Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
Film buffs, as a general rule, are rather accepting of most movies and the reason for that is obvious: we love movies. Sure, every fan no doubt has their niche that they love the most, but they’ve also got a plucky optimism that finds them willing to watch pretty much any kind of film with an open mind. There are only a small handful of films that almost universally bring out the snark and cynicism before anyone’s even seen them. This dreaded group consists of grating Friedberg and Seltzer spoofs, middle-aged Adam Sandler comedies and remakes.
And while I can easily get behind throwing the first two on a pyre and never looking back, I’ve got to stand up for remakes.
Yes, there are a lot of terrible, misguided remakes of horror, sci-fi and fantasy films that we all grew up with and hold in high regard, but they’re not vile enough to warrant all remakes be written off right out of the gate, and yet that’s what consistently happens. Take the two R-rated remakes coming out this weekend, Fright Night and Conan the Barbarian, for example. When it was announced Conan was being remade and that Jason Momoa, who at the time wasn’t known for playing Khal Drogo on HBO’s Game of Thrones, would be wearing the loin cloth once worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger (not the actual cloth, that would be gross), fans of the ‘80s flick got out the pitch forks. The reason? Momoa looks like a skinny jeans hipster compared to colossal, improbable mass that was ‘80s Schwarzenegger.
It really wasn’t any more complicated than that. Nevermind that he is closer to Robert E. Howard’s original character design, he doesn’t look like their memory of Conan, so the movie was preemptively declared “stupid” and “pointless” and “Oh my God, not another remake! Doesn’t Hollywood have any original ideas?”
Fright Night’s production didn’t have quite the vocal write off that Conan’s did, but that’s only because it’s Fright Night. Tom Holland’s original 1985 film about a kid who discovers his neighbor is a vampire may be a known quantity and have some name value, but it’s not nearly as widely loved as many of the originals remade over the last decade. It seemed it was being remade not because there was an audience that would latch onto the title Fright Night the way they would Dawn of the Dead or Friday the 13th, but because vampires are in right now and that’s good enough. So while the Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell-led film may not have been preemptively hated purely because it was a remake, there really wasn’t a whole lot of anticipation for it, either.
The point of all this isn’t to convince you to reward either of these films this weekend by handing over your hard earned money (though Fright Night is definitely worth it), but to wonder why remakes are still such a dirty word in the year 2011. How many good remakes is it going to take before people cool it on the snark and cross “Die, Remakes, Die” off of their agenda book? Every time a good remake comes around, no matter how good it is, there always seems to be an asterisk next to it. Let Me In can’t just be a good movie, it has to be good, for a remake. The Hills Have Eyes can’t be badass, it has to be badass, for, ya’ know, a remake.
At what point can we stop assuming that all genre remakes are the product of some Hollywood conspiracy to capitalize on nostalgia and trick us out of our money? Yes, I too would much rather see studios giving multi-million dollar budgets to original scripts, but that’s not the way the business works. Remakes aren’t a new thing, they’ve been around longer than you and I have been alive. They’re not going anywhere.
Actually, scratch that. Remakes aren’t even something you need to just deal with. I’ll actually go out on a limb and say that there are enough remakes that are better than their original films that you shouldn’t just tolerate remakes, you should get excited about them. Fright Night may be the latest film to trump its predecessor, but it’s hardly the first and it will hardly be the last. But why does it even matter if a remake is better than the original, anyway? Are they locked in some kind of existential, gladiatorial Thunderdome in which only one can survive? What’s wrong with liking an original and its remake?
It’s time we got rid of the asterisk. Some of these movies aren’t “good, for a remake,” they’re just plain good.
Today is a good day if you happen to like Disney. On the Blu-ray front, we've got The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Fantasia / Fantasia 2000 hitting the format. But since I expand on both of those sets below, I'd like to alert you to the week's truly outstanding Disney release, Waking Sleeping Beauty. Unfortunately it's only available on DVD, but don't let that stop you from seeing this insightful, intimate documentary about how Disney's animation department came back from the brink of extinction in the late '80s and early '90s.
Made by veteran Disney producer Don Hahn, Waking Sleeping Beauty is bursting with eye-opening behind-the-scenes footage that I guarantee will captivate anyone who with an affinity for Disney animation. It offers such a unique perspective into such a crucial canon of film history that it demands to be in your collection as soon as possible.
New in Blu Key:
Top Shelf - Any elaborate collector's editions or box sets.
Middle Shelf - Standard releases of fairly well known movies available at a reasonable price.
Bottom Shelf - Titles that are either A) suspiciously cheap or B) being released with very little fanfare.
Fantasia / Fantasia 2000 ($28.99, Disney)
The Movie: There's no reason to hide it, as I'm sure there will be plenty of people my age who felt the same way growing up, but Fantasia used to scare the crap out of me as a wee little kid. I'm honestly not even sure I've ever seen the whole movie because of that. I half-remember watching Fantasia 2000, but my memory on it is hazy enough that I might as well have never seen it. So, this Blu-ray set really is perfect for a Disney fanboy like me who still has a few, regrettable, gaps in his seen-it list.
The Features: As they've done with all of their Blu-rays thus far, Disney looks to have loaded this set with plenty of supplemental goodies, but having not seen them, I can only assume they're on par with their other recent discs.
Who Should Buy It: Disney completionists.
. Everything prior was filled with kiddy-aimed humor and plots. And that's great if you're a kid who doesn't care about story, but for those who can appreciate the bar Pixar sets, this stretch of films doesn't really hack it.
The Features: Each movie has it's own set, most likely carried over from the previous (discontinued) Blu-ray releases, but this time around your money gets you both the Blu and an extra DVD copy.
Who Should Buy Them: Parents who spoil their children.
All The Rest:
Cairo Time ($23.99, MPI Home Video)
I actually don't know anything about Cairo Time other than it's a should-watch for anyone putting together a respectable Best of 2010 list. And frankly I'd like to keep it that way until I finally get around to watching it. But if you're anything like me - basically someone who loves to give lesser known films a chance - buzz says this should be on your radar.
Going the Distance ($24.99, New Line Cinema)
I heard nothing but good things about Going the Distance, which by all accounts is an atypical romantic comedy. I regret missing it in theaters - supposedly it's raunchier edge goes over like gangbusters - but I'm glad to know have the chance to catch up with it.
Kill Zone ($17.99, The Weinstein Company)
If you're an Asian/Martial Arts buff, you're bound to better recognize this retitled Donnie Yen/Sammo Hung flick as S.P.L. The name doesn't matter much, however (they're both generic titles, anyhow) as this is a terrific, modern martial arts flick. It's not quite as engaging as some of director Wilson Yips later films involving Yen/Hung (particularly Ip Man), but anyone who likes to watch men punch and kick each other into oblivion should have a blast with it.
Make-Out With Violence ($25.49, Factory 25)
Horror movies are divisive lot and Make-Out With Violence is no exception. It escaped me on the festival circuit and then when it went into limited release earlier this year, so I have yet to actually see it, but I've heard this low-budget zombie affair is either a lot of fun or a maddening piece of crap.
Vampires Suck ($22.99, Fox)
And speaking of maddening piece of crap, here's Vampires Suck, the latest from Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. I'm not sure why I'm alerting anyone to its Blu-ray release - as film lovers, we should all probably just pretend it doesn't exist - but here it is.
The Poseidon Adventure filmmaker passed away at a Los Angeles hospital on Wednesday (16Jun10), his friend Peter Bowes has confirmed.
Born in London to photographer Elwin Neame and actress Ivy Close, Neame began his career in the film industry as a messenger boy at the U.K.'s famous Elstree Studios, where he first met acclaimed director Alfred Hitchcock.
He became an assistant cameraman on Hitchcock's 1929 movie Blackmail, before working as a cinematographer on 1933 musical comedy Happy.
He turned to directing in 1947 with Take My Life, and he worked with acting legend Alec Guinness on three of his films, The Card (1952), The Horse's Mouth (1958) and Tunes of Glory (1960).
But Neame will perhaps be best remembered for 1972's The Poseidon Adventure, which earned three Academy Award nominations, including Best Supporting Actress for Shelley Winters. The disaster movie, which also starred Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine, won in the two other categories it was nominated for - Best Song for The Song from The Poseidon Adventure, also known as The Morning After, and Special Achievement in Visual Effects.
During his lengthy career, Neame also worked with Judy Garland, Dirk Bogarde and Dame Maggie Smith, who won the Best Actress Oscar in 1969 for her role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
He is survived by his third wife Donna Friedberg, who he wed in 1993; his son Christopher, a writer/producer, from his first marriage to Beryl Heanly; and his grandson Gareth, who works as a TV producer.
In a spoof that combines The Chronicles of Narnia with every other popular epic to come out in the last few years Epic Movie begins with four orphans coming together. Lucy (Jayma Mays) runs through the Louvre and falls upon the body of her curator father figure whose Da Vinci Code leads her to a Willy Wonka (Crispin Glover) golden ticket. Edward (Kal Penn) lives in Nacho Libre's monastery and comes upon his golden ticket in a fight with a child wrestler. While on a plane plagued by snakes Susan (Faune A. Chambers) is thrown from the plane and lands on Paris Hilton (Alla Petrou) who has a golden ticket in her purse. Peter (Adam Campbell) goes to the X-Men Mutant Academy and finds his golden ticket in a locker Magneto (Jim Piddock) opens in his face. The four orphans unite in Wonka's chocolate factory only to find he's a cannibalistic predator. They escape into the wardrobe and stick pretty closely to the Narnia spoof though Harry Potter (Kevin MacDonald) Captain Jack (Darrell Hammond) and Borat (Danny Jacobs) sneak in. They did such a great job of combining parodies in act one it's almost a shame to see them focus on one lame one for the bulk of the film. Once this becomes an extended Narnia skit the joke's over. The ensemble cast of Epic Movie is a mix of actors with various levels of spoofing ability. In the leads Penn (Van Wilder 2) is clearly the most adept. He approaches the ridiculous with a knowing level of sarcasm. He's like "It sucks to be in a stupid spoof and I'm going to point it out." Mays (TV’s Heroes) plays Lucy as if Forrest Gump were playing mentally challenged. There's no payoff to her ditziness. Campbell (Date Movie) plays Peter like a prancing preening wuss. Nobody ever taught him that spoof characters have to play it straight. And Chambers (White Chicks) plays Susan with no personality whatsoever. She's not even the generically sassy black chick. Spoof veteran Carmen Electra is almost unrecognizable as Mystique another hot chick in blue while the Johnny Depp clones are expertly cast especially Hammond as the effeminate Jack Swallows (Get it?). Glover as the effeminate Willy is also scary. Finally Fred Willard nearly steals the show as a sex-crazed lion man while Jennifer Coolidge could pout her lips in a tragedy and still be hilarious. Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer continue spinning off from the Scary Movie franchise to which they contributed on the original script in this follow-up to Date Movie. What their style lacks in subtlety it makes up for in sheer volume. They throw so many spoofs at you it hardly matters that most of the jokes are simplistic. Their perceptive digs include Tom Hanks' Da Vinci Code hair Snakes' Sam Jackson's gratuitous swearing and Gnarnia's White Bitch mimicking George W. Bush's political blunders. Most of the jokes however involve hitting things for no reason. As much as those talking beavers were annoying in Narnia kicking them to the wall isn’t really comedy. In saying that however seeing those ridiculous characters as clunky animatronic puppets who look like rejects from a Disneyland ride is pretty funny. The makeup for the celebrity look-alikes is also fantastic and Epic Movie is filled with random hotties to please their prepubescent audience. Maybe these movies are popular but it seems they just keep getting more inane with each variation on the theme.
Brace yourself Dr. Laura. This clueless teen queen (Natasha Lyonne) has it all: good looks a football captain boyfriend and a popular pair of pom-poms. But her candy-colored world crumbles when her panicked parents stage an intervention after finding a Melissa Etheridge poster that leads them to conclude she's a friend of Ellen. After being carted off to an anti-gay rehab camp for teens the perky princess must choose between the straight and narrow-minded or the love that dare not speak its name.
The quirky ensemble casting is half this film's fun. Lyonne is charming as the pepster tempted by T&A and she sparks onscreen with swanky and sexy co-star Clea DuVall who plays the butch femme fatale suitor (alarmingly reminiscent of Nancy McKeon's Jo from "The Facts of Life.") Drag queen supreme RuPaul is unrecognizable out of his high heels and even higher blond wig wearing a "Straight is Great" T-shirt as a macho militant ex-gay counselor. Cathy Moriaty is sweetly sinister as the homophobic headmistress and Mink Stole steals scenes as the uptight upright meddling mom.
Kudos to Jamie Babbit for tackling this hot-potato topic but this well-intentioned film too often misses its mark turning potentially comical scenes into unbearably awkward moments. Babbit fouls when tugging at the heartstrings but hits home runs when the humor is at its broadest.