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The box office kung-fu of “The Karate Kid” proves strong; “The A-Team” does B-grade business

It’s probably not a completely original thought of mine and it’s obviously a vast oversimplification, but it’s always seemed to me that what audiences really seem to want is more of the same, but different. If something is too unfamiliar, only a limited portion of viewers will be adventurous enough to try out a brand new movie flavor. If it’s too familiar, on the other hand, it’s kind of a bore, at best.

That formula has apparently been in full effect this weekend as a film which put a few gentle twists on a very familiar property prospered at the box office. A second movie — in terms of marketing, at any rate — was an apparent carbon copy of its source material, notwithstanding a new cast, more violence, and a bigger budget (too much bigger, probably). That film will prove vastly less profitable, at best.

Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith in

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Just in case you thought I was kidding…

….in my last post about pretty much guaranteeing you more entertainment from just about any of the film Jackie Chan made in his eighties and nineties prime than from either of this week’s two major releases, I bring you two absolutely awesome — as in awe-inspiring — clips. The first is “Drunken Master 2” aka “The Legend of the Drunken Master. ” If memory serves at all, it’s a better film than the original “Drunken Master” and you should have no worries seeing it first.

Even though the clip above is dubbed, I strongly recommend that you watch all Hong Kong films in the original language. The acting is quite good for the most part in the better films, and the Cantonese-to-English dubbing always makes a hash of the performances.

And now a scene from the Jackie Chan movie that gave me the most pure fun, “Project A, Part II.” Once again, I and most others think this a better movie than the original “Project A” and it’s not at all necessary to see it first.

In all fairness to “The Karate Kid” it’s hard to imagine anything remotely like this in any American film you’re likely to see. Agreed?

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Eighties redos to battle at the box office

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I’m severely limited for time — and more than a bit tired after a busy and reasonably productive day — so this may be one of my shortest box office preview posts.

This week’s two major new releases are reboots of properties remembered fondly by many children of the 1980s, “The A-Team” and “The Karate Kid.” Both movies have been supplied with some well known names, Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan for the former and Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, and Jessica Biel for the latter.

Jolly Carl DiOrio doesn’t go so far as to predict which film will emerge on top, with both having some fairly obvious broad appeal. I’ll say that my personal hunch is that Sony’s “Kid” will take the lead because, with a PG rating, it’s definitely more of a family film than the more violent and adult-oriented PG-13 “A-Team” from Fox. The martial arts flick also would seem to have more appeal for female audience members for similar reasons. It certainly seems extremely likely, in any case, that “Kid” will be the more profitable film by far, as we’re led to believe it cost $40 million, while the Joe Carnahan directed “Team” cost something more like $95 million. Both movies got mixed-to-meh reviews at “Rotten Tomatoes.”

Will these action flicks rescue Hollywood from the box office blahs? All I know is that I have no strong desire to see either of them and I’m not sure Hollywood deserves any better than its getting. In fact, without having seen these new movies, I feel safe in assuring anyone reading this that, if you’re at all open to them, you’ll be vastly more entertained by renting almost any of Jackie Chan’s amazing eighties and nineties Hong Kong films. I know I’d really like to see “Project A, Part II” — an ingenious slapstick comedy adventure — or any of the “Supercop” movies again soon. Like, right now.

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A really #@#$# afternoon outside the MTV Movie Awards

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I know, you all secretly envy the glamorous life of we entertainment writers. The high pay, the fast cars, the loose women, the expensive perks, the free bottled water — okay, it’s only really the last of those that I’ve come to expect as a matter of course. That’s especially the case when I’m in a red carpet line and expected to stand in direct sunlight on a very warm day for three hours waiting to talk to people of note who never stop by.

Yes, we entertainment writers do occasionally get  free food and beverages in return for showing up to cover red carpets and press days and the like.  It’s all part of the PR machine and I suppose you could argue that sometimes it goes too far. However, most of it is is far from gourmet quality, very few of us are well paid, and if all takes to influence you to cover something positively rather than negatively is a free hoagie, some pasta salad, and a cupcake, integrity wasn’t exactly your middle name to start with.

Still, if people are going to be forced to stand around outside on quite a hot day for close to three hours, quite literally risking a case of mild sunstroke (my mistake for not bringing a hat, I suppose — and thanks to the nice guy next to who allowed me to use his freebie sunblock), then providing access to water might be a good idea. No one I saw fainted or became ill, but no one around me seemed very happy either. Of course, what we all really wanted was a chance for some fun and shallow conversation with celebrities. Since I mainly cover movies, and this was, after all, the MTV Movie Awards, people somehow related to them would be nice. Television is good, too, though my knowledge is not as broad there. Reality television is something else again.

And this is  part where I have to confess that I went to the MTV Movies Awards Red Carpet and I only got a few odd celebrity photos and two brief interviews with young and, I’m sure, quite skilled young actors who are anything but household names. Considering the huge crush of better known media outlets, I wasn’t likely to get a moment with any genuine superstars — just, you know, someone. Okay, so Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, or Michael Cera or even Betty White or Zach Galifianakis or Ed Helms and Ken Jeong might be off the table, but, well, give me somebody or don’t bother to put me there at all. I’ve got better things to do than to make celebrities feel important by trying to get pictures of them as they rush into the air-conditioned confines of Universal’s Gibson Amphitheater.

Given the high ratio of big stars and the small number of mid-level personalities, interesting newcomers, or behind-the-camera talent, I had my suspicions early on. When I saw the costumed and photogenic young lady below, who turns out to ace celebrity stalker La Coacha, the “first protege” of Perez Hilton, I figured I’d better request a picture. It was just possible the attractive junior gossip hound would be the most famous person I’d meet. She was, as it turns out, definitely the prettiest.

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Of course, it’s really “The Kung Fu Kid”

But I still like this second trailer for the China-set remake/update of 1984′s “The Karate Kid,” featuring tiny-but-tough 12 year-old Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, that’s making the rounds today at places like Screencrave and Cinemablend. Aside from a gruffer Chan, director Harald Zwart shows some visual chops I wouldn’t necessarily expect from a guy with his resume.

Though I loved Pat Morita, I never got around to seeing the original film. I make no promises on this one, but it’s got my attention.


Fun fact: Jaden Smith is eleven years younger than Ralph Macchio was in 1984. This “kid” is actually a kid.

You can see the earlier trailer (and some rather similar comments, I must admit) here.

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An “Avatar” five-peat for MLK weekend?

With “Avatar” holding remarkably well last weekend to the tune of over $50 million, there’s every reason to expect another very strong performance over the coming Martin Luther King Day holiday. Still, along with the holiday, this is also the first weekend since Christmas where James Cameron‘s science-fiction adventure is facing some new decent genre competition.

That comes via “The Book of Eli,” another “Mad Max”-esque post-apocalyptic neo-western, this time starring Denzel Washington and featuring a bit of a religious element. The Warner Brothers film is getting mixed reviews and only rated 45% on the Tomatometer. Beneath the surface, however, I’m sensing that the film actually provides a bit of fun and while star power hasn’t been good for much lately at the box office, my hunch is the combination of a tried-and-true action-flick premise and this particular star is just strong enough to be reasonably potent here.

Denzel Washington in Directed by the Hughes Brothers who, rather unbelievably, haven’t released a theatrical film since 2001′s  fairly decent “From Hell” disappointed at the box office, “Eli” is expected to earn about $30-40 million. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a very close result. Jolly Carl DiOrio nevertheless fully expects an “Avatar” victory and reminds us that it would be the first five-time #1 streak since “The Sixth Sense” wowed audiences back in 1999.

The week’s other major new release is “The Spy Next Door,” a family-oriented Jackie Chan vehicle from Lionsgate that has managed the neat trick of getting eactly 0% of critics to give it a positive review at Rotten Tomatoes. Still, if parents will fork over beaucoup bucks for a certain singing group from the genus rodentia, it’s just possible they’ll take one for the family team by sitting through this possible kiddie-pleaser as well. Jolly Carl is talking about as much as $20 million for “Spy,” presumably partly because of the family appeal of costars George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus. As an admirer of Chan’s great Hong Kong work, I have to say that I’m sorry he feels he has to has to work with the guy who brought us “Beethoven.”

That’s it for major new releases, but Peter Jackson’s movie version of Alice Siebold’s “The Lovely Bones,” is finally going wide this week. According to Box Office Mojo, it’ll be expanding from 13 theaters into 2,563, about 500-800 fewer than the major releases I’ve discussed so far. Considering the lackluster reviews and only so-so awards showing for this theoretical piece of awards-bait so far, I wouldn’t expect anything too huge here this weekend   — though apparently younger females have been liking the film, or at least that’s who the film is being marketed to these days. In any case, a surprise Golden Globe or two at Sunday night’s show wouldn’t hurt it’s MLK day Monday. It could use a miracle or two.

Saoirse Ronan in

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Shouldn’t it be “The Kung Fu Kid”?

She doesn’t put it quite that way, but so wonders Devindra Hardawar for /Film, where I snagged this trailer for the new remake/reboot/re-something of “The Karate Kid” with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. I have to say, I agree with her that, the whole Japanese/Chinese martial arts issue aside, this looks like it might be a nice little movie. Or, maybe, it’s just a nice little trailer. See for yourself.

Confession time: I’ve never seen the original film, I never really had an interest. I’ve always liked Pat Morita, but movies about martial arts where no one is likely to get killed…I dunno. Sort of feels like low stakes. I might make an exception for Mr. Chan, however. The action looks convincing and Jaden Smith seems a lot funnier than Ralph Macchio.

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Extremely late Friday night news dump

Hey folks, day time tasks have slowed me down, but who was it who said “the night was made for movie blogging”? Okay, no one said that, but we all know it’s true! Anyhow, here are some items from throughout the week I haven’t had a chance to touch on…

* This interview with director Mary Harron has been linked to by several different bloggers throughout the week. If memory serves, it may not actually be new news that Christian Bale partially based his genius-level breakthrough performance in 2000′s “American Psycho” on Tom Cruise, but it’s perhaps more intriguing now that we think we more about both actors’ quirks.

Christian Bale in "American Psycho"

* It might be inside critic/film blogger baseball to you but it’s big — and somewhat distressing — news to me. The thought provoking and just plain cool Karina Longworth, who has helped me out via the miracle of linking many times at her Spout blog home, will be leaving the site at the end of the month, which will also no longer be providing new content including the work of Christopher Campbell (I frequently link to his “The Day in Film Bloggery” posts.).

Somewhat oddly, her soon to be ex-boss attributed her departure not to fiscal issues but to a difference over “vision” for the blog. So, his “vision” was not to have one at all? Anyhow, the consensus is that the hardworking Longworth will be going places regardless.

* I strongly disliked the pilot for “Fringe” (and said so right here) and, unlike David Medsker, I outright hated “Transformers.” (I didn’t even make it through the whole movie…oh, the pleasures of not reviewing.) Then screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman surprised the heck out of me by crafting a perfectly terrific script for “Star Trek,” marred only a little by director J.J. Abram’s hyperactive visual proclivities. (What’s wrong with using a tripod sometimes? Still, he got terrific performances and told a dandy tale, so I’m not complaining too much.) Anyhow, the  writers’ thoughts on the sequel are worth a look.

* Jackie Chan and Andy Lau are remaking Jet Li‘s 1981 breakthrough film, which I’m ashamed to say I’ve never even heard of before (at least not that I can remember), “Shaolin Temple.” I guess I should try to see it. Considering that Li was barely 19 back then and that Chan is now 55 (Lau’s in his forties), I trust he’s not playing the same character…or it’s been seriously rewritten.

* Disney is reportedly working on a “digital cloud,” in which content will be purchased and viewable in multiple formats. I generally get the consumer appeal of this, but I still fail to see why anyone would want to watch a movie on a cell phone. In fact, I think even the larger online version of this is way too small for this kind of beauty. (There’s a very brief Spanish language intro, by far the best version of this Disney classic I found on YouTube — the segment starts at 0:23.)

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