Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Central Park Five


Pretty amazing doc about five wrongfully convicted teenage boys.  They were accused of raping and mangling a young woman that was jogging in central park one night in 1989.  She almost died from the incident too but was able to recover.  Unfortunately she couldn’t remember anything about the event so she couldn’t help the boys out.

This story is heartbreaking as all hell and also incredibly frustrating because the American justice system completely failed here.  All of the major components (the cops, the lawyers and the jury) didn’t prevent the wrong people from going to jail for seven and thirteen years.  You would think and hope that this bullshit would’ve been stopped at some point before getting too far but that didn’t happen.  Even in the face of DNA evidence that didn’t match up with any of the boys’ the assistant DA still went through with prosecuting them.

The Central Park Five case is the same thing that happened to the West Memphis Three (the Paradise Lost trilogy is excellent by the way).  They were all scapegoats in crimes they had absolutely nothing to do with.  It’s incredibly tragic and depressing to see innocent folks getting their lives taken away from them, especially at such young ages (like 14).  But they’re powerful stories that need to be told so we don’t make the same mistakes again.

It’ll be interesting to see if Ken Burns does more of these crime docs in the future.  He nailed this one and I’d love to see more.  

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Remakes


That new Evil Dead remake got me all riled up and thinking about remakes in general so here are some thoughts. 

We’ve had some good ones over the years like The Thing (1982), The Fly (1986) and Dracula (1992).  And we’ve had some bad ones (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Planet of the Apes (2001)).  But generally speaking there are two types of remakes in my opinion.  There are those that are based on some sort of prose like Carrie or Batman.  And those based on a previous movie like Last Man Standing (Yojimbo), Halloween and Evil Dead



It may be a small difference but I think it’s an important one.  Let me put it to you this way: no one is rewriting The Great Gatsby or The Lord of the Rings.  No one seriously says “I could write that book better.”  But people do say “I could make that movie better” or something very close to that like “I have some new ideas that could work brilliantly on this great old tale.”  With going from book to movie you’re attempting to adapt to a different medium but going from movie to movie you’re staying within the same medium.  This is what makes that second category so dangerously egregious.  It doesn’t matter what the intention is, the people doing the remake are saying they can build a better mousetrap or, at the very least, make a product just as good as the original in some way or another.

Now I really really want to say that I think these Hollywood studios have the wrong idea about remakes because they keep redoing films that were either successful and/or well known.  I really really want to say that these aren’t necessarily the right candidates.  I really really want to say that the ideal contender should be something that has a good idea but was executed poorly (whether script-wise or production-wise).  I mean why remake shit like Alice in Wonderland or A Nightmare on Elm Street?  They were done pretty perfectly already.  Well the problem with thinking that way is you never know.  You just never know how something could turn out in different hands under the right circumstances.  Hell, the 2009 Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seemed fine but the 2011 remake showed that certain parts could be improved and that the original wasn’t the best it could be.  This is why I’m ok with remakes (and reboots for that matter).  You don’t know until you try it.

Overall I think I still prefer sequels or rip offs more though.  With those you might not realize (potentially ever) that they’re the same as another film.  At least they’re trying to fool you for a minute that you’re watching something different and that attempt is a commendable one.  Plus it’s like I just said, the changes made could be a substantial improvement over the original.  Look at Terminator 2.  It’s pretty much the same movie as its predecessor but with some retooling and tweaking you get something better than the first go around.  I also think Drive is better than the movie it ripped off, The Driver (it’s still a really cool movie though and you should definitely check it out if you liked Drive). 


Sure remakes are frustrating more often than not and they rightly get held to a higher standard if you’re a fan of the original but don’t lose faith in them.  A remake will come out one day that’ll knock you’re block off and you’ll see that they’re a worthwhile venture.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Evil Dead (2013)


I wasn’t going to do this but I have to get this movie off my chest.  Some other cinema reviewers that I respect and admire gave the Evil Dead remake a favorable nod.  The reviews weren’t glowing but they said there was a bunch to like and that it was one of the better horror films in recent years.  So I figured what the hell, I’ll give it a look.  Well let me tell you, this was fucking terrible.  I hate to admit it but I think these folks I like to follow are getting soft.

First of all I’m a The Evil Dead fan (that’s a poorly worded sentence).  I’m like anyone else who’s seen the series and think the first one’s pretty good but Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness are genius.  However, the original was so creative and downright weird that even if the other two weren’t made it would still be a cult classic. 

The remake is just another schlocky horror picture that’s no different from most horror released today.  Starting with the characters and the acting, they’re very bland and forgettable.  You have your typical mix of twenty something guys and gals.  One has a little more attitude, another is a little more timid, one of the guys is kinda nerdy, the other is more of a leader type and who gives a fuck?  I didn’t care about anyone.  No one gives a good performance either.  There’s a lot of screaming and looking scared and that was fine.  But there were one or two times when things were supposed to be emotional that didn’t have anything to do with the horror stuff and they were handled poorly.  For example, the reason why these people are at the cabin is because they’re trying to help this one character, Mia, kick heroin cold turkey.  Her brother, David, is told fairly casually in a conversation that Mia overdosed not that long ago and that she even died for a short time before being revived.  David gives no reaction to this.  And I’m not exaggerating.  He just stares off with a blank expression and says something like “whoa” as flatly as possible.

And I can’t get over how atrocious the dialogue is.  Like when we’re first introduced to the characters they talk so unnaturally to each other to set up for the audience who these folks are.  They literally say shit like “hey teacher”, “you’re a doctor right?”, “this is my girl” and “hi brother”.  Maybe there wasn’t any dialogue written and the actors were told to improvise? 

But actually the whole script is bad.  One of the most confusing parts is when the girlfriend character turns into a demon but then abruptly turns back into a human and then just dies.  We never see her again and according to what happens previously this doesn’t make a lot of sense.  And who the hell left the book of the dead in the cabin?  I mean I know it was from that ceremony in the beginning but the old woman should’ve taken it with her for safekeeping so no one could accidentally summon demons.  That whole intro part was unnecessary by the way.  If the book was just there with all the skinned cats ‘n shit then it would’ve worked better.  There would be more mystery.  It’s not like that would’ve saved the movie but it would’ve been one less awful thing.  Also, nail guns don’t work that way and a jug of gasoline will not explode into a massive fireball if you shoot at it.       

Ok that last sentence was a little nitpicky (especially for someone who’s such a big action movie fan) but here’s what isn’t.  You could totally tell the old original stuff from the new remake stuff.  Anything good in this picture came from the original like the simple almost plot-less story, the fact that they can’t escape the cabin because the road’s out, the POV of the demon running through the woods, the totally bizarre tree raping scene, a chainsaw cutting a body in half vertically (although if I remember correctly that’s from Evil Dead 2), the Raimi-esque montage where David puts together a defibrillator, etc.  Compare that with the new stuff like sawing the side of your face off, stabbing the eyes with a syringe, shooting nails into various parts of the body, splitting a tongue with a utility knife, beating people with a crowbar, the nerdy teacher guy reads the words from the book of the dead aloud even though it says all over the thing “don’t read this” and “leave this book alone” and etc.  All the new elements are either shitty horror movie clich├ęs, like the inept boring characters, or torture porn type stuff, like a close up of someone pulling a needle out of their eye.  And I mean that last bit as a negative (or at least not a positive) because personally I don’t find the really gruesome material scary.  It’s purely there for shock value so I have a hard time appreciating it.   

You know, there’s something to be said for subtlety.  Making the goriest and most graphic picture is what some people aspire to do and that’s fine.  If that’s your dream go for it.  The thing is I think there’s a limit.  Eventually you’re gonna get to the point where you might as well show a video of a real open heart surgery.  If you show the audience everything then there’s nothing left to the imagination.  You need to be smart about what you show and what you don’t show.  That’s why when that guy gets hit on the head in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, gets dragged into the other room and Leatherface slams the door shut it’s so effective.  It’s a brief sequence and what you think is happening to that guy is worse than what they could actually show you.       

There was a conscious effort to use less CGI with this production which is fantastic but I gotta tell you, it didn’t feel like it very much.  The glossy, gritty, diluted colors that have been going on ever since the Ring and Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes are all there.  It didn’t look or feel any different than what you see today so even though they used more practical effects they didn’t come through great.             

Now I know what you’re thinking, “This is just some stupid horror film, relax.  You’re supposed to have fun with it.”  This wasn’t really fun though.  Look, I can come up with a list of seven of the grossest, most horribly violent things I can imagine and string them together in a flimsy plot with mediocre dialogue and character development too.  And it’s not that everything needs to be very thoughtful but I didn’t really find anything interesting about this one.  The original doesn’t have a message or was meant to be this great piece of art.  But it is a great piece of art because of the ingenuity of the filmmakers and the willingness to make something different from what everyone else was doing at the time (slasher movies).  This remake is a generic modern horror picture, it’s not an exception.

All the complaining aside, what it comes down to is that the things I liked in the remake are all found in the original so there’s no reason for me to go back to this one.   

Friday, April 12, 2013

So Bad It's Good

In my opinion, the very definition
of SBIG

I’ve been struggling with the phrase “so bad it’s good” (SBIG) for a bunch of years now.  There was too much judgment in it and just a hint of snobbery that made me not want to say those words.  But I’ve come around on it now and have finally relented to its usefulness.

The big question that I’ve been trying to nail down is, if it’s SBIG why isn’t it just plain good?  Why the pretext?  I still haven’t found a great answer so the best I can come up with is that the “so bad” part helps to account for different people’s tastes.  For instance I would classify Batman Forever as good and Batman & Robin as SBIG.  Some other folks out there might put both in the SBIG category.  The point is the phrase implies that some sort of joy is being had regardless of how you look at the film.  So tastes may vary but SBIG kinda levels things out.

One major worry I had about this expression was that it could potentially be used on far too many movies.  But after taking a step back it looks like we (including myself) don’t hand this label out lightly.  I think almost every film falls into either “good” or “bad” for most of us.  Of course, those categories then subdivide into “good/bad except for…”.  Even if you add in a “just ok” group SBIG is still in a league of its own.

To go a little further on this topic I firmly believe there are films that transcend SBIG and come back around to being good again.  There aren’t a whole lot out there but pictures like Troll 2 and Gone With the Pope are so bizarre and/or poorly executed that they’re perfectly enjoyable and offer a gratifying experience.  SBIG movies have cringe worthy moments and at least one terrible aspect that you can’t let go of.  But these other transcending ones are just as fascinating and easy to watch as anything you consider to be good.

Not SBIG, just good period
So I guess it’s necessary to make the distinction when you’re talking to people about movies.  It’s misleading to recommend a film that you know is very fun but also pretty shitty.  SBIG cuts right to the chase and makes quick work of an otherwise somewhat lengthy explanation of what you saw and how you feel. 

To wrap this up I’d like to use another expression: there’s no accounting for taste.  This is the reason why SBIG exists.  We all like vastly different shit and that’s great.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  This is also the reason why SBIG is probably the most debatable grouping.  One inch either way and you’re in another class.  SBIG really is necessary to define those that fall in this weird space that make you feel oddly satisfied somehow.          

Friday, April 5, 2013

Blood In, Blood Out


This one’s an epic urban/crime drama set in East Los Angeles that spans over ten years.  The story focuses on two half-brothers, Cruz (Jesse Borrego (Con Air)) and Paco (Benjamin Bratt (Demolition Man)) who are Mexican, and their cousin Miklo (Damian Chapa (Ken from the Street Fighter movie)) who is half Mexican and half white.  Their lives take vastly different turns and they ultimately find themselves pitted against each other.

What’s really cool about this movie is the devotion to the characters.  We get to know their backstories and we spend time exploring their personalities.  Cruz is a gifted painter and he goes from being the new hot artist to strung out on heroin.  Paco starts out as a troublemaker (and ex-boxer) and turns his life around to become a cop.  These two are relatively straight forward but our third main character is more complex.

Miklo is the most interesting aspect of the film.  It’s not him that necessarily struggles with his identity it’s everyone else that does.  Miklo looks all white but talks, dresses and acts like his Mexican cousins with a Spanish accent, a collared shirt buttoned only at the top, slicked back hair and he fights the rival local gang.  He becomes a member of the Vatos Locos and is accepted as such among his friends and cousins.  But when he gets sent to San Quentin for killing a dude that’s when his problems really start.  Miklo isn’t accepted right away into the Mexican prison gang because he looks white so he needs to prove his worth by taking out someone from the Aryan Brotherhood.  After this he gets respect and climbs the ladder to eventually become a high ranking member.

So in essence the roles are reversed with the all Mexican Paco becoming a productive member of society and the half white Miklo turning into the gangster.  Cruz is caught in the middle.  The title of professional painter makes me think of white guys like Van Gogh or Pollock but drugs makes me think of all races so it balances.  It’s cool that this picture shows that skin color doesn’t mean shit and that everyone is their own person.

Taylor Hackford directs and with this picture I think I finally figured out how I feel about him.  Overall he seems to be a very bland director with no real discernible style.  Of the five movies of his I’ve seen none are shot particularly well or poorly.  He doesn’t do anything interesting production wise so the best I can say is he’s competent.  He shoots his shit straight up with no frills.  But the thing is he tends to choose good scripts and/or good actors so his flat filmmaking isn’t as noticeable.  Take Ray for instance.  I remember telling people at the time that Jamie Foxx’s performance was better than the film itself.  With Blood In, Blood Out I think the script was so good that you could bring in someone like Hackford to make the thing in a robotic manner and it would still turn out fine (which it did).  It’s just a bit of a shame because this had masterpiece potential with a better director at the helm.

As it is though, this is a pretty cool movie guys.  A good chunk of it is spent in prison with Miklo and the different races plotting against each other.  Those portions and when Miklo and Paco meet up again years later (this time as opposites and foes) are the best parts.  Cruz’s story is the least interesting because it’s the most standard but it’s pulled off well enough.  Paco’s works better than it normally would because usually a cop with a rough past isn’t explored in any detail.  There’ll be a passing comment made by some character to another character and that’ll be it.  Here we get a substantial backstory letting us know exactly where Paco’s coming from so the hardnosed cop shit has something behind it. 

By the time the credits rolled I was invested and ready for more.  It’s a bit episodic which gives this more of a kickass TV show feel and also because they left things open ended with Paco and Miklo.  Check it out.