“Hey Michael, Check This Out…”

Within the past week I’ve revisited Freddy vs. Jason, the 2009 Friday the 13th remake, and our subject here: the 2009 remake of My Bloody Valentine. And it’s evidently a small sample size of 2000s slasher cinema and reliant specifically on intellectual property with a pre-existing fanbase, but if there’s one major connection one can make of the three (as well as the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Rob Zombie Halloween remakes, and the Hatchet series*): the 2000s were not for want on slasher movies that had the proper attitude that that subgenre is meant to have. At the prime of the subgenre in the 1980s, they were all just filled with mean attitudes using the plot and characters simply as vehicles to deliver elaborate death setpieces that flex out their gore effects budget and artistry. They are happy to walk the exploitation walk all the way through.

Their achilles heel however is the fact that they came out in the 2000s and thereby are subject to the sort of polished clean digital look that removes the sort physical visual griminess that these previously often independent, frequently low-budget pictures were forced to have and in turn gave the subgenre a rawness to its craft that horror cinema was kind of moving to in the wake of respectability that stuff like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist were bringing. Film stock and the primitivism of that low-budget resource that allowed these films to pop out a dime a dozen in the 1980s was the source of most of the best examples of the form feeling like wallowing in grub. And try as the cinematographers of these 2000s production could, you just can’t have the same honesty with digital filmmaking.

My Bloody Valentine takes advantage of that by going the other way: it indulges in that vanguard of 2009 cinema, the very same year as Coraline and Avatar. It indulges in 3D, thereby allowing us to refer to this remake as My Bloody Valentine 3D for the remainder of this review to distinguish it from the original Canadian picture.

Which to be fair, Todd Farmer and Zane Smith’s screenplay (with a credit given to Stephen Miller for story) does quite a lot to try to pull from John Beaird’s original screenplay from 1981 but in overly complicated ways that end up making the plotting of the film at once extremely dizzying. We still certainly have a mining town by the name of Harmony (this time shot around Southwestern Pennsylvania around Pittsburgh or Armstrong County with not nearly the amount of edge-of-the-world coastline personality that Sydney Mines brought to the original film) and we do have an inciting accident that traps five miners with a single homicidal survivor by the name of Harry Warden (played by either Richard John Walters or Chris Carnel), sans the added sensationalist treatment of cannibalism (this time Warden killed the men simply to preserve more oxygen for himself). This time, however, the writers decide to cut out the middleman and make our ostensible young protagonist the worker whose negligence led to the methane explosion that caused the tragedy, Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles, the first of the two stars of the show Supernatural that amusingly starred in a slasher remake in early 2009; Jared Padalecki would follow his lead into Friday the 13th the very next month). Hanniger happens to be the son of the mine’s owner, a little bit of nepotism that evidently got him into an unqualified position and also probably keeps the entire town from lynching him over their considerable resentment for the tragedy he caused.

Doesn’t stop Harry however, who went into a coma immediately after his rescue only to wake up a year later and massacre his whole hospital wing in search for revenge from Tom. He finds Tom in the middle of a Valentine’s Day party being thrown at the same mine he was originally trapped in, which probably didn’t help his vengeful mood any further as he kills every teenager he runs into at the party: it’s only through Warden’s single-minded hunt for Tom that Tom’s girlfriend Sarah (Jaime King), their friend Axel (Kerr Smith), and Axel’s girlfriend Irene (Betsy Rue) are neglected by the bloodthirsty miner and it’s only by Sheriff Burke’s (Tom Atkins) sudden arrival and shooting of Warden that Tom makes it out by the skin of his teeth.

That funneling of the major plot points of the original My Bloody Valentine gets us barely 20 minutes into My Bloody Valentine 3D – partly because the mining accident is mostly registered by a montage of ridiculous newspaper headlines during the opening credits – and yet it still doesn’t hasn’t yet re-used of the love triangle from the original movie. For you see ten years later (a fact humorously communicated by a voiceover newscast saying “it’s been nearly ten years” EXACTLY when “Ten Years Later…” fades in on an aerial shot of the Kittanning Citizens Bridge), Tom came back after being gone since the attack to ostensibly sell the mine now that his father is dead and finds that Sarah is now married to Axel with a son (it is frankly laughable that Tom’s father is not at all a presence in the movie to substantiate his daddy issues, only appearing in the form of his ashes container. Sarah and Axel’s son is barely more of a presence with a frustratingly contrived moment of menace towards him that does not pay off). Meanwhile, Axel happens to be Harmony’s Sheriff and that leaves him in charge of investigating the horrifying murders that coincidentally started just when Tom arrived back into town: murders commit by somebody resembling Harry Warden in their miner’s getup and pickaxe weapon of choice.

Honestly, the structuring of this story makes it feel like the makers wanted to frame this as remake AND pseudo-sequel of the original (including the fact that one of the final shots in the 10 years ago prologue resembles the very last shot of the original movie, watching a wounded Miner retreat into the darkness of the mines). This is not the only area where Farmer and Smith’s script gets way to convoluted to find the long way around recycling the same story, but I don’t think you need to dive that much further into its weirdly shallow psychology of characters who are ostensibly grown ass adults with domestic lives and matured experiences still acting like teenagers to see just how frustratingly poorly put-together it all is. Frankly, My Bloody Valentine 3D is not a good movie by any metric: contrived writing only being the tip of the iceberg when faced with the extremely CW level acting talent (and it’s not like the original actors playing TJ, Sarah, and Axel were all that much better but at least they still lend a genuine humble presence to the small-town that these soap opera-esque leads just can’t meet), and Lussier as a director just does not have any sophistication or inspiration to offer to a sequence that does not take feature gore or 3D, especially obvious when it comes to the moments that rely particularly on tension… character-based tension worst of all.

But fortunately this IS a gore-filled movie and it IS one that’s in 3D. And I am sorry to suggest to anyone that this movie mirrors Lussier’s lack of offering to anybody who attempts to watch it in 2D, but that is certainly the case. Yet the 3D is absolutely the element that keeps me coming back to My Bloody Valentine 3D in the way that it happily indulges in any possible moment to have blood splash every which way through the screen or put us in the perspective of one of the murderous Miner’s victims so we’re consistently watching the pointy end of that threatening pickaxe jam right in front of us. Sometimes both at the same time as in an early moment where we watch the pickaxe-through-the-back-of-the-head-popping-out-an-eye kill from the original movie lovingly recreated as a little peek-a-boo moment that gets me giddy as a schoolboy when I see it. In fact, to My Bloody Valentine 3D‘s credit, a lot of kill styles get their own reenactment in this remake just for the sake of having Lussier, cinematographer Brian Pearson, and stereographer Max Penner play around with how to give it a smiling kitschy to its visceral imagery. It’s not like the revolutionary work of Avatar here but instead whole-heartedly treating 3D as the sort of gimmickry that it was back in the 1950s and that honestly seems the perfect sort of marriage to the purely junky motivations of the slasher genre to begin with. It also allows for even the most blatantly computer generated of the bloodiness to be forgivable in how the 3D gives the chintzy look more artistry on top of feeling more fun.

And that fun is something that My Bloody Valentine 3D gets to accomplish without falling into that oh too popular trap of being winking or self-aware. Sure, Lussier and company know they’re making trash and even lean quite into it with an extended rampage in a seedy motel that largely involves Rue spending most of her total screentime running around a parking lot wearing absolutely nothing but high heels (credit very much to Rue for being so bold; less credit to Farmer for writing himself a short bit part as the guy who she has sex with at the beginning of her commando run here) but they’re still taking it seriously and sincerely without the slightest hint of parody. The bones of the story obviously don’t earn that seriousness (and at around 10 minutes longer than the original, I even start to get exhausted at that po-faced mystery shit and the predictable direction it’s going before it ends), but I don’t go to this genre for narrative indulgences – just purely for exhibition of cheesy carnage and the 3D extravaganza and I like to imagine I’ve made clear how well this has delivered on both so that the 3D Blu-Ray has just ended up one of my guilty pleasure comfort foods. You’re not going to see what I see if you try to watch it in 2D. I am unashamed to say that My Bloody Valentine 3D does not need to function at any aspect to justify that placement – and it does not, it is admirable and dedicated but still a complete piece of shit movie – just as long as it gives me the satisfaction of watching a pickaxe point at me through somebody’s perforated skull more than once.

*I have not watched the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street since its release (which may be soon to change – I just finished a Friday the 13th binge, why not initiate a Nightmare binge?) and I will refrain from making a declaration on that one.

The Shallows

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The full disclosure first: it is no-big-secret that Bradley Cooper’s 2018 directorial debut A Star Is Born happens to be the fourth version of that very same storyline told by that name, arguably the fifth version of that storyline told overall depending on how closely you think the 1932 George Cukor film What Price Hollywood?, which predates them all, hews closely to them*. I happened to see Cooper’s film after a back-to-back-to-back-to-back refresh of all four previous films and it may very well be the case that I might have been burnt out from that story by the time I reached Cooper’s telling. I highly doubt that and don’t see myself being in the mood to rewatch it and test that theory anytime soon: it might just as well be the case that I was simply unimpressed with a fairly average piece of artist’s struggle Oscarbait. Plus, when it comes to watching it shortly after enduring the godawful 1976 Barbra Streisand vanity piece, Cooper’s film has all the juxtapositional advantages it could possibly have and ends up looking rosy.

In fact, the subject matter of Cooper, Eric Roth, and Will Fetters‘ screenplay apparently tries to make right the new direction Frank Pierson‘s film tried to take: as opposed to the first three films’ focus on movie stars, the ’76 and ’18 versions of A Star Is Born focus on musicians now and both of them seem to choose country as the genre of choice. The beats are otherwise uniform all throughout and Cooper’s character, burnt-out substance abuser Jackson Maine, has regained the surname of all the previous iterations outside of the ’76 version. Maine randomly discovers the remarkable musical talent of Ally (Lady Gaga) and coaxes her into becoming a viral phenomenon after he arranges an impromptu duet performance of a song she wrote during one of his concerts. The two become very quickly enamored with each other while Ally’s star begins rising, Jackson is being shut out as a liability and it’s causing him to relapse into his vices in a manner poisonous towards himself and potentially Ally’s career.

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There’s another toxic side to Cooper‘s story that I feel might not be as intended but the film slips towards regardless: Ally’s rising fame lands her with a more pop-oriented image that Jackson transparently disapproves of, an attitude the movie doesn’t have as much objection to so much as the cruel fashion that he expresses it, particularly when he is at his drunkest. That this is absent from the previous films (in which the male lead is unconditionally supportive of what direction the female lead wishes to go) is, I think, no accident.

But enough of comparing Cooper’s film to its predecessors, for “maybe it’s time to let the old ways die”, as one of Maine’s songs (written by Jason Isbell, the soundtrack has a general revolving door of writers with Gaga being the major constant and the results being mostly mixed with “Maybe It’s Time” and the much-marketed “Shallow” being the best) go. What about A Star Is Re-re-reBorn as a film unto itself?

Well, for one thing, it looks almost exactly like the sort of film I imagine Clint Eastwood would have made (Cooper having worked with him on American Sniper and The Mule) with its classically worn look to itself whether against the blinding lights of the concert stage, the busy domesticity of Ally’s home (inhabited by characters that Woody Allen would have repeated his “standing out here with the cast of The Godfather” line towards headed by a sleepily against-type Andrew Dice Clay), the sterile white of a grocery store in the middle of the night. There’s one major exception to Cooper’s Eastwood influence: an early scene in a gay bar during a drag show, where the color red completely washes over the film but refusing to have sharply defined lines so as not to lose its faux-verite sense and one of the better scenes of the film for this fact. In general, there is very little about Cooper and his work with cinematographer Matthew Libatique that implies they don’t know their way towards giving a setting a lived-in feel but an overreliance towards the crutch of close-ups as the one major way to communicate our characters’ thoughts, though there is one moment where a close-up, on top of the one great cut by otherwise sluggish Jay Cassidy, is juxtaposed to another with a usage of focus that amplifies the spaced-out distance Maine is feeling towards Ally’s career trajectory. It sucks that such a moment is utilized in that objectionable manner, but it’s great to see the close-up used at least once in the movie to tell us something that one shot of an actor’s face couldn’t.

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And to be sure, the lead actors do a mighty fine job among them as well in conjuring a chemistry between themselves that sells a sincerity to their co-dependent relationship, even despite all the knowingly toxic and antagonistic elements. I wouldn’t call either performance great acting as individual elements (Gaga herself doesn’t have much of a path when she takes scenes emotionally from 0 to 100 and Cooper’s attempts at wounded masculine emotion is wildly overshadowed by Sam Elliot’s best work as Jackson’s older brother Bobby, making an otherwise fine performance look like cheap mimicry and having “Then why did you steal my voice?” as a line does not help). Perhaps another thing that Cooper took as a director from his previous collaborators was David O. Russell’s trust in actors to create their own rhythm and let the film be crafted around them, but it pays off enough to make A Star Is Born extremely interesting in the moments up until a boisterous early climax as Ally performs “Shallows” to a crowd with Jackson for the first time and at least maintain watchability up until the end.

Beyond that, the truth is the movie just wasn’t interesting to me. It doesn’t help that I happen to think Ally is a more interesting presence that Jackson and the movie seems to totally disagree with that (as it would when Cooper is star AND director). It maybe helps less that I’ve seen it all before done better and anything that this film tries to try anew just doesn’t compel me as melodrama. It certainly helps the least that the last half of the film is filled with bet-hedging towards its judgments with Ally’s musical style (including songs that I’d swear were deliberately written to sound bad if one of the writers didn’t deny this) and the amount of random strands that are picked up and dropped often (like Dave Chappelle’s character or Maine’s hearing issues). If it weren’t for the certainty of this movie’s presence in the awards race, I’d have no trouble forgetting about it. But it’s hard to deny that it shows promise for Cooper and Gaga in their respective newfound roles as filmmaker and movie star. This just ain’t it yet.

*It is this writer’s opinion that is very close.

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Sofia Coppola’s Tenchi Muyo

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I don’t think I can blamed for feeling that sometimes feminine-focused storytelling is better understood by women. While of course Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood did fantastic work with their adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan’s A Painted Devil back in 1971 under the title of The Beguiled, but Sofia Coppola’s remake of their film is a lot more relaxed and confident about the complexities of its characters in a way that Siegel and Eastwood couldn’t be. Indeed where Siegel had to grab every incident in the plot and squeeze out the most melodrama he could possibly stomp out of a story that feels alien compared to the rest of his work (save for possibly another Eastwood collaboration – Two Mules for Sister Sara, though I have not seen that one), Coppola’s treatment of this material is more chilly and sleepy. And that’s appropriate since she’s a lot more familiar about the malaise shuttered women feel in a singular location for an indefinite amount of time, surrounded by the harsh masculine violence (portrayed by a brilliant sound mix just distantly implying the battles occurring).

In Coppola’s The Beguiled, she explores that malaise through the tale of Martha Fansworth’s (Nicole Kidman) girls school in the middle of Civil War-torn Virginia as one day her young student Amy (Oona Laurence) brings the wounded Union Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell). Bringing a smoldering and helpless man into these four walls obviously sends a shockwave through Farnsworth, her teacher Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst), and the five students, including and especially Alicia (Elle Fanning).

Young women locked in four walls and that empty time and space informing them. This is exactly the type of material she’s been working with for much of her career – her first three features The Virgin SuicidesLost in Translation, and Marie Antoinette especially. And while probably more plot-driven than either of those three films, Coppola ends up finding a way to let The Beguiled simmer into just watching all these characters who don’t know how to respond to each other bounce off the walls emotionally. Gorgeous walls they are too, designed by Anne Ross in light pinks to feel like a pale ghost of a house trying to dress itself up for company but giving way to beiges failing to hide the school’s emptiness. And captured in lyrically soft lights by Phillipe Le Sourd that let those colors blanket the scenes in bored yet distinct ways. It’s a lovely film to look at and thereby a lovely one to live in despite the characters we’re living with, all vulnerable in some way, all trying to hold control over the situation so they’re not obliged to one another. So that I find Coppola’s Beguiled better, by a sly margin, than Siegel’s Beguiled should not be a surprise to anyone who knows me except for maybe those whose opinions usually align with mine and diverge at this point by disliking the movie.

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Can’t bring myself to blame them. If there’s one place Coppola fails in Siegel’s stead, it’s that her Beguiled is so lax that it doesn’t bother to scrounge up any momentum as a thriller*. While that might add to a violent jar when the third act escalates, at no point in the movie – even at that first act – does it feel like it’s anymore than a really spiteful character drama without the slightest hint of danger. That’s probably not aided by fact that in an ensemble almost entirely personified by different levels of repressed female sexuality (this feels a lot sexually heightened than Siegel’s film, but it’s still there – especially in Farrell’s chemistry with Dunst) and varied in responses to that repression, the odd man out is Farrell. Maybe this is just as a unfortunate result of having seen the original first, but Farrell – extremely attractive as he is – does not have an ounce of the sexual charisma that Eastwood had as McBurney. Nor does his about-face around the second half of the film feel much dangerous as it is presented like a kneejerk response to misfortune. And that’s troubling, given Farrell has shown all throughout his career that he’s capable of both sex appeal and heightened antagony (I particularly think, funny enough, of another remake performance – Fright Night – combining both). In any other movie, Farrell’s muted performance would have been adequate. In the context of this heightened conflict of sexual wiles and manipulation, it’s an outright liability.

As for liabilities in the ensemble, the biggest one is not who is on-screen, but who isn’t. The black slave character of Hallie, previously a grounded presence that suspected McBurney early on, ends up removed on Coppola’s part (explained as her feeling unqualified to talk about slavery). Ignoring the evident collapse of the third act’s tension by taking away a character apprehensive to McBurney’s presence and thereby straining the already pretty languid pacing, I don’t really find much argument against the fact that deciding to make a Civil War film while consciously removing a pre-established black character is erasure (although Ira Madison III – among others – argues otherwise). In either case, the drama has to be entirely rearranged by Hallie’s presence and so Coppola as writer and director has more heavy-lifting to do.

I think she pulls it off and earns her Best Director Award from the film’s 2017 Cannes premiere, providing a film that balances the atmosphere in an uncanny way between the funereal and the flowery and brings a shudder to me while she also composes a forceful clash of charms from at least three different powerful personas on-screen (Seductive Fanning, Matriarchal Kidman, Erotic Farrell; on top of the brilliantly withdrawn Dunst and the impressive informal arc from innocence to complicit darkness in Laurence provides. I only regret that an actress as talented as Angourie Rice doesn’t get much to do). It’s not as overt as its predecessor, even in the carnality of certain relationships. I find that a boon, letting The Beguiled wrap around me into an ennui relatable to the characters on screen and nestling itself nicely into the output of a director I’m always ready to revisit.

*The guy I watched Coppola’s film with was actually surprised after-the-fact to find out that it was supposed to be considered a thriller. He hadn’t seen any advertising of course, which angled Coppola’s film as a horror film (I probably wouldn’t have convinced him to see The Beguiled with me if he saw those trailers).

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Now THAT’s What I Call a Fiasco

Note: Anybody who can tell me what famous Spidey moment the title of this review comes from wins my eternal respeck.

Other Note: This is re-do of a previous review from when I first saw this movie in 2012 because maaaaaaaaan, it’s not only too long, but a godless mess of a ramble.

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Spider-Man, like any comic book icon, is a versatile malleable figure. He means different things to different people, they have a different idea of what his defining trait may be, and many artists and writers have put in different contexts and styles just to twist his imagery around as much as Batman. Now for some people, their idea of Spider-Man’s defining trait is that he is a unrelentingly quippy sort and that means that Andrew Garfield was (until Tom Holland thankfully disabused them) the best screen Spider-Man. And for sure, Garfield might have been able to foreground the sarcasm of high schooler Peter Parker behind the mask (though claiming Maguire’s Spidey wasn’t humorous and full of levity is an outright lie – he was directed by Sam Raimi, the creator of one of the quippiest heroes cinema has been blessed with), but he’s not my ideal Spider-Man because I have a different concept of the defining trait of Spider-Man.

That trait being he’s not a complete piece of shit*.

To be fair, Garfield did not go full throttle on making Spidey a despicable son of a bitch. That happened in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But rest assured, when it comes to his first go in the red tights for Marc Webb’s (a director’s title I’m all but certain feels ceremonial) The Amazing Spider-Man, there is nothing to his performance that feels living beyond his sarcasm and his casual ability to look like him and co-star Emma Stone (as the doomed first love Gwen Stacy) have some kind of affection for each other. This is definitely informed by the fact they were, at the time, in a relationship and not any of the giggling dialogue afforded to them by co-writer Steve Kloves (he focused on that side of the script most while co-writers James Vanderbilt and a definitely begrudgingly returning Alvin Sargent worked out other areas). Beyond that, his Spider-Man is a empty mass of high school cool tropes that seem out of the ordinary for the character except in a desperate attempt to mangle some protagonist to a desperate film.

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The Amazing Spider-Man is not as bad as I thought it was on first watch. It’s clear Webb and his studio puppeteers (this movie and its sequels have studio interference fingerprints all over it) was not flailing around, but it’s a soulless product. Time passing by, especially in the face of all the Sony leaks and the eventual entry of the character into the MCU, has only shown that this was Amy Pascal and company trying to hold tightly to the character by implying the promise of a further movie franchise, with the subplot on Peter’s parents (something that always alarmed me as so dismissive of Martin Sheen and Sally Field’s potential in the roles of Uncle Ben and Aunt May), the deliberately illogical overshadow on a hologram of Norman Osborn, the terribly out-of-place mid-credits scene, and so on. It’s like Iron Man 2 in those self-reflexive attempts of foreshadowing, except less confident and without the charisma of Robert Downey Jr. to guide us through it. And that’s what really gets under my goat about what “universe-building” has done to this decade of popcorn cinema: it leaves us with only half a story.

The Amazing Spider-Man feels like the bare minimum of what you need to create a plot (with half of the beats already done to more emotional effect in Raimi’s first film) where the content goes no deeper than “Peter becomes Spider-Man to avenge his Uncle’s death, battles the Giant Lizard that Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) has become, and courts Gwen.” You’d only need one more sentence to throw in “Gwen’s police captain father George (Denis Leary) is a bigger dick than Spidey and wants to arrest him, because something something vigilante.” Nothing about it has the same explosion of personality Webb’s earlier debut (500) Days of Summer got to have and everything is just calculated to get this movie out in time to hold tightly to the Spider-Man property and make it seem like it’s still relevant.

Actually, there is some kind of tone in it but it’s obnoxiously self-serious. It almost feels as parodic as Spider-Man 3 except without the parody. Underlit scenes in alleys and sewers, attempts to make Parker’s isolation a lot gloomier than Raimi, even the costume went like three shades down in darkness. There’s nothing that gives me less confidence than realizing the aesthetic for The Amazing Spider-Man could go hand-in-hand with Trank’s Fantastic Four and not thank my stars Kevin Feige rescued a sinking ship. The only true moment of inspiration comes from when Parker begins his ascent as Spider-Man and we witness his playground treatment of New York in first-person camera. But that’s the only place for fun in The Amazing Spider-Man‘s world and it’s back to making superhero movies feel like an obligation in one of the most disappointing moments in the genre’s history.

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*There are many defenders of Garfield that sit on the thesis “Spider-Man is supposed to be a dick, Maguire was too nerdy”. Same as the Tobey Maguire crying meme, I flat out ignore such an asinine complaint and suspect they never picked up a comic in their life, let alone a Spider-Man one.

Be Our Pest, Be Our Pest… Put My Patience to the Test

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I don’t know if we feel safe with identifying the very beginning of this exhausting span of Live-Action (or Photorealistic CGI) remakes of their animated classics as 1994 with Stephen Sommers’ The Jungle Book, 1996 with the Glenn Close vehicle 101 Dalmatians, or 2010 with Tim Burton’s nightmare version of Alice in Wonderland. In any case, despite being really impressed with the Jon Favreau version of The Jungle Book and David Gordon Green Lowery’s version of Pete’s Dragon last year, I think Bill Condon’s remake of Beauty and the Beast has proven to be enough to exhaust me from wanting these things to happen again, no matter how many Donald Glovers you cast as Simba. It’s not a fatigue things where there’s too many of them (I mean, there are, but one was already too many), it’s a “THIS MOVIE IS FUCKING BAD AND POTENTIALLY THE WORST OF THE REMAKES SO FAR GIVE OR TAKE A REWATCH OF BURTON’S ALICE IN WONDERLAND THAT WILL NEVER FUCKING HAPPEN” thing.

I am aware I may be overreacting, given that Beauty and the Beast is a movie that I can find very few problems with and one of my favorite Disney movies of all-time (hence a contender for one of my favorite movies of all time outright), but I can’t think of any which way that most of the changes made to the story or aesthetic of the original animated film could be assumedly directed towards the good end of things. Like for real, the times when the movie isn’t being totally offensive to my eyes are how it just tries to or Ewan McGregor as the candelabra Lumiere actually displays campy swagger within his scenes, thus invigorating energy into the sloggish film just from his own voice acting (the design of the character… ehhhhh… we’ll get back to that.

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This film has entirely drained me of my willingness to sacrifice time and energy to provide a prose review so I’m opting to just rush this as quickly as I can by listing all the things about this movie that I either very much enjoyed (for there are indeed things that I enjoyed that tried – but failed due to overwhelming circumstances – to dull the pain of watching this) and by listing everything about it that I fucking hated. I will not forgive this movie for the following items:

  • Dan Stevens has been on a roll already from Downton Abbey to Legion to even a star-making performance (in a perfect world) in The Guest, a movie I otherwise dislike. He’s not in The Cobbler enough to let that derail his career, why the fuck would you dare to ruin his stride by giving him the rubberiest beast face one could ever see and morphing his voice? This is an unfair way to tarnish his legacy!
  • Speaking of the visual aesthetic of the thing, all of the characters who are transformed into frightening looking frigid items that inspire more shock and body horror fear than the sort of magical wonder Beauty and the Beast as a story should aim for? In some cases, like Lumiere, the physicality of the thing is outright ghastly and devoid of a way to match the personality to the look (which is why I enjoy animation so much). Is this deliberate? I hope not because it just shows contempt for the whole concept. Like, this screenshot from Twin Peaks is essentially the vibe I get from every single physical design of the house staff:

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And yet their voices are so cheerful.

  • Speaking of the aesthetic, did Sarah Greenwood’s unicorn shit all over the fucking set and they couldn’t clean it up in time? This castle of the beast is a garish gold! The provincial town is fine if still lost in time, but who looks to these movies for temporal identity.
  • If you’re going to have a cast of singers, this isn’t La La Land where they’re meant to feel like real people. They better damn well sing and I will never EVER FUCKING EVER forgive director Bill Condon for having an autotuned Emma Thompson throw her Lansbury impersonation to perform a Daft Punk rendition of Beauty and the Beast. Let alone Emma Watson sounding like T-Pain overdubbed her.
  • Josh Gad’s self-aware post-modern performance would be welcome in a movie that’s obviously supposed to feel like a parody of Beauty and the Beast and even then… the stuff he says is just not funny. There has never been a comedy actor that’s made me more conflicted than Gad.
  • Tim Rice is not Howard Ashman. Because Ashman was a God and Tim Rice is a terrible lyricist. So please, stop using Rice’s fucking songs. “How Does a Moment Last Forever” and “Evermore” do not remotely compare to “Gaston”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and “Belle”. Not to mention the visuals of those numbers are just fractured and not nearly as sweeping as the original.
  • More importantly somehow the movie thought “Daddy Issues” was the answer to making the Beast seem a much more interesting character and ignoring complaints Stockholm Syndrome. Instead it makes The Beast seem so petulant and it’s inconceivable how the brand new “feminist” version of Belle would be even remotely attracted to him.
  • The consequence of all this is padding a fleet 86 minute fairy tale to a 129 minute overgluttonous grotesquerie.

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And because I am absolutely generous, I will also list everything I like about this movie’s existence.

  • The costumes are good in a cosplay contest winner sort of way. Nothing truly expressive, but Jacqueline Durran obviously wants to emulate the original in the most theatrical manner and gets the job done.
  • Ewan McGregor gives a fun vocal performance as Lumiere just chewing up scenery without even being physicially on-screen and his chemistry with Gugu Mbatha-Raw lights things up enough (pun intended).
  • McGregor, Mbatha-Raw, Stanley Tucci, and Audra McDonald have the most hilariously fake accents I’ve ever heard and put so much character and personality in their limited screentime that I would have much rather THEY were the stars of the movie.

And that’s it. None for Gretchen Wieners. Fuck this movie.

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Breakfast Cereal Mascots – The 11 Best Remakes

Recent news came out that Jessica Harper, star of the Dario Argento masterpiece and arguably the greatest horror movie ever made in my mind Suspiria, has just signed on to join the cast of Luca Guadagnino’s upcoming remake and this is not the news that made me onboard with the idea of this remake (that was the news that Guadagnino is making it with his muse Tilda Swinton), but it nevertheless reminded me of the inevitable backlash on the idea of the project’s existence and – though in a perfect world I’d rather Suspiria not remade at all – it makes me kind of sad to see it dismissed so immediately. Jim Jarmusch said “Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent” and while that doesn’t mean we ought to start remaking Citizen Kane or Casablanca, I can’t think of a more authentic and inspired filmmaker to put behind this than the Italian maestro of gorgeous color and shape Guadagnino himself (to match Suspiria‘s own gorgeous color and shape) and that makes me cautiously optimistic about this film being worth watching, even if it never matches up to the original (for that IS a high bar).

Cautious because the last time I felt this way, it’s because Kimberly Peirce should have been a better director for the subject matter of Carrie than Brian De Palma and that remake was an absolute wreck, but HEY LET’S KEEP TO THE BRIGHT SIDE, EH?!

This kneejerk connotation of “remake” being a bad word is something I once subscribed to as a young cinephile and have since shaken off after being exposed to enough great remakes, so how’s about I list some right now for all you guys to trick into being somewhat happy about this?

FIVE REMAKES I ABSOLUTELY ADMIRE

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The Magnificent Seven (1960, dir. John Sturges)

Kurosawa Akira just makes great stories (Star Wars was on an earlier incarnation of this list, but that seemed a stretch. Do not expect A Fistful of Dollars on this list though, because I’m just too damned in love with Yojimbo). Sturges’ cowboy film is one I saw since I was a child and so it got to me before Seven Samurai did, but I won’t make any illusions about which film is much better – it’s obviously Samurai. Nevertheless, one thing Seven does better is give its enemies a face in the form of Eli Wallach, playing a bandit in the most unexpectedly humane form (or not too unexpected given his later career peak as Tuco in The Good, the Bad, the Ugly) and nevertheless Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen have enough stature as the “cool” characters to have made me want to grow up to be those gunslingers and save villages.

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, dir. Philip Kaufman)

Darker is better sometimes and without getting into so much detail (as that would require spoilers), Kaufman’s remake of Don Siegel’s 1956 classic is undoubtedly more darker and nihilistic (and hence kind of appropriate to the 1970s of Watergate and post-Vietnam, though it is also nearly apolitical unlike Siegel’s film) as from the very beginning it lets us in on how threatening the aliens are (while the original slowly lets us unmask the scenario with its characters) and surrounds us with a modern feeling of helplessness and hopelessness rather than the preparing to fight anti-Communism of Siegel’s picture. I’m not certain as to whether it is better than the ’56 film (I know, I know, I said “darker is better”), but Kaufman’s picture is its own beast of its own time and a world without both films would be remiss of how differently a story can be told through mood and style.

05

Twelve Monkeys (1995, dir. Terry Gilliam)

Sometimes a remake doesn’t even need to be more than its predecessor. La Jetee works as an exercise in storytelling form with still images led around by narration and sound, and as glorious as that is, it’s an experiment that only needs to be done once and perfectly as Chris Marker did. Gilliam was uninterested in how Marker made his film, but what it was about and tried to sprawl into more of an apocalyptic setting the way you’d expect Gilliam to construct his worlds – all mechanic and defective and bureaucratic with hella room for miscommunication.

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Little Shop of Horrors (1986, dir. Frank Oz)

I can’t imagine any other remake possibly taking more good-natured fun at the material it is re-adapting than Frank Oz’s film version of the popular off-Broadway musical. It absolutely loves Seymour, it loves the rock and doo-wop music it indulges in, it loves Skid Row (what a gorgeously artificial set, perfect for a musical), it loves Mr. Mushnik’s shop, it loves Audrey, and even as villainous and bloodthirsty as it is, it loves Audrey II. It loves Audrey II so much that when you take a Muppeteer as the director of a film where its major money element is going to be the puppetry behind its hungry monster plant, well… it’s gonna meet all your expectations with flying colors.

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War of the Worlds (2005, dir. Steven Spielberg)

I know people are probably tired of me defending the hell out of this movie, but I will do so until my dying day or until everyone who hates it realizes how wrong they are. It nods enough to Pal’s (admittedly superior) 1953 version for me to count it and the main difference is that Spielberg’s remake is honestly and wholeheartedly frightening. The helplessness of the mass of people as we continuously watch their doom and mass genocide before our very eyes is made only more disturbing on how their bodies just disappear without a trace. The tension of hiding without a certainty that you can remain safe where you are. The revelation of what happens to the people who are captured alive. It’s all dark stuff, the sort of horrifying side of Spielberg we’ve seen hinted before but never with this blunt an objective look at how easily so many people can be killed, except obviously for Schindler’s List.

This is cinema at some of its most devastating and that it has an admittedly shoddy estranged children plot in between its setpieces is dismaying but I don’t think it damns the picture.

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Pennies from Heaven (1981, dir. Herbert Ross)

You know what’s even less appreciated than remakes? Remake musicals. And even more unappreciated are ones that can use the usually jovial style of musical film to provide a backbone for some real melancholy. Which is already something Ross’ film takes hold of when it uses the already tragic material of the BBC miniseries and translates it to the already downset Depression era of America. But hey, that dark dark place brings out the best talents of both Steve Martin and Christopher Walken and has just the twinge of hope and pleasure within its absolutely catchy old-timey musical numbers. And hey, Jessica Harper is in this one too.

Oh that shit’s not good enough for you? Well, then how about…

Five Remakes That are Flat-Out Masterpieces!!

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Ocean’s Eleven (2001, dir. Steven Soderbergh)

I’ve never ever ever heard a worthwhile defense of the original Rat Pack vehicle Ocean’s 11 as a good movie. I like to keep myself open to other opinions, but that’s just a movie where the Pack themselves seem so damn bored with what they’re doing. Enter Soderbergh bringing in this lovely piece of popcorn cinema that is all flashy and fun and makes Las Vegas look exactly like the desert paradise you’d expect while giving us a non-stop barrage of good-looking and stylish actors to gawk at (Clooney, Pitt, Roberts) or comic personalities whose company we enjoy (pretty much the entire 11 crew) and what we get is a movie that could only be described – as a friend of mine observed once – as “cool”. It is the movie that pops into my mind first when I think of “cool”.

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A Star Is Born (1954, dir. George Cukor)

Given the basis of this generational tale is purely as a tragedy-based star vehicle, it’s very easy to see how Judy Garland in this film has more to show off than Janet Gaynor in the previous film and that gives Cukor a hell of an advantage. Probably enough of an advantage that he truly recognized that – while Cukor’s brilliant craftsmanship is very present in the film – he knew that all the movie had to do was take a backseat in the spectacle that such a showcase could accommodate for the character drama and what results is a very moving and impressive piece on the arts that still works as entertainment.

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The Thing (1982, dir. John Carpenter)

John Carpenter loves the shit out of Howard Hawks. This is extremely obvious to anybody who has watched enough of both directors. Hell, Carpenter has been very candid about the majority of his films being unofficial remakes of Rio Bravo and the majority of his leading ladies being modeled off of Hawks’ leading ladies. So it’s no surprise that he would remake a Hawks production eventually in his career and frankly I don’t think there’s any contest as to who pulled off the high tension and gorgeous snow cinematography better. Carpenter done outdid his idol in this work and that’s not even acknowledging the grisly and amazing make-up effects work as the characters become taken over, because that’s just not fair to a 1955 production.

But don’t worry, Hawks will be getting the last laugh soon.

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The Maltese Falcon (1941, dir. John Huston)

I’m sure some people may claim that Huston’s Maltese Falcon is not a remake of the 1931 production of the same name or the 1936 Satan Met a Lady so much as a re-adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel. I call that straight up shenanigans. WB had been working hard on getting a good unedited version out there and got it perfect the third time around (plus the original two were included in the 3-disc DVD release of the 1941 film, they definitely intended you compare them). The Maltese Falcon is a quintessential example of many things – detective story with its hardboiled capable lead of Sam Spade, man of men. Film noir in its cynical, dark nature with the way it dolls out death to many of its characters in search of a mythical bauble. Star vehicle for Humphrey Bogart to just how coolly and calmly he can control any scene he takes part in and deliver barbs effortlessly. And the masculine craft of Mr. John Huston himself, presenting self-proclaimed men of codes and watching them slowly break those codes for the sake of riches or being manipulated by a wonderfully arch Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy, femme fatale to set off all other femme fatales.

AND THE BEST REMAKE I’VE SEEN YET GOES TO…

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His Girl Friday (1940, dir. Howard Hawks)

I’m no fan of Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, but when people try to argue to me that gender-swapped remakes are an inherently flawed concept, that just makes me realize they’ve never seen His Girl Friday and that’s a damned shame (or not because it means their first time seeing it could possibly be from the upcoming Criterion DVD/Blu-Ray release and not from a shitty copy as is common since the movie is in the public domain). Because Rosalind Russell is more than just a fair match for the screwball banter of Cary Grant, she’s the very engine by which the movie runs about – she fuels both the romantic tension between her and Grant simply by being in the room with threat of running off, she’s our main surrogate into the case of a man whose life is being held by the crooked legal system, and her wit is the source of so many of the laughs of one of the movies I can’t help dying at. But all those things are only there to reward you if you can catch up to the film’s machine-gun-fast dialogue, I’m talking Jimmy-John’s-delivery fast in a way to throw aside all the slow shot-by-reverse-shot conversations in the likes of the 1930 (including the original The Front Page) while providing a much much more engaging look at the newspaper lifestyle as its predecessor (which probably ends up fueling my fascination with the newspaper subgenre and life because of that sort of quick-footed office style).

His Girl Friday is not the best remakes or one of the best comedies, it’s one of the best movies and a testament to Hawks’ continuous inventiveness and ability to work with actors all around to get a crackling sensation just from dialogue and action.

So there you have it. Keep your mind happy that remakes can and do provide a good at times.

Splatterhouse Rock

Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead trilogy hits a pretty sacred spot for me. The first entry is the first NC-17 movie I’ve ever watched, a horror movie that jarred with my previous idea of Raimi as the director of something as wholesome as Spider-Man, and a truly demanding work of emotional exhaust. The second entry (for the record, the last one I saw) is a rollickingly impressive toss of slapstick and disturbing material that deftly avoids undercutting the comedy or terror of the moment. The third entry is of course just a good-time adventure picture reminiscent of the ol’ Harryhausen works that made me want to grow up to be Bruce Campbell’s Ashley J. Williams and one that is absent of horror movie elements in a deliberate manner. They’re all pictures I have intense nostalgia for and while I accept the flaws in them (except Evil Dead II, it is flawless, fite me), they are movies I don’t take to kindly to remaking.

Even the original trio of producers – Robert Tapert, Campbell, and Raimi themselves – through their Ghost House Pictures company were the ones who had an active and involved hand with making Evil Dead, Uruguayan filmmaker Fede Alvarez’s feature-length debut after making a very impressive (in spite of film grain and some dated CGI) indie short film on YouTube called Ataque de Panico (if you’re into giant robots like I am, check it out, it’s only 5 minutes long). The more news I heard about it, the more jaded I was towards the idea of the remake all the way into the advanced screening I sat in on surrounded by folks excited for the return of the “Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror” and once it began… well…

Rather than Ash and his close friends, Alvarez and Diablo Cody’s scri– wait, what the fuck?! Diablo Cody? Seriously? Huh. The script focuses on five friends along the same relative lines towards each other as the original gang: David (Shiloh Fernandez) brings his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) to a retreated cabin in the woods in the hopes of connecting with his sister Mia (Jane Levy), whom he’s had a strained relationship bordering on abandonment long since the death of their mother. Mia’s own friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) are already there to lay down the real stakes of David and Mia’s reconciliation – Mia has by now had an alarmingly near-fatal heroin overdose and they’re keeping her out of the world for a while to help her break out of her addiction.

There are many reasons why it pains to say that (despite reviews picking on the characters) this focused-on group – although pretty much nobody in it is three-dimensional – are significantly more interesting than the cannon fodder of the original 1981 film’s five people. One of the reasons reciting this fact frustrates me will be obvious later on in this review.

During this retreat/intervention is when Eric and David dig around and end up finding the Naturon Demonto and Eric screws around with it enough to mean bad juju for the group, begin with the possession of Mia and the utterly disturbing self-torture her possessed herself through. Dismissed as heroin fit. Which, needless to say, will bode very unwell for these folks.

OK, with that plot run-through done with, I’m sure it’s ok to just come out at this point and say that Evil Dead ’13 at once assuaged half of my doubts and unfortunately validated the other half and that’s why I haven’t grown as appreciative of it as a movie as most of the other Evil Dead fanatics I know who are every bit as dedicated to that trilogy as me. It is actually a really well-done film, dedicated to practical effects in gooey visceral manner akin to Raimi’s own magic bag of tricks (if not as much with giggles that keep us from going “ew!”). Fede Alvarez probably has a great amount of future in a cinematic craftsman as he’s just about ready to spray shot by shot without any discrimination with blood whenever he can. He does it well enough to be believable and make us avert our eyes – maybe the biggest point of this for me is when Mia, possessed, deliberately scalds herself in the shower to the point of boils erupting on her body.

Which could go both ways really – technique aside. It’s fine to recognize the Evil Dead franchise as one based largely in its physical violence and DIY pools of red, but it’s always been more than that, underneath it. The first Evil Dead wasn’t just a splatter pic, it was a ghost story that spent half of its runtime establishing the mood and the location of its terror, building itself up. Evil Dead II was essentially one giant showpiece for the talents of Bruce Campbell, God bless him. Even say the classic early works of Peter Jackson could specifically be defined exclusively by being a bloodbath (though personally I feel Evil Dead ’13 out-bloods Dead Alive by a bit) took it to being more than a flow and based its viscera display on a sense of humor that Jackson made appealing without being ordinary.

It’s not that Evil Dead ’13 isn’t scary. Or that it HAS to be more than the sum of its gore. It probably wouldn’t bother me as much if Evil Dead ’13 didn’t have an avenue by which to be more than it is now.

But it does. And it stares me right in the fucking face.

Mia’s struggles in trying to break out of her heroin addiction. Any movie with a premise based on the bodily tortures of someone by their own hand or a friend’s and bothering to use THAT as a backstory for one of the leads must be able to see how easily one could compliment the other. But the movie screws itself over by making Mia essentially the first victim of the possession and, as such, she’s out of commission for most of the picture. We don’t get that sort of depth to the story and it was right there… right there in Alvarez and Diablo Cody’s faces. The most we get as a result is when Mia first starts acting strange, her friends and brother act horribly dismissive towards her actions as a withdrawal fit. Like goddamn. Such potential wasted.

On the other hand, it’s possibly this might be a blessing in disguise. Most of the film lies on Shiloh Fernandez and Lou Taylor Pucci’s shoulders and tell you the truth, neither of them are nearly enough to hold my attention long until the next violent setpiece. Hell, they don’t have the same blank [insert victimized posture here] presence that Campbell’s unimpressive performance in the first film had, they’re just reciting words about “insanity” and such. Can’t say much about Jessica Lucas or Elizabeth Blackmore. Jane Levy is easily best in show and that’s because she has a lot more descent into madness to work with, as well as being the easiest emotional anchor, even once she’s far gone into Deadite territory (if I’m being honest, I can’t tell where Levy’s appearance ends and Randal Wilson’s performance as her possessed version begins because they compliment each other so very well). So, if they did try to make it a tale of dealing with addiction, they may very well have had the movie fall on its face.

As such, the movie simply stands as a testament to how much blood one can spill into a movie before the MPAA tells them “Whoa… no…” (right down to a final setpiece that had my friend whispering to me in the theater “Slayer would be proud”) and that’s fine enough. It doesn’t make for a bad movie at all. But it makes for one that leaves a lot to be missed in terms of substance, especially when teased like it is, and all the bloody gushiness in the world can’t make up for it to me.

On a final note, all that shit in the credits. In the theatrical cut, it’s all the biggest fan service that could bug me. It’s great to see Bruce Campbell’s face, but we didn’t need it. It’s cool to hear Professor Knowby’s voice, but it’s after the fact. And in the TV/Home Video cut… well, what was necessary about the car scene? There’s no tension, nothing implied, we just know “Oh, she’s… not possessed. Which we knew.”

Ay yi yi yi, Evil Dead, folks. It could be better.