Saturday, August 12, 2006

Camera Obscura - Clones, Private Eyes and Snake Plissken

Remaking every movie ever made is no new invention in Hollyweird, silent films often got remade and I kinda lost count of how many times C.B. DeMille remade all his biblical epics. A true challenge for a constant film critic is to be able to see a new (or an older) movie with eyes of the uninitiated. I like challenges.

So today brings some recent Hollywood hits and their origins. And the burning question of the day is "Will Snake Plissken return?" I sure hope so.

First on the remake list is the ever-exploding-world of director Michael Bay's sci-fi thriller "The Island." Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson star in this futuristic tale of a society forced underground after a massive worldwide biological apocalypse. Every moment of their lives is under constant watch, and even the bathrooms instantly assess your bio-behavior and dictates dietary requirements. It is quickly clear something is rotten in this mall-world.

I don't want to give too much away - but the main characters are clones. Why they exist is a question that puts them on the run and gives Bay a chance to blow up a lot of stuff, and he taps into many other movies - "Logan's Run", "Blade Runner", etc etc. But it took me about an hour after the movie ended to remember where I had seen it before.

The story is a huge budget remake of an ultra low budget 70s movie called "Parts: The Clonus Horror." Certainly the acting in "The Island" is what helps carry the movie, far better than the "Clonus Horror." And if I had never seen any of the above mentioned movies, then "The Island" stands as a very exciting sci-fi thriller. So I did enjoy the movie.

But the double-feature night at the drive-in where I saw "Parts" (the second feature was the marvelously titled "Meat Cleaver Massacre", and distributors have dropped the word Parts from The Clonus Horror) was and is the best way to watch this kind of half-baked goofy thriller. There were five of us in someone's station wagon that night at the drive-in, and I remember we were all intensely pleased when it began to rain so hard we couldn't see the screen anymore and we turned our attention to the case of beer we had.

Another genre retread which I also liked when I watched it this week was the largely ignored mystery-comedy "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." The movie stars Robert Downey Jr as a petty crook taking a turn thru Hollywood as a hopeful actor and Val Kilmer as a gay private detective. The movie is very funny and the script and direction by Shane Black is steeped in every Hollywood private eye movie ever made. Black ("Lethal Weapon," "Long Kiss Goodnight") gives Downey the most entertaining job of narrating all you see and hear - very funny and very P.I., with a touch of William Holden from "Sunset Boulevard."

Movies from Black owe everything to Raymond Chandler, and he even includes a fake hard-boiled detective in this movie, named Johnny Gossamer. Also this movie is divided into chapters with names from Chandler's books and stories. (And speaking of Johnny, Johnny Knoxville was up for Downey's part, but Downey won the day.) The DVD also includes very funny commentary by Black, Downey and Kilmer and is as good as the movie itself.

Chandler's funny and wry detective Phillip Marlowe has been at the center of so many movies and other private eye mysteries, it can easily be said Marlowe is an all-American classic hero. This week I also watched one of the best early movies of Marlowe, "Murder, My Sweet" with former musical star Dick Powell in excellent form as Marlowe.

His narration, like Downey's, is often hilarious and cynical and fun to hear. As when Marlowe says:

Okay Marlowe,' I said to myself. 'You're a tough guy. You've been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you're crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let's see you do something really tough - like putting your pants on."

Finally today - rumor mills are churning out a tale I hope comes to life.

Reports claim that director John Carpenter will get to make a third "Escape" movie starring Kurt Russell as the one and only Snake Plissken. Snake is in many ways a futuristic offspring of Marlowe - a dangerous and cynical anti-hero who is always quotable.

Snake is the hero of "Escape from New York," "Escape from L.A." and if the project gets the green light, the new movie will be called "Escape From Earth."

Next week - a new horror movie on DVD, "The Tooth Fairy." Really. I watch 'em so you don't get "sapped".


  1. Cinemonkey11:05 PM

    Go Snake!
    I'm still waiting for a sequel to "Big Trouble in Little China".

  2. NO! It's too good to be true.

    I actually liked "Escape from LA" much more than I was expecting to, so fingers are now crossed for "Escape from Earth."

  3. Ann Lloyd11:49 AM

    I just got this today (Monday) and it's the best news I've had in a month of Sundays. Dick Powell is one of my favorite movie stars. Not only can he sing and dance, he's a great actor. Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken gets me hot. And I'll even go to the cinema to see the further adventures. As for "Parts". I remember seeing it at the drive in... about 1978? My first husband, his best friend, Dung, and I smoked our way through a dusk to dawn horror marathon. I think one of the other movies was "The Incredible Melting Man" or something (astronaut returns to earth and body parts begin falling off)perhaps "Pirannah" was on that masterful, magical evening.

  4. his best friend Dung? Dung??

    I saw the Melting Man movie in a drive in too, yes a melting astronaut. I miss the marathon runs of horror flicks and kung-fu movies or car chase extravaganzas which were best viewed at a drive-in.
    One great marathon was every "Planet of the Apes" movie. I got severe stomach cramps from the "fresh, hot pizza" from the Snack Bar.
    God I miss drive-ins.