Sunday, May 26, 2013

BATTLESHIP: One year later

At the risk of alienating the 50% of my regular readership that consists of serious film connoisseurs (the other half being my wife and mother - hi ladies!), I feel compelled to say a few more words about Battleship, last summer's resounding box office dud from director Peter Berg. In this piece, published last July, I speculated on why it might have been such a failure, while somewhat apologetically admitting that, for what it was worth, I enjoyed the film. At the end of my piece, I remarked that I'd likely end up buying a copy on Blu-ray if I could find it for ten bucks or less. (This price point has nothing to do with my opinion of the film; I'm pretty militant about holding out for good deals on movies, and I've acquired most of the Blu-rays in my collection for $8 to $15.) After nearly a year, this magic threshold was finally passed, and I am now the proud owner of a Battleship Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy combo pack.

Having watched the film again last night, I must say that my opinion of it has changed somewhat over the past year, or rather, my concern about what others might think about my opinion of it has changed. I'm tired of pretending. Let me state for the record that I unashamedly, unreservedly and without irony, love Battleship, and I don't care who knows it. After seeing it for the second time, it has become clear to me that, in its own way, it's a masterpiece. It's a given that American summer movies have come to mean one thing and one thing only: blowing shit up, and Battleship blows its shit up with the best of them while still managing to work on a human scale. I'm not generally a huge fan of CGI, as I think it's overused, and it usually makes movies look more like video games, but while a few of the sequences might have lost a bit of their lustre on the small screen, in general, Battleship's VFX work is stunning.

More than that, though, it's simply a likeable dog of a movie. I went back and reread some of the favorable reviews of the film from other critics (we're in the minority, believe me), and the consensus is that Battleship succeeds (at least in our eyes) by approaching its subject with an earnestness that's often absent from this type of film, and it presents us with characters we can feel great about rooting for in the midst of its apocalyptic fury. Folks, this is a film so big that it requires not one but two AC/DC songs on the soundtrack. It's an enormously loud and bombastic film that wears its heart on its sleeve. It approaches you, hat in hand, smiling its $209 million smile, and kindly asks you to check your logic and, let's face it, your common sense at the door while promising you a hell of a good time if you acquiesce. It's a film that extracts a naturalistic and even appealing performance from Rihanna, a person whose public persona irritates me to no end. It's a film that manages to celebrate the military in an entirely apolitical way, by pitting them against an extraterrestrial threat, which is a stroke of genius in my book, and it makes Battleship perfect for viewing this Memorial Day weekend, especially given the fact that it features real-life veterans, past and present, among its cast. It's a film that, I think, deserves a second chance.

Light 'em up.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Triumph of the Will?

As Hollywood grows increasingly bereft of original ideas, more and more classic films are being desecrated by unnecessary, unwanted and ultimately inferior remakes. Don't get me wrong - I think remakes are fine in certain cases. If the original film was technically flawed in some way, or if it missed an opportunity to make a salient point, or if the story can be updated in some way to make it more relevant for our time, then by all means have at it, but some films are so perfect, so timeless, that they should be off the table as far as remakes go. Sam Peckinpah's monumental 1969 Western, The Wild Bunch, is just such a film, but of course, nothing is off the table in today's Hollywood, and a remake has been in the works for some time. If that wasn't bad enough in and of itself, it was recently announced that Will Smith is on tap to star in the film. I have nothing against Will Smith; I've enjoyed him in many films, such as Independence Day and the Men In Black series, but the announcement of his (mis)casting in what is certain to be a cinematic travesty is the straw (dog) that broke the camel's back. I now present for you seven reasons why remaking The Wild Bunch, especially with Will Smith, is a bad, bad idea.

1. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, The Wild Bunch does not need to be remade. Peckinpah's original still retains its visceral power nearly 45 years after its release. It's arguably the finest film by one of the greatest directors in the history of American cinema, and there's really nothing about it that could have been done better.

2. Smith is a fine actor in the right role, but I'm not convinced that he's capable of fully conveying the self-loathing that is a crucial aspect of the main character in The Wild Bunch. William Holden did a magnificent job in the original film of demonstrating Pike Bishop's inner disgust at the man he had become. Smith just doesn't have the world-weariness or the gravitas necessary for the role.

3. The remake will not be a Western, but will be a contemporary thriller featuring Smith as a disgraced DEA agent. The whole raison d'ĂȘtre of the original was to tell the story of a group of outlaws left behind by changing times not long after the turn of the twentieth century. A remake set in modern times won't be capable of rendering that milieu with any sort of authenticity, which begs the question: what's the point?

4. The original was extremely violent and bloody, but the violence was presented in a realistic fashion meant to show the audience that death is an ugly business. The remake will undoubtedly try to top the original, but will showcase the violence in a flashier manner, with less moral weight - as modern action film audiences are accustomed to - and it will probably be rendered with fake-looking CGI blood, totally ruining the effect.

5. Smith rejected the title role in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (which eventually went to Jamie Foxx), reportedly because he felt it wasn't prominent enough (anyone who actually saw Foxx's rousing performance in the finished film should find such a sentiment laughable). If he's truly conceited enough to feel that he's not suited for any role other than the lead, then he has no business acting in The Wild Bunch. It's an ensemble piece, not a star vehicle.

6. The practical effects that were accomplished on the set of the original, such as the bridge that was blown up with actual stuntmen and horses on it, gave it a sense of realism that will likely be completely absent from the remake due to the overuse of CGI effects.

7. It's highly unlikely that the characters will be as morally ambiguous as they were in the original, which is what made them so interesting. I have a difficult time imagining that the remake's screenplay and performances will have the courage to walk the fine line between showing the audience that the characters are very bad people yet still allowing us to care deeply for them. That sort of nuance is hard to come by these days, at least in big budget, star-driven films that have to appeal to the widest audience possible if they're to have any hope of earning their production costs back.