Tuesday, August 21, 2012

4 Films I Dislike and How I'd Like Them Remade

"Which one am I, good or bad? Go awwn, have a guess."
Gremlins: Ok, before you cry "cheap shot!" I do know that this one was meant as a soft serve grotesque but the technology on display and the basic approach were both really good. It was just the cuteness of it that prevented it from being anything but unendurable to me. All the over telescoped "SURPRISES!", the laboured sight gags and the problem that goofy monsters are never scary still bother me. Was it Spielberg standing over Joe Dante? Maybe and maybe not, considering Dante's other films which, while more than competent always seem to fall prey to the same self subverting cuteness.

Remake: Dress the monsters down or even leave out the transition from cute 'n' furry to demonic 'n' reptilian so that you never know which one has turned or not. Keep the monstered ones cute and beguiling. Kind of a mix of Aliens and a plague of Tickle Me Elmos. Joon-Ho Bong probably doesn't want to do this kind of movie after The Host so you're going to ask him nicely. VERY NICELY.

"Some people will do anything to get out of a third act"
The House of Sand and Fog: We are meant to care about Jennifer Connelly's determination to keep her house despite doing everything to convince us that she just needs to be in care. We are meant to accept the deep compassion of an ex Iranian military officer who puts up with an insane amount of criminal bullshit doled out by Connelly. Not enough? How about a third act packed with sudden revelations and extreme actions in place of carefully established mechanisms that might give them a more fluid feel?

Give this to David Cronenberg to extract and discard all the deus ex machina and replace it with a more severe examination of the forces that are in the structure like the alien finding a home and the tenant alienated from her home. That kind o' thing.

"We'll they'll dig us."
The Last King of Scotland: Boy, this should have been good. A feisty UK doctor, freshly qualified decides to amp up his current by spinning a globe and vowing to go wherever he stopped it. Uganda, 1970s. Idi Armin country. A citizen of the former Empire Prime now idealistic and very uncolonial will give us a tour of one his empire's most monstrous creations. Sign me up.

Well, they do cast it well. James McAvoy as the young idealist plummeting under the dictator's glamour and Forest Whittaker as big daddy Idi himself make for a fine pair of complimentary performances. But the film doesn't seem to udnerstand that having established these archetypes there is no further need to feed them. Indeed, which such a primary coloured canvas we should be seeing nuance and moments of disturbing ethics. We get glimpses of the latter but they are too easily swamped by the writers' resort to violence and shock which has a decreasing power by the scene.

Result Armin = bad. Young doctor = redeemable. For that last one to work we have to forgive Young Doctor all of his trembling compliance once we see a tiny act of redemption followed by an act of self-preservation. Oh , that's ok, more atrocities form Hitler 2 will cover that up. If only that had been a comment on how completely fear can manipulate us. It's lost in clumsiness.

Remake as a faux documentary. Interviews interspersed with what little would have been filmable and then show some of Idi's home movies (mocked up will do). Give it to Lars von Trier. Then watch him at Cannes.

"Now wasn't Ah lahk this in Wahld at Harrrrt?"
Rambling Rose: Mother and daughter Diane Ladd and Laura Dern are joined by Robert Duvall in this tale of how a southern fahcracker transcends the the bimbo void by showing how much she has insahd. Every single scene snatches defeat from the jaws of victory by knocking out the interesting quirk and diverting the viewer with something poorly timed and anticlimactic. Nothing works apart from moments in individual performances which can be very good but the effect of seeing them is like the good bits in a stew that you come to understand has been left on the table for about a week.

Strangle all the cuteness of this one at birth and focus on some of the serious issues that are obscured by it on screen (like Duvall's creepy ease with the notion of sterilising Rose) and emphasise the menace the small town community feels from her refulgent sexuality (ie don't have her "creatin' a heatwave" by walking down Main Street to a raunchy ragtime version of Dixie). Allow this to be scary and we'll be so grateful for any morsel of warmth it will never feel fulsome.

Let's go against type and give this to Kathryn Bigelow. We all know she can direct men. Let's see her get inside their nervous systems without a shot fired.


  1. Maybe dislike is a bit strong but, agreed with last king of Scotland and House of sand and fog, which both, although have qualities and are worth a watch; are too heavy handed with the plot and ultimately a bit disappointing (Kingsley is always fantastic though). I have to take issue with Gremlins however, it’s the cutesy and comical tone that elevates it above the norm and is fantastically judged. Similar films of the 'little monster' ilk (Kritters, Puppet master etc) all suffer under their prevalence of horror and violence. Gremlins whilst having horror elements, retains a charm and it is tremendous fun watching the little pests wreak havoc in as many different ways as possible (allowing for the anti-consumerist under tones to shine though - The perfect dark Christmas movie haha!) It can be argued whether it’s essentially a horror film however - probably more a dark comedy. The sequel is a lot of fun too – where the horror aspect is pretty much completely removed – Beware Peter! it even goes as far as to review Gremlins 1 half way through, where an unsuspecting film critic labels it a terrible movie – the gremlins then tie and gag him with 16mm film stock haha!

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Ewen. I welcome contrary opinions here as they can enrich the blog. I'm unrepentant on Gremlins. I hate it as a symptom of the malaise that turned 80s mainstream cinema into the big flavourless blancmange that it was (largely through folk like John Landis and anyone like Joe Dante who made extra Stephen Spielberg films by proxy like Gremlins). I hate the clumsy telescoped gags and leaden attempts at social satire and I hate cuteness in any form on screen as I find it more indulgent that the longest held take of a kerosene lamp that Tarkovsky or Bela Tarr might want us to live through. Cuteness is far more indulgent because it always masks a lack of inspiration with an easy shallow distraction. I acknowledge that it isn't trying to be a straight up horror movie but think it would be far more effective if it had.

  3. Fair enough I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. I found the cuteness, fun, and the use of comedy all effective devices in this instance. The sincerity of gremlins does shine through - and the social satire, though fairly generic, is not overplayed (certainly by the standards of mainstream films these days)- more, its cleverly used to service the story - the gremlin carolers choir always makes me smile! It's all personal opinion I guess in the end- admittedly I do look at it with the tainted view of nostalgia, having watched it in my youth. For me John Landis is a genius though, I never tire of watching his films- there are always so joyful! American Werewolf in London is one of the greatest films ever made. e

  4. Ewen, I think we've found an area of our circles in the venn diagram that will NEVER overlap. I will say this one last thing about Gremlins, though: it was quite obviously meant to be a comedy but the only time I laughed was the story of Santa up the chimney. Then I learned it was an old urban myth. So the only joke I cared about in the movie was not original.

    I won't watch John Landis films now as I stuggled to get through most of his 70s and 80s input, hoping that I'd find something worthwhile. Never did, not enough to warrant a revisit at any rate. I find his work so try-hard that it is a constant irritation. This puzzles me as there are very few people I'd rather listen to about film and its history than the always articulate, witty and thought provoking John Landis. I just think the movies he makes are bullshit.

    It's rightly said that there is no disputing tastes. Again, a note of dissent can only enrich this here bloggin'. For which, thanks