‘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

Jeff’s Wacky SNL Review: Will Ferrell/King Princess

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CREDIT: Rosalind O’Connor/NBC

Hey, you. Yeah, you. Do you want to know a little secret? Will Ferrell is my favorite SNL cast member of all time! He regularly graced the Studio 8H stage from 1995 to 2002, and I don’t think it’s too out of line to say that he appeared in a lot of hilarious sketches that multiple people remember fondly. Since ending his tenure and moving on to other career ventures, he’s also made time to return for some visits, which has led up to him hosting for the FIFTH time on November 23, 2019, thereby becoming only the fourth former cast member to join the Five-Timers Club. Also appearing in an official capacity in this episode is musical guest King Princess. She’s only 20 years old currently, and I think she’s someone we’ll be noticing for a while.

Alec Baldwin-Trump showed up for the White House press conference cold open (Grade: 3/5 Large Pies, Extra Cheese), and somehow it felt somewhat fresh. It helped that it was just a few minutes long, and Will F. imbued some new energy into the proceedings as Gordon Sondland. You can always bank on an excellent Monologue (Grade: 4.5 New Blorks) from Will Ferrell (or as Tracy Morgan says, “Will fuh-RELL!”), thanks to his knack for subverting common monologue tropes. This time was no exception, as he became phantasmagorically puddly-lipped in the presence of surprise guest Ryan Reynolds.

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Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 5/3/19

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CREDIT: Philippe Bossé

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

Movies
Long Shot (Theatrically Nationwide)

Podcasts
Primetime (Premieres May 9) – Hosted by Vox Cultural Critic Todd VanDerWerff!
The Ron Burgundy Podcast – This premiered back in February, but somehow I’m only realizing just now that it’s available.

SNL Review January 27, 2018: Will Ferrell/Chris Stapleton

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CREDIT: Alison Hale/NBC

My letter grades for each sketch and segment is below. My in-depth review is on NewsCult: http://newscult.com/snl-love-itkeep-itleave-will-ferrellchris-stapleton/

A Message From the Former President – B+

Will Ferrell’s Monologue – B+

Air Force Squadron – B+

The House – B+

Dickenson’s Commercial Shoot – B

Southwest Flight Attendants – B

Next for Men – B+

Chris Stapleton (ft. Sturgill Simpson) performs “Midnight Train to Memphis” – B+

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B
Jacob Silj – B+
Bailey Gismert – B-

Cookout/Reality Stars (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+

Dinner Discussion – B

Chris Stapleton (ft. Sturgill Simpson) perfomrs “Hard Livin'” – B

Office Breakroom – B+

Chucky Lee Byrd – B+

This Is a Movie Review: Daddy’s Home 2

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

I give Daddy’s Home 2 3 out of 5 Loaded Guns (Literal and Metaphorical): http://newscult.com/movie-review-daddys-home-2-amiably-almost-transcendently-sweet-except-nasty-side-mucks-things/

SNL Recap December 12, 2015: Chris Hemsworth/Chance the Rapper

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My full review can be found on Starpulse: http://www.starpulse.com/news/index.php/2015/12/13/saturday-night-live-season-41-episode-

Announcement from George W. Bush – B+

Chris Hemsworth’s Monologue – B

Star Wars Toys – B-

On the Record – B-

Time to Bleed – B

Brother 2 Brother – C

Deborah’s Time – B

Chance the Rapper – “Somewhere in Paradise” – B

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B+
Angela Merkel – B
Leslie Jones – B-

Claire (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+

Pirate Ship – D

Chance the Rapper – “Sunday Candy” – B-

Hunk Junktion – B-

Aron’s List (from Elizabeth Banks/Disclosure) – Original Grade: B-