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Posts Tagged ‘John Moore’

I wonder if this is an appropriate juncture at which to repeat the anecdote about my TV exploding on Christmas night a few years ago? I’ve mentioned it before, but basically, what happened was this: the tube went bang and we had to spend the next few days watching a portable set. This would not be particularly noteworthy were it not for the fact that I was watching The Omen at the time (we had got to the graveyard sequence), despite the disapproval of some of the more devout members of my family. (I still think showing The Omen on Christmas night has a touch of crazy inspiration about it. Hey ho.)

Anyway – and skip on if you’ve heard this one before – the next day one of these more zealous relatives sidled up to me with the air of someone doing something of import.

‘Apparently the TV blew up last night,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘While you were watching The Omen.’

‘Yes,’ I said, bracing myself for the inevitable.

‘Do you not think that you’ve been sent a message?’

‘I think it’s nature’s way of telling us we need to stop renting such an old TV set,’ I offered.

This was clearly not the hoped-for response and he went off looking just as disapproving as the night before. I must confess to doing something that would probably have completely outraged him a few years later: while staying at his house over New Year I stayed up late and watched Omen 2 and Omen 3: The Final Conflict on his own set without telling him. Needless to say nothing went bang in the night (but both films were sort of schlocky and the third one is actively bad).

I will happily stand up and defend the original version of The Omen against anyone, partly because I can’t believe the supreme power of the universe has nothing better to do with its time than go around frying home entertainment systems, but mainly because it’s a really great film. These days, of course, it seems that virtually nothing is sacred (if that’s the right word in this context) and so inevitably it got remade a few years ago.

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The remake was directed by John Moore and stars Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber. Schreiber is Robert Thorn, a young American diplomat based in Rome, whose wife (Stiles) is in labour when the story gets going. He is distraught to learn that his child did not survive, and – somewhat against his better judgement – agrees to substitute a orphaned newborn, without telling his wife.

Five years pass, and, following the mysterious death of his boss, Thorn is now the US ambassador to Britain. His son has grown up to become a slightly creepy little devil, but Thorn is willing to overlook little things like nannies committing suicide, his child going berserk when they try to take him to church, hellhounds lurking round the house at night, and repentant Satanists shouting  at him about the great evil he is mixed up in, to begin with at least. But then he is approached by a photographer (David Thewlis) who believes he has the beginnings of an answer to the mystery of his son’s real parentage…

I’m going to say some fairly negative things about the remake of The Omen, and I feel compelled to preface them by saying that this is a perfectly competent film (much better than Moore’s latest offering, the utterly hopeless A Good Day to Die Hard). The acting is fine, the script is fine, the special effects are okay and the direction is acceptable. However, watching it one is simply struck by a colossal sense of redundancy, even outright pointlessness, because this is one of the most mechanical, uninspired remakes I have ever seen.

It’s very tempting, when doing a remake, to go a bit crazy and change everything about the story and in the process lose what made it so special in the first place. It must be almost impossible to resist doing something unusual, simply to put your own distinctive mark on the film. But Moore isn’t having any of this: his version of The Omen consists almost entirely of the most memorable beats and scenes from the 1976 film, limply restaged. It’s almost like Gus van Sant’s reviled shot-for-shot remake of Psycho.

Even if you haven’t seen the new version, you could look at a list of the supporting cast and a copy of the script and guess just who’s going to be playing which part: in other words, everyone is cast wholly to type and delivers an appropriately unsurprising performance. This even extends to Mia Farrow as the Antichrist’s new nanny – stunt casting which sort of suggests the makers of this version were trying to adhere to the ‘get someone from the original to cameo to keep the fans happy’ principle but got The Omen mixed up with Rosemary’s Baby.

And it’s not even as if there isn’t room for reinterpretation in this particular story. The 1976 film is all about the men: Gregory Peck and David Warner head off to Italy leaving Lee Remick to be a victim, left in the dark. You would have thought that they could find something more interesting for a strong, smart actress like Julia Stiles (who is, after all, top billed) to do – involve her more in the investigation and the denouement. No: she just comes across as passive and weak and perhaps even a little bit stupid. Everything is as it was: the only addition is some stuff about the Vatican, who are apparently fully aware of what’s afoot but never do anything about it, while – in a choice I can sort of understand – the music cues from the first film are conspicuously absent.

Disappointing as this lack of innovation is, it’s matched by the way that this film seems to have no desire to be anything more than a mid-range genre movie trading off the reputation of a classic. The original Omen was a prestige production with A-list stars and an impressive budget – almost unheard of for a horror film at that time. The new film doesn’t have anything like the same class or ambition – it’s a competent little film, but the emphasis is always on the little. As I said, not bad, just utterly pointless.

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Now, I like a bad movie more than most people. But I like a bad movie that’s energetically and inventively bad, a movie that has bold new bad ideas and executes them in an inventively misguided way. In short, I like a bad movie with panache and style and the courage of its convictions – and, what the hell, at least a minimal degree of technical competency.

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A Good Day to Die Hard is not my idea of a bad movie. I mean, it’s not a good bad movie. It’s a bad bad movie. I would have ventured to suggest it might constitute a sharp, savage blow to the windpipe of the whole Die Hard edifice but for the fact that it is already $25m in profit less than a fortnight after its release. This would suggest we can anticipate yet further installments with painfully punning titles such as The Die Hard Is Cast, Die Hard Fliedermaus, and I Think I’d Rather Die Hard Than Sit Through Another Sequel As Rotten As This One.

Sigh. A distinctly unengaged-looking Bruce Willis is back in harness as NYPD cop John McClane, a man who really appreciates the value of wearing lots of layers. As usual, we don’t get to see him doing any NYPD cop stuff, for almost as soon as the movie starts (BBC newsreader Sophie Raworth’s family will be delighted as hers is the first face you see) he flies off to Russia, where his tearaway son John Junior (Jai Courtney) is in the clink for shooting someone, a crime it appears he really did commit (not that the film makes much of a fuss about it). He is driven to the airport by his daughter, who as before is played by the ever-watchable Mary Elizabeth Winstead. However, she is only ever-watchable in this movie for about three minutes, which is a shame.

Anyway, take your credulity by the neck and exert strong, steady pressure with those thumbs, as it turns out that McClane’s tearaway son is actually an undercover CIA agent, but has neglected to tell anyone this. His being in the Moscow nick is all part of a cunning plan to spring a political prisoner who… oh, look, I’m not going to bother with any details about the plot, as it is just silly and convoluted and borders on the very tasteless indeed.

All we get across the comparatively brief running time of this film is a succession of deafening and technically competent action sequences, all of which are overblown to some level. Bruce Willis occasionally shouts ‘I’m on vacation!’ between bouts of machine-gunning people in ski-masks. I suspect the Die Hard movies are where M Night Shyamalan got the idea for the indestructible Bruce Willis character in Unbreakable: at one point he is catapulted thirty feet through the air and smashes through what looks very much like a plate-glass window only to rise, grumbling, to his feet and get on with the excuse for a plot. His default expression for most of the movie is that of a man dragged out of the shower to answer the phone.

None of this is necessarily bad in an action movie, but the most basic elements of the story simply aren’t there, like characterisation, decent establishment of relationships and characters, signposting the plot, and so on. A lot of the dialogue at the screening I attended was actually unintelligible, though this may have been down to that particular theatre. Not only are the fundamentals of film-making only marginally present, but the movie appears to have only a passing acquaintance with the region in which it is set: Moscow and Chernobyl are well over 400 miles apart and yet the characters appear to drive between them in a couple of hours.

So, the plot is risible and occasionally hard to follow, the characters are shallow and irritating, there’s hardly any memorable dialogue, and there’s none of the wit or subtext that distinguished the best of the earlier films. The first film was about a skyscraper under the control of a dangerous criminal, the second about an airport under the control of a dangerous criminal, and so on. You’d’ve thought that bringing the series to Russia would have provided the occasion for at least something edgy and pithy to make it into the script, but no. This film just lurches from one ridiculous set of explosions to another, pausing only for an unconvincing piece of father-son bonding on the way.

As long as we’re talking superannuated action stars from the 1980s, then I think this movie shows the power of an existing ‘name’ franchise – Willis’ fellow Expendables Schwarzenegger and Stallone both brought out new movies recently, both of which mightily flopped, despite the fact that they were both narratively and creatively much more competent than A Good Day to Die Hard. Here, though, the studio looks like it’s going to make money, though at the cost of comprehensively sliming the name of a once-iconic action series. This movie is mechanical, joyless, tedious crap – a good day for the accountants, but a bad day for everyone else.

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