Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Karate Kid [2010]

Director: Harald Zwart
Cast: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson, Wen Wen Han, Zhenwei Wang
Martial Arts/Comedy/Drama
Rating: General
Comment: "About as predictable as any remake, but this is a remake that stands on it's own two feet..."

One look at the cast and it is easy to recognise that this movie was made as a star vehicle for the Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith offspring, Jaden Smith. Frankly FPBM! thinks it is a spectacular idea for he truly deserves a shot, even at his young age. He first came into prominence with the release of the Chris Gardner biopic, The Pursuit of Happyness [2006]. Being a child actor, few would expect him to actually wow the audience with the kind of acting adults are capable of. In The Karate Kid, however, it might render his first performance seem mediocre at best for he seemed to have improved a lot since.

Being a remake, little can be said about the plot. Jaden Smith stars as a twelve-year-old whom with his mother, relocates to China. Cultural differences is not the only trouble he faces, he also has to face becoming a bully victim. He then forge an unlikely alliance with an aging maintenance man, who teaches him kung fu as a mean to protect himself.

Yes, Kung fu. Not Karate, but Kung fu. What prompted this change is nobody's guess, but most probably because of the change in the setting. From an aesthetic point of view, maybe it is because Kung fu has a reputation of being beautiful but deadly art; and they show up better, flashier on camera. In fact, the entire movie is beautiful thanks to it's excellent cinematography.

One can't help but applaud Jaden Smith for his performance. Not only he is a spitting image of his father, it would also seem like he inherited his talents as well. He mixes action with comedy very well and I am glad he refrained from incorporating the archetypal African-American Gangsta-style of acting. More importantly, you will no longer feel like he is a wannabe who cashes in on his father's fame. No doubt, judging from what can be seen here, he will grow up into a credible movie star in his own right.

The inclusion of Jackie Chan in this film might initially appear questionable. Sure, he has a life-long reputation of a legendary action star and watching him portray a kung fu master is not at all surprising. But take notice that ever since he's been pushing fifty, he began venturing more into dramatic roles with his most successful one so far being Shinjuku Incident [2009]. His performance in The Karate Kid may have further strengthened his credibility as a dramatic actor - his character's physical prowess was downplayed and he was shown to have a prominent sensitive side.

My only complaint is the movie could have benefited from shorter running time by including less training montage. But this issue is very benign and it hardly disrupts the viewing experience.

Overall, this is a remake you would not want to miss for it is an absolute pleasure to watch. If you're sentimental enough, you might even shed a tear or two.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Story
- Heart-warming
- Solid performances
- Inspiring

The Bad [-10]
- A tad long

100 - 10 = 90 points

Friday, June 18, 2010

Toy Story 3 [2010]

Director: Lee Unkrich
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton
Rating: General
Comment: "Surprisingly we can never outgrow these toys for they never get old..."

Fifteen years after it's debut, the toys are back for the third time and guess what? We still care about them. What makes the Toy Story series so endearing is how they play with nostalgia and evoke those childhood memories few of us could really remember, but we all knew it was some of the best years of our life. After three movies, it still works.

Toy Story 3 tells the part of the story that was hinted in it's predecessor; beloved Andy is all grown up and is going off to college. Few people play with toys beyond the age of fifteen, and Andy is no different. Hence, the toys now have two possible routes waiting for them; they can only either go to the trash, or be donated.

I shall not give away too much details here, but some of you might have already guessed that chances are only the principal cast remain for this sequel. That doesn't mean you will feel like there is something missing, for you could never go wrong with Pixar. The movies has plenty of laughs, fond memories of our own childhood and plenty more.

If there are any complaints however, certain elements from the second movie was carried over to the third movie. Whether or not this is intentional is no one's idea, but it might hamper the experience for you will not be left guessing as to who is the 'villain' this time around.

Toy Story 4 is very much unlikely, for the ending of this movie pretty much wraps everything up for the toys. This is probably the most heart-warming moment of them all for Andy is a very sentimental guy - let's just leave it at that.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Story
- Heart-warming

The Bad [-30]
- Predictability

100 - 30 = 70 points

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Best Collaborations

People often forget that directing and acting are jobs because they are so glamorous. But it remain as that - a job. With that being said, virtually any job require teamwork and good teamwork means good outcome. Film-making is no different. Very often we see the same people working behind the screen of movies that turn out so well. Without a doubt, credit goes to excellent teamwork among the production team.

This entry shall focus on what we can see on the screen; the common recurring collaborations between any given director and lead actors. The numbering may be a subject of dispute, but bear in mind that these rankings are the result of filtering them through several criteria;
  1. The collaboration occurred more than twice
  2. Critical success comes first, but commercial success is also taken into consideration
  3. Varying nature of subject matter
  4. Total amount of successful collaborations
  5. Cultural significance
Hence without further ado, here are the unofficial ranking of some of the best duo to ever work on movies.

#1 Akira Kurosawa & Toshiro Mifune
Number of Collaborations:

Greatest Hits:
Rashomon [1950]
Seven Samurai [1954]
The Hidden Fortress [1958]
Yojimbo [1961]

A collaboration that lasted almost two decades, the influence of the Kurosawa-Mifune pair remain to this day arguably unsurpassed.
Now, Akira Kurosawa would easily top any knowledgeable movie buff's list of Greatest Filmmakers of All Time and not without good reasons. The man pioneered many film-making techniques that has now became cliches. But the man behind the camera can only do so much. That is where Japanese thespian legend comes in, Toshiro Mifune brought to the set the kind of talent that complemented with Kurosawa's vision.
Although their collaboration ended bitterly, both acknowledged that they could not have made a mark in the industry the way they did if it weren't for each other. With that being said, this proved to be not only one of the best collaborations the movie world has ever seen, but also one of the most important.

#2 Martin Scorsese & Robert De Niro
Number of Collaborations:

Greatest Hits (as of 2010) :
Taxi Driver [1976]
Raging Bull [1980]
Goodfellas [1990]

Controversial filmmaker Martin Scorsese who had always been a stride ahead of his contemporaries, could not have found a better lead actor to complement his vision in the Hall of Famer, Robert De Niro. Their first collaboration in Taxi Driver [1976] was particularly important to both men, whose careers flourished as a result from it.
As of 2010, they had worked together for a total of eight times. Although they have their ups and downs, with landmark movies like Raging Bull [1980] and Goodfellas [1990], their collaboration will remain unforgotten for generations to come.

#3 James Cameron & Arnold Schwarzenegger
Number of Collaborations:

Greatest Hits (as of 2010) :
The Terminator [1984]
Terminator II: Judgment Day [1991]

Very rare do we ever get to see a collaboration that pretty much defined an era, along with that, their collaboration also redefined the action/sci-fi genre while bringing something special to the table.
James Cameron, a visionary filmmaker who had always been ahead of the curve, saw something special in Schwarzenegger. The man may not be much of an actor, for he is more of a prop. But nevertheless the Austrian Oak had what it takes to fulfill Cameron's vision of a killing machine that would stop at nothing to accomplish it's mission.
Aside from their work in the Terminator series, they had only one other collaboration in the form of action/comedy/romance True Lies [1994] in which Schwarzenegger starred alongside Jamie Lee Curtis. The film was also very commendable, although ultimately forgettable. Not to take credit away from their hard work, this is simply a matter of Terminator II: Judgment Day [1991] being a tough act to follow.

#4 Tim Burton & Johnny Depp
Number of Collaborations:

Greatest Hits (as of 2010) :
Edward Scissorhands [1990]
Sleepy Hollow [1999]
Sweeney Todd [2007]

What made them click was their unwillingness to conform to Hollywood norms. What set them apart from the rest of the pack is their quirky way of looking at the world, which is reflected in all of the movies they have worked on thus far - All seven of them (Rumour has it there is another one coming in 2011). Even so, the world could never get tired of seeing their names sharing screen credit. If anything, we can never have enough of it.
However, that is not to say that neither of them could do without the other for they both have a very respectable body of work outside of their collaboration. But we all know why we love seeing Johnny Depp in a Tim Burton movie; they take us to a place we are all familiar with, yet could never get used to - that place where you are unsure if you are still dreaming or awake. That is exactly the kind of feeling these duo are able to evoke. Tim Burton provides the world, and Johnny Depp makes it believable.

#5 Ridley Scott & Russell Crowe
Number of Collaborations:

Greatest Hits (as of 2010) :
Gladiator [2000]
American Gangster [2007]

Prior to the movie that revitalised the swords-and-sandals genre, these two had never shared screen credit but they both at the time had already possessed a solid career in show business - Ridley Scott in particular whose body of work include the sci-fi classics such as Alien [1979] and Blade Runner [1982].
Ridley Scott is known for taking meticulous care in the making of his movies, topped only by the legendary Stanley Kubrick. Scott is also known for his wide range as a director, having directed various genres of movies from family-friendly movies, to dark and murky sci-fi, to the epic of biblical proportions. Nothing could complement his abilities better than the Australian actor, Russell Crowe whose range as an actor is just as intriguing.
Their first collaboration - Gladiator [2000] - proved to be fruitful; a critical and commercial success, raking in more than 450 million dollars in worldwide gross. They had since worked together five more times as of 2010.

#6 Steven Spielberg & Tom Hanks
Number of Collaborations:

Greatest Hits (as of 2010) :
Saving Private Ryan [1998]
Catch Me If You Can [2002]
The Terminal [2004]

Steven Spielberg, a versatile director whose name is a staple in the movie business as Kleenex is to tissue papers. Spielberg has an overwhelmingly amazing body of work. But few of them are as memorable as his works with fellow Hall of Famer, the living legend Tom Hanks.
To date, they have worked together only three times, but those three movies are all special in their own right - All three feature different settings, mood and subject matter. All three elements were played masterfully and one cannot imagine anyone else filling in the shoes of either silver-screen legends.
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