Remakes aren't always evil. They're mostly unnecessary, but they never erase the original films they're based on. Remakes used to just come along when technology improved enough to warrant revisiting a popular property: something like The Phantom of the Opera or The Ten Commandments getting updates after the advent of sound.
Remakes of foreign films like Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai and Bergman's The Virgin Spring have given us the classic American western The Magnificent Seven and the Wes Craven horror film The Last House on the Left (respectively). As much as lame, cash grab remakes of stuff like Robocop, Total Recall or Halloween annoy, remakes, in and of themselves, are not anathema to quality. In rare instances, they surprise by being an improvement (Carpenter's The Thing) or at least by bringing something thematically new to the table (Cronenberg's The Fly).
And while the new iteration of Carrie, resurrected from the 1976, Brain De Palma-directed film of Stephen King's debut novel, doesn't surprise or improve on the original or really bring much new to the table at all, it still manages to pay loving respects to its superior predecessor.
Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass) is a 17-year-old outcast on the verge of graduating high school. Raised in monastic solitude by her insanely fundamentalist mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore, Magnolia) Carrie is only going to school at all because the state forced her out of home schooling. After spending her days alone, eyes ever averted from the popular kids, she gets to return home and spend her nights with her self-flagellating mother, who will throw Carrie into a prayer closet at even the vaguest hint of perceived impurity.
When she gets her first period (at age 17?) in the shower after gym class, Carrie's classmates, a bitchy bunch led by Chris (Portia Doubleday, K-11) take turns pelting her with tampons while Chris records the whole thing with her phone. One of the participants, Sue (Gabriella Wilde, Doctor Who) quickly realizes her cruelty and endeavors to make up for her role in emotionally scarring the clearly damaged Carrie. So she decides to set Carrie up with her football star boyfriend, Billy (Ansel Elgort, in his feature debut) as his date to the prom, hoping she can give Carrie some sense of acceptance. Chris, meanwhile, who has been suspended from school (and the prom) by their gym teacher, Mrs. Desjardin (Judy Greer, Archer) hatches a plan for revenge on prom night that's meant to epically humiliate Carrie White once and for all.
Fun with Mom. Julianne Moore tells Chloe Grace Moretz how to have fun in telekinetic psycho mama-drama thriller remake Carrie.
Unfortunately for all of them, Carrie's burgeoning womanhood brings with it powerful telekinetic abilities that quickly escape her control -- especially when she gets pissed off.
Aside from the addition of some modern technology (the shower scene gets uploaded to YouTube) and some more ambitious FX work, thematically and narratively there's nothing new in the 2013 iteration of Carrie. King's themes of repression, both religious and societal, are the same, just with a slicker package.
Carrie is directed by Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) from a script by Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Peirce doesn't go out of her way to contemporize everything, thankfully sticking to the meat of King's characters and exhibiting a nice visual style that hews closer to the aesthetic of the original film (sans actual film), with touches of slow motion that recall De Palma in key scenes. With an adept sense of composition and calm camera work, the film isn't hyper-edited to amp up the intensity. While the original's warm Technicolor charms are lost to digital cleanliness, the look of Carrie is not the real problem. There's just nothing really new here.
One thing about '70s flicks: people weren't uniformly attractive. A guy like Paul Giamatti sticks out for looking like a regular schmoe (albeit one loaded with charisma and talent) in a world of leading men who are largely chiseled from the same block of Adonis. I'm not going to give Chloë Grace Moretz shit for being too pretty for the role -- since she really knocks it out of the park -- but there was something about Sissy Spacek's inherent, freckled mousiness that added another layer of sympathy to the character. While the sadness is the same, one gets the sense that all Moretz really needed to do was break out of her shell, pull an Eliza Doolittle and she would have wound up just as popular and accepted as anyone else. Damn telekinesis.
Still, it is the cast that makes Carrie a decent 98 minutes of filmmaking. Moretz turns in a layered performance, full of emotion and sympathy that does justice to Spacek. Julianne Moore is appropriately intense, though (as much as I love her) she pales next to the truly unhinged turn by Piper Laurie in the original film (because Laurie made a career out of being unhinged). Moore goes a different route with it (more creepy, less operatic) and while the festering insanity under the surface is palpable, she really had her work cut out for her. The next guy who tries to play The Joker in a Batman movie will know Moore's pain. But, it's the relationship between Carrie and her mother that is the heart of the film, and these two bring their A-game to its most engaging and memorable scenes.
Portia Doubleday plays Chris in a love-to-hate role that she tackles with gusto. Sure the character is two-dimensional but Doubleday doubles down on the bitch factor in ways that satisfyingly pay off in the end.
Carrie is the only wide-release horror film out there for Halloween, so I'm sure it will do well. It even somewhat deserves to. But if you really want to get the feel of King's work in its time (and the manic intensity of Piper Laurie), you'd be better off seeing the original.
I've finally seen a movie that's dumber than Ted Cruz.
Sylvester Stallone plays Breslin, a security expert with a special set of analytical skills that allows him to work for a firm run by Lester Clark (Vincent D'Onofrio) that's contracted by the Feds to test the integrity of maximum security prisons. Breslin has broken out of 14 of them and has written a book about their flaws. Being incarcerated is, ostensibly, his job -- though he is paid handsomely for his services.
When a CIA agent approaches the firm with a job concerning a black-site prison, the most secure on Earth, for double the money, the hubristic Breslin accepts. He winds up in a semi-futuristic lock-up in an unknown location after being kidnapped at his pick up site. Turns out the privately run institution, overseen by the diabolical Warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel, aka Jesus) is a place of exile for high-profile criminals who pissed off other high-profile criminals so much that they wind up there (though for the money it costs you've got to wonder why they aren't just executed).
Breslin meets Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) a helpful inmate who immediately befriends him. After thawing the stoic Breslin, the two join forces to break out of the unbreakable penal colony.
Directed by Mikael Hafstrom (Vendetta), what follows is a borderline moronic, MacGyver-esque tale that face-plants into its own poorly thought out plot so often, that half the time it seems to give zero fucks about the collision. It's a lot like an early Paul W.S. Anderson movie without the internal logic (think about that for a second).
Punch Line. Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger bring high-end adrenaline to the screen as they try to break free in Escape Plan.
Hafstrom, with "screenwriters" Miles Chapman and David Keller, juggles the Swiss cheese story with ADD flashbacks that purposefully confuse the narrative as a cheap excuse to keep the audience off-guard. The pacing is leaden and boring in the first act, and the amount of sheer coincidence (combined with a bunch of pseudo-scientific bullshit) that it takes to move our protagonists closer to their goal is an insult to anyone with basic cognitive skills. The sheer amount of screen wipe transitions puts Battlefield Earth to shame. Escape Plan isn't quite as mind-numbingly terrible or absurdly glacial and overstuffed as Battlefield, but the comparison immediately comes to mind.
Still, it can be funny for that reason, on occasion. Stallone is taking it all deadly seriously, which in itself is a hilarious, while Arnie looks to be having a blast as Rottmayer. He's along for the ride and doesn't seem to care that he's in a cheesy D-TV knockoff that somehow made it into theaters. Caviezel is his usually shallow self, though somehow he seems to be having fun, too. When he shoots Faran Tahir's Muslim hero in the head, his apparent glee at the retarded subtext (Jesus Christ: Muslim Avenger?) makes for the funniest moment in the film. Sam Neill as a prison doctor isn't so much phoning it in as tapping it out in Morse Code. Sad, since he's the best actor of the bunch.
Seriously, I love a good cheeseball action flick as much as the next guy, sometimes more so. I've spent years wallowing in the best of them. This isn't it.
Escape Plan will make you wish you had one.
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