is a warning: If you plan on seeing this movie but haven't yet, do not read this or any other review before doing so. Now let the review begin.

The trailers are telling you that Splice is just waiting to to be the next Alien, a horror thriller that will keep you up at night with fear of what's crawling through your air ducts. The trailers are lying to you. What your in for with Splice is a much more mental (and disturbing) experience. One that's razor sharp in every form of the word.

At it's core, Splice is a story about the appalling things we're capable of doing to those whom we deem less than human. Layered on top, is a subtly and expertly navigated exploration of at times enviable and at times dark as night family dynamics. Behind all of this is Director Vincenzo Natali, who co-wrote with Antionette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor, looking every line he comes to dead on before happily crossing them. As a result Splice is a double-edged sword: the very qualities that will win it critical praise, will almost certainly cost it hearts and minds in theater.

Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody burn bright as the scientist in question, holding little back. They alone are the pieces that keep the movie together when it looses it's footing occasionally as it moves along. The entire movie is left to them to sell, even in the midst of it's longest reaches, and they come through time and time again.

The film plays like an Indy film, which is closer to what it was meant to be before it was (surprisingly) picked up for major distribution- something that Producer Guillermo del Toro had a hand in no doubt. As I said before, there is only the slightest hint of a traditional monster movie here- despite veiled references to Shelly's Frankenstein. But, on second thought, Frankenstein may be a good comparison as it too comes from a source that means only to explore the concept of humanity but gets boiled down to popcorn fair.

Unfortunately, one thing Splice has in common with it's jump-scare brethren is that it is much stronger in theory than in execution. Looking beyond the screen it's easy to see Natali's vision. It seems at times that he is too lost in it to remember to show it to us. I'm not one for having my hand held- but there are times where it feels like Natali forgot to tell us something. The info is there, it's not like the movie is broken, but at the same time it seems it would have served itself better with a little more explanation in places.

Even lacking the manufactured thriller elements in the trailers, Splice is still not a movie for the timid. The emotionally skittish need not apply, and if your not sure whether that means you- then it does. That it's a thing unlike most others goes without saying, and one can only hope that it earns enough money to tell the studios that the general public is ready for movies this smart. For all it's faults, Splice is still a beautiful, and horrible, creation.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Role Call

In my ongoing quest to find more reasons to discuss long past titles, Role Call is a perfect organism. Put simply, it is a feature where I will randomly recommend a movie based on a particular actor's/actresses' part there in. These roles will rarely be said persons "best" role, if only because it seems to me that "best" roles are often pretty obviously agreed upon- and therefore no fun to recommend to people. They will simply be roles I found interesting or that stuck with me for any variety of reasons. Sounds simple right? Excellent, lets get started!

With my recent panning of Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, I have found myself thinking about Russell Crowe's career, and the movie that his name always brings me back to. So for that reason, I figure what better choice for the inaugural post of Role Call.

The Role: Sid 6.7
The Reel: Virtuosity
The Reason: That Virtuosity is far from a spectacular movie goes without argument. Released in 1995 around what seemed to be the height of the low-light virtual reality buzz, it's premise is as most mid-90's sci-pop was: Complicated in explanation only.

In hopes of developing a new way to train law enforcement agents, The Law Enforcement Technology Advancement Center (yup, that's what they called it) creates a virtual world in which said agents could train against Sid 6.7, a virtual entity developed from the minds of more than 150 serial killers. While system is being beta tested on prison inmates, Sid escapes into the real world via a super powered android body. The only hope of catching him is ex-cop turned inmate Parker Barnes, who was the only inmate to ever catch him, and has his own score to settle with one of the killers inside Sid.

Sid 6.7 is certainly not Russell Crowe's best role (There are two I might choose for that honor, but I don't really feel a need to decide as he was nominated for an Oscar for both), but it's in interesting one in that it's a type of character we never really saw him play again: the over-the-top psychotic caricature. Though Sid 6.7 certainly can't hold a candle to the late Heath Ledger's Joker or even, (much) further down the scale, Wesley Snipe's Simon Phoenix from Demolition Man (a movie that Virtuosity is very reminiscent of), the role is enough to convince me that an older more experienced Crowe could take another of it's kind to the top.

Beyond Sid 6.7 Virtuosity is still a bit of a curious beast. It speaks to the time it was made in that not only is Denzel Washington's the only name to appear before the Title, Crowe's isn't even the first to come up after. This is a much different scenario then when they'd meet again in Ridley Scott's American Gangster twelve years later and theirs would be the only names on the poster. The movie is also rife with beloved B-list actors like William Forsythe, Louise Fletcher, Costas Mandylor and Willam Fichtner... Just to name a few. Most of which are looking rather baby-faced, just like Crowe and Washington.

In short, if your looking for a new favorite movie to push on all your friends, Virtuosity is not it. But if your looking for an interesting way to kill an hour and forty minutes (and win your next game of six degrees of separation) then Virtuosity is your movie. Whether it be all that, or just to pad your Russell Crowe portfolio, consider checking out Virtuosity.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Please Give

"She knew what she didn't want however, and it was exactly what Vicky valued above all else."

The grand daughters of a woman who's health is in decline make nice with the family that owns her rental.

I was impressed with the honesty of Please Give. To me it seemed full of accurate representations of the tiny scenes that play out in our lives everyday. Moment after moment hit my as accurate and uncontrived, and that in and of itself is one of the biggest compliments I can give.

Please Give was written and Directed by Nicole Holofcener, the same mind that brought us Friends With Money, and various episodes of Six Feet Under. And when I sat down to write this review I realized that just like with both the aforementioned titles, I enjoyed Please Give because of it's willingness to attempt a landing on subjects that are as common place as they are hard to define. Holofcener is not an editing visionary by any means, but she wields subtlety with skill and ease. Her dry production style is easily made up for by the delicious angles she shows us our own lives from.

Please Give is a movie that brings with it a great deal of laughs. But the laughs are born of realistic social awkwardness (did you hear that Wes Anderson? REALISTIC social awkwardness) more than delivered punchlines. An old woman sees her next door neighbor, and truthfully declares that he's gained weight since they last meant. You laugh because if you were in the situation you'd realize that you had no choice but to do just that- laugh.

Here is another place where Holofcener strikes a vital blow. Please Give is a movie that explores our need for balance in our lives. Most specifically the balances between honesty and civility. Between graciousness and the avidity we have culturally for consumption. The themes swirl like smoke through every frame, never thick enough to obscure- never thin enough to ignore.

The always enjoyable Catherine Keener leads a spectacular cast through the highs and lows, putting yet another notch on her hit-and-miss cinematic belt. She plays a woman who takes and takes, and no matter how much she gives can't seem to strike an internal balance for it. On the opposite side is the glorious Rebecca Hall, who plays a woman who can't find the strength to stop giving, and take just a little for herself for a change. Together these two comprise the backbone of the film- to the delight of all in attendance.

Even with he obnoxious laugher in our theater, this film was a treat. It suffers occasionally in the pacing department, but never enough to fully take me out of it's world. Hilarious and occasionally powerful, seemingly with no effort at all. There is not much more one could ask of a simple movie like this. Please Give deserves a Thank You.

Reel Deal Recommends
Death to Smoochy: Keener in a pitch black and hilarious comedy.
The Prestige: Where Hall first stole my heart- I will never stop recommending this movie.