Monday, September 27, 2010

Grading On A Curve, Pt. 1

If you haven't figured it out yet, I watch a lot of movies. I've always loved film, since I was a little kid. I mostly watch genre films, but I do take in the occasional mainstream flick ( I saw Up In The Air the other night, for example). Even amongst genre films, there's a wide variety to be found. For example, I did enjoy the two Iron Man movies, and I think the latest two Batman films are pretty damn good, genre or not. Still, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the independent film/ low budget movie, be it a labor of love or the quick exploitation flick.

A while back, I was discussing a movie ( don't remember which one) with a friend, and she , at one point in the conversation, said,"Is it a low-budget movie?", using the same tones one might use when looking at the bottom of their shoe after stepping in something. I'm telling you, just like I told her, low-budget isn't neccessarily a sign of low value.

Consider the average Hollywood takes millions to make one, once it's all said and done. A big expense is getting a big-name 'Star' to be in your flick. All those digital effects , locations, and everything else add up to a hefty price tag. So, why do most Hollywood movies suck? Well, a lot of these so-called 'Stars' can't act their way out of a paper bag. Maybe it's because I've seen a lot of 'effects ' movies, but most of the CGI I see in movies looks fake to me...maybe I just have too good of an eye for that sort of thing. The money sure as hell isn't being spent on scripts , that's for sure. Need a movie? Let's just do a movie version of an old TV show! Better yet, let's remake a great film from the 70s, or from a different country, but leave out everything that made it special in the first place! As always, there are exceptions, but for the most part, this is Hollywood.

Now, take into consideration the guy who lives somewhere that's not Hollywood, (say, the Midwest) who is shooting his movie on weekends, putting everything he has(which, admittedly, isn't much, at least financially speaking) into his work. OK, maybe the make-up and digital effects aren't the greatest. Maybe the actors aren't name actors, or possibly aren't all that good at acting. But maybe the story is clever, or has some thing unique to it . Maybe a few of the actors are doing a good job. Maybe this little homegrown film has something a bit different that you'll find entertaining, that you won't find at the big cineplexes.

When I decide how much I like a film (or if I even like it at all), there's a few factors that go into it. I do grade on a curve...I cut a lot more slack for the independent filmmaker, the 'Little Guy', if you will. Why? Think about it. How many big-budget Hollywood films have you seen that cost millions of dollars to make, and still sucked? Now, think about the low-budget guy, whose entire production costs don't equal the cost for craft services on the aforementioned Hollywood flick. I can be a bit forgiving if his zombie make-ups aren't top-notch, or if a few actors in his ensemble aren't ready for Shakespeare. But the movie that cost a gazillion dollars? Those fuckers have no excuse, in my book. They could hire better writers, have better effects, and get better actors.

Ultimately, whatever the budget, genre, etc, the main criteria I judge a film on is , did it entertain me? Did I get caught up in it, for whatever reason? To me, whether it's a film, a book, or even a song, if I can get pulled in to the point where I forget everything else while I'm watching/reading/listening to it, then that to me is the mark of a good piece of entertainment. If it also makes me think, or teaches me something, even better. But mostly, did it involve me? Did it make me feel something?

What criteria do you judge a flim by? Do you only see certain types of films? Do you only see the big-name flicks, or do you take a chance on something unheard of, just to check it out? I'm curious.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Attack of the Remakes

I'm not here today to talk about a particular film, but to address a cinematic phenomenon that's plaguing the Silver Screen lately...I'm talking about the Remake.

In the past several years, remakes have popped up like weeds in the yard that is Film. It seems like there's more remakes than original productions these days. There are remakes of older films, and even worse, films that are remakes of old TV shows...really, did we need a Dukes of Hazard or an A-Team movie?

Many of the films that have been remade were classics from the 70s or early 80s. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and Dawn of the Dead are just a few of the films that fall into this category. Besides the fact that most of the people in charge in Hollywood seem to have a definite lack of originality or imagination, I think that name recognition is a main factor in these films being remade. The other is that the main demographic of cinemagoers, that is teens, have probably not seen these films.

I've only seen one of these remakes, that one being Dawn. At the insistance of a friend, I watched it. Was it terrible? No. Was it a total waste of time? No. Was it as good as the original? No. Was it at least good enough to warrant its existance? I think not. If the filmmakers just made their own zombie film, I probably wouldn't have a problem with it. But to call it by the same title as the original classic, well, that's calling a firecracker a it what you will, it just don't measure up. It was just unneccesary.

I know that some probably prefer the remakes over the originals. I read a book on zombie films recently that went so far as to say the remake of Dawn was better than George Romero's original undead opus. The writer of that book may truly believe that, but I believe that sometimes critics try to make a name for themselves by stirring the pot, and one way to do that is to attack established heroes and innovators of genres...I think they also get some kind of kick out of pissing fans off ( I've seen it in literary circles, too, where authors that have a following are slagged for whatever reason...Robert E. Howard, for example).

You can probably guess where I stand on the issue of remakes...but there are , as with all things (pun intended), exceptions to the rule. Two such exceptions that come to mind are John Carpenter's The Thing and David Cronenberg's The Fly. These were remakes done in the 80s instead of remakes of films from the 80s. Both films took their 50s sci-fi film source material as a mere starting point and made radical departures from the original source material. Carpenter's film was an excercize in paranoia , gore, and shape-shifting horror, and Cronenberg's film was , like most of his work, a tale of body horror . What makes these remakes stand head-and -mutated-shoulders above other remakes? First, they're both very well-done films. They took a films that were, let's face it, not all that great ( James Arness in a hokey monster suit and a guy with a big fly's head) and made masterpieces . The respective filmmakers took the material and put their own distinct spin on it. My problem with the Dawn remake is that the source material wasn't improved on ...unless you think fast-running zombies are the shit, then congrats, I got a movie for you. I suspect the same holds true for the other remakes lurking about.
The other remake trend I need to address here is that of the American Version Of A Great Foriegn Film. Case in point: Let Me In, the completely and totally unnecessary remake of the brilliant Swedish film Let The Right One In. The original, if you haven't seen it, is a wonderful movie...the best vampire film I've probably seen, and a damn good film in general. I think I can pin down the reasons this (and other foriegn films) is being remade instead of being put into wider release. Reason #1- Too much subltety, and dare I say it, artisticality( Is that even a word? Must be the Woodchuck hard cider talking). There are scenes of violence and gore, but they're interspersed with scenes of beauty and quiet, which aren't associated with Big Box Office Bucks here in the U.S. Reason #2-SUBTITLES. Gods forbid if we have to actually read while at the movies...might have an embolism or something. Hollywood makes assumptions on what we, as moviegoers, will watch, or want to watch.
So here's where I want your input, people. What do you think of remakes? What do you like to see in films? Are subtitles a deal-breaker for you? Is Hollywood correct in their take on the great unwashed masses waiting to watch movies? Do you think that your average American moviegoer wants something original, or the same old shit? What do you want? As for me, there's only so many hours in the day, and I'd rather watch some clever low-budget film , a Japanese-made splatterfest with cute girls and ridiculous body weapons , or a Norwegian Nazi Zombie epic ,than yet another remake of a classic (or not so classic) 70s/80s fright film. Talk to me, folks.