“Never meet your heroes,” they say, and to this I would add, “be careful with movies you liked as a kid.” Sure, some do age well (Ghostbusters, Robocop, Top Gun), but you’ll find others strangely peppered with stop-and-blink slurs (The Breakfast Club) or just plain hilariously bad today (Rambo: First Blood Part II, or Stallone’s Cobra come to mind). I say that to say this: There’s a reason why classic cop-dramas remade as movies tend so heavily toward comedy. (Think 21 Jump Street, The A-Team, Dragnet, Starsky and Hutch; Miami Vice and S.W.A.T. are about the only two I can think of that played it straight — I blame Colin Farrell.) It’s because redoing an old favorite how it actually was might not play too well today.
So I get why Dax Shepard (who wrote, directed, and stars in CHiPs) tried to turn this early-80s treasure into something R-rated and racy. I get why he cast Michael Pena as Ponch and himself as Jon. I even get why he aimed for a semi-self-aware, kinda-woke-but-also-raunchy angle.
What I don’t get is why what should have been the milk run of remakes fails so hard.
First and most troubling, CHiPs isn’t very funny. While paced as though it’s skipping from punchline to punchline, so many of these fall flat that it plays more like a weird, reverso drama. And for an R-rated comedy, a surprising majority of the would-be funny stuff is cognitively available to a middle schooler (though I’d wager his dick jokes are better).
Judging by its trailer, Life could be one of two things: either a moody, semi-intellectual think piece involving a space-station-bound, flight-suited crew wrestling with some tough decisions; or a dim-witted, sophomoric gremlin-o-rama with an EVIL ALIEN stalking a half-dozen astro-nots like so many slasher-film victims. Thanks to the liberal application of JFK voiceover, my bet was on the former.
Wrong. Life is a one-note B-movie with not much useful to say.
If you’re surprised, get in line. This film had a lot going for it. There’s a remarkable amount of talent here: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds star. Hiroyuki Sanada is aboard (splendid in Sunshine), and Olga Dihovichnaya and Ariyon Bakare round out the crew. Sure, Reynolds seems a tad too hotheaded and quippy for an astronaut –a little Deadpool-lite — and Gyllenhaal is a bit sullen, but everyone’s watchable. The special effects team did great work: the requisite floating fluids and weightless humans and space vistas all are beyond reproach. And Daniel Espinosa’s direction is serviceable, at least once you figure out Life is piling all its eggs in the jump-scare basket. So what’s the problem?
It’s dumb. And worse, so are the characters in it.
A brief aside: I once attended a workshop at the American Film Institute whose sole stated purpose was to teach screenwriting to scientists. (It was sponsored by the Air Force. Your tax dollars paid for this. I am not making this up.) For a week, about a More >
My mother once told me that in real life, no one would like Murphy Brown. In reality, you see, there’s no laugh track — and to actually share office space with Candice Bergen’s quick-mouthed TV journalist (and brave her unending caustic jabs) would, she thought, get pretty old pretty fast. Seen in situ with the goofy and upbeat cast of FYI, Murphy is gloriously entertaining. Strip away her foils, though, and … hmm, maybe not.
Similar deal with Logan. Notwithstanding X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the adamantium hero typically sings backup as a scowling, gruff-stuff agitator to the X-Men. He pops up now and then in those ensemble pictures, brooding under a thunderhead of Bad Mood, dishes out some snarky quip and it’s on to the next thing. (The McAvoy/Fassbender recruiting scene in X-Men: First Class springs to mind.) He’s the emotional California: Fun to visit, but we wouldn’t want to live there.
But what if the King of Sullen actually told his own story? And I don’t mean a cookie-cutter hero picture with yellow leotards and gleaming blades and blinking screens of doom, but a hard look at the world this misanthrope actually would occupy. What does a real Wolverine movie look like?
It looks like this. Logan is the movie Wolverine always deserved, but not necessarily the one you wanted to see.
For starters, it’s dark, harsh, loud, and bloody. (No complaint on the latter: It’s amazing that a hero whose main ability is slicing people with knuckle-swords has steered clear of true gore More >
You know the drill. Another year, another trip around the sun, and it’s all for THIS. We here at The Parsing Haus are doing it again, shined and primed for a long and robust jaw-aching feed at the swollen teat of decadent celebrity culture.
Join us on Sunday, February 26 for live coverage of the 2017 Academy Awards; bury your hungry snout in our trough of cinephiliac num-nums and popcorn and snark-dumplings and perfect little starfucker sundaes topped with delicious bon mots. It’s a feast. You’re welcome.
- Our live red carpet coverage starts ~2:30 pacific / ~5:30 eastern (TBA) (watch: ABC)
- Our live Oscar coverage starts 4:00 pacific / 7:00 eastern (TBA) (watch: ABC)
So tune in right here. It’s going to be choice.*
* – and don’t forget to refresh the page. On some browsers, the live blog software we use doesn’t auto-update. We’ll fix this someday, probably.
Horror is normally SpecialK’s realm and she has an excellent review of Get Out that you should read. A combination of an overactive imagination and my father watching surgery programming on PBS, makes me a little reticent to watch all horror films. The trend toward torture porn and body horror seems to usher an unending war of one-upmanship that is both gruesome and repetitive. My favorite horror films tend to be political/social and funny.
Horror was once a genre akin to morality plays. Many horror films and books contain salient critiques of culture. Frankenstein tackles the moral dimensions of scientific development. The Mummy warns against desecrating ancient cultures, particularly their burial tombs. Alien movies highlight the fear of difference and how our perception of humanity and its differences is altered in the presence of aliens. Horror is a tool to teach a lesson or present an insight.
Horror comedy or Hor-Com lives in the intersection of two of our most vulnerable moments: laughter and fear. I love Hor-Com when it is intentional – see Cabin in the Woods. I love Hor-Com when it is accidental and awesomely bad – see Troll 2. I even love when it is not entirely clear and lives betwixt and between the two – see Bad Taste. Again, laughter and fear provide a moment of shared humanity.
Like most horror fans, I had no idea what to make of Get Out when I saw the trailer last year. Clips of stereotypical horror flashed across the screen, but with an underlying premise so over-the-top it seemed laughable. And then I saw comedian Jordan Peele’s name and I think ok, this must be a comedy, right? A spoof? Nope. Sure, it has its laugh-out-loud moments, but Get Out proves to be a genre-rending, racial-assumption-suspending, star-packed backbend of a film that takes some major risks and reaps some major rewards. Simply put, it’s brilliant.
Get Out opens as Chris and Rose are preparing for a trip from the big city to forested white suburbia to meet Rose’s family. Chris is trying to tease out how Rose thinks her parents will manage the fact that he is black and she is white, but she brushes off his concerns and they begin their drive. After hitting a deer and having a run-in with the cops, it becomes clear even before the protagonists reach their destination that this film will tackle complex issues of race with nimble ease, subtle genius, and pointed humor. This is gonna be good.
When they arrive, Rose’s parents seem normal enough, if not a little awkward about the whole skin color “thang,” but Chris manages the discomfort with polite tact. However, a deep sense of unease is brewing. The black groundskeeper and maid don’t seem quite right, Rose’s mom weirdly offers to hypnotize Chris, and Rose’s brother is downright hostile.
It isn’t until the family throws a giant More >
Ladies, gather ’round. That’s right, circle up. Vanessa and Susie, put down the feather pillows, let’s not fight. Becky, those frilly PJs are adorable! Stacy, cap that nail polish, and Jessica, pause just a sec, you can finish braiding Amanda’s hair later. I’ve got a secret to share: girls can make pretty pictures on the big screen, too!
Look, I really, truly wanted to like XX. I’d been awaiting its release for months. Finally, I thought, a suite of horror films showcasing the power of women filmmakers. I pictured creativity, dynamism, and a new take on my favorite genre. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I knew each film would be singular, bold, and even scarier than my worst nightmares. Surely, a compilation dedicated to brilliant terroristas would offer no less.
Would you believe I even had a whole theme planned for my review? I’d present each film like a waiter describing a chef’s award-winning tasting menu at a fine restaurant. Apéritif, first course, main dish, and dessert—just the perfect little meal. So you can imagine my shock when the first offering was chicken nuggets. Decent ones, but still, chicken nuggets. Next course? Chicken nuggets. Main dish? Sure, we can spice it up. Fried chicken. And dessert? More nugs. Girls, I know we can do better than this.
The Box. In our first glimpse of frighteningly feminine fiction, a stereotypically successful suburban family is torn apart when a young son refuses to eat after being shown something in a gift box by a More >
INT. LEGENDARY ENTERTAINMENT’S BURBANK OFFICES – 2014.
ZHANG YIMOU: Matt, thanks so much for coming by to talk about the new picture. You got the script, right?
MATT DAMON: Absolutely, Mr. Yimou, but I only had a chance to skim it. I recently finished shooting a movie called “The Martian.” It was a trip. My character grows poop potatoes and staves off insanity by cracking wise. I can only assume I’ll be fielding questions about whether the film is a comedy or drama for years to come.
YIMOU: Sounds confusing. Well, the head honchos at the studio thought you would be the perfect choice for a legend about the Great Wall of China. Mind you, this saga has no basis in local lore.
YIMOU POINTS TO THE MEN SEATED OFF TO THE SIDE, WHO WE NOW REALIZE ARE THE SCRIPT TEAM.
These three screenwriters and three additional storytellers get full credit!
DAMON: About the script. I have A LOT of questions . . . .
YIMOU: I’ll cut you off right there, Matt, ‘cause I already know where you’re heading. Ok, first, you are the star. Many Chinese actors will be cast, but they will be little more than necessary set pieces. That said, you won’t have to work very hard on this movie. Most of the lines that our narrative brain trust put to paper are three-word sentences. Maximum. What about your character William’s More >
Viewing documentary shorts individually can be a task (links embedded). Access can be difficult and promotion essentially nonexistent. But, this year’s films are best viewed together because they illuminate our shared humanity, something that appears lost on many these days. As a warning, these films can at times be difficult to watch, gut wrenching may be an understatement. Three of the five also deal with elements of Syria and the refugee crisis, which at first glance may seem a bit redundant, but they each have a very different point of view that brings breadth and depth to the subject. As a collection, this year’s crop of documentary shorts are a must watch.
Joe’s Violin is perhaps the most traditional documentary in the group and by far the most uplifting. That is saying a great deal given that the story revolves around a holocaust survivor. Joe’s Violin is clumsy at first, with some unnecessary and somewhat old school pans of New York and a plodding build to the story. But, the film is rich in connecting two very different lives with a shared love of the violin. Joseph Feingold a Polish holocaust survivor who found refuge in the US after World War II and 12 year old Brianna Perez an immigrant from the Dominican Republic attending a Bronx all-girls school where every student is taught to play the violin. The story follows Joe’s donation of the violin which ends up with Brianna. We get a glimpse at each of their stories. Joe’s survival of a More >
I’m almost positive that A Cure for Wellness isn’t intended to be a spoof of the entire genre of psychological thrillers. Almost. From beginning (a Michael Clayton-like opening monologue offers some biting commentary on the Mouse Trap board game that is Wall Street while scenes of sterile, gray high-rises slide by), to middle (a bright and airy Shutter Island-brand old timey mental institution spa retreat is inexplicably stuck in the middle of the 20th century), to end (a Phantom of the Opera-style candlelit lair sets the stage for the climax of a castle-on-a-hilltop-versus-villagers folktale), the film draws from any and every psychological thriller in existence.
The story is simple enough at first. A greedy New York financial services firm’s future is on the line, and a young rising star—Lockhart—has been tasked with saving the company by traveling to the Swiss Alps to pick up the CEO where he has been hiding out at a spa retreat. Come on, what young corporate associate hasn’t been there, amirite? If I had a nickel. . .
But it gets even weirder. Lockhart’s car crashes on the mountain road, and he wakes up at the retreat, now a patient himself and unable to escape. While he recuperates, he tries to figure out exactly what is going on at this place, and what this “cure” is everyone is talking about. He also learns about the building’s history—a rich baron sought to make a bride out of his sister in his hilltop castle, but the villagers wouldn’t allow it and burned everything More >