Monday, August 30, 2010

A Blog-a-Thon to Remember

So the reputable Jeremy Richey over at Moon in the Gutter is hosting a blog-a-thon dedicated entirely to, depending on who you talk to, everyone's favourite or least favourite contemporary auteur Paul Thomas Anderson. Being one of my favourite filmmakers I will, of course, be participating. So swing 'round Moon in the Gutter from September 13th to 19th and check out everyone's diverse take on this fascinating filmmaker.

The Expendables

There’s no excuse for The Expendables but then again, why should there have to be? This is a film that bathes in the excesses of its forefathers; a throwback to the 80s heyday of macho action heroes destroying everything in their sight in order to protect the girl/save the innocents/bring down the bad guy. You know the drill: no building left standing, no vehicle left uncharred, no faceless solider left breathing, no piece of grass left unsinged. I can’t, in any sort of good conscience, recommend it; it’s too shallow, too broad, too cheap looking, not witty enough and, as a throwback, lacks the kind of personality that made its referents so special, but anyone who sees it will, I suspect, be getting their money’s worth. Sylvester Stallone (who also directs and co-writes) stars as Barney Ross, the main badass in a team of ragtag elite fighters. They’re like the A-Team except, since they are all played by discernible action movie heroes of different varieties (Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren) Stallone doesn’t rely on providing generic types so much as simply coasts on the presence of his stacked line-up. That’s fair. It’s like trading in one superficiality for another, but Stallone uses his team as a reason to coast through. Presence, after all, only goes so far if you don’t get to caring about the hero your tagging along with. Thus the film coasts lightly on the surface, afraid to ever delve deeper into any emotional interest lest it get in the way of blowing stuff up. It’s never really explained how The Expendables know each other, who pays their bills, and just whether or not what they are doing is technically legal. In fact, the only time we ever do get a glance at anything genuinely human is when Mickey Rourke, as the old dog who mans the HQ, conveys a painful story from his past and runs away with the movie. The mission, given to Stallone by a no-nonsense Bruce Willis, after being passed on by Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of the films "guilty pleasure" scenes, is to travel to a remote Latin American country and rid it of, oh I don’t know, anyone who doesn’t look like a friend to the U.S.? Ruling over the country is an evil dictator who is secretly at the mercy of an evil American ex-agent played by Eric Roberts, who, as far as villains go, is basically a stock character who stands around with a menacing scowl because these things need villains. It’s never quite explained what Roberts' purpose is, why he holds command over the dictator or what he wants to achieve but hey, his number one heavy is played by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. You see how it works? So the team visit the country, case it, meet a young beauty who is both a revolutionary and the general’s daughter, and narrowly escape after they are detected. But just to show those slimy South Americans, they blow the hell out of their harbour via airplane machine guns. What they actually discover when there is a mystery to me, but whatever it is, it prompts them to return with some serious firepower and lay waste to everything in their sights, all in order to, I guess, save the girl while, along the way, just for flavour, one of them crosses over onto the other team’s side. What more description of The Expendables does one need? A lot of things go boom while little plot gets in the way. The film is funny but not nearly funny enough and, as was the case with Stallone’s Rambo, the violence, at times, is far too serious to be taken as entertainment. At other times, when CGI is employed the film looks cheap: the bloodshed reminiscent of circa 1998 arcade violence. And yet there is a certain sense of freewheeling fun on display here. One must nod in admiration at a film that is willing to pull out all the stops and not apologize for it for better or worse and the film, for the most part, features action that feels more or less authentic. As a throwback the film undershoots its target but as an excessive display of recognizable faces laying waste to everything in their path well, what more did you really want?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Scott Pilgim Vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is awesome, which begs the questions, as raised by Stephanie Zacharek in her negative review of Inception, if that is enough? A better response may be: so what? In the grand scheme of film and culture and art, does awesome really amount to anything but a two hour confectionery that, like lightening, strikes with swift brilliant force and then is gone? It’s maybe the very problem that gnaws at all classical minded film critics as they forge on into the future. I guess, if we are to rate Scott Pilgrim in a vacuum, sealed off from the last hundred, or even ten, years of film history, the answer is that yes indeed, it’s awesomeness is truly enough. That of course is so under the realization that if most, if not all, films are becoming no more than flashes of noise and colour than they might as well at least strive to be hip and funny and hurdle images at the screen that are just a little unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. So, there you go. The story revolves around Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) a geeky bass player from Toronto who has just hooked up with a 17 year old Asian girl, Knives Chau, who also doubles as Pilgrim’s number one fan. His band is called Sex Bah Bomb and they play local gigs hoping that there will be at least one non-band member in attendance that hopes they won’t suck. Then Scott lays eyes on the Technicolor haired Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and it's love at first sight. He constantly dreams about her, stalks her at parties, ignores Knives who is so infatuated that she hardly notices, and orders packages on Amazon just to fill the waste basket when he finds out she’s the delivery girl. Eventually, Ramona agrees to go out with Scott but he soon finds that there’s a catch. She moved to Toronto from the U.S. in order to escape her past and rediscover herself. As it turns out, she is running from seven evil exes who have all teamed together into one league in order to fight Scott Pilgrim to the death. This makes up most of the body of the film despite the fact that a fight to the death is a fight to the death and an evil ex is an evil ex and once you’ve seen two or three you’ve seen about as many as you probably will ever need to. The story isn’t a whole lot more complex than that. What makes it interesting is that its director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) takes great, excessive pains in order to make this material actually feel like an old arcade game or a graphic novel. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, like Speed Racer before it, is one of the few films that know how to use special effects for all they are worth, creating, not so much a film, as, for better or worse, an experience that completely immerses you in the spell of it's unique worldview. Scott Pilgrim is a lot of things. Boring it is not. If there’s any problem, it’s that Wright does too good of a job. He spends so much time on visual details: the split screens, the accompanying words that go with sounds like the phone ringing or the door knocking, the video game aesthetics, the bright lights and so on, that he kind of forgets to do anything with the material going on underneath. Thankfully Wright is in the company of good stars who manage to make the material funny and sweet and give it a bit of a human element that can at least propel it for two hours. Michael Cera does his typical loveable goofball routine; Winstead is perky and cute while still always being one of those girls who can never quite be trusted to still be there the next day; Kieran Culkin makes deadpan out of Scott’s gay roommate and gets away with it; and Anna Kendrick shows up for a few scenes of quirky, fast talking funny business. But a film like this doesn’t exist as its parts. It’s a whole package that you either let in or reject outright. It’s so busy that it doesn’t have much time for character or plot, but what a lightshow it provides. In the end, Wright has a good eye for visual comedy and Cera is as endearing a presence as any, but the film ultimately rises and falls on just how spectacular and inventive it can be. It is spectacular. It is inventive. It’s also like nothing you’ve probably ever seen. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

The Other Guys

There’s a moment in The Other Guys that is just about the funniest thing Will Ferrell has every done. It proves that Ferrell has all the ability to be a brilliant subtle character comic but none of the good sense to follow through with it. The Other Guys is instead a constant parade of stock Will Ferrellisms: breaking out into pimp talk; yelling nonsense like a madman; making forced pop culture references; and, as is his speciality, conducting himself like a full grown moron with the subtlety of a jackhammer. And yet there’s that one shot, denying us all the promise Will Ferrell has been denying us for years. It involves the star standing in the doorway of a ballet school. He’s just finished yelling something nonsensical. The dance instructor tells him to go away. He pauses, stares, turns and walks away with a strange and perfect mix of force and idiocy, and for one moment, so brief that you blink and you miss it, Will Ferrell has become an actual character. Character is exactly what has been lacking form every Ferrell comedy since Talladega Nights. It’s not so much that we expect much from Ferrell and his director/collaborator Adam McKay anymore, as much as it is that they drag good people down with them. In this case it’s Mark Wahlberg, who can be a very funny actor, but here is given nothing to do but play off of Ferrell's doofus naif. This basically comes down to a lot of frustration on Wahlberg's part; yelling, and telling his partner that he just doesn’t like him very much. Gamble (Ferrell) and Hoitz (Wahlberg) are mismatched police partners to say the least. Gamble is tall, straight-laced, always dawns his over sized spectacles and would rather work a calculator than a drug bust. So clueless is this guy that when his co-workers convince him that it’s a regular office practice to fire your gun off into the ceiling he ends up being issued a wooden gun as a result. Hoitz on the other hand is fiery and ready for action. He used to be a hotshot but got transferred and stuck with Gamble because of an incident that gets a chuckle the first time and then get’s beaten into the ground as it becomes one of the plots many frequent punch lines. After the two top cops (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) get taken off the job in one of the films few big laughs, Hoitz sees an opportunity and must convince a reluctant Gamble to get out from behind the desk and onto the streets. There’s no point talking much about what kind of case Gamble and Hoitz stumble onto because the entire film is essentially a collection of set ups for Wahlberg to scream at Ferrell and Ferrell to say something stupid in response. Sometimes the exchanges manage to find something halfway amusing to run with, but more often than not they are just superfluous flashes of nothing in particular. Ferrell talks about his days as a pimp, his sexual escapades with his wife, how a school of tuna would defeat a lion who tried to capture them and you know how it goes. None of this does anything to build into comedic characters or some sort of clever plot. Instead it just sits on the screen, does noting, proves nothing, contributes nothing and then disappears only to be followed up by a similar bit of business. The chief is played by Michael Keaton who, once, amusingly quotes a TLC song and denies it, only to then do it again and again and again. He also works a second job at Bed, Bath and Beyond where he gives a pep talk about the new shipment of rugs. Characters rarely ever run deeper than that. None of this would matter if the punch lines were funny. But they aren’t. They aren’t even halfway towards clever. Part of the thing that made Talladega Nights work so well is that it had the clear idea that it wanted to be a parody and shot for that. The Other Guys has no such conviction. Instead of approaching this material with the keen eye of a spoofster, McKay and his crew trample forward with the laden hand of someone who can’t be bothered to think up a decent punch line, thinking that maybe half-hearted jokes will get funnier with every time that they are repeated. It’s a shame, Will Ferrell is a talented guy and can be a compelling character actor. I just desperately pray that he will soon muster the sense enough to stop making Will Ferrell movies already!

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Step Forward in What Direction?

With the continuing advancement of technology those purists keep whining that human beings are getting lazier and lazier. Wall-E may have been a cute and magic cartoon but you could see the parallels on display there. Similarly, whether that assertion is correct or not, it seems that people who read film criticism are getting lazier too. I'll admit it, I'm one of them. Right now I'm reading a 700 page volume entitled American Film Criticism. It's a collection of the very best people who ever wrote about film putting their very best writing forward from the dawn of cinema right up to today. And so far, I've been reading every word of it. I've been reading every word of it for, oh I don't know, six months and I'm around Page 400. It's tough. See, I'm now a part of a generation (although maybe once removed) in which film criticism is reduced to soundbites. I've indulged. Back in the day you picked up a newspaper because it had your favourite critic and you read everything they had to say because they wrote well and were generally more interesting than the movies they wrote about. Now personality is, (somewhat/mostly?) gone. Instead of reading full pieces by one or two favourite critics we read little snippets on Rotten Tomatoes or MetaCritic of every critic just to get a flavour. It has it's benefits. It is certainly nice to get a wide array of opinions instead of been burdened to just a select few, and it is possible to read the entire review from RT if you come across something you like. It also helps those whose only goal in reading film criticism is to know if people generally like it or not in order to decide if it's worth seeing. Now criticism has gotten even simpler: Why read through all the snippets when RT will summarize them all in a couple sentences for you? Although I am fully aware that they have provided 'Consensus" for some time, I've just recently been paying attention to it. Now I can log on to the main page, see the percentage rating beside the list of new releases on the left, roll my mouse over top of the name and read quickly what the overall jest of the reviews are about. All without leaving that one page. Of course I could go on about how, as a writer, my favourite thing about reviews is not knowing what people think about the movies as much as reading great writing. But that's not the point and indeed it was a long build-up to get to my otherwise nothing point, which is that today I came across a perplexing Consensus on RT. It was for the new Jason Fiedberg/Aaron Seltzer (man it hurts to say) film Vampires Suck. I haven't seen it, but considering that I've sworn to never pay another cent to watch anything those two morons ever put their name on, my hopes aren't high. Right now it's sitting at a 6% rating with 1 person out of 30 actually finding something to like. But now look at the Consensus: "Witlessly broad and utterly devoid of laughs, Vampires Suck represents a slight step forward for the Friedberg-Seltzer team." What's going on here? If it's witlessly broad and devoid of laughs, what is it stepping forward from, killing Jews? Is it really saying, holy crap I can't believe one person actually liked this, that's the best yet or is it saying that this one feels less like getting murdered than just getting raped? Whatever it is it doesn't make sense. Can't we just call a dog a dog? I know a couple million people have read The Secret and want to look at the glass as being half full but really, a glass doesn't even factor into the equation when it comes to these filmmakers. I have no real point here other than to scratch my head and maybe laugh at myself for even being bothered to care. But maybe there is something here. Armond White just told Slash Film that he thought Roger Ebert more or less ruined film criticism and, although I haven't listened to his reasoning, I assume it's because Ebert opened up criticism to a more mainstream audience. It made, so to speak, film geekery cool and stripped criticism of it's intelligence. I don't agree with that logic as Ebert seemed to have shown film lovers that they could take criticism away from the intellectuals and give back to the moviegoers who could just as easily wage their own Siskel and Ebert style debates at home. If that is true (and again, I don't think it is in the sense that it ruined film criticism) than what do we make of the whole of criticism being reduced to one sentence bites of information, especially when they seem widely implausible (based on this example of course, I can't qualify that statement with any other proof). Is this helpful? Is this criticism? Is that, ultimately, what we want? Discuss.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

One Minute Review: Black Dynamite

The problem with Black Dynamite is that it doesn't quite know whether it is a spoof or an homage and so it fails at both. How couldn't it? After all, as an homage it comes up short because what made Blaxpoltation so popular in the first place is that it had no point of reference other than itself. It didn't pay tribute to anything, wasn't inspired by anything and therefore played by it's own rules. As tribute, Black Dynamite has knowledge as it's enemy. It knows what Blaxplotation became, what it stood for, how it worked and so on. In this case, knowledge certainly isn't power. As a spoof it doesn't work because Blaxplotation was so off the wall that it, in many cases, played like it's own spoof. Black Dynamite is thus best when it is playing it perfectly straight because it combines the best of both spoof and tribute and manages to feel, in spite of itself, like an actual movie and can be quite funny. Here's a perfect example:
The film begins failing when it goes into full on Airplane style spoof mode in which it tries too hard and achieves too little. If nothing more though, Black Dynamite acts as an amusing reminder of why we should go back and rediscover all those bBaxplotion classics once again.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Celebrity Connection- Tommy Wiseau

If you haven't heard of Tommy Wiseau well, I hadn't either. I'd see the poster kicking around for his film The Room but had no idea what it was or that it was considered anything special. Then yesterday I had it brought to my attention that it was being hailed as one of the worst films ever made. Of course, I had to check it out and indeed, what I found was pretty awful. I mean, look:

It's bad enough that Wiseau's accent sounds almost exactly like Uwe Boll's but what's even more distracting is this:

Could Tommy Wiseau really be Christopher Walken in disguise? You decide.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Whoring Myself for All It's Worth

Last Friday, after Wild Celtic was nice enough to give me props in her interview with Only Good Movies I discovered a new, very good site. I was also jealous and wanted an interview of my very own since I'll do just about anything to get my name in print and alas, here it is.

Thanks to Shane Rivers for letting me be a part of his site. Be sure to check it out and also swing by his sister site A1 Movies Reviews which, ya know, has reviews.

Friday, August 6, 2010

One Minute Review: Whiteout

Whiteout is a perfectly serviceable thriller and that's exactly it's problem. It's as well made as it's genre requires and acted to the same degree of competence, but it's about as good as the last time you saw it, and the time before that, and the time before that, and nearly every time you've seen it for the last 20 years or so. Whiteout is strictly by-the-book. It does what it needs to and doesn't try a whole lot harder. The story is the same as every other trapped-in-a-desolate-location/mad-slasher-on-the-lose film there has ever been and the conventions pop up like clockwork. There is however one kind of ingenious sequence towards the end. The whiteouts are so bad at the Arctic post where Kate Beckinsale is stationed that to get around from building to building the crew need to attach carabiners to ropes that are tied up around the base. This leads to an exciting climactic chase outside between the killer and the good guys, who cannot see each other outside of six inches from their face. But even this is problematic as all of the characters, bundled up in their snow gear, all look more or less the same. That seems to be what everything about this film comes down to.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Celebrity Connection: Dolph Lundgren

Dolph Lungren may always be most famous for playing Ivan Drago, the most ridiculous character in the whole Rocky series (although I bet there's at least one out there who swears by I Come in Peace). As far as 80s action heroes (or villains) went, Lundgren was never a very engaging actor. If you could even call what he does acting. It's more like starring, menacing, towering, etc. Put it this way, it never took Lundgren's agent much imagination in deciding what kind of roles to find for him. Lundgren is one of the many action stars who will be featured in Sylvester Stallone's nearly here The Expendables (maybe Stallone will give him some dialogue this time?). It's hard to say if the movie will be any good but, as someone who grew up on 80s action, I'm certainly looking forward to it. On that note, check this out:

Could Chuck from Planet 51 just be Dolph Lundgren in disguise? You decide.

Dinner for Schmucks

Dinner for Schmucks is one of the very few funny comedies that I can think of that knows how to use caricature to its advantage. Come to think of it, caricature is the only possible way this film could work. From any other angle the material would be tasteless and offensive. As a portrait of caricatures running lose amongst their own, it’s very funny, kind of sweet and even maybe a touch endearing as well. It’s still, as far as the dinner itself is concerned, a little in bad taste, but it remains a tasty meal. The set-up for the film is borrowed from the 1998 French comedy The Dinner Game in which a sixth floor analyst, knowing there is a vacancy in the company, comes up with a brilliant idea to woo a hundred million dollar client their way. However the boss (Bruce Greenwood) wants to get to know Tim (Paul Rudd, playing the straight man) a little better before giving him the new office and invites him to the monthly company dinner. The object of the dinner is for each employee to go out into the world and find someone of very “special” talents which, without the quotations, translates into stupid. Tim, by strange coincidence runs into Barry (Steve Carell) who is, among other things, a very “special” kind of guy. Barry is an IRS man who, in his spare time, combs the streets looking for dead mice that he can stuff and dress up and put into scenes that he can photograph and make models out of. When Tim meets him his latest Mousterpiece involves recreating The Last Supper down to the very last beard. Not impressed is Tim’s girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) who owns an art gallery and is working with the devilishly pretentious artist Kieran (Flight of the Concord’s Jemaine Clement) who explains to Tim his philosophies on the beauty of living with goats and would be considered a very "special" kind of guy where he not, ya know, famous. Also amongst the collection of colour is Barry’s boss Therman (Zack Galifianakis) who believes that he can control people’s minds, reminding of what Socrates said about how orators can convince a group of people more about medicine than a doctor, assuming all of those people knew nothing of medicine to begin with. If the plot sounds crass, well, in a way it is. But it works because Clement, Galifianakis and especially Carell play the characters not only high, but straight as well. It’s obvious that all of these men are exaggerations of comic types so, when it comes time to sit back, during the dinner and watch them be mocked, it is, not quite okay, but acceptable in a funny kind of way. However, as many comedies find out, to go over-the-top is not something many do with grace. Caricature is, after all, mostly poor man’s satire, but here it’s played completely straight. The worst comedies are the ones that try desperately to be funny. They nudge the audience along with them. Carell is maybe one of the best men there is at playing exceptionally dumb men who never manage to look the part. Because Carell actually plays Barry as a character you kind of grow to like the poor bum. Sure he’s about as swift as a rock and turns everything he involves himself with into complete devastation but he means well and generally does care, which leads to some tender moments that a lesser comedy probably wouldn’t be bothered with. Barry, in his own special way, has the kind of naive innocence that made Chaplin’s the Tramp one of the cinema’s most beloved characters. That’s the secret to great comedy and why Dinner for Schmucks works. Were it to ever let on to the audience that it were trying to be funny it would be crass and dumb. Instead it shoots straight and builds characters that, despite it all, you grow to like and root for on the way to the inevitable conclusion where Tim realizes that, if this is the cost of doing business, maybe he’s in the wrong one. Anyone can act like an idiot and pass it off as comedy. Real comedy is about people who, despite everything else, just so happen to be a few cards short of a whole deck.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Grown Ups

There’s nothing particularly wrong with Grown Ups exact that there’s nothing particularly right with it either. It’s everything you’d expect from an Adam Sandler comedy: it’s got poo and pee and grown men acting like stupid children, talking about the things that most fascinate those who never quite managed to grow out of grade eight like boobies and tree ropes and shooting arrows into the sky and seeing who is the last to run for cover, etc. It’s all perfectly serviceable and inoffensive, but so what? Why be content on being stuck in middle ground? It’s amusing without every really being funny; nice without ever really being sweet; and immature without every really being rambunctious. And then it ends. It's characters go on vacation and the movie goes right along with them. The film stars all of Adam Sandler’s go to guys: David Spade, Chris Rock, Kevin James and Rob Schneider, who all, more or less, play variations of their go to character. They’re five high school buddies who go back for a weekend at the old cottage after the death of their beloved basketball coach. Their week, unsurprisingly, will consist of them all sitting around, drinking beers, trading one-liner insults as if they’d been keeping them to themselves all these years, and just general screwing around. Every once in a while they decide to get up and actually do something like a trip to the water park in which, first one, and then all of them realize that the dye they put in the water to detect pee isn’t an old fairy tale after all. Grown Ups does a lot of that. It’ll give you a joke that is kind of amusing and then repeat it again and again. This is the unfortunate case for Spade who, while running, trips over a stump to land face first in doo-doo only to, moments later, have it put right back there when Sadler runs over his back. It’s like director Dennis Dugan and his boys need to either make sure they wring it for every laugh it can get or to make sure we understand just how funny they are being. And that’s ultimately the problem. All of these men, at any given moment, are acting as if they are really funny guys. The best comedy happens when it involves people who don’t know that comedy is happening to them. Every laugh in Grown Ups seems to come packaged with a wink to the camera. Although Grown Ups is a pedestrian movie in which its stars can all play it safe and phone it in, Spade, although never mistaken for a great comedic talent, is particularly lazy playing the freewheeling Marcus who drinks too much, sleeps on the couch, beds anything that gives him a second look and is that crass, bloated moron that no one really likes, but you don’t have the heart to tell. Spade’s been playing that character his entire career and here essentially looks like a man who walked on set, delivered his lines once and went back to bed. As for the rest of the cast: Rock is reduced to bad puns about his mother-in-law’s enormous bunions; Sandler does Sandler; while James, the most likable of the bunch manages to get off a few laughs here and there. Schnieder however, again not surprisingly, plays right into big caricature as the pretentious, toupee clad spiritualist husband of a much older woman and three daughters, only one of which, of course, is believable as his. The story has a mild message about how Sandler, not too believable as a powerful Hollywood agent, is distressed that his kids are too lazy to do anything for themselves and spend all day playing violent video games, and wants them to get outside and discover the fun of nature that him and his buddies had when they were young. The wives of the men are played by Salma Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph who bring more star power to an already crowded story. In the end the movie is too bland, the characters all too nice, and the comedy all too unsophisticated to really work. The guys seem to be having fun, and that helps, but in the end, the realization creeps in that the premise of five guys sitting around at a beautiful cottage, going over the past would be a lot more enjoyable to be doing than watching.

The Karate Kid

After 12 year old Dre (Jaden Smith) relocates from Detroit to China with his mother (Taraji P. Henson) due to a work transfer, he meets a cute Asian schoolgirl who plays the violin. “You’re not doing it right,” her instructor tells her. “You have to play the pauses.” That’s valuable advice that just about every big Hollywood movie should take advantage of. It’s exactly what The Karate Kid does right. This is not, despite every opportunity to be, some slam bang action movie or some lazy remake, but a grand family entertainment. It is funny and exciting and warm and heartfelt and beautiful and genuinely cares about its character on some fundamental human level. Most movies can’t be bothered and sleepwalk their way to formulaic conclusions. The Karate Kid is awake and alive. In China Dre quickly falls out of favor with a group of young martial arts students who bully him, torment him and even beat him up. He hates China, wants to go home and, unfortunately for him, the kids all have the athletic capabilities of trained Hollywood stuntmen. Then one day, when one of the kids is prepared to administer one kick too many to poor Dre’s ribs, he is saved by his building’s maintenance man Mr. Han (Jackie Chan). Dre is livid and wants to learn kung-fu in order to beat those kids into submission. No, tells Han wisely, “Kung-fu is not to create wars, it is to make peace among enemies.” Knowing that, somewhere along the line, these kids have been taught an ugly, violent kung-fu, Han goes to speak with their teacher, an evil man who teaches his students to inflict pain to their opponents and fight without mercy. The bullying will stop, promises the teacher, if Dre fights his students one-to-one in the upcoming tournament. Thus, Mr. Han becomes Dre’s personal kung-fu teacher. His first lesson: hanging up his jacket. “Kung-fu is in everything we do,” explains Han. “It is life.” What delicate insight The Karate Kid provides. Filmed in China, it’s a film that not only frolics in the beauty of the country, but respects and understands its traditions. The film misses every opportunity to romanticize kung-fu as an outlet for kids to beat each other into pulps and instead meditates on the power of kung-fu as, not a medium for violence, but a way of life that teaches honour, respect and discipline above all else. In an age where summer movies jump out of the gate with both guns blazing, it’s so refreshing to find one that takes it’s time, develops it’s characters and understands them and their ways and respects their culture. Because of this, the film has, not only a calmness, but a fullness to it as well. Kids are so used to being battered over the head with non-stop computer generated images that it’s a godsend to see scenes like the ones where the camera spins around Dre and Han as they practice atop the Great Wall of China; taking a moment away from the fight just to admire the view. Or one of the film’s best scenes in which Dre and Han practice at night, their shadows cast against the wall after a big dramatic moment. It’s not just another Hollywood fight. It’s a healing process. How powerful these lessons will be to both children and adults who yearn for the days when movies where about stories that meant something and characters we could care about and root for. It’s strange to call The Karate Kid a film in the classic tradition of grand Hollywood entertainment when it seems to be the least traditional film in a summer filled with flying tanks, stampeding bulls and cities folding in on themselves. The Karate Kid could be the first step in Hollywood learning to rediscover itself. All of this is due in no small part to the actors. In Jaden Smith you get an actor who knows how to play a real, likable kid. Sure, you can see the smooth wit of his superstar father Will shining out from around the edges but this, like dad, is a genuinely talented kid. Smith is funny and smooth, not in a condescending way, but in a way that a cool but kind of insecure 12 year old kid would be. But like all kids that age, he’s not perfect and has a lesson or two he is yet to learn. That he learns it through his training is not cheaply sentimental but reflects a genuine growing process in which a kid doesn’t quite become a man, but steps onto the road towards it. Jackie Chan, slowing down in his age, has hung up his hat as an action movie hero and instead does a wonderful job of being old and wise, while never quite letting go of that boyish charm that made him a star in the first place. His Han is also not a perfect man and, despite his hard, ragged exterior, houses deep dramatic hurts that Chan is able to perfectly channel. If the film takes one wrong step it is in the tournament itself in which kids fight like highly skilled Hollywood martial artists and not, you know, like kids. The big, supposed to be impressive moves, which are mostly aided by computers, are the only unnatural thing in the entire movie and end up distracting for a moment from what is, otherwise a wonderful, endearing film.