Celluloid Atrocities March 2016: Suggestions for Maligned Types of Movies

I’d really like to see the Harry Potter books remade into films again, and then act like the first round of them didn’t exist.


It’s so long been extraordinarily common to complain about how Hollywood studios only want to make adaptations, remakes, and sequels that it’s passé to even point this out. Not point out that that’s what Hollywood does, I mean, but to complain about it—even people who exclusively see sequels to comic book movies are quick to complain about the lack of originality in modern movies, oblivious to the fact that it’s people like them that cause for this Hollywood trend to be the case. And of course, this all has been beaten to death; we don’t need to retread here the specifics of this supposition. You know it all already.

So instead, let’s celebrate it! These maligned forms do bring pleasures at least sometimes, and from time to time I find myself daydreaming about the potential for good films that would fall in one of those three categories. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for the uninspired producer, looking to dabble in the frowned-upon forms of needless and inspiration-deprived movies.

Remakes/Reboots: We’ll start with the most populist, obvious selection on my list—I’d really like to see the Harry Potter books remade into films again, and then act like the first round of them didn’t exist. The books are so inherently cinematic, not to mention excellent, whereas the eight-film 2001-2011 movie cycle is basically just terrible. Yes, I admit that I meet a number of people who do still, for inexplicable reasons, defend the original run of films—for younger people I’m willing to chalk this off as nostalgia, but for older people, I see no logical defense in standing up for those generic, piece-of-shit films, all sloppy storytelling, bad special effects, and aggressive childishness, where the books are artful and interestingly mature.

The fault for the badness of the first run of films lies predominantly on the shoulders of director Chris Columbus, who helmed the first two in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, from which future directors could never really recover from the miss-set tone of. Columbus is right up there with Joel Schumacher as one of the biggest schlockmeisters in modern Hollywood, and it drives me crazy that he basically screwed that series from the get-go. It’s too soon now to give the series another go around, so I don’t see a lot of point in prescribing suggested directors for my proposed reboot, but theoretically, at least, it’s hard to not be sorry that this series wasn’t given to Alfonso Cuarón, director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, in the first place—while his Azkaban still is not great (which I continue to attribute to Columbus, who served as producer on Cuarón’s film, apart from the aforementioned getting the series off on the wrong foot), it is instantly and noticeably better than the work that Columbus did on the first two, and if Cuarón had had the reigns from the start, it isn’t hard to imagine the series being much more solid than it is. I mean, Cuarón went on to give us stuff like Children of Men, easily one of the best films of the past decade, where Columbus did I Love You, Beth Cooper (another example of a book I like with a terrible corresponding movie adaptation) and Pixels (my least-favorite film of 2015).

If Cuarón isn’t available, his friend Guillermo del Toro would be a good backup choice; his slightly gothic, slightly macabre fantasias would be a good match to the material. The only problem I foresee in my suggested reboot is successfully recasting the film—regardless the many problems I have with the original series, it is hard to imagine them improving much (or any) on the cast, replete with the finding of very talented young actors Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, and then rounding out the adult roles with most of the best actors in Britain (including the sadly departed Alan Rickman).

Adaptations: Between adaptations, remakes, and sequels, adaptations are often the least-frowned upon from a critical perspective. While they’re often lazily lumped in with the artistically-depraved sequels and remakes, if one stops to think about it at all they’ll find that many of their favorite movies, and many of the best-regarded films ever made, were adaptations of something-or-other (generally books). Hell, adaptations made up half of my top ten list from last year.

One of those adaptations, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin, leads to my proposal for an adaptation I’d like to see: Hou making a movie of John Dalton’s 2004 novel Heaven Lake. Mr. Dalton is a St. Louisan (not that I’ve met him), and Heaven Lake is a novel well enough suited to Hou’s sensibilities that it is actually awfully unimaginative of me to link the two. Hou, one of the luminaries of the Taiwanese New Wave (alongside other masters such as Tsai Ming-liang and Edward Yang), often uses the directorial fingerprint of including a phantom ride shot in his films. A “phantom ride” is a shot taken from the perspective of being on or in a moving vehicle, and Hou generally does this from a train. The best example of this is the opening shot from his 1986 film Dust in the Wind, but you’ll find them scattered in many of his other films as well (though not The Assassin). Mr. Dalton’s novel finds a Midwestern boy becoming a Christian missionary and traveling to Taiwan, where, after getting in over his head, he finds himself on a long train ride across China to retrieve a bride for a Taiwanese businessman he falls in with.

Okay, so my main linkage here is that Hou is Taiwanese and likes shooting from trains, Heaven Lake is set largely in Taiwan and on trains (though not trains in Taiwan), and I like both Hou and Heaven Lake. Not terribly rigorous of me, material matching-wise. One could argue that Heaven Lake is perhaps more densely plotted than the type of film Hou has made of late, but at the same time, it has enough of an ethereal strain that I think his take on the material would be very interesting. Besides, Hou has lately been branching out from his usual Taiwanese characters, such as with the French in The Flight of the Red Balloon or the Japanese in Café Lumière, so I’d be interested in seeing what he’d do with a character from my stomping ground, the American Midwest.

Sequels: Of the suggestions on this list, what would make a good sequel is the most difficult topic for me. There certainly are sequels that I like (what’s up, Toy Story trilogy?), but as an endeavor, it tends to be kind of a crapshoot. To apply my “What’s on my top ten lists?” test to them, and assuming you don’t count last year’s The Look of Silence as a sequel (it’s a companion piece, not a continuation), you have to reach all the way back to 2008 to find one, where I had The Dark Knight at #8. And even that is a bit of a stretch—aren’t the Batman films more of a franchise these days, James Bond-like, with the idea of sequels and prequels only tenuously applicable?

After some thinking about it, I’ve found that the sequels I most like are in many ways the movies that wiggle around with what a sequel is and can be. Richard Linklater did incredible work with the Before movies (Sunrise, Sunset, and Midnight), and he’s so endlessly fascinated with the passage of time that I’d be quick to give him the green light on sequel project he might have in mind. (Not for nothing he’s just finished a “spiritual sequel” to his best film, 1993’s Dazed & Confused, to premiere at SXSW in a couple of weeks and entitled Everybody Wants Some.)

Similarly, I like the work Wong Kar Wai has done with his films—2046 is a continuation of Tony Leung’s character from In the Mood for Love, and Fallen Angels is a continuation of themes first presented in Chungking Express (Angels and Chungking were originally planned to be one film, even). But this is a matter of me trusting Wong and Linklater as artists and not so much of me seeing In the Mood for Love and reeeeaaaaaally wanting a sequel.

Since I went somewhat esoteric on my pick for a proposed adaptation, let’s keep the sequel mainstream, as the vast majority of them are anyway. With that in mind, I’d welcome a revisiting to some of Judd Apatow’s better efforts in directing and producing in the past ten or so years. The first place my mind goes on this front is to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which is likely my favorite of what I think of as the Apatow Cycle (that being any film he directed or produced between 2005 and 2009). But, it may have already occurred to you that Forgetting Sarah Marshall does have something akin to a sequel, Get Him to the Greek, which is heinous, so maybe we should scrap that idea. How about a sequel to Knocked Up, then? I’m not sure a lot of people would welcome Katherine Heigl back to mainstream attention at this point, but of Apatow’s successes that one lends itself the most toward a follow-up. And maybe it could be super negative! Surely Seth Rogen’s Ben and Heigl’s Alison didn’t wind up staying together, and maybe their kid hates going to Ben’s stinky house on weekends. That would be pretty cool. There should be a lot more negative sequels to mainstream comedies. | Pete Timmermann


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