September 25, 2009, - 6:48 pm
Weekend Box Office: “Fame” Remake Far Better Than Over-Rated Uber-Liberal Original; Okay Sci-Fi “Surrogates”; Boring “Bright Star”
This weekend’s new releases aren’t half bad. In fact, all of them get at least a ONE REAGAN rating or more. But none of them are great or even very good. “Pandorum” was not screened for critics, a sign that it’s likely a dud. Will try to see it later this weekend and add my review of that.
* “Fame“: I thought I would hate this remake of the 1980 original. As a general rule, remakes are always a waste and never better than the original or even approaching it. But this one is the exception to the rule. In fact, although it’s a slightly dull movie and very lame, this one is far superior, well-updated, and unlike the much over-rated 1980’s version, it’s PG. It’s something you can actually send your teens to see. Unlike the original, it’s not offensive and doesn’t embrace in-your-face left-wing social values and mores. Go back and watch the original. You’ll wonder what all the hype was about. It’s boring and doesn’t pass the test of time. This latest incarnation, on the other hand, has a little sparkle. Not enough, though, because like I said, it was sort of dull.
The cast–including mostly newcomers, like the talented Asher Book, Kay Panabaker (a real life wunderkind, graduated from college at age 17), and Anna Maria Perez de Tagle–is charming and cute, and much more youthful-looking than the 1980 originals, who didn’t look like high school students, even at New York’s High School for the Performing Arts, which is what the movie is about. And like the original, there’s really not much of a plot here, which makes it less exciting than it could be. But unlike the bitter, miserable, gritty original, this one was funny, light, and cheerful.
The original is uber-liberal BS, filled with gratuitous shots of topless women and f- s- and t-word. With a heavy hand, the original pimped abortion, homosexuality, illegal drug use, and pretty much every other other liberal cultural prescription on the viewer. (Plus, a very snooty, uber-liberal law school classmate of mine was one of the dancers in the original.) None of that is present in this new-and-improved version. I counted only two s-words in the new one, and, so, not such a big deal. That, and a brief drunken rap gag about “bitches” and “hos.” Still, in context, not such a big deal, though not necessary. Ditto for the scene in which an actor tries to force himself on an aspiring actress. She ultimately handles him, though.
The only thing that is better in the 1980’s version is the soundtrack, which was basically the only good thing about the over-hyped original. In this new version, gone are great, upbeat songs like “Hot Lunch,” and the over-synthesized version of “Fame” during the closing credits is cheesy. The one song that carries over is “Out Here On My Own.” Star Naturi Naughton (whose tremendous talent was wasted in the awful “Notorious”) actually has a much stronger, more beautiful voice than the appealing singing voice of the talented but drug-addicted Irene Cara. And she belts out a much better version than her 1980 counterpart. But the rest of the movie’s soundtrack stinks. Lackluster.
Other than that, among the only highlights of the original movie that are lacking here is the spunk of the late Gene Anthony Ray, who played street hood turned dancer/student Leroy Johnson. Sadly, he died of HIV-related illness in 2003. In the original, a teacher chastises him for refusing to speak English instead of Ebonics. You’d never see that today, but all of the teachers are well played in this new version, especially Charles Dutton as the evocative drama teacher.
Also cool about the original “Fame,” were the real-life lives of two of its other better actors, Albert Hague (music teacher, Mr. Shorofsky) and Lee Curreri (keyboardist student, Bruno Martelli). The late Hague, who died in 2001, was born to a German Jewish family in Berlin the 1920 and was raised Lutheran to escape the Nazis. He was not only an actor, but a music professor and an award-winning composer. Curreri was also a composer and wrote the music for many shows, movies, commercials, etc. Life imitated art for both of them. Or maybe it was the other way around. Also in the original: Isaac Mizrahi, when he was just a fresh grad of the High School for the Performing Arts and not yet a famous fashion designer; and “New York Undercover”‘s Michael De Lorenzo, as one of the dancers.
In this new “Fame,” it was a little jarring and strange to see the reunion of Lilith and Frasier Crane in the movie. Well, they don’t re-unite actually, but both Bebe Neuwirth and Kelsey Grammer are teachers at the performing arts school. Neuwirth, as a dance instructor, has an uncanny resemblance to her counterpart in the original movie. Back is Debbie Allen, who is now much older and the principal of the high school of which she was once a dance instructor.
Could have done without a brief portrayal of a Black father who wants his daughter to be a classical pianist as the villain and the scene of his wife putting him in his place. No, you di’in’t.
But the change of Fame to cute, comely PG-rated cuddliness for teens from the R-rated trash it was in 1980 is not only refreshing and welcome, it’s a shocker in an era in which this turn is usually–sadly–in the reverse.
As I noted, I found the movie kind of dull and boring and, at points, overwrought with disproportionate manufactured melodrama over nothing. The stories are mostly blah. In short, the movie’s lame. But the movie wasn’t aimed at me or most adults. Remember, this is a teen movie aimed mostly at chicks. If you’re an adult or a guy of any age (which means the vast majority of my readers), it’s not for you. And you probably won’t like it. (Just a warning to those who got mad that I gave a good rating to “Twilight,” last year. It, too, is a teen movie, and I didn’t mean for you to waste your shekels–and time–seeing it.) This is not a great movie. Not even close. But for teens, it’s far better on so many levels than the usual offerings. And it’s good enough.
* “Surrogates“: Imagine a world in which you never left home and neither did most people. Instead, you had a robot lookalike–which looks like a glammed up, better-looking version of you–which went to work for you, interacted with other people instead of you, etc. All you have to do is lay down on a couch watching and controlling your “surrogate.” Problem is, in a world like that, everyone’s doing it. And no-one knows who’s real and who isn’t. A Black activist could actually be a rich White guy pulling the strings from beyond. A hot chick could actually be a fat, bald shlubby guy.
That’s the world in which Bruce Willis, a police detective, finds himself. Or is it his “surrogate”? Soon, Willis finds himself in the middle of an investigation of murder of surrogates and their “operators,” humans. That wasn’t supposed to happen. But technology has gone haywire (and there is even a movement of activists who are anti-surrogate and have their own surrogate-free zones). The surrogates have another name for them. To them, humans are “meatbags.”
The movie missed the best shots, when it declined to show us what the real human operators of the polished news anchor surrogates looked. I was waiting for shots of Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, and Sean Vannity on their couches operating way hotter and smarter surrogates. But it never happened. Damn. And that’s the thing. There was also no humor in the movie. I can’t remember laughing. Not even once.
The movie was mildly entertaining, but even with all the action, there were times I fell asleep from boredom (and didn’t miss anything). This movie was a lot of glam and high-tech but didn’t live up to my expectations. That said, it made some important statements about technology and human interaction that I think are well considered, regardless of your political persuasion. Technology doesn’t always make things better, and it’s only as good as its designers and operators, who are generally flawed humans.
To me, this movie could have been better. But it could have been a lot worse. And as sci-fi goes, it wasn’t bad. To me, it was like an extended episode of “The Twilight Zone” or “The Outer Limits.” But as a thriller, it just wasn’t that thrilling, suspenseful, or exciting. I just didn’t care about it. Not Bruce Willis’ best work. But definitely not his worst.
And the ending makes a great statement.
* “Bright Star“: This movie is so beautifully shot and so gorgeous, I wanted to live on the set. But unfortunately the story is boring as all get out. It details the life of poet John Keats, who wasn’t famous or rich while he was alive and died young of illness. It stars Abbie Cornish, as his talented seamstress true love, Fanny Brawne, whom he can’t marry because she’s not rich and he’s ridden with debt he must pay off with a rich wife. The clothes are as stunning and beautiful to look at as the scenery. And it’s worth seeing if you like that kind of thing and can bear a very slow-moving, drawn out drama that really has not point nor is it interesting in the least. It was so tiresome that I kept thinking, Just Die Already, John Keats.
Nice house, someone’s home . . . watching paint dry. The paint’s a nice color, but it still dries just as slowly and without event. Ennui cinema. Warning: Drink strong coffee.
Tags: Abbie Cornish, Albert Hague, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, Asher Book, Bebe Neuwirth, Benjamin Shorofsky, Bright Star, Bruce Willis, Bruno Martelli, Charles Dutton, Debbie Allen, Emily Stern, Fame, Gretchen Mol, Isaac Mizrahi, John Keats, Kay Panabaker, Kelsey Grammer, Lee Curreri, Michael De Lorenzo, Movie Reviews, Mr. Shorofsky, Naturi Naughton, remake, remakes, Surrogates, The Twilight Zone