The first thing to know about The Karate Kid is that there is no karate in it. This remake of the eighties favourite sends twelve-year-old hero Jaden Smith to China where they hurt people with kung fu instead. It was originally going to be called The Kung Fu Kid until someone in marketing realised certain synergistic opportunities might be missed by the less credulous target market. So there we are.
I have mixed feelings about this film. I have no great love for the original (despite adoring my occasional nickname “Daniel-san”) so am not much bothered about the updating. Director Harald Zwart managed to get my pulse going a bit faster than normal, which doesn’t happen very often these days, and there are some nice scenes that take advantage of some interesting Chinese locations. But this is basically a pre-teen Rocky with some pretty realistic smacks and I’m a little uncomfortable about that.
I’ve been grumpy all week for all sorts of reasons and the last thing I needed was a weekend of crappy films but that’s what I got. I mean, I’m spending longer writing this review than the writers of Fast & Furious or 17 Again spent on their scripts – put together, probably.
The improbably named Burr Steers is the director of 17 Again but that’s where the fun stops. Matthew Perry plays a 37-year-old former high school basketball star who chose the love of his pregnant girlfriend instead of a college scholarship and dug himself deep into a dowdy life of failure and regret. A mysterious bearded janitor, a bridge (a frankly insulting homage to It’s a Wonderful Life) and an unspecified magical event put him back in his buff 17-year-old body which he uses to re-engage with his children and get to know his wife again.
I’ve got some time for the television version of Matthew Perry (did you see “Studio 60”?), and despite his tragic cinema career choices he remains a comic actor who is unafraid of (or unable to suppress) the sadness behind his eyes. Unfortunately, he disappears after 15 minutes to be replaced by High School Musical ’s Zac Efron, a smug pretty-boy with some dance moves and no charisma and it is he who carries the film to its desolate conclusion.
As recounted by celebrated neurologist Oliver Sacks in a recent New Yorker, amnesia is a fascinating condition. In the article he tells the story of classical musician Clive Wearing who, due to enchaphalitis more than 20 years ago, can retain new memories for no longer than a few seconds. The devastation of his case is transcended by two things: the love of his wife (which he is aware of even though he sees her as if for the first time every day) and his musical ability which remains complete.
In Hollywood, amnesia (like other disorders) is rarely portrayed as a tragic condition with serious and fascinating psychological impacts but instead is usually just a plot device. New thriller Unknown, starring Jim Caviezel, Greg Kinnear and Barry Pepper, tries a little bit of both.
In a remote abandoned chemical warehouse five men wake up with no memories of who they are or how they got there. Two of the group have been kidnapped, the others are the gang. But who?
While all the evidence points to Caviezel being one of the kidnappers (he wasn’t tied up at the beginning for a start) he doesn’t feel like one and, despite the shifting allegiances and Lord of the Flies power-plays, he attempts to bind the group together so they can all escape before the ringleader returns with the ransom. It’s an interesting existentialist provocation although, in the end, further psychological insight is sacrificed in favour of yet another plot twist.
Insight is what forensic psychologist Tilda Swinton is after in Stephanie Daley. Heavily pregnant, and still mourning the loss of a previous unborn child, she is asked to interview the eponymous schoolgirl (Amber Tamblyn) who is accused of concealing her own pregnancy and then murdering the new-born baby. Her examination will decide the fate of the timid young Christian girl who may indeed be too innocent to realize what a drunken date-rape can lead to. Stephanie Daley is a well acted drama with a fine sense of place, located in snowy upstate New York, and a lot going on under the surface.
Back at the multiplex, Rush Hour 3 is one of the poorest excuses for entertainment it is been my misfortune to witness. And to think that part-timer Chris Tucker was paid $25m to star in it (a fee which evidently did not require any time at the gym to prepare). Jackie Chan is showing his age too. Abject.
I spent most of the time watching La Vie En Rose thinking that I’d seen the film somewhere before. A beautifully art directed recreation of the life of a troubled artist from the wrong side of the tracks, devastated by drug addiction and guilt, it could have been Ray or Walk The Line except for the fact that little Edith Piaf didn’t have time for the redemption and triumph that the Hollywood biopics demand.
Piaf was an extraordinary character, a huge and vibrant voice in a frail and tiny frame. Writer-director Olivier Dahan makes consistently interesting choices (particularly a death-bed montage at the end which amazingly contains nothing that we have seen before) and Marion Cotillard plays Piaf with all the fierce and demented self-destructive energy she can summon up. She’s a force of nature and it is one of the performances of the year.
Finally, superb documentary Deep Water finally gets the promised commercial release and I urge you not to miss it. And, if you already saw it at the Festival check it out again as it’s quite a different film second time around.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 3 October, 2007.
Full disclosure: Unknown is distributed in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who pay me money to do stuff for them from time to time.