ThePageBoy

Writing, Reviewing and Criticism In The Internet Age

Tag: Movie

Doubled Barrelled Shotgun – Bad Movies & ‘Bad Movies’

So after the disappointment that was last week’s review I started thinking about bad movies and  what makes some movies worse than others, and to be honest that didn’t really seem like enough to get a whole column out of. Then I had a little epiphany – there are bad movies, and then there are there are “bad” movies.

Let me explain – “bad movies” appear in a vast array of different forms and the best ones, (in my opinion, as I do accept that tastes vary) come from the late 1980s and usually featured a muscle bound man blowing stuff up. Think ‘Commando’ (1985) or ‘Predator’ (1987). Big, dumb, loud films that had people blowing stuff up, caricatures of bad guys with evil beards and heroes who were unquestionably good and usually packing more muscle than a small bull. They were awesome. But they weren’t and most certainly aren’t even now, critically, objectively or artistically good films. Because films are not art – or rather, films are not just art. Films are fun. Films are entertainment and these films entertain a huge amount. They are ‘bad’ movies – some people use the term guilty pleasure as a way of justifying watching them. It’s strange and guilty language to use about something you enjoy, and it sort of suggests a distancing, a way of saying ‘yes I like it…..BUT I KNOW I SHOULDN’T’

When I stop and think about it, this strikes me as strange but really when you like at most forms of popular art, you’ll find similar language being used. People who enjoy certain pop music, or TV shows, or really popular books (50 Shades of Grey anyone?) You don’t tend to find this kind of thing in art forms that aren’t as populist as film and TV. After all, I’ve never heard about someone saying they’re going to see Edward II because plays by Marlowe are a guilty pleasure. There isn’t such a thing as a trashy opera. In short this might be part of the historical hierarchy of the art world coupled with maybe a pinch of guilt about the level of culture we engage in, but I really hope we can reclaim ‘bad movies’ as something to celebrate. This year the Edinburgh Fringe Festival had another midnight screening of the wonderful bad movie ‘The Room’ which serious cultural reviewers were calling one of the best things at the fringe. When the frankly hilariously bad ‘Showgirls’  came out it bombed and then people started throwing Showgirls parties to come together and watch the film with friends. In a way these ‘bad movies’ are a great cultural education ( OK maybe I’m pushing this argument a little far) but at the very least they bring people together and enable them to have fun in a way that Fellini marathon probably couldn’t.

Another thing I noticed about ‘bad movies’ is that they don’t appear overnight. It takes time for something to be recognised as a bad movie – ‘The Room’ was released in 2004, but it wasn’t until the last few years that it started to get wider recognition. The action movies of the 1980s that I love so much were treated very straight faced when they were released but in the ironic hipster nostalgia boom of my generation they’ve been re-discovered anew. But something has been happening recently – as always – that threatens to ruin everything I like about these films. I’m being given new ones, or even more annoying, new ones that are pretending to be old ones.

Total Recall. The Expendables II.  YOU GUYS ARE RUINING MY FUN!

Let me put it like this – when I look at films like this that are coming out lately, it feels like I’m being forced to have new favorite ‘bad movies’ and as I’ve said, it should take time for these movies to become the kind of movie that you can enjoy on a night in with friends.  Now this can happen more quickly – the frankly bonkers ‘Crank’ from 2006 and ‘Shoot Em Up’ from 2007 being notable exceptions to the rule but lately it feels like I’m being forced into these films. The remake of Total Recall feels like someone sat the writer in a room and told them the plot of the original and left out the one liners and the self-awareness that made the original a great Arnie vehicle. As a film, its fine – I suppose – competent at the very least but it isn’t nearly as good as the original. Will it become one of the great ‘bad movies’ of the future? NO. Will it be found in the bargain bin of HMV in 5 years’ time? Yes. Well, if HMV is still in existence.

Compared with the Expendables II though, the Total Recall remake is a minor irritation. If there was any a film franchise that was aching to tap into the nostalgia of the 1980s it is this one. The Expendables is desperate to be one of the ‘bad movies’ that you watch with a fridge of cold beers and all of your best friends.  And it must be awesome – BECAUSE YOU RECOGNISE THE ACTORS IN IT! AND EXPLOSIONS!

You can sense the neediness – it’s there in the complete lack of original thought and the generic action sequences that ape the action sequences that were interesting to watch 20 years ago, all that’s changed is the effects. What’s most depressing about the film though is how crushingly serious it is and the trailer for the sequel doesn’t give me any hope that they’ve made it any more fun. It used to be that movies like this made the effort to demonstrate some self-awareness in what they were, and not be so Po-faced. I can hardly be expected to find something awesome if all I have to look forward to is Dolph Lundgren glowering at me! Is this what the ‘bad movie’ has been reduced to? These aren’t ‘bad movies.’ They’re just bad.

That being said I do have some hope for ‘Lockout’ – who ever managed to pitch Guy Pearce fighting his way into prison to rescue the president’s daughter IN SPACE, clearly knows exactly what makes a bad movie tick…

Thanks

ThePageBoy

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“I vant to like this movie” or, ‘This really isn’t good for my blood pressure.’

Right,

So Marvel Month is over and done with and I decided I needed to make a clean break – establish some critical distance from the comics to the rest of the blog. So, thinking it over, I settled on doing a classic – something with a fine pedigree, something that is usually found in the classics section. As an English student I am a fan of the classics in the literature section and I have always had a fondness for the horror classics of Gothic literature. This was the thought process that lead me to the 1897 novel by an Irish writer by the name of Bram, one of my favourite novels and one of the first horror novels I ever read… Oh yes, this week is Dracula week.

Dracula is THE classic horror story and has been adapted multiple times, some of them now considered film classics. However I decided I would focus on a more recent adaptation by one of the best directors working in modern cinema. Francis Ford Coppola has been behind some of the best films of the 20th century; and for the twelve of you who don’t know, here’s a few highlights of things he’s been behind…

The Godfather. Yes, that one. widely regarded as one of the best films ever made. EVER. and Part II. And Part III. THE gangster movies of modern American cinema.

– Apocalypse Now.

Lost in Translation (executive producer)

Sleepy Hollow

Frankenstein

And many, many, many more. As a writer, director and producer this man has been one of the heavy hitters of Western cinema for decades now and in 1992 he was responsible for an adaptation of Stoker’s classic novel.

I feel for the sake of my own integrity I need to declare my own feelings here. I really, REALLY dislike this film. As an adaptation I think it is possibly the worst application of a text into a new medium I have ever sat through. If you’re a fan of this film, maybe it is for the best you come back next time because you’re not going to enjoy this one. If there is anyone still reading who wants to know how I’m going to justify this extreme opinion please bear with me whilst I state my case.

Firstly, the positives. The film looks nice. The design of the whole thing is really quite well done. The cast all know how to act properly.

Good, that’s out of the way…Now, onto the problems.

This film has some of the worst casting choices possible. I would have loved to have sat in the meeting discussing the casting options for this film; I imagine a room full of healthy and tanned American executives discussing Coppela’s latest project.

“So, we’ve got Jonathan Harker, he’s an English guy, seems to have formed the trope of the English Gothic hero. Who should we get?’

” I know, what about Keanau Reeves?”

“Really Charlie?”

“Yeah! He’ll be great!”

“Charlie, how much coke are you on? Keanau Reeves!? He’s from California! He has the emotional range of a roll of carpet samples!”

“Yeah, he’ll rock it! And for his wife, the perfect English Gothic rose? You know who I’m thinking – Winona Ryder

“Charlie – she’s from California! She can’t do an English accent to save her life!”

“No no no, these are the people we need to carry this film…now who wants some more drugs?”

And those are the people they went for. It does not work. At all. The first time Jonathan Harker opened his mouth I had to pause the movie and laugh for a good minute, Reeves is woefully out of his depth and it cannot help but show. Ryder as Mina Harker is better, but not by much and her topless scene smacks of the gratuitous. The rest of the cast is solid but burdened with a script that hinders every single one of them.The reason for this is a script that forces the actors into a plot, that in places, reads more like a poor Harlequin romance than a horror.

It is in the plot that this films lets itself down so badly – the novel sets out to establish the vampire as something dangerous. Not just dangerous, but damning – an encounter with Dracula will not only cost you your life but also your spiritual salvation. Dracula isn’t sexy. Or fun. Rather an encounter with a Dracula, in the book, is portrayed as something so horrific that it will cost you your soul – Mina Harker’s reaction to discovering that she has been tainted by Dracula is nigh on hysterical with terror. On the other hand, the film takes a very different approach…

This starts with the establishing opening sequence, where we see the character of Dracula in the past as solider, who, thinking his wife dead, renounces his faith in God and swears to come back from the dead using the power of darkness. I will admit that the film does this very well, the scene where the chapel fills with blood shows off the production and design and Gary Oldman as Dracula gets to show off his acting chops with his dialogue in Romanian. From here, the film takes an entirely different tangent as to what a vampire is. Instead of being something dangerous, the film effectively sanitized the idea of a vampire – Oldman becomes a sympathetic figure seeking the love of his resurrected wife that will redeem him and enable him to get him into heaven.

Now, if you are still reading this as a fan of the film, I want you to re-read that last sentence and then compare it to the tone and character arc of Dracula in Stoker’s novel and then try and tell me with a staight face that this is a good way of adaptating the text. It isn’t even accurate. At all. The idea of a vampire ceases to be dangerous and no ammount of erotic seduction or lavish production will ever disguise the fact, that this is a horror film that just fails to be scary in the smallest degree.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. “Jon, you just don’t like anything that deviates from the book you’re a fan of..You hate someone who disagrees with you and can’t deal with the idea that someone might have a different take on a character!”

Well, no. I have no objection to the idea of someone making bold choices with a character but this is not what vampires ARE. If you want to make a movie about a supernatural creature looking for his reincarnated wife fine. No problem. No objection here. But there is a well established literaray tradition of what vampires are and how they behave. This tradition isn’t just the work of writers from the 1890’s but something based on the myths and legends of Eastern Eurpoe stretching back centuries. To ignore and neglect this part of the vampire mythos is not good adaptation, if anything it is ignoring the history of the genre and character and trying to make it into something new. In fact, the movie is an indulgence, it’s a fantasy puff piece designed to appeal to the people who grew up to write Twilight fanfiction. Yes, that’s right – I am going to blame this movie for spawning that horror of pop-culture mediocre waste of time that infatuated a generation of tweens. And for that, there will be no pit of hell deep enough… *sigh*

I started with saying that this was a biased review. I love this book, I read it as a teenager and I have constantly re-read it and it has never failed to inspire a little terror every time. I was initally excited about this film version but all that I was left with, when the credits rolled was an over-whelming sense of a missed opportunity . Someone wanted to make a vampire movie but didn’t get what a vampire was, didn’t get why a vampire was scary and had no idea how to make it work with this lavish and over-blown production.

I wanted to like this. I did and I swear I tried to, but as I mentioned with my review of X-Men how you feel about a film does colour the opinion you hold as a critic and enjoyment of a film does tend to cover the worst of filmic sins. But this…this is just terrible.

Don’t let me convince you. If you haven’t either read the book or seen the film then take a weekend and you tell me. Tell me why you think they got it right as an adaptation or tell me if you agree with me and get it off your chest. This is not just bad – this is not getting it, missing the point and producing something that doesn’t deserve to be called a vampire movie, it’s a romance movie for those with a fetish for biting. Classic literature deserves more than that.

But, hey – that’s just my two cents 🙂

Thanks

The PageBoy

PS I promise that next week I’ll do something that makes me less grouchy…

PPS Oh, and the classic black and white Dracula is so so so so much better. Simply on the grounds that the actors all have English accents that sound like English accents puts it over and above this one in terms of quality.

‘Why John Hurt is destined for a happy life in a facist state’ or 1980’s flashback!

Right,

First of all, apologies for the slightly morbid title – but I thought it best to title this one with a quote from the book, and when the book is considered in all of it’s glory there really aren’t that many quotes from this magnificent novel that aren’t as bleak as Labour’s re-election chances. If the small semantic clue I dropped in the last sentence wasn’t clue enough to the more lively cells in the great hive mind of the web, I adore this novel. It was one of the first great works of literature I remember reading from my early teenage years and it scared the bejesus out of me then and still does. All of this is to say, that any adaptation of this book has one hell of a bar to meet.

To that end, enter Michael Radford, whom, in 1984, with the backing of Virgin Films released what has become an acclaimed interpretation. Whilst I was optimistic,  the idea of releasing the film in 1984 initially struck me as a gimmick. Coupled with the tagline, ‘The year of the movie. The movie of the year,’ I was slightly concerned the makers of the film had inspired the marketing strategy from The Omen re-boot, (notable only for the 11.11.11 release date and being a complete load of old balls.)

Thankfully I was swiftly disabused of my cynical notions from the opening minutes as the viewer is plunged into the ‘Two Minute Hate’ and introduced to Winston Smith, played by John Hurt. As the protagonist of the story Hurt carries the film out of necessity as the book itself is all about the isolation that the world of ‘1984’ has forced upon him. Frankly, Hurt is simply incredible; a man blessed with the kind of face that looks like weathered granite, an actor ideally suited for conveying so much through silence, glances or twitches in the face.

The rest of the cast is extremely good but I will only mention one more here, (to see more on the cast of the movie just check out the IMDB page for the film) and that would be the chilling Richard Burton as O’Brien. This was Burton’s final film and his first after a lengthy hiatus but he is simply brilliant. Cold, calculated and utterly convinced of not simply his right-ness but the Party’s righteousness. Though a fourth choice for the part he is O’Brien – the next time I go to read the book I fully expect to hear his smooth and authoritative voice giving me the image of a boot stamping on a human face, forever.

This isn’t merely a post to sing the praises of this Brit-flick classic but to assess how this works as an adaptation. To return to the film’s opening, it highlights what I believe is the crucial difference between the book and the film, a difference that is inherent in the two mediums. The opening of the book contains personally, what I believe to be one of the finest opening lines of any book ever written, ‘It was a cold, windy day in April, and the clocks had just finished striking thirteen.’

Go on, read that again. Take the time and appreciate just how good a sentence that is. That is wonderful, frankly.

The opening of the novel plunges the reader into Winston’s world. It is close, lonely and fetid with paranoia. The milieu is superbly evoked, from the first line we as readers are presented with a brew of the familar and the strangely alien. With the film, immediately the viewer is submerged, not in isolation but by faces. Screaming faces. Watching the film for the first time it actually took me a few moments to realise who was Winston Smith.

This isn’t to criticise, don’t get me wrong – the nature of film is as a visual medium, and the directorial choice to present the viewer with a bewildering and strange image is a very bold one but for me, the power of the story comes from its closeness to Winston’s point of view, something that the close third narrative point of view was specifically designed to do and film, well not so much. The film is commendably close to the original text however, and this is hugely to its credit, the design and setting of the film tracks incredibly closely what I thought the world of the book would look like.

So, all good right?

Yeah – a harrowing retelling of the classic novel for freedom that elegantly juxtaposes the original text with its modern-day 1980’s setting. And now, I’ll stop using the language of an arse and actually offer some criticism. In one very important way, I don’t believe this is an adaptation of the book.

I’ll pause to let people re-adjust. Finished freaking out?

Good.

The film is hugely and apparently indebted to the book yet is that what makes the film an adaptation? I think it could quite easily be argued, no. The closer that a film comes to the original source material the more difficult it is to transfer that into an easily comprehended, coherent visual narrative. Books are, by the nature of their form, designed for the exploration of the psyche, motive, feeling and thought. This aren’t things that have immediately obvious visual markers and whilst the film transfers really well the experience feels more like an attempt at a straight re-telling rather than an adaptation of the story in a new way. The thing that really tipped me off to this was a thought that flashed through my  mind midway through the film.

‘Would I like this as much, if I didn’t know and love the book beforehand?’

Arguably? No, I don’t think I would.

There are a few more examples that back up what I’m saying, from time to time the script feels a little crowded – jamming in points from the book without the means of explaining WHY these things matter. Things such as the old rhyme about the churches of London, the coral in glass, Winston’s thoughts on his young neighbours are all crucial to the book for understanding everything that is going on from Winston’s perspective yet in the film these events felt rushed and crowded out by the main thrust of the narrative. However, there is one moment from the film that I feel gets the balance right, with the sequence in Room 101. Watching it took me back to the first reaction I had to the novel as a teenager. I don’t want to add too many more spoilers here, (check it out on YouTube) but everything about it works. The camera work, (with it’s emphasis on the faces of the two main charcters) along with the minimal violence and the tension of it shows how the film does have flashes of genuine adaptive genius, whilst showing all of the greatness British film making is capable of.

Maybe I’m not being fair and I will certainly admit I’m splitting hairs. Yes I know – the very fact this exists in a seperate and distinct form from the book does make it an adaptation but all I’ve tried to argue here is that, perhaps, adaptation should not simply re-tell, (no matter how well it does) but should give a reason for exisiting as a film – if a re-telling is all a film offers surely I could just re-read the novel.

I will also admit that there are book/films that demonstrate this much more extremely than this one, but if I’m guilty of being too harsh please let me say that it comes from just loving this book too much for my own good.

So.

There we go. Now go off and read the book, (no seriously, go read the book right now) then watch the movie and let me know what you think.

Thanks!

ThePageBoy

So onwards we go. Next time I promise to not split hairs as much and do a book/film that properly lives up to the term ‘adaptation.’ In the meantime, join the conversation, find @ThePageBoy1 on Twitter and keep talking about the best and the worst of books and films.