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Entries in remake (4)

Thursday
Mar022017

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Samuel L Jackson, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Tian Jing, Toby Kebbell, Shea Wigham, Thomas Mann and John C Reilly.
Writers: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly.
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

Rating: 3.5/5

The latest incarnation of moviedom’s iconic great ape is the sole convincingly emotional character in Kong: Skull Island, a decibel-defying mash-up of grand-scale monster movie, grunt-level military fantasy and state of the art effects showcase. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has the good sense to leave his human stars alone to earn their paycheques, instead ensuring the big, beautiful visual thrills of Hollywood’s umpteenth monster-monkey movie are delivered in spades.

As the Vietnam War effort winds down, crypto-zoologist Bill Randa (John Goodman) grasps his last opportunity to oversee a military-led exploration of Skull Island, an uncharted South Pacific jungle paradise. Soon, he and offsider Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) are on the high seas, under the slightly-too-twitchy eye of career soldier Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson, bringing his unhinged A-game) and the heavily armed troop of future dead people. Along for the ride are Tom Hiddleston as dreamboat tracker James Conrad (who, oddly, does little tracking) and Brie Larson as tough gal photojournalist Mason Weaver.

Braving a massive storm front and emerging over the spectacular environment (mostly Australia and Vietnam), Vogt-Robert’s indulges in what amounts to helicopter porn, his whirring camera putting you in the cabins of the aircraft, capturing both the scale of the expedition’s journey of discovery and the terror as the angry ape brings the squadron mercilessly back to earth. A wondrous CGI creation that conveys both body (muscle and hair convinces) and soul (yes, they get the eyes right), the majestic monkey doesn’t take kindly to being flushed out by Randa’s dirty-bombs. Desperate to regroup, the survivors make their way through jungles filled with all manner of fantasy-sized beasts, most worryingly the breed of subterranean screeching lizard-things who share some personal history with the tall, dark leading man.

The production’s website boasts that the narrative is “an original new adventure”, and that is true; there is little of significance that ties Kong 2017 to past versions of the classic adventure story. The ‘Beauty and The Beast’ heart of Kong mythology, embodied by Fay Wray in ’33, Jessica Lange in ’76 and Naomi Watts in ’05, is hinted at but never fully developed. Turning Oscar’s cache into cash, Larson only has two key scenes with Kong. She does all she can with her feisty photog, which mostly means reinforcing the feisty and straining to find chemistry in the couple of meaningful scenes she has with her other leading man. Hiddleston conveys Conrad’s alpha male qualities via a series of square-jawed, chest-out moments, as if he is posing for his action figure mould, which is actually all that is required in the context of what is going on around him.

Film and audience alike are grateful for the arrival of John C Reilly as the WWII pilot Hank Marlow, who has survived on the island since his plane was downed there in 1943. The actor provides great comic relief just as the film needs it, but also highlights (via an admittedly exciting prologue) one of the many illogical developments in the script written by the trio of Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly; what strategic military value would an air battle have over an island so remote as to remain undiscovered for another 30-odd years?

Less artful but more fun than the producer’s last monster reboot, 2014’s Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island neither demands nor encourages intellectual engagement. What it strives to be is a big, loud, bloody action-adventure, the kind of mid-March blockbuster that signifies the awards season is over and the heady days of summer movie going are nigh. One of Jordan Vogt-Robert’s directing strengths is that he has the chutzpah to forego otherwise crucial film staples as character dimensionality and subtext, but confidently delivering chest-thumping mass entertainment. 

Tuesday
Jul122016

GHOSTBUSTERS

Stars: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Zach Woods, Ed Begley Jr., Karan Soni, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong and Charles Dance.
Writers: Paul Feig and Katie Dippold.
Director: Paul Feig

Rating: 3/5

The army of haters (nostalgists? misogynists? the undead?) that shrieked like banshees prior to seeing Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters will be haunted by the spectre of the director’s goofy, funny reboot. While it falls short of nailing the anarchic spirit and character chemistry of Ivan Reitman’s beloved 1984 blockbuster, Feig and his cast of game comediennes deliver enough thrills and giggles to both justify the long-in-development franchise-starter and smother the internet’s white noise of negativity.

Built upon a framework that will feel familiar to the legion of fans, the script by Feig and collaborator Kate Dippold (The Heat, 2013) reworks the famous ‘haunted library’ opening before honing in on fidgety academic Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig). Just as a career goal looms, her ex-BFF Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) derails Erin’s life plans and throwing the pair back together, reigniting their passion for the study of the paranormal. Fortuitously, New York City is about to experience an apocalyptic upsurge in supernatural activity, thanks to the evildoings of whiny ginger Rowan North (Neil Casey).

Poised to make it big as The Big Apple’s leading paranormal extermination and elimination team, the reunited gal pals team with Abby’s unshakeably cool lab partner Jillian (Kate McKinnon) and street smart NYC girl Patty (Leslie Jones) to face off against the ghouls of centuries past, who are conjuring to life at will and running rampant in downtown Manhattan. Also working against the Ghostbusters are a disbelieving mayoral office (Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong) and some ineffectual feds (Matt Walsh, Michael Kenneth Williams).

As expected, the big laughs fall to Wiig and McCarthy, a key point of difference between the reboot and the original. Reitman’s expertly managed ensemble of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis were vividly larger-than-life characters with strong comedic perspectives; it was a pure delight just to be hanging out with them. But very few actual ‘gags’ fell to the trio, and those that did grew organically from their personalities and the nimble plotting.

Feig is a master of onscreen ‘fem-istry’, but his Ghostbusters leads are not as finely etched as the ensemble in his biggest hit Bridesmaids, nor are they as deliriously funny as the key characters in his best film, Spy. Kristen Wiig is corseted as the tightly-wound Erin, the few moments when her trademark ‘zany’ peeks out proving hilariously memorable; McCarthy’s physical comedy shtick and motor mouth skill is well utilised, but a bit familiar; McKinnon is not the breakout star of the film, as was clearly intended, though she gets some big laughs.

Notably lacking in Feig’s reboot is a centralised romance similar to that between Murray’s Peter Venkman and Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett, which served to provide both a human warmth and personal stake. Instead, we have a glimmer of unrequited attraction between Erin and Chris Hemsworth’s dim-witted beau-hunk, Kevin, the ‘Ghostbusters’ receptionist, in an overplayed subplot that only amounts to minor giggles. A lot falls on the Australian actor’s broad shoulders, perhaps more than was wise in a cast of top-tier comedic talents, but he handles the part with…enthusiasm.

It is unclear if Hemsworth’s role was meant to fill the shoes of Annie Potts’ front-office firebrand Janine or Rick Moranis’ classic nerd Lewis, whose presence played such a crucial role in the original’s dynamic; it does neither. Also leaving a void is the conflict that was provided by William Atherton’s slimy EPA agent Walter Peck, aka ‘Dickless’; Feig’s film suffers in much the same way that the ill-conceived Ghostbusters 2 did, with no convincing villain to provide character tension and dramatic momentum. Technology denies the production the rich, evocative shadows and ‘real New York’ ambience captured by Reitman’s legendary DOP Laszlo Kovacs; instead, Robert Yeoman serviceably supplies the flavourless digital sheen of the modern film palette.

The ace in Feig’s deck is his obvious fondness for the property’s mythology and affinity with the fan base. The director skilfully mimics visual and audio cues that will (did) bring knowing nods and broad smiles from an audience that holds the original in warm regard. If the reimagining never establishes its own defining personality, it is only because it adheres so affectionately and respectfully to the legacy of its source material.

The ties that bind do not always serve the film well; shoehorned cameos are tonally disruptive and not worthy (one key reappearance reduced to a end-credit outtake slot). Nevertheless, as the latest brand to hop aboard Hollywood’s reboot train, Ghostbusters is better than most repackaged 80s nostalgia and provide no ammunition for those that were priming their keyboards for a misfire of biblical proportions.

Wednesday
May202015

POLTERGEIST

Stars: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris, Jane Adams, Kyle Catlett, Kennedi Clements and Saxon Sharbino.
Writer: David Lindsay-Abaire.
Director: Gil Kenan.

Watch the trailer here.

Rating: 2.5/5

If Gil Kenan’s remake of Tobe Hooper’s (or, if you believe the scuttlebutt, Steven Spielberg’s) 1982 spectral spectacular Poltergeist is remembered at all, it will be as further evidence of Hollywood’s disregard for the horror genre in its pandering to the PG-13 demographic.

Robbed of the upwardly mobile, early 80s spunk that imbued leads Craig T Nelson and the great Jobeth Williams with such warm personalities, whiny smart-alec Sam Rockwell and an anaemic Rosemarie DeWitt star as Eric and Amy Bowen, two career-less strugglers mired in an America of foreclosed suburban blocks. In 1982, The Freelings earned our affection with funny and familiar family moments that remain fan favourites (the burying of the dead bird; giving the pool guys the finger; the battle for remote control with the jerk-neighbour); in 2015, The Bowens are introduced in a static single shot, bundled together in their bland people mover and shrilly yelling over each other to be heard. In modern screen parlance, writer David Lindsay-Abaire’s lazy opening represents ‘establishing character.’

Those rich characterisations that ensured emotional investment in the plight of the all-American nuclear family are but one of the many assets exorcised in this shallow retelling, but it is arguably the most crucial omission. The narrative’s dramatic impetus has been taken away from the mother; the tormented focus that the grief of losing a daughter to supernatural forces and the desperate determination to get her back provided Williams with meaty maternal material. Alternatively, DeWitt is largely a nonchalant bystander, barely registering a furrowed brow as her youngest navigates ‘The Great Beyond’. Similarly, Rockwell’s father figure seems annoyed by the overall inconvenience of the spiritual invasion; any comparison to Nelson’s crumbling emotional wreck is really no comparison at all.

Otherworldly heroism falls to middle-child Griffin, played by an ok Kyle Catlett (moms can’t be heroes in 2015 franchise reboots); his role is essentially a live-action version of the animated tyke director Kenan conjured in 2006’s Monster House.  Teenage sister Kendra is played with an ultra-modern ironic detachment by Saxon Sharbino, who can’t be jolted into any kind of emotional life no matter how much the ethereal denizens of her home try; the abducted moppet made famous by the late Heather O’Rourke is ably realised by Kennedi Clements, easily the best of the ensemble. Jared Harris and Jane Adams are reduced to naff comic relief in roles that carried dramatic weight 33 years ago when played by Zelda Rubinstein and Beatrice Straight, respectively.

If the human elements are left wanting, there is some meagre joy to be had in the prerequisite frights. The most successfully rendered reworking of an original element is the clown that freaks out Griffin (although how it comes to be in his room at all represents an implausible disregard for new home owner due diligence); based on the high profile that the clown has in all the marketing material, the producers are aiming for the ‘creepy doll’ audience that PG-13 hits The Conjuring and Annabelle brought in. Also relatively effective are CGI-heavy re-imaginings of the iconic ‘Killer Tree’ sequence and the ‘Wardrobe to Hell’ portal to the homes’ heart of bi-location.

To list further failings in Kenan’s remake would begin to sound churlish – the financial hardship the Bowens find themselves in means no backyard pool sequences; no E-Buzz, the family dog whose animal instincts first sensed the true nature of the house; no discernible music score, unlike Jerry Goldsmith’s orchestral masterwork. Also, blaming the atmospheric ineffectiveness on the tinny digital sheen that has replaced the rich, deep shadows and vibrant colours provided by film stock is a moot point; film production is what it is in the modern industry.

Fact is, Poltergeist 2015 was not made to honour its source material. Nor will the PG-13 audience for which it was created be all that familiar with its origins (or, for that matter, what a poltergeist even is). It should be judged on its own terms; in that regard, it is a tepid, mid-range effort, lacking in logic and derailed by one-note characters servicing a narrowly focussed B-movie storyline. It’s just that little bit sadder that proof exists indicating it could have been so much more.

Thursday
Sep042014

KITE

Stars: India Eisley, Samuel L Jackson, Callan McAuliffe, Zane Meas, Carl Beukes, Lionel Newton and Deon Lotz.
Writer: Brian Cox; based upon the film by Yasuomi Umetsu.
Director: Ralph Ziman.

Rating: 2.5/5

Dabbling in the same fetish-feminism and coldly-served revenge fantasies that made Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch such a wildly divisive work, artist and occasional director Ralph Ziman brings an appropriately seedy but miserably downbeat aesthetic to this long-in-development adaptation of Yasuomi Umetsu’s R-rated anime.

The blood-soaked, soft-core original drew conservative ire and censorship board wrath for its depiction of schoolgirl skin-flick anti-heroine, Sawa. In Brian Cox’s script, the random fornication so prevalent in the cartoon is gone, replaced by a greater focus on Sawa’s troubled psyche and fitful recollection of her past (the skimpy costuming, of course, remains). Fuelled by an addiction to the street drug Amp and hell bent upon avenging the slaying of her crusader cop dad, she delves deep into the sordid world of child prostitution where she ekes out and exterminates any evildoer that crosses her.

Live-action reimagining of the original’s key visual cues and memorable moments will register with the fan base. Relevance is attempted by positing the action in a post-GFC dystopia, riddled with the kind of social decay that budget restraints demand is conveyed by lots of peeling paint and smoke machines. The expansion of the plot from 50 minutes to a laborious 90 yields no discernible thematic gain; additional elements such as parkour street gang rivalries and Sawa’s softening when faced with an orphaned teen bolster the running time but not audience involvement.

Ziman’s flesh-and-blood embodiment of Sawa is American actress India Eisley, registering strongly when called upon to humanize the cold-blooded assassin but unable to cut it when the going gets physical; best amongst the cast is Australian Callan McAuliffe as Sawa’s street-urchin guardian, Oburi. Prime villainy is provided in the form of ‘The Emir’, played in a brief, charismatic turn by local character actor Zane Meas, and his OTT pommie offsider, Vic (some ol’ school scenery-chewing by Carl Beukes); all other bad guy parts are of the ‘arms folded and wait to die horribly’ variety. Gorehounds will find some glee in an opening sequence that features an exploding head seen through a gaping hole in one baddie’s hand and a henchman’s death by dum-dum dildo.

The property fell into Ziman’s hands when Snakes on a Plane director David R Ellis passed away unexpectedly during pre-production. Cast as the Sawa’s protector and loner cop Karl, a clearly disinterested Samuel L Jackson was locked in and hung around when the shoot went ahead, but there is a tangible sense that not everybody was particularly enthused about continuing. Shot in South Africa, the narrative occasionally recalls Luc Besson’s Leon and Tarantino’s Kill Bill double feature, but ultimately feels more akin to such weekly rental VHS staples as Avenging Angel and I Spit on Your Grave than anything worthwhile in its own right.