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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
June 13, 2010

Every Day Is Special

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


A-Team, Karate Kid, and the Tonys

I never watched an episode of The A-Team back when it was a television series (1983-87). Maybe it wasn't awful -- it was created by Stephen J. Cannell, who also created The Rockford Files and The Commish. But by the time it was launched, I was sick of the hype surrounding "Mr. T."

But this past weekend, there were two new movies, and on Friday night our daughter wasn't available to see Karate Kid with us. My wife and I, determined to empty our minds, thought that at matinee prices, The A-Team would be the cheapest legal way to do it.

The beginning was only slightly bad, which we regarded as an encouraging sign. That is, the storyline was ludicrous, but the actors had some charm. Also, the jokes were strained and barely amusing, but the actors had some charm. In short, this movie seemed determined to coast on the charm of the actors.

And by "actors" I mean Bradley Cooper and Jessica Biel. Both of them were in the devastatingly bad Valentine's Day, though it wasn't their fault; but Cooper was also the cute, smooth, lying, cheating husband in the excellent He's Just Not That Into You. Bradley Cooper is Kevin Costner with a personality.

Jessica Biel was in The Illusionist; she's also been in a lot of films I never heard of or chose not to see.

Between them, Cooper and Biel carried the movie.

The story did not get dumber, but it didn't get smarter, either. Yet the tricks of the caper-movie trade continued to work well enough to keep us entertained the whole time.

Don't get out of your sickbed to see it. But if, a few months from now, it's sent to you by mistake by some movie rental company, go ahead and watch it before you send it back.

*

Did The Karate Kid need to be remade? Ralph Macchio was his sweet, earnest self as the kid who is getting bullied and learns karate so he can protect himself, but ends up in a championship bout. Pat Morita was delightful as his mentor, Mr. Miyagi.

It spawned three unnecessary sequels already, each of which consisted of the same story with irrelevant details changed -- what else could they do? It's not as if we wanted to see Ralph Macchio use his karate genius to achieve world domination or save the Earth from alien invaders.

But the moment we realized that this new remake of The Karate Kid had been produced by Jade Pinkett Smith and Will Smith as a vehicle for their extraordinarily talented son Jaden Smith, my interest level rose from less than zero to some noticeable level.

That's because Will Smith has revealed himself as one of the most savvy movers and shakers in Hollywood. I remember sitting in a meeting with some producers and agents, proposing him as the leading man in a movie I was trying to develop. The answer was, "Not bankable."

What? He had just done Men in Black. I was thinking he was too bankable for a lowly project like mine to attract him.

"Has to be teamed with a white guy," somebody said, and everybody nodded wisely. Including my agent, who was African-American.

Well, apparently Will Smith didn't get the memo. The rapper/sitcom star/action sidekick went on to be nominated for two Oscars while starring in or helping produce films that have made billions of dollars.

I've had some very peripheral dealings with his production company and have been impressed by the quality of people the Smiths surround themselves with. There are a lot of people with talent, taste, and brains in Hollywood, but few of them get the clout to make movies the way they want them made. Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith are among that precious few.

So yes, I had some optimism about the remake. With Jackie Chan as Mr. Han, the mentor this go-round, and with an encouraging trailer, my family decided to go watch it together last Monday night.

Monday night at seven p.m., and the theater was about half full. If you don't get to the movies on Mondays very much, let me tell you: That's a sign of a smash hit. Often we're the only ones in the theater.

At the end of the movie, wiping away tears for the fourth time (after laughing a lot), I had to admit that enjoyable as the original was, this remake was better, having moved the story from a darn good movie to a great one.

The Chinese setting was an inspired one. For one thing, it allowed the casting of the luminous Wenwen Han as Meiying, the more-than-token love interest. It also gave us absolutely fantastic scenery and settings.

Most important, though, it gave Jaden Smith's character, Dre Parker, a much more powerful sense of isolation than Ralph Macchio's character could ever work up. There's a big difference between moving to California and moving to Beijing.

Dre's ignorance of Chinese language and culture, the authority-centered culture, and his unwillingness to tell anyone about how he was being bullied by a group of young thugs from a "no-mercy" Kung Fu school -- these all added up to a far more desperate situation than we ever saw in the original movie.

Wisely, they kept Jaden Smith's shirt on until he had been training long enough that we were ready to see his unbelievably cut torso. While I'm sure there were flips he didn't do himself, he did a lot of other incredibly athletic stunts and poses.

But it wasn't his cuteness or his hyperdeveloped body that made this movie work. It was Jaden Smith's talent. It is no insult to Ralph Macchio's work as a child star to say that nobody can hold a candle to the incredible emotional range and depth of this boy.

Since his film debut in The Pursuit of Happyness and his later part in The Day the Earth Stood Still, the first of which starred his father, Jaden Smith is now the kind of actor who can carry a movie.

Jackie Chan is wonderful, but he does not carry the movie for the kid -- he is truly a supporting actor. Because Jaden Smith is a genuine child star: You can bet the whole movie on his ability to be funny, moving, exciting, convincing.

As we have come to expect from projects in which Will and Jada Pinkett Smith have a hand, this movie is consistently smart. At no point is there ever any artiness for art's sake -- the direction and cinematography are extraordinary, but always in the service of the story, so you don't have to notice them. Director Harald Zwart, who had at best a lackluster filmography up to now, can claim this one with pride.

The Karate Kid hit big, with a $60 million opening during this pretty-sad movie summer -- and it deserved to. This is one you want to see in the theater, with a big screen and great sound system.

*

The Tony Awards show last Sunday was entertaining and did not run overtime. Sean Hayes (of Will and Grace) was a fabulously funny host. The production numbers and some of the scenes were excellent, despite surprising technical glitches.

And yet the whole thing left me rather sad.

Why? First, because of how empty the whole show was. Broadway is so close to dead that where once there were many dozens of shows to choose from, there are now barely enough shows in any one year to fill a whole slate of nominees.

Second, because of what the shows were about. Broadway has become the haven for smug political correctness. When they summarized the plot of play after play, musical after musical, it became clear that most of these shows (with a few exceptions) exist to help knee-jerk liberals feel superior to the part of America that hasn't yet drunk the Kool-Aid.

Third, because most of the stars of these shows -- and particularly the winners -- were famous for their movie and television work. Yes, they are indeed talented actors (well, mostly), but it seems like the way to earn a Tony is to get famous first and then get hired to star in a show so that they can sell tickets to out-of-towners who would otherwise not bother.

The most outrageous prize of the night went to Catherine Zeta-Jones for her leading role in a revival of A Little Night Music. This may well be the most brilliant musical score for a musical -- ever. And during the Tony show she sang "Send in the Clowns," the breakout hit song from the show.

Sang? Oh, let's be real. She posed, she emoted, she grossly overacted, while warbling something that occasionally was close to the notes Stephen Sondheim wrote. It was almost offensively bad. Her offensive acceptance speech was anti-climactic in its badness.

There were a couple of other categories in which the worst nominee -- some of whose performance we had just watched -- won. I kept saying, "What are they thinking." (Other people in the room kept saying, "Be quiet, we're trying to watch the show.")

Broadway choruses are better than ever. Broadway's new scripts and musical scores border on the nondescript, when they're not deliberately and childishly offensive. And Broadway has firmly aligned itself with the extreme left in American politics, to the point where they feel free to ridicule the values of most of the rest of the country -- the very people they expect to fly to New York and buy the tickets to keep the money flowing in.

Once upon a time, the theatrical community was one of the most open-minded and accepting groups in America; now it's rigid, exclusive, elitist, angry at nothing, and filled with disdain for people leading ordinary lives.

Oh, they'll occasionally cast a known conservative Republican, like Kelsey Grammer -- but only if he's in yet another revival of La Cage aux Folles and kisses another man onstage.

Once upon a time, the American theatre was one of our finest contributions to world culture.

Now, judging from what we saw in this Tony broadcast, it's just a wholly-owned subsidiary of the contemptuous wing of the Democratic Party.

When Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, and Tennessee Williams were writing for the American stage, we could go to New York and see greatness.

Now, if there's any good writing at all, it's probably in a British production that was transferred to New York.

I'm not reaching this conclusion solely from this Tony show, of course. I used to go to Broadway every year. But gradually I lost interest. The imported shows that were about something all closed. I'd already seen Stomp and Blue Man Group. I'd read about the latest plays in The New Yorker and think, Well, that's not worth going to New York for.

But I always watch the Tony Awards show with hope. The way Charlie Brown kept letting Lucy hold the football for him.


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