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Taking lessons from “Prizzi’s Honor” instead of “The Karate Kid.”

Taking lessons from “Prizzi’s Honor” instead of “The Karate Kid.” (photo)

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This week’s big movie meme is Originality vs. Profitability, thanks to the spectacle of two ’80s retreads squaring off at the box office this past weekend. Why “The A-Team” sunk (relatively speaking) and “The Karate Kid” was immensely profitable has led to a lot of discussion, but little consensus.

Both film are primarily riding off of brand names and a nostalgic fanbase. “The A-Team” had a budget in the $110 million range, while “The Karate Kid”‘s was a mere $40 million, something that had more to do with shooting in China than scale. While we dwell on this summer of recycling and sequels, it should be pointed out that if Hollywood’s going to look to the ’80s for inspiration, they’re going about it the wrong way.

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott has some interesting thoughts on the consolations of narrative continuity as embodied (or at least promised) in the modern franchise: “Anyone who has told a child a bedtime story knows that its conclusion is met with the demand for ‘another one’ — for the same one again, but a little bit different. Movies are far from the only medium to cater to this desire.”

That’s certainly one way to explain why there were eight “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies in the first run, and why we’re now seeing more movies hitting their third, fourth and fifth installments than we’ve had in a while. But it doesn’t explain why we couldn’t come up with a new franchise of comparable value (who doesn’t love at least one of those movies?).

The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, continues to beat the drum for “quality storytelling” in its own odd way, with Steven Zeitchik theorizing that ’80s films like “Back to the Future” and the original “Karate Kid” had “a fundamental grasp of storytelling” and that “subconsciously, the remake craze may be partly about good narrative.”

06142010_prizzi.jpgI’m going to have to disagree with that last point — I don’t see how the solution to our apparent storytelling stagnation means invoking the original “Karate Kid” as a model of strong narrative, insofar as the original “Karate Kid” is incredibly slack. A better test case is “Prizzi’s Honor,” which came out 25 years ago yesterday, the strange (and fun, incidentally) John Huston movie that won Anjelica Huston an Oscar. If you want to talk about fixing summer cheaply — and you must do it in an ’80s fashion — this is the kind of movie to rip off.

Despite slow pacing and morbid humor, in commercial terms, “Prizzi’s Honor” didn’t perform badly at all, pulling in less than concurrent releases “The Goonies,” “Cocoon,” “Pale Rider” or “St. Elmo’s Fire” but performed much better than some other high-profile flops, including the sadly undervalued “Return to Oz.” (Note also that “Pale Rider” made money. Genre balance gives all movies a better chance of succeeding; the old “demographic split” model was more consistently if modestly profitable than the one-size-fits-all blockbuster.)

Lead Jack Nicholson was very hot stuff in 1985, as was Ms. Kathleen Turner (fresh off “Romancing the Stone”; more on this in a minute). Good old-fashioned star power triumphed that week over an anonymous child robot (“D.A.R.Y.L.”) and whatever Corey Haim (“Secret Admirer”) was up to. That whole month, in fact, was (with the arguable exception of “Return To Oz”) based on all original properties.

Because summer blockbuster season wasn’t the endless slog then it was by now, by July studios were re-issuing last year’s successes (“Gremlins,” “Ghostbusters”) because they could.

06142010_stone.jpgWhat does this tell us about the past weekend? Well, nothing, of course. But relying upon the idea that audiences responding to “The Karate Kid” because it gives us the familiar comforts of a narrative that’s detailed without being novel doesn’t tell us anything either.

If we’re going to plunder the ’80s wholesale while still trying to keep budgets down, there are so many options, and better ones than the likes of “The Karate Kid.” Perhaps not remaking “Prizzi’s Honor” per se (you’d hope not), but it’s seriously doubtful that the country that made “The Blind Side” the eighth-highest grossing film of last year (not to mention actually showed up for “Inglourious Basterds”) is ready to give up on “storytelling” as a whole during the increasingly endless summer.

Anyway, how big of a star was Kathleen Turner in the ’80s? So big that the late Falco (of “Rock Me Amadeus”) wrote a whole song about pining for her kiss:

[Photos: “The Karate Kid,” Sony, 1984; “Prizzi’s Honor,” MGM Home Entertainment, 1985; “Romancing The Stone,” 20th Century Fox, 1984]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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