One of my goals for 2015 is to just stop greeting the news of remakes and the like with the weepy, drunken refrain of “They’re ruining my childhood.” They are, but who gives a shit?
I’m not even going to try to guess at how many times I’ve muttered that refrain in adulthood. It’s a natural response to the feeling that someone really is trying to take a Dinosaur-obliterating dump all over the pop culture that helped define one’s formative years. Your love of that movie or TV show (or whatever the case may be) is pure. When someone remakes it, changes around the details that made the thing make sense to you, and cast people in the part who look like smirking, greedy intruders, it’s understandable to feel a little annoyed.
Do the people who remake your favorite movies care about you? Do they understand what that movie meant to you, at a time when you needed films and other things to pick you up, appeal to your imagination, and understand what you were thinking and feeling in those days?
These are not complicated questions. They might understand the original appeal of the property they’re updating for a new day. Sometimes, the people who are handed the task of remaking a famous property are fans themselves. So, they might have some empathy towards your love of that property. Maybe. But they most certainly do not give a damn about you, and you shouldn’t give a damn about them either.
Obviously, I’m thinking about the Ghostbusters remake as I type this. There is also some residual thoughts towards the rumors that when they finally reboot Indiana Jones, they’re going to hand over the whip and fedora to Chris Pratt.
And on paper, I don’t want either of those goddamn things. It’s not an issue with the gender swap for Ghostbusters. I’ll never find Kristen Wiig funny, but I definitely don’t have a problem with the rest of the cast, or with the considerable resume of attached director Paul Feig. I’m a huge fan of Chris Pratt, so that’s not my problem with a new Indiana Jones adventure.
I just don’t want new versions of things that are already perfect to me. At all. Go away. Get off my lawn. Leave me to my crumbling Norma Desmond-like estate. However you want to phrase it, we’ll come back to the same conclusion every single time. Certain things are just stupidly sacred to me.
Who gives a shit? My indignation will be politely noted by friends who may or may not feel the same way I do, and that will pretty much be the end of things. The movies will come out, and people will either love them or hate them. In all likelihood, they won’t eclipse how I feel about the originals. That’s the formula I get to look forward to. And I can have an irrational dislike for remakes. I can feel however I want to feel about them.
I just don’t believe I have any room to claim that my childhood is somehow being infringed upon.
When you get right down to it, “they’re ruining my childhood” is a really stupid statement. It’s not a question of whether or not it’s true. It’s a matter of whether or not it’s reasonable to feel that way.
I’ve decided that it isn’t reasonable. My childhood is built on memories of my father dangerously swerving the car to scare me, on memories of going to the library for most of my Saturday, and on memories of trying to write and draw my own comic books. My childhood is also built on memories of watching and relating to things that were largely designed to make money. These things didn’t care about me as anything more than a consumer then, and none of those relationships have really changed since then. If I love these reboots, great. They’re thrilled to take my money.
And if I don’t love them? Right, who gives a shit.
Thinking along these lines doesn’t make me suddenly hate Ghostbusters or Raiders of the Lost Ark. It doesn’t even mean I’m boycotting their next incarnations. It just means that I’m not going to get worked about something that doesn’t really care how I feel either way. If I bought a ticket, then that’s pretty much where their interest in me ends.
Who gives a shit?
American Sniper (2014): C-
Chances are, if you haven’t seen Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper at this point, then you’ve probably already made up your mind about the film.
Further odds suggest that you’re either expecting a patriotic call to arms, a celebration of a true American hero named Chris Kyle, or a toxic propaganda piece that gleefully celebrates racially-motivated mass murder from a singular criminal.
Nothing in my own review is going to sway you away from one of those perspectives, if you are indeed on either side of that fence.
The most I can really say is that I am more sympathetic towards those who are frightened by the film’s more vile components, than I am with anyone who believes Kyle is a war icon being lambasted by a callous liberal media. The truth of the matter is that when American Sniper is looked at solely as a film piece, it’s another average work from Eastwood. A great deal of the movie feels as though it could have benefitted from having some scenes trimmed, or even removed entirely. The very well-made, well-acted moments are few and far, but they do exist, and they do serve to remind us that Eastwood is still a good filmmaker.
The movie’s connections to Kyle’s autobiography are largely unimportant, unless you have strong feelings one way or the other about the man himself. At this point, you’re enough of a grownup to assume a biopic is going to tell the story it wants to tell. In this case, it’s another biopic from Eastwood that could have told a more interesting story, if only it could have gotten to the point a little sooner. Bradley Cooper stands at the center of American Sniper, and gives a performance that is pretty much in step with the rest of the movie. It’s not great. It’s not terrible. It is extraordinary average, which is unfortunate, given that Cooper is generally excellent. He will probably win an Oscar sometime (and it will probably happen before DiCaprio gets his) soon. Hopefully, it will not be for this. It would be a shame if his due was attached to a movie that people will indeed forget soon enough, in the same way that people forget most of the movies Eastwood has directed over the past few years.
As for Eastwood himself, he’ll probably just go back to work. His movies remain watchable, and American Sniper is most certainly that, but it would be nice to see one more really great film from him.
The Babadook (2014): A-
Bless the deranged hearts of everyone involved in the making of this Australian horror film, one of the best genre pieces to come out in the 2010s, and one of the best mind fucks to come down the pike in the past couple of years.
William Friedkin has been raving about The Babadook (written and directed by Jennifer Kent, who now has my undivided attention), and I can see why. It’s a straightforward story of a widowed, sleepless mother (Essie Davis, in a performance that evokes a frighteningly relatable horror movie protagonist vibe), frantically trying to manage her young son (the flat-out-fuck-is-that-kid-creepy Noah Wiseman) and his increasingly unsettling behavior. When the boy’s behavior becomes ever the more fixated on a boogeyman known as The Babadook, things move into uncertain territory, and that’s where we stay for the rest of the movie.
The Babadook is so sublime because it works on two levels. As an example of how people deal with grief, particularly a widowed parent and a young child, it offers insight that we would rather not face in such a direct fashion. As a ghost story, a monster movie, or a rapid, crazed psychological thriller (the film is really all three of these things), The Babadook is in the grand tradition of the best of horror. It’s minimalist, performance-heavy, character-driven, and richer in atmosphere than the entire Paranormal Activityfranchise combined. Watch it. Watch it twice. It’s that good.
Paddington (2014): B-
Unless you’re a fan of the Michael Bond books (like me) or have small children, it’s hard to recommend Paddington on face value. Go beyond face value, and you’ll probably be glad you did. Adults who do take their kids to see this, and have no idea about an iconic U.K. book series about a small bear from Peru trying to make his way in London, are at least going to be surprised at how pleasant the movie is.
Paddington wins out with nicely-handled fish-out-of-water humor, good voice acting from Ben Wishaw as Paddington Bear, and comments on the value of family that aren’t as obnoxious as most movies aimed at the kiddie market. The only strange note to be found throughout Paddington is in the form of an unnecessarily creepy villain performance from Nicole Kidman. The rest of Paddington is a kid’s movie with an unexpectedly high degree of sincerity and humanity.
The Wrath of God (1972): C-
Not to be confused with the Werner Herzog classic Aguirre, the Wrath of God, which was released in the same year, this largely-forgotten 1972 film with Robert Mitchum and Frank Langella is kind of a mess. If you want to try and figure it out, you’re welcome to try.
Mitchum is a bank robber posing a priest, and then he gets out of a death sentence, and gets a job taking out a local criminal. Beyond that, I have no idea what’s going on in what could perhaps be called a western noir. Whatever it is, it’s awfully goddamn silly, and awfully goddamn fun. If you want to just watch Robert Mitchum not give a fuck, Frank Langella not know what’s going on (but soldiering on anyway), and Rita Hayworth in her final film appearance, The Wrath of God is worth digging up.
Whiplash (2014): A+
I had a teacher who once called me a “f****t, but that experience doesn’t quite compare to what Miles (the next Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards) Teller’s character Andrew goes through, as he finds himself dealing with a psychotic, abusive mentor in J.K. Simmons. In facing this man who Andrew believes holds the keys to the jazz fame kingdom, this impressionable, impassioned character has an opportunity to decide whether or not he really, really wants to be a drummer.
A lot of the attention this movie is getting revolves around Simmons’ teacher/mentor (“mentor” being used in the loosest sense of the word). That’s fine. Simmons has a legitimate shot at winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and it’s about time this actor of considerable depth, range, and reliability got a substantial due from his community. That said, Miles Teller matches Simmons’ sharp, combative energy in every single scene. We learn a lot about him, over the course of the film. We have a clear image of the molding clay that he exists as in the beginning, and we see what is done with those raw materials, in terms of what he is willing to do, and what he is willing to sacrifice.
In short, Whiplash is tireless, beautiful energy from Damien Chazelle, and it is two great actors squaring off. One of the absolute best of 2014.