Monday, June 21, 2010

An Eighties Movies Redux

Sometimes on weekends when there are a couple of movies we both want to see--especially if we know that there are even more movies upcoming to see--The Lovely Steph Leann and I will go check out a "double feature"... not movies that show back to back, necessarily, but we'll pick out two movies, get tickets for both and go all afternoon.  Of course, it might cost a little bit for the date, but that's why we've Dave Ramseyed ourselves debt free... so we can watch lots and lots of movies.

Most people my age can vividly remember the glory of the first one... in 1984, a young unknown Ralph Macchio portrayed Daniel LaRusso, who moves with his mom to Southern California.  There he meets a cute girl named Ali (the unbelievably hot-for-1986 Elisabeth Shue), but runs into trouble when he starts getting bullied by Ali's ex-boyfriend, Johnny, who is also the star student at a local karate dojo, led by Kreese, who teaches his students brutal tactics of no mercy.  Daniel is helped, and then taught by Mr. Miyagi, the apartment maintenance man, who's unusual lessons gave us "wax on, wax off" and "Daniel-sahn" into our movie vernacular.  The movie is legendary in pop culture, from "Sweep the leg!" to the famous crane kick... it was and is a movie that will be watched and enjoyed in 2086 as a classic.

Twenty-four years later, Will Smith decided it was time for a re-boot, and that re-boot was to be tailored around his own son, Jaden, currently 11 years old, now portraying a 12 year old named Dre.  The move is still made by he and his mom, but this time they go to Beijing, China, and the cute girl is an Asian classmate and the bully is now named Cheng.  The Miyagi role is taken on by Jackie Chan, in what might be his best movie in a decade or more. 

Many of the plotpoints are the same--the tournament (its actually kung-fu being done in this movie, not karate, but they called it "The Karate Kid" here in the states because people recognize that name) is a chance for Dre to prove himself, the prank on the bullies that leads to a brutal beating (and the first appearance the karate skillz), there is a "Bobby" type character who tells the bad guy that "He's had enough!" during a brutal beating after that prank, and shows reluctance to injure our hero in the tourney, and there is the crazy training sessions--this time not "wax on, wax off" or "paint the fence", its "take off your jacket... hang it up... drop it... put on your jacket... take off your jacket..."  Like "wax on, wax off", I would guess that "take off your jacket" will perplex anyone until they see it in the movie. 

I was extremely happy with this film, even with its 2 hour and 20 minute running time... I'm usually a stickler for unnecessary film, and I figured about 10 minutes of this could have been cut, but overall, it flowed really well.  Fans of the original will enjoy the homage to the first one, complete with the catch-a-fly-with-a-chopstick trick.  Jackie Chan is perfectly understated as Mr. Han, the mentor, with his own sad story to tell (part of which I thought went on a little long).  Dre and Han become friends, with Han not only teaching him kung-fu, but also teaching him to respect himself, others and everything around him.  Han even learns a little on his own.

I think this movie really succeeds because its set in China, not in Southern Cal like the original, and that alone sets it apart from the first one... such a difference in cultures gives it enough separation from the first one that its not a shot-for-shot remake... the love interest, if you can call it that being that its a 12 year old girl, has her own story this time, unlike Ali who was just there to be a romantic character for Daniel.   The kung-fu is awesome, and when Jackie Chan lets loose, you can tell its a Chan scene.  And though Billy Zabka made for an incomparable bad guy in 1986, I gotta say that Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) is fantastic as the lead mean kid.  And when Dre wins the tournament (oh, whatever... you either know he wins the tourney from the original film, or you haven't seen it, and if you haven't seen it, that's not my fault--its been 24 years.  Get with it), Cheng pulls a Johnny with the trophy.  And in this one, it takes it a few minutes more past the end of the tourney, where the first one ends with Miyagi smiling in approval. 

One thing that has always bothered me though... in the first one, Daniel meets a few guys, and when he gets smacked around on the beach, the guys that were his friends say to each other, "Good choice in friends.  New guy is a joke."  And when Daniel is raising the trophy high above his head, who's there to help him celebrate?  His friends.  Or, "friends" (doing the air quotes with my fingers).  In this remake, Dre meets Harry, a blond kid who befriends him... but when Dre is smacked around on the playground, Harry does nothing to help.  And who's there at the end, cheering with Dre?  Harry, of course,  Good job, fairweather kids. 

The movie did leave me wondering one thing though... how do you say "Get 'em a bodybag, yeah!" in Chinese?

In the months leading up to this movie's release, I had been on the fence about it... but The Lovely Steph Leann was fired up about it.  She had been a Face-girl growing up, so she was kinda excited about seeing Bradley Cooper step into the role.  Me personally, I was a "Howling Mad" Murdock kid, and knowing that the guy who turned into the alien in "District 9" was going to be taking on this sacred role... well, big, crazy shoes to fill.

BA Baracus, another sacred character in the minds of those who's childhoods took place amongst the 80s, is filled by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, a former MMA fighter (or is it UFC?  I dunno...) and the leader of the group, John Hannibal Smith, was to be done by none other than Liam Neeson... which, to me, was the oddest casting choice of all of them.  Jessica Biel plays the love interest, her being another in my Angelina Jolie Club... you know, those chicks who the entire world tells me I should be all hot and bothered for, and really just can't find much there to be attracted to (see "Roberts, Julia" and "Fox, Megan").

Anyway, The Lovely Steph Leann and I met up with our friends LaShawn and LaCorey to watch it, while MZ and her reality show sat several rows back.  The movie starts, and right away, there are differences... first of all, people have better aim--in the TV show, no one ever died.  In this, bad guys get blowed up, shot up, smacked up and thrown up every which'a way.  The legendary red striped black van makes a somewhat brief appearance, and Hannibal smokes lots of cigars and discusses his happiness with the coming together of plans several times.  The plot is a typical "They framed us, so we have to prove our innocence!" fare, with one heck of a

All in all,you can tell that this movie was made by people who loved the original TV show... it didn't set out to mock the show, or move the show from its original direction, it modernizes the tale, brings it to nowadays and sets up what might be a mildly successful movie franchise. 

Bottom line, if you liked the TV show, you can consider this a PG-13, one hour and forty two minute version of that very show... most people I know liked this movie alot, and those people loved the original show... however, if you didn't like the TV show, you won't like this film at all.  If you have no concept of the TV show, you'll view this movie as a popcorn ride with some interesting characters who's names you might be familiar with.

Personally?  I had a blast during this film.  It was a great popcorn movie, one of those movies you don't try to think about, you just eat your popcorn, drinking your Coke and munch on your Twizzlers, and just have a great, great time.  We did.   Go see it.
By the way, The Lovely Steph Leann and I turned on an episode of The A-Team the other night, and it was borderline unwatchable.  She fell asleep.  I ended up turning it.  Perhaps it was the episode, or the fact it was late, or the fact it was on a network called "Centric" (!?) but either way, I went to bed and she turned it off.

Oh, one more thing... big props to Brian Bloom, the bad guy in this flick... seems like his biggest role to date was a 1988 TV movie called "Crash Course" with Alyssa Milano and Tina Yothers, and though he's done a ton of work up until now, with much of it being video game voice-overs, I feel like he's got a good chance with this film.  Someone hire this guy!  (ps... if you are googling this guy, and see any pics labeled 'Oz', run.)

1 comment:

  1. I thought The A-Team was one of the most fun and most entertaining films I have ever watched. I couldn't stop grinning. So. Much. Fun.

    Brian Bloom was a nice surprise since I had a huge crush on him when I was a teenager.

    Loved, loved, loved it!


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