By Will ("The Thrill") Viharo
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THIS MONTH: SWORD & SCANDAL!
STUPIDITY: THE SEQUEL
Before I launch into my latest rant, I need to acknowledge the fairly recent passing of two more Thrillville icons that I didn't mention in last month's "R.I.P. lounge": Billy Wilder (who directed the all time greatest sex comedies The Seven Year Itch, Some Like it Hot, and Kiss Me, Stupid) and legendary tiki explorer Thor Heyerdahl. Bon voyage, boys, and thanks for the enriching legacies.
Thor Heyerdahl 1914-2002
Billy Wilder 1906 - 2002
And now, back to our regularly scheduled rant, already in progress:
y life changed a lot the day I got married. Actually, it changed after my first date with Monica, Tiki Goddess. For the better. Infinitely. And, lucky me, it continues to get better.
My career as "The Thrill" changed after my infamous boycott of the Ocean's 11 remake, quite unexpectedly. A lot for the better, a little for the worse. For one thing, my comfortable "cult" status was ruined after all the media scrutiny left me vulnerable to both accolades and insults hurled electronically from around the globe. There was an insidious slam piece on Salon.com that was totally unwarranted. But the protest also got my web site favorably reviewed in Entertainment Weekly. Of course, my show is for locals and my web site does not generate any income in itself, so the sudden notoriety produced no profit. But it did secure my networking capabilities.
Anyway, I just heard that Variety recently reported they're actually proposing a sequel to the hit Ocean's 11 remake (sequels to remakes: the next big art form out of Hollywood?), naturally called Ocean's Twelve. Think of the possibilities - as limitless as the numeric system itself. And don't forget the ten prequels! The gang could travel all over the world, knocking over more casinos and maybe a few 7-11s, having all kinds of wacky adventures, maybe hooking up with Scooby Doo, Austin Powers, Darth Vader, Freddy Krueger, Jason, Batman, Spider-Man, Jay and Silent Bob, and the American Godzilla along their merry way. They could even become the new equivalent to the Hope and Crosby Road movies, with all kinds of kooky celebrity cameos and product placement. Pretty soon, every movie made could be marketed as a sequel to the remake of Ocean's 11! Just think - no more haggling over petty details like a title, you could just skip to the next unused number and stick Ocean's in front of it. It boggles the mind!
Whatever. I've learned to let epic stupidity speak for itself. If you just let it go, ignorance will expose, and even exploit, itself, without any outside help. No more movie theater picketing for me. I give up. Knock yourselves out, you cinema geniuses. Your innovative creative and marketing prowess will be recorded for posterity, so that countless future generations of film fans will always have this historical era to look back at and say, "Man, I'm glad I wasn't alive when those idiots were running the show!"
MY TAKE ON THE REMAKE
Recently, I actually sat down and watched the remake of Ocean's 11 on video. Kyle, one of my oldest pallys and the Parkway's head honcho, had superceded my boycott and booked the remake at the Parkway - to wild success. He didn't get a chance to see it there, however, so he went out and rented it. It was a slow day at the office so I decided to check it out too.
Keep in mind I'm totally "over" the whole boycott business. I couldn't care less about the whole thing anymore. The media turned it into an international incident, which was not my intention, but it also morphed into a self-promotional opportunity due to their intense (but brief) interest, and since I'm in business for myself, I took advantage. My show has been successful since the protest, but it was successful before, so I can't say it really affected that aspect of my life one way or the other. In any case, it's over. I've moved on.
So I approached the remake with as objective a perspective as I can muster. True, I was partly prejudiced because I haven't enjoyed a Soderbergh film since Out of Sight, and I'm not fans of anyone in the new 11 except Bernie Mac and Carl Reiner, both of whom are mere supporting players. But I tried to forget it was a remake of a Rat Pack movie at least, and appreciate it on its own terms.
I admit, I liked the fluidity of the camerawork and Brad Pitt's snazzy, semi-retro wardrobe right off the bat. It was sly of Soderbergh to have Pitt posing in front of the Capitol Building in Hollywood - the only overt (though indirect) reference to the original cast in the entire film. I also really liked the funky-jazzy instrumental soundtrack (by far the best thing about it) and the inclusion of some nifty Ultra Lounge standards, and even an Elvis song. The first twenty minutes or so are mildly engaging.
Then I got bored, and stayed that way for the remaining hour and a half.
What's ironic to me is, the problems I had with the remake echo the criticisms expressed by detractors of the original: slack pacing, a self conscious and self indulgent sense of style, slim characterizations, and a shocking lack of suspense. I couldn't have cared less about the new Danny Ocean's (George Clooney) romantic subplot with the stunningly unattractive Julia Roberts. (Warning, here comes a spoiler: skip the next sentence if you want to watch the remake yourself and haven't yet). And when the camera pans over the ten faces at the end in a semi-homage to the original's finale, I cared even less that they had beaten the house. I still didn't know or give a damn about any of these guys. I wasn't rooting for them, so their victory was pointless. The "bad guy," Andy Garcia (who was pretty slick and smarmy), the casino owner who gets shafted, isn't hateful enough to engage us in his adversarial dynamic with Clooney, who is charming but spends most of the time either smiling or smoldering and trying not to bob his head.
There was a lot of talk about how the new cast were "actors" as opposed to "performers," but I didn't see a lot of big acting chops being exercised here. Brad Pitt just posed and popped peanuts - I don't call that a "character" I can care about. Bernie Mac has one sorta funny scene with a Cal Worthington type car salesman, but he is underused. They should've let him cut loose. He has more natural charisma than anyone else in the cast. Matt Damon was just an acrobatic goody goody with no soul, and Don Cheadle's poorly chosen British accent was annoying (I guess he was supposed to represent the combined Sammy and Lawford?). There was a Chinese guy in the Eleven, but he was so peripheral that his tokenism was made painfully obvious. Then there were a bunch of interchangeable slackers with no color or distinction whatsoever; Carl Reiner - also misused; and Elliot Gould, who tried hard to be eccentric. No dice.
Missing was the confident swagger and politically incorrect (but harmless) banter of the original. In the new version, the cast's coolness comes off more like smugness, at least to me (a charge Soderbergh made of the original cast, ironically enough.) Also, detractors claim the original was sexist and racist. Angie Dickinson and Shirley MacClaine seem like mature, independent women who can fend for themselves, so that first claim rings hollow to me. As for the racist charges - Sammy had third billing in the original, and sang the title tune. Henry Silva is not a white guy (though I'm not sure what he is) and Joey Bishop is a Jew. In the remake, Don Cheadle and Bernie Mac are in the sidelines of the spotlight and are missing from much of the advertising. And then there's that token Chinese guy thrown in for good measure. I rest my case.
The new cast was "acting" cool. The Rat Pack didn't have to "act." They were cool, which lends the original its authenticity. They were old-fashioned but timeless men's men with style and talent to admire and aspire to. I don't particularly admire the stars of the remake. They seem like overgrown boys to me, not real men - nice guys, most likely, but nothing special. I aspire to their bank accounts, but that's it. They just don't have anything I want. The Rat Pack were legends, icons, and idols of generations. I enjoy their Ocean's 11 even when nothing is going on because I just like watching them move. I also loved the original's gaudy color scheme, and the time capsule tour of Classic Vegas when it was a small but flashy refuge for adult hedonism, not a schizo theme park trying to be all things to all age groups.
I guess that's what it comes down to. Some people like the pulsating phoniness of the New Vegas, some people miss the stylish sleaze and neon glitter of the Classic Strip. A lot of people dont "get" the Rat Pack's enduring appeal. I don't "get" the popularity of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, or Matt Damon - but that's just me. Both versions are star vehicles - your appreciation of both films depends entirely on how much the stars appeal to you. You either want to spend two hours with them, or you don't. The plot of both movies - more similar than they are different - is formulaic; what offers the story distinction is the relative charisma of the cast pulling off the job.
The actual heist in the remake was so coldly executed and mechanical that I fast-forwarded through most of it. It was like a scene from the Tom Cruise wreck of Mission: Impossible. The "twist" at the end with the switched surveillance tape was barely worthy of a sub-par A Team episode, much less a multi-million dollar star-studded blockbuster from an Oscar-winning director. The celebrated twist ending of the original was so memorable because - largely due to the well-documented personas of its stars - I actually cared that their plans didn't work out. And Richard Conte's tragic character offered true pathos, something sorely lacking in the more "serious" remake. Plus the first one offered Angie Dickinson as Ocean's ex-wife - Julia Roberts just does not have her class and sex appeal. Subjectively speaking, of course.
Overall, it was a typical Soderbergh movie. It starts out as an action comedy, but his trademark somber tone drags it down, whereas the original was innocuously light and breezy throughout. The remake is ridiculously high tech, but relentlessly downbeat, even with the "happy" ending (read: cop-out for the mainstream). Normally I don't go see movies with Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts - I don't hate them, they both say their lines on cue and emote with conviction, but they just don't do anything for me worth paying to see. So if this wasn't a remake of a Rat Pack movie, I would've barely noticed or acknowledged it at all. More irony.
The movie it resembled far more than the original Ocean's 11 was last year's excellent heist flick from Britain, Sexy Beast. That movie was also about well dressed guys ripping off a ritzy establishment, but unlike Soderbergh's film, all of the characters here (especially Ben Kingsley's) were extremely well drawn and incredibly well acted - and the heist itself, while a relatively minor plot point, was actually intense. In fact, this whole movie was incredibly intense and engaging all the way through. It has a real lounge aesthetic without being "retro" (much like The Sopranos): it's lounge noir. Plus the real Dean Martin and Henry Mancini are on the soundtrack. In short, it's everything the remake of Ocean's 11 tried to be - a slick, artful, contemporary crime film with classic style - but failed.
To wrap up my take on the remake: I didn't like it. I didn't hate it. It left me cold in the same way the remakes of Godzilla, Wild Wild West and Lost in Space did*. It was just a piece of forgettable fluff. I don't regret protesting it. I still think remaking the definitive Rat Pack movie was a lame idea. They just proved me right, as far as I'm concerned. In the end, it wasn't worth watching, and it wasn't worth protesting. It was an inoffensive, bland piece of overblown entertainment - just like the new Vegas. The remake certainly won't replace the original in the pop culture pantheon, because the new 11 (spelled out in the remake's title, the one distinction), unlike its predecessor, doesnt capture a moment. It doesn't capture the magic of an era. And it doesn't preserve for posterity the natural camaraderie of a unique band of performers. It's just another heist flick. The Rat Pack's legacy speaks for itself, with or without my cheer-leading. My movie picketing days are safely, and thankfully, behind me.
I am going to ignore the upcoming remake of The Honeymooners*, my all time favorite TV show. No matter who plays Ralph and Ed, they're stepping into shoes they can never hope to fill. Why? Because they're not their shoes to begin with.
*When old TV shows inspire big screen movie versions twenty or thirty years after their original run, they are remakes. The Star Trek movies, the X Files movie, the Twin Peaks movies - these were big screen continuations of classic TV shows, because they had the same cast and were made by the original creators. Unlike a play, which is written to be performed over and over by different casts ad nauseum, TV shows are not subject to the same random re-interpretation, because they are engrained in the collective consciousness with a particular cast recorded for posterity on film. 'Nuff said.
"It's not the chat I mind, it's the chit." - Dean Martin
Recently I became embroiled in a chat room "flame war" on a site I contribute to. I won't say which, because it doesn't matter. A reader alerted me to the fact that there was actually a "hate" message board dedicated to yours truly. These mudslinging malcontents were gleefully pissing all over my good name, "safely" behind my back. They apparently thought of me as some sort of self-appointed "leader" of a "movement," and resented my fans for giving me a "throne" to "reign" from. This was all news to me. But they made the big mistake of including my wife in their pointless cyberspace smear campaign. Plus most of their "criticism" was extremely personal, and had nothing to do with reality. I then made a huge mistake: I jumped in and began to defend myself.
Immediately, it was like I'd swatted a hornet's nest in my own backyard. Most of the surprised posters emailed me privately and sincerely apologized for joining in the "feeding frenzy." A couple were unrepentant, insisting that the public expression of anonymous animosity was "freedom of speech" (which to my understanding is a responsibility, as well as a right), while suggesting that my response to that hostile harassment was an unjustified "ego trip." A few tomato-tossers abruptly vanished from the rooms like the cowards they were. Apparently, for these clowns, it's only fun to mock someone when they think the subject of their roast is not listening. Once I walked in the "room," playtime was over. It wasn't long before the maturity of the forum moderator prevailed, and the "hate room" was locked for good, and later removed altogether.
But engaging these strangers in a debate over my own integrity and character was a senseless exercise in futility, I discovered belatedly. After a while, I stooped to their level and began insulting not just the participants, but the chat room community in general. I prefer face to face communication, or, failing that, direct emailing. Taking cheap shots from the security of a keyboard is not only childish, it's chickenshit. At least autograph your diatribes, with a return address, if you want your opinions respected.
Suffice to say, "hate boards" and other such nonsense is to be treated by the subject like poison ivy. The more you scratch, the more it itches. Best not to put your hand in it at all. Eventually I gave up trying to make any sense to these juvenile jugheads (for all I know a bunch of hooky-playing 7th graders), and deleted every one of my retaliatory posts, in effect reverting to my initial reaction of bemused apathy. For people whose only venue of expression is an internet message board, mere acknowledgement of their comments gives them the illusion of validation.
Besides apathy, the next best response to this sort of garbage is humor. For the sake of "posterity," I went back and again re-edited all my retaliatory posts "in character" so now, it all seems more absurd than ever. That's the only way to look at it, really, from my point of view - a complete farce. But even this was a waste of time, though I did amuse myself in the process.
As I said, stupidity will always reveal itself. Just let those who revel in their own ignorance alone. They'll sink in a quicksand of their own making.
Some of the posters were downright indignant that I bothered to defend my own image, suggesting that my, uh, "celebrity" was a valid excuse to fling their poison darts, like "we famous folks" are open targets for anyone's sour grapes. As far as I'm concerned, my writing and my public "persona" are within bounds for random public commentary. My personal life is off limits. Once you cross that line, it's go time.
But hey, when you can inspire that sort of passion and obsession, you know you're making an impact. I felt like the Bill Clinton of the B movie world. And I got my own Monica, too!
That's right. Me. Will the Thrill. B movie hosting lounge lizard and Rat Pack remake boycotter, with my smoking jacket, new fez hat, and cardboard martini-shaped protest signs, challenging the status quo, shaking things up, a subject of intense controversy even in this age of terrorism and global strife, an enemy of society, a savior of the "lounge movement," Dictator of Cool!
The only upside of that brief fiasco, other than the accidental education in electronic etiquette, was that I became acquainted with some rather interesting people, including the writer and star of The Crater Lake Monster, Richard Cardella!
SPAGHETTI A LA SINBAD
However, this month I will prove once and for all that the sword is still mightier than the keyboard.
A couple of years ago an overblown movie about a Roman Gladiatorwon a few Oscars, including Best Picture. For my tastes it was too slick and self-serious for its own good. I prefer the cheesy Italian-made matinee epics of yore, with all their poor dubbing, heaving bosoms, sweaty biceps, revisionist history, macho mystique and floppy dragons. Drive-in movies of this sort aren't supposed to win awards, damn it, they're supposed to be entertainingly stupid and fun. But they don't make drive-in movies anymore, for the few drive-ins we have left - which is where Thrillville comes in, rescuing these cut-rate gems from obscurity and restoring temporary order to a world gone mad!
Originally I had planned to show a rare 35mm print of the original sword 'n' spaghetti epic Hercules (1957), starring Steve Reeves - but I found out at the last minute that the print was trashed. Fortunately, my source was Uncle Bill, who never lets us down. So what did Uncle Bill do? He went out and scored an even scarcer 35mm, Technicolor print of an even better movie: 1961's muscular mystery masterpiece HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (Parkway, June 6), my all time favorite Italian gladiator flick, directed by the legendary Mario Bava and starring Reg Park as the mythological meathead who literally goes to Hell to face off with rock men, nekked babes and Christopher Lee! I just cannot believe Uncle Bill was able to unearth this treasure, just for us! This is a must not miss opportunity to see a rarely screened sword 'n' sorcery classic, plus a surprise cartoon and trailers! An intoxicating feast will be had by all, come stuff yourself on the sublime silliness! Three cheers for Uncle Bill!
Back in January (damn, another year zipping by at warp speed) , I hosted a two part tribute to the master of stop-motion animation, special effects guru Ray Harryhausen. Here comes Part Three, featuring the final in his celebrated Arabian Nights trilogy, 1977's SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (Parkway, June 20). No, it has nothing to do with the song from Rocky III. This one stars Patrick (son of John) Wayne as the stalwart sailor encountering another onslaught of animated creatures, including a big walrus, a chess-playing baboon, a caveman, a metallic minotaur, and a saber-toothed tiger, among others. Along with all the marvelous monsters to behold, there are also a couple of hot babes to leer at, Taryn (daughter of Tyrone) Power and Jane Seymour, their navels on prominent display. This is Ray's next to last feature (Clash of the Titans was his 1981 swansong) and it features some of his best work. Also don't miss this fun summertime fantasy extravaganza, splashing its wonderment across the Parkway screen.
Chat's all for now, folks, see ya in the arena.
NEXT MONTH: THRILLVILLE 101 - HOT & COOL!
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