Monday, April 29, 2013


Hollywood loves remakes. They're redoing practically everything these days. Another version of THE GREAT GATSBY is opening May 10. Just about every successful horror movie from yesteryear is getting redone too, including a big budget CARRIE due in October. Heck, even early 90’s bombast like POINT BREAK, the bromance surfer thriller starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, is getting an update. I know I don’t want to see that one. I could barely watch the first version.

But wouldn't it be better to remake movies that weren't successful?  You know, fix those films that took good material and just didn't do 'em the proper justice? Maybe that's why Baz Luhrmann is doing another GATSBY. Heaven knows the 1974 Robert Redford version left a lot to be desired. There are films like that which deserve a second look. CARRIE isn't really one of those that needs a remake, but here are 10 that I think could stand to have a better version.

 Let’s give Batman’s favorite femme fatale a better solo vehicle than the god-awful 2004 Halle Berry debacle. When you realize how many good actresses have effectively rendered Catwoman - Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer and Anne Hathaway – it’s a shame that their characterizations were only supporting players. And the one time Catwoman starred, it was in the Berry bust that went wrong from the get-go with that ridiculous costume. A great starring vehicle for Selina Kyle would be an adaptation of the DC graphic novel CATWOMAN: WHEN IN ROME. In Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s clever caper, she matches wits with the likes of The Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Scarecrow, the Italian mob, and, in her fantasies, The Caped Crusader. Hathaway is an obvious choice to star, but maybe the whip could be handed over to someone new to crack it. Rachel McAdams, Amber Heard or Olivia Wilde, prrrrrhaps? 

The 1990 movie version of one of Tom Wolfe’s seminal works made dozens of wrong turns, not just the one that starts the story as an arrogant Wall Street tycoon finds himself driving into a dangerous section of the Big Apple. Stars Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith and Bruce Willis were all miscast. (Really? Bruce Willis was the pick to play a drunken British tabloid reporter?) And director Brian DePalma made more mistakes from there. He's not exactly anyone’s first choice to helm a glossy social satire, but he never got control of the project, letting all of Wolfe's bile get watered down by a constantly rewritten script striving for political correctness. So with all those mistakes, I'd say that not only is Wolfe's takedown of Wall Street greed, self-serving politics  and the sensationalistic press truly ripe for a remake, but it couldn't be more timely either. How about letting someone like Ben Stiller take a crack at directing it? His serio-comic abilities would be perfectly suited for such a dark  comedy as this. 

The 2003 movie of this brilliant graphic novel was another total botch that desperately needs a redo, if for nothing more than to restore the good name of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s landmark work. On the comic book page, this was a clever adventure about famous characters from literature solving crimes in the 19th century, but on film it was an utter fiasco with rambling set pieces, actors chewing the scenery, and confused storytelling that made the whole shebang absolutely incoherent. Redo it pronto, only this time do it on the small screen. This complex material demands more than two hours to tell its story. Giving it a 12-hour season and adapting the narrative faithfully would be essential to its success. And by adapting the other two books in the oeuvre, a network like AMC could easily yield five seasons. They've made magic out of THE WALKING DEAD, so I say let them have first crack at this genius comic as well.

In 1966, the estimable Francois Truffaut directed a version of Ray Bradbury’s futuristic tale about book burning, but it veered too far from the author’s sci-fi leanings. While Truffaut brought clever touches galore to the piece, like having the credits spoken instead of read, the inescapable fact is that the script is not a true and faithful adaptation. So why not give this classic of modern literature another shot onscreen? Someone like screenwriter John Logan could do this pulp material proud, having worked similar wonders with GLADIATOR and SKYFALL. And a director like Darren Aronofsky would be perfect to direct it. He showed an intuitive knack for sci-fi elements when he helmed THE FOUNTAIN. And he’s certainly got a knack for getting the most out of stars in genre material. Just look at the award-winning performances he pulled from Mickey Rourke in THE WRESTLER and Natalie Portman in BLACK SWAN. Now imagine what he could do with fire.

This 1977 cult classic about the faking of a NASA mission to Mars was pretty darn nifty to begin with. It had a great paranoid conspiracy theory premise at its center. And it had terrific actors like Elliot Gould, Hal Holbrook and Sam Waterston speaking writer/director Peter Hyams' crackling, cynical dialogue. But some of the acting was rather dismal. (O.J. Simpson proved that he did not have thespian chops.) And the film's mediocre budget robbed the action scenes of their true potential. In fact, the whole thing looked a little cheap, almost like a 1970's made-for-TV movie. So give this material an A+ budget with great production values and I believe it could be a blockbuster. 

One of my favorite films from the 70’s could do with a little modernizing too. Writer/director Michael Crichton created a thriller about a theme park where the audio-animatronic robots (like gunslinger Yul Brynner spoofing his character from THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) start running amuck and end up killing the guests. Technology gone astray is always a great movie subject, but the production values in the original 1973 film gave it a "B movie" look. So why not remake it with a better budget? Only this time, might I suggest a conceptual rejiggering that would give it even more relevance. Call it MOVIEWORLD and have the foils in the theme park be famous movie villains. Imagine the story's heroes fighting against robot versions of Freddy Kruger, The Terminator and The Wicked Witch of the West. Actually, that's not just a good idea for an updating of this movie, it might be a pretty good one for a real theme park.

There is nothing wrong with this movie that amazing special effects could not better. Made in 1966, the original film doesn’t stand up very well because of its dated visuals. But today, Hollywood magicians can make anything look believable. Imagine what they could do with the rich premise of shrunk-down scientists traveling inside the human body. Battling white blood cells, corroding stomach acid, and all kinds of tissue and nerves could make for one fantastical film fantasy. And while no one could top Raquel Welch's turn as the sexiest of the scientists, wouldn't someone like Rihanna be an interesting choice for this material? She proved she can act in BATTLESHIP. And God knows she could sing the theme song over the end credits.

Despite Seth Macfarlane’s love for this campy 1980 flick starring Sam Jones, FLASH GORDON is not a great rendering of the iconic comic book character. The movie was an utterly silly and cheap looking spectacle that was so cheesy it would make the president of Kraft envious. No, this wonderful character from the 1930’s needs a reboot. It should be done earnestly too, like the first SUPERMAN in 1978 or CAPTAIN AMERICA from two years ago. You can even keep the famous Queen theme song in it, but that's it.

Medieval fare is cinematic gold these days. LORD OF THE RINGS, THE HOBBIT, GAME OF THRONES, you name it - if it has swords and sorcery, audiences will eat it up. Thus, a proper telling of the tale of King Arthur seems to be required. After all, there's never been a truly great version of the tale put onscreen yet. (Maybe EXCALIBUR comes close. Maybe.) The movie version of the musical CAMELOT (1967) was overwrought and laughable. And both FIRST KNIGHT (1995) and KING ARTHUR (2004) were big, expensive busts that showcased little except the lack of chemistry between those cast as Arthur and Guinevere. The big problem with all three of these previous executions is that they malign and emasculate King Arthur far too much. That’s a huge mistake for a film where he's the heroic lead. He is cuckolded yes, but he's a great man with love for his queen and country. Make it a more sympathetic character study, showing the man torn between love and politics, like the story of Ned Stark, and I think King Artie would finally get his due.
Agatha Christie’s most popular whodunit got a marvelous big screen treatment directed by Rene Clair in 1945 called AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. It captured the essence of Christie and was a smart and fun thriller. But it also deviated extensively from the source material, particularly at the end. Subsequent versions have fared even worse, with one remake after another missing the flavor of Christie, and screwing up the story about 10 guests being picked off one by one by their unknown host. So why not do one that's truer to Dame Agatha's worldwide bestseller? A new movie would be wise to keep her great dialogue, make the tone darker, and maintain the original, uncompromising ending. That version would instantly become the definitive one. And while Hollywood is at it, fill this film with big stars. An all-star cast is essential for something like this.  

So, if I was a studio executive, those are the 10 remakes I would greenlight. What would you remake? And why? Share your thoughts here and let’s keep this conversation going. And let's hope that Baz Luhrmann does Gatsby proud.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Is it time to forgive Tom Cruise? For jumping on Oprah’s couch like a fool in love? For arguing with Matt Lauer about the benefits of psychiatry? For being so into Scientology it’s sometimes hard to forget what a terrific movie star he’s been for over 30 years now? That’s right. Since his star turn in 1983’s RISKY BUSINESS, he’s remained at the very top of the Hollywood food chain. And it’s time he got his due.
Tom Cruise in his latest hit OBLIVION

Oh sure, he’s gotten plenty of due. Money, fame, a wide swath of critical success – he’s hardly gone undervalued. He’s been nominated for the Oscar three times and won a number of critics’ awards and Golden Globes along the way. But somehow people tend to be a bit dismissive of him, maybe because of that infamous SOUTH PARK episode. But that’s not really fair. And his exemplary resume certainly trumps any item about him in Us magazine or the incendiary gossip blogs.

Quick, name another actor who can do action, comedy, romance, horror, farce and drama equally well. The list is short if there even is one. Indeed, Tom Cruise is a pretty singular talent these days. Granted, he almost always plays a version of Tom Cruise, but that persona is utterly believable in every genre and then some. Cruise can even sing, as he proved in the otherwise forgettable ROCK OF AGES last year. 
Tom Cruise became a star in RISKY BUSINESS (1983)

Whether it's searing drama (BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY), romantic comedy (JERRY MAGUIRE), sci-fi (THE WAR OF THE WORLDS), character studies (RAIN MAN), all kinds of action (the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series), and even over-the-top farce (TROPIC THUNDER), Cruise has put together a body of work that’s as impressive as most any other actor this side of Meryl Streep. Here are the major highlights:

RISKY BUSINESS (1983)                                                            
TOP GUN (1986)                                                                       
THE COLOR OF MONEY (1986)                                   
RAIN MAN (1988)                                   
BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY (1989)           
A FEW GOOD MEN (1992)           
THE FIRM (1993)
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994)                                   
MAGNOLIA (1999)           
Tom Cruise in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996)

His most recent sci-fi adventure, OBLIVION, was the # 1 film this past weekend and took in 38 million. Yep, he’s still got it. And better than his box office prowess, his acting is getting more and more interesting. And the success of OBLIVION may be due in large part to it. Cruise is now playing wizened and weary adults and it’s an exciting stage of his career. He’s seen a lot in his 50 years on this earth, been on top, and vilified too. And it’s informing his roles, even in genre pieces.

In his early days onscreen Cruise almost always played the naïf - a young man just starting to learn to be an adult. Films like RISKY BUSINESS, THE COLOR OF MONEY and A FEW GOOD MEN were all about a callow ‘youth’ who matured into a responsible adult through the course of the story. His characters thought they knew all there was to know but were soon schooled in the world of hard knocks. And Cruise’s energy and bright-eyed optimism perfectly fit such roles. Roles like that in COCKTAIL and TOP GUN came easily to him. He was able to perfectly personify the cocky, overly confident lead, perhaps because it echoed his life all too well.
Tom Cruise in A FEW GOOD MEN (1992)

Then Cruise started to mature and gravitated towards roles that fit his persona in between young man and knowing adult. The ‘man-child’ roles he played showcased men who had conquered part of their world, the business part, but had yet to master the personal side (i.e. love and relationships). This kind of role reached the zenith for Cruise when he played JERRY MAGUIRE. Jerry was a hotshot sports agent whose self-centered lifestyle may have made him a business big shot, but he knew precious little about relationships, either platonic or romantic. Only through the love of a good woman (Renee Zellweger) and the caring of an honest client/friend (Cuba Gooding Jr.) was Jerry able to see what was really important in life. He needed to be less driven by ambition and more governed by the heart.
Tom Cruise with Renee Zellweger in JERRY MAGUIRE (1996)

By now Cruise was the biggest movie star on the planet and he seemed to be succeeding in his personal life too with a successful 10-year relationship with fellow movie star Nicole Kidman. But then that relationship imploded. He divorced and became tabloid fodder. His short-lived and controversy-stricken third marriage to Katie Holmes turned a troubled private life into a talk show punchline. By the time he got around to constantly beating the drum for his Scientology faith or criticizing Brooke Shields for believing in anti-depressants, he had become unlikable to many of the movers and the shakers. And his subsequent ups and downs, whether personal or professional, soon became regular fodder for the press and the likes of TMZ.
Tom Cruise with Nicole Kidman in EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)

 It must have been tough for Cruise to see his public turn all that love and respect into so much loathing and scorn. But that, which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. Armed with the experience of such pain, Cruise thus entered his present, most complex stage. He’s now playing men who’ve lived and loved and lost. He’s essaying men he relates too, only this time they are those who’ve had much taken away. In OBLIVION, his character lives in the post-apocalyptic world and he mourns the loss of connection. It's a feeling he may be able to relate to all too well.

Yet to look at him, Cruise has aged with incredible grace. He looks at least a decade younger than his 50 years and he’s still amazingly fit and handsome, with a great, thick head of hair. But his eyes are  showing their age. They are not the innocent, laser beams of energy and recklessness they once were. Now, they show pain and hurt a lot more convincingly.  
Tom Cruise, under heavy makeup, with Matthew McConaughey in TROPIC THUNDER (2008)

Like Sinatra, who sang with greater emotion after Ava Gardner dumped him, the ravages of life seem to have now deepened Cruise’s artistry, even in a sci-fi role like his in OBLIVION. And with such experiences now informing his work, it’s impossible for Cruise to go back to his old ways of yesteryear. Cruise tried to in 2010’s KNIGHT AND DAY, but it flopped, probably because Cruise can’t play that ridiculously confident, slightly smarmy hero anymore. He no longer walks through life blithely unscathed so how can we buy his characters doing so?
Tom Cruise, again in OBLIVION (2013)

Cruise’s pain may be our gain. It’s made his work even more fascinating to watch. And I’d like to see him challenge himself by playing even more complex and flawed characters as the years go on. The darker places he’s exploring now are making his star wattage burn even brighter. And I can’t wait to see what he does in the next 30 years of his stellar career.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings Monday, it’s impossible not to feel crestfallen once again. But as we grieve, as well as look for the answers to this awful crime, perhaps we can be buoyed by the amazing good all around us, starting with those incredible first responders & bystanders who rescued so many victims after the explosions.

And we can find joy in family, friends, and yes, the movies. Here are 10 things in the cinematic world worth being excited about. And the hope and good contained in them may be just what we need in this nation in these coming months:

The movie 42 is a big hit and proves that well-done sports bio’s can succeed at the box office. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should take in this inspiring true story about Jackie Robinson, the first African-American baseball player. It’s proving to be a big hit with family audiences too, and that’s very encouraging. It proves they will go see challenging dramas, not just CGI animated films.

In just three weeks, visionary filmmaker Baz Luhrmann returns to the screen with his lush take on THE GREAT GATSBY. It’s a complicated period story about status and class, and that too bodes well for more mature fare at the cinema. Check out the outstanding trailer ( and tell me you’re not as excited to see it as I am when it opens on May 10.

Robert Redford, who played Gatsby back in the 1974 version, is back on the big screen starring in THE COMPANY YOU KEEP. It’s a timely political thriller and the reviews have been terrific. Redford has always been one of this country’s most interesting leading men ( and at 76 he’s still got it. He’s still a major talent in front of the camera and behind it. Yep, he directed this one too.

On the other end of the age spectrum, Chloe Grace Moretz is an amazing young talent of only 16, and Hollywood knows it. She’s headlining two movies in the coming months. First up, she reprises her role as Hit Girl in KICK-ASS 2. Then she essays the title character of Stephen King’s CARRIE in director Kimberly Pierce’s remake due at Halloween. Chloe Moretz is one spooky talented actress, that’s for sure!

Speaking of horror, the buzz on YOU'RE NEXT is outstanding. It opens August 23 and early sneaks suggest it’s as funny as it is scary. Good, scary fun – that’s the only kind of frights we need in this world, wouldn’t you agree?

MAN OF STEEL and IRON MAN 3 both open this summer. Rejoice fan boys, rejoice!

Movie franchises are doing very well on TV too. Witness the success of BATES MOTEL on A & E, and HANNIBAL on NBC. (The former has already been renewed for a second season, and the latter is on its way.)

Miraculously, Richard Linklater got to make a third movie about his ever-romantic couple (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke) from BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET fame. The new film BEFORE MIDNIGHT was SRO at Sundance in January, and its upcoming release on May 24 will have adult audiences standing in line.

Guess who Benedict Cumberbatch is playing in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS? Move over, Ricardo Montalban, the buzz is he's playing Khaaaaaaaaaaaan!

Pedro Almodovar, Spain’s greatest filmmaker, returns June 28 with a comedy! It’s called I'M SO EXCITED and so am I. Here is its delightful trailer: .

Those are just 10 things to feel encouraged about. And there will be many more as the year goes on. And with the sad realities in the news this week, who couldn’t use a little escapism? See you at the movies!

Thursday, April 4, 2013


The world lost its greatest film critic today. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times died at the age of 70 after battling cancer for many years. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his film criticism, and won the hearts and admiration of millions of film fans throughout the world for his insightful writing and passionate love for film. He became a household name through his movie review programs on TV with long-time friend and rival Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune. And he was one of the most prolific commentators about the arts, politics and the movie world up to his dying day. Today, the world of film is sadder, and I mourn his loss along with all those fortunate to know him or know of him.

Here, in his honor and memory, is the link to a piece I wrote about him in 2011 here at The Establishing Shot. He will be greatly missed.

I also think he's the most important film critic of all time. Here's why:

He utterly changed the world of film criticism.
Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel changed it together when they started hosting their movie reviews programs on TV in 1975. They became celebrity critics like no other had been before or since. In fact, by 1977 when SNEAK PREVIEWS became syndicated, they became household names. Their argumentative style thus influenced a generation of film critics, as well as a host of cable news shows. And their ‘thumbs up’ became the most desired approval sought by any Hollywood filmmaker.

He championed film better than any other critic.
Ebert may have hated certain movies in his day, but he rarely took delight in negative reviews. Unlike peers such as Pauline Kael, his best writing wasn’t when he was taking down a film, but rather, when he was exalting one. He wrote dozens of books on films, penned prolifically for the Chicago Sun-Times, and embraced social media to jot down more about film than any other critic going. He put movies like HOOP DREAMS, EVE'S BAYOU and many other small films on the map, and often in the eyes of Oscar.  Ebert lived and loved movies so much he even sponsored his own film festival –“Ebertfest” - in Champaign, Illinois for many, many years.

Hollywood respected him immeasurably.
Most artists loathe critics, but there are have been a select few who are respected and even revered. Roger Ebert was one. Practically everyone in Hollywood admired him. They liked him too. He was smart, fair and never played favorites. Folks like Martin Scorsese considered Ebert’s thoughts to be so invaluable, so helpful, that they became friends. Ebert was a straight shooter and he never became a shell of his former self, raging at the windmills like Rex Reed so often does now in his twilight years. Quite the contrary, Ebert became even more buoyant about the possibility of film.

He never sold out.
Ebert kept his integrity and never became a commercial spokesman, shilling for soda, giving a fabric softener a ‘big thumbs up’. He could have made millions doing so, but never did. He always stood on principle, even venturing into political commentary and criticism in the last few years to rage at hypocrisy and prejudice in the GOP ( He was the very definition of editorial integrity up to his dying day.

His illnesses only made him stronger.
Roger battled alcoholism in his early days, and famously and courageously confronted his thyroid cancer throughout the last decade, losing his voice and part of his jawbone to it. He also struggled with his weight for many years. But none of those things kept him from staying positive and prolific about movies, writing, and journalism. He was a superb critic, writer and journalist, as well as a loving husband to attorney Chaz Hammelsmith, and a great friend to all those who knew him.

I am deeply saddened by the death of Roger Ebert. He was a hero and an inspiration. And his importance in my movie world and the world of film will remain forever profound and unmatched.