Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Karate Kid (2010)

Hmm... The Karate Kid (1984) wasn't exactly a movie begging to be remade, refreshed or rebooted. In a way, it was perfect all by itself. No, I'm not kidding. Think about it - the story had a good beginning, middle and end. The karate tournament was a great climax. It didn't need one sequel, much less two, and certainly not a Hilary Swank gender-bending semi-sequel (which I didn't bother to see, truth be told). And who can forget the catch phrases? "Wax on, wax off," "Daniel-san," "Sweep the leg," "Balance."

Which brings us to the modern The Karate Kid. It's got problems but let's start with the good parts - there aren't as many. China has never looked better. The ending, when you're expecting the kid to do what Daniel-san did to win the 1984 tourney, he does something else - and it's cooler! I doubt that even Nastia Liukin is flexible enough to pull off the stunt without special effects, but it's still cool.

Now the bad. It's too farging long - two hours, 14 minutes. It was produced by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett, and stars their 12-year-old son, Jaden. Nepotism usually not good in a merit-based business. Young Mr Smith is not quite up to carrying a movie yet. China financed the movie, which explains the extra 45 minutes - it's partly a tourism video.

And the inappropriateness, as in, a lot of stuff set off my "whoa" detector. The 12-year-old kid has a romance, at least the beginning of one. That's a bit young. The 12-year-old girlfriend did a dirty dance that gave me the willies. The modern Miyagi character, Jackie Chan, saves the kid from a beating by 13-year-olds. A 60-year-old guy beating up a bunch of kids who can't yet drive. Yikes! The physical transformation that the kid goes through in a few weeks of training -that can't be good for a growing boy. And finally, the bad-guy coach instructing his students to permanently injure a 12-year-old kid. That just made me queasy.

My advice? Rent the original 1984 The Karate Kid and enjoy the campiness.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

The A-Team

Shoot 'em up-porn at a high level, The A-Team is thoroughly enjoyable as a stand-alone movie or as an homage to the TV series, which last aired 23 years ago (23 years!). It's all tongue-in-cheek, as it should be, with plenty of gunfire, explosions, and wisecracks.

The casting was spot on, with Liam Neeson being a carbon copy of George Peppard's Hannibal Smith, maybe even better, given the magic of hindsight and a $100 million budget. Pretty boy Bradley Cooper provides comic relief and serious action chops when needed as Faceman, but I still picture him as Sydney's friend on Alias and the chef on Kitchen Confidential. It took me a few minutes to recognize Sharlto Copley as Murdock. Not a household name, he was the guy rounding up aliens in 2009's District 9. They covered up his South African accent by having him do funny accents from around the world. Only an overthinker like me would notice.

The plot is a throw-away, providing a minimal structure for the next stunt. There were a plethora of villains and they all were pretty good, with very little dipping into caricature (When the heroes are escapees from military prisons, at some point, everyone is a bad guy so it pays to have good ones). The interlocking of bad guys from the Army, CIA and Blackwater was a bit confusing until I remembered that I didn't care, then the movie was totally enjoyable thereafter.

I have a quibble, of course. The hot, talented and hot Jessica Biel plays an Army Intel officer (and Face's ex) who leads the manhunt for the A-Team Her name is Charisa Sosa Yes, Charisa with an 'h' and a missing 's.' Shouldn't her name have been 'Decker?' Or maybe Amy Allen? Everything else was spot on, why mess up her name?


Monday, June 7, 2010


Katherine Heigl is perhaps the bravest woman in the history of female vanity.  Killers opens with an extreme close-up of Heigl's face.  So close you can count her pores and if she had any blemishes, well...  I was both impressed and a little spooked.

Killers is pretty much exactly what the commercials promise.  Ashton Kutcher plays a former spy who didn't tell his wife what he did for a living before they met.  It's a very funny movie because it takes itself - and the audience seriously - but starts to fray in the third half, when they try to force some humor.  The great chemistry between Heigl and Kutcher is worth the price of admission.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

May Amnesty

Writing up reviews in a timely fashion doesn't seem to be my strong suit, yet I hate to have seen a movie and not give you the benefit of my experience. So, mainly to help you during your home video grazing, here are some moves I've seen lately. This will allow me to start out June with a clean slate.

Letters to Juliet

Highly recommended for chick-flick lovers (like me)

A Romance with a capital 'R.'  Amanda Seyfried, who is in danger of being typecast as the spunky, intelligent romantic lead is perfect as a young woman who stumbles on a program sponsored by the city of Verona, answering letters that the lovelorn send to Shakespeare's Juliet.  She gets involved in the life of a girl who sent her letter over 55 years earlier.

Being a film influenced heavily, and overtly, by Romeo and Juliet, they couldn't resist putting in a balcony scene towards the end. It feels like the unnecessary gag it is, but fortunately is over quickly.  The rest of the film is pretty spot-on.

Letters to Juliet is a gorgeous film, shot mostly in Italy and with a warm light that makes every vista and landscape look like a renaissance painting.  I had a little trouble liking the male lead at first, but that might be because he was playing the standoffish but redeemable jerk character.  The actor was played by Christopher Egan, which is a swell name but of no significance to the movie, only to people with my last name.


Just Wright

Decent, more romance than romantic comedy

Queen Latifah plays a physical therapist who rehabs the knee of a star NBA player and they end up falling for each other. That's not a spoiler - you'll know that within the first five minutes of the movie. It's HOW they get to the end that is important and Just Wright works pretty well.  There are points where the movie can't decide if it's a romance, romantic comedy or sports movie but it gels fairly well.


Hot Tub Time Machine


With a name like Hot Tub Time Machine, you can't really take the movie seriously, but it's a serious comedy. There's plenty of laughs, some from characters, costumes, good set-ups and, of course, some cringe-worthy body-function jokes.


The Losers

Unbelievably enjoyable

The Losers is a cliche-fest, with caricatures, not characters, fill-in-the-blank dialog and a plot so stupid it was probably written by using a dartboard and keywords.

But with all that, hear me clearly: The Losers is one of the most enjoyable shoot 'em up, blow 'em up movies you will ever see.  It is Zen with its brainlessness, and in that unencumbrance, finds its genius.


The Runaways

I gave you a pre-view of The Runaways three months ago. I was afraid that the movie would be simplified and scrubbed. Nope. It was down and dirty, and even the film stock was a little grainy. Based on a book by Cherie Currie and with Joan Jett as Executive Producer, they hid from nothing.

I generally liked the movie, especially the way Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart inhabited their real-life characters, but you could tell the film-makers cut a lot out at the screenplay stage and even more in editing.  Case in point, third billing went to Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development, Whip It!). Alia is becoming a go-to actress for young supporting roles, yet, in The Runways, she had literally one sentence of dialog.  I can see how she might take a smaller roll to work with Stewart and Fanning, but her roll had to be bigger when they started. Snip.

A decent character movie and the music isn't bad, either.


Green Zone

A good companion piece to The Hurt Locker, but different in focus. Green Zone is more of a geo-political thriller confined to a small geo. Matt Damon is in full Jason Bourne mode as an Army officer chasing down WMDs and then chasing evidence of a conspiracy, but the movie is a little late to the party. All you have to do is look at a newspaper to realize that no one is being prosecuted for starting the Iraqi occupation under false pretenses - the movie's conspiracy - so you kind of have to enjoy modern war movies for their own sake to truly enjoy Green Zone.


The Ghost Writer

They don't make many movies like The Ghost Writer these days. It's filled with smart, believable characters and has a labyrinthine plot that kept me wondering where it was going. Plus, it's in my contract that I have to like anything with Olivia Williams in it.

One downside is that The Ghost Writer was directed by Roman Polanski, which I didn't know going in. I've often said that I don't care what entertainers do in their off time as long as they give me a quality entertainment product. Well, I guess I've discovered that statutory rape in a guy's off time makes me queasy. Good movie, though.


Oh, and another thing.  Polanski still owes me $5.00 and 143 minutes of my life back for a piece of crap called The Pianist.  I watched it on March 1, 2003, and I'm still annoyed at how bad that movie was.