See you at the pahty, Richter!

The thing about remakes is that 90% of them don’t need to exist. I suppose that a lot of movies don’t really need to exist, (there are plenty of sequels we would probably be better off without) but the problem with remakes is that most of the time the film being remade is a revered classic. People don’t like having classics messed with (just ask George Lucas). And yet… it happens anyway.

As far as I can tell, movies are remade because movie studios don’t have any better ideas, so they figure they might as well just fall back on something that worked before in the hopes that it will work again. I hate sounding so cynical. I also hate trying to guess other people’s motivations.

One of the things I learned from being an English major is to never presume that you know what a person’s intentions are. If you write something in an essay about how “the author intends to blah blah blah” you will get marked down for that. And you should, since you have no way of knowing what the author’s intentions were, short of actually asking him or her about it.

What I’m trying to say here is that I could be completely wrong. There’s something to be said for a new take on existing material, it just seems that profit is the underlying motive behind most remakes/sequels/reboots.

Such is the case with “Total Recall.” Why even bother to remake one of the Governator’s best-loved films? It’s already a sci-fi classic. Don’t mess with it. And yet they went ahead and did it anyway, to the tune of a $200 million budget and several big-name stars (Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel). Fans’ ire was further aroused upon the announcement that the remake would do away with the entire Mars subplot, which was a major part of the original’s second act. Couple that with the fact that the remake would go for a more family-friendly PG-13 rating, and you’ve got yourself some pissed-off Ahnuld fans.

The funny thing is that I was not initially among this group of pissed-off fans. I’m an Ahnuld fan to be sure, but at the time the Total Recall remake was announced I hadn’t actually seen the original. Sure, I thought it was weird to remake an Ahnuld classic, but not having seen the original I didn’t have any strong opinions about it at the time. So I saw the remake when it came out in August, despite the terrible reviews it got, and I enjoyed it well enough. It was packed with flashy action and admittedly impressive-looking special effects, and after it was over I left the theater satisfied and went on with my day. It was a pleasant enough day at the movies, which was all I really wanted.

I still hadn’t seen the original until just last night, when I watched the Blu-Ray of it I got as a birthday present (I’m 24 now, need to change that on my About page). And I’ve got to say that the original was a far better film. Doubtless this revelation surprises exactly no one. As a general rule originals usually are better than remakes. Occasionally you get a good remake like “True Grit,” but there are still plenty of people out there who hold the original John Wayne film in higher regard. I haven’t seen it so I have no comment on that.

But back to Ahnuld. What struck me about his Total Recall was how smart it was. It’s the kind of movie that hits you with a plot twist seemingly every fifteen minutes, each one undoing the last one. By the end there have been so many plot twists that you’re not really sure what’s real and what’s not. This is, of course, completely intentional. Total Recall is Inception before Inception. Instead of feeling cheated by the constant plot twists, you find yourself swept along by them.

It’s a tricky balancing act. How do you pull one over on the audience without having it feel cheap? I don’t really know to be honest, but by the end of the original Total Recall I didn’t feel cheated by it. Part of it I think is that the plot twists make sense within the world that the movie creates. Half the time movies pull some twist out of the bag that makes no sense within the context of the movie itself. With Total Recall you’re left thinking “Yeah, okay” instead of “Wait, what?” although there may be a little of that too. But in a good way.

This is in sharp contrast to the remake, which is the kind of movie that evaporates as soon as it’s over. The movie ends, the credits start, you think “that was fun” and you go on with your life. I don’t have a problem with this per se, it just really stands out when comparing the original to the remake.

The other thing is that the original is just flat-out more fun. The remake is so relentlessly straight-faced that it almost forgets to have any fun. There are some great action scenes that all look very slick, but there’s not much to it beyond that. It’s enjoyable in the moment, but really not very memorable. It’s just another sci-fi action movie with nothing to really distinguish itself, and it was mostly overlooked in theaters. Understandable with movies like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises in theaters at the same time.

Despite all of this, I did enjoy the remake well enough. I’ll buy the DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack when it comes out and watch it when I want to turn off my brain and have fun. But that’s the problem: with the original, you don’t have to turn your brain off to have fun. It’s actually got brains to match the copious bloodshed, which the makers of the remake apparently forgot to include.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

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Beware Underwater Zombies!

It’s hard to believe that there have been five Resident Evil movies. Superman has only had five live-action movies, for crying out loud, and yet this videogame franchise has somehow cranked out five movies over the last ten years.

Why do these movies keep getting made? The answer is pretty simple: money. Each installment makes enough money for the studio to sign off on another one. It’s pretty obvious by this point, since none of the Resident Evil movies even has an actual ending. Every single one of them ends with a massive cliffhanger. But the thing is that most people who see these movies probably don’t see them out of any sense of loyalty to the characters or finding out what happens to them, since most of them are pretty one-dimensional and/or don’t last longer than a single movie.

These movies are about watching hot women in form-fitting outfits kill zombies and various other nasty creatures in creative ways. The cliffhangers promise more crazy action to come, which is why audiences keep showing up.

I’ll admit that I enjoy this. I am a bit ashamed to admit it, it’s true. But damn it, these movies are fun and so I keep seeing them. They are a guilty pleasure of the highest degree. I know that I shouldn’t enjoy these movies. They have pretty much zero artistic value, the acting (such as it is) is mostly terrible and the movies are created almost entirely for profit. And yet, I enjoy them. I just can’t help myself.

Partly it’s because everything about the Resident Evil movies is utterly ludicrous. The video games have a very convoluted backstory, which the filmmakers have (I guess) tried to dilute into some kind of coherent storyline for the movies…or something. Halfway through writing that sentence, I realized how utterly preposterous it was since nothing in the movies really makes much sense if you stop to think about it for more than a couple of seconds. You could drive a truck through the plot holes. Speaking of plot holes, spoilers ahead.

Just listen to the setup of the latest movie, “Resident Evil: Retribution”: our sexy heroine Alice, played as always by Milla Jovovich, has been imprisoned by the evil Umbrella Corporation in a massive underwater facility in the middle of the Antarctic or something. Yes, underwater. (I mean, who builds an underwater base, aside from Cobra Commander? The logistics of underwater-base-construction must be a nightmare, not to mention how hard it would be to find a decent contractor.)

I’m not going to go into how all of this came to be, since explaining the ridiculous plots of the previous four films would take too long and again, none of it makes much sense. If you’re really that interested you can always read the plot synopses on Wikipedia or something. Suffice it to say that the Umbrella Corporation is responsible for creating and unleashing the zombie virus that has overwhelmed the world. They want to capture Alice the sexy heroine because she’s the only one whose DNA ever successfully bonded with the zombie virus, or something.

Anyway, she is now trapped in the aforementioned underwater base. Turns out that the underwater base houses massive reconstructions of parts of various cities, including New York, Tokyo, and Moscow. These city reconstructions were used to, get this, simulate zombie virus outbreaks in the various cities, in order to sell the zombie virus to different world powers! Simulate zombie attack in New York, show it to the Russians, sell them the zombie virus. Simulate zombie attack in Moscow, show it to the Americans, sell them the zombie virus. And so on. (I think this paragraph might have just set a new all-time record for most uses of the phrase “zombie virus” in a single paragraph. Somebody call Guinness!)

So what does this mean, practically? Why, it simply means that you can stage all kinds of crazy action sequences in different locations, even though you’re not…you know…actually there. Does that make sense? Didn’t think so. I’m just trying to say that you can have epic zombattles in places that look like New York, Moscow, and Tokyo without having to make up an excuse to actually go there.

And you’ve no doubt heard of Nazi Zombies? Well how about Commie zombies, or as I like to call them, Zommies? What other kind of zombie would be in Moscow? Once you’ve seen a Zommie firing a machinegun while riding a motorcycle crash into the side of an expensive sports car with spinners on the wheels, you know you’re seeing a movie designed for entertainment and not much else.

Another big part of the appeal of these movies is fan service. Each installment gives the filmmakers another opportunity to bring in more fan favorite characters from the video games. This one brings in Leon S. Kennedy, Barry Burton, and the sexy Ada Wong, since we all know that one sexy heroine is simply not enough. You need at least two sexy heroines per movie, everyone knows that.

The really funny thing is that this movie brings back pretty much every major character who died in the previous four movies, only they’ve all been either (SPOILER ALERT) cloned, kidnapped, or brainwashed. So all of these previously dead characters are back, and two of the main characters from the fourth movie (Chris and Claire Redfield) are nowhere to be found. No explanation whatsoever is given for their absence, although I suppose one could infer that they too were captured by the Umbrella Corporation, although none of the other characters seems to notice their absence either. It’s clearly one of those questions you’re just not supposed to ask.

The series has done this before. Two major characters from the second movie were nowhere to be seen in the third one (one of whom now returns in the fifth movie, brainwashed). My guess is that this is due more to who was available to be in the fifth movie. Maybe Ali Larter and Wentworth Miller were doing other things? Maybe the screenwriter couldn’t think of anything for Chris and Claire to do? Who knows. It just makes the series feel a bit disconnected when characters appear and reappear with little to no explanation given.

But whatever. These movies are about action and Retribution certainly delivers. I thought that the fourth movie felt a bit stale but this one feels a bit fresher. It’s certainly more creative, and it’s less predictable simply because it’s so batshit crazy. The story’s not really there, but the story has never really been there with this series so it’s not much of a surprise. I enjoyed it more than the previous entry. It was fun and I will buy the DVD.

Is Resident Evil: Retribution worthy of the coveted MAN MEDAL? Yes, it most certainly is.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

This is a job… for ONE MAN.

We’ve all seen the trailers. We’ve all heard the story. A desperate situation. An impossible mission. No one can save us… except ONE MAN.

Ah yes, the One Man Movie. A hallmark of action films for… heck, I don’t know. A really long time, I guess. I have an odd fascination with One Man Movies, I’m not really sure why. There’s something endlessly appealing to me about the kind of frequently over-the-top story where something horrible happens and no one can do anything about it because no one is good enough or crazy enough… except ONE MAN.

Sorry, I’m getting a little carried away here. I keep hearing Movie-Trailer-Voice-Guy in my head. Take the trailer for space-prison movie Lockout, where the President’s daughter is being held hostage on a prison orbiting the earth and, as Movie-Trailer-Voice-Guy informs us, “There’s only ONE MAN who can get her out… Snow. He’s the best there is, but he’s a loose cannon.”

At this point in the trailer, about a minute in, I had already made up my mind that this was a movie I would most definitely be seeing. Lockout is a classic One Man Movie. Ridiculous setup, over-the-top protagonist, nonstop one-liners. Check, check, and check. Lockout has it all down.

This is what I love so much about One Man Movies. EVERYTHING ABOUT THEM IS RIDICULOUS. Take Lockout, for example. There’s a prison. In space. Which the President’s daughter just-so-happens to be on. When the bad guys break out and start killing everyone. Who better to save her than an over-the-top badass with one name? IT ALL MAKES SO MUCH SENSE. If Lockout doesn’t become a cult classic I’ll eat my hat. It’s the kind of movie where jokes are made about punch lines after someone gets punched in the face. I mean seriously, what’s not to love?

One of the original One Man Movies has to be 1985’s Commando, with Arnold Schwarzenegger. This one already is a cult classic, and with good reason. It’s well-known as the cinematic milestone in which Ah-nuld kills around 85 henchmen in the span of about five minutes. Seriously, they just keep running out into the open like lemmings and getting shot or blown up. It’s 80’s action movie ridiculousness at its finest. Somewhere in the endless depths of the internet, I read a description of Commando as not just an 80’s action movie, but THE 80’s action movie. I agree.

It should be pretty obvious to anyone who read my post about assassin movies a couple months ago that I’m a big fan of Jason Statham. He kind of specializes in One Man Movies, and his latest film, Safe, is no exception. Statham plays an ex-cop, ex-cage fighter named Luke Wright (another trademark of One Man Movies is the monosyllabic names). He’s a crappy cage fighter, not because he’s bad at fighting (this IS Jason Statham, after all) but because the mob pays him to throw fights (I think).

He accidentally wins a fight he was supposed to lose, costing the mob a lot of money. They promptly kill his wife (or maybe it was his girlfriend, I’m not sure) and tell him that they’re not going to kill him too. But what they are going to do is follow him around and kill anyone he tries to have a relationship with. So anyone Luke tries to talk to beyond buying a hot dog or something (as one thickly-Russian accented bad guy puts it) is toast.

Luke becomes a hobo, wandering in and out of homeless shelters and considering suicide by jumping in front of a subway train. It is in the subway that he sees a young Chinese girl wandering around by herself, looking frightened. He then sees a bunch of bad-looking dudes who are clearly looking for something, or someone. One of these bad-looking dudes is one of the guys who killed his wife. Luke puts two-and-two together and figures that these guys are looking for the girl he saw earlier, and he springs into action.

Turns out that the girl, Mei, has a photographic memory, and the Chinese mafia is using her to remember everything about their various illicit money-making operations, since the leader of the Chinese mafia is old-fashioned and doesn’t like using computers, because computers leave a trail. He has recently made her memorize a very long number, the meaning of which is intentionally mysterious. It is clearly important however, since the Russian gangsters (who killed Luke’s wife) promptly kidnap her from the Chinese. She escapes, wanders into the subway station where Luke was thinking about killing himself, and the game is on.

I like this setup. It’s not as far-fetched as a space prison or as high-stakes as a skyscraper taken over by terrorists (Die Hard, obviously). But it’s something that could, theoretically, maybe, actually happen. So I guess that not every One Man Movie has to have a high-concept premise, although many of them do.

But Safe is definitely a One Man Movie. Both the Russians and the Chinese are after this little girl, the cops are all corrupt, and there is ONLY ONE MAN who can save her. The thing about Safe that makes it maybe a little far-fetched is that LITERALLY EVERY SINGLE PERSON OTHER THAN LUKE AND MEI WHO HAS ANY SORT OF ROLE IN THE MOVIE AT ALL IS EVIL.

Seriously. I mean sure, it kind of goes without saying that the gangsters are evil. But the cops are evil. The mayor is evil. Even the mayor’s aide is evil, for crying out loud. Safe is a One Man Movie almost literally, since there is ONLY ONE MAN who is not evil. Sorry I keep capitalizing ONLY ONE MAN, but I just can’t help myself.

The thing I have realized about One Man Movies is that they are satisfying. It’s always fun to root for the underdog, and One Man Movies are all about the underdogs. The odds are always heavily stacked against him, and yet he always manages to come out on top. Good guy wins, bad guy gets what’s coming to him. There’s certainly some cathartic wish-fulfillment going on with One Man Movies, and I for one have no problem with that. Given the state of the world these days, we could all use a little release.

I have decided to bestow upon Lockout, Safe, and Commando the soon-to-be coveted MAN MEDAL, which is what I will use henceforth to designate the manly films full of manly awesomeness that are well-worth searching out for my fellow action fans. So congratulations, Lockout, Safe, and Commando, you are the honorary first recipients of the MAN MEDAL. And yes, the words MAN MEDAL will always be capitalized. I did a lot of capitalizing in this post, sorry about that. I assure you I am not trying to yell at anyone.

More to come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.