The Karate Kid (2010)

What sets this remake apart from The Karate Kid (1984) is the homage to past moviegoers who watched the original film.

I can recall watching the original Karate Kid numerous times in my house, my basement, my friends’ basements, etc. Not to mention the reenactments, and definitely not to mention the Nintendo game of the same name.

Apart from Goonies, ET, and Jaws, I can’t think of a more 80’s film than The Karate Kid.

I went to see the remake with a negative attitude as I usually approach any remake. However, I must have been softened by the enthusiasm of children. I am a hard, hard man after years of post-secondary education, harder than I would like to admit. I approach every source of enjoyment (TV, movies, books, magazines, the county fair, etc.) with a calloused, angered sense of criticism toward it’s underlying capitalist motives. However, a curious thing happened to me when I was watching this film: there were children in the audience who were loving it.

I admittedly have a heart of stone, but when my lovely niece is in the room, I abandon any sense of reason and enjoy trivial endeavors that I would never indulge in otherwise (such as building a Lego locomotive, or tossing a ball endlessly to a person with no hope of ever catching it). Such was the case with The Karate Kid.

There is no good reason to like this movie over the original, but the enthusiasm in the theater reminded me so much of my enthusiasm for the original that I couldn’t help but be engrossed. Yes, there are absurdities like the jumbotron at the finale of the karate tournament, and the laughable delivery by Jaden Smith (in Ralph Macchio’s character) which mimics his father much too closely; but I myself was moved by Jackie Chan’s performance as Pat Morita’s analogue. I’ll go beyond other reviews I’ve read and say that this is a breakout performance for the previous clown of martial arts films. A tour de force by Chan.

His performance was helped not in a small part by young Mr. Smith’s enthusiasm and (I suspect) stunt work and dedication to the physical aspects of the role, not to mention the fabulous settings in China (which I want to visit all the more) and the great work of the Chinese actors who played ancillary roles.

A criticism would be that Smith’s young love interest’s (Wenwen Han??….sorry, but IMDB does not have pics, and I saw the film yesterday, so I am guessing) subplot is never resolved. This is minor, but the engagement with Chinese culture could have surpassed just their kick ass martial arts skills.

If you have seen the original, I must recommend this film simply because the story is updated such that you will enjoy it again even though the outcome is obviously the same. As a rule, I roughly judge remakes, but this movie not only updated a classic story for a new generation but threw the savvy watcher enough bones to last through a theater of kids screaming over the sensational young actors in the film. I must say, I look forward to Jaden Smith’s career as an action star, so long as he is able to shake the obvious paternal acting tics he has acquired from his father.

8/10: catch it in your chopsticks!!

Avatar (2009)

Well, I have no real excuse for not seeing Avatar when it first came out this past year, but I’ll give you two. First, 3D films make me sick, literally; I’m unable to watch them, and someone told me not to see this film in 2D. Second, I was busy, or something, who can remember.

It was worth the wait for DVD and well worth watching in 2D despite what anyone says. The visuals are amazing, even if I don’t have a spear jutting out into my face or some flying projectile whizzing past my head. The CGI in this film is quite possibly the best I have seen. I am a huge detractor of CGI in most cases, as it’s sooo easily spotted and snaps the watcher out of the world that the film is trying to create. Models, set pieces, huge set paintings and the like, in my opinion, succeeded for decades because no discriminating eye could (or wanted to) pick them apart from the reality of the environment in the film. You just accepted what you saw as real. The CGI in this movie had the same effect on me. I stopped picking it apart and just enjoyed it.

Roger Ebert, in his review, likened the experience of watching Avatar to that of watching Star Wars (1977) for the first time. I agree. The storyline is complex enough (despite a few plot holes) to engage you and invest you in the characters in such a way that you actually care about the outcome and want to see a sequel. Due to the archetypal nature of the characters (see Joseph Campbell–>George Lucas) it’s impossible not to draw connections between this movie as a myth and Star Wars: they share too much. There are even meta myth moments within the film where the hero learns the pathway to integrating himself (predominantly male) into a larger mythology. It was only fitting that I happened by chance to watch a Law and Order episode which addresses (poorly) Carl Jung right after watching this movie.

Drawbacks? Yes. For better or worse I kept thinking Aliens (1986) the whole time. Casting Sigourney Weaver in the movie probably didn’t help. It’s probably just me, but characters in similar roles in separate movies always elicit this problem for me, most often with Johnny Depp in Tim Burton films.

Also, the Native American references go beyond heavy handed to just embarrassing. I was telling my wife that I felt like this turned into a white man’s wish fulfillment for how history could be rewritten with a powerful indigenous population that gives the colonizers their just deserts. Yet, as we both noticed, it is the “white man” who becomes the ultimate warrior and leader figure. I could write all day about the post-colonial nightmare this film induces, but I’ll save it. We obviously have a long way to go to get past the shadow of The Lone Ranger’s Tonto in our depictions of Native Americans. And please, let’s be honest, that’s exactly what the Na’vi are, despite being light years away; there is not a veil thin enough to fit the expression “thinly veiled.”

Anyway, if you can overcome your outrage and watch the movie for what it is, you’d see that the film does address such issues as sustainability and humanitarianism through character interactions, but not in any complex ways. A lot of old Star Trek episodes put Native Americans on alien planets; one episode comes to mind where Kirk goes native like the protagonist in this movie and becomes the tribal leader preventing an asteroid from hitting the planet (or something to that effect). Avatar barely surpasses simplistic representations such as these, but the movie was not written for anthropologists and can only be judged for what it is, an excellent action film with incredible special effects that is definitely worth seeing:

9/10: no 3D glasses required

Sherlock Holmes (2010)

First of all, those who know me know that I regularly promise more social media output than I can actually deliver. However, with the Computers and Writing 2010 conference over, I can now return to idle pursuits.

This one is kind of a cheat, since I saw Sherlock Holmes (2009) on the big screen when it came out, but I just recently Redboxed it on a whim (and because my wife is obsessed with all things Robert Downey Jr.). I was reasonably pleased on my first viewing, but Oh, how I found the opportunity to sour…

Let me start with my hatred for detective pieces. Usually, to the attentive reader/listener/viewer, the case is solved in the first or second act, or at least the most likely suspect is identified, and then, in increasingly common instances, replaced by the second or third least likely villain in the final act. Most of the time, I turn off any brain functions that try to puzzle out the story in an attempt to actually enjoy something in my life without analyzing it to the grave. I do this frequently with music, although some inane tripe is beyond any effort.

Few people know that Edgar Allan Poe popularized or (perhaps, and this is a big perhaps) invented detective fiction for U.S. audiences, an example being “Murders in the Rue Morgue” which you can watch, if you love stupid television movies and men in ape suits: repeat…stupid.

However, serialized accounts of grizzly murders were commonplace prior to Poe, in the form of “penny dreadfuls”: lightly fictionalized accounts of actual crimes (and the subsequent investigations) written for young men who could scarcely afford the asking price, introduced to me by Dr. Cameron at DePaul (who rocks–no website available).

By the time of Sir A. C. Dizzoyle (as I like to call him), public demand for tales of maniacal, outcast urban knife wielders/poisoners/pistol-dischargers was at a peak. The rising problem of urban migration, poverty-related crime, and “moral corruption problems” of the late Victorian era (fin de siecle for snobs)/early 20th century also called for a super detective of sorts who could maintain the social reformation spirit and enhance the perception that a vigilante intellectual could, if not protect people, hold the killer who shot you in the back responsible via burgeoning forensic evidence, and send that asshole to the gallows.

Then we get Sherlock Holmes (2009), which automatically elicits memories of Wild Wild West (tWWW) for me. The problem with period action pieces, in my uneducated and unsupported Andy Rooney style opinion, is that jamming a bunch of futuristic technology (SPOILER ALERT) like chemical weapons and remote control devices into a movie provides a popcorn-kernel-under-the-gum type distraction for those of us trying to deactivate the critical lobe of the brain: you can’t stop thinking about it and trying to resolve it despite your best efforts. I would give an example from tWWW, but I long ago underwent an experimental procedure to remove any memory of that god awful movie from my brain, along with Godzilla (1998).

Apart from the foolishness of anachronistic technology, the film is actually enjoyable. Downey Jr., as an aging action hero, need not pull a Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, or Danny Glover move (“I’m too old for this shit”) until his glistening, ripped body is no longer able to be supported by CGI and makeup effects. British accents: on a scale of believable cockney to me saying “fish un chips, govenaahhhhh” are actually somewhat believable. Rachel McAdams sounds stupid, but that has nothing to do with accents: this is just her normal delivery. Watson comes across a little to un-emasculated, but I doubt Jude Law, nor his audiences, would appreciate him as a bookwormish recorder of deeds. He turns out to be a still potent Crimean War (?) veteran who can shoot shit up and sword fight.

I enjoyed the plot, despite it’s predictability and sequel set up. I have to say, I don’t really mind the sequel setup when I may possibly enjoy the sequel. Despite critical semi-love and my neurotic deconstruction of the detective genre, I have to say that this film is a:

7/10 Tasty when deep fried and served with a lemon wedge and tartar sauce

Up Next Week: A YouTube available movie (or two), “The Taming of The Shrew” by Mr. Shakespeare, and possibly Crime and Punishment if I can get through it by then…