Monday, June 14, 2010

Movie Review: Duel Of The 80s Remakes -- The A-Team & The Karate Kid

I'm a little late with these reviews, sorry. It's been a busy weekend for me, so I hope you don't mind a double-feature review. It won't be a bargain matinée at the Paradise Theater type of double-feature, but maybe I can still capture that 80s nostalgia we all miss anyway. Maybe? Yes?

Okay, maybe not.

Anyway . . . we went to Times Square Friday night to get our 80s throwback movie party on right! First up: The A-Team.

To be frank, the A-Team was a cool TV show when I was a little kid -- but not THAT cool. Knight Rider was better. But it was still something that occasionally enough delivered the goods for an action-loving 7 year old, and that's all anybody could ever ask for. Most of all, me.

This new take is not without its faults, but I was surprised by how well plotted and written the screenplay turned out to be. It hangs up a little at the end, but overall it was a taught, intriguing, and well developed story that kept me mostly on the edge of my seat. It helps that the director, Joe Carnahan, is great with these types of ensemble action movies. Just check out Smokin' Aces as an example. Here he manages to deliver the same expert mix of high-octane action scenes combined with an intricate, sometimes dense, plot that balances just the right amount of seriousness and goofiness to not fall too firmly into either side of the melodrama or camp territories.

The cast of Sharlto Copley (Murdoch), Quinton Jackson (B.A.), Bradley Cooper (Face), and Liam Neeson (Hannibal) gelled really well together -- displaying that cool, brothers-in-arms chemistry that is so crucial for this to work right. And which worked better here, in this movie, than with the the original cast of the tv show I might add.

Yes, I went there. And if you take off your rose-tinted fankid glasses, you'll see it too.

Where the movie falters, in my opinion, is the lack of set-up planning montages that made the tv show so much fun to watch. I mean, sure, they're in this movie. Twice, in fact. But both times felt rushed and too veiled in mystery for their own good. Still, when the payoff "comes together" in the end--as the team's leader, Hannibal, so famously puts it--the result is much bang for your buck. Times TEN!!!

This fun popcorn flick with just the right amount of laughs and kick-ass action gets:   7/10.

Next up for the night: The Karate Kid.

Now, I'll come straight out and say it: I absolutely LOVE the original 1984 flick! Some of you already know this. I just gushed all over the movie a few weeks ago here, after all.

But, you know what? I think I might just have to say that this new remake is *gasp* . . . BETTER! Yeah, I know. WTF am I smoking, right? But it's true! Oh god help me, I think it is.

The 2010 version is filmed entirely in China. Yes, even the Detroit sequence at the beginning. And, as those who know me know -- I have this huge love for anything China-related. So that right there is already a major solid on the movie's part. Furthermore, the action sequences are both more brutal and authentic looking than the original. Which is no slight to the choreographer of the first film, martial artist Pat E. Johnson, who did an awesome job. But just that the stunt coordinator on this modern take--famous Hong Kong stuntman and frequent Jackie Chan collaborator, Gang Wu-- is better! And it shows. All of the fight scenes in this movie are more intense, longer, and more technically accurate.

However, I think what gets me the most in this movie is the trip to the Buddhist mountain where Jackie Chan's "Mr. Han" leads Jaden Smith's "Dre" to show the boy the roots of true gong-fu. This whole sequence is poignant and beautiful, almost feeling like a step into another dimension compared to the hustle and bustle of noisy Beijing where the rest of the movie takes place. Mr. Han demonstrates to his pupil, Dre, that gong-fu is about stillness and reflection of one's inner peace, and not about an outward flashy display of prowess. I would watch the movie again just for this scene alone.

This theme of stillness and reflection is echoed well with another story thread in the film regarding Dre's gal pal (and somewhat love interest) Mei Ying, who is a budding violinist struggling to "capture the pauses" between notes. In this sense, both kids learn this lesson together by the end, and thus grow closer as friends. Trust me, it's a very tender and sweet relationship that doesn't stray too far into icky territory, considering that the two are only middle schoolers.

And, as a brief aside here -- the young, unknown Chinese actress playing Mei Ying is simply too cute for words! She is such a marvel in both acting and poise, somehow grounding the often outlandish aspects of Jaden's personality and seeming to make HIM a better actor in the process. Honestly, the scenes with the both of them are a joy to watch, and I think it's the actress, Han Wenwen, who should be given the credit. While I won't go so far as to say the two have excellent chemistry together, she's definitely more likable to this reviewer than Elisabeth Shue's "Ali" was in the original.

Now, to be sure, there ARE in fact big differences between the two movies, despite the fact that the new version borrows the dialogue almost word for word from the original. The 1984 version, for instance, starred an older protagonist and nemesis, which was definitely necessary in the time and age the movie was made. However, times have changed. With all the kiddie kung-fu movies like Spy Kids, Shaolin Soccer and this summer's upcoming Last Airbender movie being so popular nowadays, it kinda makes sense to cash in on this trending towards younger protagonists in action movies.

Also, in China, wushu is a national sport and practiced at a very young age. It's taught during what we in the West would call "gym class" as part of the normal school curriculum. So, in this sense, it's not at all implausible to see the 12 to 14 year olds being so proficient and accurate in their gong-fu prowess. They would have been practicing this since they were 6! And while the sheer evilness of the antagonist and his friends in this film is something that would not be so nonchalantly ignored by adults in real life, it does happen even in China. Yes, the bullying here in this movie is extremely violent and graphic. But, hey, I grew up in the South Bronx. This is reality for a lot of kids these days, as it was for me in my day.

The other big difference is in the dynamic between the teacher and pupil. In the end, Mr. Miyagi was a more effective character than Mr. Han. And "Daniel-san" was a more charming protagonist that "xiao Dre." Yes, this is definitely true. What can I say? Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita just had that special bond that is so hard to pull off right between actors. Jaden and Chan are good together, though. Don't get me wrong. Just not on the same level as their predecessors. But then, who would be?

Yet, still, this 2010 revisit of the same story is more modern, more relatable, and more authentic (i.e., less CHEESY) than the original in every other way possible. So there you go.

My rating for this surprise hit is:   8/10.

Yes, yes. I know. I gave it a higher rating that The A-Team. I expect almost no other male viewer in his 30s to agree with me here, but take it as it is. I honestly did get more enjoyment out of watching the Karate Kid "jacket off" than I did the A-Team "put a plan together."

As a last parting observation: The audience for the A-Team did not applaud when the credits rolled, though they did seem very pleased with the film. Whereas the crowd I watched the Karate Kid with was on its feet cheering and clapping at the end.

I think this says it all right there.


Rodney said...

Oh come on, The Karate Kid is a "Feel good" underdog story, of course people are going to be cheering at the end.

I'll speak more on this when I get to see The Karate Kid.

David Batista said...

But of course. And this is why I enjoyed the Karate Kid more. To be honest, while the A-Team was great and all . . . I really felt like I've seen this all before. I've already mentioned a few weeks back that the recent movie "The Losers" was my A-Team fix come early. And it was. But, really, the A-Team didn't do anything significant that people will remember a year from now.

The Karate Kid on the other hand . . . while it, too, hasn't done anything new (obviously) -- a comeback, feel-good story never goes out of style. Never. The good ones are timeless. And this take on the '84 movie has just enough changes and an updated look to be quite memorable. Especially to kids and young adults who never saw the original.

Do a test. Take a kid 15 through 18 years old who has never seen either original properties before and have him watch both new movies. Which do you think he/she will find more memorable? Besides us 80s kids, I don't see what value the new A-Team movie has for new audiences that they haven't already seen before.

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