With the other day’s announcement that the Three Stooges movie is finally getting off the ground, I think it’s time to reconsider the fine art of the Impossible Project. There may be no subgenre of film that thrills me more than those which by all normal laws of science and reality should not exist, but are still somehow miraculously pushed through an unfriendly system to become unlikely successes.
That’s a mouthful, but here’s a handful of examples to explain:
Fight Club (1999) : It’s not necessarily remarkable that an underground novel about an underground bare-knuckle society would be made into a catch-phrase-heavy movie by a brilliantly subversive director. What makes it remarkable is that it was financed by a major studio, with a huge budget. I once had a conversation with a Fox executive who was still shaking his head over this movie. I thanked him for it, which didn’t make him feel any better. What can I say? Fincher inspires bravery. (The stupidity is all my own.)
Moulin Rouge (2000) : A musical, at a time when musicals were many years away from their resurgent popularity. A musical where the vast majority of the music is a mash-up between old and new, consisting largely of popular songs colliding against each other. A musical where none of the leads were particularly known for their singing talents. A musical where pretty much every character but one is high off his or her ass on a substance now illegal in this country. A musical with its heart squarely on its sleeve. A huge risk, paid off.
The Lord Of The Rings (2001-2003) : Because these three movies adapted some of the most popular literature of the last century and because they made a ton of money, it’s easy to forget in retrospect what a gamble they were. A sweeping epic filmed entirely overseas in one gargantuan shoot, without any major stars! If the first one bombed, the studio would have been stuck with two more. That it didn’t turn out that way was far from a given.
Adaptation (2002) : A story about screenwriting, probably the least cinematic of all professions, where the sweaty, overweight screenwriter is the lead, and the movie turns into its own rewrite in the third act. Oh, and the WGA grants co-writer credit to a fictional person. Glorious insanity.
Wall-E (2008) : Kids movies are the first movies to get dumbed down, but Pixar is not about that. Even by their high standards and with their financial track record, though, Wall-E was no guarantee. The first act of the movie is almost entirely and solely visual. The lead characters don’t even have faces, let alone speak with any consistency. The comedy sidekick is a cockroach! Take that, easy cuteness! The result was a big risk that was successful in every sense of the term, but it’s the artistic success in particular that will keep it memorable.
Now, you’re free to love these movies or to hate them (I happen to love them) but one thing you must agree on is that for them to exist at all in the first place is something of a miracle. It’s not required, but huge, honking, risk is often a key element in the movies we remember the best.
So I applaud risk, and the filmmakers who traffic in it. I always will. But some big risks give pause, even to me. The Three Stooges movie is one of them. There are some others on the way. Because lists are fun, here’s one:
Movies Which Should Not Happen…
(But which I will definitely watch when they do.)
“UPDATE!” The Three Stooges.
As mentioned at the gate, the following looks likely to happen:
Benicio Del Toro as Moe Howard.
Sean Penn as Larry Fine.
Jim Carrey as Curly Howard.
Two prestige actors and a great comedian on the downslopes filling the diminutive yet surprisingly acrobatic shoes of three of the most brilliant slapstick comedians of all time. I’m not saying it’s necessarily impossible, but it’s a high-wire act, and it’s the Farrelly Brothers at either end of the wire. Can we trust the Farrelly Brothers to keep these guys from falling? After Milk I wouldn’t doubt that Sean Penn can do anything he sets his mind to, and Jim Carrey is weird but capable casting for Curly. (Although Bill Chott would have been perfect. In fact, if it had to happen I’d actually go for an all-Bill cast, with Bill Hader as Moe and Billy West as Larry, but of course no one asked me.)
Benicio Del Toro is actually the diciest prospect in this new venture, but as we have learned time and again, an able director can wring blood from a stone. Refer to: Paul Thomas Anderson and Adam Sandler. That’s where trust in a director helps. I was once a Farrellys fan, and may yet be again, but this project right here is a long shot. In boxing terms, this is Floyd Patterson taking on Sonny Liston. Actually, it’s more like Don Knotts taking on Sonny Liston.
Good luck, guys!
Speaking of boxing, we have this incoming documentary profile of the infamous champion. I’m totally dying to see this one; I just wouldn’t have recommended beforehand that anybody get that close to the man. One suspects that there must be some injured boom operators limping around
ADAPTATION! Preacher, directed by Sam Mendes.
Whoever directs this inevitable big-screen comic-book adaptation of what is possibly my favorite comic book of all time needs to be able to show a reel with a sense of humor anywhere in it. Bottom line. Preacher is about some of the most serious things in the world, but it’s equally funny as hell.
So it’s a good job that they chose Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road To Perdition, Revolutionary Road) to try to capture such a dangerous tone. Here’s a question: Has Sam Mendes made a movie yet that hasn’t made you want to kill yourself by the end? Not for nothing, but has his wife, Kate Winslet? It’s pretty amazing that those two hooked up, considering their mutual bent for depressing filmmaking. You gotta ready yourself for the inevitability that he’ll try to cast Kate as Tulip and make the entire thing tragic. How about Christian Bale as Jesse Custer, Russell Crowe as Cassidy, and Sir Anthony Hopkins as Arseface?
BIOPIC! The Bill Hicks Story, starring Russell Crowe as Bill Hicks.
Speaking of the intense and unsmiling Russell Crowe, word has been for a long time that he is gunning to play the legendary comedian, who died in 1994 at the age of 32. When it comes to Russell, I’m Chris Rock – there are few projects I can imagine that would not be improved by the presence of Russell Crowe. Love the guy; care not at all who disagrees. But as Bill Hicks? Not sure. Also: Why? Will I watch it? Yes! But it’s Stretch Armstrong.
Despite the promised involvement of Sam Jackson and The RZA, I worry. WHY DOES EVERYTHING HAVE TO BE REMADE? Virtually all of the charm of the original movie is that it kind of sucked. The acting was far from great and the music was corny as could be. But it all seemed to be coming from a fun-loving and positive, even genuine, place, so that made it lovable. One thing The Last Dragon isn’t about, is cool. It’s corny. Like its hero, Bruce Leroy, himself.
I just don’t know that a movie can willingly get away with that today. And I wonder who it’s for. The original was for kids, I hope we remember.
DISASTROUS HAIRSTYLE! From
I don’t even know what this one is about, but I saw some publicity photos. Unless this is a stealth update of Flash Gordon and John T. (for Terl) is playing Ming the Merciless, that look on Travolta is a big mistake. Just look! I’ve been trying not to make fun of Travolta these days, but he makes it so damn hard…
SEQUEL! Terminator Salvation.
It’s got giant robots, so I will go. It might even end up being somewhat good. But let’s not pretend there are any artistic aspirations going on here. I’m reading the terrific monster-size Terminator feature in Empire magazine and being reminded on how much love I have for the franchise, which has almost everything to do with James Cameron’s vision. That Terminator 3 had a fascinating idea at the end of it, but otherwise shrinks in the shadow of the first two movies. Those two Terminator movies are the best kind of science fiction, because they are so rooted in the personal. They are about human characters in impossible situations. They’re not about the spectacle, at heart, even though they deliver them. If James Cameron is done with The Terminator, then so is the lion’s share of my interest… except of course for the childish part that loves giant robots. This new thing is going to be McG playing with James Cameron’s toys, which again, could be fun, but inevitably not as interesting as however Avatar will turn out.
REMAKE! The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three.
I’m actually excited to see this movie, and think it stands a better-than-average chance of being hugely enjoyable, since it was directed by Tony Scott and written by Brian Helgeland, and who doesn’t love Denzel? I’m just not sure why it had to be a re-envisioning of this particular property. The central subway hijacking plot didn’t even make that much sense for 1974.
What made the original so special was the fact that Walter Matthau as the protagonist was so low-key and ramshackle and Robert Shaw as the lead villain was so convincingly fearsome, and the way that the movie charmingly downshifted from a 1970s ancestor of Speed to an episode of Murder She Wrote. I love Denzel a ton, but he’s surely not low-key and ramshackle. (And Travolta, I am trying not to say, is NO Robert Shaw.) But I will rush to this movie all the same. Let me just say this: My personal favorite thing about the original was the fact that a character named Rico Patrone (!) served as Matthau’s sidekick and that he was played by Jerry Stiller (Ben’s dad, from Seinfeld.) I will be pretty disappointed if there’s no Rico Patrone in the new movie.
SEQUEL! Ghostbusters 3.
Look, I started this entire column with my love for this franchise – for every single moment of the first film, surely, but also for scattered sections of the second. I’m more inclined than just about anybody outside of their immediate families to watch anything that
I just don’t need it. Generally speaking, I love the movies I grew up on, but if I feel inclined to revisit them, I’ll rewatch the originals. I’m not a voice calling out for a continuation of a story that was completed satisfactorily enough already. I’d personally rather see new stuff from the original talents, and original stuff from the newer talents. That’s just me (I hope), but still, as egocentric a question as it is – if I’m not insanely excited to see a new Ghostbusters movie, who is?
That said, the similarly long-rumored Evil Dead 4, however, I don’t have any similar issue with.
Can you believe that someone could have the stones to try to adapt the most influential and complex graphic novel ever? I wonder if it’ll ever actually happen…
No, no, no, no, no, no, no. No. No, no. No. If John Landis couldn’t get it done, Brett Ratner won’t.
BIOPIC! The Dirt, based on the Motley Crue autobiography.
(No, I will not bother to learn how to type umlauts over the O and U up there. Rock n’ roll!)
The Dirt is one of my favorite books, because it has the scope, the chapter break suspense, the grotesquerie, and the arduousness for its protagonists of a Dickens novel. I think that there’s probably something off in anyone who comes away from the book admiring any of the four all-too-real main characters (besides arguably Mick), but it cannot be debated that they absolutely are fascinating. A society that permits this kind of behavior ought to consider it more often in a serious manner and without irony. Restricting this story to comedy is missing half the story… but what can ya do. The last I heard about the movie version, at least it was set to be directed by the great Larry Charles and had the rumored involvement of Val Kilmer (as David Lee Roth) and Christopher Walken (as Ozzy Osbourne!).
Motley Crue retrospectives are something of a cottage industry these days and I’m not sure these guys need to be further lionized with a feature film, but if it’s going to happen, I might as well throw my casting choices to the internet.
Vince Neil : Val Kilmer. Pride goeth before a fall. This role is the possibly the most Biblical of the four. It demands a great actor, which Kilmer is. He’s a great mimic, so I’m sure he could play Diamond Dave, but I’d rather see him as Vince.
Nikki Sixx : Paul Rudd. Paul Rudd’s everywhere these days, but I finally got around to seeing Role Models the other day, and the sight of him duded up in KISS gear in the penultimate scenes led me to reckon that he’s ideal casting for a different dumb-metal band.
Tommy Lee : Dermot Mulroney. For this thankless role, you need an actor who’s willing to get down in the dirt. If you’ve seen Young Guns, you know Mulroney can do dirty. Of course, he can clean up presentably too, of which Tommy Lee probably is incapable.
Mick Mars : James Hong. I was lucky enough to see Motley play MSG a couple weeks back, and was pleasantly reminded that Mick Mars actually is a talented guitar player. That said, he is an extremely distinctive-looking individual, so I saw fit to cast him with an elderly Asian man to highlight the point.
Walken can still play Ozzy if he really, really wants to. Why not.
EXPLOITATION OF SUPERSTITIOUS DUMMIES! 2012.
It’s said that you’ll never go poor by underestimating people, and playing to their lamest instincts. The challenge is to aim higher. I just can’t have high hopes for a movie whose high concept is to capitalize on the Mayan doomsday prophecy that way too many people seem to believe. I could be wrong. I could be wrong about the movie, and I could be wrong about the prophecy. We’re all of us less than three years from finding out. Personally though, if I really believed that we’re all doomed in 2012, I wouldn’t bother to spend valuable time watching a fictional movie about it. If that prophecy is true, it’ll be more interesting to watch as it unfolds in real time, and in the meantime I’m going to be out in the sun, living life.
Am I right? Am I wrong? Is there anybody out there? firstname.lastname@example.org