24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The A-Team

'Footloose:' The '80's are dead. Long live the '80's.

October 17, 2011 |  8:00 am

The original "Footloose." Its 2011 remake pulled in $16.1 million at the box office.
Seasons, like paychecks and Republican presidential front-runners, come and go. But some things remain constant. Like '80s remakes. And, specifically, their power to make us yawn.

This weekend saw the moviegoing public shrug off two more retreads, a revival of a 1984 Kevin Bacon classic and a prequel of a 1982 John Carpenter cult hit. "Footloose," that Bacon revival, pulled in $16.1 million -- not a terrible number, but considering how heavily the movie was marketed, not exactly auspicious, either. Results for "The Thing" looked more grisly -- the movie eked out only $8.7 million.

The films join a long list of '80s reboots that have yielded lackluster results: "Fright Night," "Conan," "The A-Team," "Arthur."

But whilem any specific '80s titles have failed, the ethos of that decade actually remains alive in some of moviedom's most popular films.

In "Drive," the well-reviewed art-house piece that has established a loyal fan base, Nicolas Winding Refn channels the spirit of "Miami Vice" and other pastel-colored entertainment. Throwback action movies such as "The Expendables' and "Fast Five," meanwhile, have turned into the biggest hits of the last couple of years. "Footloose" may have struggled, but its spiritual descendants, the "Step Up" films, has blossomed into one of the hottest teen franchises of the last few years.

And this summer J.J Abrams looked to the movies of the 1980s, like "Stand by Me" and "The Goonies," in creating his coming-of-age adventure "Super 8." The film went on to become a huge global hit.

There are good reasons we're looking back to the movies of several decades ago: There were some storytelling values to that period, for one thing, and there are only have so many stories to tell.

Even a contemporary director such as Jason Reitman, one of the more original-minded filmmakers out there, said he felt the ghosts of decades past when he gets behind the camera. "In a strange way, I always feel like I'm doing a remake," he told 24 Frames in an interview last week. "I mean, 'Thank You for Smoking' was 'Jerry Maguire' if Jerry sold cigarettes."

In a new column, my colleague Patrick Goldstein takes a look at why so many producers these days choose to resurrect the past, offering the theory that platforms such as Netflix and YouTube make a new generation more willing to accept older stories. "With a century of culture just a click away on any computer, young consumers have become the ultimate archivists, just as willing to embrace familiarity as innovation," he said.

In that sense, Hollywood is giving us what we want with these throwback pieces -- films that remind us of stories we've heard before. It's just that we prefer they don't remind us so explicitly.

RELATED:

"Real Steel" shimmies past "Footloose" for No. 1

Has "Footloose" been given a conservative makeover?

Is Hollywood's mania for remakes spinning out of control?

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: The original "Footloose." Credit: Paramount Pictures


Did movies get better or worse in 2010?

December 30, 2010 |  2:04 pm

Airben

The end of the year tends to prompt reflection on all things on God's green earth, including on what for film buffs is perhaps the most important thing of all -- the state of our  movie culture.

So that subject was already much on people's minds when this New York Times article about studios' willingness to gamble on original ideas began kicking up some dust, eliciting both scoffs and nods of agreement. And it made everyone, including us at 24 Frames, wonder if movies as a whole got better  or worse in 2010.

Is it possible to say both?

There's no objective truth on any of this -- one man's mess is another man's masterpiece -- but a lot of us have had the sense that 2010 was a tale of two seasons.

The summer brought more than its typical share of live-action critical clunkers --  for every "Inception" there was an "A-Team," a "Last Airbender," or a "Grown-Ups" -- while the fall seemed to yield an unusually large number of gems.

The summer and the fall have long had a quality gap, but this year it seemed wider than usual. "The Last Airbender" and "Grown-Ups," for instance, each failed to top a 10% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  (The lowest Rotten Tomatoes rating for a big-budget extravaganza last summer was 20%, for "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.")  And while "Grown-Ups" got an overall CinemaScore of B from audiences, that was inflated by under-18 viewers, who gave it an A-; most adults gave it far below a B.

But it all turned around after Labor Day once the smaller guys took the stage. Reviewers and audiences began embracing a wide range of movies: "The Fighter," "The King's Speech," "Black Swan," "The Social Network,""True Grit." (You can also toss "The Kids Are All Right" and "Winter's Bone" into the mix -- they were technically released in the summer but both were indie films through and through.)

Last fall yielded some well-regarded movies too -- including "Avatar" and "Precious" -- but the list of the roundly loved was decidedly thinner. It was a season, after all, of "Brothers," "Invictus" and "The Lovely Bones." (None of this, incidentally, applies to animated films, which somehow continue to get better no matter the season.)

The widening in quality between summer and fall films is hardly an accident. As studios continue to go for sequels and brand-driven movies, some big-budget summer releases inevitably find themselves in a creative rut. Meanwhile, the independent-film world, still reeling from a shakeout, is experiencing a cream-rising-to-the-top effect. It's possible movies like "Black Swan" or "The Fighter" would have been made five years ago, when financing flowed more freely. But they probably wouldn't have been made as rigorously, and they might have been diluted in a sea of lesser films.

Given how studios remain focused on remakes while the indie world finds itself in a state of semi-recession, we can probably expect more of the same in '11. That's the bad news -- and the good news too.

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: "The Last Airbender." Credit: Paramount Pictures


Is the success of 'The Expendables' a novelty or a sign?

August 16, 2010 |  7:30 am

  Expen

Talk to anyone involved in the action-movie glory days of the 1980s and the first thing they'll say is that it's time to bring those days back. "In today's world. we need heroes," Aaron Norris, brother of Chuck and an important behind-the-scenes figure in that heyday, told us when we interviewed him recently. "Our action movies have gotten too artsy."

Artsy sort of left the room this weekend, when Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables," which assembled a team of muscle-bound mercenaries to fight indisputably evil (but ideologically harmless) enemies in far-off lands, got audiences excited, to the tune of $35 million.

Until this weekend, old-school action movies -- defined, for argument's sake, as films with a slew of explosions, a shortage of moral ambiguity and a triumph of physical effects over digital ones -- had seen better days. It's been nearly two decades since pictures of this sort were produced with any regularity by the studio system, and a lot longer since they were stateside successes. Many of the attempts in recent years have been, at best, mid-budget passion projects with circumscribed audiences (Stallone's own "Rambo," which topped out at $42 million domestically) or post-modern winks (the French-language "JCVD" from 2008, a hostage movie in which Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a version of himself). The few large-scale attempts, like "The A-Team," underperformed. (The biceps-and-bullets remake grossed $77 million domestically, a number that will likely be easily surpassed by "The Expendables.")

But the Stallone picture -- with its hard-charging, take-no-prisoners patriotism unbothered by the vagaries of the real world (it takes place in a fictional country, for starters) and its caricature of freedom-hating enemies ("We will kill this American disease," as the TV spot enticed us) -- planted itself squarely in the old-school genre. And this weekend, the movie showed that there's life in that category yet. That "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," the tongue-in-cheek, pop-culture-referential, decidedly 2010 creation -- the one for, of and by arch fanboys -- trailed well behind "The Expendables" only drove home the point more loudly.

On one hand, it's understandable that a movie of easy American heroism (OK, first-world Western heroism) would catch on. In fact, it's surprising it didn't happen sooner. Apple-pie-patriotism already is behind the success of a cable news network and supports large sections of the contemporary country music industry. Why not a film hit too?
 
But among all the factors to which one might point in explaining the success of "The Expendables" -- a cast harvested from so many demographics and eras; a moviegoer backlash to 3-D and CG effects -- it somehow doesn't feel that the demand for neat heroes and villains is one of them.

Norris and his ilk would submit that in our current period of ideological and geopolitical upheaval, in a time of blurry lines between enemies and friends in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, that black-and-white heroes slake a patriotic thirst (and that, indeed, the movie-going world can support a lot more of them). But history argues the opposite: Those movies succeed when the culture at large is filled with clear-cut distinctions. On the other hand, when the zeitgeist is more cloudy, an entirely different kind of cinema prospers.

The post-WWII era and its mainly straightforward distinctions between good and evil, to take an example of the former, yielded a flowering subgenre of movies with morally uncomplicated gunslingers. And 30 years later, the ideological simplicity of the Cold War and its larger-than-life Evil Empire gave rise to the very action movies on which "Expendables" is modeled (not to mention the ultimate in us-versus-them confections, "Rocky IV." Yes, there's a Stallone-ishness to all of this). There are plenty of reasons why these types of movies faded from view in the 1990s, but the fall of the Berlin Wall and the the Soviet Union certainly played a part.

The examples are just as abundant on the other side. The ambiguities of the Vietnam War and the counterculture in the late 1960s and early 1970s undoubtedly offered up the moral murkiness of "Easy Rider," "Midnight Cowboy" and scores of others. In the post-9/11 world, meanwhile, movies like "The Dark Knight" -- with its themes of a destruction-bent enemy that can't be bargained with, and the question of what constitutes an acceptable ethical compromise in fighting that enemy -- have captured our imagination. You can throw "Avatar" in there too, to the degree the movie was a contemplation of Western interests in the Middle East.

Political eras are, of course, rarely just one thing or another, and the movies we want to see in a given period are hardly monolithic. But as tempting as it is to infer that the success of "The Expendables" shows a deeper cultural need, it may well be the wrong inference. When times are confusing, we want movies to reflect that confusion, and even to make sense of it. But we probably don't want to pretend that confusion doesn't exist.

-- Steven Zeitchik
http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: A scene from "The Expendables." Credit: Lionsgate

RECENT AND RELATED:

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Hollywood wonders if Schwarzenegger will be back


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Should studios continue bringing back the '80s?

June 14, 2010 |  7:00 am

Dr

If this movie-going summer was to yield nothing else, it was at least bring us this: clarity about Hollywood's investment in reviving the 1980s.

And no weekend would throw more light on that question than this one, with its unlikely coincidence of two major '80s properties hitting the screen at the same time. All we needed to feel more like we were back in Reaganville were Billy Joel and Madonna solving a Rubik's Cube while "Knight Rider" and "The Cosby Show" played in the background.

And yet as the weekend wound down, we were left with little clarity at all. The verdict was as split as opinions on "Twin Peaks" -- one movie, "The Karate Kid," overachieved at the box office, and the other, "The A-Team," sputtered behind it ($30 million behind it).

That would seem to give no indication of anything, except for maybe Hollywood's go-to trope: The movie has to deliver, regardless of its era of origin. Conceived under the hand of could-his-stock-drop-any-faster Joe Carnahan, "The A-Team" was a fusillade of nonsensical noise, and audiences saw right through it. On the other hand, "The Karate Kid," while hardly representing a breakthrough in cinematic accomplishment (or a narrative or emotional triumph over the original), did what Hollywood arguably does best: produce a competent entertainment that offers few surprises but succeeds completely as a crowd-pleaser.

That all would seem to suggest little about what we can expect from future remakes, or yield any guidance about how much Hollywood should continue down its '80's path (with a new "Beverly Hills Cop,"  "Wall Street," etc.) But there is a lesson nestled beneath the split decision.

By chance, we happened to catch on cable this weekend two truly great pop classics from the '80s, "Field of Dreams" and "Back to the Future." (It's almost as if cable programmers, aware of how the '80s were being tortured on the big screen, decided to slip in a little reminder of how it's really done).

Obviously the Me Decade had more than its share of stinkers and mass-marketed schlock too. But what struck us from watching these two films, which existed not in the art house ghetto but as broad hits at the multiplex, is how different they feel from the current crop in one key respect: their fundamental grasp of storytelling, which in both films came off as effortless and intuitive in a way that few movies do these days. (We didn't watch the original "Karate Kid" again, but we saw that a few weeks ago too, and you can certainly add that to the list.)

Maybe in this sense the forces behind the new "Karate Kid" understood more than they appeared to. It's hard, they reasoned, to come up with a movie that contains true storytelling chops, let alone to get that movie green-lighted. So the least we could do, they said, is imitate a movie that had them. At least subconsciously, the remake craze may be partly about good narrative, not just easy marketing. 

Of course, the better approach would be not to copy great storytelling but to come up with some new ones. (Right now, "Inception" director Chris Nolan seem to be the only filmmaker with the vision and clout to realize this.) But then, in a storytelling climate that's so barren, a few drops of rain are welcome, even if it's the rain of 25 years ago.

-- Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Ray Liotta and Kevin Costner in "Field of Dreams." Credit: Universal Pictures



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'The A-Team's' Rampage Jackson: I don't hate gay people or fat girls

June 9, 2010 |  1:46 pm

Rampage

When The Times' profile of “The A-Team’s” Quinton "Rampage" Jackson went online late last month, the newly minted action star -- who updates Mr. T’s B.A. Baracus role in Fox’s $110-million adaptation of the cheesetacular '80s action-comedy -- raised more than a few eyebrows in the film industry with his piquant appraisal of movie stardom.

"Acting is kind of gay," Jackson said on the movie’s set in Vancouver, Canada. "It makes you soft. You got all these people combing your hair and putting a coat over your shoulders when you're cold. I don't want a coat over my shoulders! I'm a tough [individual]!"

But while allegations of homophobia ricocheted around the blogosphere in the story’s aftermath, the former Ultimate Fighting Championship light-heavyweight champion remained silent.

Until now.

Jackson has posted a rejoinder to the story on his website in an effort to provide some much-needed context about what compelled him to wax philosophical about acting in such a way and to go on a seemingly homophobic tirade in front of a reporter, after a crew member wandered into the star’s trailer and called Jackson a gay slur.

The post also calls into question a reporter's motive for quoting Jackson as he shouted homophobic

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