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Posts Tagged ‘Remakes’

The B-movie is dead; long live the B-movie

June 18, 2010 1 comment

Imaging if it had starred Michael Moriarty and Frederic Forrest

The Bride and I caught “Law Abiding Citizen,” the programmer with Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, a host of character actors, and a special appearance by Gerard Butler’s abs, last night on Netflix streaming. It’s a solid little thriller that begins with some interesting questions about the nature of justice and the law and gradually grows into an series of plot twists and revelations wouldn’t have been out of place in a Warner Bros. cartoon if you replaced Butler with Yosemite Sam.

Towards the flick’s end, I’ll admit I found myself wondering what would have happened if “Citizen” had been made 25 or 30 years ago. After all, despite the appearances of an Oscar winner (Foxx) and one of the new Hollywood alpha dogs (Butler), “Citizen” is, at its core, a B movie, and, as it stands, almost too clean and sterile. The director, F. Gary Gray, goes for a 70s crime flick vibe, but he never pulls it off completely, never fully imbibing the movie with any true sense of place (it’s set in Philadelphia but might as well have been Anytown, USA) and instead manages to just contain the movie and its plot twists from spiraling out of control, effectively staging some shocking deaths and a short but effective action sequence in a cemetery.

“Citizen” is something of an abnormality, a movie that probably would have never have been released by a major studio 25 years ago. Then it would have been filmed in Florida and put out by an outfit like Cannon and probably staring Chuck Norris in the Gerard Butler role, making him the good guy for killing all of the “corrupt” members of the legal system.

Put it back still another 10 years and it would have been directed by Larry Cohen with Michael Moriarty acting his ass off in the Foxx/DA role and released by AIP. The premise of “Citizen” calls out for someone like Cohen, a master of masking social commentary underneath genre conventions. And for Cohen’s faults as a storyteller, he always gives you a sense of the city’s character; New York City feels authenticly gritty and alive in movies such as “Q: The Winged Serpent” or “The Ambulance.” His characters are always hungry, always desperate, always looking for a way out, another option, something, anything that will ultimately save them from themselves.

That is what lies at the very heart of the true B movie: desperation. Desperation to get out of poverty, out of drugs, out of the drug trade, to catch the psycho killer, to change, to be who they would dream about being in an A movie. Butler is angry in “Citizen,” but he never taps into the essential core rage of a man who spends a decade plotting bloody revenge; conversely, Foxx’s character, with his expensive suits, beautiful family and expensive home, never feels like a man truly battling for his life and the life of his friends and his city. Contrast that with Richard Carradine, with his cheap suits and shabby apartment in “Q,” who authentically feels like a man battling New York City from a reborn Aztec god.

All of this just led me to thinking how the B movie as we know it has become sanitized. Thrillers or horror flicks that never knew lives outside of video rentals are now the mainstream, slicked up and neutered down for public consumption, save for rare occasions when something shows up out of nowhere like “The Boondock Saints” or “Bubba Ho-Tep” that actually pulses with the energy of a director wanting to make something out of nothing and a cast that’s not just waiting for a paycheck.

"Hi, I used to be Batman."

Sure, you can rent direct-to-DVD crime and horror now, but those all feel like combinations of major studio crap so bad the studio wants to hide it and hope they’ll make a little money back (in a fair world this is where “Jonah Hex” would be), something thrown together by people who scrapped together rental money for a high-end camera and editing software, or low-rung actioners with actors who you remember once had a career (hi, Val Kilmer).

Now we have studios actually remaking all the stuff that was originally released independently: “Halloween,” “Prom Night,” “Bad Lieutenant,” “They Live.” Hollywood wants to co-opt what once passed as the independent spirit in B movies and then filter it through the lowest common denominator. Sadly, by taking once was the “guilty pleasure” of entertainment and trying to mass market it, the studios are shortchanging audiences.

The influence of old school B movies shows all over Tarantino’s filmography, but even directors like Scorsese give nods to masters like Sam Fuller in films like “The Departed” and “Shutter Island,” and even manage to more acutely harken to those roots than most (for all of its artistic leanings and repeated use of “Gimme Shelter,” “The Departed” is an unabashed B movie with an A-level cast, and they STILL run over Martin Sheen’s body; THAT’S what a B movie does). Even Tony Scott, who never shot a scene he couldn’t cut into 50 jittery little shots, manages to make New York City feel dangerous and the characters seedy and desperate in the “Pelham 1 2 3” remake.

As filmmaking becomes more and more a medium of the people, and distribution becomes a matter of burning DVDs rather than booking theaters, here’s hoping that the B movie finds a way to return to its squallid roots; after all, think what Jack Hill could have done with something like “8MM.”

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When casting goes wrong, “Fright Night” edition

June 9, 2010 1 comment

 The Bride and I (not that he will ever read this blog, but I hope Swierczynski forgives me for steaing some of his lingo) recently revisited “Fright Night,” the 1985 vampire flick with Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowell, and William Ragsdale before the glory that was “Herman’s Head.” We both had some fond memories of the movie that were, to put it gently, dashed on the jagged rocks of adulthood about 30 minutes in when we realized this movie couldn’t have moved slower if it had been weighed down with bowling balls and tossed into the East River. Besides that, there’s the reeking logic gaps inherent to any 80s flick, such as: 

  • This town apparently only has one cop, and he’s black — as far as we can tell, he might be the only African American in the whole damn town.
  • The cop may be the most ineffective cop ever because there’s four murders in four nights and no one really seems to be sweating it. In fact, hey, let’s go investigate the random claim of this kid and we’ll bring the kid along, you know, so the guy he’s accusing can see his face. Meanwhile, Jack the flippin’ Ripper is draining people of blood and the news acts like this happens every other week.
  • The town’s supposed to be Small-Town America, where you can almost hear the Mellencamp songs playing in the cornfields which surely lie just outside the town limits, yet no one seems to care when two single men (“roommates” *wink wink*) move into some old house and immediately begin renovating it.
  • The town possesses one of the most happening discos ever that didn’t have a giant coke spoon suspended from the ceiling. And after our vampire bad guy seduces the innocent teen-aged girl (who looks identical to his old love but who he turns into a vampire for apparently no other reason than to kill our protagonists — talk about lazy), the vampire then trashes the club and causes a mini riot and, much like the random assortment of bodies being left around town like tissues in the wake of flu season, no one notices.

Despite all of this, “Fright Night” isn’t without its pleasures. Sarandon makes a suitably charismatic and fearsome vampire until the movie’s third act, when they bury him underneath makeup and make him hiss lines like “KILLLL HIM!” The flick’s practical special effects possess great charm and go to prove that CGI will never replace effectively used ooze. Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) is creepy and his death scene is played with an empathy and compassion that the Bride noted you don’t get in recent films, because even though Ed is incredibly nasty by this point, you can see that there’s still a hint of humanness behind his eyes. 

OK, so not a horrible movie, just a horribly dated one. Probably not a film screaming to be reimagined. However, because there are no new ideas in Hollywood (coughcough*sarcasm*cough), it’s getting remade. “Fright Night 2011” has already been preordained for a PG-13 rating, which is a good harbinger that it’s gonna suck, but it’s the most recent casting announcements made my heart sink. 

I can accept Anton Yelchin as Charley, since in the original Charley is one of the most annoying protagonists ever, no doubt partly because Ragsdale possessed the charisma of a coat rack. Obviously they’re boosting the role of Charley’s mother since they hired Toni Collette, an excellent actress you don’t hire to show up in four scenes drinking Vicodine martinis. And I like Colin Ferrell as Jerry Dandrige; Ferrell exceeds at oily charisma, and brings a nice edge to most of his work. 

Devin over at CHUD is bemoaning the casting of Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Evil Ed (really, who didn’t see this one coming from a mile away?), and I won’t repeat his points because he nails it on the head. No, what really bothers me is David Tennant as Peter Vincent, who’s been converted from the original’s horror show host and washed-up Hammer-style actor to a Criss Angel-esque magician

Peter Vincent then

For the record, I thought Tennant made a great Doctor Who. He has a goofy charm that works under different circumstances. However, what made Peter Vincent great was, let’s face it, Roddy McDowell. Vincent was a perfect meshing of character and actor, as McDowell brought his old school high theatrics to a role that demanded it. 

Peter Vincent ... now?

With a career that, at the time, stretched back nearly 50 years, McDowell understood how Vincent was a creature out of time, even more so than Dandrige, an ageless vampire who accepted the passage and changes of time, whereas Vincent was endlessly revisiting what he perceived as his past glories. You could almost feel Vincent understanding how the years had passed him by and how he was more suited to be one of his Victorian-era characters and not this man stuck in a time where all movie fans “want to see (is) slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins.” 

Taking Tennant from old school Hollywood and making into a de-facto Criss Angel rip-off (and, by association, a colassial d-bag) removes any charm the character possessed. It was that meshing of the old world of horror with an urbane, real-life creature that made Vincent great and gave the original “Fright Night” whatever endurance over time it possessed. By converting Vincent into just another 30something slickster a-hole, the filmmakers again prove there’s no audience they’re not willing to pander to, and manage to again miss the point entirely.