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Archive for the 'Movies' category

Remakes rant…

February 13, 2009 8:13 am

F13 header

Hooray! It’s Friday the 13th and that can only mean one thing. Yes, it’s the most pointless horror remake since… er… the last one, as Friday the 13th Redux hits screens to a chorus of shrugs from anyone over the age of 15.

This particular remake has irked me more than I thought it would. Whilst Rob Zombie’s ‘re-imagining’ of Halloween was completely futile, at least he cast Malcolm McDowell as Loomis (as fine a stand-in for Donald Pleasance as you could wish for), and at least Zombie knows his horror movies, even if I don’t particularly like what he does.

Friday the 13th Redux, by comparison, is pure studio money-grabbing bullshit. We know this because Paramount Pictures are having a piece of the pie. For those who don’t know, the studio giant sold most of its interest in Jason Vorhees following the less-than-stellar box office for F13 Part 8: Jason Takes Vancouver… sorry, Manhattan.

But when a ‘re-envisioning’ (where do they get these fucked up phrases from?) was mooted, suddenly Paramount want back in. And history shows us the studios only touch this kind of kind if they think there’s a fast buck in it.

Saying you hate remakes it a dangerous business. Some smartarse will always point out several brilliant films that you like that are remakes. I have fallen into this trap many times as John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my all-time faves. Factor in Cronenberg’s The Fly, Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (or for that matter North By NorthWest) and the list starts to look quite formidable. Christ, even the Bogart version of The Maltese Falcon was a remake.

So I think the issue isn’t remakes, per se, more the motives behind them. If a craftsman like Carpenter or Hitchcock takes on a project, they are doing it because they love the project and want to do justice to it (we’ll here ignore the Cohen Brothers’ Ladykillers, or Neil LaBute’s Wicker Man… please god, let me ignore that).

But what’s happening now is, seemingly, every horror film of the 70s and early 80s is being dredged up and handed over to anyone who’s directed a music video.

Did the world really need a new version of Prom Night? They completly re-wrote the plot, so why call it Prom Night? (The same observation could be made of The Italian Job, a fairly entertaining film in its own right, so why saddle it with a title garaunteed to make any right thinking Brit want to kick Paramount Pictures in the teeth?)

Black Christmas was particularly irksome. Barely known outside horror circles, this 1974 classic was probably as important in the conception of the slasher film as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. The remake rewrote the story… but kept, almost shot-for-shot, the trademark murder scenes!

What most of the recent remakes seem to get wrong is in understanding what made these films popular in the first place. Texas Chainsaw Massacre was not popular because of it’s gore (because their wasn’t any), it was popular because of it’s mood. The remake, whilst as grim, had none of the icky feeling of the original. It substituted atmosphere for severed limbs… a bit like the ill-fated original sequel (if that makes sense…!).

And that’s another thing. We’re now at the stage where we have competeing franchises of the same thing! Night of the Living Dead was always George Romero’s baby. Now his own sequels have to compete with sequels of the remake, which was released a decade before the current invasion of orror remakes. We had the confusing, for the average movie-goer, situation a few years back where within the space of a couple of weeks there was Land of the Dead (Romero’s official fourth ‘Dead’ film), the Dawn of the Dead remake and the wonderful Shaun of the Dead, which many Americans before its release, dismissed as a cheap knock off spoof of the Dawn of the Dead remake. A spoof of a remake… what fresh lunacy is this? Well, that’s happening too thanks to those ‘hilarious’ “Movie” movies (Epic Movie, Superhero Movie etc which I’m not even going to link to as I don’t want to give them anymore oxygen than they have already).

And so to Friday the 13th Redux, at last.

I’m going to assume if you’ve got this far that you’ve seen at least one F13 film (and if you only see one, make it part 2 or 4, and save yourself a lot of hassle), so I’ll probably be in full spoiler mode.

Friday the 13th Redux features Jason as the killer, he has a hockey mask, and he’s a grown man. None of these things happen in F13. The writers claim to have condensed the stories of the first three films (they have stories?) into a new re-imagining of the series. They haven’t. They’ve written a fucking sequel, that changes the origin story.

What’s wrong with making a sequel? Why not make this F13 part 12? Probably because that would sound ridiculous.

Well, guess what? Remaking F13 and changing the story is even more fucking ridiculous!

Think this is bad enough.

Rumours abound about The Evil Dead (which could lead to competing franchises again), The Thing, Driller Killer, Suspiria (please god no) and even Cannibal Holocaust(!).

All of these will be dreadful and worse than the original (except possibly Driller Killer which is extremely dull).

Baftas 2009

February 9, 2009 7:44 am

If there’s one thing the British Film Industry is fantastic at, it’s toadying up to Hollywood. There’s very few actors writers or directors, who won’t bugger off to Los Angeles at the first sniff of blockbuster supporting role, or the chance to have their dream project re-shaped beyond all recognition to fit a demographic whilst pocketing a huge wodge (I make an exception for craftspeople because they are paid a fraction of the cost of ‘the talent’ and by necessity have to go where the money is).

And last night saw the annual celebration of our ‘special relationship': The Baftas.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Baftas. Years ago I despised its insularity and refusal to recognise popular film, unless it was British. Now I despise it’s willingness to suck up to Hollywood’s great and good in an attempt to feel important, which, quite frankly, it isn’t. It’s a rather sad exercise in pretending it’s part of the Hollywood machine, whilst desperately trying to retain it’s own identity. And as a result it ends up falling between two stools and looking rather foolish.

Until a few years back the Baftas were a little bit awkward. It operated very strict rules regarding which films could qualify, insisting on a ‘proper’ release and a cut off point of release of December 31st.

This led to the, seemingly, embarrassing situation where Oscar would be awarding those films released in the month or two before the awards, whilst Bafta would invariably be bestowing honours on last years Oscar winners (or in the case of Silence of the Lambs, next years)

This made it very difficult for Bafta to attract top (Hollywood) stars, as they would be there promoting films that were anything up to a year old, and therefore, in business terms, no longer worthy of their attention.

In addition to this, the Baftas were usually scheduled a week or two AFTER the Oscars. Again, the stars, by this point would consider their ‘press-the-flesh duties finished until the awards season started up again in November. The point of attending award ceremonies is to get your face out there, promote the film and maybe take home a paperweight. By the time Bafta came around the films they were promoting were all but done at the box office, and they had no other awards to promote themselves for.

This led to a very bizarre ceremony a few years back, where Bafta hosted TWO shows simultaneously, one in London, for British winners, and one in LA for those American stars who deemed London unworthy of their time. It was dreadful.

The decision in 2000 to shift it forward in the calendar resulted in more Hollywood stars shipping over in a desperate bid to market themselves while the Oscar voting was still ongoing. It also, rather more controversially, set in motion a change in Bafta rules which led to the rather embarrassing situation last night, where all the Best Film nominees had only been released in the past five weeks.

But wait! Bafta rules state, to be eligible a film must have been released in the previous calendar year? I quote from Bafta’s website “Films that open between 1 January and 6 February 2009 inclusive may be ‘qualified’ by Distributors by being screened to Academy Film Voting Members by Thursday 18 December 2008.”

So, the best film of 2008, is actually one which had one screening late in the year, but was only released to the public in 2009. This is ONLY there so that Bafta can be seen to be honouring the same films as its American counterpart, and to attract Hollywood A-listers who may be in town promoting their Oscar-baiting wares (this year, for instance, Brad Pitt was in town promoting Benjamin Button, which had been on release for a whole THREE DAYS before the ceremony at which it walked off with three awards, but was nowhere to be seen when the nominations were announced).

Quite simply, it makes us look ridiculous. The Oscars have always been ridiculous (as most award ceremonies are) because it’s never really been about the ‘Best’ movies or the ‘best’ performances. It’s always been about politics, public feeling (how else do you explain the feel-good Chicago taking home Best Picture at the first post 9-11 awards?) and celebrating itself.

The Baftas have become nothing more than yet another Oscar barometer, alongside the Golden Globes, and the various Screen Guilds seemingly in every major city in the USA.

No other international film awards chase Hollywood acceptance as much as we do.

Maybe the case for the defence is we need American dollars at Pinewood/Shepperton (bestowed an award last night) to keep out industry going. But the French and Germans don’t have the facilities and craftspeople that we do (sor so we are constantly told) but their film industries are very healthy, and in fact actively repel American colonialism in their cinemas (there’s an interesting article here, which argues that this is a bad thing, but it’s a fascinating read).

Bafta needs to grow some balls, frankly. It needs to reinstate the 31st December deadline, and insist on a minimum number of screens to qualify as a ‘release'; it needs to stop trying to anticipate what Uncle Oscar is going to do, and give awards to those it genuinely believes to be worthy winners; but by the same token it needs to be less back-slappingly pleased with itself. If it wants to reward British films, then make it a British films only awards, but if it wants to be seen as a fair and open awards, it needs to stop simply aping the Americans at their own game.

If Brad Pitt doesn’t want to come, then fuck him. What’s the point anyway? You only want him there because the BBC will give up the lucrative rights if there isn’t enough stars. And what do you do when they stars are there? You ask Sharon Stone and Goldie Hawn to give out awards!

Oscar Nominations 2009

January 23, 2009 3:17 am

oscar

 It must be January,because the cinemas are filled with ‘worthy’ films. Biopics of people who made the front page, once, in 1976; real life stories that normally end up in TV movies on Channel 5 on a wet Tuesday afternoon; actors ‘playing against type'; and Will Bloody Smith in a bloody black bloody suit looking at me all smug and mysterious.

Yes, Oscar season arrives with all the attendant banality that goes with it, namely, the films.

Until a few years back, I loved the Oscars. It was something about all that glamour, shininess and the fact you had to stay up all night to watch it. Legends would be honoured, and occassionally get overlooked in favour of saying ‘well done’ to a rookie (Fact: Martin Scorcese lost out on Best Director Oscars TWICE to actors directing their first films, Robert Redford and Kevin Costner… think on).

But now, rather than being a celebration of the best Hollywood (and occassionaly Britain; those damn foreigners can have their own category) has to offer, it is now just a love-in for all those heartfelt dramas, true-life tales, and costume epics that appear in the last two months of the year.

Of this years Best Picture nominations, only two, Slumdog Millionaire and The Reader, were on release in Britain at the time the nominations were announce, and they both came out this month. Of the others, Milk and Frost/Nixon are both out today, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button isn’t out until February.

“Aaaah”, I hear you exclaim, “But this is for films released in America last year”.

Indeed. To qualify for the Oscars, a film needs only a ‘limited’ release in 2008. As FOUR of the five films did. Only The Curious Case of Benjamin Button had a full release. A limited release can consist of just ONE public showing normally either in New York or LA. So at the time of the nominations probably about 200 people have seen each of the nominated films. Hardly worthy of best film of the year, is it?

Another aspect of the process is the use of ‘screeners’. These used to be specially arranged screenings of films for voters, who, as they all work in the industry, are normally two busy to have a spare evening to go to the cinema. Or they just can’t be arsed to see a pretty actress wearing shock-horror prosthetics.

These days, the ‘screener’ has been superseeded by free DVDs and (it wouldn’t surprise me) downloads. So the people voting haven’t even made the effort to actually go and watch the films. The films come to them.

Now, call me picky, but surely if a film is any good people will WANT to see it, rather than be COERCED into seeing it? (This is the point where I remember that good films do get overlooked… but it doesn’t fit my argument so I’m going to ignore it)

I remember years ago, when MOVIES got nominated. You remember ‘movies’? Films that are entertaining and take you away from the real world for a couple of hours?

Just going back a couple of decades, consider that these films got nominated for Best Picture: Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Fatal Attraction (!), The Fugitive, The Full Monty.

You can argue the toss about their individual merits, but at least they were films that were wildly popular and to this day are still loved. (if you’re interested they were beaten by: Annie Hall, Chariots of Fire, The Last Emperor, Unforgiven and Titanic…)

Titanic and Lord of the Rings are probably the only populist winners in the past thirty years. And both were wrong.Titanic is a superb spectacle wrapped inside a dreary costume drama, and LOTR: The Return of the King (the final part, the one that actually won the Oscar) was the worst of the three films.

Some classic films never even got nominated. Off the top of head there’s Seven and Heat which both qualified for the 1996 awards. Then there’s groundbreakers like The Matrix. Yes, now it’s become a bit of a cliched dud of a series, but the original film was like nothing that had been seen before. I remember reading an interview with William Friedkin saying he thought it should have won the Oscar for Best Picture. It wasn’t even nominated (and he should know having won for French Connection and being nominated for The Exorcist.. The Exorcist! Can you imagine a horror movie getting a Best Picture nomination these days, even if they DID make decent ones?)

At the end of the day, I shall not be popping Pro-plus with Red Bull chasers to watch it this year. There is no point.

I haven’t seen any of the main contenders, and frankly, bar Frost/Nixon, I couldn’t give a toss about any of them either. So how can I get excited about it?

I’d like to see Robert Downey Jnr win in Best Supporting Actor for Tropic Thunder, but that’s had heath Ledger’s name engraved on it since last March; I’d like In Bruges to win Best Original Screenplay just because it contains so much swearing, I’d love to know what clip they’re going show.

But, for the record, here’s what I think will happen:

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Director: Danny Boyle

Best Actor: Frank Langella

Best Actress: Kate Winslet (finally)

Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger

Supporting Actress: Not a fucking scooby since Marisa Tomei is the only one I’ve heard of, and she’s already got one

Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire

Original Screenplay: Happy-Go-Lucky

There… you don’t need to watch it now, either.

The Dull Hunter

January 19, 2009 4:18 am

dull films header

 “You know, most of these movies that win
a lot of Oscars, I can’t stand them…All those assholes make are unwatchable movies from unreadable books.
Mad Max, that’s a movie. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, that’s a movie. Rio Bravo, that’s a movie.
And Coming Home in a Body Bag, that was a fuckin’ movie.”

Clarence in True Romance

 I thought on Clarence’s diatribe this past week as I had two experiences with those films that you are ‘suppossed’ to like but you actually find quite dull. When you explain to people that you don’t ‘get’ these films they launch into great pre-prepared speeches about ‘substance’, ‘subtext’ and ‘submarines’ (if you’re discussing Das Boot).

Now I like my fair share of movies that people wouldn’t be seen dead even looking up on their EPGs, but generally these are films that most right-thinking people don’t even know exist.

The films I’m talking about here, are those that are lauded by critica, film-makers and people with pointy beards you see nursing a coffee for four hours in the BFI coffee shop. (It is a rule that you only ever buy one coffee in there, and maybe a muffin to share, no matter how long you may be there for.)

Instance number one occurred on Wednesday, when a friend was very excited about seeing Blade Runner at the IMAX. This sounds like a great idea. Blade Runner is one of the most visually stunning films ever made, so seeing it projected on the moon-sized IMAX screen would surely be a sight to behold.

Then I remembered that Blade Runner is also very, very dull.

It’s a film I submit myself to about once a year, determined that this time I will ‘watch it properly’ and come to realise why it is so enthusiastically supported by just about everyone. I normally make it to Sean Young’s ‘replicant test’ before I’m asleep.

Only twice have I managed the whole thing: once as a wide-eyed 14 year old, keen to behold this cinematic masterpiece; and again when the Director’s Cut was released in 1992. I preferred the original, which is a kin to saying not only did I rape your disabled grandmother, but I really, really enjoyed it. In fact I might do it again this week.

This movie just makes people go insane. I would be tempted to put it down to sci-fi geekery, and Blade Runner attracts more of these conspiratorial types than most. In fact on finishing this, I fully expect to recieve death threats, be accussed of being an FBI stooge trying to dismantle the world economy and have my inbox stuffed with cryptic l33t speak which will leave me no closer to caring whether Harrison Ford is a robot or not. For the record I think he is, but I think there are far more important things to worry about. Like should I cut my toenails or give them another couple of days.

The group of friends I was with on Wednesday were stunned when I proclaimed myself less than a fan.

“It looks great”, I said, “and if there’s a DVD option to watch it with the just the soundtrack, I would love that. But I just find it incredibly dull.”

“Well, I can see what you’re saying , but you’re wrong.”

This from a friend, who I’d assumed was normal. No discussion, no exchange of ideas. I’m wrong.

But then he tripped himself up.

“Yeah, the story’s not great, but it’s about the visuals and the mood.”

Which sort of proved my point for me. Thanks mate.

The case for the prosecution next presents Exhibit #B: Vertigo.

One of the most celebrated thrillers of all time, held up as an example of Hitchcock’s genius, and regularly voted one of the greatest films of all time… it’s also incredibly dull.

Now I love Hitch. Without a doubt probably the finest film directors that has ever graced the planet. Rear Window, North by Northwest and Frenzy are three of my all-time favourites. So it really pains me to say that I find one of his films so tedious that I find myself wishing it would finish so I could watch something better, like Chucklevision. Or the testcard.

If you’ve never seen Vertigo I should warn you that what follows may spoil the film for you. But then if you ever had any intention of watching it, and haven’t by now, then you probably couldn’t care less anyway.

James Stewart is a detective who’s had to retire from the force because he suffers from vertigo (dum dum dum!). A college friend he hasn’t spoken to for years wants him to follow his wife who he thinks is possessed (!). Stewart and the wife fall in love, but she plummets to her death from a bell tower in a nunnery (!).

A year later, Stewart falls for a woman who reminds him of the dead wife, and starts an obsessive desire to mould her in the wife’s image. Wouldn’t you know it, it is in fact the same woman! She wasn’t actually the bloke’s wife at all. She was a in fact apaid to pretend she was bloke’s wife, while bloke knocked off the real wife. And she didn’t plummet to her death, it was a very unconvincing dummy. But since Stewart was paralysed with fear halfway up the bell tower he was a bit pre-occupied to notice (though quite how the nuns who rush to the body fail to notice is never explained).

It all ends with a happy confession and the imposter falling to her death from the same bell tower (why do they keep letting him take women up there?) when she mistakes a nun for a ghost. Easy mistake to make I suppose.

This takes 2 hours and 10 minutes, but feels like double that.

Vertigo was a bit of a flop at the time of its release, and I can understand why. Aside from its intermniable running time, Stewart is very unlikable. In fact, in the scenes where he is making over Kim Novak v2.0, far from being a ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ montage, it could in fact be scored quite easily with some of the more disturbing Mr Bungle or Nick Cave tracks. Stewart is downright violent in his desire to dress his new girlfriend exactly the same way as his dead ex.

But that’s not why I dislike the film (seeing someone like cuddly James Stewart playing an absolute bastard is always something of a joy). It’s the fact that it’s so loudly shouted from the rooftops that this is a classic is what really grates.

And the excuses given leave me cold too.

It was revolutionary. By this I assume the vertigo-vision shots. Yes, very clever, well done. They take up at most 10 seconds of the running time.

Jimmy’s dream sequence. Yes, done much better in Spellbound.

It’s Hitch’s most personal film. Yeeeeesss… Hitch had a thing for icy blondes. I would never have guessed that from watching his other films. Tippi Hedren had such an easy ride The Birds and Marnie, didn’t she.

And, as with Blade Runner, these feel like excuses and apologies rather than reasons.  It’s the old ‘never mind the quality, feel the width’ line. If I find a film boring then saying “oh, but check out that shot in the bell tower” isn’t going to convince me otherwise. A brief 2 seconds of genius do not make up for the other 2 hours, 9 minutes and 58 seconds being among the most disappointing of Hitch’s ouvre.

Vertigo is a film that has gained acclaim over the years, rather than achieving it instantly. Other films have done this in the past few decades, many of which are among my faves like Peeping Tom and The Wicker Man. Not to mention Hitch’s Frenzy.

But these films don’t need excuses made for them. Watching them is enough to realise that they are great films that were cruelly ignored, or worse, when they were released.

With Vertigo, there is this constant explanation for why it’s so highly regarded. This shouldn’t be neccessary. A film should live or die by itself.

As I said, Peeping Tom may have been ‘saved’ by people like Martin Scorcese, but he didn’t write long essays about why it’s so wonderful. he simply helped get it rereleased so people could judge for themselves.

If I want to know about Hitch’s OCD, or his obsession with blondes, I’ll read a book about it. If I want to watch an entertaining thriller I’ll watch Rear Window.

I should say, I’m not completely innocent of the whole ‘how can you not love this film’ scam. The thing is, the film’s I endorse, are not those that end up on the BFI list, or in Total Film’s 100 Greatest Movies of all Time.

Two of my favourite directors, the Davids Cronenberg and Lynch, regularly make films that leave audiences aghast in disbelief. For me, the difference is, films like Videodrome, Eraserhead, and more recently, Mulholland Drive, may be uncomfortable, obtuse viewing, but they are rarely, if ever, dull. (On finishing Mulholland Drive, Lady Scaramanga, no slave to dull films, turned to me and said “I really enjoyed that, but I’ve no idea why!”)

Anyone who has seen Eraserhead will never forget that experience. They may not have a clue what’s going, or what the whole thing’s is about, but it will be burned into your brain.

I can’t even remember if James Stewart already had vertigo, or if he developed it as a result of seeing the plod fall off the roof.

Everyone has their favourite films. And everyone has their favourite films when they are trying to impress someone. Don’t bother. Have the nerve to stand by your conviction and demand to be entertained rather than have your beard stroked.

 And I never even got started on The Deer Hunter