Thursday, 22 July 2010

The A-Team Review

During one of the central action set-pieces in the movie update of 80’s action TV show The A-Team, there is a scenario in which, through an increasingly ridiculous chain of events, a tank complete with parachutes crashes through the sky towards Earth, machine guns rattling and rocket launcher booming as they fire against an enemy plane.
“Are they trying to shoot down the other drone?”, asks one character.
“No, they’re trying to fly that tank”, comes the reply.

If you think that sounds intensely silly, then you would most probably be right. If you think that sounds rubbish, then you’re probably better off leaving The A-Team unwatched and going and seeing Inception again.

While the characters, the theme tune and the catch-phrases from the A-Team are all undoubtedly iconic, I must confess that I am too young to remember the original show myself, and so for this review I am forced to focus mainly upon the film itself.

From the offset, the tone and aim of the A-Team is made very clear. It is here to entertain you, make you grin, laugh, and wonder if it will get any more outlandish. As Bradley Cooper’s Faceman says to his leader,
“This is beyond nuts, boss!”
“It gets better”, responds Liam Neeson’s Hannibal.

The camaraderie and snappy back-and-forth remarks between the characters is both fun and witty, each personality played well and knowingly by the cast.

When it comes to the action though, which is suitably over the top, there is much less of a tongue-in-cheek vibe. This is a legitimate action film, and is often genuinely exciting, just set in a world where nothing is seen as being ‘too ridiculous’.

The script retains the character identities of the original team, such as B.A’s fear of flying, Face’s womanising ways and Hannibal’s pride of his men.

Sharlto Copley in particular, who was fantastic in last summer’s brilliant sci-fi District 9, is great fun as Howlin’ Mad Murdock. Quinton Jackson’s B.A retains his catchphrases and character traits, but sadly isn’t given much to do or much time to develop, but Bradley Cooper is obviously having a ball and Neeson admirably enters into the spirit of the whole thing.

While it’s all thoroughly enjoyable and ridiculous, the movie isn’t without its problems. For such a simple film, the plot is needlessly convoluted, and it can be hard to keep up with who is betraying who. These betrayals are never big twists, begging the question as to why they’re there at all. The A-Team is at its most enjoyable in its opening hour, when it’s at its most straight-forward, particularly in a great pre-credits sequence.

Another problem is the CGI. Special effects are ever-improving, with most of Avatar being almost photo-realistic, but lots of its usage in the A-Team is obvious and sometimes takes you out of the moment when you should be just sitting and enjoying the carnage. It also means that at times there’s little tension. If the audience doesn’t believe that actions onscreen are actually happening, its easy to find yourself thinking that the characters are never really in any danger.

However, this shouldn’t stop people from going to see it. The A-Team is ridiculous, over the top, but surprisingly enjoyable, and it makes absolutely no apologies for that. At its most fun, it’s hard to argue as Hannibal claims that “overkill is under-rated”. With a disengaged brain, its very entertaining. But anyone going expecting substance? I pity the fool.

Entertainment Value: 3.5/5
Genre Value: 3.5/5
Style: 2.5/5
Overall: 3/5

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The Rebound Review

Last year, a film called (500) Days of Summer found its way onto cinema screens. It was a refreshing, honest, stylistic take on the romantic comedy genre, both innovative and modern.

Now comes The Rebound, a new rom-com starring Catherine Zeta Jones. The Rebound likes to think it is refreshing and honest. It sees itself as modern, as being something different in the rom-com market. But it isn’t. It’s a confused, lazy and unfunny mess.

It’s telling of the so-called ‘comedy’ that the funniest thing about the film is the irony of Catherine Zeta Jones dating somebody who is actually 20 years younger than her.

Sandy is a 40-something stay-at-home mother living in the suburbs of New York. When she realises her husband is cheating on her, she promptly ups and leaves, taking the children with her. Setting herself up in the Big City, she quickly gets a decent job at a sports news station and an apartment (what, no recession?), complete with a cute guy in his 20s who works in the coffee shop below. Said cute guy, Aram, ends up babysitting for Sandy’s kids, and then...
Well, you can guess what happens from there.

Catherine Zeta Jones is serviceable enough in her role, though she is fairly bland throughout. However, Justin Bartha, playing Aram, is dreadfully one-note, with all his lines delivered in the same monotonous drawl. His part could have been played to similar effect by a robot, or Spock. No emotion necessary.

Then there’s the problem of the jokes. Simply put, The Rebound just isn’t very funny. There are a couple of smiles and the odd chuckle, but nothing close enough to constitute a laugh.

The film veers wildly in tone, with several moments of averagely-done serious drama, punctuated by odd gross-out gags. Most of the jokes are completely random, deriving neither from plot or character, and seemingly tacked on. Those that are character driven aren’t funny, including a cringe-worthy scene in a Women’s Center. A woman beating up a man dressed as a sumo-wrestler? Not particularly amusing. The worst part is that, in context, this could have been a genuinely dramatic and emotional moment.

Halfway through, the jokes run out, and the film becomes more of a straight middle-of-the-road drama. And whilst that means it’s a slight improvement on what’s come before, it’s too little too late.

The ending of the film also presents a problem, with the very last seconds contradicting the 15 minutes which precede it. With events moving back to a more realistic area in this section, though providing none of the emotional heft that it thinks it does, the final shots return to the fantastical romantic ideal that it seemed to have left behind, which just left me thinking: what was the point?

To watch a truly modern and innovative romance, do yourself a favour and spend your £7 on a copy of (500) Days of Summer or Once instead of this mess.

Entertainment Value: 2/5
Genre Value: 2/5
Style: 1.5/5
Overall Rating: 2/5

Monday, 12 July 2010

The Karate Kid (2010) Review

The latest film to get the Hollywood re-make treatment is 80s classic The Karate Kid. Here the story remains the same; bullied kid finds a mentor in a strange old Asian man, learns karate and faces his tormenters in a martial arts tournament. But now, Ralph Macchio’s Daniel-San is Jaden (son of Will) Smith’s Shao-Dre, Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi is Jackie Chan’s Mr. Han, and California has been substituted for Beijing. Oh, and it’s not Karate anymore. It’s Kung Fu.

As the opening credits roll, with hip-hop beats blaring from the speakers, it’s clear that this is most definitely an update for a modern audience. I doubted whether a remake of the original would work two decades later - after all, it is very much a film of its time, with its fun, but cheesy and over-the-top appeal. Add to that the hair, the fashion and the music, and it’s difficult to imagine the film being set at any other time than 80s America.

However, the new version triumphs in truly retaining the spirit and charm of its predecessor. The relocation to China works surprisingly well, and serves to distinguish the film, giving it a different identity to the original. The city of Beijing, though being a typically tourists-eye view (characters visit the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City), is represented as being culturally diverse, and the scenery is often absolutely stunning.

Jaden Smith makes for an excellent Dre, clearly inheriting the acting skills and charm of his father. He retains believability as the kid forced to move from his home, friends and comfortable surroundings to a new life in China. His physicality is also extremely impressive - he has clearly worked hard for the role, performing many of his own stunts. When you see him balancing on poles whilst doing the splits, or high-kicking, or sweeping legs, that’s really him. Jacket on, jacket off, indeed.

Surprisingly excellent also is Jackie Chan as Dre’s unlikely mentor, Mr. Han. After a few years of taking roles in children’s comedies, its nice to see Chan back doing some martial arts work in one particularly thrilling sequence, protecting Dre from the group of youths intent on making his life a misery. Yet it is in his acting that Chan really impresses, portraying the sadness of Mr. Han’s past whilst still making him a fun and motivational character.

Parents should be advised that the darkness of this back-story may be distressing for younger children, as could some of the fights, which are surprisingly fierce at times.

As in the original, the film climaxes in a genuinely exciting Kung Fu tournament, with some well-choreographed action and a dramatically satisfying conclusion.

Running at almost two and a half hours, The Karate Kid needs to lose twenty minutes. Though the film never drags, a touch more editing would have resulted in a tighter and more sprightly finishing product. Some of the character introductions are fairly clunky, and the story is generally pretty predictable.

Despite this, the new Karate Kid succeeds because it knows what it is - a drama, with some comedic moments and cool fights. It’s a well known story, simply told, and is different enough to the original to retain a sense of identity but without doing it a disservice. It doesn’t condescend, nor does it think too highly of itself, but, crucially, it does entertain.

Entertainment Value: 4/5
Genre Value: 4/5

Style: 3/5
Overall Rating: 3.5/5