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Horror Movie Remakes & IT / Part-Time Characters

stephen kings it



This week on Part-Time Characters we face our biggest fears, whether it’s watching a horror movie from our childhood or talking face to face with Jerry-Garry-Larry. The gang gets together to discuss the remake of IT, adapted from Stephen King’s novel. We bring in a special guest to review the film and compare it to the classic TV movie from 1990 starring the one and only Tim Curry.

Go on…Horror Movie Remakes & IT / Part-Time Characters

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens Isn’t Really A Remake Of A New Hope

force awakens

Every so often, a fan theory comes along to remind us how good fan theories can actually be when the work and time is put into them. Less than a year ago, EC Henry composed what I believe to be a masterful breakdown of The Force Awakens that (dare I say it) makes the movie just a little bit better.

Is Star Wars: The Force Awakens a remake of the original Star Wars (A New Hope)? I’ve always considered the movie to borrow voraciously from that original film, while also lifting plenty from the other two parts of the trilogy. But many reviewers like myself have talked ourselves breathless about how TFA features yet another “droid on the run” story with Death Stars, cantinas, and a modest chosen one.

But in EC Henry’s video essay below, the case is made that TFA is really a “creative remix” of the original trilogy, and there’s a strikingly good reason for this that might shed light on the future of the entire franchise. I’ll unpack the theory below (with some of my own observations), but here’s the quick 3-minute breakdown.

As EC Henry points out, nearly all of the similarities between TFA and A New Hope occur in the first act of both movies. BB-8’s story is parallel to R2D2’s, and we’re on a barren planet that slowly reveals our hero, Rey, who is reminiscent of Luke in some ways.

The Millennium Falcon departing Jakku, followed by meeting Han Solo and Chewbacca, is where the first act in TFA ends (roughly), which mirrors the end of the first act in A New Hope, when Luke meets Han and departs Tatooine aboard the same ship. Henry also implies that Greedo and Han’s antagonism is mirrored with Han’s confrontation with the mercenaries aboard the freighter.

At this point, TFA’s second act starts to mirror the second half of The Empire Strikes Back. There’s a monster-in-space encounter (Rathtars in place of the asteroid worm) followed by Han deciding to visit an old friend (Maz Kanata as a fill-in for Lando Calrissian). We also see Kylo contacting Snoke in the same way Vader contacts Palpatine.

To save for time, TFA converges the Luke/Dagobah subplot with the Cloud City subplot. Rey goes to a mysterious planet and learns more about her origins and destiny with Maz pulling double duty as a fill-in for Yoda. And just like in Empire, the villains show up to wreck things. Rey is defeated by Kylo Ren (a la Luke and Vader’s first fight) and is captured, similar to how Han is taken away by Boba Fett.

force awakens

From here, TFA mirrors the third act of Return of the Jedi. The Rebels/Resistance meet to discuss their rescue plan and discover “another Deathstar.” The story breaks in two with ground forces on Starkiller Base trying to break down the shields and Rogue Squadron attacking from space, just as the Battle of Endor had two fronts. There’s an epic lightsaber battle happening as the space assault reaches its climax, with the Jedi using fury to overwhelm the Sith (Rey slicing Kylo is quite similar to Luke taking down Vader).

As Henry also points out, there are exceptions to this where small elements of the original trilogy are mirrored throughout (the catwalk scene, for example), but there certainly seems to be a primary structure in place that combines all of the movies in a coherent way. But what’s the point? Why would Lucasfilm do a creative remix like this at all?

The expectations for TFA were always going to be astronomically high, so the strategy here makes some sense. Add all of the nostalgic fan service to TFA as a tribute in order to gain credibility for this new trilogy, so the next two movies can unfold in more creatively bold ways that aren’t enslaved to the source material. Put more simply: they started with a look at the past and ended with a strong look toward the future.

And in one strange way, TFA is basically the movie George Lucas intended to make in the 1970s. Rather than a trilogy, he envisioned the entire arc of Star Wars to be told in a single movie. TFA essentially fulfills that vision and authorial intent, so as someone who had a lot of problems with the film, I’m finding myself appreciating it more for what it manages to accomplish in light of what couldn’t have been done 40 years ago.

Did I miss anything? Add some of your own observations below. And if you like this essay, be sure to subscribe to EC Henry’s channel, and consider supporting him on Patreon for more great videos.


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Or just say hello on Twitter: @@jonnegroni

‘Beauty And The Beast’ Is A Decent Musical Trapped Inside A Dull Remake

beauty and the beast

There’s no major, heavy-handed flaw that brings down Beauty and the Beast, the latest of Disney’s live-action remakes. Rather, this film falls apart from its own weight of bad decisions, made very carefully to not to mess with one of Disney’s most beloved classics too much for fear of losing the same magic that brought animated films to the prestigious forefront of Hollywood.

The original conception hasn’t changed at all, really. A young, beautiful girl living in a small French village finds herself the prisoner of a cursed prince who was transformed into a beast for being vain. They have to fall in love in order to break the spell, and his castle’s magical servants — a collection of humans transformed into the prince’s belongings in case that wasn’t subtle enough — orchestrate elaborate ways to bring these two mismatched people together.

This is, of course, a remake that feels far more faithful to the word, in that a vast majority of this film is a recycled mess of frames, songs, characters, and ideas that are mixed together with a few more expanded subplots that try to explain the world of Beauty and the Beast better than previous adaptations. For what it’s worth, this is a longer movie that lets the characters breathe when necessary.

The trouble is that Disney’s answer to defending this remake’s existence is by over-explaining the exposition of this world and its inhabitants, robbing us of any nuance or mystery as full character motivations are described by either voiceover or ham-fisted declarations more suitable for a stage play. There’s a good effort here, though, to fix some of the perceived problems of the 1991 adaptation, like toning down the unlikable nature of the Beast earlier and with less violence on his part, so his budding relationship with Belle can be more believable and fleshed out.

beauty and the beast

In a better movie, that might have been enough to give Beauty and the Beast a real purpose for taking a victory lap, as the film also manages to pull off some impressive musical beats that show off director Bill Condon’s best work from Dreamgirls. Sadly, it seems this movie also inherits his romantic habits from the two Twilight films he directed, in that Dan Stevens and Emma Watson (who play the titular characters) are the weakest points of a movie that absolutely relies on their chemistry to succeed.

That’s not to say either performer does a terrible job here. Dan Stevens (Legion, Downton Abbey) does fine work trying to imitate the emotive Beast from the animated film, and it’s not his fault he can’t possibly measure up to Glen Keane’s legendary character. For what the film is trying to be, Stevens does a serviceable job bringing a CGI beast to life under what must have been a huge budget.

It’s Emma Watson (Harry PotterBling Ring) who seems unprepared to carry this film as the heart of its romance. She’s more passionless film critic than audience surrogate, frequently turning her nose to obviously wondrous set pieces and working off of a very limited range of expressions and vocabulary. It doesn’t help that her singing is a bit on the lump side as well, pushed harder by obvious autotune that doesn’t blend well with the superior voice work happening all around her.

Worse, there’s not much done here with the Belle character. Beast gets a new musical number and some chances for identity beyond being mean and clumsy. In this film, he’s a bit of a reader, so he and Belle have something conceivable to bond over. But Belle is a poorly written presence by comparison, often reminiscent of the kind, but independent Belle from the 1991 version without much else to cling to aside from the introduction of a forced backstory involving her life in Paris. None of these threads come together well, making for a more forgettable character than this tale deserves.

beauty and the beast

Still, there really isn’t anything atrociously bad about Beauty and the Beast apart from how tragic it is as a missed opportunity for Disney’s live-action retreads. Rather than upgrade the classic with authentic accents and an updated, more modern story (seriously, there was a great opportunity to pivot the villain, here), the film seems more content on going through the motions as best it can without the luxury of animation to make itself more enchanting. Luke Evans (Dracula Untold) as Gaston is about the only actor who tries to bring some worldly relevance to his role, while still hamming it up alongside the somewhat subdued and one-note LeFou, played by Josh Gad (Frozen).

When Beauty and the Beast does manage to pull off genuine moments of wonder, it’s every bit as likable as its predecessor. But the movie never surprises and it certainly never surpasses what it’s borrowing from. Granted, it’s beautifully realized and the production design is a positive step forward for Disney films, but nothing here is satisfying enough to make up for the fact that this is a revisionist tale lacking true vision.

Grade: C

Extra Credits:

  • I have to be honest, that’s a graceful “C.” I had a terrible experience with this film, despite its high points. It violates the don’t make them want to see the original version during the entire movie rule.
  • Another missed opportunity is in how the original Beauty and the Beast had some progressive flourishes, like how Belle was more interesting than previous Disney damsels.  But this new film does very little to innovate, aside from a more diverse cast and an awkwardly executed LGBT inclusion that seems to forget it exists most of the time.
  • I didn’t have time to get to the rest of the cast, and it’s seriously one of the better aspects of the movie. Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere (terrible French accent aside), and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts just to name a few. The film does well to give everyone their moment to bask.
  • Oh, let’s not forget about Sir Ian McKellan, who played Cogsworth. Funny enough, he turned down the role for the animated version.
  • This film was in postproduction for 18 months. And it shows.
  • The ‘Gaston’ scene is the best one, in my opinion. They added cut lyrics from the original to make it longer and edgier.

    Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

    Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


How to Make a Great Movie Remake – Now Conspiring

 

movie remake

Since Hollywood isn’t planning on slowing down with the remakes and Kong: Skull Island is now in theaters, the gang talks about the movies they think merit a remake. We also discuss what should be considered when remaking a franchise or a standalone movie, from respecting the original story to the style the director chooses to portray it. If you stick around long enough, you will hear Maria and Sam basically screaming out all the things wrong about Kong: Skull Island. Don’t worry. No one was harmed during the rant.

Question of the Week: What is your favorite movie remake? What movie do you think deserves a remake and why?

Additional Question: What is your favorite pick for our new podcast name?

Go on…How to Make a Great Movie Remake – Now Conspiring

Review: ‘The Magnificent Seven’ Is Enjoyably Average

magnificent seven

In 1960, The Magnificent Seven came about under the direction of John Sturges to limited acclaim. Critics didn’t love it because Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (of which Magnificent is adapted from but with a Western spin) was still a near-perfect film fresh on everyone’s minds. In the decades since, critics have grown to appreciate Magnificent Seven more due to the cascading success of the film’s actors, and it’s hard to deny the sheer entertainment value to be had in the first 2/3rds of that film.

As someone removed from that era entirely, I found the 1960 adaptation to be a forgettable shadow of Seven Samurai — but I’ve always been interested in the idea of updating the original concept with heavier themes, better visuals, and other details it could rightfully borrow from Kurosawa’s work.

Yes, Magnificent Seven has had sequels and even a TV show since its mid-century release, but we now have a modern remake in the fashion of 2010’s True Grit. The only difference, though, is that Grit managed to be a remake with a purpose. By comparison, the 2016 Magnificent Seven is more akin to a video game made from the movie. There’s more violence, the characters’ stories are tossed aside for manufactured movie moments, and there’s little reason to watch this one outside of seeing a fast-paced action Western. If that’s what you want out of Magnificent Seven because you have some sort of sketched idea of what the original (and the original before that) had to offer, then you’ll probably walk away satisfied.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training DayThe Equalizer), this new take on Magnificent focuses on Rose Creek, an American frontier town under siege by a robber baron aptly named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who mostly mumbles vain platitudes about how capitalism justifies his boring villainy. This is a strange departure from the small Mexico town victimized by bandits in the 1960 version, made more confusing by the fact that this change to Rose Creek holds little meaning outside of a desire to keep things American, which has all sorts of troubling implications if you think about it too long.

magnificent seven

To ward off Bogue’s militia, newly-widowed Emma Cullen (played by Haley Bennett) seeks out the help of Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington), a warrant officer from Kansas who in turn recruits six other mercenaries from around the area. They include wise-talking and gunslinging Joshua Faraday (Chris Pratt as Star Lord in the West, essentially),  a confederate sharpshooter (Ethan Hawke), his knife-throwing Chinese “manservant” Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), frontier survivalist Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), a gruff Mexcian outlaw Chisholm was previously in pursuit of (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and a Comanche archer named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). 

A significant amount of time in Magnificent Seven is spent fleshing out character skill-sets more than anything else, like why any of the mercenaries are willing to put their lives on the line for strangers. The film tries to posit this as some sort of “Eff it” mentality that might be mixed in with a soft decency that doesn’t come across in any performance, especially with Faraday, who seems to change his temperament based on the position of the sun. Chisholm is the closest to having any real sense of intention in the script, and there could have been real opportunity to make his growing affection for the rest of the cast convincing. But unfortunately, Washington brings almost zero nuance or heart to the role, and the entire ensemble suffers for it.

There are flaws aplenty in the film’s basic narrative structure and script that prevent Magnificent Seven from ever having an affecting impact. But at the very least, it competently accomplishes what it set out to do. The half hour or so of nonstop gun-toting action is thrilling to watch, and you might care enough about some of the characters involved (if not the one-note villain) to share some of their tension as the odds grow ever against their favor. But once the dust settles, you’ll start to wonder what the point of all this endless violence really was as the film rushes to the finish line with as little effort as possible. There’s no reflection on much of anything important that the film accidentally managed to say.

Grade: C+

Extra Credits:

  • I love Matt Bomer, and there is no reason for him to be in this movie (for about four minutes).
  • The late James Horner composed the film’s score (which is fantastic), and it’s also his last composition.
  • Believe it or not (and I checked), this is the first western Denzel Washington has starred in. What a waste.
  • So…Chris Pratt. Honestly, I think the actor was underserved here, same as Washington. The film would have been saved if the script had gotten their chemistry right, but there’s nothing to see here.
  • Review in four words? “The quintessential RedBox movie.”

    Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

    Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


Snarcasm: The New ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake Is Amazing, I Promise

ben-hur remake

Snark + Sarcasm = what you’re about to read.

Sarcastically reviewing film reviews may sound like a total waste of time, but it has nothing on reading said sarcastic film review reviews. So I think you’ll enjoy this gem of a film review from that news outlet you’ve never heard of that has inexplicable access to Rotten Tomatoes.

That outlet is Baret News Wire, which describes itself on its own page as (and this is lifted directly from their site):

“Baret News  Wire is a Association of talented writers, and Social Media Professionals.  At”

We’re off to a great start.

Writing for BNW, Kam Wiliams recently “reviewed” the latest Ben-Hur remake, AKA the film classic that was already perfected in 1959, 30 years after the exceptional 1925 silent version, which was an adaptation of a book written in 1880. Who said Hollywood is out of ideas these days? They’ve been out of ideas for a while.

Ben-hur remake
Case in point.

Anyway, Kamtastic mysteriously titles his review, “Faithful Remake of Oscar-Winning Classic Revisits Biblical Themes and Breakneck Chariot Race.”

Yes, this noticeably leaves out the actual name of the movie, and as you’ll quickly find, Kamtastic actually gave this movie a perfect score (4/4).

Wow! Well, let’s read this review then, because that’s certainly the most contrarian opinion of this movie out there. You know, since even the most positive reviews by comparison are all closer to “meh” than “10 thumbs up!”

Fresh off his interview with Seth Rogen, aptly named “Rappin’ with Rogen!” (I’m not joking), Kamtastic kicks off his review with nothing in particular:

It takes a lot of chutzpah to remake the Hollywood epic that won the most Academy Awards in history.

It also takes a lot of chutzpah to use the word chutzpah.

But that’s irrelevant. What does Kamtastic think of the movie?

But that’s just what we have in Ben-Hur, a fairly-faithful version of the 1959 classic starring Charlton Heston.

Fairly-faithful you say? Well, is that good or bad? Should a film be faithful to a half-century old property or strive for something new? And if so (or not), what does that mean to the viewer?

I hope you’re not expecting any sort of answer to these obvious questions.

The films are based on Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, a novel published in 1880 which quickly surpassed Uncle Tom’s Cabin as the best-selling American novel to date.

Uh…OK. That’s definitely information, alright, but I’m not sure that has anything to do with—

The book’s author, Lew Wallace, was a Civil War General who had led Union soldiers at the battle of Shiloh.

…that’s great, Kamtastic, but maybe—

His inspirational tale of redemption’s success was credited to the fact that its timely  themes of family, freedom and patriotism helped unify a citizenry torn asunder by years of war and then Reconstruction.

That’s really nice, but can you start talking about the movie you came to review, now? Or how/why this is at all relevant? I would understand commenting on the 1959 film to lend context to your review, but going on and on about the book is like filming a movie about sharks inside a poorly-lit library in Kansas.

Its compassionate tone particularly appealed to Southerners, because of its sympathetic treatment of slave owners, encouraging resolution via reconciliation rather than revenge.

What is this, Wikipedia? If I wanted your surface-level book report on barely related (or interesting) facts that have nothing to do with the movie you just saw, I would go back to your Seth Rogen interview.

Next, Kamtastic finally talks about the movie!

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter)

Keep it coming!

this incarnation of Ben-Hur stars Jack Huston as the title character,

…uh, he sure is!

although the supposed star is easily overshadowed by the film’s narrator, Morgan Freeman, 

Really? The main character is overshadowed by the narrator?? I know it’s Morgan Freeman, but shouldn’t you be complaining about this?

It doesn’t end there. Kamtastic goes on to list more facts about the movie you probably don’t care much about. He just mentions the casting and some minor backstory for each person of interest.

And this is all fine for a review, but we’re halfway through a review with a perfect store and Kamtastic hasn’t said a single insightful thing about the movie he supposedly loved. I’ll give him credit, though, for successfully translating monotone to the written word.

The plot thickens when the fully-grown Messala, by then a Roman soldier, unfairly fingers the Ben-Hur family for an act of treason perpetrated by

I can’t even finish this sentence. It’s just a paragraph that literally walks you through the crucial plot points of the movie. There’s no commentary. No language to paint these plot points in a way that lets us know how Kamtastic experienced the film. Just spoilers via run-on sentences.

And yeah, I get that most people already know the set up of Ben-Hur, but Kamtastic actually spoils one of the big reveals of the third act, just so he can stall from saying something opinionated or, dare I say, purposeful.

Before the review ends, and yes, it’s already over, Kamtastic wraps it all up with the most ambiguous piece of film criticism I’ve ever read out of a Rotten Tomatoes-aggregated review:

Distracting CGI mob scenes and heavy-handed sermonizing aside, Ben-Hur 2016 is nevertheless a very entertaining variation on the original that’s well-worth the investment.

Yeah. This perfect 4/4 film as graded by Kamtastic has a flaw for each nice thing he has to say about the film. Seriously, here’s what you just read:

Distracting CGI mob scenes? Well, it’s an entertaining variation on the original! Heavy-handed sermonizing? No worries, it’s well-worth the investment. Used car salesmen come off more sincere.

And that’s it! Kamtastic gives Ben-Hur a perfect score because…what do you care?! It’s not like his literal job is to share constructive opinions on the art of film, commenting on what it is about a given movie that makes it worthwhile or meaningful. This guy is seriously giving the Ben-Hur remake a glowing recommendation based on the fact that the narrator steals the show. I bet he lost his lunch when he watched Morgan Freeman play God on Bruce Almighty.

Now, I would never get on someone’s case for liking a movie, no matter how bad it is. But if they’re a person whose “grade” affects something as far-reaching and influential as Rotten Tomatoes, then they seriously need to give themselves a leg to stand on.


Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


Review: ‘Pete’s Dragon’ Both Reinvents And Recaptures Classic Disney

pete's dragon review

I wrote a full review of Pete’s Dragon is on Movie Pilot, which you can read here. Overall, I loved the movie and had a blast watching it, thinking about it, and of most of all, writing about it. I’ll be chatting about the film more in length for Monday’s podcast, along with even more thoughts on Sausage Party, which I also reviewed this week.

Here’s a quick excerpt from my review of Pete’s Dragon:

There are a lot of intelligent, aspirational elements at play within Pete’s Dragon, as it sets up the forest as an idyllic setting that needs to be cherished, but not ignored. Like the dragon himself, there’s something beautiful about man and nature coming together, but the obvious message about environmentalist values you might read into here is one thing the movie smartly downplays, instead accepting that man’s role in the world doesn’t have to be a passive one.

Pete’s Dragon revels in its simplicity and digestible themes, which is why it’s such an easy film to immerse yourself in, at just about any age (and not just because Robert Redford steals all of his scenes). For that reason, it’s the best family movie of the year and among the best films in 2016, overall.


Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


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