Harald Zwart’s The Karate Kid

After I left you I remember feeling only slightly underwhelmed. I think your main problem was you cut an exceptional trailer and got my hopes up. After watching the extended trailer (the two-hour version) I thought, well that was nothing spectacular. Nothing disastrous. Nothing abusive or traumatizing. Nothing deceptive either. Everyone who was in the preview showed up for the movie. But nothing to discuss at a dinner party. Or so I thought. Upon putting my pen to this page I realized there were actually two very noteworthy elements of The Karate Kid.

The first to note is the only fight sequence involving Jackie Chan. O Jackie Chan beating up children! You’ve really hit a new level of self-respect. In China where packs of Kung fu-wielding children are roaming the cities, terrorizing helpless street vendors – it’s good to know a full-grown adult having decades of martial arts training can take a stand. I further applaud your employment of the bullying, “stop hitting yourself” technique. To watch an adult swing one child’s legs into other children faces and torsos in order to inflict the blows – it is really a masterwork of planning/execution.

The second fascinating element is the blond, Caucasian boy that Jaden Smith meets immediately upon moving to China. The boy had a name, lines. He helped Jaden with his luggage. But all other intentions for the character were obviously dropped. Did you drop him because he was white? As we all know there is one cross-section of the population tremendously underrepresented in American cinema today – white males. It seems very small and racist of you to reduce the primary white character to servitude (essentially Jaden’s bellhop) and cowardice (being a pussy when the Chinese bullies show up) and then eliminate him from the rest of the movie. You also provided few other opportunities for white males to be in the movie by setting it in Communist China. That was not in the spirit of the original John G. Avildsen’s The Karate Kid at all. Perhaps white males in martial arts movies – Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Ralph Macchio – is just a thing of the past. But I for one am offended by the presumption a white man cannot make it in a Yellow man’s world. They’ve done it before (Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai) and they can do it again. I am sure white martial artists will be up in arms about this . . . $5

Please Give

O Nicole Holofcener! Another gem to add to your resume! Another worthy companion of Lovely & Amazing and Friends with Money.

I never knew what people saw in Amanda Peet. But I’m starting to get it now. Peet makes me crave neurotic women. Scary, orange women. Rebecca Hall is beautiful and level-headed as always. And Catherine Keener continues to get more gorgeous with age.

Cast and crew aside – you tackle some very interesting thematic territory. In a depression era, I’m excited to see someone interested in charity and excess. That is, grotesque charity and grotesque excess. If all your cruelty, spite, your mean-spirited sarcasm, your lack of pity, your warped sense of charity, your pessimism, your grim portrayal of aging, your grim portrayal of marriage & parenting, and your obsessive attention to the imperfections of the body made me laugh like a manic hyena – does that make me a bad person? No, I mean really laugh – mouth contorting, eyes tearing, balled-up fist slapping the thigh and such. I don’t think anything this year has tickled my funny bone this superbly. Maybe Greenberg. Nah, not even Greenberg.

But I’m not sure about the last scene. There’s a mixed message about money and I think you land on the amoral side (i.e. if you have money that’s great because you don’t have to eat TV dinners, and it’s okay to buy yourself some happiness i.e. $200 jeans). I guess I don’t mind the message so much but why end there? Why end on a point so blatantly derelict? Don’t get me wrong – you are thoroughly un-PC the whole journey and I love you for it. I’m just not sure in that last scene if you’re still interested in parody or if you’re trying to be sincere. Are you trying to be sincere? Sincerity is not your strength. Maybe you were short on ideas and decided to reach for the nearest cathartic experience. I don’t blame you. You never claimed to have all the answers. A lot of fantastic films get fatigued at the end and just can’t finish. Just look at Eyes Wide Shut. Or A.I. And Stanley Kubrick was the greatest director who ever lived!

All in all I have to say I’m impressed that movies like you are getting made . . . $9

If you heart Please Give:

Recommendations by DJ Cheet
The Savages
Broken Flowers

And though it’s not a movie . . . How to be Good (book) by Nick Hornby.

Get Him to the Greek

O Jonah Hill! You haven’t lost your touch. Or any weight. Stay fat my friend! You’ve really packed them on recently – was it for Cyrus? But it works for you. Not like Val Kilmer. Val Kilmer looks like Val Kilmer’s obese older brother. But you’ve really grown into your body. And you run surprisingly fast! You do so much running in this film! I love watching fat kids run. It’s like watching a dog swimming. There’s something beautiful and miraculous and grotesque about it all simultaneously.

O Russell Brand! You are somehow more feminine than any woman and yet a perfectly masculine rock ‘n’ roll demigod. They need a new category for what you are. It would be just you and Michael Stipe. And maybe Gael Garcia Bernal in Bad Education. You also cry fantastically well. Tears of a clown. But you sold me. I thought, this guy knows what it is to be a heroin addict, father to an Italian photographer’s son, separated from a maniacal model/musician (whom is engaged to Lars Ulrich), gold medalist in debauchery, rock legend to millions, and sick enough (or generous enough) to engage in multiple gay sex acts with Jonah Hill. Good call on Nick Stoller’s part to focus the Forgetting Sarah Marshall spinoff on Aldous.

Puffy Diddy – sometimes you surprise me. When I saw you in Monster’s Ball I thought hey, that guy actually didn’t ruin the movie at all. Same goes here except you were good! A true asset to the movie as you got my expectations real low, and then you delivered a B+ performance. Applause to the whole team . . . $8

The Secret in Their Eyes

Damn you’re good.

It’s a true feat anytime someone can embed a legitimate love story within a thriller. When was the last time you saw one of those? I suppose we also had The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo this year. But that love story took a backseat to the grotesque, sexual violence (not that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wasn’t great – it was!). The Secret in Their Eyes has my kind of love story – full of sadness and longing and self-hatred. Anguish is suggested rather than discussed. And your lead actors were so attractive I was willing to go with you about anywhere you wanted to go.

Extra pats on back to Juan Campanella (Director) and Felix Monti (Cinematographer) for being virtuosos at the moving camera. The most elegant storytelling of the season and the best hybrid genre piece I’ve watched this year . . . $11

Shrek Forever After

O Shrek Forever After I had very low expectations for you indeed. I did not even see Shrek the Third. Was it good? I was growing tired of you. Your swollen, green faces. Your fetish for inter-species romance. Your asshole donkey that will not shut his mouth. Will not stop his asshole singing. Damn I hate that donkey.

But Shrek Forever After you surprised me! You attached a time limitation to your narrative. I love time limitations! How did you know? How elegant you are – taking place in the span of 24-hours. How wonderful your illustrations and montages that contextualize the narrative. You are no bore – you are ingenious! Shrek the Third is now a promising possibility.

And your franchise is over! I cannot say I am sad to see you go. But I’m glad you went out like this. I’m glad we did not part on sour terms . . . $7

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Do not fret. You are not the worst I’ve seen this year. Sex and the City 2 was much worse. So much less a movie than you. At least you did not spend all your money on hats and slow-motion photography. At least you have a cast! And what a cast – Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Jake Gyllenhaal. You could have done much worse. I got a lot of pleasure pondering over why would such talented people sign on for this movie – the conclusion I arrived at was money. Was it money? I knew it.

But Gemma Arterton is actually one of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever seen in my life. I think you knew that. To not have been aware of her beauty would be to accuse you of a mental handicap. I do not think you are mentally handicapped. You get a little ridiculous at times. You fling some mud around. You throw some ostriches in there for what seems like no good reason. But there were good moments too. For instance where the king gets immolated in his robe like an enormous cigar. Good job on that!

It’s true you are nothing special. You are no Citizen Kane. You are exceedingly mediocre. D+ student. You are the iHop of fine dining. Still, you are no Sex in the City 2 and that is something to rejoice over. You are not wholly tragic. If there were only two movies in the world – you and Sex in the City 2 – you would be the greatest movie in the world. Think of that! Lucky for us, there are many more movies in the world to choose from . . . $2

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