Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A remake by any other name . . .

might give you an idea how much it's going to suck. An article in today's Salon discusses upcoming remakes of The Gambler and Oldboy by Martin Scorcese and Spike Lee respectively. Though I agree with the article's argument, (basically that remakes aren't always disasters so we should all just relax), I do have problems with the terminology. The piece puts any movie that substantially relies on earlier material into one big category, but I think the sheer number and variety of "remakes" over the past decade or so have sorted themselves into smaller sub-genres, some better than others. For example . . .

Gritty reboots. These films share a lot with prequels, but in telling an origin story, they also invent new rules for the film's universe that may or may not coincide with the earlier movie(s). The king of the gritty reboot mountain is, to my mind, Batman Begins, but I think J.J.'s Star Trek and this summer's The Rise of the Planet of the Apes also qualify. They have a pretty good track record.

Faithful reshoots. These films take a prior film and pretty much just make it again, sometimes with better effects or nods to a new time period, but not always. The paradigmatic example is Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, but Scorcese's Cape Fear and Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate also come to mind. For me, these kinds of remakes have the least potential for being interesting, and usually beg the question " and why does this movie exist?" I'm afraid the upcoming Red Dawn and Footloose remakes are going to fall victim to the perils of this category.

Covers. This is a category of my own devising, but the Salon article inspired it by including YouTube footage of Sinatra's and Sid Vicious's versions of "My Way." It's the same song, but performed by two wildly different artistic sensibilities. I think when remakes put the remakey-ness front and center in this way, there's a good chance for some fun and fascinating intertextuality. So in this camp, we've got the Swedish Let the Right One In and the American version Let Me In. The latter plays up the new setting, and includes some Reagan-era paranoia that complements the earlier film's story of vampires living and walking amongst us. Last year's Bad Lieutenant also makes a location change from the earlier film (New York to New Orleans), but more importantly puts the character through the macabre existential freak show that is the mind of Werner Herzog.

Scorcese and Lee have the kind of strong aesthetic identity that could put their new projects in the "Cover" category. I'm particularly excited to see Oldboy, an an epically intense South Korean revenge story, as a Spike Lee Joint starring always-better-than-he-has-to-be Josh Brolin.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Conan the Barbarian - mastering new levels of suck

Conan the Barbarian
Director: does it matter?
Stars: Jason Mmmmmomoa, Rose McGowan, and some other people

I just read Tracy's review of "In a Better World" and now I'm even more depressed.  This movie should have been soooo much better.  Look at the poster!  It's frickin' fantastic.  I hate doubting myself and this movie is making me doubt my existence as an amateur critic.

I aim to focus on the good stuff.  Yes, this will be a short post.  The outside scenery was cool.  I'm sure it was all fake CGI but it was pretty.  They found some creative ways to kill people.  Beyond all reason they were able combine various genres: Roman influences; Asian-female monks doing tai chi?; and the expected genre of fantasy.  Oh and the kid who played young Conan did a very good job.  Which leads me to...

Mmmmmomoa should have, nay could have saved this movie.  Even though I got to objectify him in his mostly shirtless state, it just wasn't enough.  Rose McGowan should have been better.  This was her kind of role and she cheesed it up but not even in a good way.  She did look crazy though.  So there's that. 

The best thing about this movie was that my friend Jenna and I were completely alone in the theater, shocker, I know, so we were able to comment on it while it was happening.  Jenna was smart and had wine.  I would have liked a lobotomy but a beer would have been a start.  But no, there was me and my water.  The waitresses commiserated with us in the restroom after. 

Jenna and I both agreed we were in need of "movie mouthwash" tonight.  Would you believe Mommie Dearest is on?!?!?  I'm saved!

"In a Better World": Who knew despair and redemption could be so pretty?

Once upon a time, I was in a Masculinity Studies reading group, where we would periodically watch films that dealt with what it meant to be a man in particular sociohistorical moments. It was a lot more fun than that previous sentence might suggest. Anyway, were I still in that group, I would have everyone over to watch this 2010 Danish drama that won best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars last year.

The movie dances between a small town in Denmark and a refugee camp in Sudan (I had to look that up--the film never specifies), and two families dealing with two traumas. To say anything further would rob you of your viewing pleasure, but I will say it's all about power, and the different ways different men (and men-in-training) wield it. At times "IaBW" shows its hand a bit too boldly--there are elements introduced early that you just know are going to wreak havoc later (e.g., a knife, a silo, and an African warlord), but the movie manages to rise above being a mere morality play and actually say something cogent and poignant about loss, and violence, and empathy. It helps that the performances are all remarkably layered and authentic, particularly the young actor who plays Christian. He's given an impossible role and plays it like a genius and should be a superstar.

The more I think about "In a Better World," the more I want to think about "In a Better World." I'm not positive that the film's conflation of different types of domination is entirely warranted, but I'm willing to consider the argument. Then again, I might have just been seduced into believing in this movie by the sumptuous color-drenched gorgeousness of each of the careful shots, and actually, I'm sort of okay with that--it's nice to be seduced by a movie every once in a while.

Rental review - Unknown

Director: The dude who directed Orphan
Stars: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, and January Jones

Oh, January Jones.  Why does it seem that I cannot escape you?  How do you get so much work?  But I am determined to say something nice, right?  Uh, her hair looks like it is very soft. Though it's waaaayyy too blonde...ooops, there I go again.

Overall the movie was fine. I didn't even mind the explanation of Neeson's memory loss and the reason Aidan Quinn seemingly took over his life.  In fact it was a twist I didn't see coming and usually I see that kind of stuff from a mile away.  Shot solely in Berlin the movie looked just as blue as that poster on the right.  I know Berlin is a bit gloomy at times but this movie made it seem really, well, blue in the most depressive sense of the word.  However the blue of the city did bring out the blue of Aidan Quinn's eyes.  Post-resolution the city did lose it's blue tint and the sun decided to come out.  How handy was that?

The acting was mostly good.  Liam Neeson did a fine job even though he growled most of his lines.  But I get it, he was frustrated and not too many people believed him.  One character that did seem to buy his story was Diane Kruger's Gina.  I think I would like Diane Kruger more if she didn't already have the best boyfriend in the world:.
I'm so silly!  He's not even in this movie.
Anywhoodle, I had some trouble believe Helen of Troy would drive a taxi but Kruger held her own against a snarling Neeson.  I was thrilled to see German actor, Bruno Ganz.  This is how nerdy I am that I'm excited about a 70-year old actor who happened to be in my favorite Wim Wenders movie, Wings of Desire.  See? I've mentioned Wenders in two different posts.  I'm not even a fan of German filmmaking  in general but no one shoots Berlin like Wenders.  Comparisons were bound to be made as I watched Unknown.

Honestly the best part of the movie was what happened to Ms. Jones.  Best end of January Jones, er, a January Jones movie ever.  Ha!  Did I just ruin the movie?  Sorry.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Late to the Party - Mad Men Season 2

Pete and his shorts!
I really enjoyed the second season of Mad Men.  It's a consistently good show all around.  In fact I think instead of suffering a sophomore slump the writing was even better in this season.  I think the directors are having a bit more fun and are being a bit more creative.

It truly feels like a journey.  But is it a journey for the characters? For the firm? For America?  All of it?  Doesn't matter.  It's an obvious journey of Forrest Gump proportions but it's incredibly enjoyable one.

Some episodes of note:

2.4 "Three Sundays"  The image above was from this episode which may have been my favorite.  It had a different feel to it.  While the story didn't depart from their typical office and home content it sped through, as the title informs, three consecutive Sundays while everyone prepared the pitch for American Airlines.  They relied quite a bit on non-verbals from the background actors (the secretarial pool and no name worker dudes) and it totally worked. It also saw more of Peggy's life and introduced welcomed actor Colin Hanks (!) as Father Gill.  The editing seems heavy-handed but was cool nonetheless.

2.9 "Six Month Leave" My third favorite Murray brother, Joel, shined in this episode.  His drinking problem comes to light and Roger and Don take him out for one last night of boozing before he has to take a forced leave to get dry.  But thanks to Murray's Fred Rumsen and his alcoholic ways, Peggy is given the chance to shine herself.  She hits a home-run with the Samsonite folks and it marks the beginning of a winning streak for her character.  She even ends up getting Fred's office later in the season, though it's not the way she wanted it.

2.10 "The Inheritance"  There's not much to say about this one besides the fact that I think the writers were trying to generate some sympathy for Betty.  Not gonna happen.  Not as long as you have January Jones playing her.  I have furniture less wooden.

2.12 "The Mountain King" This episode took the biggest departure from their typical formula.  In fact you feel like Don is having an out-of-body experience but L.A. will do that to you.  I loved his scenes with Anna, I won't spoil who she is if you haven't seen the show.  There were times I wasn't sure if we were flashing back or in the present but it all added up to being a great episode.

2.13 "Meditations in Emergency" The final episode of the season (note how most of my faves were towards the end?) spent lots of time bringing the season back together.  Big changes are afoot at Sterling Cooper and somehow weaselly Pete comes to the rescue and Don emerges a better man.  Well a better man work-wise.  His private life, though possibly better after his break in LA, will never be what it once was.  Joan, who is growing to be one of my absolute favorite characters, gets some of the best lines.  The poor thing has such a horrible thing happen to her and yet still yearns to believe that the man she's marrying is truly a good man.  In fact it even seems like she might want to connect with Peggy and establish a friendship.  Alas it is not to be because Peggy is a bit more concerned about getting the name changed on the door to her new office. Fred Rumsen, who?

I think the coolest thing about the show is the final shot of each episode.  Those shots speak volumes as to the development of the character and/or the story.  A single light through a window, a lone suitcase on a doorstep, or a conversation not being had do more to push this show forward than the previous 40+ minutes. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Trailer Park

It's Friday and that means...TRAILERS!*
*A couple of these are the red band versions so if you're not into language, violence and possible nudity then don't watch them

I really can't wait to see this - Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (red band)
Sadly I think the 'making of' Ghost Rider 2 will be better than the movie. I say this with confidence because we saw some footage of both the movie and the making of at NerdFest this past summer

Red Tails looks very cool.

The tearjerker, I mean The Way...(Thanks, Keenan)

How 'bout a little Gosling to get your weekend started right? (red band)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What Would Have Been – The Locke & Key trailer

Fox optioned and produced a pilot called Locke & Key based on the comic book series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.  They screened the pilot twice at Comic-Con this past summer and unfortunately I didn’t make it to either, much to Tracy’s dismay.  I think her one request of me was to start a grassroots movement to get Locke & Key picked up by a network.  Sorry, Tracy.  I failed you and based on this trailer (thanks, io9!) I wouldn’t blame you for holding it against me.

As I have not read the books I am only able to judge the trailer.  This looks like it would have been a kick-ass series.  The quality is so high it feels like a trailer for a movie.  Maybe seeing it (or worse, the pilot) is a bad thing because now I’m really bummed.

There have been some recent attempts at tv horror series (geeze, I can’t even remember the one from last year – something about people on an island for a wedding? Ooooh! Harper’s Island, maybe?)  FX looks to be taking a shot with American Horror Story.  That poster freaks me out but in a good way.  However, the trailers they have do nothing for me.  Obviously we don’t see much of what it’s about, not like the Locke & Key trailer.  The only real successful horror series has been The Walking Dead and that’s having its own issues right now.  And it’s really not *scary*.  Locke & Key looked scary.

Will it ever get picked up?  Sadly the likelihood is beyond slim.  It sounds like the network wasn’t convinced it would appeal to a large audience.  They have already given Fringe the benefit of the doubt by renewing it so many times when its audience is small but loyal.  It seems they didn’t want to risk it with a show like Locke & Key which might also have a small but loyal audience.  With the success of The Walking Dead it seems like it would be a good fit for AMC but maybe one show like that is enough for them.  Apparently Fox did shop it around but due to costs they gave up.