‘Downhill’ Demonstrates the Limits of Constrained Remakes

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CREDIT: Jaap Buitendijk/Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Will Ferrell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Miranda Otto, Zach Woods, Zoë Chao, Julian Grey, Ammon Jacob Ford

Directors: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

Running Time: 86 Minutes

Rating: R for Bold Language That Pops Out on Vacation

Release Date: February 14, 2020

Sometimes a remake that otherwise seems pretty pointless can be useful for helping to clarify something that you may have missed in the original. That happened to me with the explosive conclusion of the Korean classic neo-noir Oldboy and Spike Lee’s 2013 remake, and now I have experienced it once again with Downhill, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s take on the 2014 Swedish cringe family comedy Force Majeure. There’s a climactic moment on a ski slope in Force Majeure that felt to me at the time meditative and ambiguous, but when I saw Downhill‘s take, the purpose of that incident was spelled out much more clearly. (Although reconciling these two as congruent requires a specific interpretation of Force Majeure.) There’s an argument to be made in favor of leaving the meaning as subtext, but I know I felt satisfied in the moment. As for the rest of this American version, let’s just say this material is very tricky to make entertaining, no matter what part of the world you’re in and no matter how many times it’s been told.

Force Majeure‘s inciting incident is an all-time doozy, and Downhill does it pretty much exactly the same. The Staunton family on vacation at a ski resort in the Alps when a supposedly controlled avalanche looks like it is about to turn deadly. In a moment of panic, Dad Pete (Will Ferrell) runs away from his wife Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and his two sons. Ultimately nobody is hurt, but the tension remains simmering for the entire vacation. This all plays out in set pieces that are quite often lifted directly from the original. Pete’s psyche breaks down as he cannot bring himself to admit his betrayal, while Billie insists on the version of the truth that she can so clearly see is the correct version, and friends and acquaintances look on horrified, profoundly flummoxed by the impossible task of lightening the mood.

It’s not necessarily a more Americanized version of the same thing, at least no more so than a version starring American actors must necessarily be. Instead, it’s a more mature version, as Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus are more than a decade older than their counterparts, Johannes Bah Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli, were when Force Majeure came out. The original dealt with new-ish parents struggling with their evolving self-identities, while Downhill is about a middle-aged couple despairing, “It can’t be this disastrous after we’ve come so far, can it?!” That’s a theme it would have been wise to lean into more instead of relying so much on the template it had ready to go. But as it stands, it is still a fascinating dive into the panic that arises when we realize that we may never fully know who we and our loved ones really are.

Downhill is Recommended If You Like: Hard Questions

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Avalanches

It’s Time to Get ‘Buffaloed’ and Learn About Debt Collection!

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CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures

Starring: Zoey Deutch, Judy Greer, Jermaine Fowler, Noah Reid, Jai Courtney

Director: Tanya Wexler

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: Unrated, But It Would Probably Be R for Everyone Acting Like a Bunch of Jagoffs

Release Date: February 14, 2020 (Limited)

Hey Buffaloed Zoey, what did you kill, Buffaloed Zoey?

Please, dear readers, tell me that you are familiar with the Beatles song “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” for otherwise that opening line will sound the ramblings of a madman. (Though even if you get the reference, you might still find me a madman.)

Is Peg Dahl, Zoey Deutch’s character in the Tanya Wexler-directed Buffaloed, indeed in the mood for killing? You could certainly say so. She’s grown up lower-middle class in Buffalo, New York, and her ambitions are a little too ravenous to be contained by a city with a small-town midwestern sensibility. She’d like an Ivy League education very much, please, but that doesn’t seem too likely without crushing student debt. So she turns to hustling, which lands her in prison when she’s barely old enough to be tried as an adult. Ergo, no college loans, but plenty of legal fees. Debt collectors soon get on her back, but she flips the script, realizing that she’s pretty good at convincing people to do things that are not necessarily in their best interest and thus starts working for the collection agency with an eye towards fast-tracking the clearing of her debt.

Peg’s a bit of a wide-eyed idealist, or at least as wide-eyed idealist as you can be when working in an industry built upon preying on people at their most vulnerable. But soon enough she learns about the more unscrupulous practices, like collecting on the same debt multiple times from people who have forgotten they are already in the clear. Collectors get away with this baloney since the industry is nowhere near as regulated as it needs to be. But Peg sets upon forming her own agency, vowing to do it all aboveboard, to the incredulity of everyone around her. Ultimately, naturally enough, she realizes that you cannot ever really clean up something that is dirty to its core. This is activist, occasionally fourth wall-breaking, cinema, delivered with a jagoff spirit. In that way it’s a sort of Big Short Jr. If it somehow, some way, leads to more robust protections for the indebted, then it ought to be considered a positive force for humanity. (And if instead it just makes you cackle for an hour and a half, then that’s okay, too.)

Buffaloed is Recommended If You Like: The Big Short, My Cousin Vinny, Judges who eat while on the bench

Grade: 3 out of 5 Buffalo Wings

Jeff’s Wacky SNL Review: RuPaul/Justin Bieber

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CREDIT: Will Heath/NBC

RuPaul and SNL. They go together like werking it and starting your engines. Surely he’s hosted once a year since the 90s, or at least once a decade? But no, this is in fact his first time hosting at Studio 8H ever. So let’s make up for lost time and get right to it. (Justin Bieber is also here.)

But first, we have some Democratic Debate (Grade: A General Sense of Necessity) business to take care of. You know how these things go: some recurring guest stars, a few burns, round and round … and round and round … and round and round we go. So let’s move on to the Monologue (Grade: 3/5 Classic New York Stories), which is one of those quick, “You know me, I’m (Insert Name of Cool Person Here)” Monologues.

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92nd Oscars Predictions/Preferences

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CREDIT: NEON CJ Entertainment

Here’s my quick rundown of who’s most likely grab the gold on Sunday, February 9, 2020, and whom I would vote for if I had a ballot.

Best Picture
Prediction: Parasite (unless 1917 is fully dominant)
Preference: Parasite

Best Director
Prediction: Sam Mendes
Preference: Bong Joon-ho

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The 2019 Jeff Malone Academy Awards

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CREDIT: A24

If I were in charge of unilaterally selecting the Oscars, here is who would be selected. Nominees are listed alphabetically, winners in bold.

Best Picture
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Greener Grass
Ready or Not
Uncut Gems
Under the Silver Lake

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Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 2/7/20

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CREDIT: Katrina Marcinowski/Netflix

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
Horse Girl (Streaming February 7 on Netflix) – Alison Brie Alert!
The Lodge (Limited Theatrically)

TV
McMillion$ (Premiered February 3 on HBO)
-35th Independent Spirit Awards (February 8 on IFC)
-92nd Academy Awards (February 9 on ABC) – But where’s the host?!

‘The Lodge’ Might Be Too Twisty for Its Own Good, But It’s Still a Chilling New Vision of Cabin Fever

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CREDIT: Thimios Bakatakis/A24/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Starring: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone

Directors: Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Shocking Gunshots, Disturbing Tableaux, and a Little Post-Shower Nudity

Release Date: February 7, 2020

In The Lodge, a couple of kids (Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh) head to a cabin during Christmas break with their dad Richard (Richard Armitage) and his new fiance Grace (Riley Keough). Work duties force Richard to head back home for a few days, which leaves Grace and the kids snowed in due to some, shall we say, inclement weather. And that’s when things start getting weird. The youngsters have resented Grace for as long as they’ve known her, and the tight quarters only amplify those feelings at first. They eventually start to approach a bit of a detente, but then everything suddenly breaks down. The power shuts off, the backup generator won’t work, and everyone’s cell phone is fully uncharged. And on top of all that, the refrigerator and all the cabinets and dresser drawers have been mysteriously cleared out.

Suddenly being cut off from the rest of the world in inhospitable weather is (and has been plenty of times) enough of a premise to introduce extreme physical and psychological danger. But the thorough disappearance of all those provisions adds an immense layer of mystery. Have the kids pulled an elaborate prank on Grace, or vice versa? None of them seem inclined to take their ill will that far, and there doesn’t appear to be enough room for them to hide everything anyway. And nothing about this situation makes any sense as a break-in.

The possibility of a more supernatural explanation butts its way in soon enough. It’s been lingering around there for a while, long before this predicament ever began. Grace, it should very much be noted, is the sole survivor of a religious cult that committed mass suicide when she was twelve years old. She remains haunted by the experience in her dreams and is given to frequent sleepwalking. Maybe that trauma has somehow made its way out of her subconscious and started tangibly affecting those around her. Furthermore, weird items start appearing that make Grace and the kids seriously wonder if they are now in fact dead and are stuck in some sort of purgatory. They then grapple with a fascinating conundrum that much of The Lodge is concerned with: since none of us really know what comes after death, how do we recognize it when we experience it?

Eventually, The Lodge decides that it must end, and in so doing, it moves away from the supernatural and back towards the corporeal. This leads to a whole host of paradoxes that I don’t think I, or any viewer, or anyone involved in this film can provide a full satisfying explanation for. The prosaic and the more out-there elements really do not sit well together. It’s twist upon twist upon twist, though it’s never clear (perhaps purposely) which twist is the truest. The fallout from trying to make sense of it all is a little too disturbing to handle. That said, much of the staging and thematics of the film itself are disturbing in all the right ways.

The Lodge is Recommended If You Like: It Comes at Night, Hereditary

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Gas Heaters

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