What do Point Break, Independence Day and Beauty and the Beast have in common? All are movies released in the 1990s and all have been remade, re-imagined or rebooted in recent years.
Brand happy Hollywood is in overdrive repurposing Saturday morning superhero cartoons, big screen hits and other touchstones of 90s pop culture and audiences have mostly lapped up the nostalgia from the Clinton years. Independence Day: Resurgence and Point Break tanked but Beauty and the Beast, to use a 90s term, was all that and a bag of chips box office wise.
Soon we’ll see a live action Lion King, a new Jumanji and even more Bad Boys. This weekend it’s morphin time once again as the Power Rangers are resurrected for the big screen.
Featuring familiar characters but an all new cast, Power Rangers sees the helmeted heroes rescue the world from a powerful witch, an army of stone golems called Putties and Goldar, a giant golden monster born on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.
It’s a blast from the past designed to draw in new fans while appealing to grown ups who came of age in the 1990s but is it possible to feel nostalgia for four actors in plastic helmets?
The dictionary tells us nostalgia is “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.”
Science tells us more.
As a recent study showed when we get bad news or are feeling down nostalgic, misty memories of a simpler time almost automatically kick in. Call it protection. Call it wistfulness. Call it whatever you like; Hollywood calls it money and exploits it ruthlessly because movies are a natural nostalgic go to. It’s their very essence, that dreamlike quality that takes root in our subconscious, swirling around our brains to create happy memories. They are the stuff from which dreams are woven and the feelings associated with them can give us comfort when the going gets rough.
We now live in unsettled times so perhaps the neo Power Rangers will bring back recollections of carefree Saturday mornings spent watching the TV show. Or mom and dad buying candy at a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie matinee in 1995. Or a long ago Halloween costume inspired by Amy Jo Johnson (the popular Pink Ranger) but at the rate Hollywood is recycling ideas we’ll soon run out of things to get nostalgic about. Can you be nostalgic for nostalgia? We’ll find out in the years to come when another generation gets sentimental about the remake of the reboot of Power Rangers.
As I see it nostalgia is bad for the movies. It encourages lazy re-treads and reimaginings, not innovation and originality. If we demand new films to make memories with, to fall in love with, then Hollywood’s raiding of pop culture brands must stop. Romanian-American poet and novelist Andrei Codrescu says that in the grand collage that is art the “past and future are equally usable.” I’m just wishing Hollywood would look to the future more often.
To a degree all art is a combination of everything that came before, but interesting, original films like Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea and Get Out give me hope that some filmmakers have their eyes facing forward and aren’t simply wallowing in nostalgia.
Poet Paul Éluard said that to understand Jean Cocteau’s 1946 version of La Belle et la Bête — Beauty and the Beast — you must love your dog more than your car. His comment is baffling only if you haven’t seen the movie.
Once Cocteau’s film is seen, it’s apparent that what makes his version rewarding is that it values the organic over the mechanical — even the special effects are handmade. It refuses to allow the technical aspects of the film to interfere with the humanity of the story.
This weekend Disney will have their collective fingers crossed that audiences will favour their poodles over their RVs as they release the big-budget, live-action version of Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson.
Director Bill Condon says the animated 1991 Disney classic was an inspiration for the new film, but adds he also drew from everything from Twilight and Frankenstein to a 1932 musical comedy called Love Me Tonight when creating the look for the new movie.
He also mentions La Belle et la Bête. “A film I really love.” His take on the Beast looked back to the movie, cribbing the character’s combination of ferocity and romance from Cocteau.
Before taking in the new version this weekend, let’s have a look back at the little-seen 70-year old Cocteau classic.
Loosely based on the timeless Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont fairy tale, the action in La Belle et la Bête begins when a poverty-stricken merchant pilfers a rose from a grand estate owned by a strange creature. The Beast strikes a deal with the man.
He’ll spare the life of the merchant in return for the hand of one of the man’s daughters. Reluctantly the merchant offers Belle, a beautiful girl who had been courted by the oafish Avenant.
At first she is repulsed by the Beast, who looks like the love child of the Wolf Man and Mrs. Chewbacca, but over time his tender ways and nightly offers of marriage warm her heart and she learns to love him for his inner beauty.
Cocteau’s version strays from the original story and Condon’s adaptation with the addition of a subplot involving Avenant’s scheme to kill the Beast and make off with his treasures and an unexpected magical personality switcheroo.
It’s meant to be a happy ending, but not everyone loved the new coda. When Marlene Dietrich saw an early cut of the film at a private screening, she squeezed Cocteau’s hand and said, “Where is my beautiful Beast?”
Other audiences embraced Cocteau’s vision. In his diary the poet wrote of a test screening held for the technicians in the Joinville Studio were the film had been made. “The welcome the picture received from that audience of workers was unforgettable,” he wrote.
Others criticized La Belle et la Bête for its straightforwardness, complaining that the characters are simply drawn, the story one dimensional. Taking that view, however, misses Cocteau’s point.
At the beginning of the film he asks for “childlike simplicity,” inviting the viewer to connect with their inner child, eschew cynicism and embrace naiveté for the film’s 96-minute running time.
In 1946 the request was meant as a salve for a post-occupation France that was still dealing with the aftermath of a terrible war.
Today, in an increasingly contemptuous world, the message still seems timely and welcome.
Only two things are sure about Skull Island. First, it is home to Megaprimatus kong a.k.a. King Kong and a menagerie of prehistoric creatures. Second, as Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) says in this weekend’s Kong: Skull Island, “We don’t belong here.”
The latest adventures of King Kong take place almost entirely on the island but what, exactly, do we know about the place?
Not much, because Skull Island is uncharted and changes from film to film.
In the new movie, a digital map image suggests the island derived its intimidating name from its gorilla skull profile shape but originally the isle wasn’t called Skull Island. The best-known versions of the Kong story, the original 1933 Merian C. Cooper film and the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis production, never mention Skull Island.
The first movie and its subsequent novelisation describe a “high wooded island with a skull-like knob” called Skull Mountain while the ‘76 film refers to Beach of the Skull. It wasn’t until 2004’s Kong: King of Skull Island illustrated novel that the name was first used. Since then the moniker has stuck.
The same can’t be said for its location.
Over the years it’s been pegged everywhere from the coast of Indonesia and southwest of Central America to the Bermuda Triangle and the Coral Sea off the east coast of Australia.
In reality many places have subbed in for the island. In 1933 several locations were pieced together to create Kong’s home.
Outdoor scenes were shot at Long Beach, California and the caves at Bronson Canyon near Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Everything else was filmed on a soundstage in Culver City using odds and ends from other sets. The giant Skull Mountain gate was later reused in Gone with the Wind’s burning of Atlanta sequence.
De Laurentiis spared no expense bringing the island to life in 1976, moving the entire crew to the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
The shoot began at the remote Honopu Beach, a place the crew were told was deserted. Arriving in four helicopters laden with equipment they were greeted by a honeymooning couple who, thinking they had the place to themselves, had slept nude on the beach.
The impressive stone arch seen in the film — “Beyond the arch, there is danger, there is Kong!” — was natural and so huge years later when an episode of Acapulco Heat was filmed there a helicopter flew underneath it.
Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong reboot used a combination of New Zealand’s picturesque Shelly Bay and Lyall Bay as Skull Island’s “jungle from hell.” In the film’s closing credits the director paid tongue-in-cheek tribute to all the stars of the 1933 movie, calling them, “The original explorers of Skull Island.”
This weekend’s installment was shot in Vietnam, Queensland, Australia and Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii, where giant sets were built near where Jurassic World was filmed.
The scenery, as John Goodman’s character says, is “magnificent,” but there was also a practical reason to shoot in these exotic locations. The Hollywood Reporter stated the production shot in Australia to take advantage of a whopping 16.5% location offset incentive — i.e. tax break — offered by the Australian government.
Kong: Skull Island describes the isle as “a place where myth and science meet.”
On film though, it’s a spot where the imaginations of Kong fans run wild.
Temperament wise, Hugh Jackman doesn’t have much in common with his most famous screen role.
As the embodiment of Wolverine — a mutant blessed with miraculous healing powers but cursed with a bad hairstyle and existential angst — Jackman is the face of the character. But off screen he is as gracious as his cigar-smoking X-Men alter ego is testy.
His Prisoners co-star Terence Howard told me Jackman was, “a sweet man,” while director Josh Rothstein said the actor “leads with smiles and warmth.”
Doesn’t sound much like Wolverine to me.
When he isn’t playing Wolverine he devotes his time to charitable causes like World Vision and Laughing Man, a coffee company he established that sells fair trade coffee and tea, products farmed using ecologically friendly methods and sold for the benefit of the farmer and consumer.
This weekend he stars in Logan, the third solo Wolverine film. In the new movie the X-Men antihero makes tracks to the Mexican border to set up a hide-out for ailing mentor Professor X, played by Patrick Stewart.
This installment marks the ninth time Jackman has slipped on the adamantium claws, and will be his swansong in the role.
Having played the character for almost 18 years Jackman owns the part, bringing real humanity to the mutant in a powerful and accomplished performance.
But, as he told me in a friendly, wide-ranging and informative interview, he wasn’t always as self-assured.
“When I started acting I was the dunce of the class,” he reveals. Success in school, he says, came because of his work ethic, a trait he picked up from his father.
“He never took one day off in his life,” he remembers. “He had five kids he was bringing up on his own. If anyone deserved a day off it was my old man, but he never did. I learned that from him.
“There’s always that feeling of, ‘I have to work harder than everybody else. I’m not born Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I’ve got to just work harder and I’m prepared to do it.”
Being the youngest of five children also contributed to his outlook.
“I always wanted to do stuff and not be left out,” he says, but adds, “I was quite a fearful kid, which I hated.
“I’ve always had a fear of fear. It’s weird to think back now but drama school is a pressure cooker situation. People get kicked out of drama school. You are constantly being judged on how you are doing; are you progressing, are you not?
“Almost everyday you had to get up and do a monologue. Sing a song. Do it in front of everybody. I noticed I was always first. I never wanted to sit there waiting. I’m not saying that out of courage. It was too uncomfortable to sit, stewing. I don’t think I’ve told anyone else that.”
Later, fear of unemployment pushed him to expand his talents.
“When I came out of drama school I was like, ‘I’m going to do anything I can just to keep working.’ In drama school you do Shakespeare to movement to circus skills to singing all in one morning. I know a lot of people hated it but I revelled in it. I loved it.”
Seems hard work and confidence is the X-factor that made Jackman the most famous — and friendly — of all the X-Men.
Jordan Peele learned how to scare people by making them laugh. As characters like Funkenstein’s Monster on the popular sketch show Key & Peele he investigated popular culture, ethnic stereotypes and race relations through a satirical lens.
Get Out, his directorial debut, however, contains few laughs. By design. It’s a horror film about college students Rose and Chris, played by Allison Williams and Daniel Kaluuya. Things are getting serious and it’s time to meet the parents.
“Do they know I’m black?” he asks. She assures him race is a non-issue as they head to her leafy up-state hometown to meet parents Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford). After a few days Chris feels uneasy, a sensation compounded by an alarming call from his best friend. “I’ve been doing my research and a whole lot of brothers have gone missing in that suburb,” he says. Chris wonders if his hosts are racist and deadly or just racist.
“It’s a horror movie from an African American’s perspective,” Peele told Forbes.com.
While working on the script Peele sought advice from Sean of the Dead director Edgar Wright and other genre filmmakers but says ultimately his career in comedy was the best training to make a horror film.
Making people laugh, he declares, and scaring the pants off them share a similar skill set. Both are all about pacing, reveals and both must feel like they take place in reality he says.
His love of horror dates back to watching A Nightmare on Elm Street as a teen. It was the first movie that really terrified him. Since then, he says the first sight of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs really frightened him.
“You come down the hallway, and he’s just waiting for you,” he told the New York Times. “It’s the protagonist in motion and something waiting for him, patiently and calmly. Those are so chilling to me.”
Get Out isn’t a typical horror film, however. Peele refers to it as a “social thriller,” a movie that veers away from the Nightmare on Elm Street thrills that made such an impression on him as a teen. Instead the main villain is something more insidious than even the slash-happy Freddy Kruger; it’s racial tension. He says the story is personal but is quick to add it speedily veers off from anything strictly autobiographical. Instead it is an exploration of racism in all its forms he hopes will ultimately be relatable for his audience no matter who they are.
He compares Chris’s anxiety to Sidney Poitier’s classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. In that film parents, played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, have their attitudes challenged when their daughter introduces them to her African American fiancé. He says the uncomfortable situation of meeting in-laws for the first time is universal.
“The layer of race that enriches and complicates that tension (in the film) becomes relatable,” he told GQ. “It’s made to be an inclusive movie. If you don’t go through the movie with the main character, I haven’t done my job right.”
Fist Fight features so much bad language it completely outpaces f-word aficionados Tarantino and Scorsese combined. Accompanying the cussing are bad behaviour, violence and loads of oh-no-he-didn’t jokes all set against the backdrop of the end of semester at the rough-’n’-tumble Roosevelt High School.
Trying to hang on until the final bell rings are well-meaning English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) and Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), the world’s toughest history teacher. When Campbell accidentally gets Strickland fired a bad day goes from crappy to cruddy. “I’m going to fight you,” the amped-up Strickland says, looking for some street justice. “After school, meet me in the parking lot.”
As the #teacherfight spreads across social media, a crowd gathers in the parking lot to witness the carnage. After some hand-to-hand combat Campbell and Strickland come to terms with one another, learning important lessons with each punch.
My grade nine homeroom teacher Mrs. Armstrong wouldn’t recognize Roosevelt High as the kind of school she taught in, but it’s familiar territory for Hollywood, which has long used school hallways as a study of teen life. Relationships between students and teachers have fuelled movies like Blackboard Jungle and To Sir with Love, but just as interesting is the culture of the student body.
John Hughes mined the teenage dynamic for all it was worth in a series of classic teen operas like Sixteen Candles, but it’s The Breakfast Club that remains his most insightful look at high school life. The story is simple: five high school archetypes — the jock, the mean girl, the brainiac, the rebel and the outsider — thrown together during a nine-hour Saturday detention become unlikely friends, revealing their innermost secrets. “We’re all pretty bizarre,” says Andrew (Emilio Estevez). “Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.”
It’s the emotional intensity of The Breakfast Club that makes it one of the most insightful high school films ever. Thirty-two years after its release it still feels fresh, but for my money one of the best looks at life in the halls comes from Emma Stone’s film Easy A.
The movie begins with the voiceover, “The rumours of my promiscuity have been greatly exaggerated.” It’s Olive (Stone), a clean-cut high school senior who tells a little white lie about losing her virginity. When the gossip mill gets a hold of the info, her life takes a parallel course to the heroine of the book she is studying in English class — The Scarlet Letter. At first she embraces her newfound notoriety; after all she had been all but invisible at the beginning of the school year. It isn’t until the lies and gossip start to spin out of control that she has to assert her virginity.
All the best high school movies — Election, Heathers, Dazed and Confused and Mean Girls — share that sentiment. The names, schools and places may change but it is the labours of students and teachers, like Fist Fight’s Andy Campbell and Ron Strickland, to find themselves and figure out what it all means that makes them interesting and relatable. As we learned studying Aristotle in philosophy class, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom,” and, in Hollywood’s case, entertainment too.
Years ago I interviewed Kōji Suzuki, author of the novels that spawned the Ring movies, manga comics and television shows. Ringu, the first book in the series, was published in 1991 and introduced us to the idea of a videotape (remember those?) that killed people seven days after they watched it.
The book and the movie were sensations, but in the interview Suzuki told me something really interesting. It’s hard to imagine the Ring movies without the spooky, grainy videotape images, but the writer let it slip that VHS tapes weren’t his first choice as a conduit of evil.
A haunted toaster. Good sense prevailed and he went with another commonplace object, one that almost everyone in the nineties had at least a passing familiarity with.
This weekend, Rings revisits the horrors of the original novel and films as a young guy decides to explore the urban legend of the deadly mysterious videotape. When his girlfriend sacrifices everything to save him, a shocking discovery is made — there’s a movie within the movie!
Suzuki made videotapes the spookiest inanimate horror object ever, but they’re not the only ones.
We can all imagine the fear that comes along with being chased by a werewolf. Or waking up to find Dracula staring down at you.
They are living, breathing (or in Drac’s case, dead and not so breathing, but you get the idea) embodiments of evil. But how about inorganic objects? Have you ever been terrified of a lamp? Or creeped out by a tire?
There have been loads of haunted houses in the movies. In most of them, however, the house is merely a vessel for a spirit or some unseen entity that makes its presence know by making the walls bleed or randomly slamming doors. Rarer is the house that is actually evil.
Stephen King wrote about a house that eats people in the third installment of his Dark Tower series. On screen Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg visualized the idea in the appropriately titled Monster House.
In that animated movie three teens figure out the house across the street is a man-eating monster.
By the time they got around to the fourth installment of the most famous haunted house series, the Amityville Horror, filmmakers had to figure out a new plotline apart from the tired “new owners move in to the house, get freaked out leave,” storyline. In The Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes, a cursed lamp causes all sorts of trouble when it is shipped from the evil Long Island house to a Californian mansion.
Much weirder is Rubber, the story of a killer tire (yes, you read that right) with psychokinetic powers — think Carrie with treads — who terrorizes the American southwest.
It’s an absurdist tract on how and why we watch movies, what entertainment is and the movie business, among other things.
But frankly, mostly it’s about a tire rolling around the desert and while there is something kind of hypnotic about watching the tire on its murderous journey — think Natural Born Killers but round and rubbery — that doesn’t mean Rubber is a good movie.
Finally, think bed bugs are bad? How about a hungry bed? The title of this one sums it up: Death Bed: The Bed that Eats.
Since 2002 Milla Jovovich has played a genetically altered zombie fighter with telekinetic powers in six Resident Evil films.
Like the undead fleshbags who populate these based-on-a-videogame movies, you can’t seem to kill this franchise, although the title of this weekend’s Resident Evil: The Final Chapter seems to indicate the end is near.
But just because the Resident Evil movies aren’t Shakespeare doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from them. Here’s what I took away from Jovovich and Company in the last 13 years:
1. The undead have really, really bad aim.
2. No matter what stunt she has just performed, whether it’s plummeting 19 stories down an abandoned mine shaft, or battling legions of bad guys, Mila’s hair will, at most, only look slightly tousled, as if Vidal Sassoon had just finished running his magic fingers through her locks.
3. The amount of rainfall in the future makes Vancouver look arid.
4. To act in one of these movies you must perfect one of two facial expressions: a. steely determination, or b. uncontrolled rage (which can be alternated with a sadistic smile if necessary).
5. Characters will say, “What the hell is going on here?” when it is quite clear what the heck is going on.
6. Most of the people to survive the deadly plague that destroyed most of humanity look like Abercrombie & Fitch pinups.
7. Why take the stairs when you can drive a Rolls Royce down an escalator?
So there you have it — lessons learned.
Despite legendary director Jean-Luc Godard’s claim that, “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl,” both of which are amply on display in the Resident Evil movies, they still feel more like a videogame projected on a big screen than a movie.
But who cares what I or other film critics think? These movies have been phenomenally successful and for over a decade have proven to be critic-proof. Roger Ebert placed Resident Evil on his most hated films list in 2005 and called its sequel, “an utterly meaningless waste of time,” adding, “Parents: If you encounter teenagers who say they liked this movie, do not let them date your children.”
Leonard Maltin added to the pile on calling Resident Evil: Apocalypse “tiresome” while Dark Horizons said the third movie, Afterlife was, “perhaps the first 3D motion picture to simulate the experience of watching paint dry,” and yet the splatter flick went on to gross $300 million worldwide.
Critics aside, others in the film biz love the movies. Avatar director James Cameron called Resident Evil his biggest guilty pleasure and the Ontario Media Development Corporation acknowledged the Toronto-shot Afterlife as the most successful production in Canadian feature film history.
Bottom line is that in total, the series has grossed almost $1 billion — a feat recognized by the Guinness World Records Gamers’ Edition who called the Resident Evil films “the most successful movie series to be based on a video game,” awarding them with the record for Most Live-Action Film Adaptations of a Video Game.
Ray Kroc changed the way we eat. He didn’t invent the hamburger, but has probably sold more burgers than anyone else.
He standardized food preparation, setting the template for fast food restaurants worldwide and built an empire based on two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.
If you believe The Founder, a biopic of Kroc’s building of the McDonald’s hamburger chain, he was also a bit of an SOB.
Michael Keaton, who plays Kroc from failed travelling salesman to a millionaire whose business card reads simply Founder, says the choices his character “makes towards the end after he becomes successful are harsh, man. And nothing I would ever do. Nothing most people would ever do.”
So, is he a hero or villain? That’s the question The Founder asks. Does he deserve a break today for changing the way the world eats or is he a ruthless businessman to be grilled for his heavy-handed tactics?
When we first meet Kroc he’s hustling a newfangled milk-shake maker. Despite his slick pitch, his blender isn’t shaking up the fast food business. Restaurant after restaurant turns him down, until a small San Bernardino, Calif., burger shack run by siblings Mac and Dick McDonald (played by John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman) places an order for six of the machines, then ups the buy to eight.
Intrigued, Kroc travels cross-country to check out the operation and finds a bustling restaurant pumping out good food with military efficiency.
The brothers streamlined their kitchen for maximum productivity, maximizing every inch of space to bang out burgers in under 30 seconds. Kroc, amazed, convinces the pair to allow him to franchise their ideas and name. Reluctant, they agree but with a strict set of rules to ensure quality control.
Their uneasy partnership becomes a powder keg when Kroc unilaterally changes how the company is run. As the company grows so does Kroc’s ego and anything-to-win attitude.
Much of the way Kroc treats his business partners in The Founder is as distasteful as The Hula Burger, his famous and failed foray into vegetarian cookery. He double deals, goes behind their backs and worse, tampers with some of their recipes.
Keaton does a great job of slowly revealing Kroc’s duplicity and dive into self-indulgence as he transforms from failure to success. His natural charisma and flair — He’s Batman! He’s Mr. Mom! He’s Beetlejuice! — brings with it a familiarity that makes sense when telling the story of one of the best known brands on earth.
As an actor Keaton brings us on side as he effectively portrays Kroc’s descent into amorality and callousness.
Like the operation that caught Kroc’s eye, the film is efficient, wasting no moves in the telling of the tale. It’s a classic story of persistence and greed and director John Lee Hancock gets right to the meat of the story.
As much as the film is about the U.S.’s 1950s growth spurt, it is also a portrait of the kind of never-say-die spirit that evokes the very best and worst of the American Dream.
On film Kroc is insufferable, a ruthless conniver who grabbed the gold ring, or, in this case, golden arches. Is he a good guy or scoundrel? Depends what side of the sesame seed bun you place the special sauce on.