‘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

This Is a Movie Review: The Post

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CREDIT: Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Fox

I give The Post 3.5 out of 5 Sealed Documents: http://newscult.com/movie-review-defense-journalism-mounted-post-admirable-often-rousing-almost-quaint/

This Is a Movie Review: The Lego Ninjago Movie

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This post was originally published on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Olivia Munn, Jackie Chan, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, Zach Woods

Directors: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rating: PG for Ripped-Off Lego Limbs and Feline-on-Toy Destruction

Release Date: September 22, 2017

If you want to learn how to nail down comic timing, you could do much worse than studying the repartee in The Lego Ninjago Movie. This second spin-off of the toy block film franchise and the first based on the speciality Ninjago line (which also already has its own long-running Cartoon Network TV show) should ostensibly be the most action-oriented of the series, but its cast ensures that it is instead defined by the cheeky humor that has buoyed each of the Lego films thus far. The voices of the high school-age core ninja group include improv and sketch veterans like Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Kumail Nanjiani, and Zach Woods. And their leader, Master Wu, is brought to life by the always comedically inclined martial arts legend Jackie Chan. As they protect their home city of Ninjago and seek to become one with the elements, they pop off quips like “Can I be the element of surprise?” and display their meta bona fides by complaining about Wu’s “needlessly cryptic metaphors.”

The thrust of the plot mostly revolves around Green Ninja Lloyd (Dave Franco) and his struggle against his father Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), a four-armed warlord seeking to conquer Ninjago who keeps mispronouncing (or correctly pronouncing?) his son’s name as “L-loyd.” Lloyd’s attempts to reconcile with the father who abandoned and forgot about him make for the dopily cliché stuff of legend. This is the same evil-father/chosen-one-son knockoff typical of so many Star Wars copycats. But of course, that dopiness is the point. In a world where love stories begin by opponents in war detecting unbearable beauty on opposite sides of the battlefield and the biggest hit on the radio is the weirdly personal “Boo Lloyd!,” fully embracing clichés only makes sense.

For those of you wondering how the real world intervenes in the block world this time around, it should be noted that there is a cute kitty cat who stomps around the town. Dubbed “Meowthra,” this feline is the secondary villain, the monster that indiscriminately and unknowingly ruins intricately designed block structures.

Where Ninjago falters is in its actions sequences. To be fair, its earthbound fighting moments have plenty of visual wit, but when the ninjas take to the skies, the aerial sequences are as unintelligible as the Transformers series at its worst. But that will only be a minor bother when you make it through to the end credits and fall in love with the latest buoyantly terrific song from a Lego movie.

The Lego Ninjago Movie is Recommended If You Like: Lego’s entire filmography, Star Wars father-son relationship parodies, Silicon Valley, Finding the humor in “Cat’s in the Cradle”

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Ninjanuities

2015 Emmy Nominations Predictions and Wishlist

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For my detailed thoughts on my predictions and wishlists in the major Drama, Comedy, and Variety categories, check out these links:
Comedy
Drama
Variety

Guest Actor, Comedy
John Hawkes, Inside Amy Schumer
Michael Rapaport, Louie
Chris Gethard, Parks and Recreation
Dwayne Johnson, Saturday Night Live

Guest Actress, Comedy
Susie Essman, Broad City

Guest Actor, Drama
Mel Rodriguez, Better Call Saul

Guest Actress, Drama
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex
Linda Lavin, The Good Wife

Directing, Comedy
Rob Schrab, “Modern Espionage,” Community

Directing, Drama
Adam Arkin, “The Promise,” Justified

Writing, Comedy
Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television,” Community

Writng, Drama
Thomas Schnauz, “Pimento,” Better Call Saul

Animated Program
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”
American Dad! – “Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas”
The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXV”

Commercial
Android – “Friends Furever”

Host – Reality/Reality Competition
RuPaul, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

Interactive Program
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Main Title Design
Man Seeking Woman

Single-Camera Picture Editing, Comedy
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”

Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program
Too Many Cooks
Billy On The Street With First Lady Michelle Obama, Big Bird And Elena!!!

Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or a Variety Program
Community

Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
Man Seeking Woman – “Traib”