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.


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.