Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dislikes for Remakes

The Rum Diary: This attempt to squeeze the yet unformed Hunter S. Thompson's youthful reflections into the crowded room of his more famous ones seemed like an attempt by Bruce Robinson to reclaim the triumph of his glory in chief, Withnail and I. The reason that worked and this doesn't is that the earlier film had the sting of autobiography whereas this is a mishandling of someone else's. Anytime something serious or intriguing happens something goofy falls arse backwards on to the stage with a big sheepish grin. The balance is wrong and no one wins.

Instead of a Martial riffing on the fall of Rome how about a bloody minded Seneca coolly observing a dodgy patrician at the rise of the Cold War empire? All the makings are there and Aaron Eckhart makes a great greedy lizard-of-influence. Play it well and there's plenty of room for Thompson's daggers and foolery. Terry Gilliam has already shown how even as evenhanded a depiction as Fear and Loathing (seriously, look again if you don't believe me) can allow Thompson's anger through and still serve cinema. Plus, he still has to struggle to make his movies, and can still make great ones. I'd see it.

The Road: Mostly good and faithful to the novel but it so cornily overplays the religious imagery that it shames the source's own deflatingly disappointing theism. Then again, it's not much of a stretch to read the novel's relgious passages (and there aren't many obvious ones) ironically to show that even at the end of the world humans can still be so nightmarishly dependent on mythology. The film really only needs an edit, IMHO, as most of it works well. Oh, and ditch the giant Hollywood music score that threatens a Michael Bay moment every ten minutes or so. Remove it or replace it with something sourced from the environment of the film. The big orchestral swell is like a subtitle saying YOUSE ARE SO STUPID YUZ WOULDN'T KNOW THIS IS DRAMATIC OTHERWISE!

What's Eating Gilbert Grape? The title alone might have done it but the director credit of Lasse Hallstrom sealed it. This really could have been interesting with a young Johnny Depp coping with being at the centre of a rambling mess of a family, a messy Graduate style affair and the seductive prospects of a young Juliet Lewis while she still had a career. And then there was the real wow of seeing the then unknown Leonardo DiCaprio who seemed at first look to really be a boy with something like cerebral palsy. But nothing works. For stretches there is a creditable tale of Gilbert learning to take control of his life and follow his own inklings while still coping with his responsibilities. But this is too frequently interrupted by crises so thunderously played and sudden that you can smell the glue of the old scotchtape used for their inclusion into the screenplay. This film made me think that if My Life as a Dog had been in English and set in the U.S. I would have winced at it as much as I did here.

Remake as magical realist as you want but do it with an eye to the narrative timeline that will allow your audiences to care about the crises when they happen. Let the newly conventional Sion Sonno make this in Japan. He will find things in the treacley warmth that will rightly chill your central nervous system ... and turn this bowl of porridge into an adventurous eel miso.

Also, recalling this movie brought to mind other Depp vehicles from the time: Don Juan de Marco, Arizona Dream, Benny and Joon (which almost made it into this list and might well into the next), Sleepy Hollow ..... And that's not counting all the suspected horrors I avoided at the time like Chocolat or The Man Who Cried. He's an impressive screen presence, Johnny Depp but god he's made some rubbish.

The Stunt Man: A tale of cinema and cynicism unfolds as a fugitive runs into the protection of a film production making a war movie. Everyone's favourite Charlie Manson, Steve Railsback, as the runaway is almost immediately pitted agin the might of the director, Peter O'Toole who wields an icreasingly tyrannical power o'er all beneath him. This falls from an enticing premise quite quickly into such ponderous self importance that it becomes impossible to take seriously. Who will win the war of wills? Who will be left to care? You know those people who laugh so much at their own jokes that they put you off joining in? This movie is like that.

But since it does have some good points and is only ruined by the execution it might be yet another candidate for a found footage/faux docco style that can actually justify itself. Get Michael Winterbottom on the phone. He'd work it.

Man on the Moon: Milos Foreman, who took Amadeus from a strong theatre piece and made a huge sprawling epic that yet remembered it was at heart a simple fable here trowels on a string of scenes from the life of a singular comedian like any biopic you could stumble on between the ads for phonesex and the paid religious hours. A little playing around with some of the points of Andy Kaufman ideas including an end that can't quite work out if it's buying into a myth or just displaying it. Jim Carrey provides a turn that feels like an actor's exercise. People from Kaufman's life appear both as themselves and as other characters. All fine and dandy but it feels too smug. It just doesn't go far enough. Want to really serve the idea of an Andy Kaufman? Make a real documentary and invade it with such smooth falsehood that it will be impossible to tell fact from myth. Then invite the audience to debate it online and seed that with trolls. Director? Who cares? Find someone on Youtube. Actually, put it exclusively on Youtube. Done!

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