The Watchers

The Watchers

Monday, 26 March 2012

Mini Countdown: 5 Unnecessary Remakes

With recent news that Robocop is due to be remade, A Star Is Born is being remade for the third time and that Michael Bay has been sniffing around the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, remakes have been on my mind.

I understand that remakes are popular- see, for example, the amount reeled off Hayden Panettierre's character in Scream 4 when challenged by the killer on horror remakes. However, it is rare to find a well-done remake. I enjoyed the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate andthe 1954 version of A Star Is Born is a delight to behold, but generally remakes tend to be by-the-numbers or lacking a certain spark evident in the original.

Below are, in my opinion, five of the most egregious examples of unnecessary remakes.

1. The Wicker Man (2006, dir. Neil LaBute)

The Wicker Man (1973) is not only one of the finest British films ever made, it is also one of the finest thrillers. Atmospheric, tense and skilful in its manipulation, it is a cult classic. To say that this remake doesn't come close to capturing a millionth of the original's class is a sad understatement. This is an absolute travesty. Rightly deserving its five Razzie nominations, this despicable waste of money and talent (Molly Parker, Frances Conroy and Ellen Burstyn for example) should be erased from the canon of film.


2. Psycho (1998, dir. Gus Van Sant)

For anyone who has seen Van Sant's preposterous scene-for-scene reimagining of Hitchcock's 1960 classic, you may have noticed a deeply disturbing rolling sound accompanying the action of the film: that noise is Hitchcock turning in his grave. If you're going to try and assay one of cinema's most well-known films, do something more imaginative with it than a bland rehash. Even facile additions (such as Vince Vaughn's pleasuring himself whilst spying on Anne Heche) do nothing but disappoint. This is a rare blot on Van Sant's copybook; as a film-maker he is so much better than this. 

3. Halloween (2007, dir. Rob Zombie)

Another example of a remake which bleeds the tension and atmosphere of the original dry and replaces it with something dull, bludgeoning, uninspired, lacklustre and frankly boring. Had I not been with friends when I saw this, I would have walked out. There is a decent cameo by Sheri Moon Zombie as Michael's mother and Malcolm McDowell slices the ham thick as Dr. Loomis but this is generally just unwatchable tripe.

4. The Ladykillers (2004, dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)

There's a quintessential British charm to The Ladykillers, one of the most well-liked of all the Ealing comedies. Sadly that charm doesn't travel into this slightly leaden Southern Fried adaptation. Despite a pretty fearsome performance by Irma P. Hall as Mrs Munson (the titular lady), the other performances lack any credible spark, led by the front by the Colonel Sanders-like Tom Hanks (in the Alec Guinness role).

5. Sleuth (2007, dir. Kenneth Branagh)

I wanted to like this film, being a fan of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1972 original. Kenneth Branagh directing, Harold Pinter writing, Michael Caine acting (along with Jude Law, who I can take or leave and prefer to leave, if I'm honest)- the signs looked favourable. Alas, not so much when push comes to shove. Whilst Pinter's script is whip-sharp and the actors spar convincingly, the stripped-back minimalism of the house and the alteration of certain plot points take away a certain oomph present in the original. 

There are bound to be more in the cinematic canon. Let me know some of your most unnecessary remakes in the comments below.


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Curtain Up, Light The Lights...

I had a very interesting cinematic experience last week.

For the first time, I was able to see a recorded showing of a play at my local cinema.

This isn't something new. They've previously shown various productions from The New York Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, the National Theatre and Shakespeare's Globe. There have been a few things that I have wanted to see- notably  the National Theatre's production of Frankenstein with Jonny Lee Miller  and Benedict Cumberbatch- but haven't been able to go.

So when I saw a one-off showing of Stephen Sondheim's Company with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, I couldn't resist.

This isn't going to be a review of the show- which starred Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer, Martha Plimpton, Christina Hendricks and Patti LuPone and was absolutely brilliant- but more my thoughts on the whole experience.

Watching a recorded play is odd- its a cross between film and theatre. When you see a play at a theatre, you have a fixed point of view and can only see things from that view. With a recording of a play, it's directed and edited in such a way that you get to see close-ups, wide-shots and all the usual tricks of cinema which means you get to see more. One thing that was interesting was a full twenty-minute intermission after the first act. Plenty of time to goi and stretch the legs, get a drink, go to the loo- a really good idea to save you sitting still for two and a half hours. The other advantage to seeing a recording oif a play is that you can get to see things that you would otherwise miss. For example, this production of Company only had four performances in New York at the end of last year. There's no way I would have been able to see this otherwise. 

But the one thing that was missing in the cinema showing is that inexplicable ambience and energy that you get in a theatre when you watch a show. Even so, the energy and the emotion of the piece came through in spades.

Based on this experience though, I would happily see another recording of a play, ballet or opera.

So that was my experience. Have you seen a recording of a play? If so, what did you see and did you enjoy it? Would you recommend it as an experience or stay well clear? Let me know in the comments below.


Monday, 19 March 2012

Review: The Raven (UK cert 15)

The trope of using a mystery writer's work as the inspiration for a series of killings isn't a new idea; it formed the pilot episode of Castle, for instance. Now the Grand Guignol stories of Edgar Allan Poe are given a grisly lease of life on the big screen in The Raven. John Cusack slices the ham thick in places as Poe but makes for an engaging lead in a solid if slightly unspectacular thriller.

Screenwriters Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare have cannily chosen some of the well-known Poe stories (such as 'The Murders In The Rue Morgue' and 'The Tell-Tale Heart') and a few less well-known ones (for example, 'The Mystery Of Marie Roget' and 'The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar') to construct a bleak and bleached world in which Poe and the killer operate. However, the Saw-esque splatter of the 'Pit and The Pendulum' murder is grossly at odds with the surrounding killings, in which the bodies are discovered already dead in quite an atmospheric setting. It is the only murder shown explicitly on screen and jars with the overall mood.

Cusack inhabits the role of Poe with a mix of desperation, mania and melancholy, aptly showing the many sides of the character. However, having since learned that both Ewan McGregor and Joaquin Phoenix were in negotiations to play Poe, I can't help but feel that either would have made a stronger and longer-lasting impression. The rest of the cast are decent enough; Luke Evans plays Baltimore police Inspector Fields as a dogged and decent man even if sometimes he's a little wooden. Brendan Gleeson, surely a frontrunner to replace Kevin Bacon as the epicentre of Hollywood (the man is in everything!), turns in a suitably gruff and solid performance as the disapproving father of Poe's love interest Emily (Alice Eve) who is snatched by the killer and used to draw Poe into the mystery still further. Eve's performance is good, eschewing a lot of the damsel-in-distress stereotypes, which is good.

James McTeigue (who previously directed V For Vendetta) shows less of the flair he did in that film but still makes a decent fist out of it. The action set-pieces are quite thrilling (the chase through the theatre and its catacombs stands out) and the masked ball (which echoes 'The Masque Of The Red Death') looks beautiful - even more so for the fact that it's a rare scene of colour. The palette of the film is quite dark and bleak. 

Ultimately, in any whodunit, the identity of the killer and their motivation is paramount. And that's where The Raven falls flat. The identity of the killer is an interesting choice if a little Scooby-Doo-ish  but the motivation is flimsy (I don't think its too much of a spoiler to say that it comes down to a twisted form of hero-worship) and the denouement where Poe meets said killer has an interesting energy about it which peters out too soon.

For fans of Poe, this might be a diverting curio. As a thriller, it's by no means the worst I've ever seen but is nonetheless distinctly average.

Rating: 2/5 out of 5


Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Avengers (1998)

This is nothing to do with the Marvel superheroes movie which is imminent, but rather a look back at a truly terrible film I haven't seen in years (in fact, probably not since 1998- when it first came out).

The plot, such as it is, is relatively straightforward: Ministry man John Steed (Ralph Fiennes) is paired up with Dr Emma Peel (Uma Thurman) to find out who is sabotaging the nation's weather. All signs point to Sir August de Wynter (Sean Connery), eccentric weather enthusiast and thoroughly bad egg. Steed and Peel must stop de Wynter before his maniacal meterological machinations come to fruition.

Do not get me wrong; there is a lot wrong with this film (the script and some of the performances for starters). But, on rewatching it, I found myself getting into the spirit of things and ended up actually quiet enjoying myself.

Fiennes is a perfectly servicable Steed, slightly suave although lacking a real sense of charm. Thurman is admittedly pretty bad although her pairing with Fiennes works quite well. You almost believe their relationship until it takes a turn for the romantic (something the original TV show never did). Connery slices the ham incredily thick as the nominal villain but any film that has the chutzpah to put James Bond in a teddy-bear costume deserves some recognition. Which this one did; nominated for 9 Golden Raspberry Awards, it won Worst Remake or Sequel (tied with Godzilla and Psycho). It just beggars belief that there were actually worse films out in 1998 (mostly Burn Hollywood Burn!) than this godawful mess.

I'd forgotten a lot of the supporting cast so it was a surprise to see Jim Broadbent and Fiona Shaw pop up as Mother and Father respectively (heads of the Ministry); usually both of them have much more class than to appear in dreck like this, so I can only assume it was either the money or the opportunity to play against type that got them to sign on the dotted line. Similarly with Eileen Atkins who plays Ministry agent Alice (a role offered to Diana Rigg, who passed) who seems to be enjoying herself. All three turn in decent performances but are not well served by the script; more of which later. 

The biggest surprise however was that Patrick Macnee (the original Steed) pops up in a voice-only cameo as Colonel Invisible Jones. This turned out to be Macnee's final film role but it's a little bit of fun. Keeley Hawes, Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays and Eddie Izzard also pop up in minor roles, with Izzard delivering the only strong language in the film (a fact that, again, I didn't remember but was surprised at).

I've been dancing round the subject a bit, so time to stop. The script. My God, it's awful. There's no other word for it. Don MacPherson (the named screenwriter) should never again be allowed to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to even write a shopping list. The pun-tastic and innuendo-laden script could inspire its own drinking game, but all participants would be absolutely slaughtered by the second reel.  It even stops being fun or ironic after about twenty minutes. When the foundation of a film is built on sinking sand, there's not much anyone else can do to save it. It's a telling fact that MacPherson's IMDB entry records nothing else written after The Avengers.

The director, Jeremiah Chechik, has fared better, directing for TV (Chuck, Burn Notice and Warehouse 13 amongst his credits). To be fair, Chechik does well with what he has. There are several sequences which stand out- Peel's frantic chase around an Escher-inspired house is one and the opening training sequence another- whilst some of the CGI (given its age) still stands up quite well. However, the film didn't fare well at test screenings and the film was edited down from 115 minutes to 87- perhaps those missing 28 minutes actually makes sense of the whole thing? The editing looks like its been done with a blunt and rusty hacksaw which really doesn't help matters.

In conclusion; it's still an awful film. But it's not quite as awful as I remember it.


Friday, 2 March 2012

Food, Glorious Food?

For those musical fans among you, I apologise but this isn't going to be an article about Oliver!! It is, however, a discussion about food and film. I must also apologise to fans of films such as  Babette's Feast, Chocolat or The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover but it's not that kind of discussion either. It's more to do with the role food plays in the cinematic experience.

In this week's Metro, restaurant critic Marina O'Loughlin reviewed a slightly different eating experience. The Odeon cinema in Whiteleys of Bayswater, London,  is doing something a bit different- restaurant-style and quality food whilst you watch a movie. 'Food consultant' Rowley Leigh (of La Cafe Anglais), has advised on the menu and several types of food are available- salsify fritters, penne rigate, squash lasagne, tuna sashimi, breaded squid and a hot dog/popcorn/ice-cream float combo are among the culinary delights on offer. Rubber trays are provided on each seat which are sound-resistant and the front-of-house staff wear black and are as discreet as possible when taking orders.

Certainly a very interesting move, combining dinner-and-a-movie into one block of time (perfect for those with busy lives), but it raises a few questions for me. Firstly, even if the staff are discreet, you still have to put up with whispering orders as you're trying to watch a movie. And I don't see that, by combining the food and the film, you're doing justice to either- you'll either be too engrossed in the movie (hopefully) that the food becomes secondary, or so engrossed in the food that the film passes you by. Plus, you'd have to be very selective about which film you pair with which food: you wouldn't want to risk a venison chilli whilst watching The Devil Inside or The Woman In Black, would you?

This brings me on to the wider issue of food and cinema. I've never, for the life of me, understood why cinemas- a place where you'd like people to be quiet so you could listen to a film- end up serving the noisiest of foods; popcorn, nachos, huge drinks with straws that slurp at every given moment. Always seems very contradictory to me. But I do appreciate that the food concessions are important because it is where most cinemas make their money; unless you're dealing with a blockbuster, a lot of films don't make a lot of money so revenue from other sources is important.
I will hold my hands up and admit I am not a huge fan of traditional 'cinema food'. I occasionally have a bag of Revels* but they're normally gone before the trailers. So the idea of having restaurant style food whilst watching a film doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. I would much rather do one and then the other, rather than both at the same time.

But that's just my opinion. What about you? Are you a popcorn fiend or a nacho muncher? Would you go to the Odeon Bayswater to try this out or give it a wide berth? Let me know in the comments below.


* Other chocolate is available.

Programme 9: The Muppets, Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance and Oscars 2012

Programme 9 is available to view at!

Check out our thoughts on The Muppets and Rhys' review of Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance! Two very different films, but we're all about diversity here at The Watchers!

A podcast version can be found here, and here, as can an exclusive podcast discussion of the 84th Annual Academy Awards.

Hope you enjoy!