Fright Club: Best Reboots

What were we looking for? Reboots/remakes that are superior to the original. There are more than you think. In the podcast, we run through eight horror reboots that are superior to the original, kick around another handful that are Even Stevens, and argue about several that could maybe go either way (depending on which one of us you’re talking to). So, you know, have a listen.

5. Dawn of the Dead

Zack Snyder would go on to success with vastly overrated movies, but his one truly fine piece of filmmaking updated Romero’s Dead sequel with the high octane horror. The result may be less cerebral and political than Romero’s original, but it is a thrill ride through hell and it is not to be missed.

The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film. And finally! A strong female lead (Sarah Polley). Polley’s beleaguered nurse Ana leads us through the aftermath of the dawn of the dead, fleeing her rabid husband and neighbors and winding up with a rag tag team of survivors hunkered down inside a mall.

In Romero’s version, themes of capitalism, greed, and mindless consumerism run through the narrative. Snyder, though affectionate to the source material, focuses more on survival, humanity, and thrills. (He also has a wickedly clever soundtrack.) It’s more visceral and more fun. His feature is gripping, breathlessly paced, well developed and genuinely terrifying.

4. Suspiria

Luca Guadagnino continues to be a master film craftsman. Much as he draped Call Me by Your Name in waves of dreamy romance, here he establishes a consistent mood of nightmarish goth. Macabre visions dart in and out like a video that will kill you in 7 days while sudden, extreme zooms, precise sound design and a vivid score from Thom Yorke help cement the homage to another era.

But even when this new Suspiria—a “cover version” of Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo classic—is tipping its hat, Guadagnino leaves no doubt he is making his own confident statement. The color scheme is intentionally muted, and you’ll find no men in this dance troupe, serving immediate notice that superficialities are not the endgame here.

3. The Ring/Ringu

Gore Verbinski’s film The Ring – thanks in large part to the creepy clever premise created by Koji Suzuki, who wrote the novel Ringu – is superior to its source material principally due to the imagination and edge of the fledgling director. Verbinski’s film is visually arresting, quietly atmospheric, and creepy as hell.

From cherubic image of plump cheeked innocence to a mess of ghastly flesh and disjointed bones climbing out of the well and into your life, the character of Samara is brilliantly created.

Hideo Nakata’s original was saddled with an unlikeable ex-husband and a screechy supernatural/psychic storyline that didn’t travel well. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger did a nice job of re-focusing the mystery.

Sure, it amounts to an immediately dated musing on technology. (VHS? They went out with the powdered wig!) But still, there’s that last moment when wee Aidan (a weirdly perfect David Dorfman) asks his mom, “What about the people we show it to? What happens to them?”

At this point we realize he means us, the audience.

We watched the tape! We’re screwed!

2. The Thing/The Thing From Another World

The 1951 original The Thing From Another World is a scifi classic, and every inch of it screams 1950s. The good guys are good, the monsters are monsters. Everything has its place. It’s reassuring.

John Carpenter’s remake upends all that with a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination, and mutation.

A beard-tastic cast portrays a team of scientists on expedition in the Arctic who take in a dog. The dog is not a dog, though. Not really. And soon, in an isolated wasteland with barely enough interior room to hold all the facial hair, folks are getting jumpy because there’s no knowing who’s not really himself anymore.

This is an amped up body snatcher movie benefitting from some of Carpenter’s most cinema-fluent and crafty direction: wide shots when we need to see the vastness of the unruly wilds; tight shots to remind us of the close quarters with parasitic death inside.

The story remains taut beginning to end, and there’s rarely any telling just who is and who is not infected by the last reel. You’re as baffled and confined as the scientists.

1. The Fly

As endearing and fascinating as we find Kurt Neumann’s 1958 Vincent Price vehicle, it just doesn’t quite have the same impact once you’ve seen Jeff Goldblum peel off his fingernails.

Not because it’s gross—and it is gross AF—but because he’s fascinated by the process itself. It’s the scientist in him.

David Cronenberg knows how to properly make a mad scientist film, especially if that madness wreaks corporeal havoc. But it’s not just Cronenberg’s disturbed genius for images and ideas that makes The Fly fly; it’s the performance he draws from Goldblum.

Goldblum is an absolute gift to this film, so endearing in his pre-Brundlefly nerdiness. He’s the picture’s heartbeat, and it’s more than the fact that we like his character so much. The actor also performs heroically under all those prosthetics.

American Narcissist

#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump

by Seth Troyer

Comparing America and much of the world’s shift toward fascist totalitarian ideals to the rise of dictators in the 1930s may at first seem over the top. Indeed, much of Dan Partland’s new documentary #Unfit may seem heavy handed – until you remember where we are as a nation.

We elected a textbook narcissist whose strategy for gaining followers centers around a self-obsessed “me first” ethos. He vows to bring back the “the good old days” and encourages an inherently nationalistic philosophy. Enter Donald Trump.

Really, it’s hardly shocking when this film reveals that a guy like Trump had affection for the rousing public speaking stylings of Adolf Hitler. Trump has not changed since his billionaire playboy days, his goal is still clear: “win” by any means necessary. Sadly enough, if that’s your only real goal, taking pointers from charismatic fascists continues to be a useful strategy.

Naturally, #Unfit is not saying Trump is Hitler, but that his fits of totalitarian megalomania have the potential to be similarly dangerous.

Until it really sinks in, it may also seem like a cheap shot for this film to compare Trump and his followers’ behavior to that of apes in the wild.

Trump’s mission to be the biggest and the best by any means necessary is as old as animal life on this planet. A leader who pounds his chest the loudest, who rallies followers around self-serving goals and shared hatred for outsiders, unfortunately remains a rather attractive choice in the eyes of many American voters.

Scenes of white nationalist pride and news footage of men screaming “go cook my burrito” to Mexican folks at Trump rallies are juxtaposed with scenes depicting animal “us vs them” mentality. The irony here is of course that the conservatives, who make up the bulk of Trump’s following, who often seem to have the most reservations around ideas of evolution and the link between humanity with the animal kingdom, seem to be themselves clearly emulating primal group dynamics.

Partland’s film is not always eloquent, and at times it stumbles into obvious biases toward the Democratic party. Flashes of former President Obama are shown as folks talk of “better times.” This documentary really shines when it keeps its eye on the bottom line, that Trump is not simply a threat to left wing politics but to American democracy as a whole.

Time Out Of Mind

Tenet

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

A not-at-all funny thing happened to the movie calendar this year. And now, instead of kicking off the summer blockbuster season with a bang, the stakes for Tenet are a wee bit higher: rescue movie theaters.

As you may have heard, writer/director Christopher Nolan has been adamant that this film be experienced in theaters. He’s not wrong.

Tenet is a sensory battering experience, one not to be paused or downsized. The ideas are big, the visuals are full of wide-eyed wonders, and the persistent mind-bending immediately invites second helpings (maybe more).

An agent known only as The Protagonist (John David Washington) is introduced to technology that has the power to invert time. Time travel? Sorry, that’s Bill & Ted kid stuff. We’re talking the ability to move forward in a space where everything else is moving backward.

Nolan is returning to a familiar playground that manipulates time and reality. From Leonard looping through a constant present tense in Memento to Cobb forever bumping into his own past in his attempts to shift the future in Inception, back to The Prestige, forward to Interstellar and again to the braided timelines of Dunkirk, Nolan is a filmmaker who orchestrates universes by playing with time and consequence.   

In Tenet, the future is talking to the past, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. To put things right, our Protagonist and a mysterious partner named Neil (Robert Pattinson) must gain the trust of a high-end art dealer (Elizabeth Debicki) on the way to taking down her Russian arms dealer husband (Kenneth Branagh) who’s thinking bigger than Thanos.

A dialog heavy first half benefits primarily from the oily charm and sly humor of Pattinson’s character, whose arc is made more fun and more interesting by the way the film loops its realities. As elegant as always, Debicki exists to give the film a truly human character, which is to say, one whose behavior is too often (and too conveniently) impetuous.

The film’s biggest drawbacks are some cliched dialogue and its tendency to present itself as a SciFi James Bond movie with well-dressed characters popping up in gorgeous locales to impressively (and too conveniently) offer well-timed information. (Washington does impress as a potential Bond, though.)

The two and a half hour running time is not a concern, because once we hit the midpoint, Nolan (with a big assist from cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and stunt coordinator George Cottle) decide we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Past and present collide in some of the most interesting, tense and downright fun action sequences Nolan’s ever put together—and fan or not, that’s a feat to acknowledge.

That’s merely a summary that doesn’t require a physics degree, but as Nolan’s own screenplay admits, “Don’t try to understand it.” We’re back to big screens, baby, let’s make it count!

Screening Room: New Mutants, Bill & Ted, David Copperfield and more

The Kids Are Not All Right

The New Mutants

by Hope Madden

Let’s be honest. Logan’s dead, JLaw’s past her contract obligations, Dark Phoenix bombed and the X-Men are in need of some new blood and maybe a new direction.

The franchise does make a big of a zig with its latest offshoot. The New Mutants is essentially a YA horror film. Co-writer/director Josh Boone’s premise may be comic book, but his execution is angst and PG-13 scares.

Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) wakes up to find herself in a locked-down, mainly vacant, definitely old and unmistakably spooky asylum of some sort. Here Dani will learn to control her power—whatever that might be—with the help of the sole custodian of Dani and four other special youngsters, Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga).

Focusing exclusively on adolescence allows the film to deliver, undiluted, the main concepts of the franchise: embrace your differences, forgive yourself, accept others for what they are, master your own potential and stick it to the man. Fine ideas, every one of them, and certainly common themes in YA.

As our plucky hero, Hunt struggles to find anything close to authenticity in her dreamy dialog, but the balance of the cast is strong.

The always remarkable Anya Taylor-Joy relishes the wicked girl role while Game of Thrones’s Maisie Williams (battling Taylor-Joy for largest eyes in a human face) is a deeply empathetic, awkward girl with a crush.

That the crush is not on one of the two boys in lockdown—played by Charlie Heaton and Henry Zaga—is a refreshing change of pace charmingly underscored by the teens’ apparent fixation with the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Boone, whose 2014 effort The Fault In Our Stars defines angst porn, knows YA. His combination of these two genres is a bit of a misfire, though, particularly when the final, big, giant scare is revealed. Yikes—and I don’t mean that in a good way.

New Mutants is a film trying too hard to cash in on proven youth market formulas, but the concoction fizzles. It doesn’t really work as an angsty romance, misses the mark as a horror movie and never for a minute feels like a superhero flick.

Dr. Whoa

Bill & Ted Face the Music

by George Wolf

You know why Death (William Sadler) was really kicked out of Wyld Stallyns?

Well, I’d tell you, but that would take the number of laughs waiting for you in Bill & Ted latest romp down to two…maybe three.

It’s been almost 30 years since their Excellent Adventure gave way to the Bogus Journey, but Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are still best buds. Now living in the suburbs, each has the wife that they brought back from Medieval England (Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays), plus a daughter (Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine) that is the younger version of their most excellent dad.

Though they still rock out, Ted is ready to hang up his guitar until the future comes calling.

It’s Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of their old pal Rufus (George Carlin, thanks to a well-placed hologram), with news from the Great Ones. The boys have exactly 77 minutes to play their song that united the world, or reality will collapse.

Whoa.

While it’s nice to know Bill & Ted will finally achieve musical greatness, the world needs that song right now. So why not go into the future, steal it from themselves, then come back and get quantum physical?

Director Dean Parisot, who helped make Galaxy Quest an underrated cult classic, teams with original franchise writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon for a time-traveling ode to living in harmony. This time, the historical figures we meet are mainly musical (Mozart, Satchmo, Grohl), but while the journey is long on sweetness and good-natured stupidity, it just isn’t very funny.

After all these years, Reeves and Winter make an endearing pair of overgrown adolescents, and they do seem genuinely joyful about stepping back into that magical phone booth.

The joy that you get from Face the Music will likely match up perfectly with the amount of nostalgia you have for this franchise. The film’s present isn’t bad, either. Because theaters are opening again, and God knows we’re all longing for a simpler time right now.

For almost 90 minutes, Bill & Ted make sure we get one.

What’s In a Name?

The Personal History of David Copperfield

by Hope Madden

Will he turn out to be the hero in his own life?

The Personal History of David Copperfield reunites the writing/directing team of Simon Blackwell and Armando Iannucci, whose Death of Stalin, In the Loop and the series Veep represent high water marks in political satire.

How are they with whimsy?

Not too bad. While the material is a far different style of cynical minefield for the filmmakers, Dickens offers a couple of opportunities Iannucci and Blackwell can appreciate: a big cast and wordplay.

Dev Patel is a perfectly amiable, easy to root for David Trottwood Daisy Dodi Murdstone Davidson Copperfield. (Ranveer Jaiswal is the even easier to root for, ludicrously adorable youngster version.) As we see their tale spun and re-spun, it is, of course, the characters that come and go that make the biggest impression.

Who? Tilda Swinton (with the year’s best onscreen entrance), Hugh Laurie, Ben Whishaw, Gwendoline Christie, Benedict Wong and Peter Capaldi, among many others. The multiracial cast emphasizes the fanciful fiction, the desire of a writer to create a story better than their own reality. Here, each actor takes character to caricature, but the brashness suits Iannucci’s busy, bursting, briskly paced narrative.

Iannucci hopscotches about the story and timeline in an episodic manner that fits the source material. What results is a charmingly animated rumination on those characters in life who shape our stories, experiences and maybe our character.

We can all get behind an underdog story, although like most of Dickens’s work, David Copperfield isn’t one. It’s the would-be tragedy of a person of good breeding who falls into a life that’s beneath him only to have his proper station returned to him via a happy ending.

Not to poo-poo Dickens, but it’s in the cheery resolution that the material seems a misfit for the raging if delightful cynicism of the filmmakers. When Uriah Heap accuses, “You and yours have always hated me and mine,” the boisterous nature of Iannucci’s film feels ill at ease because of the line’s pointed honesty. Let’s just right these cosmic wrongs and give the money back to the people who had it in the first place, shall we?

Still, this David Copperfield has its own lunatic charm to burn. Gone are the laugh out loud moments as well as the bitter aftertaste of Iannucci’s best work, but in their place is a lovely time.

When I Say Get, You Say…

Get Duked!

by Hope Madden

What does one homeschooled teen and three high school ne’er do wells in trouble for blowing up a lavatory have in common? Impending doom.

The four boys are making the Duke of Edinburgh Award trek across the Scottish highlands. Dean (Rian Gordon), his daft mate Duncan (Lewis Gribben), and the future of hip hop DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) have no choice after that lav incident, while Ian (Samuel Bottomley) just earnestly wants to complete the challenge and include the award on his college applications.

But it’s a long hike and a lot could go wrong, especially now that Dean’s used the map to roll a joint. Will Ian ever be able to check off the requirements of teamwork, foraging and orienteering?

Writer/director Ninian Doff showcases his background with music videos, infusing this often laugh-out-loud horror comedy with a remarkably catchy, high energy beat that fits no part of the surroundings, which is perfect.

Toss in the always welcome Eddie Izzard as both the informational video voiceover and the uptight, uppercust elitist with a shotgun and expect more laughs. More still from the hopelessly bumpkin police force (The Witch’s wonderful Kate Dickie and the grinningly hilarious Kevin Guthrie). They toss aside their ongoing investigation into the highland bread thief to look into suspicions of a Satan worshipping London gang of hip hop pedophiles.

Doff’s good natured script sometimes echoes of the Cornetto Trilogy in the way its jabs at society land without feeling cynical or bitter. The film is emotionally generous with its juvenile delinquents. The four leads share a lovely chemistry, each actor effortlessly carving out a unique character while developing a level of authenticity in the emotional bonds between them.

This is not the kind of thing you might expect from a comedy where characters routinely—sometimes accidentally, sometimes on purpose—chew on rabbit poo.

The horror is light, the comedy raucous, the fun explosive. Get Duked! may not change you, but it will brighten your mood.

Speaking Softly

Lingua Franca

by Hope Madden

Lingua franca is literally a language used between two people who don’t share a native tongue. But what goes unsaid in Lingua Franca carries far more weight than anything we’re actually told.

Writer/director/producer/star Isabel Sandoval has mastered cinematic understatement. Her approach, as filmmaker and performer, is never showy. Her third and most confident feature is a slice of life drama that meditates quietly on need, agency, love and capital in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.

Olga (a perceptive Lynn Cohen) sometimes forgets where she is. She gets a little agitated and a little weary.

Olivia (Sandoval) calms her, keeps her safe, keeps her well, but has worries of her own.

Alex (Aemon Farren) just needs to catch a break, so he’s staying with his grandmother and helping out Olivia when he can. But we can’t all help each other, even when we mean to.

Sandoval’s film says so much with so few words, it’s remarkable. By way of Olga’s apartment we enter an entirely lived-in world, one that is likely to be utterly unfamiliar and yet feels as authentic as any you’ve seen. The ordinariness of extraordinary circumstances, unusual measures and extreme tensions emerges by way of Olivia’s resigned, world-wearied gaze.

There is a cultural currency to the story, one in which Olivia’s position as a transgender woman of color is actually less dangerous than her situation as an illegal immigrant in the age of ICE. That anxiety plays as a backdrop to a desperate romance between Olga’s two needy houseguests.

As Olivia’s sketchy love interest, Farren offers a nuanced and authentic turn. Alex is a man of squandered potential, dim prospects, and a fleeting if recurring notion that he can be something of value.

There’s a lonesome transience to the story, a feeling of impermanence that’s frightening, sad and just slightly freeing. Lingua Franca tells a lovely, sad story that’s very much worth hearing.

Snow Way Out

Centigrade

by George Wolf

Been sweating out these dog days of summer? Ready for a cool down? Well then bundle up, buttercup, because from its opening minutes, Centigrade traps you in bitter elements with the temps falling fast.

Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) is an America novelist on a book tour in Norway with her husband Matt (Vincent Piazza). They were driving in darkness when freezing rain kicked in, and Matt suggested they pull over to wait out the storm.

Director and co-writer Brendan Walsh fades in when the couple wakes up to find they are buried under snow, and frozen inside their car.

Also, Naomi’s pregnant. Very pregnant.

In his feature debut, Walsh has the challenge of staging a tense survival thriller from the interior of a sedan. Though the leads are effective enough in communicating a growing desperation, there just isn’t enough here to keep you totally invested in it.

Casting Rodriguez and Piazza – a real life couple – was an understandable move that does pay off. Naomi and Matt’s relationship feels lived-in and comfortable from the moment they awake, which in turn makes the ways their frayed psyches affect each other seem more authentic.

But even in the age of a global pandemic that has re-set the bar on unrealistic stupidity, not all of what Centigrade is selling quite adds up. Through onscreen text that is oddly specific, we’re told the film is “inspired” by actual events, while a closer look reveals Walsh’s admission that the inspiration was “culled together” from several different stories.

And that pregnancy hangs over everything, just as it’s been in the back of your mind since I mentioned it four paragraphs ago.

Is it true life or a convenient MacGuffin? Or, as we learn more about Naomi and Matt’s relationship, will it be a literal example of a baby saving them? As the length of the ordeal moves from days to weeks, Walsh always seems to pull up just when it seems he’s getting the loose ends nailed down.

Even at 89 minutes, too much of Centigrade is uninteresting filler. The payoff, when it comes, feels like an unsatisfying layup, and though the stakes and the characters are both well-defined, somehow that primal question of survival is never truly palpable.