So I got fooled into believing that The Uninvited would be a remake of the excellent Korean horror A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Hongryeon). Yeah, right. Not by any stretch of the imagination. "Inspired by" is more like it. Although that would imply that The Uninvited was somehow inspired. I wish. It's The Sixth Sense meets The Hand that Rocks the Cradle but sans any suspense whatsoever. It's a yawn-inducing suckfest of the highest order that had me shake my head in disbelief at how pedestrian an effort - in wide release, no less - it is more than once. And then they have the nerve to give us an ending that comes pretty close to saying "it's all been a dream" and show us some clips to substantiate their claim (at least that saves anyone who was still awake (and hasn't previously viewed A Tale of Two Sisters) by that time from having to re-watch this flick like we did the Sixth Sense;)
Instead, The Uninvited is a good example of what not to do. It gives us a laundry-list of no-nos to check. So here it is. This compares to a review much like this film compares to A Tale of Two Sisters.
1. Don't assume that your audience has the attention-span of a fruit fly.
The Uninvited is so worried that you bolt out if nothing "scary" or creepy happens within the first few minutes, so we meet our protagonist Anna (Emily Browning) at a party where she has some sort of ghost-sighting. No build-up, nothing.
2. Don't tell me what I will see half a second later on the screen
This should go without saying, especially in this genre, but maybe Brit directing newbs "The Guard Brothers" have never heard of it. As our protag desperately wants to leave the party, she tells us this in voice-over right before she shows us. Perhaps The Guard Bros are considering the blind audience members?
3. If you want to shrink a 110 minute movie down to 87 minutes, don't...
Tell us the gist of some backstory in expository dialogue. Anna tells us (or her shrink, you decide) that her mother burned to death in a fire and she feels responsible. And that she can't remember any details. Remembering the details will set her free, someday, says Mr. Shrinkmeister. Now you know. They might have shown us, somehow, but that would be more work and require skill.
4. Horror hardly ever benefits from characters who talk about their feelings
Seriously, the dialogue is the worst. Most of it is exposition, not much of it is really necessary, the rest is just plain boring.
5. Don't give us another protagonist who acts like she's a complete idiot who's never ever watched a horror or thriller or crime movie.
Imagine: you've just figured out that you live under the same roof with a killer who's plan it is to off you. Your plan is to tell your dad so he can take care of it. Before you get to do that, though, killer shows up. Do you then go nu, nu, nu, nu, nu, I know you're a killer and I'm gonna tell my dad! Huh! That'll show you!
No matter what we may be told later, in this moment our experience is ruined and we want our money back.
Apropos later. Later, as she has the opportunity to spill her news to her dad, what does she do? Whine about some petty, inconsequential stuff, forget about her killer-news. No, that is not resolved via the big reveal.
6. The horror genre isn't just for boys. Go to the movies and check.
Nevertheless, The Guard Bros felt the need to put Anna and her sister Alex (Arielle Kebble) in bikinis. And once again we get one of those inexplicably important scenes of two chicks, a dildo and sex talk. Nothing sexy about the scene, nothing scary, either. How old are these people, 13?
7. If you absolutely have to "remake" an excellent genre flick, don't try to make it completely different.
What's the point in re-imagining a film and keeping only some plot points or twists and nothing else? The atmosphere? Lost. The suspense? Gone. The beautiful music? Don't get me started on the pedestrian score. Why did a shorter film need an additional character? Dunno. This reminds me on Mirrors, even though Into the Mirror had its problems, too.
Anna comes home from the psychiatric ward. She's lost her mother. She hates her stepmom. Is she going to play and have fun, you think? This change in mood made the beginning of The Uninvited look like a gazillion other horror flicks who all start out like this. Adding the character and the boat made things even worse. Flip-flopping from one mood to the other and back just doesn't work. Admittedly, it's hard work to build and sustain a mood. But one might at least try.
To think that some of the horrid changes in The Uninvited are supposed to make the story "more American" is insulting. Here, girls get drunk and have sex etc.? In some ways, this reminds me on the equally horrible Wild Child, a rip-off of British The Girls of St. Trinian's. Coming to think of it: if this is a remake, then the rip-off meisters should get into trouble...
The Uninvited trailer (2:17)
Let's not kid ourselves. We're thankful that Summit Entertainment tackled a project that other production companies rejected. We're also aware that Twilight the movie, though not a completely unwatchable disaster, could have been better. Way better. And I say this being a fan of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight.
The decision to replace director Catherine Hardwicke comes as no surprise - the only surprise may be the press release citing all sorts of issues other than "not good enough" or "disappointing". The question now is: who's going to direct New Moon? An answer is needed pronto, they want to go into production ASAP, fans want to see New Moon in 2009 if possible. Suggested? Chris Weitz. The co-author (adaptation) and co-director (with his bro Paul Weitz) of Nick Hornby's About a Boy. Chris Weitz's last project: The Golden Compass, which he wrote (adaptation) and directed. Big-ass budget, starring box-office poison Nicole Kidman and Daniel "least charming Bond ever" Craig. What do you think?
It would be cool to find a capable female director to replace Hardwicke, of course, but good luck finding one in a profession where women are still incredibly underrepresented. Looks like there are even fewer female directors than female writers. Unbelievable but true. Suggestions?
Still, to replace the director may only solve half of the problem. The other half? The screenplay.
Melissa Rosenberg's script was quite underwhelming. When you're done reading the book, you're left with a few memorable scenes in your head. Those are the scenes that make good candidates for a script. Add to that your characters' defining characteristics and you're well on your way... That's my theory.
I don't think that the scenes that made it into the script were necessarily the most memorable ones. Or the ones that served the story best. Bella's visit to the Cullen house? What the hell was the point of that whole butchered and incoherent sequence? Not to mention character development, which was MIA, as the movie seemed only interested in rushing the romance and introducing James (Cam Gigandet) and his good looking friends. Horrible. But don't get me started... that's another post, a rather long one.
The questions today: Should New Moon get a new screenwriter? (I think so)
Who should direct New Moon? Capable and available on short notice. Paging Ari Gold for some genius suggestions... Who got out of rehab last week? ;)
Buried deep inside Four Christmases, under the weight of boring slapstick, disgusting grandmothers and baby spit, we glimpse a sweet love story and a sad truth: many adult children of dysfunctional families are scared to repeat their parents' mistakes and therefore choose not to procreate. They don't want to do to their kids what was done to them. It's a "choice" made out of fear - and love and responsibility. Responsibility is a big issue for these people which is why they are often successful in their careers. As they get older they may come to realize that their "decision" not to have a family means that their dysfunctional families still control their lives. They come to examine what it is they really want and need to be happy. One thing never changes, though: They have to stay away from their families of origin.
Like I said, this sad but helpful-to-know truth and the sweet love story of two such people is buried deep inside this Christmas comedy originally written by newcomers Caleb Wilson and Matt Allen, then supposedly re-written by Howard Gould (not mentioned in the credits anymore) and then apparently re-written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Full of It, Rebound). Four Christmases may be a case of "too many cooks" in combination with the need for "mainstream appeal", made necessary by a reported production budget of $ 80 million. That can kill any original thought not coming from Charlie Kaufman. Forget edgy, forget honest.
At times it felt like I was watching two different movies. One short edgy and interesting dramedy and one crappy and idiotic highly unfunny "comedy". Who's responsible for which? Beats me. Bottom line: Four Christmases is Christmas with the Kranks for the Vince Vaughn crowd.
Kate (Reese Witherspoon, Penelope) and boyfriend Brad McVie (Vince Vaughn, Fred Claus) are in a good place in their 3-year-relationship. The sex is great, they are financially secure and - most importantly - they manage to successfully forget about their horrible families. Each year for Christmas Brad and Kate jump on an airplane and head off to have some fun in the sun while telling their families about some charity work they'd be doing. Not this year. The planes are grounded and so are they. For the story to work, a news crew has to be at the airport, Brad and Kate's mortified faces have to be broadcast to the world. That's when their cell phones ring. Busted.
They both have divorced parents which means they are expected to attend four Christmas celebrations with four dysfunctional families. Kate and Brad are so horrified, they even feel the need for a safe word. Mistletoe. During their stay with Brad's father (Robert Duvall, We Own the Night) and muscled brothers Dallas (Tim McGraw, The Kingdom) and Denver (Jon Favreau, Iron Man) we see Brad dangling from the roof just like Tim Allen did in Christmas with the Kranks. After his inevitable fall Brad utters "mistletoe" - but Kate's inside the house and can't hear him. Kate supports him, gives a motivational speech. That's one of the moments that ring true. We buy that relationship dynamic, the understanding they share. Unfortunately, those kinds of moments become less and less frequent as the film progresses. We leave testosterone-heavy McVie hell and move on to estrogen-hades a.k.a. Kate's mother (Mary Steenburgen, Step Brothers), fertile sister Courtney (Kristin Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies), aunts and looney grandmother.
Now the pattern emerges: Kate ends up holding a baby wherever she goes. In this household she also gets to play with a breast pump, gets spit on by said baby and - takes a pregnancy test. Good grief, another wannabe Baby Mama? When Courtney accuses Kate to consider herself to be "too cool for kids", Kate makes an attempt to correct that false assumption, but gets ignored. One would imagine that Kate has thought about the topic and her answer would require at least five sentences of dialogue. No can do, that would "bog down the comedy". Remember the mainstream. Give them slapstick and nonsense, that's what they want. Nevertheless, keep that family dynamic in mind.
For almost two of the Four Christmases we can observe Brad and Kate having a relationship that works. They learn new things about each other and that's okay (even though we would assume they'd already shared that information). It all goes completely downhill in the second half, though, when all of a sudden Brad resurrects his inner jerk during a nativity play and Kate submits and shuts up just like she did with Courtney. I still don't get how they could suck so bad at the "buzzer game".
Brad turns into a complete jerk. I was shocked to see that we are supposed to go with that and still root for Brad and Kate as a couple - happy end included. Are you kidding me? But not so fast.... (I know. I'm not willing to give up on the "edgy and interesting" parts of the movie - the movie I would (still) love to see, feature length.)
Back when they were on the way to the first Christmas, they were expecting their meltdown. Kate asks for Brad to promise her "no matter what happens today, we still have each other, right?" and Brad says "of course we will". It would have worked better with reversed roles, but a promise is a promise and you can count on it with these two. Especially when Brad shows up and delivers an apology and a promise that recalls who they were at the beginning of the film. It may not sound like much of an apology to anyone else, but Kate gets it and thinks it's sweet. She gets him and that's the point. When she joins in the talk about "walking tax-shelters" and "free lawnmowers" all's good.
However, the truth we find in this development, simply put, is this: when you're around your family of origin, you will regress and show behavior you thought you had long overcome. Left behind. Shed. Years of work and self-improvement go down the drain the instant they push your buttons. Once again you are who you do not want to be. You're Orlando again, not Brad. You have the right to be Brad, though. Up to you.
Kate's father (Jon Voight) gives a lame speech about forgiveness and "family", a speech we've heard a gazillion times too many already. Kate needs to forgive him for her own sake, that's for sure, but certainly doesn't need to forget or pretend that blood ties are the most important ties there are when we know they aren't.
A lot can be found in Kate's dialogue. Early on she expresses her growing discontent, a secret longing for something else, some change. A beach is a beach, no matter if it's Fiji or Goa or any beach at home, it's all the same to her. Been there, done that. Her character arc, then, isn't that much of a surprise. We would have loved to see that coming from a man for a change, but oh well... Kate was only a couple of steps ahead of him, I suppose.
Instead of the wacky ending that seems constructed and out of context, I would have preferred to see them come to the realization of above explained sad truth first and then give themselves permission to make any decision that could make them happy. Show us how that miserable Christmas experience strengthened her relationship first. And no news crew in the hospital room.
Vince Vaughn's motormouth serves this story well, it expresses Brad's insecurity, his need to "perform" in this toxic family environment, and his desperation.
If you chew your popcorn (only) while Brad and Kate are with their respective families, and listen to them when they're alone, you have a chance to see the good parts of Four Christmases.
After some nitpicky early reviews I was fully prepared to see Hancock, the "suckfest without meaning". Boy, what a pleasant surprise. Hancock ist not the same-old, same-old in new clothes. There are a couple of different ways to "read" Hancock, though, more on that later.
Iron Man doesn't want to produce weapons anymore, The Incredible Hulk hates the whole Hulk-thing/uncontrollable violence and now there's Hancock (Will Smith), a depressed and jaded superhero who cares more about saving lives than appearances and money. His sidekick of sorts is PR-specialist Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman). Ray fights the good fight not on the streets but in the office. When he presents his concept "All heart" to a bunch of deep pocket suits, however, their reaction is disheartening. Rays concept is very simple: he suggests the pharma industry hand out meds for free to those who can't pay to stay alive. I suppose he didn't expect that saving lives could not be priority. Not even if that would help restore the industry's tarnished image. Ray's concept "All heart" seems DOA.
After we've seen Ray fail, a drunk Hancock saves his life - once again causing a few million $ worth of damage followed by media outrage. Ray wants to repay the favor by helping Hancock build a new image for himself. We fully expect his project to go the way of "All Heart" but it doesn't. Hancock gets a make-over, a new attitude, goes to jail, attends anger management group therapy - and waits. Finally, he gets released in order to help with a hostage situation.
There, Parker (Eddie Masran, who plays a similar role in the upcoming Happy-Go-Lucky) wants to force Hancock to hand over 30 million in exchange for the hostages. That doesn't fly and he temporarily ends up behind bars. He swears he'll come after Hancock....
When he's not on the job, Hancock hangs out with Ray and his son Aaron (Jae Head), who's a big Hancock-fan. Ray's wife Mary (Charlize Theron) considers Hancock to be a loser and bad influence but Ray doesn't care. He's found someone who shares his vision, a true friend. In the final scene their connection is made perfectly clear in a sweet and innocent way. I'm sure some will find it corny.
Yes, there are plenty of big action scenes including a "battle of the superheroes" scene. That one is not just cool action but it's also very funny due to some facts I cannot divulge (spoilers). I have to say, though, that sometimes I wondered if Will Smith was shaky on his feet because he was supposed to be drunk Hancock or if the editing was lousy. I could almost see the strings Smith was tied up in. On the other hand, Hancock the movie doesn't take itself too seriously. Once in a while it's a tad spoofy and that's not necessarily a bad thing, either.
Now, regarding the ways the movie can be read. I've chosen the innocent kind of reading that's about charity and goodwill, about sharing the wealth rather than obsessing about stock prices. There is of course another way of reading Hancock: Does "hated superpower saves lives to the tune of millions of $ in damages which causes the public to demand superpower quit saving lives" ring any bells? Does Ray and his soft approach, his focus and the suggestions he makes to Hancock (including he be more polite, appreciate what others are doing/collaborate (police), be more careful/cause less damage)? Does the collaboration of super-powered Hancock and near-powerless Ray give you any ideas? Exactly.
In that context the notion that two superheroes can't reside in the same area without losing their powers might even make sense. It makes sense that one superhero has to leave. Coming to think of it - it also makes sense that a superhero hides his abilities in order to ditch the responsibilities that are part of the superhero job description...
Will Smith is great, so what else is new (not counting shaky feet moments)? Charlize Theron didn't fully convince me but that's in part due to one of those horrible crying scenes with instant red eyes (take # 100?). Look how Will wells up - that's more honest than crocodile tears from eyes so red they'd be perfect for those artificial tears commercials. Jason Bateman didn't have that much to do, sexy and sweet he does well.
Supposedly there will be Hancock 2 - if this one does well. $ 4000+/theater does look promising, especially because the viewers don't seem to agree with the nitpickers. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
screenplay: Vincent Ngo & Vince Gilligan
director: Peter Berg (Kingdom)
Hancock - Will Smith
Ray Embrey - Jason Bateman
Mary Embrey - Charlize Theron
Aaron Embrey - Jae Head
Red - Eddie Marsan
Jeremy (cameo) - Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory)