The Watchers

The Watchers

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Dear Hollywood... Stop It!

Another week, another story claiming that yet another film is being remade. Recently, there's been news that Kindergarten Cop, Sister Act and The Craft are all to undergo a remake. We've got a remake of Ghostbusters in the works, along with The Crow and quite a few others.

Frankly, I'm sick of it.

I'm sick and tired of this mindless rehashing of previous material.

(At least Robert Zemeckis has said a remake of Back To The Future will happen over his dead body. Literally.)

 Firstly, let me preface my remarks with a caveat: not all remakes are bad. There have been some decent remakes over the years.Al Pacino's Scarface is a remake, and a damn good one at that. The 1954 remake of A Star Is Born (with Judy Garland and James Mason) is sublime and- in a rarity for a horror remake (more on that to come)- 2006's remake of The Omen at least managed to capture some of the menace of the original. The 2004 version of The Manchurian Candidate makes a decent fist of updating the Cold War paranoia of the original. George Clooney's bash at Ocean's Eleven had some charm and wit (least said about the sequels the better) and even The Italian Job should get a mention because it at least tries to do something with the established formula (although the original is obviously better)

However, the vast majority of remakes are bad. In some cases, really bad. But nearly always emotionally bankrupt and utterly vapid. Case in point - last year's remake of RoboCop. A few flashes of inspiration aside, it was a dull, dull film and resembled the original about as much as I resemble Danny DeVito: the most passing of resemblances, but generally nothing alike. Arthur - atrocious. The Women - a waste of talent. Straw Dogs - terrible. Do you see where I'm going with this?

The phenomenon of horror remakes seems particularly egregious. It seems as if every seminal horror film- Psycho, Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Wicker Man, Friday The 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, My Bloody Valentine, Dawn Of The Dead, Carrie, Black Christmas, The Thing, The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist and When A Stranger Calls to name but a few- have had a remake or retread or 'reimagining'. And with very few exceptions, these have been dull, bludgeoning unimaginitive fare with all the subtlety and menace of the originals leached out. The reason most of these original films work is the atmosphere that's created and that is sorely lacking in the remakes, who tend to throw atmosphere out of the window and go for cheap shocks and gore.

I'll be the first to admit that the original versions of Psycho and The Wicker Man are two of my favourite films. So any attempt at a remake was always going to have a oh-hell-no kneejerk reaction. But Gus Van Sant's virtual shot-for-shot colour remake of Hitchcock's masterpiece is awful. Why go for a shot-for-shot remake? Unless a remake improves on the original in some way, there's no point in doing it. As for Neil LaBute's truly execrable Wicker Man remake, there's absolutely nothing to recommend it- apart from the fact that it spawned an amusing gif with Nicolas Cage and the bees.

No! Not the bees!
I get that Hollywood is there to make money and that's why franchises do so well- you hit upon a successful formula and rework it and rework it and people know what they're going to see and settle back and enjoy it. Fast And Furious 7 is one of the highest opening films of the year and the phenomenal success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films show there's a definite appetite for franchise.

However, this shouldn't be at the expense of original screenplays and original work. Independent cinema is providing some of the most thought-provoking and original films which deserve to be seen on a grand scale. Occasionally you get a breakthrough/crossover- the prevalence of Whiplash and The Grand Budapest Hotel at this year's Oscars, for instance- but so much good cinema is being lost or becoming niche because they can't get a distributor.

Hollywood is a multi-billion dollar industry. Surely some of that prodigious and slightly obscene wealth can be used to bankroll a couple of decent original screenplays? I'm not saying all cinema has to become an indie darling's fantasy (I'm too much of a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for that) but take a chance now and again. Invest in some original talent. And leave perfectly good films that don't need a revamp alone.


Sunday, 14 June 2015

Ron Moody (1924-2015)

Announced the same day as the death of Sir Christopher Lee, The Watchers were also saddened to hear of the death of Ron Moody who has passed away at the age of 91.

Born in Tottenham in 1924 as Ronald Moodnick, his surname was legally changed to Moody in 1930. He was educated at a state grammar school and then studied at the London School of Economics where he trained to be an economist. During World War II, he enlisted in the RAF and became a radar technician.

Moody only became an actor when he was twenty-nine and made initial uncredited appearances on film in Davy (1958) and Make Mine Mink (1960). However, it would be the stage that would manoeuvre him to his best known role. After starring on stage in Leonard Bernstein's Candide in 1959, he created the role of Fagin in Lionel Bart's stage adaptation of Oliver Twist- now called Oliver!- which opened in London in 1960.

Eight years later, Oliver! was adapted for film, directed by Carol Reed. Despite Columbia producers wanting the better known Peter Sellers in the role, both Lionel Bart and Carol Reed insisted on Moody reprising his role as Fagin. Moody is an engaging and endearing presence on-screen, despite being the nominal villain of the piece, and his performance of 'Reviewing The Situation' is just sublime. He won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy and was also nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA Film Award for this role, also tying for Best Actor in the Moscow International Film Festival! He would also go on to be nominated for a Tony Award in 1984 for playing Fagin on Broadway.

Aside from his role as Fagin, Moody appeared in a range of roles both comic and serious and was adept at both. He appeared as the comic beggar Autolycus in a 1962 TV adaptation of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale opposite Robert Shaw and Patrick Macnee and starred in Murder Most Foul (1964)- the third of four films in which Margaret Rutherford would play Miss Marple- as a hammy theatre director and long-time friend of Marple. He also appeared in Summer Holiday (1963) opposite Cliff Richard as the mime artist Orlando and as the Prime Minister in The Mouse On The Moon (1963). His performance as Uriah Heep in the 1969 TV version of David Copperfield was also very well received.

In 1969, Moody was offered a television role which he declined and later went on to describe it as 'the worse decision' he ever made. He was the producer's first choice to replace Patrick Troughton in Doctor Who. Moody declined the role and the producer's second choice- Jon Pertwee- was duly offered the role instead. Pertwee obviously accepted and the rest is history.

In 1970 he appeared opposite Frank Langella and Dom DeLuise in Mel Brooks' The Twelve Chairs as part of a gang looking for a treasure of jewels that were hidden inside one of twelve dining chairs. He reunited with Oliver! co-star Jack Wild in the 1971 film Flight Of The Doves. Moody also worked extensively in television, appearing in Gunsmoke, Tales Of The Unexpected, Hart To Hart, Highway To Heaven and Murder, She Wrote.

In 1981, Moody appeared in a TV version of Dial M For Murder opposite Christopher Plummer and Anthony Quayle and took the role of Iago in a production of Othello opposite Jenny Agutter and William Marshall. He also provided several voices for The Animals Of Farthing Wood and also made appearances in British shows such as The Bill, Last Of The Summer Wine, Holby City and EastEnders.

Moody admitted that, after Oliver!, his career never really took off. 'I was offered Fagin-type roles but I wanted to do new things. I could have worked in America, but there was a recession in the British film industry and I wanted to work in England. I've no regrets. You take responsibility for your actions. You don't kvetch'.

Even if Fagin was the only role Moody ever played, he would have still left behind an indelible mark on cinema and British musical theatre. But he was so much more than just that one role. 

Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.

The Watchers
(Rhys, Matt & Tez)

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Sir Christopher Lee (1922-2015)

We at The Watchers were deeply saddened to hear of the death of acting legend Sir Christopher Lee, who sadly passed away on 7th June. He was 93 years old.

In a career spanning eight decades and over two hundred screen appearances, Lee has played everything from iconic horror villains, suave assassins, charismatic lords, evil wizards and scheming counts. 

Born in 1922 to a professional soldier and an Italian countess, Lee's family lineage could be traced back as far as Charlemagne. His parents divorced when he was six years old and he was sent to a preparatory school in Oxford. When World War II broke out, Lee volunteered to fight for the Finnish forces in 1939 and later volunteered for the Royal Air Force. He was retired from the RAF in 1946 with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. There is some mystery to some of Lee's wartime work. He mentioned that he was attached to the SAS from time to time but could not disclose any specific operations, preferring the euphemistic term 'Special Forces'. 

Once home from the war, Lee applied to the Rank Film Organisation to become an actor and was initially signed on a seven-year contract with them and was a student at their 'Charm School' (an acting school for young contract players). One of his first screen roles was as an uncredited spear-carrier in the 1948 film adaptation of Hamlet, directed by and starring Laurence Olivier. He appeared as Bernard Day in Scott Of The Antarctic (1948), Georges Seurat in Moulin Rouge (1952) and Submarine Commander Alan Grieves in The Cockleshell Heroes (1955)

In 1957, Lee made his first appearance in a Hammer Horror film playing The Creature in The Curse Of Frankenstein, opposite Peter Cushing as Victor. Despite having both appeared in Hamlet and in Moulin Rouge, this was the first time that Lee and Cushing met. They formed a deep friendship which lasted until Cushing's death in 1994, appearing in over 20 films together.

1958 saw Lee taking on one of his most recognisable and iconic roles for the first time: Dracula. Opposite his friend Cushing as Van Helsing, Lee epitomised suave seduction and danger as the titular Count. Lee would reprise his role a further nine times on screen. Whilst it is undeniably one of his most popular roles, Lee demurred from the title of 'horror legend', saying he 'moved on from that'. He also went on to play The Mummy in Hammer's 1959 film of the same name.

In 1959, he appeared as Sir Henry Baskerville in The Hound Of The Baskervilles, opposite Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. Three years later, Lee took on the role of the titular detective in Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace. In 1970, he completed a rare trifecta by playing Holmes' brother Mycroft in The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, directed by Billy Wilder.

Throughout the 1960s, Lee immersed himself in horror films such as Crypt Of The Vampire (1964), Castle Of The Living Dead (also 1964) and The Skull (1965). He portrayed Rasputin and Sax Rohmer's Chinese criminal mastermind Fu Manchu and was uncredited as the voice who accuses the guests of their various crimes in the 1965 film adaptation of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. His performance as the Duc de Richleau in the 1968 adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out is particularly chilling.

In 1973, Lee took on one of his greatest roles as Lord Summerisle in seminal British cult thriller The Wicker Man opposite Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland and Diane Cilento. There's a wonderfully seductive edge to Lee's Summerisle as his earthy paganism clashes with Woodward's staunch Christianity. Lee worked for free but considered it one of his very best performances, and it's very hard to disagree.

In 1974, he added one of the biggest film franchises of all time to his filmography when he appeared as assassin Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun, opposite Roger Moore as James Bond. Frankly, Lee is easily the best thing in the film, really raising the source material (which isn't strong). Interestingly, he was cousin to Ian Fleming.

He rounded out the 1970s with roles in To The Devil, A Daughter, Airport '77 and Return From Witch Mountain. In 1982, Lee made one of the more unusual entries into his filmography- and I'm not talking about voicing King Haggard in The Last Unicorn: he played Prince Philip in a TV movie called Charles & Diana: A Royal Love Story! (David Robb and Caroline Bliss played the titular couple with Margaret Tyzack as the Queen).

Throughout the 1990s, Lee appeared in films as diverse as Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Police Academy: Mission To Moscow and Jinnah. He also provided the voice of Death in two animated versions of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels- Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music- and appeared as the Narrator in an interactive video game version of The Rocky Horror Show! He played faithful manservant Flay in the TV adaptation of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast and he also began his association with Tim Burton with a small role in the 1999 film Sleepy Hollow.

In 2001, Lee joined the cast of The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring as duplicitous wizard Saruman. He was the only member of the cast who had ever met J.R.R. Tolkien and prior to being cast made a habit of reading the trilogy once a year. He reprised his role in the two sequels (although his scenes in The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King was initially cut from theatrical release and reinstated for the extended edition). He also made appearances as Saruman in The Hobbit films. As if that wasn't frankly awesome enough, in 2002, he joined the cast of the Star Wars prequels, playing Count Dooku in Episode II: Attack Of The Clones (where his character has a memorable light-sabre fight with Yoda) and Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith

Lee took further roles in Tim Burton's movies, appearing in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and Dark Shadows, and giving voice performances for Corpse Bride and Alice In Wonderland. He also appeared in The Golden Compass, Season Of The Witch, Hugo and The Wicker Tree (a companion piece to The Wicker Man, in which he cameos as the Old Gentleman). He had completed filming on Angels In Notting Hill and was in pre-production for The 11th at the time of his death.

Lee was knighted in 2009 for his services to drama and charity and was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship in 2011.

Aside from his impressive acting career, Lee was also a skilled linguist, speaking French, German, Italian and Spanish and getting by in Greek, Russian and Swedish. He also holds the record for being the oldest living performer to enter the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (at the age of 91 years and 6 months) with a heavy metal Christmas song called 'Jingle Hell'. Lee had recorded several EPS of heavy metal covers, and won the Spirit of Metal award in 2010.

An icon. A gentleman. A true acting legend. He will be sadly missed.

Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.

The Watchers
(Rhys, Matt & Tez)