Tag Archives: Unnecessary remakes

The Secret Garden

1947: India and Pakiston are separating. It is a time of violence and unrest. When little Mary (Dixie Egerickx) is left alone in a big house, she remains undiscovered for quite some time. When no parents reappear to claim her, she is sent to England, to live with an uncle she’s never met. Housekeeper Mrs Medlock (Julie Walters) warns that when,or indeed if, her uncle should greet her, she’d better not stare. That’s as warm a welcome as she’s likely to get.

The staff, even sweet Martha (Isis Davis), think her a spoiled brat, and even if it’s true, she can’t help how she’s been raised, and she’s certainly not being corrected here. And she is, after all, a young orphaned girl living in a cold stranger’s house with no one and nothing that’s familiar or kind. Perhaps in 1911 (when the book was first published) it was acceptable to be both judgmental AND neglectful of small children who’ve done nothing wrong except exist, and to ignore the childhood trauma they’ve so recently survived. Our understanding and common sense today is a lot more sympathetic, but the movie is careful not to show it, staying true to its source material. Mary is therefore so lonely in this new place that she makes friends with a mangy dog named Jemima even though she’s clearly afraid of her. But in the complete absence of other children (or so she thinks), a dog will do.

Likely you know the rest. It’s a goddamn classic. Mary finds a beautiful secret garden, makes some friends, they change each other’s lives, and she wins the heart of her reclusive, anxious uncle Archibald (Colin Firth).

My sisters and I loved the 1993 version of the film and I wondered if that would be a hindrance to my enjoying this one. I can’t say for sure of course, whether I’ve managed to be unbiased or not, but I never quite felt this film justified its existence. Hopefully it allows a new generation of kids to discover the book, and perhaps the universe simply needs to reboot stories like this periodically. It’s a criminal under-use of both Colin Firth and Julie Walters, but that’s just being true to the story. Are the kids cute? Sure they are, and not bad actors either, and it’s not a bad move introducing even just a bit of colour to the cast. Hello, 21st Century.

It’s not a bad adaptation, really, I can’ t say anything negative about it. I was, however, surprised to find this particular garden to be more magic than secret – the film uses CGI pretty liberally to make that garden come alive. I didn’t remember “my” movie being like that, but when I took a quick look at the trailer, it in fact did have the early 90s version of CG, I’d just misremembered. It makes sense – if you had a magic garden, you’d be best to keep it secret. Well done, Frances Hodgson Burnett. Cheers, girl. But that’s the trouble with nostalgia, isn’t it? We confuse our memories with emotion, and it ends up infused with a warm glow it may not technically deserve. The real thing never quite matches up with the way we remember it, so new iterations don’t stand a chance.

I also felt this story deserved/needed updating if we were going to be bothered with it once again. It took me a minute but eventually realized it WAS updated – though rather trivially. Burnett published the novel in 1911; Mary was said to be living at the turn of the century. This movie moves the story forward – to 1947, for no real reason, except maybe they couldn’t procure a wheel chair that was old-timey enough? But what a waste: kids today can’t relate to estranged, wealthy, hunchbacked uncles, or hiding “crippled” children away in the attic and denying their existence, or de-colonizing “British India,” or the proper way for a child to address a servant. This movie fails to add anything new to the conversation; with at least 11 previous adaptions across all platforms, we hardly needed another.Harping on a little less about a beloved skipping rope hardly qualifies as a fresh interpretation. Heck, this isn’t even the first time Colin Firth’s been in a Secret Garden film! Maybe these incessant, unoriginal reboots need to make like Mary’s parents and die in an epidemic already. Oddly, that’s the only part of the material that still has relevance today, and I think if one thing has united we 7 billion people, it’s that we’re not terribly fond of them. Let’s find a vaccine for COVID-19 and then transition directly to finding one to inoculate against horrible retreads and a perverse lack of imagination.

After The Wedding

Isabel (Michelle Williams) helps manage an orphanage in India that is very strapped for cash. There’s a possibility of funding, but the investor stipulates that Isabel must come to New York in person, and Isabel isn’t keen to leave her little oasis or the children she loves dearly. But with serious money on the line and so many more children in need, she also can’t resist.

Her posh NYC accommodations are a stark contrast to the life she’s lived in India. Uncomfortable, she’s eager to get back, but the investor, Theresa (Julianne Moore), is adamant that she extend her stay. She even invites Isabel to her daughter’s wedding. Having promised not to return without “a suitcase full of money,” Isabel doesn’t want to disappoint her host, but it’s starting to feel as though Theresa has ulterior motives.

She does.

This is an American remake of a very good 2006 Danish film by Susanne Bier starring Mads Mikkelsen. This one isn’t bad, but it naturally suffers by comparison. This film, directed by Moore’s husband Bart Freundlich, swaps the genders of the leads and breaths a little bit of new life into the script because of it, but the only true reason to see this one at all is for restrained performances by its two formidable leading ladies (Billy Crudup, rounding out the cast, is at a disadvantage).

After the wedding is a very slight meditation on loss and regret but doesn’t quite pack the emotional punch of its predecessor. It’s definitely a quiet film about inner conflict, Williams suffering in near silence, Moore indulging in quite a fantastic display. If you watch it, watch it for them. But this film didn’t need to be remade. The first was so achingly perfect and less neatly resolved, its frayed edges lending it an authenticity that this highly-polished one lacks.

 

Downhill

Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Pete (Will Ferrell) are vacationing with their two teenage sons at a ski resort in the Alps. One day, during an outdoor lunch, a controlled avalanche sends a wall of snow down toward them, its powder cloud so substantial that all the restaurant patrons fear for their lives. In the panic, Pete flees, saving himself, leaving Billie trapped at the table, protecting their sons. When the snow cloud clears, no one is hurt, but tensions are high as his wife and sons believe he abandoned them in their time of need.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the rest of their vacation does not go well. Pete won’t admit what he did and Billie simmers in (mostly) silence, their interactions steeped in a strong brew of passive aggression. Things really reach a head when Pete’s coworker Zach (Zach Woods) shows up with his bubbly girlfriend Rosie (Zoe Chao) and their carefree hashtag lifestyle is no match for the simmering stress of their unhappily married friends. Billie tearfully, shakily recounts her brush with death and her husband’s cowardice, while the guests sit in horrified silence. She even gets the boys out of bed to confirm the story when Pete once again denies it. Oooof. The movie is supposed to be uncomfortable but it shouldn’t be so wildly miscast. Louis-Dreyfus is convincingly traumatized while Ferrell is just a buffoon. They’re feel like they’re making two different movies.

Downhill is the unnecessary American remake of the excellent Swedish movie Turist (known in English-speaking countries as Force Majeure). Force Majeure was one of the first films we reviewed here, and one that we talked about for weeks, admiring its cinematography and script, but most of all debating the ethics and themes. We went to a pub afterward, and talked about masculinity, filial duty, gender stereotypes, human instincts, and whether it’s fair to measure your relationship based on a split-second decision. Privately, we all wondered how we might have reacted ourselves.

Coming out of Downhill, all we debated was why Americans feel the need to remake movies and make them worse. Yes, laziness of course. Americans hate subtitles. And reading. But Parasite! Parasite just won Best Picture, and that’s subtitled. Progress? Or wishful thinking? At any rate, Downhill feels unfortunately titled considering how it compares to the heights achieved by its predecessor. If you’re going to bother, skip this one entirely and see Force Majeure. Provoking and invasive, it doesn’t just break the marriage open, it goes inside and pokes around.

Poseidon

Although we’ve very much enjoyed the cruises we’ve taken (once, in the Caribbean, around the Bahamas, the other one around the Hawaiian islands), we were happy last night to be celebrating at a resort on land because when we got back to our room, Sean chose Poseidon for its New Year’s Eve setting but this movie might have made us think twice before getting on a boat.

The unsuspecting guests on that boat had just rung in the new year, with Fergie leading them in a countdown to midnight (the Shakira of the sea, we renamed her, since Shakira had played at our sister resort). But then a rogue wave hits, flipping the boat upside down. Of the 5000 or so passengers who must have been on board, most die instantly (and not on film). Mostly just the hundred or so survivors of the ballroom are given any airtime: Fergie of course, and the ship’s captain, Capt. Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher, again!), a degenerate gambler named Lucky Larry (Kevin Dillon, also again!), a suicidal man named Richard (Richard Dreyfuss), Robert, the former mayor of New York (Kurt Russell) and his daughter Jennifer (Emmy Rossum), newly and secretly engaged to Christian (Mike Vogel), a mother and young son, a stowaway, and of course the fearless leader Dylan (Josh Lucas), whose dimples will surely keep them afloat for hours. The ship’s captain is trying to keep everyone calm and contained within the airtight ballroom until help can arrive, but squirrely Dylan is not content to stay put. He leads a small handful of the survivors “up” (which in this case means travelling down into the ship’s bowels since it’s currently bobbing upside down in the ocean). They’re battling flash fires, rising waters, and of course gravity to get out in time.

Like most movies of its ilk, Poseidon (this is the 2006 remake of a 1972 classic) is big on the epic disaster set pieces and meager on story and character. It’s not going to make any logical sense, so leave that in life raft for later. You’re not going to know or really care about the people either. Remove your humanity, wrap it in a personal flotation device, and move on. The movie delivers a bloated sense of claustrophobia and a bad case of Murphy’s law, which impressively follows them right down to the bottom of the ocean. The camera dwells on the dead bodies as we swim by them so if you’re hoping for some campy fun, think again. There are corpses everywhere, and not all of them float. Not unlike this movie, which sinks under its own self-importance.

TIFF19: Human Capital

Drew is an ex-gambler who has borrowed money he doesn’t have to invest in a hedge fund. When it tanks, he’s pretty desperate, with bills piling up and not one but two babies on the way. Drew (Liev Schrieber) also happens to be the father of a teenage daughter, Shannon (Maya Hawke), who is dating Jamie (Fred Hechinger).

Jamie’s parents are rich, which gives Drew a lot of envy. humancapital_0hero-hr__1_2Jamie’s dad, Quint (Peter Sarsgaard) just happens to be the manager of that hedge fund I was talking about, and he’s super stressed, selling assets to stop the bleeding. He’s not a particularly nice guy, it probably goes without saying. His wife Karen (Marisa Tomei) is fairly pragmatic about their flawed marriage, but she cries a lot. She recently bought a theatre to renovate and run, but with the hedge fund having a coronary, she’s about to lose it.

Jamie and Shannon are actually recently broken up because Jamie is gay and Shannon has a new boyfriend, a bad boy with a record. But for now, both families are together for a high school fundraiser, after which there will be a hit-and-run, and one of them will be responsible.

Human Capital is a tale of guilt and innocence, and how much they’re worth, and to whom. It’s about greed and compromise. It’s based on a novel, and another movie besides, and ultimately fails to justify its own existence. It’s moderately interesting and the performances are fine, but there isn’t a single aspect of this movie that distinguishes itself. Even the whodunnit feels beside the point.

With nothing to uplift it, it may as well have stayed on the page.

The Upside

Dell has a record and a chip on his shoulder. He’s looking for work just enough to appease his parole officer but not enough to actually get a job. But then one lands in his lap anyway.

Now, to be fair: Dell (Kevin Hart) hasn’t done anything to earn this job. Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) has lined up plenty of qualified, competent health care aides to interview for the position. But Philip (Bryan Cranston) doesn’t want the good ones. Philip is disgustingly wealthy, newly paraplegic, and harboring a death wish. No one else is prepared to respect his DNR and he’s hoping a fuck up like Dell will mean merciful death – and soon.

The Upside is an American remake of  a French film called The Intouchables. It was wildly popular in France and it’s a well-made film, but both iterations have MV5BODE2NDI3NzUxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTIzMDQxNzM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1497,1000_AL_the same problem. They’re about a wealthy white dude introducing a poor black man to “culture.” The condescension implicit in the premise is so problematic it’s hard to look beyond it. Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston have passable chemistry but you’re going to love or hate this film, mostly depending on whether you can embrace the formula. Because The Upside doesn’t even pretend to deviate from The Intouchables’ formula. Not for one stinking minute.

Old white rich guy and slightly younger ex-con have a lot to learn from each other. Philip is grieving the loss of his wife (which never amounts to anything) and his legs, while Dell is dealing with repercussions over the loss of his freedom, and his family. Not that he ‘lost’ his family so much as neglected them and now thinks he can win them back by throwing money at the situation.

The direction is nothing special. The movie relies on the whole ‘based (VERY LOOSELY) on a true story’ shtick and it’s very familiar and uninspired. The performances are fine; the best thing you can say about them is that they won’t be remembered in anyone’s career retrospective. But none of this really matters because at the end of the day (or the start of the film), the movie just feels racist and wrong.

The Hustle

A small-time con-woman named Penny (Rebel Wilson) meets a big-time con-woman named Josephine (Anne Hathaway) and they inevitably tangle antlers. But then they decide to work together – Penny wants to learn from a mentor, and Josephine’s always had a con in mind that needs two people. But of course they’re still also working each other and eventually things get messy. Because while Josephine goes after big fish with an air of sophistication and a veil of class, Penny is loud and brassy and calls an awful lot of attention to herself for someone who probably should want to remain under the radar.

The two agree to settle their differences with one ultimate bet: whoever fails to extract $500K from their mark first has to leave town forever. Their mark is a rich young tech millionaire who seems almost completely guileless – Thomas (Alex Sharp, MV5BNTM1MzI4NjM1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzc2MDE0NzM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_who clearly answered the casting call for a Mark Zuckerberg type and fits the hoodie perfectly). Penny poses as a blind woman to remind Thomas of his blind grandmother, and Josephine as the German doctor who can possibly treat her (hysterical, don’t ask) blindness. There are a thousand princes in Nigeria who could tell you this scam is unnecessarily convoluted, but where’s the fun in that?

Anne Hathaway has clearly been working on some accents, and here they all are. Rebel Wilson always has a breathless charm about her but I’m sick to death of her having to play roles for women lacking physical self-confidence. We get it: she’s fat. Hollywood continues to go out of its way to reassure us that they know she doesn’t belong. Here’s another character who feels unworthy because of her weight. Um, really? You do know it is entirely possible for someone to be fat AND confident. And more importantly, it’s extremely possible to be fat and still do your job, and do it well, and not make a whole thing about how much you weigh while you’re doing it. Wilson brings so much energy to all of her roles it’s exhausting to watch her, and a little uncomfortable too, because her body is so often the punchline and that’s not a joke I want to be in on.

The script is pretty uninspired, filled with the usual cons you’ve seen dozens of times before: men being duped into proposing with enormous rings, stealing diamond jewels, casino heists, etc. It’s a gender-flipped remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels that is simply too lazy to be any good; they don’t bother to update the jokes and there’s a deep chasm where subversive feminist comedy should have gone.. There are isolated laughs but nothing consistent. A training montage that for some reason includes clearing a pommel horse and uncorking a champagne bottle is particularly cringe-worthy. Hathaway and Wilson are fine, but they don’t have particularly good chemistry and it’s frankly upsetting to watch them be wasted on a movie whose only true con is the one that bilked you out of a $12 movie ticket.

 

 

 

What Men Want

Ali is a hard-working sports agent at her firm, where she is overdue to make partner but keeps getting passed over in favour of more bro-ey types. It’s a real boy’s club in there, but she’s motivated to join their ranks.

So that accounts for why she’s a bit down in the dumps at her best friend’s bachelorette party. A fortune teller come to entertain the women “sees” that she’s having trouble connecting with men, and has just the tea for that. And wouldn’t you know it, the next day Ali (Taraji P. Henson) wakes up with the ability to hear men’s inner thoughts, plus or minus a head injury.

Yes, this is a remake of the Mel Gibson vehicle What Women Want, though no one seems to have noted that neither men nor women wanted either of these films. And to be honest, Taraji P. Henson is eminently more watchable than Gibson and Helen Hunt combined (great Darwin’s ghost, what was 2001 thinking?), so the 2019 edition has a MV5BMTIxODZhYmEtYzM4MC00YzE5LWJhMDQtMmQyOTE4MDcwMDU4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzEwODIxNzE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_slight edge. However, women really are a mystery and Mel Gibson really is an idiot, so at least that version made sense. Taraji P. Henson clearly knows how to handle men. Ali is a confidant, competent, sexy woman. So let’s not sit around pretending that she’s the problem in search of a mind-reading solution. What this movie should have been is How Not To Be A Misogynistic Asshole At Work (Or Ever!). And also: How Not To Group All Men Into One Disgusting Category. What’s that you say? Men like sports and cars and not talking about their feelings? How very 1958 of you.I mean, sure, those things describe Sean rather perfectly. But he also farts and eats a lot! I mean, that’s not ALL he’s good for. He also carries heavy bags and holds my credit card and orders for me in restaurants. Wait. What? The onslaught of unadulterated sexism in this movie has jumbled my brain. If only a man was around to write this review for me!

You know what women want? Better roles for Taraji P. Henson. And I bet men want that too.

Robin Hood

If you needed money on an urgent basis, would you steal from the rich or the poor? The rich, right? It’s a no brainer. It’s Robin Hood’s calling card for good reason, because it works. And yet, when forced to make that decision in the latest big screen version of the legend of Robin Hood, the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) chooses to rob the poor instead. I took it that was intended to show us that the Sheriff is truly evil. But what it really shows us is that he is an idiot.

This Sheriff of Nottingham is so dumb that he has no chance to best Robin Hood or any of his merry men. He is so dumb that he was written out of this wannabe franchise before it even crashed and burned at the box office. Still, Mendelsohn doesn’t let this miserable movie or its bad script constrain him. He gleefully chews enough scenery to let us know that even as this movie is bursting into flames around him, he relishes this chance to play an idiot. He absolutely nails it. Which doesn’t make Robin Hood any more enjoyable, but I have to give Mendelsohn an “A” for effort.

No one else in Robin Hood has even an eighth of Mendelsohn’s desire. Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Eve Hewson and Jamie Dornan must also know that they are part of a dismal film. Nothing about this project could ever have seemed promising. Cliches and plot holes abound. The story makes no sense. The voiceovers are unbearably banal. The whole endeavour was so flat that I had time to wonder what Michael Bay might have made of this, and I concluded he could only have made it better, because at least Bay would have joined Mendelsohn in having some fun with the wretched source material.

Aside from Mendelsohn, everyone else in this film is making an obvious effort to be forgettable. It mostly works. In a year from now, I probably won’t remember anything about Robin Hood. It’s destined to be a footnote at best, remembered only in passing the next time a Robin Hood movie is made (maybe with Robin being female, which is one in a long list of Jay’s good ideas). Until then, try the Disney cartoon if you need a Robin Hood fix, or fall back on the Kevin Costner one if you’re desperate. Because the 2018 Robin Hood is not worth any of your time, or even any of the time of your most idiotic nemesis.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle

I did not think the world needed another Jungle Book movie. I felt the same about Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book. I am too young to have any warm feelings toward the Disney cartoon – that movie felt old-fashioned to me as a kid, and I couldn’t watch it. We never read the books, and I was never a boy scout. And don’t get me started on this “live action” nonsense – this may be more sophisticated animation, a less cartoony cartoon, but this stuff is 95% computer-generated.

Anyway, as you may have gleaned: a “mean” tiger named Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) eats some humans in the jungle. He’s the menacing villain of the story, even though the tiger was only doing as tigers do. But white people think they own MV5BOWNjOGFlNTAtZDlmMS00ODdjLWFiMjQtYjMxNTUwYjY1OWMwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,732_AL_everything they see and touch and feel, and are surprised not be welcomed with open arms whenever they attempt to colonize new lands. The jungle was never meant for humans, and almost everything about the jungle makes that abundantly clear. Anyway, the dead humans leave behind a baby, Mowgli, who is accepted by and raised by a  literal pack of wolves. Mowgli is mentored by a black panther named Bagheera (Christian Bale), and a bear named Baloo (Andy Serkis). They try to teach him the ways of the jungle, but they also know the strange animal called man is edging in on their territory, and it can only be an asset to have one of them among them.

At PG-13, this is a darker, less family-friendly version of the Jungle Book. Mowgli’s story has always had something to say about fitting in, and whether how we look has ever been the best way to judge who is one of us, and who is not. But, we’ve obviously been told this story several times before, and Serkis’ version gives us nothing new, just some special effects and his trademark motion capture that actually brings nothing to the table. There’s no charm, there’s no heart. Andy Serkis may have donned the green suit to give life to Baloo, but he’s never seemed more cold and aloof. He’s not the same Baloo that people have loved for generations. This isn’t the same Jungle Book. It’s dark and it’s bloody – so, for the rare person who wishes beloved children’s books played more like war movies, I guess this is pay dirt – but for the rest of us, this is a miss.