Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jackie Chan gives a Oscar worthy proformance in 'The Karate Kid". No, I'm not kidding.

Three and a half stars

When I left the theater, I had two thoughts. The cinematography by Roger Pratt, who photographed the first two “Harry Potter” films, is breathtaking and vibrant. Another is that Jackie Chan’s performance is pained and simple. His performance is Oscar worthy. Yes, I’m reviewing “The Karate Kid.” No, I'm not kidding. For those of you who saw the 1984 classic, yes, there isn’t many surprises in the new one as far as plot goes. Though, there are some differences. For one, it takes place in China.
Jaden Smith (son of Will Smith) plays Dre, the son of a single mother (Taraji P. Henson) who leaves Detroit, after a transfer to an auto plant in China. They arrive in China, and right away Dre doesn’t fit into the Chinese school. He tries to impress a Chinese girl who speaks English, but gets knocked over by a bully. He doesn’t defend himself well, and next thing he knows, he is a target. The hot water at the new apartment he lives in isn’t working, and he goes to the maintenance man (Jackie Chan). He continues to be bullied, until the quiet maintenance man, Mr. Han, steps in and defends Dre. Dre’s mother is naturally worried about him. Dre doesn’t want to live in China anymore. All that changes when Mr. Han agrees to teach him kung fu. Training for kung fu isn’t what Dre thought it would be. For the first few lessons, Mr. Han simply teaches him how to pick up his coat.

Jackie Chan’s performance in this film is excellent. This is a Jackie Chan we haven’t seen before. We’ve seen him as a buddy cop in the “Rush Hour” movies, and we’ve seen him as well, a buddy cop in the “Knight” movies. Here, he is different. He is silent and pained. He is quiet. He is unshaven. He isn’t stumbling through broken English for humorous effect.

Jaden Smith is a cool kid. Dre and Jackie make a good duo. In this film, the idea is that they teach each other lessons about getting up when life knocks them down. Though, he tries to make the best of it. Then there’s the matter of the girl he met on his first day at the Chinese school. They make a pinky swear that they would both be at each other events. A kung fu tournament and a violin audition, but of course, as they must, things become complicated when her family see’s she is with a skateboarding kid from Detroit. Of course, she can speak English. She says most kids in China can speak English. Of course, they do. Of course, this is all leading up to the big match that Mr. Han by mistake signed him up for. Mr. Han realizes that the kid who was bullying Dre has a bad teacher, who teaches him to show no mercy to his victims. Already, we have a good versus bad instructor thing happening.

Jaden Smith has a lot of charisma in this movie. He begs Mr. Han to teach him to stand up to the bullies, and Mr. Han ends up teaching him a lot more. I’m not kidding when I say Jackie Chan has turned in an Oscar worthy performance in the Karate Kid. He plays this character with little words, and doesn’t play him to a humorous effect. Chan plays this character well. A few more things I should note. The film runs a little long, at two in half hours. They stretch out the suspense leading up to the big match at the end. Though, I have to say it’s worth seeing. Jackie Chan's performance is worth seeing. For an international movie star who’s made a career playing a buddy cop, this is the turning point he needs. It’s about time he taught a kid how to do kung fu. That’s another thing. The movie probably should have been titled “The Kung Fu Kid” instead of the “The Karate Kid”. They mention in the film that’s its kung fu many times. Though, they wanted to keep the original title so people would recognize it as a remake of the original.

There were a lot of kids in the theater. Probably with there parents who saw the 1984 original. So, take your kids to see 'The Karate Kid.' It's new and a uplifting tale with lots of ethnicity on the screen, which is always a good thing. You might know the story. Though, the story is new to them.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Series of Lies Leads to Laughs

Three Stars

Vince has told a lie. His daughter has told a lie. His son has lied. His wife has lied. The most honest one in the whole film is a former inmate. Yet, the former inmate is also one of the reasons everyone is lying to each other. The film opens with Vince reading a biography of Marlon Brando outside the window of his bathroom. He had been taking an acting class, and is ashamed to tell his wife. Taking an acting class in the city doesn’t fit his family man working as a prison guard image. Yet, that’s what he is doing. He’s well into his 40’s, and is living in City Island, an area a little outside of the Bronx. They are all telling lies to each other. One of the funniest sight gags in the movie is when the family is in different parts of the room smoking. Yet, they all told each other they have quit smoking. A part of the fun of “City Island”, written and directed by indie filmmaker Raymond de Felitta, is seeing how the family tries very hard to make their lies all tie together in the end. The lies aren’t bad lies, because no one in the family is actually doing anything that bad. It all leads to a series of misunderstandings. The problem is that they are all afraid of how they would react to each other. The trouble starts when Vince brings home an inmate, who he has told he knows his mother. What he doesn’t tell the inmate is that he is also his father. He had a fling with his mother a long time ago, yet the inmate lives among the family, trying to keep track of all the lies they are telling each other.

Andy Garcia plays Vince. He is married to Joyce. She is played by Julianna Margulies. They have a young son and a college age daughter played by Garcia’s actual daughter. The daughter won’t tell their father what happened to her scholarship. The guy just released to the family from prison after Vince volunteers to take him in observes the family all lying to each other. He acts as the most honest one in the film. He doesn’t really know what why Vince has volunteered to take him in. Though, he quickly finds out the secret of Vince’s children. Younger sons in film are always weird. He finds on their teenage son’s computer that he has subscribed to fat fetish websites. The scenes where the son hangs out the overweight women across the street are both cringe worthy and funny. He also has a crush on an overweight girl at school. The interesting thing about ‘City Island’ is that writer/director Raymond de Felitta has plenty of places to make fat jokes, or make jokes about destroyed marriages, but instead makes them into lighter jokes.

Than there’s Vince. Vince takes acting classes. A very funny scene is when he goes on an audition for a movie and does a bad imitation of Marlon Brando. Alan Arkin, who claims his dislike for Marlon Brando, plays his acting instructor. His partner in the class is a woman with a fake British accent who encourages him to follow his dreams. I thought this was going to lead to an affair between the two, but that isn’t this kind of film. The film always seems to try to be funny without being mean spirited. There are many places in the film that should, like in other films, lead to fights or lead to some kind of divorce or misery. Yet, the audience knows that all the lies they are telling each other aren’t that bad. The script is a series of misunderstanding, making each member of the family think that something worst is going on than there actually is.

The wife thinks Vince is playing poker. Than she thinks he is having an affair. In truth, he is just taking acting classes. The same goes for the rest of the family as they all lie to each other. Yet, none of their secrets are so horrible that they can’t work them out fairly easily. The audience I saw it with where laughing a lot at the misery of the family on the scene. It’s played for laughs, but not in a mean spirited way. Andy Garcia does a very good job of playing this role. The cast is believable as a family. Yet, they aren’t a dysfunctional family, really. We see in an early scene where the family sits down, they all break out in a fight and the mystery man that Vince has brought home from jail looks on, just observing the family. He would be the one to find out all their lies. The last scene of the movie could have been played for tragedy, but is instead played for laughs. The film works as a comedy because the script could have been played up as a mean spirited comedy about a family that falls apart, instead of just a family that goes through a series of misunderstandings. It’s a soap opera played up for laughs, but not played up to be mean.