“The Place Beyond The Pines” – Because our lives are not about us at all…

And here it is. I’m just going to put it out there and say the following: I think I have just found my first candidate I would like to see at the next year’s Academy Awards. Now that I managed to get this out of the way I think I can continue with mu usual.

A couple of months ago I happened to be trawling the internet in search for anything interesting and I stumbled upon a trailer to a new movie with Ryan Gosling in it. I didn’t know anything past what I saw in the trailer, and even when I shopped around for information nothing really changed in that regard. It looked to simply be “Drive” on a bike. And only because I really enjoyed every single movie with Ryan Gosling (and also because “Blue Valentine”Derek Cianfrance’s previous piece – is the only film that actually managed to make me cry) I decided to give it a try. Ok, I would be a liar, if I left it at that. Very often the fact a film receives mixed reviews determines me to see it even more, because terrible movies are simply incapable of stirring anything up, and right after its release, this film has been received as either truly brilliant, or utterly terrible, with little in between.

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“The Place Beyond The Pines” feels a lot like something Alejandro González Iñárritu would make. We are presented here with three tales tightly sewed together by the characters, their actions and the ramifications of their choices. First, we meet Luke (Ryan Gosling) – a tattooed-beyond-belief social outcast who happens to be a stunt biker in a travelling amusement park. After one of his shows, he stumbles across an old acquaintance – Romina (Eva Mendes), they spend some time together and the next day, just when he’s about to say good-bye once more, Luke meets a person who would turn his life upside down; he finds out his brief relationship with Romina has borne fruit – a boy called Jason. Even though Luke stands a little chance of building a family with Romina, as she is already in a committed relationship with someone else, Luke decides to settle down in the town, get a job and do the right thing – be a father to his son.

Quite obviously and to Luke’s chagrin, a little town in the middle of nowhere doesn’t have a lot to offer to someone like Luke. Sure, he knows his way around the car shop and naturally he can ride his bike like a lightning, yet the money he earns working as a mechanic doesn’t even begin to cover the needs of his one-year-old. Therefore in order to keep his promise, Luke is forced to take an unorthodox step in his life and steer away from the righteous ways towards the life of a bank robber.

The second tale in the film focuses on Avery (Bradley Cooper) – a cop who lives in the same town. But he’s no regular police officer; Avery is a man with a mission. Even though he’s a certified lawyer, he willfully chose the life of a street cop, because – as he thinks – judges and lawyers only talk about the law, whereas it’s the men in blue uniforms who make the actual difference. And this is what he has always wanted – to make a difference; against all odds and in defiance to his father. Only after he meets Luke, Avery’s eyes begin to slowly open to the rotten morality that’s hiding behind the shield he wears so proudly. Knowing he needs to care for his toddler son, he is faced with a choice, from which there would be no going back, as he will have to truly live by the values he holds dear and risk everything he’s got, or surrender to the current and become what he hates.

 

The third and final act of “The Place Beyond The Pines” I shall leave out, because the way how these two first acts play out and melt the film together has a profound effect on its final story and revealing too much could potentially diminish the impact of the film. Let me say only this: the first two tales set the pieces on the board for the third act to play out and how it plays out is a brutal reflection on everything that has happened to the characters before.

“The Place Beyond The Pines” was simply a delight to watch. Its gripping story-telling and, most importantly, the phenomenal characters built through powerhouse performances have bolted me into my seat. As I said before, it’s one of those films that will poke you in ways you find most uncomfortable, only for you to stop and have a closer look at the characters and maybe see your own choices and shortcomings for a minute. The film’s three acts all share the same message, phrased differently and taken at different angles, but still the same at its core: it’s not what you think of yourself is the most important in your life, but what you leave behind. It’s the curse of repeating our fathers’ mistakes and the damage we cause to our sons through the decisions we make; that is the melody found between the violins and trumpets of emotional turmoil the characters suffer on the screen.

Perhaps it is my own personal relationship I managed to develop with them, that I could hold accountable for the energy this film stores; as an expecting father I could somehow empathize with the characters, so that the stories they told were all the more powerful in my eyes. After all, who among us has never feared he’d become his own father, even despite greatest efforts… Derek Cianfrance in his film once again prompts us to rethink our choices before we make them, because it’s not us, who would receive the bulk of their repercussions – it’s the ones we’ll leave behind. The titular place beyond the pines is supposed to remind us of that, and it is not a physicality of the place that is crucial here – it’s the metaphorical common denominator of all three tales; it’s the crossroads at which the tragedies of human life are materialized.

In summary, “The Place Beyond The Pines” has become the best film I saw this year so far, and thus the bar is set pretty high. Its powerful storytelling, tremendous acting and subtle photography all work in unison to make it feel unforgettable and I can only look forward to watch it again.

And no – it was not “Drive” on a bike…

 

 

“Evil Dead (2013)” – The Rollercoaster Of Gore

Finally, the demons are out… This mind is clear… for a minute. I can’t believe I actually got round to writing this after a couple of rants I had to go on in order to keep my brain working properly. It was a busy week film-wise and in order to make the most of it I ended up spending my entire Tuesday evening in the cinema watching movies back to back.

Ok, that would be enough waffle, thank you very much. I’m not very big on remakes and if you had the pleasure to read what I think about Hollywood at the minute, you’d know that going to see the remake of “Evil Dead” didn’t come all that easy. Especially when it comes to remaking the horror genre in particular, the effects are most often piss poor, but that’s not why I’m here now, is it?

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What I think helped ease me into how Fede Alvarez envisioned bringing Sam Raimi’s debut feature back from the dead, was a simple fact that up until last week I hadn’t seen the original. I quickly corrected that little detail and thus went to the cinema prepared rather well (well, I failed to re-watch the sequels, but I’ll get on with them soon enough, just to keep the atmosphere alive for a little while longer).

Well, I should really emphasize that the final moments leading up the projection made my heart go a bit faster, as I clearly had fallen prey to “Evil Dead’s” viral campaign of ‘how this film is supposed to mess you up for life’. So, there I was sitting in silence surrounded a bunch of strangers. Some a-hole screamed, as if to reassure everyone that he wasn’t anxious. The lights went dim… I blinked… for one last time… And it was all over. All of a sudden, 90 minutes of my life just raced in front of my eyes and I woke up after the post-credit teaser (Yes, there is one. Stay there and look at it).

What I felt while leaving my seat can’t be easily put into words. The closest analogue of that would be the feeling you have having just left a rollercoaster ride, and not just a rollercoaster ride; it’s the rollercoaster ride you’d remember till the end of your days. The amount of adrenaline streaming down my veins could easily wake up a couple of corpses. “Evil Dead” made me feel happy to be alive, so to speak, as if I just had dodged death by an inch or something to that effect.

Emotions aside, “Evil dead” in the eyes of Fede Alvarez took Raimi’s debut made on a nonexistent budget and elevated it to the modern standards – in a good way. If anything, this is how remakes should be done, in my opinion. 30 years ago, the original “Evil Dead” scared the living poop out of countless thousands of people. Now, you can look at it only in two ways: either with reverential respect to a timeless classic, or with a weird grin on your face pondering, how something like that could have scared anyone in the first place. This is what time does to films like that – horrors especially. Films that draw on emotional responses (threat, fear, disgust) wear off after a while, and decades after, they’re simply dead. It takes a passionate individual who understands the matter he is sculpting to carve it out into a film that would revive said emotions and hopefully amplify them in a way, so that the remake can stand on its own two feet.

This time it worked in a phenomenal way.

2013’s “Evil Dead” starts off with the very same concept as the original. A group of friends travels to a secluded cabin in the middle of nowhere. Contrary to the original, however, instead of trying to kick back in the wilderness, these individuals are on a mission. They are trying to help one of them – Mia (Jane Levy) – tackle her drug problem. Some people say that the film spends far too much time establishing the characters, but I don’t really have a problem with that. Fair enough, maybe we could theorize that the film doesn’t need David (Shiloh Fernandez) to spell it out for everyone, how messed up his relationship with Mia really was. But then again, a horror needs to do that; otherwise the butchering that comes next would be irrelevant. If I don’t care about the characters, then it doesn’t matter how many appendages they will have chopped off. I believe Alvarez was fully aware of that, so he spent nearly half the film making me care. Good.

 

Where was I? Right, a handful of friends arrive at the cabin, where they discover a variety of tools (their existence is well explained, no plot holes there), which makes the whole cabin look like a gigantic Chekhov’s gun, as you know these tools will be used sooner than you think to torture our characters. They also stumble upon some nasty witchcraft-related things in the basement, among which they find a book. A book written in blood, with some really nasty imagery, with a cover made of skin (human skin), wrapped in plastic and barbed wire – clearly someone went to ridiculous lengths to make sure no-one would read it. And of course, among our protagonists there’s Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) – a self-proclaimed scientist who sees challenges where everyone else would see a warning. Therefore he un-wraps the book and takes his time to decipher some incantations found within. When he reads them aloud (as I would too, fellow scientists would understand) – the horror begins… A demon wakes up in the woods and he will not stop until he has feasted on their souls… starting off with Mia. Initially nobody wants to believe her, when she spouts nonsense about things she saw in the forest or the dark presence she felt in the cabin, dismissing them as detox-related hallucinations. Shortly thereafter, people start dying and the blood starts spilling. And it doesn’t stop until the very last second of the film.

Hands down, “Evil Dead” is by far the bloodiest, most violent film I have seen. However, contrary to what I had expected, my stomach handled everything splendidly. Maybe the fact I knew I was watching a work of fiction had something to do with it, but I had worse reactions to “127 hours” and “The Impossible” in recent memory. Anyway, when the gore machine started rolling, it didn’t leave any room for breathing. In all actuality, the pacing of the film felt a bit like a rollercoaster ride, wherein you spent 90 seconds going up very slowly in waiting only to spend another 90 seconds screaming like a little girl. It was exactly like that. I would never think a horror movie could be that exhilarating. And by the end it was just bananas. Blood everywhere, severed limbs, nails, chainsaws, box-cutters – the whole shebang.

In summary, I had a blast. The special effects were very (!!!) convincing, the blood and gore were properly disgusting and the sense of threat was unrelenting. Each minute of the film – once the slaughter had started – kept cranking up the gain on the horror. As a result the big finale was simply unforgettable. Due homage was paid to Sam Raimi (a couple of his signature close-up wide-angle shots and a handful of props pointing to the original), but as a whole Alvarez managed to keep a good amount of individuality. His take on “Evil dead” is seriously scary and violent, but it manages to be funny at times of the greatest carnage. In fact, the whole idea of Pucci’s scientist character borders on hilarious, especially when you consider how big of a beating this guy takes in the film.

If there are remakes that stand above the shameful crowd of knock-offs, “Evil Dead” is surely one of them. It’s a nearly perfect horror movie that doesn’t have the desire to join the club of any mainstream sub-genres. If anything, I would expect others to jump on the “Evil Dead” band wagon soon enough and start the wave of ‘torture porn meets The Exorcist’.

“Iron Man 3” – I was NOT amused…

It would seem that the universe just doesn’t want me to do what I really want. Instead, just when I feel comfortable enough to finally sit down and write about what I actually liked, it gives me this… Because of this burning need I feel within me, I cannot yet again do what I want, but I must first get it off my chest and clear up my mind.

The Summer Blockbuster Season is upon us. The teenagers are out and about turning movie theaters into pigsties, the queues at the cinemas are longer than usual, and the amount of superheroes on the posters will soon be at its yearly highest.  We’ve already seen the first glimmer of what is yet to come in “Oblivion” and I can only call it a fail start, so in order to be polite I thought I wouldn’t take that dud of a movie seriously. Sure, it had a solid budget, nice VFX and music, but the sub-par utterly non-creative collage story killed it for me quite effectively.

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That leaves “Iron Man 3” to open up the season for real this time, because right thereafter we have a bag of big budget blockbusters lined up with “Star Trek: Into Darkness”, “Man of Steel”, “Thor 2 – The Dark World”, “Pacific Rim” and “World War Z” leading the charge. There. So I went and saw it…

I think it is well established that “Iron Man” franchise has been widely successful partly due to its self-parody slant. Robert Downey Jr’s comedic and lighthearted portrayal of Tony Stark has grown nearly to a legendary status and after “The Avengers” the bar was pretty high when it comes to what we would like to expect from Marvel’s Phase Two (which starts off this year with “Iron Man 3”). The extensive marketing campaign has successfully elevated our expectations with the fact we would see Sir Ben Kingsley portraying The Mandarin – the ultimate villain in the Iron Man’s universe – and that we would see more Tony Stark, and less Iron Man. We were promised adrenaline, drama, more focus on Tony’s inner problems, and of course tonnes of action and unforgettable effects… And I got none of them. None, null, nada, zero… I literally wanted to demand my money back, but in hindsight, I should have known better in the first place. Or maybe I’ve grown to be uber cynical, but I highly doubt that. It’s not as if I went to see “Iron Man 3” assuming it would suck. I went there hoping for a good time, but the fact that film sucked so badly, seriously impeded my ability to actually have a good time.

“Iron Man 3” started off with a premise that the events of “The Avengers” had taken a serious toll on Tony Stark’s well-being. He couldn’t sleep, suffered from insomnia (and nightmares when he actually slept) and kept building new suits and contraptions that would keep tragedies of that magnitude from happening… or something.

Meanwhile, a mysterious terrorist, who calls himself The Mandarin, is on the loose. No-one really knows what he wants, or where he is at a given point in time, and his vicious terrorist attacks go mostly unpunished. Only when Tony Stark’s close friend winds up in a hospital after one of Mandarin’s bombings, he finally decides to suit up in his can again and face his foe. What he doesn’t know is that in doing so he’d have to face enemies he made way back in his days of arrogance, condescension and banging strangers. In order to actually face The Mandarin and settle the score Iron Man will need to come to terms with his problems, finally understand the importance of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) in his life and revisit some old acquaintances… very fiery acquaintances…

 

This is pretty much, how “Iron Man 3” looks on paper. It sounds enticing, it promises action and all, but delivers nothing but disappointment. As I said before, “Iron Man” franchise has never taken itself too seriously and stayed unique this way, up until now. The third installment of the adventures of Tony Stark went a bridge too far and as a result, the whole film turns into farce before the story is even rolling. It begins with grandiose statements of how the past determines our present, and so on, and so forth. We see the suffering Stark, who then quickly forgets all about this and turns into a one-liner robot. Not that I don’t appreciate a good one-liner in an actioner, but this time it was a bit much. There were moments I wasn’t even sure I should care about anything that happens on the screen, because Tony Stark kept taking a piss virtually every time he was on it, regardless of what peril he (or Pepper) was in.

So that’s that. Secondly, I realized that “Iron Man 3” was supposed to be packed with super-awesome action sequences, but they all were somehow lifeless; pretty, but I couldn’t care less… Probably partly due to Tony Stark’s humor getting in the way far too often. Additionally, for the action to be meaningful, the story needs to be compelling. And here, there’s nothing. You could show me a million Iron Men army fighting dragons and demons, but it’s all for nothing if I don’t care about any of the characters. And I can’t care about anything when Tony Stark doesn’t  I know he’s supposed to be cynical and all, but it really annoyed me this time round.

And the Mandarin… Oh, the Mandarin. In the interest of not spoiling anything for anyone who still hasn’t seen it, I shall say the following. I really enjoyed Ben Kingsley here. It was really fun to watch him, even though his manneeeeer of speeeech was ratheeeer annoyiiiing at tiiiiiiimes. But, whoever claims Kingsley’s Mandarin is on par with Ledger’s Joker, needs to go to a store and get himself a pair of new eyes. A good make-up doesn’t really cut it here, does it? Especially that “Iron Man 3” takes a ‘cough’ rather unorthodox approach at The Mandarin. I shan’t say more. I could (and maybe I will) rant a bit more on how The Mandarin would not even shine Joker’s shoes, but it’s neither the time nor place for it…

“Iron Man 3” is simply a generic action superhero flick aimed at the teenage audience. There’s action – sure, there are explosions, evil henchmen, a couple of villains, gunfights and the like. On the plus side, the film sports a twist that you don’t see coming and is in fact hilariously entertaining. But the era of M. Night Shyamalan is long gone and a twist won’t save a film any more…

Nevertheless, I sat there mostly indifferent turning my head in discontent and performing occasional face-palms every now and again. It got to a point when I couldn’t really wait for this movie to end, as its final sequences were terribly boring; but I survived until the end.

The credits rolled and I sat there waiting for the post-credit sequence hoping for a teaser of some sort. What a waste of time that was. Don’t get me wrong, there’s one and if you like, stay put and have a look at it, but it is a bit underwhelming. Nothing major…

That would neatly sum up what I thought about “Iron Man 3” when leaving the cinema – nothing major. I felt bamboozled. This was not what I was promised in the trailers. This was not how I expected of “Iron Man” trilogy to conclude. The story was all over the shop, the action was meaningless and the humor quickly got stale. The plot was full of holes, the characters (especially the villains) were poorly introduced and in the end no-one cared about anything that happened on the screen. Waste of time. I hope “Man of Steel” is going to raise the bar, because action movies like “Iron Man 3” are simply unacceptable.

“Zombieland – The Series”, or the joy of bludgeoning something pretty…

Even though I really wanted to keep working on something else, there’s something that just does not let me get on with my things. Therefore, I’d better make haste with it then…

There are things in life that are better left alone. Unfortunately, the movie industry does not seem to grasp that concept and – in blissful sacrilege – continues to remake, reboot or continue whatever semi-creative idea that worked in the past. For the record – it’s almost always not okay, because the result is substandard and makes the original film look cheap and, quite frankly, runs the risk of ruining it.

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In unrelated news: If you haven’t heard already, the face of TV is now undergoing some major changes (I would hope) with Netflix stepping up to the big boys’ table and producing its own content. If you haven’t heard of “House of Cards” and how it took the Internet by storm by appealing to binge-watchers like me, then I thoroughly recommend getting acquainted with this show. And no, Netflix does not pay me for this. Obviously, “House of Cards”  was not the only ace up Netflix’s sleeve and now it seems we might be looking at a full-blown offensive of internet television, as Eli Roth’s “Hemlock Grove” has just been released (all 13 episodes all at once) and more things are being developed as we speak to expand this wonderful new market.

I think it’s only logical to assume that other players in the market of web-based streaming services will follow suit with their own original programming. We didn’t have to wait too long for Amazon to pick up the gauntlet and join the club with its own original programming. However, Amazon took a tad different approach. Not too long ago, they decided to release a bunch of pilot episodes for the TV shows they might intend to develop into proper series, letting us – the viewers – decide by voting, what we want to see produced. I have to say, it was a really nice touch, as it brought a new layer of awesomeness to the already pretty phenomenal idea of Internet-based programming. So, if you subscribe to Amazon Instant, or Lovefilm Instant, you still have a chance to examine what ‘Amazon Originals’ have to offer.

Now, in the context of what I’m about say next, the phrase ‘Amazon Originals’ sounds amusingly ironic. That is because among the series pitched to us by Amazon, one can find a show that lies a good couple of miles away from being original, namely “Zombieland – The Series”. Yep… You heard me (read me???). Ruben Fleischer’s delightfully hilarious comedy extravaganza set in a post-apocalyptic Twinkie-lacking world ridden with the living dead got scooped and turned into a TV show. Maybe not exactly, because the producers had originally envisioned a full feature sequel would have been in order. Quite understandably so, because it seems to be a golden rule in Hollywood to take every original idea that did well in the box office, slap a “2” on it, cross your fingers and hope for the viewers to buy the tickets once more.

Yeah, so it didn’t happen and “Zombieland 2” got dropped (is it you, God?). But apparently it’s not very tactful to bin a piece of meat like that, so it seemed perfectly OK for Amazon to dust it off and eat it. Obviously, they didn’t have the budget to cast the original ensemble and/or the actors might have simply refused to have anything to do with this abomination, so the only logical way out of this predicament was to hire a cast of lookalikes… Who didn’t charge that much. And it’s not OK.

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Ahh, so what is “Zombieland – The Series” all about? Plot-wise, the show picks up where the movie left off and we get to see how Tallahassee, Columbus, Wichita and Little Rock go about their lives. Maybe it wouldn’t have been all that painful, had the series assumed viewer’s familiarity with the original, but no… I got to hear about, how cardio is important, how Columbus’ feelings towards Wichita are reiterated, and how important it is to pick the zombie kill of the week. Even though it’s glued together rather nicely, the whole concept stinks of a cheap knock-off.

I mean, seriously, every second of the pilot (it’s only 25 minutes, thank God) I kept asking myself, how Woody Harrelson would have done it better, or how Jesse Eisenberg would have been more convincing at being awkward. Or how Emma Stone wouldn’t look like a Barbie doll, but a real person… What I felt would be roughly equivalent to the disappointment buying a  ‘Vouis Luitton’ is, not that I ever bought a purse for myself….

Perhaps, if the producers chose to stay within the universe, but introduced a completely new set of characters – it wouldn’t suck all that bad…. Hopefully… Instead, “Zombieland – The Series” quite ironically looks more like a reanimated corpse of “Zombieland” and not like its successor. It only goes to show that there are things in life that need to be left alone. Full stop.

Now, the original is ruined, because if I ever go back to re-watch it, I’ll have the series to remind me of this day of disappointment and fury; therefore, it’s safer for me not to. Damn you, my good memory! In any case, if Amazon develops the pilot into a full series, chances are that somebody’s going to lose their money. Unless, of course they change their minds and do something with the show to make it better, i.e. sack the cast, hire new people, put them somewhere else, and apply humor based on something more than just slap-stick. Maybe then, the show would be better; still a knock-off, but better. As it stands now, “Zombieland – The Series” reminds me of how Mr Bean foolishly tried to fix Whistler’s Mother with a sharpie.

“Love Is All You Need” – and pain is what you get…

I decided to start working my way through my review backlog (4 films in 4 days – that doesn’t happen too often, but I have to embrace the free time when I have it) and there’s no better way than from the bottom up. Otherwise I might forget things I wanted to say and then I would probably remember when it’s all out there and I wouldn’t be bothered to go and change everything… Anyway… Feeling rambly tonight… Fantastic…

Even though I had been planning for days to go and watch “Evil Dead” that Sunday, I ended up doing something completely different. Not to worry, because I actually managed to catch up with Fede Alvarez on Tuesday. Anyhow, it so happened that My Lovely Wife and I decided to use the precious time we have together, which hasn’t been happening all that often, and head out. So, the weather was mediocre to say the least – Belfast is not exactly in Hawaii, and we ended up in the cinema – obviously. I have to say that a brief thought of trying to convince her to see “Evil Dead” has crossed my mind, but it wouldn’t have been very smart. After all, pregnant ladies might not react all too well to that kind of entertainment and I think coercing your expecting partner to sit through something like that might just be punishable by law.

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So, there… It was a date, than the movie needed to suit the occasion. And now that I’m writing this, I honestly believe that “Love is all you need” fits perfectly in the ‘date movie’ niche. Say what you want, but appearances might be deceiving and contrary to what the trailer suggests – it’s not a ‘rom com’. Well, maybe it is, but not in the classical sense. One simple reason – it’s not made in Hollywood.

“Love is all you need” is a delightful story directed by Susanne Bier, an Oscar-winning film maker (“In a Better World”, Foreign Language Film, 2011) who also keeps bagging awards all around the world every time she comes up with something. And I didn’t know that when I was watching her latest creation. If, like me, you end up watching this film in complete ignorance, you’re in for a really good ride, because what looks like a run-of-the-mill rom-com, quickly turns out to be something much better than that.

The film tells a story of Ida (Trine Dyrholm) – a middle-aged woman who seems to have been walking uphill throughout her whole life. She’s got two adult children (one of whom is getting married in Italy in just a few days), a difficult marriage, a low-paying job, a small house and cancer, which she’s been trying to beat whilst juggling everything else. When she finally looks as though she was about to come out on top – even with the fact that the cancer has taken a terrible toll on her body – nothing in her life is about to go back to normal. Nothing can be as uplifting as walking in on your own spouse banging his foxy assistant on the couch you used to spend your evenings together, just about when you’re about to break the news to him on your recovery. But that’s life and things like that happen all the time, apparently. There’s nothing really one can say in a situation like this, especially when the unfaithful hubby is desperately trying to explain himself by blaming Ida’s cancer for everything – nice touch.

 

There’s nothing one can do really, so Ida simply walked out the door and decided to join her daughter in Italy a bit earlier. On her way she bumps into (quite literally, with her car at the airport) into Philip (Pierce Brosnan), an obnoxious businessman who turns out to be attending the same wedding, as he is the father of the groom. Add to that Ida’s lowlife husband rolling up with his dumber-than-a-bag-of-rocks assistant, Philip’s painfully annoying sister-in-law with a douchy teenage daughter, premarital second thoughts, painful secrets, weirdly affectionate Italian caterers, a couple of mishaps, loads of alcohol – all in a confined space of a neglected Italian villa – and you have a disaster waiting to happen. But before it does, you get to enjoy the phenomenal scenery and the romantic atmosphere of the Italian ways, captured perfectly on camera.

That’s right. Two paragraphs it took me to try and wrap “Love is all you need” in gift paper and it still looks incoherent – and that’s a polite way of putting it. Maybe it’s just the fact that European Love Stories are always awkwardly complicated. Even though “Love is all you need” is a comedy, it doesn’t feel like one and that’s definitely a good thing. There’s no room for the touchy-feely American rom-com nonsense. The love in here is gritty, unpleasant, uncomfortable and painful. And although there is a silver lining to all this, “Love is all you need” projects an overbearing aroma of uneasiness with its story. I was taken by surprise by Susanne Bier, because I somehow anticipated a Danish attempt at a Hollywoodized love story. In its stead I received a rather honest film about how life is sometimes difficult to wrap your head around, how we spend our lives lying to ourselves that love is supposed to be difficult and painful, and how hopeless we are in thinking that we can just clench our teeth, pretend it’s just fine and wait for the end of our days.

“Olympus Has Fallen” – and it got right back up…

A solid actioner is truly a rare sighting these days. With all the “G.I.Joe’s”, “Fast & Furious” and various comic book adaptations being proliferated ad infinitum vomitum, it would seem that action films that do not overdose on adrenaline (and in its stead rely on the characters’ charisma and interesting story) are all but extinct. On top of that, after a raging disaster “A good day to die hard” turned out to be, it was only logical of me to be somewhat sceptical when I rolled up into the cinema to see “Olympus Has Fallen”.

This new baby of Antoine Fuqua’s (“Training Day”, “Tears of the Sun”, “Shooter”) is a film depiction of Bin Laden’s wet dreams – a day when The White House with its precious contents get taken hostage by bloodthirsty terrorists.  It may seem a bit inappropriate for some to be watching films like that in the wake of the Boston Bombings; however I don’t share that belief. In fact, “Olympus Has Fallen” is a fantastic example of how powerful Hollywood can be in conveying the ideas of Uplifting American Patriotism (I believe that it deserves its own little place in the dictionaries, because no other nation on Earth can display affection to their homeland in such an unhindered and positively proud manner). Maybe even a bit too powerful, but I will get to that later on.

Olympus-Has-Fallen-Poster-Official

Anyhow, in “Olympus Has Fallen” we meet Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a Secret Service agent who used to work as security detail to the American President Ben Asher (Aaron Eckhart). After a horrifying accident that claimed the life of The First Lady (Ashley Judd) Mike was relieved from the Secret Service, and the next 1.5 years he spent riding the desk in the Treasury Department (some sort of purgatory for the seemingly disgraced pariahs of the US officials). Then, the unthinkable happened. A bunch of North-Korean-looking baddies launched a full-frontal assault on The White House exactly on the day when The US and South Korea were supposed to discuss security measures against the growing threat from the North. The terrorists succeeded in taking over the White House and were holding The President with his entourage hostage in a bunker underneath it. It also turned out that the only person left alive in the building was our man Mike Banning, who – although he wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place – dashed towards The White House the minute the attack started to help defend it. You can figure out the rest. One man to face them all and all that jazz…

I don’t really understand the whole idea of calling “Olympus Has Fallen” the ‘Die Hard in the White House’. I mean, I do see where those who claim that are coming from, but I think they are simply wrong. If anything, “Olympus Has Fallen” would be a successful mash-up of “Commando” meets “Die Hard” in the White House, but this is as far as I can go. First of all, it’s not Christmas. Secondly, Mike Banning is not your every-man caught with his pants down in a crisis situation. He’s a well-trained killing machine ex-special ops bad-ass who knew exactly what he was getting into. But… On the other hand, he bled like a human would and as the old adage goes: ‘If it bleeds, we can kill it’. He also had a wildly inappropriate sense of humor that he displayed in a good amount of one-liners and, holding John McClane as example, he had a thing for displaying all manners of disrespect towards his superiors. So take it as you want it, I don’t see this film as “Die Hard” in the White House. “Olympus Has Fallen” is good enough to stand on its own two feet, thank you very much.

Now, don’t get any stupid ideas that this movie is genre-redefining or anything to that effect. If you go to the cinema with that in mind, you’ll leave seriously disappointed. What it is, is just a solid no-bulls**t action movie. It’s got almost everything a fella could need in an action flick: a charismatic protagonist (Gerard Butler really did his job here), good amount of violence, strong language and one-liners, Morgan Freeman, explosions, rapid pacing, and did I mention Morgan Freeman? It was simply pleasant to watch. Of course, I have my usual set of drawbacks to point out, most important of which would be the lack of boss fights. Normally in an actioner (especially from the 80’s and early 90’s) the protagonist would have to plow through a sea of thrash opponents and defeat a couple of bosses – usually main baddie’s lieutenants (the blondie from “Die Hard”, the let-off-some-steam-guy from “Commando”) – in order to face the final guy. Each of the boss-characters would have some sort of special trait that preferably exploits some of our hero’s weaknesses, but not the biggest one. The biggest weakness is always reserved for the main baddie to use. Not in here though. Maybe if I squinted my eyes, I could point out one such boss fight… but not really. Not to worry though, this little drawback didn’t really spoil the show for me, because Banning kept me busy in different ways.

 

Staying on the subject of drawbacks, you can spot the usual lapses in logic, i.e. the cowboy general and his decision-making fiascoes  the attention to detail when it comes to programming the user interface for military software, or the ease with which protocol is breached in critical situations (taking extra people to panic room structures in places like The White House would most likely never happen). But those are always present in action movies and in some weird way are responsible for the specific atmosphere commonly associated with an action flick.

All in all, “Olympus Has Fallen” managed to maybe not as much as reinstate my hope for action movies in this day and age, but at least give me a glimmer of hope that there are people in Hollywood who want to make action movies ‘the old way’. Well, ish… It’s nearly two hours of high-octane entertainment filled with blood and f-words. If anything, the movie would have been a tad better had it not been for the very ending. If you leave the cinema 45 seconds before the end, then “Olympus Has Fallen” ends with a cheesy one-liner. If you stay, you’re in for some patriotic flag-waving. It’s OK if that’s your cup of tea, but I would personally prefer the one-liner and fade to black. But you can’t have it all.

A Closer Look At The Problem Of Remakes in Hollywood…

Note: Sorry it took that long, but this article turned out a bigger beast to tame than I originally expected… and it is quite a long read.

 

That Hollywood has been having a violent case of noncreativitis – we’ve known for a while now and many movies (including last week’s “Oblivion”) can testify to that without a doubt. However, within the last decade or so, a trend of remaking, rebooting, sequelizing, prequelizing, re-releasing and rehashing old films has grown to sizable proportions and – in my opinion (and many others’ as well) – can now be considered a major problem. I have already written a little bit on the subject trying to understand and emphasize the magnitude of the problem, though the topic is far from properly investigated.

Only last week I have been alerted to the fact that Hollywood big shots are not done getting richer and are as keen as ever before to remake classic movies like “Point Break”, “Escape From New York”, “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and “Weird Science” in order to do so. If you add to that the “Evil Dead” ravaging the theaters now, a remake of “Carrie” planned for later this year, a new “Godzilla” remake being shot as we speak, or “Oldboy”, “Robocop”, “The Crow” and “Wargames” being seriously discussed – I think you can notice the problem too.

With the slew of remakes literally flooding the cinemas and consequently the pop-culture in general, it became of interest to me, whether one might find any degree of predictability in the way the movies are brought back from the brink of oblivion (I can’t really call it history, because the younger generations tend not to care about anything that happened more than 10 minutes ago, nor they intend to look back in time and acquaint themselves with something older than them). Some say that pop-culture life cycle lasts 20 years, which would apparently be the perfect age for a movie to be rehashed. My keen scientific nature could not let me go on with my life unless I had a closer look at this phenomenon.

Without much more hesitation I proceeded to do so and – through the use of the omniscient and all powerful internet (mostly Wikipedia), I managed to find and compile some data on 468 movies (both American and foreign) that had been remade at least once. Adding the movies remade multiple times I arrived at a whopping 548 entries to work with (379 American and 168 non-American). Now, before I get into the nitty gritty, I’d like to say that it is more than likely I omitted a lot. Nevertheless, for my analysis to be completely wrong I would have to have been extremely unlucky, so what I found should still stand and help to depict the patterns (if any) of repeatability in cinema. Fortunately enough, I managed to isolate certain trends and I can hopefully arrive at some coherent conclusions at the end of this rant, so I hope I was not too far off with my way of thinking. In case of raging errors on my part – please give me a shout!

The range of films that served as templates for remakes at a later date span the entire 20th century (creeping into the 21st obviously, but I shall address that further on). It appears that the earliest film to be remade – that I could find – was “Hoodman Blind” from 1913, remade in 1923. The earliest remake on the other hand was “The Squaw Man” (remade in 1918 and 1931, based on a 1914 original). However, “The Squaw Man” was a film that I considered ‘a selfie’ – a film remade by the same director. I would like to assume that ‘selfies’ most often entailed foreign movies remade by original directors in English and low-budget pieces redone with better money, also by the same director. In total, ‘selfies’ amounted to 43 (nearly 10% of all the films included in my study). The first ‘non-selfie’ remake on record was “Marked Men”, remade in 1919, based “The Three Godfathers” from 1916.

Some additional fun facts would include “The cabinet of dr Caligari” as the film that waited the longest to be remade – 85 years (released in 1920, remade in 2005)! On the other end of the spectrum one can find “Autograph” – an Indian production released in 2004 and remade immediately the same year (and once more in 2006). It seems to be somewhat natural for Indian blockbusters to be remade very quickly and multiple times, though I would explain this phenomenon partially by the fact that India sports many languages and most often the subsequent rapid remakes are basically translations of the original work, but I’m no expert on Bollywood cinema, so don’t quote me on that. Or maybe the Indian audience has the shortest attention span of all, I don’t know. In fact, the Indian 1978 movie “Don” holds the record for the most remakes in the history of everything ever with 6 remakes to date. On the subject of records, Alfred Hitchcock’s and Akira Kurosawa’s filmographies seemed to have become the most popular remake destination; however, I don’t have the numbers on it. I simply felt like I kept stumbling across their names the most when assembling the data for this article.

Graph 1

When you put the release dates together both for the originals and remakes and sort them by year, there’s not much you can notice straight off the bat. First of all, it would seem that film makers have their favorite decades they like to borrow from with 1930’s, 1950’s and 1970’s clearly standing out , so the overall trend as a result looks sinusoidal. It would only be natural for me to look for a similar trend in the remakes (but translated by a vector), which would prove inadvertently the existence of ‘the perfect age of a movie’ for remaking. Sadly, a trend of that sort was nowhere to be found. True, the graph illustrating the amount of released remakes by year corresponded really well in trend with the one for the originals. That would point towards something completely unrelated as responsible. I could probably guess that the economic well-being of the movie industry had more to do with the way the trends were forming, with most films being produced in times of economic prosperity. However, the vaguely sinusoidal trend in remake production (red) breaks down completely as we approach the 1990’s and 2000’s where it assumes exponential characteristics. Interestingly, 2012 and 2011 incurred a sudden drop in the remake department, easily explained by a sudden surge in sequel production (simple, what was remade once, gets continued). Other than that, those numbers don’t tell much more.

Graph 2

Next, I decided to examine how the length of time between the original release and a remake is distributed; this is where the fun really begins, as you can quickly notice two sharp spikes in the data – one in the region of 0-5 years from initial release and the other one 28-30 years after. That in my book swiftly puts the 20-year theory to bed. However, bear in mind that the noise level for these results is very high (oscillating around 8-9 years). Additionally, averaging these results arithmetically points to 24.25 years as the sweet spot of the whole series. However, I would not take this number too seriously, simply because the data have two maxima (0-5 and 28-30) and consequently should not be treated in a linear fashion.

Graph 3

In order to gain some more information on this trend I decided to break the data down into American and Foreign categories, and analyse them separately. Looking quickly at the number of releases by year, the trends visible previously have vanished and (both remakes and originals) assume exponential character. Simply put, foreign films are becoming more and more popular remake subjects nowadays. However, when I looked at the distribution of the time from release, I was pleasantly surprised by the way it looked. It would seem that the vast majority of foreign films get remade in the first 5 years from its original release and past that mark, the number of remakes drops significantly.

Graph 4

On the other hand, when I put the American productions through the same paces, patterns emerged. First of all, the sinusoidal trend in original productions was clearly visible (with the same maxima in 1930’s, 50s’ and 70’s) together with the sinusoidal-to-exponential trend in remakes – exactly as it was seen in the general picture – but less noisy. In case of the years-from-release distribution, only one maximum was seen in 28-30 bracket with noise kept at the level of 4-5. In fact, maybe even the whole bracket of 28-41 can be considered here, but nevertheless, 28-30 sticks out rather noticeably and an arithmetical average amounts to 28.5 years as the sweet spot for the age of film to be remade.

So, there you have it. If you look back again at the first graphs, you can now identify the two maxima as ‘foreign sweet spot’ (0-5 years from release) and ‘Hollywood sweet spot’ (28-30 years from release, leeching into 30-35). These results correlate rather well with what we already know about the trends in Hollywood. It’s no surprise to see a foreign hit (like “The Ring”) swiftly remade for the American market, very often with the original director on board. Could I explain it by the inability of western viewership to read the bloody subtitles? I don’t know. Could it be the Hollywoodian arrogance of ‘we can do everything better and more shiny’? Probably a mixture of both.

Right, I think I’ve done enough. But – is it any useful? Can we use these results to possibly predict what Hollywood has in store for us? I hope that to some degree we can do that, but we shouldn’t treat any statistics as gospel, really. What the numbers really say is that a Hollywood film stands better chance of remaking 28-30 years after its release than 15. There’s multitude of factors that influence what films get remade or not, like social and historical significance, current climate in film making and many others.

But let’s take a look at the remakes I mentioned at the beginning of my now overly long rant:

“Point Break” (released in 1991, 22 years ago)

“Escape from New York” (released in 1981, 32 years ago)

“Oldboy” (released in 2003, 10 years ago)

“National Lampoon’s Vacation” (released in 1983, 30 years ago)

“Robocop” (released in 1987, 26 years ago)

“Carrie” (released in 1976, 37 years ago)

“Wargames” (released in 1983, 30 years ago)

“The Crow” (released in 1994, 19 years ago)

“Weird science” (released in 1985, 28 years ago)

“Evil Dead” (Released in 1982, 31 years ago)

Dartboard

As you can see on my semi-professional target board approach, the bullet holes left by the remakes in question are fairly accurate (or they would be had they been released this year). Of course, a terrible outlier that “Oldboy” turned out to be can be discarded, due to its foreign origin and those, as I have already shown average much earlier (ca. 14 years after release) and in that regard “Oldboy” looks rather well.

Before I wrap things up I’d like to say that if these numbers hold up, me might expect films like “The Breakfast Club”, “Back to the Future”, “Spies like us”, “American Ninja” (Jason Statham much?), “Commando”, “Police Academy”, or “Red Sonja” to be resurrected. And that makes me a sad panda, because I really liked the originals…