Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Remembering Bodhi

Just yesterday, Patrick Swayze lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. I really thought he was going to make it, or I really just hoped he would make it.

It’s been interesting hearing people’s reactions to Patrick Swayze’s death. For women, they are heartbroken over the loss of Johnny Castle (Dirty Dancing) and Sam Wheat (Ghost). Men though, are broken up over the loss of Dalton (Road House) and Bodhi (Point Break). Although Patrick Swayze's career spanned over 40 films, it’s these four that have endured in the hearts of cinemagoers. For me, he will always be Bodhi.

Released in 1991, Point Break was a mild success at the box office. Over the years, however, it has become a cult classic. The immensely popular Point Break Live!, credited as the first ever "reality play," has toured to sold-out audiences across the country since its Seattle debut in 2003. 

In reading about Swayze’s life today, the one thing people who knew him have said is how humble and kind he was to others. According to IMDB, he has been with his wife since 1975. That has to be a record in Hollywood. Swayze’s humble and kind nature really rubs off on the character of Bodhi, and Swayze created a cinematic rarity; the sympathetic antagonist.

It’s easy to see how Keanu Reeves’s character in Point Break, FBI agent Johnny Utah, could be seduced into Bodhi’s world so easily. Bodhi’s spiritual outlook on life is a perfect match for Johnny’s conventional upbringing. Their bond and friendship grows so strong that Johnny is blinded by the fact that his new friend is really the criminal that he is chasing.

Unfortunately, after Point Break, Swayze’s career really fell off the map. It’s too bad because he was a really talented actor who was due for a comeback. His work earlier this year on the A&E drama, The Beast, was some of the best acting of his career.

According to his friends and colleagues, Patrick Swayze was many things. He was an accomplished dancer, talented actor, a skydiver, a pilot, and a loving husband. He leaves behind a cinematic legacy that most actors would envy. When diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Swayze continued working and living a full life until the very end. He refused to ever become a victim to this horrible disease. Although Patrick Swayze’s life was cut short at the age of 57, while he was here, he had the “time of his life.”

Will somebody please stop Robert Zemeckis?!

I just saw the trailer for the upcoming performance capture feature, A Christmas Carol. I had the same reaction to this trailer that I did when I watched The Polar Express and Beowulf. Why can’t Robert Zemeckis just make a live action movie?

It’s sad to watch the great director of such classics as Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forrest Gump lose his way. I know Zemeckis wants to change cinema and be an innovator of something new, but this is just not working.

The sad part is that The Polar Express and Beowulf are really good films. It’s the performance capture/crapture technique that, for me, makes them forgettable. I can’t stand looking at the dead eyes of these performance crapture actors. They remind me of the pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I really wanted to love The Polar Express and Beowulf. I really tried. I just could not get close to them. If Beowulf were an actual live action film, imagine how much money it really could have made.

Here’s an idea. Since the actors have to actually be present in order to accomplish this performance capture technique; why can’t Zemeckis -- I don’t know, actually make a movie while he’s at it?

Watching the trailer for Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol, I couldn't help but imagine how brilliant Jim Carrey would have been in a live action version of this story. He was born to play the part of Scrooge. He could have played multiple roles, like Eddie Murphy did in The Nutty Professor.

Sadly, A Christmas Carol will probably make half a billion dollars this holiday season, and we will be subjected to future Zemeckis performance crapture films. But, then again, most holiday themed family films do very well anyway.

I’m sure if I had some kids, I’d be the first in line to see A Christmas Carol. Thankfully, I don’t. I don’t know about you, but if I am going to be entertained this holiday season by an animated adaptation of the Dickens' classic, I am going to pop in the DVD of the immortal Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Remakes, Reboots, and Prequels - Cinema of the 21st Century

Just recently, Hollywood announced they were remaking Dirty Dancing. While this does not come as a surprise to me, the fact that Hollywood is remaking Dirty Dancing really got me thinking. Is anything sacred anymore? And how far is too far?

It seems every week, Hollywood announces they are remaking, rebooting, reimagining, or rethinking some old classic that we cinemagoers hold near and dear to our hearts. At this point, I have become numb to this trend and accept it as a way for Hollywood to make money. After all, remakes are nothing new to Hollywood. Hollywood has been remaking movies almost as long as they have been making movies. Some remakes have been great; both Mutiny on the Bounty remakes and Little Shop of Horrors come to mind. Then you have a downright awful remake like the 1998 remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho.

In 1999, when George Lucas released the first of his Star Wars prequels, who knew that this new trend would take off the way it did. Now if it’s impossible for your new hit movie to have a sequel, that’s okay, just make a prequel. If you think about it, Red Dragon is a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs while at the same time being a remake of the much superior Manhunter. Then that would make Hannibal Rising a prequel to a prequel of a remake. Or a reboot? Who knows? Let’s not forget the prequel to the remake or reboot of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that came out a few years ago.

Reboots are also a new trend in Hollywood. This all started with the reboot of the Batman franchise in 2005 with Batman Begins. This, of course, makes sense. Outside of Tim Burton’s excellent, and unfortunately now dated Batman, the character of Batman had been completely bastardized and humiliated on screen to the point where the Batman impersonator running around on Hollywood Boulevard had more credibility.

Rebooting the Batman franchise was a brilliant idea. Who knew that the origins of Batman could be so fascinating and gripping? Its sequel, The Dark Knight, emerged last year as the biggest superhero film of all time. With its dark tone, provocative themes, and the serious handling of the source material, The Dark Knight is now seen as a new high standard to which all new superhero franchises will aspire to meet. With that came the decent reboot of The Incredible Hulk and, of course, the immensely popular reboots of the Star Trek and James Bond franchises.

Of course, for every Batman Begins, we now have to suffer with reboots of Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and proposed reboots like Superman, Fantastic Four, Robocop, Mad Max, and yes, even The Crow. So, I guess if your big, tent-pole summer movie fails, don’t worry, just reboot it a few years down the line.

The bottom line for Hollywood is money, and these countless prequels, reboots, and remakes are making a lot of it. Why should Hollywood stop?

I’m not opposed to some of these remakes and reboots. Some of them are pretty good. But to remake nearly every single successful franchise of the past few decades is ludicrous. Years from now, when someone is asked what were some of the most successful horror movies of this decade, they will likely mention the very unique Saw and Final Destination. Then they will probably mention The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and Friday the 13th. What were some of the most successful horror movies of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and Friday the 13th. I just hope that twenty years from now, the most successful horror films will not be the same ones. At that point, a significant part of our cinema history will just be a copy of a copy of a copy - kind of like the Michael Keaton movie, Multiplicity, where he cloned himself three times. Those of us who saw the movie all know what happened with that last clone.

A remake of Dirty Dancing is crossing the line, even by Hollywood standards. Dirty Dancing has grown into a cultural phenomenon and is a timeless classic. Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey were born to play those roles in the same way Marlon Brando was born to play The Godfather. The music, the time, and the feel of that movie cannot be recaptured. And we all know what happened when Hollywood tried to make a prequel with Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.

So, what’s next? Ben Affleck starring in a reboot of The Godfather? Oh, the horror. . .the horror...

500 Days of Summer - The Best Film of our Time?

It’s been just a little over a month since I first saw 500 Days of Summer, and I’ve already seen it a second time. I may see it again. Where did this movie come from? I haven’t seen a movie this good in a long time.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, 500 Days of Summer tells the story of Tom Hanson (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). Tom is a greeting card writer and Summer is the new Executive Assistant at the company. For the next 500 days after their first meeting, they embark on a relationship filled with passion, love, intimacy, laughter, joy, distance, heartbreak, and ultimately rebirth. In the words of the film's narrator, “This is a story of boy meets girl. But you should know up front, this is not a love story.”

One of the true miracles of 500 Days of Summer is the pace. With a run time of 95 minutes, 500 Days covers more dramatic ground than most of the two hour plus opuses that Hollywood has been turning out recently.

The quick pace of the movie is mainly attributed to the non-linear structure of the story. By introducing the 500 days out of order, the dramatic highs and lows of the story often get to be experienced concurrently. Marc Webb, first time feature film director and music video veteran, along with the screenwriters, takes a real risk with this structure, and it pays off. With Webb’s music video background, 500 Days could have had an MTV feel with more style than substance.

500 Days of Summer develops a real sense of play with its structure and throws away many of the conventional plot devises of the typical romantic comedy; the most effective being the party sequence in the film. The sequence is shown with split screen through two different perspectives; reality and Tom’s expectations of how the way the evening will go. The differences are minor, but heartbreaking. Heartbreaking because it allows us to get inside of Tom’s head and feel what he is feeling.

What makes 500 Days so unforgettable is how real these characters and their situations feel. I found myself really relating to the character of Tom. I especially related to how Tom uses his heartbreak to learn to truly believe in himself again and to rediscover his true life’s passion. Tom essentially learns that in order to find true love, he has to love himself first.

So why is 500 Days of Summer quite possibly the best film of our time? I think it’s because no matter who you are or what your life experience is, there is something that everyone can relate to in this film. Sure there have been many great films released in this new century, but no film has represented the voice of the audience quite the way this one has. Both times I saw this in the theatre, the audience applauded. I think they realized that Tom and Summer’s story was their story in some way.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Work Sucks - Extract vs. Office Space

This past Labor Day weekend, Mike Judge “headed back to work” when he released his new movie Extract. Watching Extract, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between it and Judge’s cult classic, Office Space.  Extract is the blue collar companion piece to the white collar Office Space; however, for its lead characters, Extract can basically be seen as the domesticated hell response to Office Space’s nine-to-five angst.

Released in 1999, Office Space died a quick death at the box office only to gain a strong cult following when it hit VHS and DVD. Now you can barely find a person in the world who doesn’t know about Gary Cole’s extraordinary performance as Bill Lumbergh and his constant hounding of Peter (Ron Livingston) about his TPS reports. Office Space, with its unforgettable set of characters and hilarious circumstances, really tapped into white collar hell. We don’t know much about the lead characters in Office Space; all we know for sure is that they really hate their jobs.

Extract tells the story of Joel Reynolds (Jason Bateman). Having built his Reynolds Extract business from the ground up, Joel is in final negotiations to sell his company to General Mills. Joel’s plan is to cash out and to retire young. While Joel is the professional embodiment of the American dream, his personal life is in complete shambles. He hasn’t had sex with his wife in three months, and the lack of passion in his marriage has messed with his better judgment.

Joel is instantly attracted to the sexy new temp at the plant, Cindy (Mila Kunis). How could a woman this beautiful be interested in food flavorings? It turns out that Cindy is too good to be true and that she is a con artist/thief. Cindy isn’t interested in Joel, she is interested in getting information on Joel’s ex-employee, Step (Clifton Collins Jr.) who was injured on the job and is now going to receive a large settlement.

Joel’s best friend, Dean (played brilliantly by Ben Affleck) advises him that he should have an affair with Cindy. His advice to Joel is that in order to have an affair with Cindy, he has to do it with a clear conscience; by finding someone to sleep with his wife Suzie (Kristen Wigg). Joel, of course, thinks that this is a terrible idea; that is, until Dean gives him a horse tranquilizer and the biggest, best bong hit in cinema history. That evening with Joel, Dean hires his gigolo friend, Brad (Dustin Milligan), to work as Joel’s pool cleaner, so he can seduce Joel’s wife. Before Joel can sober up and change his mind, it’s too late.

The characters in Extract are basically slight variations of their Office Space counterparts. Joel is essentially Peter from Office Space, if Peter had become really interested in food flavorings, went back to college, created an amazing extract, married his girlfriend, moved into a nice suburban home, and ran his own business. Joel’s best friend, Dean, is basically a slightly older version of Lawrence (Diedrich Bader) from Office Space if Lawrence had really become a connoisseur of pharmaceuticals. Subbing for the boss, Bill Lumbergh from Office Space, who was always stating the obvious while being completely oblivious, is the annoying and completely oblivious neighbor, Nathan, in Extract.

I don’t feel that Extract will stand the test of time the way Office Space has. With the current state of the economy and the countless number of layoffs across the country, Office Space is as relevant now, if not more so, than it was 10 years ago. When Peter and his co-workers decided to rip off the company, this actually felt justified. People were getting laid off for no reason and with no remorse. I mean, they moved poor Milton’s desk down to storage B and stopped giving him a paycheck.

The main problem with Extract is that the motivations of the lead characters don’t feel as justified as the characters in Office Space. It was easy to identify with the characters in Office Space because they were basically good-hearted people with jobs they hated.. In Extract, Joel and Suzie both make unforgivable decisions in their marriage. Cindy is a con artist and opportunist, Step is misguided and dumb, and Dean is well. . .Dean. In Office Space, Bill Lumbergh was annoying and hilarious. In Extract, Joel’s neighbor, Nathan, is really just annoying.

On its own terms, however, Extract is a decently funny movie. The bottom line is that Mike Judge knows comedy, and Extract has a lot of funny moments. Most of the funny moments come from Ben Affleck’s scene stealing, pill popping, pot smoking, Dean. Ben Affleck hasn’t been this much fun on screen since he enjoyed having sex with women in uncomfortable places in Mallrats, or when he hazed freshmen with a paddle in Dazed and Confused.

The main theme between both of the lead characters in Extract and Office Space is happiness. In Extract, Joel is looking for happiness in his personal life, and in Office Space, Peter is looking for happiness in his professional life. What both characters soon realize is that happiness, like their jobs, takes a lot of work.