Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The trouble with remakes, in which I come to no conclusions

Many of my friends and people I follow on twitter are bristling at the upcoming remake of Straw Dogs. I want to see it. But don't worry - I will be sure to watch the original first. Straw Dogs is one of those movies that's been on my list of "Movies I should probably watch when I get around to it." The positive outcome of this remake is that it pushes the original to the forefront of my list of "Movies I am actively seeking opportunity to watch."

The same is true of Fright Night. I just saw the original and enjoyed it immensely. The remake boosted my interest in seeing the original. And judging by the audience reaction to Chris Sarandon's cameo, a fair number of people in the cinema *had* seen the original.

Why do people moan about remakes? It's something I'm guilty of myself. If the original is good, detractors of the remake will insist that it doesn't "need" to be remade. Of course it doesn't need to be remade. Very few movies - original or not - "need" to be made. If it's a good story, why not tell it again? How might the story be different in a different place or time? And if the original is really that good, then surely it will hold up and not be diminished by the remake. If the original is not-so-good, is it nostalgia that holds people back?

When it comes to American remakes of foreign films, however, there is further snobbery. "Americans are just too lazy to read subtitles," they will say. In reality, it seems to me that it's a case of "Keep your filthy mainstream off my subculture." An Asian film forum I used to frequent once had a headline on April Fool's Day announcing that Brad Pitt would be starring as Kakihara in a remake of Ichi the Killer. Shudders abound. But actually, Brad Pitt could totally pull off Kakihara. He may be a big-name hunk, but he's got the chops.

If pressed, I don't think I could name a bad remake of a good Asian horror film. I'm sure they exist, but I generally avoid them. The remakes that I have seen have been pretty good. The Ring isn't a far cry from Ringu. They're both good. I think it's a positive thing that they both exist. The American remake of A Tale of Two Sisters looked terrible. I didn't see it. I don't know anyone who did, whether they'd seen the original or not. It has had absolutely no impact on the original in terms of quality or, as far as I can tell, audience.

When they announced they were going to remake Infernal Affairs, I was skeptical. Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio? Jack Nicholson? Mark Wahlberg? What is all this? But The Departed was fantastic. It is an entirely different movie than Infernal Affairs. I would even argue that it's a *better* movie. So I am pleased that the same producers are in charge of the remake of Oldboy. (Thank God that Speilberg/Smith talk never came to fruition!) I'm not the biggest fan of Spike Lee, who is set to direct, but he knows what he's doing. Announcements regarding the casting of Josh Brolin and Christian Bale as the protagonist and antagonist, respectively, have me very optimistic.

Today I got the news that El Orfanato is being remade with Amy Adams. I love El Orfanato. It is the only horror movie to actually *scare* me since I was a child. I don't really want it to be remade, but I can't seem to put my finger on why. I think it's just a sense of possessiveness. I enjoy introducing the film to people. With an American remake, I won't have that sense of "Look at this awesome movie I found." But that ownership is is an illusion in the first place.

For the most part, I am interested in film theory more than film production. But there are some films I would really like to make. One of them is a remake of Battle Royale. Don't get me wrong - I love the original. But it differs from the book (which I read before I saw the film and also love) in some really crucial ways. I'm not saying I could do better than Kinji Fukasaku, but I see no reason why there can't be more than one film adapted from one work. How many different film versions of Frankenstein are there? If I had the resources, I would write a screenplay adapted more faithfully from the book. It would be in English (because I don't speak Japanese) but I would cast Japanese-American actors. But no matter how I did it, fans of the original film would scorn me.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Coming soon: new blog posts!

I've been slacking on blogging because I've been not-slacking on other things. BUT! I've been writing new posts in my head, including a doozy of a post about LARPing, geekery, and melodrama (the mode of film, not the high school social phenomenon).

In the meantime, a piece of advice:
When a job interviewer asks you what your weakness is, "Kryptonite" is not an appropriate response.

Doesn't anybody ever know that the world's a subway?

No, because what does that mean?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Cookie blogging - Milano melts

I love Milanos. They aren't my favorite Pepperidge Farm cookies (that would be Brussels), but I do love them. So I just *had* to try the new Milano Melts.


When I opened the bag I was kind of taken by surprise because the cookies looked naked. The only analogy I can think of is mildly obscene, so here's a picture:


I was skeptical. I assumed that there would not be very much chocolate inside and it would not be as creamy or melty as it looked on the package. I was pleasantly surprised:


They're delicious! The chocolate is indeed creamy and melty. More filling would be nice, but then the cookie would probably collapse.

Rating: B+

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Doing it Right: Hobo with a Shotgun

Dear Robert Rodriguez,

THIS is how you make a grind-house flick. If you recall my post "One-Trick Movies" (since you're obviously a regular reader of my blog), I said that "Machete" would have been better off if it had just remained a trailer. Not so for "Hobo with a Shotgun." The big difference? Hobo has heart.

Love,
R.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My thoughts on Lucky McKee's "The Woman"


The film is about the upper-middle class New England Cleek family. Chris Cleek is an estate lawyer. His wife Belle is a stay-at-home mom. He has a moody teenage daughter, Peggy, and a tween son Brian who watches his every move to see how to behave. One day while hunting in the woods, Chris comes across a wounded feral woman (the character is a carry-over from the film The Offspring). He captures her and restrains her in the cellar. He introduces her to his family as their project. She must be civilized. If this were an entirely different movie, he would put marbles in her mouth and have her recite English vowel sounds over and over. But this is not that movie. In this movie, the method of choice is torture. 

This movie is NOT “torture porn” – a topic deserving of its own blog post. It does not seek to shock or titillate. Andre Dumas writes in this spot-on review, “I often talk about my problem with films that do not commit to their story and that do not push things as far as they need to go in order to tackle the themes they’ve proposed. The Woman however is one of the most committed films that I have ever seen. It goes to places that I did not anticipate and places that I didn’t plan on seeing ever in my life.” This is not a midnight movie that you go see with your buddies in a theater full of people who have been drinking and cheer on the gore. Even when the woman gets her justifiable revenge, there will be no cheering.

The movie is unsettling, disturbing, and very difficult to watch. It works as a parable for domestic abuse. Even before he captures the woman, Chris Cleek is a physically and emotionally abusive husband and father. Once the woman comes into the picture, the abuse is externalized and focused on her. She becomes a metaphor for domestic violence. Chris tells his family that she is their “secret.” She is also their shame. Mike Everleth over at All Things Horror writes in his review  that when Belle runs into an acquaintance at the grocery store, “you can almost see her searching the internal databanks for answers that are normal and acceptable to an outsider.”If you take the woman out of the equation, the scene would still stand – she’s not just covering up for the woman chained up in her cellar, but also for the treatment she receives from her husband.

I had a college professor who explained patriarchy, the rule of the father, as “the father can fuck or kill whoever he wants.” Mr. Cleek exemplifies this more than anything I have ever seen. And that is why I consider this to be a feminist film – though not one that I would recommend to many feminists I know. It unflinchingly shows (and condemns) the stranglehold that misogyny has over all women in a patriarchal society, and it does so with a rare gravity.

When I asked Lucky Mckee via twitter whether he would classify this film as a horror movie, he responded, “I would classify it as being my only horror movie.” To me, it is only in the third act that the film truly becomes a horror film. When Belle finally reaches her breaking point, it was at first a relief to me. All of that simmering repression needed to come to a boil. But her outburst also cracks Chris’ twisted Mr. Cleaver veneer and unleashes the raging and unabashed misogynist monster that we’ve known the whole time to be right under the surface.

And now I’m going to discuss the rape scene. So if you don’t want to know how it happens or you don’t want to read about rape, you should stop here.

As I said, this is a difficult movie to watch. For me, the hardest scene to stomach was the rape. This was the most disturbing rape scene I have ever seen (disclosure: I have not seen Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible). 

The rape happens the night after the woman has been “cleaned up” (hosed down with a high-pressure hose) and put in a dress. Chris checks to make sure his wife is asleep, goes down to the cellar, and fucks the woman. She doesn’t/can’t fight back as he fondles her breasts and lifts her dress - her hands are chained. To be sure, rape is an act of violence, not one of sex. But it is also an act of entitlement, and this scene’s clear illustration of that is what makes this scene so upsetting. It isn’t explicit. He doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t hit her. He owns her. He can do whatever he wants with her. 

During the scene, there are cuts to the other members of his family. His daughters asleep in their beds, his wife crying in hers (she wasn’t really sleeping, dickhead), and his son, who wants to know what his father is up to, follows him to the cellar, and spies. As the son peeps through a hole in the cellar door, the woman stares at him with unblinking eyes. It is the hatred and behavior the son learns during this scene that ultimately sets up the climax of the film.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Movies I Wanted to See in 2010 but Didn't

Bitch Slap
Legion
Frozen
Shutter Island
Repo Men
Chloe
Kick-Ass
Exit Through the Gift Shop
The Descent 2
Metropia
Holy Rollers
Splice
Toy Story 3
Cropsey
The Killer Inside Me
Restrepo
The Kids Are All Right
winnebago Man
The Last Exorcism
Never Let Me Go
The Town
Catfish
You Again
Buried
Enter the Void
Hatchet II
Let Me In
The Social Network
My Soul to Take
I Spit on Your Grave
Marwencol
Boxing Gym
Monsters
Four Lions
127 Hours
Tangled
Black Swan
I Love You Phillip Morris
The Fighter
The Tempest
Rabbit Hole
Blue Valentine

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Na na why don't you get a job?

Because of the economy, ass wipe.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Walking Dead, Authorial Intent, and Why I Need to Go to Grad School

The "Why I Need to Go to Grad School" part is because this post is not very well structured, and I'm not sure if I prove all (or any) or my points.

**Disclaimer: Walking Dead spoilers (the comic) ahoy!**

I read the first several volumes of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead a few years ago. I stopped reading them because they were sexist/racist drek. Unfortunately, I can't really remember the specifics. I know there were very clear instances of sexism and racism, but I can't argue the point because I don't remember. I DO remember, that in the "letters" page, in which fans write to author Robert Kirkman and he responds, Kirkman was TOTALLY dismissive of all accusations. HE wasn't being racist. HE was just showing reality and racism exists in reality. The only black woman in the series just *happens* to get raped. HE wasn't even thinking about the fact that she's black. YOU must be racist for even thinking that!

Now, I'm not an artist. I can't say what kind of moral responsibility and artist does or doesn't have. But I think that an artist ought to engage his or her audience. And I think an artist can NOT deny someone's reading of his or her art - regardless of the intent.

Is it racist for a black character to get raped? Not necessarily. But as fenzel on my new favorite blog Overthinking It writes, "no one character, no one statement, no one discrete thing, is ever 'feminist' or 'anti-feminist' (or even 'sexist' [or racist. -R.]). What is feminist or anti-feminist is the way we include how we talk about and associate discrete things in a broader discourse, and then what that has to do with how some actual group of people thinks, acts and behaves." Now I have been told that some of the female characters in The Walking Dead get a lot more, well, character later on in the series. But up until that point, all the women were defined in relation to the men. (Again, I can't give examples because I don't remember specifics.) In comic books of the superhero genre, an overwhelming number of women are killed, raped, tortured, and/or de-powered - often in a sexualized manner. So in the context of comic books, and within the world of The Walking Dead, I think that it is absolutely racist and sexist for the only black woman to be raped and tortured.

Do bad things happen to the white characters and male characters, too? Yes. Am I a racist for thinking that Michonne's rape is not unrelated to her being black? No. Are there racist and sexist men out there? Yes. In the introduction to her book Reel to real: race, sex, and class at the movies, bell hooks writes
Movies make magic. They change things. They take the real and make it into something else right before our very eyes. Usually when I critique a movie lots of folks like, they tell me, "It was just showing the way things are. It was real." And they do not want to hear it when I make the point that giving audiences what is real is precisely what movies do not do. They give the reimagined, reinvented version of the real. It may look like something familiar, but in actuality it is a different universe from the world of the real. That's what makes movies so compelling.
I would argue that the same goes for comic books and any other form of popular art entertainment. If we accept that Robert Kirkman is giving us a world with zombies, then we accept that he is not giving us reality. It is his reimagining of a reality (with zombies). And this reimagining of his, women are not defined outside of their relationships to men. And the one black woman, the "warrior woman," gets raped.

Monday, September 6, 2010

One-Trick Movies

I am so sick of movies that are just one joke extended to a feature length. I've seen two recently: "RoboGeisha" and "Machete." I'm not going to grace their trailers by posting them here (ie, I'm too lazy) but if you've seen either trailer, that's all you need to see. "Machete," of course, was originally just a trailer - it was one of the fake trailers in "Grindhouse" - until someone thought it would be a good idea to make it into a real movie. Spoiler alert: It wasn't a good idea.

You know you're watching a one-trick movie when it starts off with a pretty great opening scene and then quickly goes downhill and never recovers. There are usually a couple of "memorable" lines that are supposed to stand out as inappropriately cheesy, but they are too forced and self-congratulatory to actually be funny. Overall, these movies suffer from too much dialogue. There will be a few good sight gags, but not enough entertainment value to sustain interest. There is a prolonged final showdown. This kind of movie isn't the class clown, but the kid who acts out to get attention only it backfires because nobody thinks s/he is funny. It tries too hard. Yes, it is supposed to be exploitative and over-the-top, but it ends up just being sloppy and feels at least half an hour too long.

"Machete" and "RoboGeisha" don't take themselves seriously at all. Their tongues are so far in their cheeks that they can't enunciate. It's muddy, a mish-mosh. It's masturbatory writing - nobody cares, only the writers who pat each other on their backs at how funny they are. (If anyone actually read this blog, I would re-read Susan Sontag's "Notes on Camp" and write about the difference between true camp and self-aware camp and how that applies here.) The difference between these films and a film like "The Human Centipede" - which could easily have fallen into the trap of not transcending its own premise - is that "The Human Centipede" actually tries. Same thing with "Piranha 3D" - yes, it is silly and aware of its silliness, but it isn't content to stop there. No matter how self-aware, a movie must take itself seriously. Or else it's just boring.


It is interesting to note, however, that both "Machete" and "RoboGeisha" do follow the Bechdel-Wallace Rule... Hmm...