I haven’t seen the miniseries remake of Rosemary’s Baby. I have no idea what other people thought of it, but I’m at least curious. Same with the miniseries remake of Bonnie and Clyde(although calling that a remake is a dodgy concept to embrace). There’s not a frantic need running through my heart’s deepest desires to see them, but I’m still interested on some vague, “How bad did they fuck it up?” kind of level.
I also haven’t seen the new From Dusk Till Dawn series. I’ve caught half of the first episode of Fargo. If I hadn’t already been awake for two days at that point, I probably would have made it through the entirety of what looked like a sharp opening to a surprisingly good remake/retelling/sequel/whatever-the-hell-it-is of a 20 year old movie.
Movies becoming TV shows isn’t a new thing. TV shows getting an all-expenses-paid trip to Hollywood isn’t a new thing either. It does seem like in recent times; movies are being utilized by television in fairly unique ways. I’m not sure where Bates Motel or Hannibal belong. They’re both technically using characters that first appeared in literature, but most of us think of the movies when we watch them. I’ve actually read Rosemary’s Baby, but I still thought of the Roman Polanski film when I saw a trailer for the new mini-series on TV.
I’m not sure it’s a trend I particularly want to see. This is honestly the best era of scripted television that has ever occurred, and I’m not sure that we need old movies being re-imagined for a mini-series or season-to-season format. Even so, it’s the kind of thought that still gets me to wondering about films that would be interesting as episodic television. Some movies I like enough that I don’t want to leave the world they’ve created, even though that would probably be best for everyone in the end. After all, as much as you loved where the movie took you, there’s such a thing as too much of something you love. I keep that thought in mind, but I would still love to see a Blade Runner TV show, and I have always secretly want a live-action Ghostbusters that would emphasize the darker storytelling elements of battling the paranormal on the streets of a city as overrun with the dead and the dammed as New York.
The Los Angeles of 2019 in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (Image © Warner Bros.)
I think A Nightmare on Elm St. television series could be an interesting venture, in this day and age of TV shows that rarely go beyond 13 episodes per season. And, for reasons unfathomable to me, I also think that There Will Be Blood would make an intriguing show (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is another, believe it or not).
Would these shows serve to expand the films themselves, or would they simply take place in that universe? I have no idea. It depends on which one the above examples you’re talking about. I would probably prefer There Will Be Blood and A Nightmare on Elm St. to draw directly from the films. You could go either way with Blade Runner or Ghostbusters. It’s a short, very irrational/illogical list. I’m curious to know what other people think, which movies people could stand to see become television shows, so feel free to reach out to me and let me know.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): A+
We still have a few months left in 2014, but it’s hard for me to imagine any other film topping The Grand Budapest Hotel for the best new movie I’ve seen in 2014. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising at this point that Wes Anderson continues to surprise and delight, even after visiting certain ideas and playing with certain stylistic choices for the umpteenth time. The story of a concierge (the incredible, multitalented Ralph Fiennes) establishing a deep, familial friendship with a young boy (Tony Revolori, and then later played in an older form by F. Murray Abraham), in the midst of having to prove his innocence in a murder investigation, sounds like something Wes Anderson would make a movie about. Many of his well-known collaborators make appearances (Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, and others). There are shots and exchanges of quick, strange dialogue (from a story Anderson developed with frequent writing partner Hugo Guinness) that could not be attributed to any other filmmaker.
And yet The Grand Budapest Hotel feels as though we’re watching the singular, spectacular vision of Wes Anderson for the very first time. It’s the same feeling you had at the end of The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, Moonrise Kingdom, and all the rest. What has been truly interesting to me with this film is the fact that I’ve now encountered at least a half-dozen people who have said something along the lines of “This is the first Wes Anderson movie I’ve really liked.” What that at least implies to me is that Wes Anderson occupies a very small category of filmmakers: those that have their own definable style. He can make films that are so indisputably his own that parodying them is a fairly easy thing to do. Yet people respond to them strongly and usually warmly every single time. Each film still manages to find elements that can’t be found in the film Anderson directed previously.
The Grand Budapest Hotel has surprises enough to where I can understand anyone who tells me that this is the first time they liked a Wes Anderson movie. I can just as easily understand someone who has been a fan from his humble beginnings in Bottle Rocket feeling as though they have just seen a Wes Anderson film for the first time. Each of his films is a complex masterpiece. The Grand Budapest Hotel proves that the old complaint that there “aren’t any original ideas left” is really just a lot of bullshit. Perhaps it’s true that there aren’t any original ideas left, but originality itself is alive and well in filmmakers like Anderson.
Minority Report (2002): B+
With the responses to Edge of Tomorrow drawing a very clear line in the sand (you either loved the movie, or you’re not surprised it didn’t do very well at the U.S. box office), I decided it was time to finally finish a movie I had started watching nearly a decade ago. If you’re curious, I’m in the camp of people who really just doesn’t have a single damn to give about Mr. Tom Cruise. I find him bland, but he’s surprised me in movies in which he has to work with either a large cast (Magnolia, Tropic Thunder), or someone who is simply a much better actor than he is (Paul Newman in Color of Money, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, or Jamie Foxx in Collateral). I suppose I like Tom Cruise best when I don’t have to be aware of how unremarkable he is for long periods of time. I’ve come to realize that it’s not so much that Tom Cruise is a bad actor, it’s just that I rarely see him in anything in which I cannot immediately think of a half dozen actors who could have done the exact same thing with the character in question.
Minority Report, Steven Spielberg’s very, very loose retelling of a Phillip K. Dick short story, is a good case in point. In terms of Minority Report being an exceptional example of big budget science fiction that can be compelling, thrilling, and intelligent, the movie deserves a lot of credit. If you appreciate the work of Steven Spielberg, Minority Report is an incredible example of what he’s still capable of accomplishing in his medium of choice. There are a lot of different places a film could take Phillip K. Dick’s original story of a police force that is capable of arresting people for crimes they haven’t committed yet. Spielberg manages to touch on a number of political and psychological themes, but he never loses sight of the movie’s need to be a chase thriller with murder mystery components. All of these things are held in a very tenuous balance. Spielberg makes one of his best films of by maintaining that balance.
Tom Cruise does fine as the chief of Washington D.C.’s pre-crime department. By the time that the psychics utilized in the pre-crime department connect him to a murder, everything in the movie already has us engaged. It’s still important that we like the character enough to want to stick with him for the journey. Cruise handles that task. So do fellow cast members Samantha Morton, Max Von Sydow, and Collin Farrell. Ultimately, relating the various layers of the story and the way that’s accomplished are more important than the actors themselves. For characters such as those, Cruise is perfect. Give him two or three personality traits to work with, and he can go from there.
When he is only a very small part of a bigger movie, the results are often just fine. It’s when he has to carry the entire movie that I suddenly find it difficult to stay engaged. Minority Report has a lot of Tom Cruise screen time, yes, but the action scenes and social commentary are such that I generally didn’t have to focus on him very much. Minority Report is excellent science-fiction cinema. Tom Cruise is simply Tom Cruise. I think a dozen other people could have done the exact same thing he did here. I suspect I’ll feel the same about Edge of Tomorrow when I get around to seeing it.
Play Misty for Me (1971): B+
It has been well over forty years since Clint Eastwood made the move into directing films. Play Misty for Me was his first, and it holds up remarkably well. A lot of that is because of Jessica Walter (Archer and Arrested Development) playing a pretty flawless psycho. She moves from offbeat and lonely to a physical realization of insanity that is made all the creepier by how justified she feels in doing and saying the things that she does. Walters doesn’t just play the “crazy one night stand lady.” She finds depths of madness that are universal in how they come across to us as viewers. Crazy is crazy, and she taps into people who most certainly exist in the real world. She creates a character that gives some of us the kind of social anxiety that makes meeting people terrifying.
That’s the main draw with Play Misty for Me in 2014. The other is that the film clearly displays the talents Eastwood would bring as a director to the wide variety of projects he has since tackled. Eastwood’s best directorial efforts are great examples of character-driven filmmaking. His own performance here is very good. He has made better movies based on that idea since Play Misty for Me. But this remains nonetheless a worthwhile debut. Watch his latest with Jersey Boys, and then come back to this first time in the director’s chair. Eastwood knew what he needed to do to make a good movie from the start.
Robocop (2014): D+
It’s only natural to compare the remake to the original. It would have been foolish for everyone involved in the production of the 2014 update of Robocop to simply duplicate the original beat for beat and shot for shot. Even so, there are enough appealing elements to the original that could have very easily been tweaked or examined in a different way for a remake.
Unfortunately, the social/political satire, the unearthliness of Robocop as a character, and the visual depictions of violence in society and in the media are all lost in José Padilha’s direction and Joshua Zetumer’s screenplay. Is it because technology has changed that much in the nearly thirty years that have passed since the 1987 Robocop? Has the violence gotten worse? I’m sure someone is going to make those arguments to excuse the astonishing mediocrity of this remake. Some of the cast members provide moments of interest (particularly Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman), but everything else is wasted potential. The nicest thing you can say about the 2014 Robocop is that it’s just slightly better than Robocop III—and I’m hesitant even to say that.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013): D+
Time, and maybe watching the trilogy as a single narrative once all the films are released, will perhaps give me a different perception of The Hobbit. For now, I know that the first movie was thirty minutes of well-missed old faces and Middle Earth spectacle, which is great—except that the movie was three hours long. The second in the still very, very, very unnecessary trilogy is more of the same.
The adventures of Bilbo, the dwarves, and everyone else who shows up during the film’s needlessly long running time are slightly better this time around. Martin Freeman is still fine a Bilbo. Most of the actors portraying the dwarves are still acceptable, although a number of them are still forgettable. Benedict Cumberbatch has the voice and movements necessary to make us believe that Smaug is a dragon indeed capable of desolation. When you throw in additional things, like how it will never not be okay to see Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Stephen Fry as the Master of Lake-Town, you have a number of things to get excited about.
All those things still led me to the same conclusion I had at the end of An Unexpected Journey: even with forty or so minutes of great, epic storytelling and performances, you’re still left with two hours of a bloated, boring movie. There’s a clear sense of desperation on the part of Peter Jackson and company to prove that three movies were necessary. I waited over six months after the release of this film to find out that’s still not the case. I take absolutely no satisfaction in proving myself correct. I want, very desperately, to like these movies. I want to look forward to the final film later this year, but with what I’ve seen so far, I’m not really looking forward to The Battle of the Five Armies.
As it stands, The Hobbit films represent to me everything that’s fundamentally wrong with film. It’s an example of technology and presumptuous marketing completely overshadowing story, characters, pacing, time, and everything else that is typically found in movies with even the faintest imitation of a soul. I know a lot of people like these movies. I’m just not one of them. Maybe time will change that.