Thursday, June 17, 2010

Scenes Made of Awesome - Me and You and Everyone We Know

Miranda July's wonderfully bizarre Me and You and Everyone We Know came up on one of the blogs I read as an example of great use of scatological humor in movies, and I almost did a post about the "poop back and forth" scene instead (Brandon Ratcliff is seriously one of the cutest kid actors in the History of Cute). But then I watched the Tyrone Street scene again. This is one of my favorite movies ever, and there are so many great, poetic scenes in it, but the Tyrone Street scene is perhaps the most special of all.

Christine (director and star July), is an elder-cab driver by day and video artist by night, and she takes one of her elder-cab clients to shop for shoes. Working at the store is a guy named Richard (John Hawkes, who Lost fans might recognize as Lennon from Season 6), and Richard is bummed because he's just separated from his wife, who doesn't seem to have loved him in quite the same way he loved her. He and Christine have a -- I don't want to call it meet-cute, but it's definitely a connection. Christine impulsively catches up to Richard as they both walk to their cars, and what follows is just plain magic. An entire lifetime together, lived in one block. The whole film is kind of about this moment, about the characters finding other people who speak their unique "language."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The A-Team

The A-Team

This plot isn't nearly as convoluted as in his previous film, Smokin' Aces, but director Joe Carnahan brings the same unabashed sense of gleeful mayhem to his take on the 1980s action-comedy series The A-Team. The movie is an origin story - a two hour expansion on essentially the opening credits of the show. How did these guys meet? What crime were they accused of that they didn't commit? Why is B.A. afraid to fly, and what's with the mohawk? All these questions and more are answered.

I really couldn't tell you with any certainty what the plot of the film is, so I am cribb. Hannibal (Liam Neeson) and Face (Bradley Cooper) already know each other when the movie begins, and very soon after the opening scene Hannibal meets B.A. (Quinton Jackson) and they rescue Face from some Mexican badasses. The threesome, in desperate need of a pilot, recruit "Howling Mad" Murdock (District 9's Sharlto Copley). And by recruit, I mean break him out of a mental hospital, because his insanity is all too real.

There is a ridiculously over-the-top opening action sequence, culminating in Hannibal uttering his famous line from the show - "I love it when a plan comes together!" And "eight years and eighty successful missions later", the Alpha Team is stationed in Iraq. They take on a mission, against fairly sound advice, and though the mission is a success, the only person who could have testified that they were acting on the U.S.'s behalf ends up being killed, and the four of them are dishonorably discharged and sent to separate maximum security prisons. Pretty darn close to the background of the show.

The rest of the film is about them breaking out and attempting to clear their names and be reinstated. This doesn't quite happen, but it effectively serves as background for the canon of the show, where we were told each week:

"...a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... The A-Team."

Something I used to love about the show back in the day was that the good guys always won and nobody got hurt (or at least killed). There have been complaints (from Mr. T, for one) that the movie doesn't follow this formula (he also complains about the sex in the movie, which makes me think he went to see something else, because there is nothing sexual except some innuendo and one kiss in the film). But I submit that both the nature of the times and the nature of the medium of film make the violence necessary. And something I appreciated is that the movie, as empty as it is in most respects, manages to deal with the violence in a surprisingly thoughtful way, giving Quinton Jackson a lot more to do with B.A. than Mr. T got to do on the show - and even giving the mohawk a backstory!

One thing critics complained about that I kind of loved - the flashbacks to things that we saw half an hour or so before. The biggest example of this is in the climax. We've already seen Face lay out the plan, but when we see the plan executed, we flash back to that "plan" scene again, and the lines have a little more meaning. Tons of movies have used this effect, and I think - at least in the climax (perhaps using it more than once was overkill) - it was crucial to understanding what was going on and the knowledge that everything that happened was part of the plan.

It might be silly, but I loved this movie to pieces. There are some weak spots, sure (most notably Biel's character, who is pretty badly written), but the good stuff far outweighs any of that. Neeson is surprisingly good in such an uncharacteristic role. Bradley Cooper is hilarious, and gorgeous. Quinton Jackson, as I said above, gives B.A. a lot more meat than just the fool-pitying. Sharlto Copley is the best thing about the "Team." And Patrick Wilson as the CIA heavy is possibly the best thing about the entire movie.

The Karate Kid (2010)

The Karate Kid (2010)

In a time of far too many remakes, this is a surprisingly good one. John Avildsen, who directed the original, had a great "underdog movie" mold and he used it to great effect with his 1984 film, just as he did 8 years before with the Best Picture winner Rocky. So when you've got a good formula, it's tricky to mess with it.

Which is why the remake is nearly a beat-for-beat copy of the original, only put into the new setting of China so that the sights are different, more dramatic, more majestic. And, despite what the title says (I will never understand why that essential change was not made), it's a different martial art, so the moves are different. Seriously, it's like all those posts about Avatar this winter, where someone just took a copy of the already existing story and, as they say, filed the serial numbers off (and not even all of them). Dre instantly makes a friend when he gets to his new home, but the guy disappears after the first few minutes of the movie. Dre is targeted by the bullies because he flirts with a girl one of them knows (or is "promised" to?). He gets beaten up and hides from the bullies at school. He gets just a little revenge and gets a group ass-kicking for his trouble, which is interrupted by the maintenance man who is actually rather good at ass-kicking himself. Dre and the maintenance man go to the - I'm sure the word is not dojo - class where his bullies are learning kung fu, and the similarities to the original have to be seen to be believed. Even the tournament hits almost exactly every note the original does. Dre is given a special garment - in this case a white tunic "like Bruce Lee's" before his first fight. There is then a tournament montage accompanied by some peppy music - sadly, not Joe Esposito's awesome "You're the Best." Dre makes it to the semi-finals and his opponent is told by his master to break a rule and disqualify himself in order to put Dre out of commission. Dre is injured and pleads with his teacher to do that magic healing thing we saw earlier in the film so that he can fight in the final. Dre goes to fight, on an injured leg, and his final opponent is instructed to sweep break his leg. And while it's not the Crane, Dre still witnesses ancient technique that somehow masters and uses in the very end to defeat his opponent.

This is not to say that these similarities are a flaw in the film. Far from it. For people who haven't seen the original, this simply pushes all the same buttons that the original did for us fans. As I said, it's a very effective formula, so why mess with it. For us fans, though, it does something just as cool. Since we know how the story goes, it becomes a game of how much of the original can they fit into this new setting, and how will they transpose our favorite elements of the original.

I thought this was a very satisfying film. Jaden Smith, it must be said, is a little annoying at times. Jackie Chan gets to demonstrate that he can act AND fight (his character's Obligatory Family Tragedy scene is actually very well played). And Taraji P. Henson is possibly the strongest link in the cast.