(On DVD, July 2016) Slick, loud and utterly forgettable, 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot exemplified early on the defining characteristics of the recent (and hopefully disappearing) craze for remaking classic horror movies. The technical values are quite a bit better than the originals, but while the story structure remains the same, it’s filtered through a homogenizing process that removes nearly all the rough edges and quirks of the inspiration. The result usually feels lifeless, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake couldn’t be more representative of the trend. Featuring young protagonists facing down hillbillies, it’s a predictable by-the-number exercise in genre horror, with largely forgettable set pieces that are executed well enough to measure up to current production standards, but not so memorably as to warrant any sustained attention. It’s purely a teen slasher in backwater country, and there’s nothing worth pondering in terms of themes or style. Nobody will care about the limp attempt at framing the movie as a true-crime story. Jessica Biel is the notional protagonist here, but this won’t figure on her filmography as anything more than a stepping stone to more visible roles. Gorier yet less disturbing than the original, this Texas Chainsaw Massacre also shares another crucial characteristic of remakes: It’s unnecessary, and will quickly be forgotten in favour of its predecessor.
(On Cable TV, February 2015) For years, rumours abounded about David O Russell’s famously abandoned film Nailed: Despite featuring known actors (Jake Gyllenhaal, Jessica Biel), an amusing premise and a decent budget, complex issues during the production of the film made it unravel before principal photography was completed. The almost-finished film languished for years, the director publicly disowning it while investors and producers tried to find a way to complete it. Many, including the director and its stars, had given up hope of seeing it (it’s even featured in the book The Greatest Movies You’ll Never See). But then, something happened and something like Nailed made it into the wild. But that something is not a successful film. Despite a few comic set pieces (a dinner opening sequence, Kirstie Alley as a living-room surgeon, an abrupt tryst that mangles presidential portraits, the Girls Scouts revealed as an incredibly powerful lobbying organization), Nailed! (or Accidental Love, as it’s known in the US) has the feel of, well, an unfinished film. Crucial narrative tissue seems missing or botched (witness the pivotal “nailing accident” scene, crudely stitched together from what looks like other bits and pieces of the film), the script never being able to tie up its loose ends. In other words, it feels exactly like a film that had to be released without the luxury of reshoots and fine-tuning. It’s certainly worth a look for fans of the main actors—Jake Gyllenhaal looks really young as a somewhat naïve congressman wearing too-big suits, while Jessica Biel is often too charming for words as a small-town waitress with a debilitating neurological problem. As a curiosity, it should satisfy film pundits who heard about the film for years without quite knowing if they’d ever see it. But Nailed is not a film that stands up on its own without the attraction of its back-story. I have a feeling that, some day, someone is going to write a tell-all article or put together a revealing documentary about the making, unmaking and remaking of this botched film, and it’s going to be far more interesting than the movie itself.
(On-demand Video, December 2012) Nobody was really demanding a Total Recall remake when the 1990 Verhoeven film still holds up pretty well. But there’s no explaining Hollywood, and taking the film as-is rather than try to protest its existence is a good first step toward lowering one’s blood pressure. So it is that this 2012 version is most notable for its jazzed-up visual density: The 1990 film was made before the commodization of CGI, but this new version is filled with complex virtual environments, multi-layered visuals, swooping cameras moves, dazzling tracking shots and a tremendous amount of polish. (Also, alas, gratuitous lens flare.) It works insofar as the production design offers one of the most fully-realized vision of an Earthbound future since maybe Minority Report: robo-soldiers, hand-phones, surface-projection, skyways, interactive holograms, trans-core travel, hurrah! Never mind the lousy science of the film: the action sequences using those gadgets are quite nice: director Len Wiseman is adept at using the tools at his disposal to set up some impressive mayhem, and this translate into a number of remarkable shots, whether the characters are chasing each other through multidimensional slums, driving flying cars in future London, battling robots in three-dimensional elevators or using guns to propel themselves (unrealistically) in zero-gee. Collin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel all do well in their respective roles; you can even argue that Farrell, in particular, is quite a bit more credible in this particular everyman role than Schwarzenegger was in the original. Sadly, much of this Total Recall’s strengths are purely visual or superficial. When it comes to plotting, internal logic, world-building, character motivation or even moment-to-moment fun, this Total Recall is noticeably worse than the original’s sometimes-goofy charm. Making little attempt to truly go beyond the dream-logic of its progenitor, this remake frequently feels dull from a storytelling standpoint, especially for those who remember the original clearly. Still, especially for futuristic action junkies, the remake isn’t a complete waste of time: It frequently looks great, and it’s a decent showcase of what’s now possible when you throw enough special effects at the screen. It’s worth a look, but not a thought.
(On-demand video, October 2012) My first thought after seeing a title like “The Tall Man” and reading a plot description involving missing children was to wonder if the “Slender Man” Internet meme had made it on-screen. Alas (maybe), The Tall Man defies a number of assumptions, and not having any relationship whatsoever with Slendy is the least of its narrative transgressions. Initially presented as a horror movie about a mother searching for her abducted son in a small town that has seen a wave of child abductions, The Tall Man turns out to be something quite a bit different than just another horror thriller with a generic monster. After a conventional (but well-executed) beginning, the middle act of the film defies our assumptions about the protagonist and the nature of the film. The overlong last act limply completes the transformation from horror thriller to provocative drama, leading to a flurry of questions, doubts and hesitations about the film’s true intent. Is it social commentary smuggled underneath a glossy patina of horror, or a horror film that loses its nerve? Does the ending lead to eucatastrophe or unsettling doubts? (“Right? Right?”) This particular issue has been better-addressed in one of Ben Affleck’s movie (I’m obviously dancing around spoilers here), but there’s something almost admirable to the way The Tall Man commits itself to a full-blown chase sequence knowing fully well the revelation it has in store for audiences later on. Writer/Director Pascal Laugier established himself as quite the iconoclast with Martyrs, and if The Tall Man is more mainstream-friendly, it’s certainly not your average straight-to-video thriller. It’s relatively well-shot, sports a decent budget and Jessica Biel gamely incarnates the main character, lending her sympathetic personae to a character that requires a bit of misdirection. Elsewhere in the film, Jodelle Ferland turns in another noteworthy performance as a character that becomes increasingly important as the film advances (in-between this, the third Twilight and a lengthy filmography on Canadian TV, she’s probably due for a breakout role soon enough). I suspect that The Tall Man will divide audiences: annoy horror fans, while intriguing those who are always looking for a bit more substance in their genre films. While the social message may not be all that well-integrated, the attempt seems interesting enough to warrant a look.
(In theatres, June 2010) Having no particular knowledge or affection for the eighties TV series from which this film is adapted, I can only judge it on how well it performs as an action movie. Fortunately, The A-Team delivers all the expected thrills: Writer/director Joe Carnahan finally gets a decent budget, and the if the result frequently mocks plausibility, it’s good enough to make The A-Team a perfectly acceptable action movie. While a few longer shots would have been helpful in keeping the tension high, Carnahan’s visual style here is heavy on anachronistic back-and-forth between planning and an execution that places a lot more emphasis on speed than grace. It benefits from grand-scale CGI stunts: how else to portray a bunch of shipping containers falling down like matchsticks? By the time the characters are flying a tank via its main cannon, I couldn’t have been happier: Action insanity plus echoes of Grand Theft Auto 3! This intensity, combined with an engaging ensemble cast of characters, does a lot to compensate for a script that never quite seems certain when to start: The A-Team delivers two successive origin stories before we get the sense that the film is truly underway, and even then the entire film seems like a pilot episode for its own sequels. But why complain when Liam Neeson is slumming with cigars and cackling grins? Why nit-pick when Bradley Cooper makes for an irresistible con-man? Finally, what about Jessica Biel, back on the big screen as a competent military investigator? I’m always on the market for an over-the-top action comedy if it’s made with intelligence, speed and charm. The A-Team at least gets good grades on speed and charm, and substitutes kinetic cleverness in lieu of intelligence. I’ll take it. After all, I love it when an action movie comes together.