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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.