Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why Was I Remade?

I saw the new Stepfather on DVD. I'm sure anyone who is reading this will ask me the most important question -- "Why?"

Because it's a pretty foolproof idea. A charming, wonderfully handsome and suave man (who also happens to be a serial killer) infiltrates the home of recently widowed women, befriends her and the family, marries her and then kills off the entire family, one after the other. After killing the families, he changes his appearance and goes out and kills again over and over and over.

I wanted to see what they would do with the remake. I groaned when I first heard someone was remaking it, not because the 1987 original was so good but because it was so unexpectedly not bad.

I'm a big, big fan of evil, charming figures infiltrating middle-America. I love Joseph Cotton in Shadow Of A Doubt and any good Hitchcock small town movie where the villain is horrifically kind and sweet. Evil with a smile is the best kind of evil there is. And the original Stepfather had a pretty great central performance in Terry O'Quinn. He was by turns charming, sweet and horribly evil.

Take a look at the original trailer. You can see how interesting O'Quinn is to watch:

And here is Joseph Cotton on "Shadow Of A Doubt":

Both actors had a great time in the parts. Tortured but kind. Sweet but conflicted. Lovers but murderers. Complex men, complex characters.

And the 1987 version had Shelley Hack getting the shit knocked out of here. How can you not love that?! In the new version Sela Ward gets the honors of being the seduced wife. I'm not saying Shelley Hack is a better actor than Sela Ward, but at least Hack has a wonderful kitch quality to her. She was a beautiful blond who was both awkward but fun to watch. Sela Ward barely cracks a smile. She's had so much plastic surgery and is shot through so much gauze, it's hard to see her face.

But we don't want The Stepfather for the wife. We watch the Stepfather for...

In the DVD commentary, director Nelson McCormick says he and the casting agent spent months auditioning men for the part of David Harris (isn't that a great, generic name?). He says they took a long time to find someone with the likability and depth to play the part.

I suppose it would be catty to write Nelson McCormick, a director of 'hard-hitting' TV shows looks like a middle-aged Southern California surfer boy who got lucky and is now rich directing TV shows and his first movie and I suppose it would be really catty to write how it's never a good sign when a director of a major movie remake peppers his language with 'totally' and 'awesome' so I won't write that, lest I come across as catty...

And I suppose it would be, like, totally catty to write the writer who wrote the remake is the author such classics as Sniper 3, Alien Hunter, Prom Night remake, Crash and Burn, Thunder Alley and many more (hey - at least the guy is working, that's for damn sure)...and it's probably not a good idea if the writer of the remake needs 3 other credited people to come up with the 'story' when the remake is a nearly literal location-for-location remake...

And I would be bitchy if wrote it's a good thing the original script author, Donald E. Westlake (yes, the same writer who wrote the nearly flawless The Grifters) , died in 2008 and wasn't around to see this remake hit the theaters. Donald E. Westlake who wrote nearly 45 mystery novels, many of them I've read and many of which are very fine indeed...

So I'll be nice and not write any of that.

Rest In Peace, Mr. Westlake, Rest In Peace...

Nelson and his crew looked high and low and they found their main character in the form of Dylan Walsh. While I have a sneaking suspicion Dylan Walsh is up for the challenge of the lead, we'll never know. Why?

Because he ain't the lead.

This guy is:

The actors 'name' is Penn Badgley. Don't you love that? Penn. Badgley. Like anyone is born with that name. Try to say the last name out loud. You can't. If I were his agent, I'd make him change his name. Why? Because the guy has something to him. Apparently he's done some bad TV, like Gossip Girl and such.

Sure, he's cute and scraggly and very heterosexual and clearly the 'bad boy' girls love to love, but if he wants to be taken seriously, the guy has GOT to change that name.

He is the lead in the Stepfather. He is often seen without his shirt, making out with his nearly nude 17 year old girlfriend. He is brooding and confused and more layered than the Stepfather.

Isn't it curious when writers make the wrong character the lead? When they give the main arc and thrust of the movie to the wrong character? This isn't a smart switch, like where the lead of Ordinary People is actually the Donald Sutherland character...no, this is just a big old mistake which, hopefully, pissed off this guy:

Oops! I was trying to get Dylan Walsh in the frame, but see how Penn snuck right back in?

Let's try to get Dylan in again.

Here we go:

Ugh! Sorry...just when I thought I could get Dylan Walsh in a picture alone, in comes Penn again!


Such is the problem with the new Stepfather. Poor Dylan Walsh is never given a chance to show his ability to play depth and complexity because Penn's character is the only one who can feel or show any emotion in the movie.

Oh, and Penn's character shows emotion once but only when there is rock music blaring in his ears, lets we think he is less than masculine or heterosexual.

The complexity and conflict of the main character has been entirely stripped away and all we get is either sweetness or evil. No grey area. It's not accident the famous tag line from this movie is "Who Am I Here?". It's terrifying and fascinating to watch this character lose all sense of WHO HE IS and his GRASP ON REALITY. That layered person is why the original film was so good.

Oh, and the fact it does turn pretty nasty pretty fast.

If the writers and the filmmakers had used that extremely revealing moment in the movie as the anchor for the rest of the movie, it would have been at least interesting to watch, but as it is now, it's dull and lifeless and one more pretty, unimpressive glossy remake from the increasingly desperate young Hollywood Dream Factory. It's all about money, money, money.

The scares are dull and oddly strangulation based. There was one famous murder at the center of the original Stepfather that was shocking and horribly funny. Nothing of the sort exists here. It's all illogical and frustrating.

The murders in the original were shot very realistically and, despite the fact they weren't extremely bloody, you felt true revulsion and horror when they happened...and you felt BAD for the main guy because you both liked him and hated him for what he was doing.

The problem here is Westlake relished the grey areas of watching the main character squirm and slowly lose his mind. He was a writer who liked suspense and humor. Not these guys. The director comes from TV and I'm very surprised he didn't stick more to the original main character.

Sad days continue in La-La Land...

Mikey Movie

Over and out...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Pare/Red fan...

I got this email yesterday:

What I wrote on this blog (they were quoting me):

“Poor now-deceased Eric Red did the best job he could with "Bad Moon" in the 90's. But when you have Mariel Hemingway and Michael "I Should Be Doing Gay Porn Not Acting" Pare in the leads, there is only so much you can do”

What they wrote in response:

"Maybe you should stick to acting, Eric is alive and well. I met with Michael Pare’ and Eric Red in August 09 regarding their recent project 100 Feet. Your gay porn comment is tacky and unnecessary!

Signed, Pare’/Red fan!


I'm being nice so I won't reveal the writers name on my blog unless they ask me to, by here is my reply (which I told her as well):

Blunder on my part Eric Red died. I really thought he did. So yes, apologies in that camp.

Despite Eric's wobbly track record with movies, he did write the amazing Near Dark (see my previous post where I waxed poetically about it) and the 'great-idea-but-not-a-great-movie' Body Parts and the extremely underrated Blue Steel, and the SUBLIME original The Hitcher and Cohen and Tate (which I've never seen - Roy Scheider is in that one and he IS dead, of that I'm certain, which is very sad).

Eric has done some great stuff, but he really needs to offer sexual favors to Katheryn Bigelow right now before she wins the Oscar for Best Picture so he can write her next movie. They are a fine pair.

I'm joking about the sexual favors. Again, this is a comedic blog.

As for Pare - I'm sorry, but I haven't seen Michael P. show much range in the movies he's been in. Could it be he hasn't had a great part? Sure. Could it be I am not seeing the true, real Michael P.? Sure, of course.

The Michael Pare we all see is a part -- the actor who is Michael Kevin Pare is not the Michael Pare many think they know and love on the screen. He's a personality. True, he's an interesting personality. He wanted to cook professionally, he studied with Uta Hagen (probably at HB Studios in the Village in Manhattan), he's from Brooklyn...but on the screen? He's extremely one-note.

Or perhaps I haven't seen the following films form his oeuvre, so I'm not qualified to judge...

Space Rage
Sunset Heat
Point of Impact
Deadly Heroes
Raging Angels
BloodRayne 2

And so on...

I first saw him in Streets of Fire, that weird, jarring, jumbled and oddly fun mess of a rock musical in the 80's. I didn't see him in Warriors (no, not the Walter Hill The Warriors) - this one starred Gary Busey.

See a trend here?

At the time I thought he was sexy, a guy's-guy, a effortlessly 'easy on the eyes' actor. Later I read he had started modeling and it all made sense. I am not trying to be catty here, I'm not, I like to be thought of as sassy and not bitchy BUT I don't see a huge no inner life when he's on the screen. I see a very handsome man working to pay the mortgage.

Now, I have worked on movies. I know a lot of people in entertainment. I know, first hand, the unseen years of work people put into a getting a movie or play made. I know people spend their entire LIVES working on one project. I will never know how much sweat and tears Pare or his team have put into putting together his many projects.

But here is the cold truth of how most people think:

They don't care.

They only know they like what they like.

And despite my clear understanding of what is logistically involved and my deep compassion for the artistic process, I can see their point. At the end of the day, why should they have to concern themselves with what goes on 'behind the scenes'? All they care about is what's in front of them and if they are being educated, entertained or both.

For me, I don't gravitate to titles like those I wrote above. I read those and I think of all the comedy acts I've seen over the years and how those kinds of movies are the butt of all movie jokes because they are, well, most often fairly bad. I mean, Bloodrayne 2? Really? Part TWO? Who goes to these movies? Old people in Thailand?

I have to admit I was curious and did see Bloodrayne 1. I heard it was amazingly awful. I had to see it. The first 20 minutes were fun because you realized how bad/boring the movie was going to be, but then, as it progressed, you deeply realized how short your life was and how truly sad it was to watch Ghandi (Sir Ben Kingsley, yes, Sir Ben Kingsley in Bloodrayne) act as if here were on five doses of Percocet and desperately in need of a colonic.

I wrote he'd be be great in gay porn because he's hot. Like, Daddy hot. And with that voice? Please. Very sexy.

This is him now:

I'm sure Mr. Michael Kevin Pare is doing very well financially and doesn't need to do gay porn. Of course I was being silly and funny. I'm an actor and comedian. And I know a lot about movies. So this is part of what I do in this life.

But on this I'm not being silly: I would love to be proven wrong. I would love, more than anything, to see Michael Kevin Pare in the kind of role that makes us all sit up and take real notice. I'd love to see him pull a shocking 'Kim Basinger LA Confidential'. I'd love for him to find a part that is extremely close to home for him and I'd love, more than anything, to see him exposed (emotionally - get your mind out of the gutter).

He could do a film like Jean Claude Van Damme did a few years back, JCVD. Great surprise. It was Jean Claude being Jean Claude but pushing past what people expected him to do. Just as Kim Basinger showed she was more than a Veronica Lake lookalike (see the metaphorical image above). Michael Kevin Pare needs to play an actor who keeps playing roles Michael Kevin Pare plays but wants to show the world he's capable of more. But to do that, he has to really want to do that and I wonder if he does.

We celebrate mediocrity in the movies. We love movies that are 'just okay'. We've been given uninspired trash for so long, we don't often know a good movie when we've seen one. And acting? Great film acting is not stage acting. It's it's own beast. And it's getting very rare to see great screen acting.

So while I applaud Mr. Pare for being employed and still working to pay his bills, I want him to prove me wrong and show me a movie where he is truly present and aware.

The person who wrote to me told me Michael Kevin Pare has fans all over the world and he works very hard. I greatly appreciate and respect that. They also said the same of Eric Red. I agree he has amazing talent. But what hit home with me is this that they wrote:

"I usually try to not say something at all if I can't say something nice."

Okay, the sweet, small town guy in me LOVES that. They are right. You can be sassy and not bitchy. And working in entertainment is like working in World War 3. People lie, cheat and are very ego-driven. It's awful.

But I do think that it's okay to say when some people in an art form are not living up to their potential, and while I appreciate all Pare does, I think he is not living up to his potential.

I can't say nice things all the time about everyone in the movies because some of the movies they make are crap. BUT I can challenge them to rise to the challenge to make BETTER movies. How is that?

Thank you to the reader to remind me to stay kind. I greatly appreciate your note.


Over and out...


Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Seriously Depressed Man Indeed

I finally saw A Serious Man by the Coen Brothers today on DVD. I was excited to see the film. Despite how it flopped at the box office, I knew that didn't mean anything. I've seen the Coen Brothers films for years. I've been in many heated discussions about their virtues over many a glass of wine. I've defended their films, I go to the theater to pay my Mighty Dollar so they will continue to make movies.

What is that saying? Oh, yea.

The honeymoon is over.

I told myself I wasn't going to do it, but I did. I read A.O. Scott's review of A Serious Man online a moment ago. I wanted to see what he thought. I skimmed through it, but as I suspected, he gushed. Of course he gushed. To not gush about a Coen Brothers film and work for the NY Times is a sin punishable in a synagogue and/or Catholic church.

To describe the plot is to enter murky waters for there is no plot. A sweet man and his abusive wife, cranky kids, mean spirited neighbors and assorted cranky people live together in a suburb in an undefined part of America. The man in Jewish and is an outcast. Much of the film is told form the perspective of a Jew in middle America in the 60's.

That's it. There is no more.

For the 1 hour and 40 minute running time of the movie, we watch the sweet tempered and wonderful main character never live up to everyone's ideal of what makes a 'A Serious Man', aka, an interesting man, a driven man, a fascinating man, or (and this is possible since the Coen brothers are NY Jews and as such seem to be getting very very very cranky) a very boring man which is a mortal sin.

I have no idea what the movie is about. And neither do the Coen Brothers, which I find extremely annoying. In the DVD commentary describing what the movie is about and why they chose to tell this story and what the ultimate meaning of the film is, the two famous film making brothers casually sit back, simultaneously scratch their own heads and say, "Well, we're not sure what that means but we went ahead and put it in there. Seemed like a good place for it."


This kind of thinking is infuriating. And they know it. This is smart-aleck movie making. They don't know why they do what they do, they just put it in there, it doesn't make sense to them, so they then put the responsibility on us to make sense out of something they don't even understand and if we don't get it then we don't get their film.

Double bullshit.

Look, I was willing to go with the vague Barton Fink references because the movie is oddly compelling. The ending is bupkis, no one knows what it means, the brothers refuse to say what it means (at least, in what I've seen and read they refuse to say) and again, the onus is on us to figure it out despite the fact they don't know what it means.

I realize A Serious Man is the kind of movie Serious Moviegoers will say they love and that I am too film illiterate or unevolved or uncreative to understand, to which I compassionately reply:

Triple bullshit.

This movie is navel gazing and the only reason they can get away with making a movie that is this dull, unstructured and vague is because they are the all-mighty Coen Brothers. It kills me to type this, but the majority of the movies the Coen Brothers have been making for the past 8 or so years are becoming more and more obscure and more and more difficult to watch.

Again, this is not easy to type, but this is not a good movie. Sure, they have an uncanny knack for long, quiet spaces in movies which is wonderful. Yes, their way with actors is sublime. They get actors, they love actors. They love chewy words.

Some of the earlier scenes in the film are wonderful and hard to turn away from. Their love of the art of making movies is abundantly clear, so I have to ask - why defeat the entire work by making a movie with such a narcissistic, defeatist and plain dark ass boring story?

I am now of the opinion the Coen Brothers are so enclosed in their rarefied NYC/LA film making world they have no idea their movies are becoming less and less accessible.

I, for one, must now wait to get a sense of what their next movie will be before I go to theater.

I can't believe I'm writing this. This about the men who made Fargo and Miller's Crossing and Raising Arizona and Blood Simple and The Man Who Wasn't There and, yes, the half-baked movie The Big Lebowski.

Well, okay - Burn After Reading was a pretty damn good time. Okay. They did do that recently, but STILL...

You think I'm wrong about A Serious Man? A Serious Man made $10 million in America. $10 million. That's a great number but not a number that shows anyone went to it. I think that is saying something. I do. Not all box office numbers reflect the level of true interest in a movie, but in this instance, I feel this does.

What a sad day indeed. But the truth of the matter is the Coen Brothers are now making some very dull movies that everyone is telling them are good and they are not.

I'm pretty sure they don't want to hear this, but their true voice sings when they ride the tone of Millers and Arizona and Blood Simple and Intolerable Cruelty. That is the gold. Can I tell you how many people didn't like the end result of No Country For Old Men? Three sequences in that film were sterling. But in the end? Dark, dismal, evil and, well, navel gazing. Why did it do well in America? Pressure to see it and like it. But very few people I know 'liked' it. I am so sad.

I'm going to go cry now.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Wolfman...strikes again?

Let's see...

A remake of The Wolfman. Okay. Let's see -

Mike Nichols directed "Wolf". Great performance by James Spader, ridiculous performance from Jack Nicholson, adequate performance by Michelle Pfeiffer, very interesting metaphor of the ravenous and evil world of publishing in NYC but, in the end, not very thrilling or exciting -- too cerebral.

The series of "Underworld" movies staring Kate Beckinsale. Dark, moody, ultra violent. The first one was a brooding affair which was somehow entertaining. The second held it's ground and had a lovely and tortured Scott Speedman to drool over. The ending was prophetic, violent and oddly thrilling. The third one was tepid and overwrought.

Joe Dante directed "The Howling". Scary, dirty, nasty and pretty damn fun. A nice sense of humor to the whole affair with a darling werewolf at the end.

Poor now-deceased Eric Red did the best job he could with "Bad Moon" in the 90's. But when you have Mariel Hemingway and Michael "I Should Be Doing Gay Porn Not Acting" Pare in the leads, there is only so much you can do.

Stephen "Hack" Sommers did a pretty good job with the frantic "Van Helsing". It was so busy and noisy and over-the-top it was hard to tell if if was good or bad. Best enjoyed on a few glasses of wine. Starred Kate Beckinsale again. The woman clearly likes hairy men. Wonderful demonic female vampires in this one.

John Landis directed the indisputable champ of funny/horror werewolf movies with "An American Werewolf In London". The sequel, "An American Werewolf in Paris" was pretty awful despite being directed by the VERY talented and underrated Anthony Waller (who hit a bulls eye with the terrifying and thrilling "Mute Witness").

The new remake stars Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving. Okay, good.

One of the writers is the writer of "Seven", Andrew Kevin Walker. Okay, he is dark, likes dark, isn't always a great writer, but a solid choice for this genre.

And the director is Joe Johnson. Hm. This is a tough one. Joe Johnson is a premier special effects guy in Hollyweird, which means he's very smart and very good at making fantasy come alive on the big screen.

Special effects guys or cinematographers moving into directing do not have a good track record in the movies. We all know why - they are craftspeople trained in the art of cinematography and images but not in the most important aspect of telling stories on the screen, which is, of course, screenwriting.

There are a million different ways you go with a new Wolfman. The filmmakers of the new Wolfman chose to do what many do when they are told by movie executives they want a hit, only a hit and nothing but a hit - they remake the original down to the very_last_frame.

But add lots of blood and guts and special effects.

You can see where this is going.

The story is extremely simple, which, as I always say, is very refreshing. It's 1871. A man travels from American to his isolated childhood home in the English countryside after his brother is brutally murdered. He wants to find out how his brother was killed. In the process, he tries to mend bridges with his evasive and emotionally absent father, make a peace with the violent death of his mother and find the love he never had in the widowed wife of his now dead bro.

Oh, and there are gypsies involved. In the form of a very haggard looking Geraldine Chaplin. Yes, Charlie Chaplin's daughter. Even she has to pay the mortgage somehow.

At the midway point, a curious thing happens in the narrative. You realize the filmmakers (and the writers) lost their way. They throw in a scene that so pulls us out of the story and plunges us into such dark, tragic terrain three things happen: 1) You realize the movie wants to be a poetic tragedy, but instead, has turned out to be a macabre blood bath; 2) You realize how the movie COULD have been a great tragic tale of 'beauty and the beast' but the filmmakers were not up for the challenge; 3) You start to giggle.

Del Toro does the best job he can to look sinister and glare into the camera, but half the time he sounds like he's on Valium and seems to be straining and not actually inhabiting this tortured man. I see the potential in him as an actor, but to believe he is a famous actor in the movie who has played Hamlet and King Lear is fairly absurd. He seems to ooze anguish and I'm not sure he and the director saw eye to eye. I'm fairly certain Joe Johnson didn't know what to do with him.

Anthony Hopkins is slumming here. He is paying his mortgage as well. There are even moments where he seems to play a version of Hannibal Lecter, down to the cadence and movement of his sentences and physical gestures. It's all very insulting.

Emily Blunt is a fairly enjoyable actress to look at, but the poor wench is given nothing to truly do in the movie. She looks lost and in one truly unbearable scene, falls head over heels for Del Toro's character DESPITE the fact he just told her he's a werewolf DESPITE the fact her husband was just mauled days before DESPITE the fact the police are busting down her door DESPITE the fact we have no true idea why this woman would be so attracted to such clear danger and violence.

But I digress...

It is so frustrating when watching a movie like this and you see fleeting images of what it could have been.

Such as:

The night after Del Toro first changes and wakes up in a bloody shirt, his eyes wide with fear, a demonic Hopkins leaning over him (all of this in full daylight, mind you) -- it's a horrific vision. A terrible image that tells us all we need to know about this poor, tortured man.

A mutated and changed Del Toro howling on the roof of a nighttime London building, the Thames in the background, the moon overhead - it's an iconic and sublime image and it's the image the filmmakers clearly were trying to achieve.

Del Toro walking through an old house, the sounds of the creaking floor boards, the deep moaning of a beast somewhere all around him...good, classic scare moments and great atmosphere.

But alas, these single images do not add up to a film and instead, bring about it's glaring imperfections.

Which brings me to Hugo Weaving.

Half way through the movie, I kept thinking, "Well, I"m sorry to say this, but Hugo Weaving should have played the Wolfman and Del Toro should have played the Inspector, clearly." And sure enough...at one point, this is hinted at and I realized that was truly the way the film should have gone.

When Hugo Weaving is on screen, the movie comes alive. Sure, he's still channeling his Matrix role, but he's so deliciously good at it it makes his scenes sing. Watching the movie, all one can wonder is how delightfully funny and tortured Hugo would have made the lead character. As it is now, it's all doll, dark, and dreary. No humor, not human feeling and in the end, a big bore.

And the gore. Dear, Lord. Severed arms, entrails, heads flying through the air, blood spouting out of mouth, eyes gouged out, arms shoved through mouths and stomachs - the film overflows with blood. Too much blood. Blood for the sake of blood is dull and the easy, visceral way out. Blood with HUMOR...now you're talking. But the only humor in this film are the unintentional laughs at the sadness and absurdity of the entire affair.

In the opening, there is lettering on the screen which says something to the effect that no matter how morally solid or stable a man is, he is impervious to the effects of The Wolfman. Such dismal foreboding is the sort of justification horror writers give when they simply show horror with no apparent repercussions of deeper meaning. Surely the original movie on which this is based had much more on it's mind than that. But sadly, this does not. Dismal to the end.

Howling to the moon indeed.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

...and we're back!

Wow. Four months since I've posted here.

Can you say - Fell off the edge of the world?

I had a mini-breakdown over Christmas but now I'm back. Better than ever. I realized I wanted to get back to posting about movie. It's been too long.

What a better way than to start with Quentin Tarantino's new flick just released on DVD, "Inglourious Basterds." Did I mention it's directed by Quentin Tarantino? Not sure if you are aware it's by Quentin Tarantino. Let me make sure I'm very clear - this movie is by Quentin Tarantino.

Because in the end, the only thing you will remember about this movie is that it's by Quentin Tarantino, which is exactly what he wants.

I have no interest in detailing why he misspelled the title or what arcane movie this is based on from the 70's. Except for the worlds film geeks and those obsessed with all things Quentin and those in Hollywood, no one in America cares why he misspelled the title or what this is based on.

All anyone cares about at the end of the day is the movie itself and for this movie, I can say this:

At 2 hours and 23 minutes long, there is roughly 40 minutes that are an absolute gas. The opening 20 minute sequence is riveting. The final image at the end of the opening sequence of a girl running in a field, covered in blood, is spectacular. The finale is pretty fun and one half of a 20 minute scene in a basement bar is delightfully tense and disturbing.

The problem with the rest of the movie is that it's okay, but not very interesting. And despite Quentin's efforts to make his chatty, chatty, chatty movie hold together via a jarring mix of genres and editing and color saturation and bizarre title sequences and truly mind-boggling 80's musical choices, I don't care what anyone says, the movie isn't very good.

What is it about?

It's about 4 different teams of people coming together with one common goal: end the war, kill Hitler and a few select men who are associated with the resistance.

That's it. Which is great. Very little story is the key to a good movie. Very little story told very deeply.

But it all feels so...contrived and forced, despite Quentin's clear love of the form, despite everyone's best efforts to find a way to hook into this odd tone of the movie, despite the great ambition to end the most horrific crime against man inflicted by one man...

The truth of the matter is there are long stretches where it's boring and could have easily been cut, cut, cut.

Because it was not and because Quentin loves to make loonnggg movies, the only thing as a viewer I can deduce is Quentin's ego is so lost in the process of editing this film that he loses sight of what is truly interesting, cannot be diligent to cut, is deteremined to be artful and no one around him will say, "Quentin - you really need to cut out a half hour. Please."

I know a good movie when I see one and this is 1/3 of a great movie. The photography is eloquent, the colors fantastic, the love bestowed upon the process of making the movie staggeringly clear. The details in the movie are mind-boggling BUT I'd rather see less emphasis put on being tricky and cute and have it replaced with genuine intent and more solid drama.

Brad Pitt and his team of Bastards are a bit embarrassing in the movie. I love who the actor Brad Pitt is in life. He's a truly compassionate and sweet man, but in this - it's like straight boy joke acting. It feels like a frat party.

It's painful.

And the rest are just - smug. That's it. The movie is smug.

And as such, in the end, despite the confident of those fantastic 40 minutes, it's off-putting and feels all about Quentin and his ego.

Eli Roth is awful. He is a director of absurd horror films and was only put in here because Quentin and he are 'buds'. He's not an actor. It reeks of such 'old boys school' Hollywood as to make you ill. Is it because Roth is a Jew he's in here?

The really great one in here is Diane Kruger. She's fascinating to watch. Christoph Waltz is good in the part but near the end he wobbles in a scene that is so jarring and full of actor ticks I was wondering if he was having a spasm or was struggling with the English language.

I should be fair - except for Pulp Fiction I'm not a movie watcher who feels Quentin Tarantino is that great of a director. I'm not a man who would say, "He's fucking amazing, man! Amazing! Dude, he gets movies, you know? Like really gets them, man! They fucking rock!"

Kill Bill was ultra-violent, pretty, over the top and lonngggg...same with his bloated Death Proof. People in Hollywood love this guy. I am not one of them.

With that in mind, if you are ravenous for 40 minutes of great footage and wish to wade through the rest, have it darling, have at it.

Mikey Bryan

Your Movie Man

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Halloween Movies #25 and #24 - When Bad Remakes Happen To Great Horror

I used to do this weird thing as a kid.

Immediately after my mother and father would leave the house, I'd pretend I was a camera in a scary movie. I'd roam the hallways and slow down when I got to a turn (which wasn't very long; we lived in White Trash Heaven so our hallway was 50 feet)...I'd extend my hand in front of me so it looked like I was the killer and the hand was coming from my point of view, searching for my next victim.

It was pretty cool. I felt like I was always in a movie.

It got sorta pathetic when I'd make heavy breathing sounds as I opened the refrigerator door for the gallon of milk inside, and grab it, pretending I was a killer who just happened to be really thirsty and needed some milk.

Whenever I did this, my mother would inevitably be right behind me, her hand on her bulging hip, her right eyebrow raised and her lip in a downward spiral. "You're a very creepy kid," she'd say. "You know that?"

I wasn't a creepy kid. I was imaginative and highly visual, thank you very much.

Which brings me to Halloween Movie #25, a forgotten classic from a great suspense writer.

Ladies and Gentlemen, whores and perverts and all those in between, the most disturbing image in all of horror cinema:

Run! It's a housewife from Connecticut! Agh!!!

When was the last time you saw The Stepford Wives? I'm not talking about that steaming pile of horseshit Frank Oz shat out awhile back...except for Glenn Close (who, let's face it, scares all of us silly - her cunt has teeth and we all know it) and some very funny lines from the always funny Paul Rudnick, the movie was a very weird collision of humor and horror...it was like Jewish Catskill Horror Humor minus the horror or the humor (and this is from the guy who directed one of the greatest screen comedies in years, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) --

No, the original is a very fucked up story and a great movie with a fantastic, chilling ending that pulls no punches.

Add to the mix how it's a great social commentary and you've got a great movie.

You know your in trouble in a horror movie when the opening shot is a beautiful house with birds chirping amidst the backdrop or green, overflowing trees; terrifying.

I have to tell you - sure, it was the fact they based the book on the twisted imagination of Ira Levin of Rosemary's Baby fame...sure, the producers made a genius move by hiring really smart guys to make it (really old and classy veteran British director Bryan Forbes and the God of screenwriting, William Goldman), but I have to tell you, it was in casting Katharine Ross in the lead they ensured they were at least halfway sure of making a good movie.

Check out the trailer:


The fact it turned out great is purely an act of the Movie Gods coming together and everyone agreeing they were making a full-out horror movie that would stick to the original text and not falter. Some think it's campy; I fully disagree. Read the book if you don't believe me. It's super short, very fun to read and the ending is the same as in the movie.

But Katharine Ross - I swear, she reminds me of that story about Brooke Shields when they were filming that delightfully absurd 1981 trash heap, Endless Love. Remember that?

Apparently, during one of the notorious sex scenes, 14 year old Brooke had to pretend she was having an orgasm. Director Franco Zeffirelli tried everything. Yelling at her, screaming at her, giving her a shot of scotch - nothing worked. In a fit of rage, he grabbed Brooke by the foot and shook her, screaming she was ruining his movie. Brooke screamed at him and cried. She said the way he held her foot caused her so much pain it made her cry.

Being the sadist motherfucker he was, Zeffirelli knew he had to seiz the moment. He crouched down by the edge of the bed, called 'action' and then filmed the scene of Brooke orgasming - all the while grabbing her foot and twisting it so she'd cry out in pain, and thus, 'orgasm'.

The point is - Brooke, like Katharine Ross, was a breathtakingly beautiful actress who couldn't act for shit. The only way they could show emotion was to have physical pain inflicted upon them.

Sick, but true.

So when the arc of the movie takes place (and I'm not giving anything away, well all know the finale but the cumulative effect is still shattering) and Katharine Ross goes through her 'transformation' to the perfectly shot and timed final image, it makes absolutely perfect sense and it's entirely believable, because in real life, Katharine Ross WAS a Stepford Wife.

They got one of the great, all time DP's to shoot this fucker. The great Owen Roizman. Christ, before he shot The Stepford Wives this guy shot The Taking Of Pelham One, Two, Three (the original, not the remake which wasn't bad but it's no original), The French Connection and a little movie you may have heard of - The Exorcist. So, um, he sorta knew what he was doing.

The art of movie cinematography has never been rivaled since the 1940's and the 1970's. Ever. There was a visual texture to these movies that you could feel and taste. It's amazing.

If you look at the way shots are held in this movie and the composition between them, you'll see classic, minimal suspense. It's just great how it builds and builds and builds to this great finale. It all works. The sparse dialogue, the minimal photography, the fuzzy, perfect 'Hallmark' card look of the movie, the whispered dialogue, the side glances, the clothes - it's really great and creepy as hell.

The reason the 2004 version is so dreadful is because they were trying so hard to be something new. They wanted their cake and they wanted to eat it too. Humor in a horror film is extremely tricky. You have to respect and honor the genre and not mock it. In the 2004 The Stepford Wives they mocked the very genre they were making. Weird, bizarre and extremely insulting.

Plus, Nicole Kidman is only 43 and I'm very depressed at how many Botox injections she's getting; she's hard to look at and this woman can act. It's fucked up. Did you see her in The Invasion (so-so movie - do we really need another reinvention of Body Snatchers...let it go, people). Nicole is starting to look like those weird blow-up dolls you see in sex shops off of the highway (not that I've ever been in one - I'm a good Catholic boy).

In 1975, these guys were absolutely serious about making a creepy movie with a social commentary at the center (but first and foremost, a creepy movie) and they were not fucking around. Expertly directed and acted, with a tone and style that gets under your skin, the 1975 The Stepford Wives is one of the all time super Halloween movies.

Speaking of great originals and horrible sequels, I hope anyone who reads this blog has seen this tripped out little gem:

I'm always amazed when people tell me they won't watch movies in black and white. I get the usual reaction: "Oh my God. Black and white? How boring. I mean, how old is that? Seriously, they are so slow and boring. I mean, boring."

I get it. I do. I was raised in the 80's. I'm the same way. Old movies are old movies. They are slower, they don't move as fast as today's movies do and most of the stories we've seen before or the movie is (here comes that word again) boring.

This is an exception. This movie, The Haunting, based on the unnerving book The Haunting of Hill House by the unparalleled author Shirley Jackson, shared the living shit out of me one late afternoon in 1988.

Check out the trailer:


I was working in a video store in Seattle at the time. For a span of 9 years, I worked in 7 video stores which is why I know as much as I do about movies. For 9 years straight, I watched more movies than you can possibly imagine. But black and white horror seemed...dumb.

There was this girl I used to with with in Seattle...her name was Becky - (she was a true Becky - a hot, White Trash Becky - freckles, a big, round ass with looming tits which had the perkiest nipples I'd ever seen - you could have hung a coat on those nipples - straight boys were hypnotized by those tits while gay men just wondered what it would be like to have them)...she invited me over to her apartment for a night of scary movies.


We smoked a bowl, er, ATE A BOWL OF POPCORN and were about to turn in when she held up the box for The Haunting.

"Craig told us to watch this," she said, referring to Craig, the owner of the video store where we worked. Craig was the coolest boss ever. Even to this day Craig is still the coolest boss I've ever had and he still runs Video Isle in Seattle where Big Nipple Becky and I worked.

"He said it was scary," she said, shrugging her shoulders.

I sighed and agreed to give it a shot. But it was in black and white. Ew. How scary could it be?

Flashforward to 11:59PM.

Becky and I are crouched down in the couch. She's calling Craig a 'motherfucker' and 'asshole' and 'dickhead'.

She's so paralyzed with fear she can't eat. She can't drink. I haven't left the couch once and feel like I need to take a crap to release my tension.

The credits rolled and we stared at each other. A moment passed, and then we gave each a high-five and rolled on the couch in laughter.

The movie scared the shit out of us.

To this day, I can't tell you exactly why, but I will say this: I have never been so scared in a movie where I never saw what it was I was meant to be scared by.

As an added Halloween treat and an ode to the amazing sound design in the movie, here is the scene that scared the shit out of us in all it's old time glory (please, try to watch this in the dark and with your sound turned WAY UP)...



The director, Robert Wise, was a pretty cool guy. And busy. The Haunting was made in-between his gigs directing a few movies you may have heard of: West Side Story and Sound of Music.

Sure, the guy made two of the most famous musicals of all time, but he loved the dark stuff. He directed the so-so 80's horror reincarnation flick, Audrey Rose and original The Day The Earth Stood Still. His work after the late 80's was pretty much nill, but his work in the 40's, 50's and 60's is fairly staggering.

This guy knew what he was doing and it shows.

The story of The Haunting is fun (and it's been ripped off countless times) - a well-meaning but wacko doctor wants to investigate the theory Hill House is actually haunted. Rumor has it is and no one has yet been able to prove it. He brings along a group of people with certain abilities (some supernatural; some not) and the entire movie is a set up to see if the house is haunted or if it's simply legend.

The star of the movie is the house itself*. Filmed in black and white, you never quite know if the shadows are simply shadows or filled with demons. Every angle of the house is off. Faces blend and open and close. And in the one spectacular, terrifying scene (see above), the two lead actresses fight off an invisible force which is fantastic scene of great photography, sounds and acting. These kinds of scenes proved to me, once and for all, money never, ever makes a good movie - ever. Artistry and imagination always does.

*Truly, the real star of the movie was Julie Harris. She won 5 Tony's in her time and let me tell you, she deserved every single one. She may not have made a ton of movies, but in each and everyone she was in she was spectacular, and The Haunting is no exception. She is perfect, absolutely perfect in the lead role. As they say, casting is everything...

Returning to my last note above where I wrote money never makes a good movie...perfect case in point was the remake of The Haunting by Jan De Bont in 1999...

If I were to teach a screenwriting class again on what NOT to do, I'd force my students to read Shirley Jackson's original novel, then I'd screen The Haunting from 1963 and The Haunting from 1999 back to back.

It would be clear, after the screening, what a mound of egocentric, desperate, studio-driven dreck the remake is. It's so bad as to defy description. It's what a group of 20-something, male studio executives would make.

I can hear snippets of the development meetings for the remake so clearly it sorta scares me:

"No one seen the original. You kidding me? Who the fuck watches TCM? Old women and welfare babies. Please."

"I just got off the phone with Spielberg. He said we can use the Universal backlot for the interiors. Here is what I think - big. I mean big. Big house, huge, mammoth. It's great. And he said we can coordinate with the Director or New Theme Ride Development at Universal Corporate to develop The Haunting, The Ride. Gotta call Zeta-Jone's agent to see if we can use her likeness."

"Lili Taylor? Really? See, I won't fuck her. I'd fuck Catherine Zeta-Jones --"

"You know she's, like, 50."

"Lili Taylor?"

"No, man. Zeta-Jones."

"No way."

"Please. You think she'd be with Michael Douglas if she was 30?"

"Damn. She looks good."

"Dr. Adams on Wilshire. Amazing guy."

"And that's why we got Liam. He'll keep it in place. He's our anchor. But he's gonna shoot Jan."

"He can't direct actors."

"He hates actors."

"Okay, let's talk demographic. We got Lili Taylor. She'll bring in the independent crowd and the lesbians. Check. We got Jan directing. All the guys who loved Speed will line up around the block. Check. Liam will make us look like we give a shit and are serious. The old guy and old women like Catherine. She's hot but not really hot. Like sorta Mom hot, but not really. Owen Wilson is great. Funny guy. I love that guy. But keep him away from that PA, okay? I heard he's a major coke head. Not good. So got the dudes and the young professionals with Owen. Check. And it looks like 90% of the budget is all on the FX. We're good. Oh...has anyone hired the writer yet? Oh, shit. We forgot to hire a writer. Oh, well. Let's just wing it."

Showbusiness. Gateway to Hell.

Until next time...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Stylin' Vampires and Exploding Bad Guys (or, Brian DePalma part 1)

Blood is our life...

Darkness, our feeding ground

And sunlight, our eternal damnation


Welcome to Halloween Movie # 28 and #27.

Horror and suspense movies used to have style. I know I'm sounding really old writing that, but it's true.

Great directors knew the genre allowed them to play with outrageous and truly visual storytelling. In a fantasy or horror world, limits are far and few.

I've had countless screenwriting teachers tell me you have to hit certain points in a drama or a comedy; you must have rising action, you must have a reversal in the middle which is the exact opposite from the end of the second act reversal...on and on they'd go, but when it came to horror and suspense structure, they would always say, "But on these films, all bets are off."

Director Katheryn Bigelow knew this. It's why she chose to direct the dreamy, violent and stylized Near Dark in 1987. She knew she could do whatever she wanted visually and get away with it. As as result, she made a fantastic horror movie with a ballsy visual style that is both intoxicating and terrifying.

CHECK OUT THE TRAILER: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5K-wosw0i4

She made a movie about vampires and she did it out of her love for making a movie about vampires.

It's one hell of a great action movie. Everyone knows she can direct a killer action sequence (Point Break anyone? Hurt Locker? The underrated Blue Steel?), but in Near Dark she also expertly handled the metaphors of blood and sexuality inherent in all vampire tales with a visual ease.

Today's horror and supernatural films have no visual style. Take a look the current spat of vampire movies, TV and books. Sure, True Blood has a great pace and the sexual energy is great; sure the Twilight series is romantic and angst ridden and is keeping gay men and women up at night wondering if the story's heroine will reject or love the Hot, Bad Vampire for, like, totally all time; sure The Vampire Diaries has another young, forbidden love story at the center with a bloody, ancient feud between two brothers...but what all of these works don't have is visual audacity.

I wish someone would have the balls to make a vampire movie with visual audacity.

Kathryn Bigelow took a tired genre which never, ever dies and infused it with a violent, bloody and downright frightening visual style right out of a horror dream AND she made it with a very down-to-earth, almost masculine love story in the center, all set to the fluid music of Tangerine Dream.

As with all of the movies on my Halloween countdown I refuse to give you the plot. It ruins a movie (like most trailers - why bother to see the movie? The producers nowadays are so desperate to get you to go they tell the entire story in the preview!)...

All you need to know is a guy who wasn't a vampire turns into a vampire and falls in love with a girl who may or may not be a vampire and they kill people. What do you want? It's a VAMPIRE MOVIE.

Before anyone knew him from Heroes, Adrian Pasdar was the lead in Near Dark and was very good. He carries the movie nicely and makes you believe he's a quiet guy from the Midwest who wants more out of life. Jenny Wright is pensive and porn hot as his love interest and does a good job playing the good girl gone very, very bad but with a heart of gold.

Katheryn Bigelow was either married to or dating James Cameron when she made Near Dark so she had access to his amazing set of actors. All of them are perfect for their parts which is part of the reason the movie works as well as it does. It was right around the mid to late 80's Cameron was doing his best work (sorry, but Titanic is not his best work) and it shows. All of the actors in Near Dark were in Cameron directed or produced movies.

Lance Henriksen is great as the leader of the vampire, as is his wife, the incredibly undervalued Jenette Goldestein. They had great chemistry and were both BADASS.

And for ONCE a vampire movie dealt with the carnal sexual desires of a young vampire who was changed into vampire when he was young but has grown up as a man on the inside...it's disgusting, unnerving and very, very good.

But the real star of the show is Bill Paxton. Oh My God. I'm not sure what the hell Paxton was snorting and/or drinking during the making of Near Dark but he is the truly horrific vision of a cackling demon let loose on the world. This is the Bill Paxton of the 80's that made everyone take notice. He doesn't just play the part of a bloodthirsty vampire, he BITES into it and bathes in it's pulsing blood.And look at some of these characters names:
  • Caleb Colton
  • Jesse Hooker
  • Diamondback
  • Homer
  • Severen
Good, good stuff folks. Which is odd since screenwriter Eric Red, outside of Blue Steel and Near Dark, hasn't really written a lot of great, produced movies (Body Parts anyone?). He did make a werewolf movie called Bad Moon which was, well, bad.

The story takes some surprising twists and very violent turns while always keeping one eye on the human aspect of the story. It's got all you'd want in a vampire movie and God the visual style...beautiful.

I refuse to give it away, but how the vampires die in this movie has yet to be matched in any American made vampire movie. There is a texture and style to the special effects I haven't seen (well, maybe with Peter Jackson). It's as good as good gets.

You want a violent, thrilling, sad, sexual, rock and roll of a vampire movie? Watch Near Dark. Top notch director at the top of her game making a MOVIE with a visual style like no other vampire MOVIE out there.

We need more MOVIES that love being MOVIES.

And speaking of visual orgasms...
Spring of 1978.

My movie ritual at 14 was as follows: open up the Sunday Seattle Times. Ignore every section except Arts and Entertainment. Uncap the red marker beside me. Hold the red marker in my hand, poised and ready.

Flip through the pages. Circle every movie to see which are opening on Friday. Make note of theaters near the house so I can see them via the bus - but not the R-rated movies. Those require me to shamelessly work over my father, mother or sister.

But it was on one particular Sunday when I opened up the paper that I stopped and gasped.

There on the page, in full-page color and glory, was the ad for the new Brian DePalma film, The Fury. I felt my stomach turn into knots. I had seen the ads on TV. I knew this was the same director as Carrie. I knew it would be very R-rated. I knew it was the ultimate forbidden fruit to see as a teenager. Everyone would be asked for their ID.

I had to see it.

After much convincing, I got my sister, Joy, to take me. Now my sister was my mom. I don't mean that in a weird way, but my mom was a psychological mess and my sister sorta took over the role of my mom a bit. Without her I'd probably be on some sort of anti-depressant.

My sister was everything to me (she still is). We were meant to be related. I'd do anything for her and vice versa. But she and I are different. She's always been the more sensible and conservative one and I'm a tad bit 'louder'. We balance each other out.

I remember holding the ad for the movie up to her and she was like, "No way. I'm not taking you to that. It looks disgusting." I pleaded and cried as only little brothers can do. She finally relented, but I knew she didn't think it was the right thing to do.

Four days before the movie I developed abdominal cramps. Three days before I stopped eating. Two days before I counted the minutes until we were to go. A day before I curtailed all fluids so I wouldn't have to pee during.

The day of I was so excited I had to remind myself to breath.

I told you I was a weird kid.

We entered the theater where The Fury had opened. It was in a parking lot of a strip mall again (if you've read any of my other movie posts you see all the theaters of my youth were in parking lots of malls. I was raised 100% suburban). It was a rinky-dink two screen theater and it was sold out.

We sat down. The lights dimmed. My heart fluttered in my chest and I felt my bowels loosen.

The screen darkened and over a black screen the deep, dark strings of John Williams score soared and these worlds materialized on the screen:

116 minutes later, the big finale came. After it had ended and the final image turned to slamming black credits, my sister turned to me and said in a voice filled with disgust and annoyance, "That was SO not necessary."

Of course, she was referring to the grisly final image I refuse to divulge here, but for me, I was left with a feeling of disappointment when the movie ended. It didn't live up to the hype. I was expecting a major motion picture event and I felt stiffed.

It was how I felt in 1978 seeing it for the first time in the theater, and from the critical reaction and box office dollars, it is how other people felt as well.

Here is the original trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SEFRWjATqM

Since then, I've seen the movie many times. I now love the baroque style of the moviemaking and marvel at the construction of the suspense sequences. It's a brooding, melancholy horror and suspense movie told on a giant, grand scale. It's a sweeping, ridiculous story of mental powers and old time revenge.

The script was adapted from a flimsy novel, The Fury, by horror novelist John Farrar. I read the original book and it's sequel and both are fairly silly. The only reason DePalma agreed to make this was because it allowed him to tell a story purely in visual terms.

John Cassavettes was clearly slumming in the picture. Amy Irving was the perfect strong heroine and Andrew Stevens is hunky scenery. Like Taxi Driver, it was made in the 70's and the racial subtext is fairly blatant.

Look at Taxi Driver and how much of the film is geared towards violence to blacks. Or in The Fury - I won't even bother to mention the Middle Eastern murder scene. It's barbaric.

Janet Maslin was one of the greatest champions of DePalma's work when no one else was. I think the reason she was was because he was different, he was pushing the envelope and making work with was thrilling and odd.

Next week I'm dedicating an entire post to DePalma and the Hitchcock connection no one talks about anymore. DePalma (like Hitchcock) is/was an inspired and infuriating filmmaker. But what he had was a visual signature, a visual style lacking in today's market.

Love it or leave it, The Fury is a super Halloween film with one of the best scores John William's ever did. Much of the film simply does not hang together today, but there are four set pieces in the film which defy description. While set pieces alone do not make a movie, when they are this good they rise above a cohesive whole and become something onto themselves.

The Fury, like all of DePalma's movies, isn't so much about what takes place on the screen but about how we, the viewer, experience the movie. That was the trick to Hitchock and DePalma and it's also, partially, Polanski's as well.

And while my loving sister may not have liked the finale, I still think it is one of the best whoppers of all time...especially the last 5 seconds where 'you know what' thumps on the ground and then rises into the air, all in time to the final chord of William's demonic symphonic beat.


Not only have DePalma and Hitchcock gone out of style, but movie scores have all but wasted away. Tangerine Dream, a collection of German composers who formed as a group in the late 60's, recorded some of weirdest and intriguing movie scores of the day. Like DePalma and Bigelow, they had a VOICE, a SOUND. Imagine the opening shot of Risky Business without that layered, rhythmic electronic beat...imagine Legend without the soaring synthesized flute and stands of zinging music (which, ironically, was originally scored by Jerry Goldsmith, another modern master of film music)...imagine Michael Mann and Thief and his 80's style of languid filmmaking without the help of Tangerine Dream. Their music set the tone for films in a way no other music could. They were able to tap into our collective dreams with their moody and spiraling and seductive electronic sounds.

And I know John Williams did
Star Wars and Indian Jones - yes, they are great scores, I agree, but they don't hold a candle to Schindler's List or Minority Report or The Fury or Empire of the Sun. The man is a great composer but the moment he dips his toe into the darker parts of the psyche, he comes alive. Take a look at the darker Spielberg work he's worked on or the darker themed music he's scored. It is in there you'll find the beating heart of an artist searching for answers. Williams is a great composer when he creates sweeping, heroic symphonies, but when he dives into the dark human heart he rises to staggering emotional heights.