On the remakes again…

I think it has become a personal obsession of mine to follow and consecutively get worked up about the news of what film, that I might have treasured in the past, is going to be remade. And so, every now and again a handful of articles would emerge that would make me feel homicidal. Take today, for example. Everybody is getting excited about a brand spankin’ new poster for the remake of Park Chan-Wook’s “Oldboy” and I can only assume it is only the beginning, as the trailer is supposed to drop sometime this week as well. So, there’s one film (if not a masterpiece) that I believe should have been left alone.

Really, what could possibly be the reason for remaking such a beautifully crafted piece of cinema? I’ll have you know that it most certainly will not deliver the impact the original did. Why? Because at this point in time, I think most of us know what “Oldboy” is all about, and I can guarantee that any given trailer to the remake posted on Youtube will boast a wide spoiler section within the comments – because that’s what people do.

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So if you are one of the 10 people in the world that hasn’t seen the original, you’d better go watch it before the Internet spoils it for you. After all, apart from everything that made “Oldboy” so uniquely and brutally revolting, it’s the plot twist that carries a lot of the bang. So, how in the world am I supposed to go and watch the remake now? Should I forget about what I know? Should I get hammered prior to the screening? Or is Spike Lee going to bastardize the original so badly that it simply won’t matter?

Why don’t we, for once, learn from the past and realize that reviving classics (that may or may not have had some sort of cult following) is neither financially viable, nor does it bring anything desirable to the table. If anything, it taints the picture painted by the original. Additionally, speaking strictly from the point of view of probability, what are the odds that any given remake will do well at the box office? Slim to none, at best. Of course, there are examples to the contrary, but that doesn’t really change the trend of remakes being disappointing in every which way.

Consider these three examples from the recent memory:

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1. “Total Recall” – a walking proof of what I just said. A sloppy remake of a cult classic adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s prose. Clearly someone thought it would be a good idea to ‘refresh’ the old uber-brutal sci-fi actioner that I have watched on multiple occasions. What’s-his-face Len Wiseman surely is no Paul Verhoeven, Colin Farrell is no Arnie and no amount of glass and sanitized CGI is going to make up for the old-school make-up and props that made Mars looks so damn scary once.

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2. “Red Dawn” – another pointless remake born and raised in 2012. Why doesn’t someone explain to me in terms I can understand, how this sad bummer of a film had made it through the planning stage? Again, Chris Hemsworth is no Patrick Swayze – end of story. On top of that, the reason the original “Red Dawn” was so good had to do mostly with the fact the Soviets in that time were an actual threat to the US, or the entire world for that matter. Translating the idea into modern times and making the North Koreans be the villains was hardly effective. Plus, they were supposed to be Chinese in the first place, but someone didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, I presume. End result – annoying, to say the least.

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3. “Conan The Barbarian” – this one was actually made in 2011, so it doesn’t fit perfectly into the ‘recent memory’ slot. However, it was so disturbingly bad that I stopped watching the DVD halfway through. And I know it might sound bad, but no amount of exposed breasts (however pretty they might be) is going to make me turn the blind eye at the fact that not only the literature classic has been gang-raped by this abomination of a film, but also the cult classic fantasy film I treasured so much as a young boy has now been fudged up beyond all repairs for me. And also, Jason Momoa is no Arnie… But then again, no-one is…

This is what happens, when classics are ‘revived’ into remakes… Something needs to be dead first, for it to be eligible for resurrection in the first place. Guess what happens when you defibrillate a conscious person? It flippin’ hurts and you can do actual damage to them. So, when it comes to film remakes, you can see clearly that the only thing you’d be doing as a viewer is constantly compare it to the original and more often than not, you’d be pissed at what you’re forced to sit through. Therefore, God help us all, because neither “Oldboy”, nor “The Crow” is going to go down well, and having the original comic book creator on board for “The Crow” remake is not going to help.

“Now you see me”, now you wish you hadn’t…

Riddle me this: is it enough to get a bunch of popular names together, put them in front of a camera and have them poke each other verbally to make a good film? Hold on, not all at once… Of course not. A good film needs much more than flashy names, special effects and dynamic camera work, although people behind some of the recent superhero blockbusters might disagree. In short, a good film needs everything that “Now you see me” cannot possibly offer and here’s why.

Ok, before I say anything else, here’s what the film is all about. We are introduced to a bunch of (almost) completely unrelated illusionists: Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), Merrit (Woody Harrelson), Henley (Isla Fisher) and Jack (Dave Franco), who make their living by tricking people into believing that magic exist through card tricks, hypnosis, escape artistry, or bending spoons with one’s will. One day, however, each of them receives a mysterious-looking tarot card that brings them all together. One year later they are an already established team of professional magicians working in Vegas, where their final magnificent trick involves teleporting a random audience member to his own bank, and teleporting him back along with the contents of the vault – thus effectively robbing the bank. Since the illusion actually involved having the money disappear from a French bank, ‘The Four Horsemen’ (that’s how the magicians refer to themselves) manage to draw attention of an FBI agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who is assisted by an Interpol agent Dray (Melanie Laurent) and a professional debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). The group with each new show successfully steals more and more money from unsuspecting institutions and/or millionaires and nobody is able how they’ve done it and – more importantly – why.

Believe it or not, but coming up with this last paragraph took a lot more effort than I would have hoped, because in essence “Now you see me” is one gigantic chaotic mess of a story with jagged linearity, obnoxious pacing and seemingly complex plot with major twists that need to be explained every other 20 minutes by one of the characters in meticulously placed soliloquies… only to retain a shred of consistency. The story really looks like it has been written by a team of highly-trained typist monkeys, because apart from frequent one-liners and witty comebacks, there’s nothing that makes this story compelling at all.

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“Now you see me” looks to me as yet another excuse of a movie attempting to trick the audience into buying a ticket, just because there’s a gazillion high-profile names in it. Well, it’s not enough especially when the aforementioned ensemble cast is doing nothing at all to make an effort here. If you remember Jesse Eisenberg as this arrogant loudmouthed prick of a character he played in “The Social Network”, well then, this is what you’re getting here. Harrelson is being himself there as well with his awkward charm and snappy comebacks, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine act to an absolute minimum with the former having a five minute narrative part as well, just because he can, why not…

Now that I think about it, I find it difficult to pinpoint the most annoying thing about “Now you see me”, so I seem to be jumping from story to acting, to what-have-you exactly the way the film itself jumps between scenes, plots, action sequences and arcs (at some point you’d probably expect the characters to break into dance). So in the interest of consistency I shall address these issues one by one. I think I have covered the acting performance pretty exhaustively. Only to sum it all up I might add that the overall bland character of all actors in “Now you see me” didn’t really make my job as a viewer any easier and as a result I struggled to follow the film all throughout. It was just a string of allegedly snappy dialogue and one-liners with no substance to it. The very (!!!) dynamic pacing of the film didn’t help me either, so in the end I felt no attachment to any characters I saw on the screen and I couldn’t care about anything that happened on it. Literally, if all of the characters died in a violent twist of fate (and they don’t), I wouldn’t even go as far as to shrug my shoulders – that’s how much I cared. This is what you get when you let actors be themselves and fail to give any depth to the characters they are supposed to portray.

The story in “Now you see me” is tragically dumb and it seems to me that whoever penned the script (all five of them) should maybe enroll in an online course in elementary logic, because the gaping holes in the logical development of the story make it nigh impossible to get me engaged in it. Really, I was just sitting there in my chair throwing my hands in the air (figuratively) every other minute asking myself, how any of this is making any sense at all. Between car chases, explosions, disappearing money, complex tricks and explanations thereof there is really little time to stop and actually follow the plot. And that’s a good thing, because if you stop and have a look at the story from a distance, there’s nothing in it (and I think I have written it already). All that is pumped and jacked up by a loud, bombastic score by Brian Tyler that would turn a scene where Jesse Eisenberg is having a sandwich into an epic experience. Add to that the fact nearly all the shots are ridiculously dynamic and at no point in the film the cameraman has a chance to stay put, and you’ve got yourself one blurry string of explosions, witty jokes (that get increasingly tiresome by the minute) and leaps of logic.

 

Whoever thought it would be a good idea to take everything that sells during the summer blockbuster season, mix it all up and serve it in a tall glass to the unsuspecting public should be ashamed of himself. This is not how the game is played and everyone knows that (well, almost everyone. Shane Black, I’m looking at you…). Seriously, if you walk into a bar and look at the cocktail menu, you will never see a drink that has all kinds of crap in it. There are rules and regulations to everything and “Now you see me” would make a stunning example of how not to make entertaining summer blockbusters.

I might actually sit down and write something more on the subject at some point in time, but for the time being, a good popcorn-muncher needs a good story to make a good revenue. Special effects, music, pacing, car chases, explosions and everything else needs to be appended onto it. If a film cuts the story out and covers its lack with the flashy crap, then no-one should be surprised if the net result is nothing more than a shameful stinkbomb. And sadly, “Now you see me” comes very close to that level of cinematic experience. On the plus side – I didn’t feel the need to demand my money back. After all, there was a couple of jokes that actually made me laugh… a bit…