Don’t Remake Me… Let Me Go!

You know the drill. There’s nothing playing at the movie theatres worth seeing and why leave your house anyway when you’ve just spent too much money on a flat screen TV/sound system? Or — why not stay home when you don’t have the money to go out and your laptop’s bookmarked with key websites from which you can download any film you want and can outsmart the flaccid reach of federal authorities.  Yes, downloading is illegal but when was the last time you heard of anyone arrested for what they viewed in the privacy of their own homes (if that were the case, we’d all be in jail!) just for themselves and the date/friends they couldn’t afford to take out on the town — a predicament they (we) like to blame on the authorities, anyway.

I won’t tell you which of the above categories I fall into (you can guess) but suffice it to say at various points in my life I’ve fallen into both. And even now somewhere in- between.

This week I’m watching the two- hour premiere of AMC’s “The Killing” and the first three hours of HBO’s five-hour miniseries “Mildred Pierce” (that’s many hours I could have devoted to, well…something else) It’s comfortable – I’ve got my popcorn, soda, chocolate and kitchen nearby in case that’s not enough. Minutes, half an hour, then an hour goes by and I begin to realize — THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT THIS ALL THAT IS VAGUELY FAMILIAR – but not in a good way. And I’m not even at the movies.

“The Killing” had the moody atmosphere of a David Lynch film without much of the strangeness. That made it okay, but nothing special (and I’d rather be offended than bored because at least it wakes me out of my ennui. But wait – this isn’t a movie and I’m watching it at home so that criteria doesn’t apply). Then as I sped through the commercials (thank you – DVR) but not quite fast enough (curse you, clumsy remote control fingers) I come upon AMC’s promo for “The Killing” during “The Killing” and hear the words, “Who Killed Rose Larson?,” bragging about a special AMC “suspect tracker” and online clues that will keep you guessing and guessing as the truth behind the “Killing” unravels.

Being of a certain age, I finally realize. Didn’t David Lynch do television? Oh, “Twin Peaks, remember? Of course I remember the dancing midget little person, “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” You couldn’t have lived through the eighties or be any kind of film or television fan/student without remembering a show that became such a huge hit it even threw off Lynch and its creator Mark Frost because, guess what – they didn’t know who killed Laura Palmer at all because they didn’t think the damn show would be a hit! (I love that they didn’t because, well, that’s soooo David Lynch).

Unfortunately, I fear/know the makers of “The Killing” do know the truth (and a lot more) and that’s what’s wrong with the show.

“The Killing” is a remake of a hit Danish television series now a huge hit in England. It’s not bad, but watching it gives one the distinct feeling that no matter what the cast and director try to do, we’ve covered this territory before. Because we have. And in a far better way.

I had the same thought this morning when I turned on the news (liberal bias alert!) and saw the Republicans of Congress giving a press conference basically stating they are trying to save the American economy with massive budget cuts and the uncooperative president will leave them no choice but to shut the government down.

Is this 1995/6 or the 2010’s? Is John Boehner simply Newt Gingrich with a tan, elevator shoes and a swagger? Is Obama simply Bill Clinton with a tan? (going too far?) I don’t know, but once again, there’s something oddly familiar. And not in a good way. Because once again I’m getting bored and don’t think our current president can be anywhere near as entertaining as Mr. Clinton. But, I mean, who can?

Which is really the point when it comes to “Mildred Pierce.” It is extremely well-made, beautiful to look at, even has a bit of a resonant theme given the high unemployment in today’s world that certainly parallels the many out-of-work people in post Depression era Los Angeles. But as much as I loooove Kate Winslett, she couldn’t possibly be the campy fun of Joan Crawford. She’s actually acting the piece in a very believable dramatic way because writer-director Todd Haynes (the iconoclastic filmmaker who not only gave us “Velvet Goldmine” and “Safe,” but his brilliant first film“ The Karen Carpenter Story,” where he evokes the musical icon’s story with a cast of only Barbie dolls) seems determined to be hamstrung by sticking so closely to the book (remake) and the requirements of cliffhanging rising action of traditional cable TV moviemaking.

In short, I fear I’ve seen this story before. And not in a good way.

I start to wonder:

  • Is Libya, a rerun (co-run) of Afghanistan, which is a rerun of Iraq, which in turn is a remake of the Vietnam War?
  • Is Michelle Bachman a remake of Sarah Palin, after we had to briefly suffer through the even worse Palin remake that was Christine O’Donnell, which, let’s face it, no one (not even O’Donnell, I bet) really thinks worked
  • Isn’t the upcoming” “The Voice,” and “X-Factor” a remake of “American Idol?” But didn’t “America’s Got Talent” remake “Idol?” Sort of? But then again, “Idol” remade “Star Search” (that’s where Rosie O’Donnell and Brad Garrett were discovered, remember?), which was really a remake of one of my parents’ favorite shows, “Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour.”

Maybe one reason we’re not going out and paying for movies is because Russell Brand and Helen Mirren are starring in a remake of a film I vividly remember (and I’m not THAT old) called “Arthur.” Is it me, or does this film smell A MILLION MILES AWAY? Why is that? It can’t only be that it’s a remake, is it? I can remember the funny type A writer-director Steve Gordon who conceived the original “Arthur,” and had it financed by the then somewhat iconoclastic company called Orion. The proprietors being the former executives at United Artists responsible for original classics like “Annie Hall,” “Rocky” and “Network” who walked away because of interference and lack of any support from their corporate elders who didn’t crave originality. They then got their own financing and company and an original slate of films that included the original screenplay “Arthur.” It was a HUGE success seemingly out of nowhere, Gordon was hailed as a bit of a modern day Preston Sturges and then tragically died in 1983. Luckily, this was before the sad sequel to his comic gem, “Arthur on the Rocks,” and decades before the likely creative fiasco this weekend will become with this remake because I saw Helen Mirren on “Today” on Monday looking so oddly uncomfortable promoting it, and, well, if the Queen can’t divert me who can.

Maybe Martin Scorsese needs to do original films and not remakes like “Shutter Island,” which wasn’t bad but still feels like territory he’s traveled before (Oh come on, he’s not infallible). I know there is “Dragon Tattoo” fever but do you really think the American film is going to feel new? Yes, I know we’re all dying to see Barbra Streisand star in the film remake of “Gypsy,” but come on my brothers in gay and musical aficionados, do you really think….(fill in choice words)

It’s true “The Office” is a smash creative remake of the British series with Ricky Gervais and that “All In the Family” remade another British series, “Till Death Do Us Part.” And yeah, I’ll be tempted to see, the remake of, well, “Dune,” I suppose (not really, but fill in your own remake choice). But before writing me on that, think about the 2004 debacle called “The Stepford Wives,” then watch the 1975 original and consider — do you REALLY want to put your fingers to those keys and send me your objections? Do you? Do you?

Original is, of course, no recipe for success. But at least it has the chance of thoroughly offending me, rather than boring me to death. Which is, on its own, a victory. And it might even get me (us) off the couch and back into the movie theatre where I (we) belong.

Postscript: I won’t be watching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s newly proposed cartoon series called “The Governator,”” where he voices a superhero governor living on the Westside of Los Angeles who saves the world (presumably in between meetings with the state legislature). But it’s original, you say? Uh, I don’t think so. Not even slightly.

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8 thoughts on “Don’t Remake Me… Let Me Go!

  1. This may be a ‘well it may not be excellent, but it’s good enough’ argument, but I will continue watching AMC’s “original” programming (original in quotation marks because its latest programs — “The Killing” — is a remake as you mentioned — and “Walking Dead” is an adaptation of a comic series) because it is so much better than 90% of the rest of television on right now. That 90% covers all this crap that is reality-based, pandering to the masses, or just plain insulting to intelligent people.

  2. Yes, the bar is set quite low……let’s try to raise it!

  3. Can’t say I’m that surprised. All of the content we “produce” seems to be reappropriated. We’re living in a reblog, retweet, retumble, share with your followers, republish from the AP kinda world.

    • It’s true. I keep thinking that if we call attention to his problem the stunning lack of, well, originality/boldness/new ideas will either lessen or at least become more apparent and thus less tolerable. But perhaps that’s the latent optimist in me.

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  5. Well I disagree! Imagine that. I think Mildred Pierce is a fantastic reinterpretation not a remake. Yes Joan is Joan so there’s that but this version is more interesting to me in a different way. I love that Vida springs to form out of Mildred’s insecurities and her partial self loathing. Now I haven’t seen the Joan version in a long long time but I remember thinking Vida was just a bitch. In the HBO version she is much more organic. As for the Killing-to soon to tell. They are definitely stealing the marketing campaign! But I like it. Less campy and very tense which I like. It actually reminds me of that movie the Vanishing (the original) so maybe it is a rip off after all. But I do agree that the remake genre is just laziness and I’m all for some original content! Oh, and Obama doesn’t have a tan so I do think you went a little off track 🙂

    • I havent seen the final two hours but I had high expectations for “Mildred Pierce” and it felt so tv movie-ish and so slavishly determined to create the period that it felt too “done” and lacked spontaneity. I guess I saw Vida as a bit indulged but more like a “bad seed” type of little girl who is just goddawful, which creates a bit of campiness or melodrama that was missing here. As for Killing — Im going to continue but with so much crime/procedural stuff on tv and in film it doesn’t feel unique enough. I might have gone too far with the Obama line but my intent was less about him and more metaphorical about history repeating itself – the fact that I have to explain it means it should have been a better line 🙂

      • I do know what you meant by the Obama line but I could see some people taking offense. It’s funny one of the things I like most about Mildred is its set design and historical accuracy in its depiction. Oh and Guy Pearce is super hot. I agree about the killing-i’m sticking with it for now but I could divorce it at anytime.

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