Kung Fu Panda 3

January 29, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons
Directed by: Jennifer Yuh (“Kung Fu Panda 2”) and Alessandro Carloni (debut)
Written by: Jonathan Aibel (“Kung Fu Panda 2”) and Glenn Berger (“Kung Fun Panda 2”)

How do you make the third installment of an animated panda bear series even more adorable than the first two movies? Add a handful of fat baby pandas to the mix and give them plenty of dumplings to devour. Such is the case with “Kung Fu Panda 3” as hero panda Po (Jack Black) teams up once again with the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) – to defeat an evil villain set to run amok across China.

While the aforementioned cast does another fantastic job with their voice work, specifically Black as the clumsy leader whose on the job training as the Dragon Warrior is working out pretty well, it’s the new talent brought onto this sequel that really makes it memorable. This includes recent Oscar-nominated actor Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”) as Li, Po’s long lost biological father who finds Po and returns him to his panda roots, and Oscar winner J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) as Kai, a villainous bull set on stealing the life force (“chi”) of anyone who gets in his way. Also, keep your eye out for the scene-stealing and hilarious Mei Mei (Kate Hudson), a female ribbon dancing panda bear who takes quite a liking to a less-than-interested Po.

The narrative is warm and light enough in “Kung Fu Panda 3,” although much of the story isn’t what anyone would really consider original. What still stands out, however, is the incredible animation DreamWorks has been able to create with this franchise. The world of “Kung Fu Panda” is even more visually striking than it was when the original film hit theaters in 2008. The animation studio’s perfect combination of computer generated and 2-D work is brilliant and each character, old and new, feels fresh and exceptionally vibrant. Some of the most impressive animated scenes, much like in the last two movies, take place when animators slow down the action right in the middle of a fast-paced fight sequence so audiences can see the finer points of the battle – the splintering of a wooden pole that just got punched or someone getting a roundhouse kick to the jaw.

An overall comparison between “Kung Fun Panda 3” and its predecessors would leave this recent animated movie lagging behind in storytelling, although the father/son messaging is pleasant enough, but there’s no denying DreamWorks is making a stand against powerhouses like Pixar and Disney. Just as long as they can stop producing schlock like last year’s ill conceived “Home,” DreamWorks will still be in the conversation when the big players are mentioned.

The Karate Kid

June 11, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson
Directed by: Harald Zwart (“The Pink Panther 2”)
Written by: Christopher Murphey (debut)
Honestly, there was absolutely no reason to remake “The Karate Kid.” As timeless as the characters Daniel Larusso and Mr. Miyagi have remained since the original film debuted in 1984, a reimagining of the crowd pleaser starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita would turn out to be a trivial tribute to one of the most admired sports movies of the past 30 years no matter which way you karate chopped it.
With that said, the modernized version of “The Karate Kid” – while it lacks much of the humor and 80s charm of its predecessor – is surprisingly well made. Insignificant, yes, if compared to the classic that features crane kicks, bullies in skeleton costumes, and Bananarama songs, but on its own, there’s still a little something special left to the familiar story. For those who were born in that era, don’t worry. Your childhood has not been ruined.

In the remake, which follows the original narrative fairly closely, Macchio’s role is taken by Jaden Smith, son of megastar Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, who both serve as producers on the film. The pint-sized Smith, who gave a wonderful performance opposite his father in 2006’s “The Pursuit of Happyness,” stars as Dre Parker, a 12-year-old kid from Detroit who moves to Shanghai with his mother (Taraji P. Henson) after she is relocated for her job.

As in the original, a girl is the reason our young protagonist is faced with a major problem in his new city. Dre begins to develop a schoolboy crush on Meiyang (Wenwen Han), a girl he meets at the neighborhood park (Don’t worry, Elizabeth Shue. We’ll always love your baby fatness more). Dre’s innocent first interaction with her doesn’t sit well with a bully named Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) and his group of friends, who quickly take a disliking to the new kid in town.

When the situation gets out of hand, Dre finds support from Mr. Han (Jackie Chan in his best live-action, American film since the first “Rush Hour” over a decade ago), the handyman at his apartment complex whose kung fu skills save Dre during an attack and trigger a friendship.

After negotiating a temporary truce with Cheng’s unmerciful kung fu instructor Master Li (Rongguang Yu), Mr. Han tells Dre he will train him for a major kung fu tournament. But like Mr. Miyagi’s unconventional training techniques like painting fences and waxing cars, Mr. Han isn’t getting through to his pupil with his unique, but repetitive methods.

“The Karate Kid” reboot builds more of its foundation on Chinese philosophy that the original. While Mr. Miyagi offered up profound gems like “First learn stand, then learn fly,” Chan’s Mr. Han focuses on the human spirit and what it takes to face your fears and believe you can accomplish anything. It might make for a cliché lesson in the dojo at times, but Chan and Smith keep their friendship appealing enough although not nearly as affectionate as Mr. Miyagi and Daniel.

While there’s a lot to be desired from the remake, there is a genuineness to the story that is not lost. And in an industry where these types of movies are usually agonizing experiences, “The Karate Kid” still comes out on top as a memorable champion.

The Spy Next Door

February 5, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Jackie Chan, Amber Valletta, George Lopez
Directed by: Brian Levant (“Are We There Yet?)
Written by: Jonathan Bernstein (“Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector), James Greer (“Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector), Gregory Poirier (National Treasure: Book of Secrets)

Was it that long ago when the physical limitlessness of Jackie Chan’s martial arts stunts could pack a movie house with promises of crazy ninja-like moves worth the price of admission alone? Twelve years ago when Chan made his American movie debut in “Rush Hour” he was the hottest ticket from China in the action genre. Now, Chan is feeding off the bottom of the barrel and has released some major bombs in the last seven years including “The Medallion,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” “Rush Hour 3,” and “The Forbidden Kingdom.” Talk about a losing streak. It’s no wonder Chan took a break from American films between 2004 and 2006 to get back to his roots and work on projects from China. With his return to America, Chan’s career – if it’s even possible – takes another sharp turn for the worst with his newest film “The Spy Next Door,” a family-friendly exercise in futility where Chan’s talents are wasted on as script filled with bad jokes and “Full House”-worthy life lessons. There’s something to say when the best part of the movie are the opening credits that show some of Chan’s best stunts…pulled straight from better movies. For that, you don’t get credit.