Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Miscellaneous: Seasons in the Sun

Now that summer is over, at least as far as Hollywood and America’s school systems are concerned, here are some quick thoughts on two trends:

1. Sequels that don’t suck. Twice this summer, reviews convinced me to take a flier on follow-ups to movies I didn’t particularly care for the first time around (SPIDER-MAN, THE BOURNE IDENTITY). Both times I came home happy. These movies are terrific entertainment that improve on their predecessors in every way. It’s almost like the filmmakers paid attention to what people were saying.

I’m trying to view this as a positive trend. I really am. I mean, it led to two fine afternoons out of the hot sun, didn’t it? But it seems like a lousy way to run a railroad. The first movie in a potential franchise is test-marketed into blandness. If there’s an appetite for it, the second movie will be better. It gives a whole new meaning to the movie set catch-all phrase, “We’ll fix it in post.”

2. Remakes that miss the point. Two darkly comic paranoid classics, THE STEPFORD WIVES and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, were revisited this summer. Both are perceived as commercial disappointments. And both seem to have been made by people who never saw the originals, but only heard about them in pitch meetings. (“Robot wives? I love it! ... It’s a comedy, right?”)

It’s bad enough that neither movie thrills. And that both of them concoct plot explanations that ultimately make no sense. But they don’t even attempt to tap into the genuine societal fears that the originals exploited so cannily. Are you telling me that with everybody perpetually on edge these days, there’s nobody out there who can:

a.) identify those things that we’re all afraid of; and
b.) figure out how to incorporate them into a thriller?

This summer, only OPEN WATER achieved the first aim. But it muffed the second. And it was an independent film, so I can’t even blame the crushing influence of corporate Hollywood. Maybe we’re all so blissed out on mood elevators that as a species we’ve lost the knack to laugh at what frightens us.

Then again, there’s always next summer.

DVD: The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Make all the copies you like. The original always stays sharp.

This is the ur-caper movie, directed by John Huston, adapted by Huston and Ben Maddow from the novel by W. R. Burnett. All the elements are here. The big dumb palooka who only wants one more score so he can go home. The girl who foolishly gives her heart to him. The criminal mastermind with the fatal weakness. There’s crooked cops and the great Louis Calhern as a lawyer on the ropes. All this and Marilyn Monroe, too.

The most remarkable thing I can say about this movie? It’s the weakest of the five in Warner’s film noir collection.

Magazine: The New Yorker, 9/6 issue

Tad Friend profiles political impressionist Jim Morris. Best known for doing Ronald Reagan, Morris is hard at work on his John Kerry:

“It’s coming together. I see John Kerry as two parts Herman Munster and one part Bill Walton – his build and facial structure and the cavities in his head, the nasal stuffiness. Then, there’s a bit of Hugh Grant in his smile; some Robert Stack raspiness in his voice; some Jim Nabors in the shoulders and face; some Bea Arthur in the face; and a hint of that Indian who cried from the highway about the litter. Oh, and a little bit of my dog, Tex.”

Sounds about right.