Thursday, October 24, 2013

Maybe remake The French Connection so Popeye isn't a huge racist instead


They're not even going to laugh at it, because Carrie doesn't have the decency to at least be an incompetent as well as unnecessary remake: merely bland in most respects, inferior in every single respect, and willing neither to innovate nor to truly plagiarize.

Directed by Kimberly Peirce
Written by Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (based on the novel by Stephen King)
With Chloe Grace Moretz (Carrie White), Julianne Moore (Margaret White), Gabriella Wilde (Sue), Portia Doubleday (Chris), Judy Greer (Ms. Collins Desjardin), Ansel Elgort (Tommy), and Alex Russel (Billy)

Spoiler alert: seriously?
Before I started writing for the slightly more public consumption, I spent some time writing reviews for a smaller circle of mostly sworn enemies dear friends.  I still used the same grading system I do now, with a "B" serving as the high point, or maybe the spot just right of the high point, on the bell curve, and meaning "a basically enjoyable film."

One the films I wrote up was Joh10 Carpenter's 1995 remake of The Village of the Damned.  This wasn't the first time I'd seen it, but I did happen to watch it only a few weeks after I finally got a chance to view the 1960 original.  As a result, I had a mildly negative reaction to the remake, and I gave it a C+.  "It's fine," I said, "but Carpenter didn't do anything new.  So unlike his ground-up conceptual reimagination of The Thing From Another World, Carpenter's Village is practically the same movie as its source material."  Or something to that effect.  It certainly sounds like me.

But I've lately come to believe that this judgment was unfair.  For one thing, Carpenter added a great deal to the original story (if, perhaps, not quite enough), including an entirely new subplotthat is, the bit where David, the alien superchild who comes to partly understand and approximate emotion, survives the medically-necessary thirtieth trimester abortion of the other Midwich cuckoos, still possessed of all his great power, ending the movie on the unnerving, potentially apocalyptic note for which Carpenter is known and rightfully adored.  (Spoilers for The Village of the Damned.)

"But really?  The brick wall and everything?"

Beyond that addition and others, the Carpenter remake simply isn't bad, not even marginally bad, and compares favorably to the original in all respects, from camerawork to pacing to special effects to Mark Hamill paychecks.  The 1995 version of film has an indefeasible right to exist because it improves on things, does them differently in interesting ways, updates the cultural context of the story, and, when it does the exact same thing as the original, doesn't screw it up.

This is a long way of saying that I went into Carrie 2013 doing my absolute damnedest to try not to be angry at it merely for not being the 1976 Brian De Palma super-classic.  If you see Carrie 2013, I recommend doing the same, and for a couple of hours, try to forget.

If you succeed, let me know.

Because Carrie 2013 isn't doing anyone who attempts to do so any favors.  If I did have prejudice, it was confirmed; even if I didn't, comparison to the original was as inevitable as a bucket of pig's blood.  Thus this review will reference the original constantlybut this approach is, after all, a wholly accurate reflection of the movie I saw, based at least as much on Lawrence Cohen's 1976 script as it is the Stephen King novel.

If Carrie were any rawer a remake, it would be a Gus van Sant experiment in bullshit.  But that's giving Peirce too much credit, because if Carrie 2013 were Psycho 1998, it may have something more to recommend it.  Carrie 2013 is Carrie 1976, but with the key exceptions: it is less well-shot, less well-acted, less well-shot, less well-conceived, and less well-shot.  As exercrable as Captain Phillips' cinematography was in general, Paul Greengrass may well have made a better Carrieat least his movie has a long high-angle tracking shot involving a rope.

I need not relate the plot in more than the most summary terms: Carrie White is a nascent telekinetic born, to her great misfortune, of a psychotically-nondenominationally Christian mother, and who as a result has grown into a socially maladapted young woman, the subject of extreme bullying by her peers, most of whom she eventually kills after she is severely punked at the moment of her greatest triumph and greatest vulnerability.

There's a reason why I said a spoiler warning was inapplicableaside from the fact that it's one of the best known stories in Western civilization, coming in fourth right after the Passion, the rage of Achilles, and the Original Trilogy.  Even if you're tragically culturally illiterate, if you've just seen a trailer for this movie, you've seen the whole thing.

Carrie 2013 in almost all respects recapitulates the script of the original, which is an immediately enormous problem because Carrie 2013 is set in 2013, so reproducing the abhorrent defects in small town society that probably mildly strained credibility even back in the mid-1970s now seems bizarrely, jarringly out of place in a 21st century America.  There's even a bit where the male principal is uncomfortable with menstruation, i.e. what half of his student body does once a month, in the manner of a bad situation comedy of 1990s vintage at the very latest; and it is false.

For another example, in 2013, Chris can't dump blood on anybody, because she is in jail awaiting trial for lynching.  And thanks to the video she makes and uploads of an underage girl in a state of undress, she is also being charged as a sex offender.

That's not to say that it is a purely copy and paste job: this one has computers, Youtube and texting.  The first two are genuinely good touches, despite my caveats.  Modern communications technology, on the other hand, generates one the deepest, most noticeable, and frankly most inexplicably unavoided plot holes I've seen in a very long time.  Other major changes include switching Chris and Sue's hair colors, and casting Billy and Tommy with bad actors.

Speaking of inadequate actingwell, first let me remind you what a big fan I am of Chloe Grace Moretz.  She does a lot here, and she tries very, very hard, and almost succeeds, but she was always a bad fit for Carrie White.  It's some kind of irony that Moretz evinced more weakness as her universe's premier superhero than she can as a more explicitly abused child, but the vulnerability is there, just undeveloped.  Too conventionally pretty and too self-assured, and not yet experienced enough as an actor to play against her type, it's nonetheless kind of impressive that she even comes close to getting the role down.  As unfair as it is to put her against an actor then twelve years her senior, her performance is still a shadow of Sissy Spacek's.  Spacek also was probably too pretty, especially in terms of her big blue eyes, not to mention her yowza body (a claim I won't be forwarding about a 15 year old because I'm on enough FBI watchlists as it stands), but Spacek does manage to actually pretend to look like crap.  Carrie 2013 by contrast has real shades of She's All That.

Moretz only feels right as Carrie when she begins to explore her powersand while the cruelty, premeditation and satisfaction of rendering violence that an established action star can bring out isn't better than the initial surprise, awkward assertions, and finally the cold, mad vengeance Spacek gave us, it's probably the only real novelty in Carrie 2013 and one of the few things that doesn't just make you wish you were watching Carrie 1976 instead.

I'm almost as shocked that Chloe Grace Moretz goes on a killing spree as I am that she cleans up to be a pleasant-looking human teenager.  (N.B.: This is when she's still a high school outcast.  You can tell because her hair is maybe slightly unkempt, and she's not wearing as much makeup.)

It's thus a shame that Peirce and her screenwriter Aguirre-Sacasa didn't choose to build their remake around their lead actress and her demonstrated competency, as that could have been special and good and justify this remake.  It's baffling, even, because Peirce specifically sought Moretz out and surely must have known what she was good atand being beaten and broken down is emphatically not it.

It also doesn't help that an actual 15 year old feels somewhat out of place when she's surrounded by a cast comprised of Hollywood 15 year olds.  I guess at least it's a bit more believable than a senior in the class of '76 whose menarche was preceded by the time she voted for George McGovern.  And the time she voted for Hubert Humphrey.

And how about that Academy Award nominee?  I like Julianne Moore a lot.  I even thought she was a good Clarice Starling.  Just a month ago, she gave dimension and warmth to an otherwise eye-rolling plot device in Don Jon.  But I have nothing good to say about her here.  In fact, she's sort of badflat, lifeless and not quite convicing even on those reduced terms, unable to move seamlessly between mercilessly imposing penance and protectively shielding her daughter from the terrible world that fucked Margaret White up before Carrie was even born.  Obviously her performance just pales in comparison to Piper Laurie's colossus of ACTING, and though I doubt anyone would have been able to trick Moore into thinking she was in a parody, maybe they should have tried.

It feels like what they needed was established chemistry, proven overacting chops, and a performer who knows how to really sell knocking the crap out of a young girl.  Hey, you can do a lot with makeup and modern CGI...

Portia Doubleday and Gabriella Wilde, as Chris and Sue, respectively, are actually quite fine; I am willing to concede that Doubleday might well have turned in a slightly better villain than Nancy Allen (sorry, cuz), despite being given far less to work with, as her role is hamstrung by the objectively bad, point-missing decision to reimagine Billy as a sociopathic plot-driver in his own right rather than a scummy idiot whose decisions are made based on their potential to lead to blowjobs.

Judy Greer, as Carrie's gym teacher and eventual alternative lifestyle coach, using the novel's cumbersome original name of Ms. Desjardin, is basically okay.  While she has serious issues with trying to make her 1970s authority figure convincing in a 21st century environment, it's not her fault.

But so what if the original Ms. Collins was a morally ambiguous figure, who, in her own way, by providing only one alternative to soul-crushingly crazy Christianity and cajoling Carrie into that role, may well have been almost as inimical to Carrie's development as a whole person (and does that line feel so much more forced here) as any of her more obvious enemies?  Nobody needs that crap.  Isn't this movie about telekinesis and a prom?

I guess it is.

It's too much to expect that this remake subtly develop the idea that Carrie's latent supernatural abilities are what draw the nearly instinctive wrath of her peers and even her elders, and all the metaphorical weight that notion carries.  It's too much to expect that this remake overtly develop that idea either, because if it was subtle in the original it was either dropped, or, I strongly suspect, not noticed in the first place.  But it's 2013: it should all look awesome, right?

Sure, the one arena in which Carrie 2013 should have easily bested its predecessor is special effects.  In terms of what they can do, yes, it does; Carrie 1979 certainly doesn't feature a car being lifted into the air or a CGI composite of someone's face smashing through its windshieldif it did, the windshield's shatter pattern and the prosthetic face that created it would have been far more accurate, or at least convincing, because it would've been made with baryonic matter rather than the electrons on someone's hard drive.

Ultimately, the rather ho-hum direction of the film undermines what could have been the most thrilling part, the prom massacre... and I reckon that it still is, to the devil with false modesty, I suppose.  It nevertheless somewhat sucks.

With today's technology, they can levitate people relatively cheaply, and I believe the prom scene is longer (the whole sequence certainly is), but somewhow cannot find a way to turn their technical capabilities into a succession of interesting killsI managed to count only one (1) confirmed non-partisan victim of the whole affair.

The previously mentioned bit with the car, despite my criticism, I can grudgingly admit might be considered better than spinning the camera around while John Travolta and Nancy Allen scream their heads off.  It is the only moment of telekinetic fury that competes at all with the original in terms of being something particularly cool to see, when there is nothing in the climactic sequence of Carrie 1976 that is not particularly cool to see.

It also doesn't help that Moretz is made to throw her arms around like she was waving in a jumbo jet when using her telekinesis, which looks a lot more than just faintly ridiculous, especially when compared to the steely glares and insectoid head movements Spacek used to indicate her Carrie's power.  Watching Moretz forced to flail like this is, frankly, embarrassing.  If Peirce, deep in her soul, needed broad, beyond-silent film hand gestures to sell the illusion (she didn't, but), take a hint from the pros: when Ian MacKellan reaches out his arm and masters some magnetism, he is allowed to do so with a bit of dignity.

Worse, the scene makes a pretty big mess of things thematically.  Peirce, I fear, didn't understand thatprobablyno one was actually laughing.  I guess that is another major difference; it again completely misses the point, but it is definitely new!

But as wickedly great as all that death is in the original, it's the poisoned idyll immediately preceding the deadly prankwhen all still seems possible but truly nothing ever wasthat is my personal favorite scene from Carrie 1976.  It's mirrored here as all else is, but of course all the tension and even much of the emotion is missed.  That's the power of that shot with the rope.  The slow motion.  The 360 degree shot.  The set design.  The lighting.  Spacek and William Katt's performances.  The score.  The dialogue and the silence.  This heartbreaking scene, the most important in the film, is what no one here, from director to cinematographer to actors, even tries to equal, let alone exceed.

If all they succeeded in was making a prosaic yet (I gather) still unfaithful adaptation of the King novel, when a lyrical one already exists, then, ultimately, what was the point of this enterprise?  To put something in theaters for people without a Netflix subscription is the only answer that makes sense, but it is a depressing one.

So it's not terribly good in comparison to its legendary forebear, but is Carrie 2013 an entertaining filmon its own dubious merits?  Perhaps marginally so.  There was a man in my audience who thought Carrie's physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her mother was the funniest thing in the world, even without Nic Cage doing the abusing.  So I conclude it made at least one person happy.  Good for it.  For my part, it got me to reevaluate a John Carpenter movie, and that's never a bad thing.

Well, maybe if it's Ghosts of Mars.

Score: 3/10

P.S. Carrie 1976 is, beyond obviously, a 10/10.

P.P.S.: There are a set of twins in this version of Carrie.  I didn't notice until a beauty parlor scene more than halfway throughand for a moment I thought they were going splitscreen, and I said, "Yes!"  They went on to do nothing of the fucking sort.

P.P.P.S.:  You'll note I didn't compare the opening locker room scene.  Well, that's because this movie can't do it without being jailed as a sex offender itself.  It's actually far more disconcerting here, because they do go about as far as the law allows with the near-nudity of what amounts to a kid; whereas with Carrie 1976 we can rest comfortably prurient in the knowledge that these particular "high school girls" will always stay the same ageroughly 18 to 27.

It is less adept here than in the original (yet again), because that pseudo-pornographic beginning is, nonetheless, a fantastic introduction to a movie about sex, sexual awakening, sexual dynamics, and the power and danger of female sexuality.  And in any event the actual nudity emphasizes to a heartbreaking extent the vulnerability of Carrie White, rendering it perhaps the most terrifying scene in the film.

It is also, of course, really, really hot.

P.P.P.P.S.: Ansel Elgort?  Apparently so.

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