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Sunday, 15 April 2012


Recently watched three films; one was a remake, one could have been, and one should be [remade]. The films in question were: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, DRIVE, SUCKER PUNCH. All different genres, but with a common thread, which is 'originality' (bear with me).

I really, really wanna make you zig-a-zig aahhhhh!

SUCKER PUNCH is the only one that, technically, scores highest if we were to judge them on the standard definition of what 'original' means, given that there aren't many films being made today that recklessly lob a load of genres together in quite the way this film does. Steampunk zombies, giant samurais with chainguns, mech suits...it's just a shame the story is incoherent in its purpose, rather than layout.

Ostensibly, it's RETURN TO OZ turned into a 'girl power' parable. 'Babydoll' accidentally kills her younger sister, whilst trying to defend her from their cruel stepfather. He sticks her in a mental asylum, where she lives and works and suffers for five days, before being lobotomised (OR IS SHE?). The majority of this stuff is brought to us via the magic of montage, which works surprisingly well. It sets the style and tone of the piece from the off; SUCKER PUNCH is a 90 minute music video more than anything else.

However, just as Babydoll is due to get her brains scrambled by Don Draper from Mad Men, she finds herself in an alternate version of the asylum - now it's a bordello, with her and her female inmates playing the parts of dancers and srtippers. For some reason, whenever Babydoll dances, she enters another fantasy, in which her and her feisty girl chums go on madcap adventures to recover certain items that'll help them escape the bordello/asylum. All the items refer to signs and items she noticed when she first entered the asylum, and all the main villains she encounters are based on/played by people who work in the asylum. Throughout each 'quest', the girls pull a Charlie's Angels and receive sagely advice from a crinkly mentor, including the quite nice saying that acts as this post's title. The rest of the stuff he spouts, though, is a bit naff.

There are a million essays on how awful/offensive the film is if taken seriously as being about female empowerment, so I won't go there. I'm a bloke, so obviously I'm going to appreciate a film filled with fit lasses kicking the crap out of people whilst dressed in kinky costumes. Score one for misogyny! But the fact is, director Zack Synder tried something different. Never mind the message of 'you have all the weapons you need, now fight' - this means nothing when we can't understand why we should care about the characters. Babydoll has a tragic backstory, but what's to say the other girls she meets aren't actually mental? The only insight we get into them as characters is in Fantasy Land, so we can't be expected to believe they're all really sane and ultimately harmless, can we?

It's a shame, because the 'bordello' part of the film is really interesting, with some suitably nasty bits and great characters. There are also some nice touches in the asylum sections, but the fact is, in an effort to be something 'cool' and 'original', SUCKERPUNCH gets mixed up and doesn't spend the requisite amount of time focusing on its central message or ideas. If it could be reworked, they'd likely be a strong, decent and genuinely interesting film here, but as it stands it can only really be taken as an exercise of style over substance. But as a serious parable, it sucks balls. Fnar fnar!

"So how's this..."

Next is DRIVE. Honestly, like a friend of mine recently said, the film almost denies analysis. It's the sort of story we've seen done a million times before: a nameless loner gets caught up in gang business whilst trying to help a woman and her child. That's it in a nutshell, but there are of course different aspects to the story that make it more interesting than that simple sentence suggests. Like, the protagonist's penchant for extreme violence, and his skewered moral code.  He is, at his core, a perfect example of the sort of 'hero' Raymond Chandler once talked about. What makes DRIVE stand out from the millions of other like-minded films is, above all, it's execution. It's clearly set in modern times, but the music, visuals, and clothes make it feel like the 1980s never stopped. It is also the first film I've seen in ages that is, simply put, a joy to watch. Just stick it on and let yourself get absorbed in it.

Now with added 'camp hand'.

And finally...A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. The 'new' one. Again, there are million rants and diatribes online about the pointlessness of remakes, the ire of fanboys when cult films get a repaint, etc etc etc. I'm not going there, not really.I think it's best to watch remakes when they're suitably removed from the hype, and subsequent backlash. Get some perspective. Don't watch the original a bit before the new one to 'remind' yourself of it. Try to let the remake stand on its own two feet. If it then falls over because someone tied its shoelaces together, then so be it. I managed to give THE RING, DAWN OF THE DEAD, DARK WATER, FRIDAY THE 13TH and MY BLOODY VALENTINE a wide berth when they (re)appeared on the scene, and did the same with NIGHTMARE.

The biggest fault with remakes is when they don't bring anything new, or substantially new, to the table. It must be a tough juggling act, keeping the core concepts from the original, but putting a fresh spin on them. By and large, I enjoyed all these remakes, but the only one I could enjoy as a 'separate' film was DAWN OF THE DEAD. It took the settings and ideas from the original and did something interesting with them. But anyway. The latest FRIDAY fails because it feels like the latest entry, rather than a new beginning. VALENTINE does something a bit different to the original (even if the twist can be seen from space) and ultimately succeeds by virtue of being a more polished, well-acted version than its predecessors (okay, I might have a man-crush on Jensen Ackles). NIGHTMARE falls somewhere between FRIDAY and VALENTINE.

The core story is the same. Freddy Krueger is killed by vengeful parents, then comes back as a dream demon to off their kids. The set design is excellent, owing more to Silent Hill than the 'fake but cool' dream sets of the original(s). The characters are okay, but largely cannon fodder. Jackie Earle Haley's Krueger is all right, but feels a bit 'paint by numbers villain'. There is a nice suggestion that he may have been wrongly murdered, but this is offset by gaps in logic you can drive a bus through. "We didn't know what we were saying!" declares one character, at the news that he and his friends claimed Krueger had molested them in their youth. "You could have killed an innocent man!" he says to his dad. His dad could come back with "An innocent man wouldn't make a knife-glove" which would shut his kid up, but he says nothing. "We wanted you to forget!" says another character's mum. So why keep evidence of the past in the form of photos? "I'm fuelled by your memories!" Krueger tells Nancy (also the heroine in the original films). So how can she hope to destroy him if she keeps remembering him?  (An idea nicely addressed in FREDDY VS JASON, I might add).

It's a pity this version didn't go balls-out with the idea of dream logic. Whether that's down to the script, or the studio, who knows. There are flashes of 'dreams within dreams' and of Krueger altering surroundings to hinder his victims, but it doesn't provide any real intellectual meat to chew on. "That's not the point!" you declare. "I know!" I shout back. "But it would be nice if someone somewhere realised their films would have more of an impact if they remembered to put brains in their creation!"

Anyway. Watching all these films made me wonder if there will ever be such a thing as an 'original' film anymore. Or, are we now in such a creative vacuum that we're destined to remake things out of existence? I think there are supposed to be only seven possible stories, and that everything is some permutation of these. Fair enough. But it's possible for something to become more than the sum of its parts. A lot of bands (eg Radiohead) can do this. Video games (like the new puzzler FEZ) can do this. Books are perhaps the "easiest" medium in which something new can be made (but this deserves its own essay). Out of the above films, DRIVE maybe does this. To end, here's the "formula for the perfect film" that was mentioned on TV yyyeeaaaarrrss ago. I made a note of it, in the chance I'd actually be able to make some use of it at some point:

"Sue Clayton, a lecturer for the British Film Council and the University of London, studied loads of hit films to work out exactly what makes them so popular. 

She found that the best ones had a certain mix of action, romance and special effects.

She worked out that the perfect film must have:
  • 30% action
  • 17% comedy
  • 13% good v evil
  • 12% love/romance
  • 10% special effects
  • 10% plot
  • 8% music
Toy Story 2 is close to being the perfect film, according to Sue."
And finally...I don't like Bjork's voice, but her music's good. This is used is SUCKER PUNCH:

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