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Bad Boys II (2003)
You needn't take it any further, sir. You've proved to me that all this ultraviolence and killing is wrong...
Somewhere in the middle of Michael Bay's latest self-indulgent piece of movie dung, I found myself thinking of Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" and the scene in which Alex is strapped to a chair, his head immobilized, his eyes forced open, and film clips of murder, rape and Nazi crimes are projected onto the movie screen until he finds himself unable to take any more, sickness overcomes him and he cries out for the torture to stop.
I cried too, but my projectionist wouldn't stop the movie for me.
"You needn't take it any further, sir. You've proved to me that all this ultraviolence and killing is wrong, wrong, and terribly wrong. I've learned me lesson, sir. I've seen now what I've never seen before. I'm cured! Praise god!"
Why would anyone want to remake an already excellent film?
**** WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!! ****
If you ever read or heard any interviews with film directors, you might've noticed that they often get asked the question, "If you could direct one movie that's already been made, what would it be?", hoping that the directors would answer something along the lines of Hitchcock's "Vertigo" or Bergman's "Seventh Seal." I'm sure Christopher Nolan probably would've answered "Erik Skjoldbjaerg's 'Insomnia'". The problem is that Nolan took the question literally. Instead of admiring Skjoldbjaerg's film, he attempted to make it again.
What happened to the great director of "Memento"? Did he really sell his soul to the Hollywood machine? Fans and critics would certainly hope otherwise, but unfortunately, from watching Nolan's "Insomnia" it seems like the British filmmaking prodigy has gone completely mainstream.
Nolan's "Insomnia" is a heavily Americanized version of Skjoldbjaerg's femomenal Norwegian film. And when I say "Americanized", I'm not just talking about the movie taking place in Alaska. Oh no, I'm talking about all the melodrama and glitter of Hollywood movies that are so difficult to avoid on the big screen nowadays. Subplots are introduced to "spice up" the story, relationships between characters are changed, all the original subtlety is gone, and the two principal characters lack all original depth and are pigeonholed into the Hollywood "good guy - bad guy" scheme.
In the original "Insomnia", the cop character (his name was Jonas Engstrom but I will refer to him as "the cop", to avoid confusion) was a Swedish detective who was sent to northern Norway to investigate a murder. Through an overheard conversation, we find out that back in Stockholm he got intimately involved with a young witness from a case he was working on. So his assignment in Norway was a sort of "punishment". In the movie, this is mentioned only once and never again. In the American version, a whole subplot about Internal Affairs investigations is introduced and it has a great affect on the relationships in the movie. In the original film, the cop and his partner are great friends. In the remake, there is a hostility between them because of the whole Internal Affairs investigation going on back in Los Angeles. So in the original movie when the cop shoots his partner accidentally, it is primarily the guilt of shooting his friend that he has to deal with.
Another aspect that is completely downplayed in Nolan's version is the cop's sense of alienation in a foreign land. In the original, the cop is a Swede. He is perceived as a foreigner and an outsider throughout his entire investigation. He is never accepted; in fact, he is often ridiculed for his accent by both cops and civilians. In Nolan's film, the cop is quickly accepted by the locals. We see them chatting away about guns, drinking beer together, and at the end we get the feeling like they're almost sad to see him go.
Nolan gave Hilary Swank much more screen time then her character had in the original. In Skjoldbjaerg's "Insomnia", the female cop merely investigates the second murder, but never interferes with the original investigation. Yes, she does figure out that the cop shot his partner, but she doesn't do anything about it. In the American version, we see her trying to arrest the real murderer, only to be incapacitated by him - and then Al Pacino, of course, has to come to the rescue.
And finally, the biggest difference between the two movies is that the character of the cop (Will Dormer/Jonas Engstrom) has been completely polished up in the American remake. In the remake, Al Pacino plays a good cop who uses some illegal methods to bring bad guys to justice (planting evidence and such). But hey, as long as he's reeling in bad guys, it's all good, right? :) He doesn't believe in political mumbo-jumbo, he only wants to do his job right. When a local teenage girl (and best friend of the murdered girl) tries to seduce him, he wisely avoids it and instead teaches her a lesson. He despises the murderer and he tries to prevent the murderer from framing an innocent kid. In the end, he dies like a hero, killing the bad guy and saving Hillary Swank's integrity. Damn. That's one good cop!
Now let's take a look at Stellan Skarsgard's interpretation of the cop character. We find out early he's already been in trouble for being unable to cross a line between his work and his private life. When he shoots his friend accidentaly, he panics and covers up his crime, but he never considers telling the truth. His only concern is his own job - he has no other motives. Remember that scene in the American version where Al Pacino shoots a dead dog in an alley? Well, Stellan Skarsgard shoots a live dog! Take that, ASPCA! Furthermore, he frames the innocent young man himself, without any assistance from the real murderer. He tries to take advantage of a young girl in his car. When talks to the murderer, we don't get the feeling that he despises him. No, we get the feeling that he understands him. And finally, in the end, he does kill the real murderer, but he doesn't die himself. His own crime is covered up and he returns to Sweden. He is a cop with many flaws. And as such, he makes a much stronger character. The point of Skjoldbjaerg's movie was to erase the line between cop and criminal. There's no good guy and bad guy in his movie. It's a psychological thriller, where the suspense isn't derived from chase sequences across timber logs, but from the complexity of the main character.
These are such fundamental differences between the two versions. If you change the characters, change the relationships and change the outcome, you've pretty much created a completely different movie. And as good as Nolan's movie is as a standalone project, as a remake it utterly fails because it takes away from the original all the qualities that made it such a great film. It is unfortunate for Nolan that he has wasted his time remaking an already great film. If this was his way of proving his skills, it was completely unnecessary. We already knew that he was a talented director. But hopefully this movie will get Nolan the money and the attention that he needs in order to create a truly excellent and ORIGINAL movie - one that we can all appreciate on its own.
See Erik Skjoldbjaerg's "Insomnia". See Christopher Nolan's "Insomnia". They're both fine films, but Skjoldbjaerg's film definitely has the edge - there's no doubt about it.
P.S. Did I get that right, or did Al Pacino's character really not sleep for 6 days straight? Isn't that humanly impossible? In the original movie, I'm pretty sure Stellan Skarsgard gets some sleep occasionally. He is chronically tired, that's true, but he's not a walking zombie. Nolan, as a writer himself, must know all about insomnia, as I'm sure he's had quite a few insomniac nights himself. But he should also equally well know that after 24 hours without sleep, fatigue will catch up with anyone, regardless of the amount of light coming into your room or the number of cops you've accidentally killed.
Barton Fink (1991)
Coen's self-parody of Writer as the Creator
I see the movie as a self-parody of the writers. In the movie, Fink is an acclaimed Broadway writer, although it's clearly obvious to us that his plays are crap. He claims to be writing for the common people, but he doesn't even socially interact with other people - he admits that at the end of the film when he cries in despair over his loneliness.
Basically, Barton Fink is a highly overrated writer, who tells us cliched stories about writers' suffering, and how misery is the only "true inspiration" that writers have. What is his misery? That he's stuck in a hotel? That seems to be the reasoning behind John Goodman's climactic final appearance - he is really just laughing at Fink and looking down at him. Fink doesn't know real suffering, he's really just full of sh*t. Fink's arogance is fueled by the Hollywood producers, in an obvious exeggarated parody of The Writer as The Ultimate Creator. In fact, Fink plays along with this idea. This is illustrated in several scenes. In one of them he sees his own lousy script appear in the Bible instead of the Genesis (the most important part of the Bible, obviously). In the dancing scene, he gets into a fight with a bunch of guys and then shouts out how he's misunderstood and mistreated although he is better than everyone else because he is The Creator! "I create! Can't you understand?"
I can understand the theories about Barton Fink as a modern version of Dante's Inferno, but taking into consideration that this script was written *while* the Coens were experiencing writer's block on another script ("Miller's Crossing"), I think the idea about Fink being a self-parody of The Writer makes even more sense.
Bure baruta (1998)
The best film to come out Yugoslavia in the last 10 years
If you know at least something about the events that took place in former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, you should be able to understand this movie.
Many people have misinterpreted this movie as a vicious depictment of some sick Serbian mentality or an exaggerated vision of a post-war Serbia. None of this is true. The theme of "Cabaret Balkan" is not violence. A great parallel can be made between "Cabaret Balkan" and "A Clockwork Orange". The violence in both movies is not the theme - it's merely an extreme way of proving an important point.
The oppressors and the oppressed. The small fish and the big fish. The dogs and the sheep (rock fans might find interesting similarities between this movie and Pink Floyd's "Animals"). There seems to be certain hierarchy present in "Cabaret Balkan". The passive majority is constantly oppressed by the violent minority, many of whom themselves are victims of "bigger fish". The passive majority is always ready to turn a blind eye, to look the other way or, as a scene from the movie so visually illustrates, sit on a different side of the bus.
Who should the war be blamed on? Is it the government's fault? Or is the fault of the people who elected the government? Should the criminals in power take the blame or the people who let them stay in power? A key scene of the movie which takes place in the bus seems to tell us the most about this issue. "You finally stood up to me", says the young bully to the old man who refuses to play along and answer his insulting questions. In a way, the young bully on the bus is the only real hero of "Cabaret Balkan". He is the only one with the guts to stand up for his rights - everyone else would much rather look the other way, ignore the situation and mind their own business.
The original title of the movie - "Powder Keg", draws its name from an old nickname the Balkan peninsula earned at the beginning of this century - a powder keg ready to explode, with multitudes of people constantly fighting wars, making up, then fighting again. After all, isn't that what all the characters in the movie do? The strange mentality of the Balkan people cannot be easily explained, so director Paskaljevic takes it into extremes and creates extremely surreal scenes, like the one in the boxing ring and the bar. Fight. Drink. Fight. Drink. War. Peace. War. Peace. What's it going to be? Doesn't matter, as long as we're all in "good health".
Le procès (1962)
Not entirely Kafka
I didn't enjoy Orson Welles' version of Kafka's novel as much as I wanted to. There are several reason for this.
I don't think Welles managed to translate the specific atmosphere of Kafka's novel onto the silver screen. Kafka's story is extremely surrealistic, but its whole beauty lies in the thin line between real life and dreamlike sequences. Kafka in his novel makes sure that the transitions are very smooth and that a reader cannot truly realize where this line is drawn. Welles, on the other hand, tries to recreate this by simply jumping from one chapter to another. The atmosphere that Welles creates is not anywhere close to the one that exists in the novel. The transitions between locations, relationships between characters and Joseph K.'s own interests are poorly interpreted and the final result is not surrealistic - it's just confusing.
I was disappointed to find out that Welles decided to replace 1920s Prague (Kafka's town) with 1960s socialistic Zagreb. "Herr K." is translated into "Mister K.", which just doesn't sound right. There's also a scene in the movie in which a computer is mentioned and displayed. Yes, all this has "bureaucracy" written all over it, but it's just too far away from Kafka. It's like that theory that if Shakespeare were alive in the 20th century, he'd be writing soap-operas. Yes, perhaps the spirit is preserved, but I'd still prefer to see "The Trial" placed into its proper time.
My other objections go to film editing and the screenplay. Welles had decided to simply jump from one important scene to the other, disregarding any transitions and the important time line. By just watching the movie it's very hard to figure out that K.'s trial lasts for exactly a year and begins and ends on his birthday. Welles makes it look like the trial lasts 3-4 days. This just doesn't make sense, especially in the scene in which K. dismisses his lawyer after what only seems like one visit which apparently took place only a few days before. Also, I didn't like the immediate transitions from the paintor scene into the cathedral scene which immediately lead to K.'s final battle with the law. This is all supposed to last several months, not 15 minutes.
I appreciated Orson Welles rewriting some of the scenes from the novel and adding his own material. The opening scene of the arrest is very well done, with Welles adding some funny and satirical dialogues between K. and the "police". However, I was rather disappointed to find the priest scene seriously cut, with the lawyer appearing in the church out of nowhere and delivering some conclusions. The priest scene is one of the most important scenes in the novel; it is crucial to leave it in its original form.
The cinematography is very well done, although I wish Welles had used more shots of old downtown Zagreb for his film. I was expecting to see something in the manner of Carol Reed's "Third Man" (shot in Vienna), but Welles insisted more on socialistic new buildings of Zagreb than on the beautiful (and certainly reminiscent of Prague) old buildings of downtown Zagreb.
I also sincerely recommend the 1993 version of "The Trial" with Kyle MacLachlan and Anthony Hopkins. MacLachlan does a much better job as Joseph K. than Anthony Perkins and that movie follows the story more closely than this one. Both films are absolutely worth seeing.
Why did we have to wait over 40 years to see the real "Lolita"?
Adrian Lyne's "Lolita" has everything it takes to be a good movie adaptation. Lyne follows the original plot very closely, with few slight changes. Even the dialogues in many scenes remained exactly the same. Most of the movie is a flashback, but Lyne doesn't make the same mistake as Kubrick and he follows the correct order of events (Quilty's murder, i.e.).
The casting is excellent. Jeremy Irons proved to be a much better choice than James Mason was in Kubrick's version. Irons delivers probably one of his best performances as he portrays the tragic character of Humbert Humbert. Iron's voice overs help us get into the mind of Humbert and understand his thoughts and actions. Dominique Swain is excellent as Lolita. She is the perfect nymphet. Young and innocent, but vulgar and crude at the same time. Frank Langella as Clare Quilty is a little bit "too mysterious" and he probably should've been a bit funnier, as his character was in Nabokov's book.
The final reason why this movie is better than its predecessor is its photography. The colors are just amazing. They actually seem to follow the mood of the story - from excitingly colorful to tragically dark.
I'm going to keep this user comment rather short. I could compare it to Kubrick's version some more, but it's easier if you just read my comment for Kubrick's "Lolita".
The highlight of the movie is definitely the last scene in which Humbert surrenders to the police - he stands on the top of a hill, listens to the voice of children playing and expresses his remorse for ruining Lolita's life. In this one scene, Lyne managed to capture the whole point of the book that Kubrick totally missed in his movie.
The movie is a perfect 10. Just please go see it without any prejudice.
Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)
Why is The Wall so often misunderstood ?
I have seen the movie several times now and every time I watch it I see something new, something I haven't seen or heard before. Some unsung line, some lost message... Every time I watch the movie I seem to dig deeper into this complex work of art.
However, I cannot tell you how disappointed I am that this movie is so underestimated, and, above all, misunderstood. How many times have you heard someone say something like: "You can't watch 'The Wall' unless you're really drunk or really high" ? I have heard this line probably from every single person that has seen the movie and it hurts me so much that nobody really tries to understand the movie.
The key to understanding the movie is in the lyrics. The movie is not just a long series of video clips that accompany the album. The images are just a final piece of the puzzle, the final touch on a magnificent piece of art.
The first time I saw this movie I felt very embarassed. Yes, embarassed, because I felt like a fool for hearing the album so many times and not realizing what it was about. The movie made me appreciate the lyrics of a rock song for the first time in my life.
The week after seeing "The Wall" for the first time I bought Pink Floyd's "The Final Cut". Do you know what was the first thing I did when I opened the CD case? I read the lyrics, from the first to the last word. And I actually tried to understand what the album was about.
"The Wall" is so much more than you think it is. The only solution to not understaning the movie is watching it again and paying more attention. Once you get it, you will never forget it.