Tuesday, 21 June 2011

REVIEW: The Karate Kid

Another Hollywood remake, but this time a worthy one.

Okay, so this film has been out for a while, but it's the first film I've seen for a while as I'm on Season 8 now of The X Files (so so close) and it's been eating up all my time, but I'm now committed to finishing it and ended up just sticking this on and was pleasantly surprised.

My immediate problem was that I hate Will Smith. I find his 'acting' unbearable and his cockiness which might seem endearing I find rather irritating and let's be honest, he's not a great rapper either (as much as I know on the subject of rapping), so the idea of his offspring kicking butt at 12 or however old he is already grates. But then I do like his daughters 'Whip My Hair' and so didn't want to hate poor Jaden straight away. What's funny is that Jaden Smith might be just like a mini Will Smith, but I already think he's a better actor than his dad has ever been. It sounds strange, but I felt completely engaged with his character and what could have ended up quite cheesy actually felt rather sincere. Jaden isn't afraid of taking a knock, looking like a twat and generally being a bit wet but with that fight inside that he wants to unleash. People forget that it is that idea of spiritual self-defense that is mirrored through kung-fu, his battle isn't physical at all but rather his coming-of-age, of defeating his demons and being appreciated as an adult, the tournament is a weird Bar Mitzvah of sorts. This remake doesn't lose that essence, but instead reinforces it with a fish-out-of-water, scared kid in a completely different world trying to fit in. It's taken the idea of maturing into the foreign adult world by making it more literal - and it works.

As much as Jaden surpasses my meagre expectations by taking his self-assuredness of his dad and mixing it with a touch of humility whilst still showing off some impressive stunts for a kid, the real heart of the story is Chan. You have to love Chan. Here he is a disheartened old man that must himself learn to abolish his inner demons and you feel he has been truly battered by life and lost that will to carry on. Instead he is merely falling from one event to another until Jaden snaps him out of it and gives him 'focus'. It's a rather sweet story, without being drenched in cliche, of a father/son relationship. It's clear Jaden is missing a father figure (which is never discussed, something I feel didn't need explanation in today's kids films where every kid watching must be treated like an idiot, so a definite plus) and at the same time Chan is missing a son figure, it's something that works without seeming too cheesy, a delicate balance that it maintains throughout.

There are a few minor complaints, it's clearly meant for kids so the love story feels quite innocent, but collapses into cheesy montages quite often associated with similar children's films, but it can't be blamed for that. Neither can it be blamed for making the tournament's scoreboard look like something from the future, also with camera angles from angles we've just seen (if that makes sense, and also where are the cameras when they pull out?). Neither can it be blamed for it's simple story, it's these simple stories that work best, it didn't need anything more convoluted. However, kids jumping over walls is a bit much and even though there's a lot of training, I do wish there had been a bit more fighting as what Jaden did was impressive, but I just wish I'd seen more of it - and of course, more Chan action.

Chan's training makes just as much sense as Miyagi's back in the day, it's simple unassuming chores building up muscle, skill sets and yet also teaching respect that gets to the heart of the story. Jaden does need to learn to grow up (the jacket being a constant symbol of this) and his mother, played wonderfully by Taraji Henson, adds the light comic relief. The love interest is more to do with his love of Chinese culture, she's just a symbol, albeit a pretty one, and even though it might seem to add to the quite long running time, I think it fits quite nicely and never at any point did I think it went on too long.

Another slight issue is that it sometimes feels like a tourist video for China, all the landmarks look wonderful, everything looks great and it's never portrayed in a particularly negative light, and if so there is usually an element of redemption by the end. Having never been, I can't say what it's like, but I imagine it doesn't quite fulfill the Hollywood gloss this has, but then, what ever does?

Chan said he'd do it if it was called The Kung-Fu Kid but the stupid studios changed it back to The Karate Kid. Why bother? The people who remember the original would be older than me now (the original was released in 1984) and by calling it The Kung-Fu Kid (as it was anyway in some places) would have been indicative of it's clear progression from a standard remake. The studios missed a trick there, and hopefully they won't make any sequels but just leave it for the nice little gem of a kid's film that it is. In the grander scale of overall cinema, it might seem quite a low score, but I would think that if you go in with an open mind, you'll come out pleasantly surprised. I certainly was.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 13 June 2011

NEWS: E3 In A Nutshell

Here's the best of E3 in no certain order in quite short little bits:

Tekken Vs Street Fighter WILL happen and looks pretty good

Batman Arkham City WILL have Catwoman - and she looks good. Also Robin looks like an available character. Weird.

Mass Effect 3 looks EPIC! Coming 2012. It'll also feature use of Kinect!

Talking of Kinect, Star Wars Kinect looks pretty fucking cool.

Assassin's Creed Revelations is about Ezio (again) and will be available November 15th and is just another stepping stone to Assassin's Creed 3. It seems people love Ezio too much, the smarmy bugger. Also coming to Wii U. What is Wii U again?

Basically it's a massive handheld controller with a touchscreen, it's HD and is supposed to be more powerful than a PS3 and 360. I'm dubious. There's been too much emphasis on the controller apparently and people just don't know what it is, or what it's supposed to do. As such, shares have fallen and the head of Nintendo even admitted he got it wrong. No-one really knows what it is, or whether they should actually care. It even cheekily used 360 and PS3 footage for it's launch. Naughty U.

Mario Kart 3DS might save Nintendo's poor sales of the unit

Aliens: Colonial Marines has now finally been set a date in 2012. It's been talked about for a while but I doubt it will impress much.

Resident Evil is getting TWO games for 3DS. Single player 'story' type game Revelations and arcade type game The Mercenaries. Revelations has Jill in it. Poor girl.

Also Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City has a trailer that makes it look absolutely awesome. Can't wait!

New Tomb Raider game looks pretty bloody amazing! But reminds me of Uncharted, demo was very impressive....

Playstation Vita will be region free. Don't know what it is? Only Sony's new portable gaming machine. If you're not up to date, it comes with dual quad-core processors, an OLED touchscreen, front and rear facing cams, 3G optional, rear touchscreen panel, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass and looks pretty neat. Apparently it's quite big though, but has dual thumbsticks and the screens a whopping 5 inches. Pretty good. As well as Uncharted, there will be a new Bioshock as well created just for Vita.

Duke Nukem Forever looks shit. Surprise.

New Star Trek co-op game where you play Kirk and Spock. Think Kane and Lynch in space perhaps?

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (pft) to be released. I never got into Oblivion really, but I'm sure a lot of people will be excited about this.

Alan Wake: Night Springs has still not got off the ground, let alone hit E3

I'm not a big fan of Need For Speed but their latest title The Run looks like it might pull something out of the bag. A coast to coast getaway - I like it!

New Silent Hill game! Downpour! It's supposed to be a stand alone game, and as they always say, more about the original. However, graphics look dodgy to say the least. Is this really going to be on PS3? When can I get the original one anyway?

Well if you can't get the original, you can still get Shattered Memories (with multiplayer? weird), Silent Hill 2 (my favourite) and Silent Hill 3 on the Silent Hill collection that will be all in HD and all that.

So I like Dance Central? So what? Dance Central 2 is coming out and I'm a bit excited. OK? Get over it.

New Xbox dashboard is ALL about Kinect.

Jurassic Park game? Seriously? Isn't that just Dino Crisis?

Dead Rising 2: Off The Record looks like the same old stuff. I don't want a Dead Rising 3 - please make something else Capcom.

An HD Zelda thing or something as well. Never played it though. Is it big news?

I really liked Prototype so I'm a bit excited about Prototype 2 which looks pretty darn amazing. Did anyone else play the original?

Final Fantasy XIII-2 looks really, really boring.

Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater to get the 3D treatment on 3DS. Whoop! MGS 2 and 3 and Peace Walker is going to be part of the collection. Also Zone of the Enders (ZOE) will be coming out as a collection, for those who haven't played it - I bloody loved it and well worth to see what it's like in HD. When are we going to see the new MGS though? With Raiden?!! Huh??!!! Original MGS is set to be remade separately and will get a complete reworking. Can't wait!

The Darkness 2 is the sequel to the under-appreciated The Darkness, and it's been a long time coming. I thoroughly enjoyed gangster turned monster Jackie, in a revenge thriller that verged on dark horror. This time round he is the Don of the family and apparently this time The Darkness attached to him can do a whole lot more than just rip people apart.

Gears of War 3? Yes please. Looks fan-bloody-tastic.

Bioshock: Infinite (NOT a sequel) is going to blow people away.

MGS: Peace Walker, which I've played for about ten minutes on the PSP, is coming to PS3 - with some other surprises. Have I said this already? Probably.

Uncharted 3 will make me weep it will be so excruciatingly good. However, Uncharted: Golden Abyss on PSVita looks absolutely incredible.

So that's it in a nutshell. The bare bones really. To be honest, Wii U was the only surprise really. We already knew about Vita. We knew what games were going to be coming out (yes Modern Warfare 3 as well) but nothing really shook E3 this year. I'd say Tomb Raider was the sleeper hit. Anyone else agree?

Thursday, 9 June 2011

REVIEW: Cedar Rapids

Ed Helms plays a strange version of Andy Bernard as his nice-guy-puppy-dog-eyes routine gets a bit old ...

This is a strange mix of director Arteta's usual melancholia drowned in existentialist comedy (The Good Girl, Youth In Revolt) with the upbeat frat-pack style type of humour. It makes for a slightly unsettling and uncomfortable viewing experience that leaves you wondering what you've just watched.

The story goes that Ed Helms' character Tim is a small-town guy selling insurance taking his first trip to an insurance do at Cedar Rapids. It soon becomes a tale of self-discovery as he starts learning to let loose and have a grander view of the world. This is done with the help of some friends along the way, namely John C Reilly doing his best Will Ferrell impression (that seems to be his idol after all), The Wire's Isiah Whitlock Jr (who actually references and even quotes The Wire), and lesbian Anne Heche who I swear hasn't done anything for ages. Tim is in love with his ex-school teacher that he's shagging (a remarkably good looking Sigourney Weaver) in a rather Oedipal way but his backward, conservative, rather sweet view of the world becomes corrupted when he loses his innocence in different, humorous ways.

Ed Helms is at his best here when he's let loose but the real star is Reilly who is clearly enjoying his role as a loud mouth, egotistical, brash salesman who doesn't care what people think of him. Along the way he has to win some award and Tim's fragile view of the world is shattered, there's some type of redemption here and salvation, but overall it becomes a strange sequence of events about people I neither care about nor believe exist. Tim's 'Aw shucks' naivety becomes grating and the jokes are few and far between. However, there are some great moments and memorable quotes and the idea of Cedar Rapids as some kind of Shangri La or, in more obvious terms, the city of Sodom in a more toned down fashion, is quite humorous.

It's rather slow with a few laugh out loud moments but it cannot save it from the rather drab, confusing and partially irritating feel of it all. Am I supposed to be grossed out? Am I supposed to be moved? Am I supposed to laugh here? A good ninety minutes where I wasn't bored, but not enough here that gets deep enough, or gets me laughing enough to justify a higher mark. Average at best.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 2 June 2011

REVIEW: Unknown

Liam Neeson gets back in action as he channels his Taken character and turns into another man-on-a-mission, Bourne-type identity search.

Identity theft is a massive problem, but when instead of some nob using your credit card in another country, they take over your life so completely that even your wife denies that you're you and then you run into ... you. It's a whole other level of fraud.

The film begins with January Jones and Liam Neeson (a bit of an age difference maybe) getting off a plane and then he forgets his briefcase. Oh dear. He ventures back to get it but gets in an accident and then finds that he's been replaced by some weirdo. The problem is that I pretty much figured it out immediately, and it ruined the whole experience of the film but never mind. What happens is Liam Neeson tries to prove that he is really who he is while people are trying to kill him along the way, he shacks up with Diane Kruger and then it gets a bit revenge-ish as the pieces fall into place.

Simple enough plot and it kept me entertained throughout, with some good chase scenes that didn't get too ridiculous but remained believable in the context of the plot. Berlin also gets a good portrayal as they go from landmarks to clubs to hotels and all over, but the problem is I've seen it before. The other problem is that the whole time it's almost laughable how Neeson just looks like a crazy idiot spouting nonsense and there are a few plotholes along the way. However, there are some highlights, for instance the Stasi guy played by Hitler from Downfall makes a very understated performance as a man obsessed with details and somewhat trying to repent for past sins of himself and perhaps Germany. His scene with Frank Langella, a too brief appearance, is probably it's strongest, a slow yet knowingly respectful old school way of thinking in a film I'd never thought I'd see these two acting heavyweights in.

The directing is subtle but it works, it's a throwaway movie that will keep people entertained. The passiveness of Jones is something that grates in that, much like Betty in Mad Men, she looks emotionally dead inside, perhaps why she has been chosen and I'm not sure if she's a good actress or not. I'll leave this up for debate. Neeson gives it all like he always does, no matter how terrible the film and I hope that he still does more action films as I have to say he's one of my favourite actors.

Overall, there's nothing here you wouldn't have seen elsewhere before and, even if you do figure it out sooner rather than later, it's still quite an enjoyable ride albeit a stupid one.

Rating: 6/10