Dead Before Dawn

Yesterday, I watched the following trailer:

I’m old enough to have seen the original at the cinema, as it happens. Back then, top billing went to a young buck called Kiefer Sutherland (whatever happened to him?) yet the film became notorious for him creating a relationship with co-star Julia Roberts, right up until she left him (less than a week before they were due to be married, if memory serves.) The original is, quite honestly, an extremely watchable and decent film. Long before the days of CGI, it relied on conventional shocks and clever camerawork to do the task I’m now seeing technology take over, and it makes me sad. Somehow between 1990 and here it isn’t just being young and edgy that has radically altered. I know better than to judge anything based solely on a trailer but really, honestly, this does not bode well. If I hadn’t loved and devoured the original so many times I know it by heart, maybe that would make a difference…

The 1974 version of this movie was a Christmas staple for as long as I can remember as a child. That means that I watched it once to learn the murderer, then a couple more times to get the details straight, before doing something else. Certain narratives will support multiple views: Christie’s whodunnits, not so much. In this case I briefly considered seeing the remake simply for Kenneth Branagh’s moustache, but let’s be honest, the plot’s hardly going to be a surprise… in that regard, it’ll have a lot in common with Flatliners. Yet, for the best part of four decades, I have willingly thrown money at a franchise which effectively tells the same story every 2-3 years, the only major difference being the man I have to believe is the major protagonist.

007 may hold the answer to my personal dilemma of ‘when is a remake just not worth the effort?’ I accepted Skyfall as a decent ‘episode’ of this current ‘series’ of the Bond ‘journey’ but SPECTRE was a step too far. Wonder Woman’s been around for DECADES, and yet the most current iteration of ‘origin story’ I’ll be able to watch multiple times and not get bored of. Why am I prepared to let some narratives get rehashed a bazillion times (Star Wars) but would rather others get left well alone (Blade Runner) could be personal preference, pure and simple. However, I think it is 007’s intractability that illuminates a deeper truth: Flatliners and Murder on the Orient Express aren’t simply reboots, but re-imaginations more than willing to embrace the changing face of modern audiences. Sure, they could cast a female Bond, but it won’t happen. The canon of the concept will only support a particular and fairly intractable demographic, and that appears as unchangeable as Daniel Craig’s current dislike of the franchise at present.

Flatliners, this time around, has a female lead protagonist, and two more women in the headline group of actors. MotAE has an impressively multicultural ensemble, neither ageist or sexist in their placement. Effectively these old stories can be made new not simply by effects but with smart casting choices. Bond… well, he’ll always be Bond, sexism and misogyny watered down only by a leading man who knows only too well how old and restrictive the source material has been. Here’s the problem for me: I’d love a great story that looks amazing, and is close to an original concept as possible. I know I won’t get that in modern film-making: Arrival, for instance (which I love) is effectively Interstellar with a differing plot structure. I grasp, as an adult and ex-film student, the chance for ingenuity and quirkiness doesn’t come around that often, and if you want to make money, recycling is your best bet. The problem then comes with what you pick to do that with, and then how it is marketed. It’s nearly 30 years since Flatliners, I don’t blame them for the reboot. I will hold them to account though if the CGI ruins what was a really great concept without.

Some remakes are best just left alone. I think we can all agree that there are concepts that worked better in the decades they were originally created (looking at you, St Trinians) whereas other ideas flourished and became phenomena hand in hand with the CGI that evolved with them (Harry Potter is a perfect example of this, more on which on Friday.) In between, there are the films that you see and think ‘you just green-lit this to make some quick cash, didn’t you?’ I’ll go see Flatliners in the cinema, just to see how much of a good/bad job gets done on rehashing the original, but even Branagh’s moustache won’t be enough, in the final analysis to make me part with cash. Sometimes, once is enough, and the geek in me has no real desire to compare and contrast reboots for decades to come. I’ll leave that to someone with more fans and a bigger You Tube subscriber base.

I’ll be here, praying the Bond franchise I’d love rebooted ends up doing it right.

Cleaning Up the Town

Normally when the Internet implodes, it is wise to stand well back. In this case, I have a few things that need saying first.

It is 1984. I’m in the Lower 6th at Comprehensive School and the day the original ‘Ghostbusters’ releases, I bunk the day off school with three of my mates and we watch the first showing of this movie at my local cinema. And the second one, and we don’t leave until the last performance of the day. We stay in the auditorium and watch a brilliant slice of cinematic genius, and it gets better on each subsequent viewing. More importantly we don’t get ejected, and this becomes the moment when cinema becomes more than just something I go to watch, it becomes one of my enduring love affairs. So, when it became apparent this ‘idea’was being rebooted? I’ll admit, I had my doubts. When it was obvious the main cast was being re-imagined as all female?

I couldn’t work out if this was madness or genius, and I still don’t know.

I never got upset about the content of the original movie, despite what various people will pin on the screenplay 30 years later. It remains a beautifully preserved moment from an era where this kind of brilliant mainstream comedy/paranormal bobbins never got made to begin with: the three main leads became worldwide stars pretty much overnight, as did the show which created them. I’d never heard of SNL until that point, and that plus so much else became tagged onto the coat-tails of an often uneven story around a bunch of intelligent geeky types who battled ghosts. I didn’t notice the token minority issue either, but 3o years on it was the first thing that hit me with the reboot. Because after three decades, and with women now doing science? The token minority is still blue collar. If this is a straight reboot (to a point) and that’s deliberate? Then it could well be acceptable with an ‘homage’ hat on but the objections I’ve heard thus far? On a two minute trailer there’s not much to go on, and until I see the movie… and suddenly things get really shaky indeed. The speed at which the Internet schismed over this yesterday was nothing short of breathtaking, if truth be told. Middle aged men throwing their arms up in horror at the juxtaposition of good girls for guys, women lamenting the choices made with the protagonist’s professions, everyone complaining that the theme tune still sounds shit. Ray Parker Jr ripped it off Huey Lewis and he settled that court case a LONG TIME AGO, people, so you can put THAT away as ammunition.

This film’s got a hard road ahead of it and we’ve not even seen the damn thing yet.

Take 40 minutes of your life to watch this dissection of the original movie and understand just how significant a piece of work this still is: indicative of a particular time and place, and a very specific set of World circumstances. I suspect, when we look back on the reboot in 30 years that it will be possible to do the same thing for them: a symptom of a society that has vastly differing ideas on how the World not only looks but is perceived by those who inhabit it. What matters more to many isn’t the subject matter, or the fact the ‘new’ version is in many places clearly a piss take of the original. It is more around the choices made to take from one to give to the other. There will be those questioning the need to remake the concept at all, why you couldn’t have introduced *some* women into the cast and left some guys alone, that the black actress automatically didn’t get cast as a Professor… The list goes on, because in the modern world, EVERYBODY sees the world differently, and the Internet has become the magnifier for every single disparate outlook. None of them are wrong, every one is valid, even those people who will tell you that giving the jobs to the girls is deliberately and completely pointlessly cheapening the original . Crucially, this might not make them sexists, because as of right now I’m still on the fence over that decision. I’m not sure this reboot needs or should do justice to the original, until I’ve seen the entire thing and had a chance to consider this exercise as a whole. The trouble is, that’s not how the Internet works, and I can’t wait to have an opinion. I gotta have a fully rounded argument right now, which needs to be expressed in 140 characters or GTFO.

I find myself torn. Again. I want to like this film, because the trailer (at least to me) isn’t simply doing lip service to its predecessor. I feel a lot better about the idea than I ever did about ‘The Force Awakens’ because, at least for me, this movie’s pitched up with very little to prove. I’m not going to have my childhood destroyed because someone decided to cast women into this fantasy, and I’m sure as fuck not about to allow prejudice and ignorance to colour a final outlook on anything until I’m in a cinema. Mostly, this trailer did its job: I wouldn’t have bothered to see this on release, I’d have waited for Sky or a DVD, but now I’m going to make the trip to a Multiplex, for no other reason than I think there is merit in seeing a big screen version. In that respect alone? Job done, Sony. I’m now on board.

What happens next? I wait until the movie comes out, I make a considered judgement based on what I’ve seen, and the World could respect the art by doing the same. Is that really so hard? Right now it appears to be a real struggle for a lot of people and this is increasingly disturbing. I’m not sure at what point it became de rigeur to have opinions on things before they actually released, but I suspect gaming might have something to do with this. If that is the case then I am truly very sorry, because it’s wrong, just so utterly and totally unfair to decide to condemn a thing based only on the fact you look at the main cast and they don’t have dicks. It’s the same way you don’t dismiss a thing as worthy because you think that a movie mirroring real life prejudice isn’t acceptable because all movies should be aspiration. Mostly, you don’t pass judgement on less than 180 seconds of cinematography ever as an indication of a finished product, so stop it now Internet and get a fucking sense of proportion as a matter of urgency.

/thinks

Yup, I’m done now.

mikedrop.gif

Secret Agent Man

There is a point in Spectre, after the first snow-based chase sequence of Daniel Craig’s tenure, when Bond confronts Madeline Swann, having rescued her from the bad guys. She asks: ‘Why should I trust you?’ before a clearly exasperated Bond replies ‘Because right now I’m your best chance of staying alive.’ The audience already knows this is 007’s love interest, that you don’t chase a blonde across the snow and destroy millions of pounds worth of plane and Land Rovers unless you’re clearly indebted to the woman you’re pursuing, and here in one beautiful exchange is my entire problem with this film. It looks fabulous, contains all the elements that should be in a Bond film… except not one made in 2015. This is so obviously a love letter to Bond’s past, and the criminal organisation that gives the film its name also condemns the whole thing to become, in the end, a worrying parody of it’s own genre. Because while Mike Myers made Austin Powers a beautiful pastiche of everything 1960’s including Bond, Sam Mendes makes this 007’s outing a mirror of all the faults that keep the secret agent the way a certain generation of men will always remember him: tortured, brilliant, invulnerable and ultimately hollow.

What makes this saddest of all is that the two and a bit minute trailer for the movie I saw back in the early part of last year is actually a better presentation of the plot than the movie ends up itself being, because once you know that twist, you’re done: its Game Over. When it becomes apparent who Christopher Wentz is? You know how this will conclude. There is no surprise, or amazement, and everything becomes almost embarrassingly predictable. From the ridiculous set pieces to the record breaking explosions and the beautifully composed tableaux, it is all pointless when you know why Wentz is there, and instead of the homage to 23 other movies I suspect Mendes sold this as, you get an almost depressing understanding of where everything is heading. I thought I knew this Bond, I watched him get his 00 designation. I shouted at the screen when a colleague shot him and happily accepted his return from the dead, but when it became apparent her surname was Moneypenny? This path was already laid, and I was annoyed with Mendes, an anger that actually surprised me. All that hard work in two and a bit movies to build Bond as a tenable and acceptable 21st century reboot was removed in a five or so minutes of clunky and ill-conceived lip service at the end of Skyfall to a Spy who should have been left dead and buried in the 1970’s. But no, the World loves Bond. Misogynistic, womanising, invulnerable Bond. Shame on you for using Naomi Harris to do this, too, for just so many reasons. Women clearly give up everything for Bond, happy to be demoted from Field Agent to glorified PA without a line of real or believable dialogue. Oh, give me a fucking break.

Some of us can see right through you, 007.

Spectre is a disappointment, even more when I see how great the British press thought it was. It is almost as if nobody will ever diss James as he’s clearly a national treasure: after all, he jumped out of an aeroplane with the Queen in 2012. It doesn’t matter how earnest you make the relationship with Swann, it’s a joke, because she leaves him in Act 3 and you’re just holding your head in your hands, because if there’s still X minutes left everybody knows she’ll be back. It’s as if this script was written by a bunch of men who understood just how far they could push the envelope and no more, that what really should have transpired wouldn’t have made for a suitable homage anyway because Bond can do no wrong. Monologuing your bad guy works when he has you tied to a chair attacking your exposed genitalia. It becomes less acceptable on his personal Island surrounded by clearly cosmetic server units, and when you reach the stark stylised nature of your deserted desert based lair? Sorry, but no. We had three movies that actually presented a secret agent with a relevance to the 21st century. This means the pre-credits sequence for Bond 25 will either be breaking Bloefeld out of jail so he can spend two and a bit hours being all menacing, or Eon will see sense and actually break the mould. Because with all the interest in an Oscars ceremony where a complete absence of diversity in the film industry is becoming more and more difficult to dismiss?

wtfmal

This franchise doesn’t need another white, male Bond on a reboot. I’m really hoping Daniel Craig is done with 007, because if he walks away now I’ll maintain the respect he granted me by making Bond finally be the James I thought worked best, who I as a woman could actually believe had a soul. I’ll forgive him about 70% of Spectre where he’s clearly only doing what the script told him to do, and remember the broken man who picked up Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd from the wreckage of the house she died in, and made me cry for the first time ever in a Bond movie. Because then, 007 was real and brilliant and now he’s become a parody of a parody.

You really need to give Idris Elba or Tilda Swinton the designation. Tom Hiddleston won’t do, and if you pick an unknown white guy again? NOPE. The only way I could see you saving this whole sorry mess is giving it to the BBC and letting them take 007 to Television. You want to keep people happy when you do?

Make Bond openly bisexual.

Yeah, that would work.