The re-boot, re-imagining, remake, (pick your term) won't be going away. In fact, they've been with us throughout film history, so there's no real reason to think they should. From multiple iterations of Nosferatu in the silent era up to Herzog's 1970's redo, adaptations of foreign classics for cross-cultural purposes -- Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai was Americanized into The Magnificent Seven and don't forget the slew of Japanese horror adaptations we had a few years ago -- or multiple retellings of stories adapted from the theater and novels. It might be a sign of creative malaise but remakes aren't, by definition, a bad thing.
But then, at some point, things changed. Instead of adaptations of the influential works of a culture, you began to see the bar drop. Have there always been crap ideas for remakes? Of course, but beyond a certain point you started seeing adaptations of kitschy TV shows getting green lit into horrible movies -- Josie and the Pussy Cats; The MOD Squad; The Avenger's; Charlie's Angels all spring to mind -- or video game adaptations that result in, at best, some cheesy fun or, at worst, another excuse for Uwe Boll to get behind a camera.
Nowadays, we're getting movies based on products. G.I. Joe, Stretch Armstrong and Battleship are all in some level of production. I guess I should have seen it coming after Pirates of the Caribbean became the first movie based on a friggin' amusement park ride. I liked the film, but it sets an ominous precedent.
All of that is a way of saying, I wasn't surprised by, nor necessarily against, a remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Sure, I like the original, but it's easy to forget that the franchise devolved into camp after the first film.
Robert Englund owns the character of Freddy Krueger, but I have enough goodwill toward Jackie Earle Haley to be open minded to his take on the horror icon. Plus, this isn't the first classic franchise Platinum Dunes has produced, and the ones that I have seen I've enjoyed on some level.
But when the result is such a half-assed, boring, cash grab that reeks of minimal effort and a total lack of creative ambition, it just makes me angry. Yes. A Nightmare on Elm Street bored me.
While there are some significant structural changes in the narrative, the story is essentially the same.
A group of high school kids getting brutally murdered in their dreams by Freddy Krueger die in real life. The quickly shrinking band of victims looks for a way to evict Freddy from their nightmares and in the process learn of a deeper mystery behind Krueger's revenge.
Where the original had a fairly fresh premise to work with -- and winds up being one of original director Wes Craven's better films -- the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn't. But that's not its problem. That it's a lazy adaptation that makes zero effort to slyly comment on its source, or do anything remotely surprising are its main problems, instead coming off as a greatest hits of memorable moments from the first film.
Ever hear a cover version of a song by a lame band that takes a good tune and rearranges it into something that proves they didn't get what made the song work in the first place? That's what A Nightmare on Elm Street feels like. For 95 minutes.
The flick gets downright laughable, at times, with its overuse of jump scares and the inept direction that telegraphs just about every one of those overused jump scares from a mile away -- with the requisite blast from the from the soundtrack. It's that basic inability to establish any real sense of tension that kills the film and makes the ridiculously overused jolts annoying instead of scary.
It might seem weird to decry a film like this for a lack of subtlety. Say what you want about the original, Craven balanced the dream sequences, kills and character development well. Here, characters are merely ciphers to get you to the next dream sequence, of which there are plenty, but the ADD direction has us flipping mechanically between the dream world and real world, in short bursts that seem only to exist to get to the next jump scare (you could make a drinking game out of the jump scares in this movie that would put you in a hospital).
They even screw up Krueger, changing him from a child killer to a pedophile. Disgusting, yes, but it takes the character from a psychopathic child killer to a pervert. Insane is scarier than perverted; plus it negates the reason for his iconic bladed glove. Another sign they just don't get it.
But that's why the film makes me angry, to a degree. I don't think they, meaning producers Platinum Dunes, tried to get it. Director Samuel Bayer comes from music videos. Most of the cast are unknowns to anyone who doesn't watch the CW -- only one of whom, Kyle Gallner as Quentin O'Grady, distinguishes himself in any way.
They did this to make the film as cheaply as possible and get the opening weekend hit-and-run business. As of this writing, it opened at $32 million, which I'm betting is a large chunk out of its production budget. Toxic word of mouth will see this thing tumble next weekend, but ultimately this turd will still make money. That's sad.
Jackie Earle Haley does a decent job as Freddy. It's a return to the non-comedic Krueger, and he's appropriately menacing despite his diminutive frame. Again, it's the script that hamstrings him or his actions at least, since he apparently improvised most of his dialogue. Yeah, he scrapes his trademark metal claw along stuff and uses it to dispatch generic teens, but the film avoids much of the imaginative, FX heavy dream weirdness of the original -- another way to make the film on the cheap. It was nice seeing Clancy Brown, at least.
Apparently, original director Wes Craven was not approached for this remake, and he was vocal in his opposition to its being made. Craven's made his fair share of crap in his time, too.
This time I wish someone had listened to him.
Love and Hate
Generation X, a group of people of which I am one, was the generation defined by the cold consumerism and the Cold War paranoia of the '80s and the generation most overmedicated and over stimulated up to that point, is personified in Roger Greenberg.
In Greenberg, writer/director Noah Baumbach's latest whimsical dramedy, Ben Stiller portrays Roger Greenberg. Freshly released from a mental hospital and in Los Angeles to house sit for his brother for six weeks, the 40-year-old Greenberg compulsively writes letters of complaint to various businesses. He's also building a dog house for his brother, though that is the extent of his ambitions. He just wants "to do nothing" for a while.
Greenberg is full of pithy observations about the kids today. He's the kind of guy that will tell you it's not all about him, while constantly talking about himself. He suffers from passive aggressive mood swings that wind up completely messing with Florence (Greta Gerwig), his brother's personal assistant and Greenberg's too-young-for-him love interest.
He lives in denial of how he affects people, as with his old friend and former band mate, Ivan (Rhys Ifans) who was denied a shot at rock stardom because Greenberg didn't want to go along with a record deal. But while his other friends don't hide their sour grapes about the decision, Ivan still maintains a concerned, seemingly grudge-free friendship with Greenberg. Ivan is the principal sounding board for all of Greenberg's rants, observations and sometimes his wrath.
Based on a story by Jennifer Jason Leigh (who also co-stars), writer/director Noah Baumbach has crafted a character study that has me somewhat conflicted. As a comedy, it works well and it balances its humor with some genuinely moving moments that never come off as saccharine or contrived. Often Baumbach blends these emotional states like an exotic drink, the intoxicating tendrils organically blending into one another. Sometimes, he elicits hilarity from discomfort, as when Florence and Greenberg awkwardly attempt to have sex for the first time. Just as often a funny moment will be enveloped by poignant sadness. As a film, Greenberg successfully hits all those notes.
But my conflict comes with Greenberg as a character. I don't like the guy. I suppose it's a mark of the quality of Baumbach's writing and Stiller's considered performance that I engaged enough in the character to hold a dim view of him as a person. He can be funny and annoying or sympathetic and repulsive, and that does make him a well drawn character -- equal parts relatable and contemptible.
And that is refreshing, not only coming from Stiller -- who's comedic output is more easily distinguishable by his hairstyle than the quality of his roles -- but also from Baumbach, who keeps his typically self-aware writing confined to his extremely self-aware protagonist. Or is he an antagonist? Sometimes it's hard to tell.
It's a strange feeling to like a movie about a character you really don't. But Greenberg's slew of fine performances and fully fleshed characters along with some funny and sage writing go a long way to reconciling this odd, charming, little film.
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