Thursday, April 26, 2012

Been a bit quiet of late...

Sorry for the lack of posting; as everyone’s no doubt aware, movie going is an expensive hobby these days, and money is nigh onto nonexistent for me at the moment.  However, there are a veritable spate of awesome-looking flicks coming out over the next three months, so hopefully, and with any luck, you’ll see a lot of reviews coming out from this site in the coming weeks.

In the meanwhile, maybe I’ll throw out a few reviews of films on Blu Ray, DVD, and Netflix, just to keep things going.

Also, please continue to spread the word about OP—I really need more followers to get this to take off. I have plans, but those plans can only come to fruition if I have visibility out there. If you’ve got a Facebook profile, blog, website, whatever, please link back to Overpriced Popcorn and tell people to follow!  All you need is a Google account to do so, and really…who doesn’t have a Google account these days?

Thanks!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Review: Neveldine/Taylor's Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Introduction

In 2007, Marvel comics continued its assault on the world box office with the release of Ghost Rider, a film based on one of their darker properties. In it, a cocky, Evel-Knievel-like stunt rider named Johnny Blaze (portrayed by Nicholas Cage) makes a deal with the devil to save his critically ill father, and in so doing becomes possessed by a demon that, whenever he is in the presence of evil, transforms him into the Ghost Rider, a spirit of vengeance with a flaming skull for a head. The Rider is hungry for the souls of sinners, and has no sense of scale—if you’ve done something shameful, he’ll swallow your soul and send you screaming to Hell.  Of course, Blaze hates being the Devil’s man-bitch and constantly fights against the demon inside (like any good Marvel character), but even in serving Hell, he is doing good work by sending evildoers Down Below.  I described Ghost Rider to my wife Julie as “the Crow meets Spawn,” and if you’re completely unfamiliar with the character that’s close enough for government work.

I missed the first film in the series in the theater and only saw it months later on cable. I’ll be honest; I rather enjoyed it, but I will be the first to admit that I am not a regular reader of the comic—I know little about the mythology of the Ghost Rider, so I can’t speak as to its faithfulness to the source material. As an actor, Nick Cage kind of lives in a box; when he’s playing a nut-job with a heart of gold he does a good job, and the role of Johnny Blaze suited him well.  What I did not realize is that the first film in the franchise (such as it is) apparently was a minor hit at the box office, more than doubling its budget.  I thought the film was fairly poorly received (which it was, if you listen to critics). However, as I’ve said before, I often wonder what critics want out of a superhero movie. Of course there’s going to be cheese, over-the-top heroics, and somewhat stilted dialogue—it’s a trope of the genre.  I’m sure there will be some folks that are dying to illustrate how that’s no excuse, but I respectfully disagree and feel that I expect such things to a degree from superhero movies, and am rather disappointed when they don’t feature goofy one-liners, big explosions, people leaping at helicopters from motorcycles, and such things, even when the hero in question is a brooding hero like Ghost Rider or Wolverine.

That, however, is moot.  The point is, I didn’t realize that the first Ghost Rider film had made enough money to merit a sequel, but apparently it did.  On February 7, 2012, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance hit theaters.  The budget of the sequel was roughly half that of its predecessor, only $57 million and change, which in today’s market is a pittance, and I’m not sure whether such a low budget allowed the film to make a profit, or hurt its earnings by ham-stringing its potential. Hollywood walks a fine line with these things, and it’s hard to say in a situation like this if they were correct.  Spirit of Vengeance has taken in a worldwide box office that has allowed it to make back double its budget, but had the film been given a higher budget, allowing better production values, better visuals, and more time to be spent on it overall, the end result may have been higher quality and thus increased its earnings at the theater.  Again, it’s hard to say.

I missed the boat on the sequel when it was in first-run, but I had a chance to catch it at the local maxi-saver this past Saturday with Julie. Since it’s been a week or so since I posted here, I thought I’d offer up my review. By way of a brief summary: this movie was okay; given that I only paid a buck to see it I wasn’t sorry to catch it on the big screen, but had I paid $7 or $15 to see it, I may have felt cheated. The low production values and choices to completely ignore important elements of its predecessor hamstring the moments of good on the screen, and the story is somewhat trite. It’s kind of a shame to see Marvel’s darker heroes consistently get mistreatment when Nolan’s Batman series has shown us it’s possible to take a dark hero and do him justice on screen.

So here you go: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

The Good
There are a few bright points to this film, and they reside in the core cast.  Nick Cage acts in a box—he’s very much a character actor, and while he takes some flak for that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, so long as you do it well, and Cage does it well. Nobody gives Jack Nicholson crap for playing Jack all the time, or John Malkovitch for playing Makovich all the time—why does Cage get crap for playing Cage?  He shouldn’t.  Cage is a good choice to play Johnny Blaze, a loosely-sane hero with a penchant for over-the-top antics. He does a good job as the tortured soul struggling with the madness inside.

Peter Fonda has been replaced with Cirian Hinds in this film, playing Roarke, a.k.a. Mephisto. I’ve been a fan of Hinds ever since his role as Caesar in Rome, and I’m pretty sure he can do no wrong in my eyes. He does a good job with the Machiavellian demon who is subtly but brutally evil, and looking for a body in which he can use his powers unfettered by mortal weaknesses. Violante Placido and Fergus Riordan do a good job as Nadya and Danny, the objects of Roarke’s desire, and I rather enjoyed Idris Elba as Moreau, Johnny’s sidekick and spiritual guide in this outing.  There’s an amusing exchange between him and Johnny, where Moreau has been waiting for years to uncork a 2,000-year-old bottle of wine, and when he does and drinks he says, “Not bad!” and passes it to Johnny, who takes a drink, makes a face, and says, “That might be decent on a salad.”  So the interplay between characters in some places is pretty well-done.

I also rather enjoyed seeing Anthony Head and Christopher Lambert on screen; both are always fun.

In the end, I think that the cast, for the most part, did the best job they could with the script with which they had to work.  And the script itself is not all bad—it has some intriguing elements in it, like the revelations about the nature of the demon inside of Johnny, which I won’t reveal as they are spoileriffic.

The Bad
Unfortunately, despite a few good elements, the script for this flick is pretty bad overall.  Not awful, per se, but incredibly “blah,” and somewhat schizophrenic.  It’s also really problematic if you’re a fan of the first film, as it patently ignores important story elements set forth in the first movie. For example, at the end of the first film, Mephisto offers to remove Johnny’s curse, and he refuses; yet, at the beginning of the second film he’s in Europe and we’re told that he’s stuck with this curse that he’s desperate to get rid of ever since he chose to sign his soul away, which, he says, he did out of selfishness.  In the first film, he accidentally sells his soul out of love.

Perhaps even worse than ignoring the first film’s story is the fact that the storyline is just tired. We’ve all seen “son of Satan” stories a million times, which isn’t to say you can’t pull one off.  The problem is, if you’re going to do it, you need to go all out with it, and this film just doesn’t.  The story’s presentation is rote and contains very little to make it stand out from other films featuring similar ideas. It seems almost like the screenwriter just mailed it in after they’d gotten one too many studio executive notes. Indeed, coming from David S. Goyer, I’d expect more.  I mean, this is the guy who gave us Dark City, Blade, and Batman Begins.  To be fair, he’s also given us Blade: Trinity and The Crow: City of Angels, so his track record isn’t 100%.

In any case, the storyline is poor in this film, full of clichés and lazy writing, and ignoring major elements from the first film to set up its story, rather than incorporating such elements within the story.

Finally, the use of Blackout in this film is wasted. He comes off as a second-string player at best, and he doesn’t really accomplish anything as a bad guy, when you know that Satan is standing right behind him in the shadows all the time.

The Ugly
The visuals in this film are as lazy and mailed-in as the screenplay.  While I’m sure part of it is that the projection was pretty awful in the theater where I saw the film, the actual visual style of the film itself is schizophrenic and can’t decide whether it wants to emulate Sam Raimi, Bryan Singer, or David Lynch. The presentation of Blackout’s powers over darkness is randomly psychedelic and cheap, and the use of Ghost Rider’s Penance Stare is absolutely nonexistent.  That’s not to say that the Rider never uses the power…just that there’s no visual to show it working, and since it’s used on glorified extras for the most part, the actors aren’t good enough to really express what the stare does to a person. At times it feels like the directors are trying to emulate the other Marvel films in the style of Raimi or Singer (which are quite divergent directorial styles to begin with), and then someone will use a power or there’ll be a dark effects scene and the whole thing shifts to something out of Wild at Heart. The editing is straightforward and no frills.  There’s very little of any kind of fingerprint or signature on this movie that shows a commitment to the project.  I admit to being utterly unfamiliar with the other efforts of Neveldine/Taylor, so it’s possible that all of their films are like this; I couldn’t say for sure.  A quick scan of their credits reveals pretty much all films that have been universally panned by critics and fans alike.

Again, this isn’t to say that the visuals are bad.  They’re just mediocre.  They are no-frills, straightforward, and utterly un-engaging. Superhero films—even dark ones—need spectacle, and Spirit of Vengeance doesn’t deliver.  Given the low overall budget, my guess is that the whole FX budget was spent on the Rider effects, with precious little left to spend on the rest of the film’s look.

Summary and Conclusion
There is absolutely nothing special about Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. This film reminds me of the kind of made-for-TV miniseries that used to run on Saturday afternoons during the “Action Pack” hour alongside The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, and Vanishing Son. That is to say, if you’re sitting at home on Saturday afternoon and this comes on cable, there’s worse ways to waste your time, but it was a very poor effort for Marvel, and a shame to see it likely be the nail in the coffin of the Ghost Rider franchise.  I wasn’t sorry to have paid a buck to see it, but had I paid full price first-run I may have been a bit irritated.

I didn’t hate this flick, but there’s very few flicks I hate.  I also very much did not love it.  Catch it on cable for free if you can, or Netflix it if you’ve got nothing better in your queue.

Rating: 2 out of 5 kernels.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review: Jonathan Liebesman's Wrath of the Titans

Introduction

Let’s face it: I know you’ve all been dying to have me review Wrath of the TitansI know; I hear your cries of desperate desire, and I throw myself in front of the bus for you.

So here’s how it happened: Yesterday morning, for some odd reason, I was struck with an overwhelming desire to be sitting at the café at Barnes & Noble. No idea why, but it stuck with me all day.  So after work yesterday I decided to head down to the Waterfront to do just that, and maybe get some writing done.  For those not from Pittsburgh, the Waterfront is a development that contains a huge shopping plaza there.  I hesitate to call it a strip mall because it’s really not a strip.  It’s more like a full-on mall, just not in a building. There is an AMC Lowe’s movie theater there, which while the most expensive theater in the area, also has the best projection, the biggest screens, it’s just the highest quality theater in the area.  In addition, there’s tons of boutiques, clothing stores, Starbucks (obviously) a ton of bars and restaurants, comedy clubs, even department stores (Macy’s, Target, Lowe’s Home Improvement), as well as Barnes & Noble.

So I kicked around B&N for awhile, took a seat with some coffee, and tried to write.  However, as I discuss over here, I just couldn’t get the words out, so I ended up doing a brief blog post about it, then sat, frustrated, as I finished my coffee.  At some point I decided on the spur of the moment to go see a movie.  Yes, it’s true, though it doesn’t happen that often, I have no problem going to see a movie by myself.

Walked over to the AMC and scanned the marquis.  It was either see The Hunger Games again (which was tempting), or see something I could review.  The only two remotely viable options for that seemed to be Mirror, Mirror or Wrath of the Titans. I couldn’t bring myself to go see the former, as it just looks really horrible. I’m holding out for Snow White and the Huntsman for my grown-up fairy tale fix. Wrath at least seemed like it might be a spectacle.  So that got the call, and $21 later ($7.50 for the ticket, $13.50 for the Overpriced Popcorn), I’m in the theater with a large popcorn and large drink.

Before I start, let me just say that finally getting to see the trailer for The Hobbit on the big screen was worth the $7.50 ticket to me.  Also, I did not spring for iMAX or 3D on this one—I got bit by the bad 3D on the Clash of the Titans remake, so I didn’t risk it for this one. Part of me wishes I had.

As a quick pre-review summary, I wasn’t overwhelmed by this movie, but nor was I really sorry I saw it. I find the idea of a brand spanking new sequel to a remake to be intriguing.  I can’t think of any other property where this has been done (though I’m sure they’re out there). One could argue that The Fly II and Halloween II were that, but I’d argue that these were at least nominal remakes in their own right of Son of the Fly and Halloween II, respectively. The Dark Knight? Again, I don’t think it counts thematically, given that there have been multiple Batman series in the past, and Batman Begins as such doesn’t really count as a remake, per se. Hopefully you get my point. I guess a few screwball comedies like Cheaper by the Dozen or Father of the Bride might count…

Should you see this film? Yeah, I guess I can recommend it if you’re looking for a night out with little else to do.  It’s not a must-see by any stretch.  I think that if you see it on the big screen, I’d spring for the iMAX 3D presentation, just to enhance the experience; otherwise it can probably wait for video.

So without further ado, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly about Jonathan Liebesman’s Wrath of the Titans.

The Good
It occurs to me that if you’re into fantasy and particularly fantasy gaming, this isn’t a half-bad D&D film. The story, while pretty rote, is easy to follow and interesting enough to carry you through the flick: the idea (sans any real spoilers) is that the power of the gods is waning. Indeed, they are flat-out dying.  This is due to the fact that mankind is turning away from the gods, and since gods need prayer to have power, their power is waning and with it, their immortality.  Since the gods are losing power, the walls of Tartarus are breaking. Tartarus is presented as a kind of Hell dimension, wherein are imprisoned the Titans, the forebears of the Greek gods. Most dangerous among these is Kronos, the head Titan and father of the major Greek Gods.  If Kronos escapes, he could bring about the end of the world.  The only thing that can stop him is a combination of three weapons forged by Hephaestus and held by Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, respectively. But since the gods are weak, Zeus goes to find his son Perseus to help them out. Perseus, who has been quietly living as a fisherman for ten years with his son Helios (his wife Io died in childbirth) wants no part of it. Of course, when danger shows up on his doorstep, Perseus answers the call, and thus begins an epic quest into the underworld to save not only the gods, but all of mankind.

While it plays extremely fast and loose with Greek mythology (keeping pretty much only names and a few basic concepts), the story is fun and engaging enough.

By far the highlight of the film for me was Bill Nighy’s performance as Hephaestus.  He sinks his teeth into the role with a great deal of relish, and plays the god as a half-mad fallen deity who talks to his broken inventions and is only barely in the world anymore. Nighy is great in almost anything, and his performance in Wrath is no exception—he steals almost every scene he’s in and watching him play the role alone is almost worth the price of admission.  I wish I could say as much for the rest of the cast. Toby Kebbell’s performance as Agenor is also quite entertaining; he plays the role of your typical D&D rogue extremely well.

The Bad
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast’s performances are not as impressive as Nighy and Kebbell.  The film for the most part plays out like the cast signed on and then was handed a disappointing script that they were contractually obligated to perform. The performances, by and large, seem mailed in.  Liam Neeson as Zeus says most of his lines with very little emotion; this I suspect is partially due to the fact that the gods are supposed to lack human emotion (his character is constantly taunted by others to “cry like a mortal”), but it ends up just feeling flat.  This type of delivery extends to the “mortals” in the cast, and as such there is no emotional impact whatsoever in a scene at the end of the film that should really be a tear-jerker.  Likewise, the love story between Perseus and Andromeda comes off about as stilted and out of the blue as that between Aragorn and Arwen in the Lord of the Rings novel.

Ooooh, I know: that’s going to get me in a lot of trouble with Lord of the Rings fans, but let’s face it: as classic as that novel was, writing a love story was NOT Tolkien’s strong suit, and Arwen really doesn’t even show up till 2/3 of the way through Return of the King. Hers and Aragorn’s story is never developed in the novel proper, only in the appendices, which you read after the novel. It’s similar here: the love between Perseus and Andromeda isn’t really developed or explored—it just kind of happens in the last 10 minutes of the film, as an afterthought.  Indeed, it’s almost like someone at the studio saw a rough cut, and went, “You’d better have Perseus kiss a girl—how about Andromeda?  Isn’t he supposed to end up with her anyway?”

The story itself, as interesting as it is, also has some pretty major inconsistencies, such as villains suddenly turning good (including a very bad Star Wars ripoff line—“I know there is still good in you; I feel it”) for no apparent reason; as such the sudden rise of the heroic former villain comes off with little punch, though it does lead to some fun to watch sequences.  Also, Bubo from the original shows up again, but this time he’s somehow been miraculously transported to Hepaestus’ lair and forms a sort of idol with which Hephaestus argues (though being broken down, Bubo doesn’t argue back).

Length and pacing are another downfall here.  For a special effects spectacular, the movie was quite short, clocking in at just over 90 minutes. Some critics feel this is a benefit; I personally would rather see a 3-hour epic, given how much I pay for movies these days.  And yet, even for as short as the film is, it really does drag in some places.  There’s not nearly enough fighting in this movie; there’s a lot of classic D&D-style dungeon traps and running, though.  I kept thinking of Doctor Who while watching it: “We ran, you and me.  Didn’t we run?”

My final “the Bad” is about the gods themselves—specifically, There weren’t enough of them. What happened to all of them?  We’re told early on that they’re dying off, or at least becoming mortal, and at one point Hephaestus says that Andromeda reminds him of Aphrodite, but we never see Aphrodite. Or Hera. Or Apollo.  Or Hermes. Or Athena. Athena, for cripes’ sake!  If ever there was a need for a goddess like Athena, it was in this movie, though I can’t say why without revealing major spoilers.  I would’ve liked to see more gods.

Oh, and also: why is it that every single female lead role has to be a badass these days? Did we really have to make Andromeda a warrior for her to be a strong character? Wouldn’t her being a wise and powerful queen be enough? I’m just saying, there’s plenty of ways to create strong female characters without making them all wear armor and expertly wield swords.

The Ugly
Wow, there’s a lot of FX in this movie.  As I said earlier, I’m kind of sorry I didn’t pay for the 3D, as this flick was clearly made to take advantage of 3D effects; there are sequences left and right that probably look awesome in 3D, and while they are of the, “camera zooms through a tunnel” gimmick, they aren’t of the stupid, “someone throws something at the audience” gimmick that I hate. For the most part the effects look very cool; the Chimeras look great, the erupting volcano and Kronos effects are cool, the look of the gods’ powers looks great.  My only complaint about the effects are the Cyclopses, which look very CGI.

The camera work in this film is a bit frenetic and schizophrenic, jumping between standard Steadicam and “documentary-style” handheld shots.  The latter are not well done at all and during the initial Chimera battle at the beginning I had to close my eyes a couple times to avoid getting dizzy and ward off headaches from the sheer motion of the camera. Seriously, I didn’t even get sick watching Cloverfield, but that scene in Wrath gave me a pretty hardcore case of motion sickness, and during a scene I really wanted to enjoy.

Overall the fight scenes are well done, action-oriented and easy to follow and get into, and it’s in the fight scenes that the film shines.  These are well-choreographed, expertly shot and edited, and the performances during the battles are as good as they get in the film.

Aside from the frenetic camera work in the handheld sequences which added to a degree of visual schizophrenia, I don’t have a whole lot of problem with the look of the film overall.  Again, since it seems to have been shot specifically to take advantage of the 3D effects, and I didn’t see it in 3D it’s really hard to give a good, complete breakdown.  I do feel that it loses something if you don’t see it in 3D, which in and of itself could be problematic. 3D used properly should enhance a film, but the film shouldn’t rely upon it for its visuals, and I suspect that Wrath does, in many ways.

Conclusion and Summary
Liebesman had something of an Herculean task (pun intended) with this film: it’s no small thing to attempt a brand new sequel to a film that was a remake, and a film that, while it made a lot of money, was also pretty universally panned by critics and audiences alike. So I give him absolutely an “A” for effort, here.  It was definitely an intriguing experiment, and it does succeed to a degree, though certainly it is not a universal success. Flat performances by most of the cast, combined with schizophrenic camerawork and an over-reliance on 3D FX detract from stellar performances by Bill Nighy and Toby Kebbell and a fun Dungeons-&-Dragons-like plot.  I can recommend this film as a moderately engaging time-killer, but if you see it in the theater make sure you’ve got money to burn because it’s only worth a theater jaunt if you’re going to see it in 3D IMAX, which between the ticket and the Overpriced Popcorn is rather expensive. Otherwise, catch it on HBO.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Popcorns.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Things I Don't Hate on Principle: Michael Bay and Remakes

There’s a lot of things and people in the film industry right now that it’s become somewhat chic to hate.  For many of them, there’s strong and valid reasons to hate them. However, I’d like to post in defense of a few things.

First up, Michael Bay.  People—especially those in the SF/F fan community—love to hate Michael Bay.  Yet, his movies make millions upon millions of dollars and to my mind the hatred of him seems unreasoning. I’m going to go out on a limb that will likely place me at odds with the rest of the geek community and say I actually dig Michael Bay.  Unlike many, when I hear he’s attached to a film, especially a licensed project, my first reaction is usually “thank God.” I’ll admit to some (pretty serious) trepidation about his altering of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to be aliens rather than earthly mutants, but in the end I think raging about it because the word “mutant” is in the title is foolish, and it doesn’t mean that the film is going to suck. Indeed, if you are a fan of the original comic, you’ll recall that the turtles were mutated in the first place…by alien goo from T.C.R.I. – the Techno-Cosmic Research Institute, which was operated by the Utroms, who were stranded on Earth and seeking a way to get home. What if, in Bay’s script, the Turtles come from a species of mutant turtles that were harvested by the Utroms for experimental purposes?  This would preserve their status as mutants and maintain some faithfulness to the original idea behind them.  Of course, since there’s not even a finalized script for this flick yet, the “alien” thing could’ve been an off-the-cuff remark by Bay that won’t even see the light of day.

In any case, I think Bay did a great job with the Transformers franchise—the second one was the weakest of the three, but I didn’t even hate that.  His remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street were, in my mind, quite good, and far superior to Rob Zombie’s hack-job abortion of a Halloween remake.  Yes, I’m aware he didn’t direct those three, but he was directly involved and is often thought of as responsible for the creative direction of those remakes. If nothing else, Bay knows how to make a huge blockbuster that is a lot of fun to watch, and isn’t that, in the end, what movies are for? To be fun to watch? We spend far too much time these days looking for some sort of reason to pick films apart: there’s not enough character development, the plot isn’t as deep as War and Peace. It’s not faithful enough to the source material.  I think a lot of the time people need to just shut off their brains, suck down some popcorn, and enjoy what’s going on in the larger-than-life spectacle on screen. I have defended such films as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing, and the Star Wars prequels on this exact argument: so what if the dialogue was bad? They were fun to watch if you weren’t looking for something wrong with them.

This brings me to the next hated trend in Hollywood: the reboot/remake trend.

I’m not even going to try to defend this as a trend: it’s tired, played out, and irritating.  Not everything needs to be remade, especially given how bad some of these remakes are.  The aforementioned Rob Zombie remake of Halloween is a prime example of a piss-poor remake - it strips Michael Myers of all of his fear-factor by spending an hour showing us how the poor kid was abused by his father who also raped his mother, and driven to madness and psychosis was something for which Zombie should be punched. I don’t want to feel bad for Michael Myers.  I don’t want to understand his psyche.  The entire point of Michael Myers was that there is no psyche to understand.  He is evil.  Pure, unadulterated, unstoppable evil.  Loomis says it in the original: “I met this six year old child with this blind pale emotionless face and the blackest eyes. The devil's eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply...evil.”

On another angle, some of these reboots are completely unnecessary: the new Amazing Spider-Man is a prime example.  While I am forced to grudgingly admit that the flick looks like it’s going to be really good (and I like that they’re going back to the mechanical web shooters), there was no reason to reboot the series this soon. Because Raimi, Maguire, and Dunst walked away is fairly meaningless in the long run. They could very easily have re-cast the main roles and moved forward with the continuity. There’s no reason they couldn’t have done the Curt Connors/Lizard story or Peter’s parents as government spies storylines without re-telling the kid’s entire back story.

So yes, it’s high time Hollywood started taking a risk on new ideas again and stopped playing it safe.  However, one can see why they would be loathe to do so in today’s market. Movies are getting ever more expensive to make as well as to see and it certainly doesn’t help that a lot of the new ideas that are being made simply bomb at the box office.  This, however, all-too-often goes right back to the studios’ fear of new ideas. They sabotage themselves by failing to really market fresh movies—my earlier blog that discussed predicting movie failure through trailers is an example of this. Studios sink a budget (often, but not always, a fairly small one) into a new idea for a movie. The movie gets made, and someone decides it’s not worth marketing, so they put out a slap-dash trailer which advertises the film’s title and release date at the top of the screen throughout the entire two minutes in hopes that people will notice it—unfortunately, what people notice is that these trailers look cheap and they don’t bother to see the movies. Since no other marketing budget is proffered, the film sinks like a stone. It’s self-sabotage at its best. Granted, some of these movies are pretty bad, but not all: that John Carter had absolutely no marketing at all aside from those bad trailers was criminal. If ever a film was ripe for a McDonald’s Happy Meal promotion, a toy line, and every other form of marketing you can think of for a sci-fi epic, it was that one.  So Hollywood fails itself by poorly marketed self-sabotage, then points its finger at its own failures and says, “See? This is why we stick with safe properties.”

That being said, some remakes are actually quite good, and the inspiration for this blog was seeing the trailer for the new Total Recall. I admit, I’m really looking forward to this. Many have said “Arnold did it better,” and I’m afraid I have to disagree with that statement just on principle. It’s not as though Schwarzenegger is a remotely good actor. He plays himself in everything.  The cast in the new flick, which includes Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, and Colin Farrell, is pretty top-notch.  I’m really looking forward to this film as I’m a fan of Colin Farrell and, well, I’ll go to see almost any movie that includes Kate kicking ass. I’m shallow that way (and fortunately, so is my wife). As I said earlier, Bay’s reworking of the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre were in my opinion quite good.  I enjoyed Universal’s remake of The Wolf Man as well, except for the obligatory and gratuitous werewolf-on-werewolf battle at the end.  And to tell the truth, if Hollywood is going to remake movies, I’d rather see them go back farther than the 80’s.  Grab some old Hammer horror films and give them a big-budget treatment.  Hell, remake The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and give it a full-on Lovecraftian twist. That’d be pretty cool.  And for the love of God, everything old doesn’t need to be redone with camp. I’m really hoping the trailers we’re seeing for Dark Shadows are misleading as far as the level of slapstick that Burton has put into it (though as an avowed hater of Tim Burton I don’t have high hopes). What they’ve done with the 21 Jump Street movie makes me sick to my stomach. One of the more underrated big screen treatments of a classic property over the past ten years, in my not-so-humble opinion, was the treatment of Miami Vice, which I thought was pretty awesome.  I also thought that the A-Team movie was pretty top-notch, faithful to the source material, just right for the over-the-top action, the humor appropriate without being farcical, and the characters well-translated.  

In short, if you take a classic property seriously, you can do a good big-screen treatment of it. Any screenwriter who says, “when dealing with a licensed property, I generally scan the book really quick, then throw it away because I don’t want to be distracted by what the writer originally wanted,” shouldn’t be allowed to adapt properties. Ever. While you need to make changes to a print or even classic screen project to translate it for the modern movie audience, being openly dismissive of the original is a bad position from which to start.  I forget who it was who I read recently said that—I think it was the guy who is adapting Catching Fire for the screen (and thankfully, he was mandated to stick to the text in this case), but I remember it pissed me off.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent. My point is, don’t hate remakes instantly just because they’re remakes.  Yes, the trend is irritating, but many of these remakes are really quite good and well-worth seeing.  I just believe in judging a film on its own merits, and not comparing it to what came before (except where obvious comparisons are invited for review purposes). It is possible to both compare a movie to its source, and judge it on its own merits. John Carter, for example, was woefully unfaithful to the original book, but was a brilliant science fantasy epic in its own right, and stuck to the mythology of Barsoom pretty well.