Thursday, January 23, 2014

Movie Remakes Better Than Original

Ten Movie Remakes Better Than Original       via Thought Catalogue

1)  The Departed - Martin Scorsese
While Wai-keaung Lau Internal Affairs was considered a masterpiece, Scorsese fine-tunes by upping the stakes, and adding black humor using a script by William Monaghan. By adding a layer of high-wire tension without taking itself too seriously, the film is more enjoyable, a thrill ride. And who can forget the exceptional cast? The film went on to win an Oscar for best picture.

2)  True GritCoen Brothers
There will always be people who will forever love the John Wayne original and even think it blasphemy to have remade this. Yet the Coen brothers made “Rooster” more human. He was tortured and crass, made obvious by his alcoholism, but of course an expert with a gun.  Jeff Bridges outshines in this role, with a great supporting cast.

3)  Ocean’s ElevenSteven Soderbergh
It would take a master director to compete with the Rat Pack original by Lewis Milestone and that’s exactly what happened. While the same story, Ted Griffin’s script is much smarter and makes use of the technology now available.  Soderbergh delivers a funny, slick, entertaining and sexy movie with the some of the most watchable actors Hollywood has to offer. It stands on it’s own.

4)  Maltese Falcon John Huston
Many filmgoers are not aware that this Dashiell Hammett novel has been made twice before. But Huston’s version is so well done no one questions the projects origins. Huston’s film is sexier, darker, wittier and more courageous than the previous. Though we lose Bette Davis, we gain Humphrey Bogart.

5)  Airplane Jerry and David Zucker
Based on an actual plane-in-trouble thriller from 1957 called Zero Hour the filmmakers and cast have enormous fun in sending up every possible scene. Leslie Neilson has a comedic field day as Dr. Rumack from the original. It’s great fun to watch them side-by-side.

6)  The ThingJohn Carpenter
John Carpenter swaps out the fear of Communism for Aids, without losing the intended paranoia that wreaks havoc with a small band of scientists. Using an amazing cast, he weaves through this bone-chilling and insidious thriller, by far eclipsing the original with a horrifying and ambiguous ending.

7)  Little Shop of Horrors Frank Oz
Though the original gave us Jack Nicholson, this remake is completely demented, in a good way. With all of its dark humor, quirks and fun cameos, this is a quite an enjoyable film, even if you didn’t like the play. It’s worth a view if just for Steve Martin's deranged dentist.

8)  Fatal Attraction Adrian Lyne
Again, not well known, but this was based on a British TV thriller called Diversion. Lyne takes the material and delivers one of the scariest, cautionary tales of all time.

9)  Insomnia Christopher Nolan
Nolan remade this Scandinavian thriller adding a layer of film noir, and an impressionable cast that alters the texture of the original. While the original is excellent, this remake infuses it with a higher realm of excitement. By setting the film in Alaska, the movie is incredibly claustrophobic adding to the overall tension.

10) 3:10 to YumaJames Mangold

While Delmer Davis delivered a strong Western for the time, Mangold, with the help of a tight script, stunning visuals and dead-on casting recreated a story that now remains one of the best Westerns ever made. His direction never lets up and completely blew the lid off the original.

Rhonda Talbot weighing in on film remakes. Sometimes they are  better than the original.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Einstein Did Not Define Insanity!

I first heard the platitudinous quote: "The definition of insanity is to repeat the same action over and over and expecting different results," in a 12-step program, decades ago. The quote is commonly used in recovery literature, daily jargon and is even a wall slogan. Or a T-shirt.

For addicts this makes sense, that is, if they keep repeating addictive behavior, nothing much will change, and further using could lead to a form of insanity.  Maybe in the early days of recovery, the phrase was attributed to Einstein so it would carry some weight. Who knows?

But there is no proof.  Having been raised on Einstein and later wrote/published a piece on him, he never talked about the human condition in this manner.  He did say: ” We cannot solve our problems by the same thinking we used to create them.”

Thinks people are silly ^ ^ ^ ^

The phrase has also been attributed to Benjamin Franklin, though, again without a shred of proof.

Probably more reasonable would be Rita Mae Brown who used it in her novel Sudden Death. But again no proof Ms. Brown came up with the phrase, though she remains the only verifiable source. She also said: "Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgement."  I do like her style. 

When you strip the words down, what ought to be divined is, “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again,” a quote by British writer William Hickson, mid 1800’s. Hopefully in a different way, with a different twist. Otherwise we would all still be squatting in caves without fire. I digress.


The actual definition of insanity is: mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct his/her affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.

The term is primarily used in legal context to distinguish guilt from innocence. There is no insane diagnosis listed in the DSM.

I actually never bought into this cliched concept of “insanity” and find it incredibly annoying that people continue to perpetuate its use like it’s the gospel truth. Maybe it makes a kind of sense when it comes to golf.

I will also never understand these golf people. Not only do they keep hitting the ball the same way and wrong, but then they bang their head over and over. Why is this fun?

People that repeat the same action over and over expecting different results are just stuck, ignorant, confused, stubborn or maybe unwilling to try another way, perhaps without another form of guidance.  But insane?  Highly unlikely.

Having witnessed people diagnosed “insane” say, the woman who lit her children on fire fully expecting them to burn, or the guy that believes all women are “whores” so sets out to ritualistically torture and kill them.  They had a plan and succeeded. Not a lot of repetition involved. They got exactly the result they were looking for. All the the crazies that kill out of blind rage?  These were one time situations.  Anyway, you get the idea. The examples are endless.  

To hear someway say: “Oh, there I go again, trying to get a parking spot by circling the lot… repeating the same behavior… must be intellectually insane!” Or the guy at a bar, “I keep using the same line on women but none of it’s working, I must be Einstein insane.”

Now we see this phrase used ad nauseam by journalists, politicians, bloggers, writers, op-ed pieces, Tweeters, skywriters. 

I don't even know who Daniel Clowes is but this keeps showing up. So is it sky-tweeting?? Why couldn't Shia Labeouf just text him like normal people?

The "insanity" quote is used so much you’d think by now just by sheer repetition people might give pause to putting further credence in the stale artifact. One would think if someone says it over and over and over and reads it over and over and over, it might lose its impact.

Yet, quite the contrary. I seem to read the phrase everyday no matter what the context. Now with social media, it keeps popping up on social platforms like a Wack-a-mole shortcut trying to explain the complex antics from Congress to the mundane acts of Justin Bieber.

Maybe there is only one place for this over worn, tired and misguided phrase to go. 

By people reading it over and over and writing it over and over, it will drive collective readers insane, then someone can coin that phrase and it will finally have some relevance.

Breaking: "People who believe the ancient insanity quote prove to be insane."

Rhonda Talbot weighing in on the definition of insanity.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sundance Infograph-Are Indies the 8th Studio?

Adam Leipzig of Cultural Weekly wrote a great article on Sundance, financial info, stats, graphs and a must read. Full story, compact, to the point.

Sundance Inforgraph-2014

"Fewer than 2% of the fully-finished, feature-length films submitted to the Festival will get any kind of distribution whatsoever. Of the more than $3 billion invested annually, less than 2% will ever be recouped.

Does this mean investors shouldn't bankroll indie films, and filmmakers should stop making them? No. But in a perfect world, financiers ought invest more wisely, with seasoned guidance and a clear plan for distribution beforehand, and filmmakers might concentrate on crafting far better movies. Creators and audiences alike would be better served with higher quality and lower quantity. The numbers make this abundantly clear."

Films that made the most money coming out of Sundance past three years:

2011:  Sessions
2012:  The Way Way Back
2013:  Don Jon

Excellent up-to-date graph:

Please include attribution to with this graphic.
Sundance 2014 Infographic: Film Festival by the Numbers

This year more films were submitted to Sundance than ever before at 4, 057.
Films that were accepted: 119.
Of that number, 54 were from first time filmmakers, which is amazing and encouraging.


This is a handy graphic to have if you work in film. One of the biggest problems I see personally with independent films is that investors are so often mislead. Most of the time they are not coming from the film business, so need industry veterans that can steer them toward good material, and educate quickly so better films can be made. The better the film, the more chance it has regarding distribution.

The line up this year looks very promising. I love that more and more writers, actors, and executives are getting involved in what indeed has become the "8th" studio. But more are needed.  As we know Sundance is an amazing platform for showcasing new talent and creating careers. Character driven, "independent" films are nearly impossible to get financed with studios, who rely on franchises, cartoons, remakes, reboots and costly tentpoles.

We need this festival and others like it. Years ago my very first short was shown here. That opened up a world of possibilities for everyone involved. It's also where I've seen hundreds of movies that others will never see. Great films. But thankfully, given all the distribution platforms now available more of these movies are getting streamed and keeping these voices alive.

Rhonda Talbot weighing in on Sundance via Adam Leipzig.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street in Me

Though I have written a great deal already about this movie, because it’s stayed with me for nearly weeks now and with each scene replay, another level of truth revealed, I felt compelled to sort out some thoughts.

First, I loved the film. And I still love the film, every frame, moment of action and piece of dialogue. To me, Martin Scorsese made a masterpiece, a true reflection of our times, a movie that needed to be made. It’s audacious, exhilarating, depraved, captivating, relentless, funny, sad, tragic, angry, violent, unapologetic and finally true.

Because I have such a strong opinion, I’m constantly met with people who hated the movie, hated!  A film so polarizing fights breaks out online, in public, maybe on subways, who knows?

“What about the victims?” the haters constantly ask. What about them? If you watch closely they’re included in the movie. And out. We are all victims. This is the world we live in, so brilliantly illuminated by the last scene in the film. Here is an ex-convict, a sociopath who lived a drug fueled, depraved life stealing people’s money and breaking laws, yet rows and rows of sad, desperate people are hanging on his every word. 

“Tell me the secret to riches, Jordan!”

Martin Scorsese did not glorify Belfort or his cohorts. They are on ugly display like the very worst of reality shows, a horror movie of indulgence, decadence and disgust.

To me the film wasn’t just about Jordan Belfort. It was about our capitalistic and materialistic world, mirrored back to us. It's about money worship and greed. Great art reflects the times, going back to cave paintings in the early Bronze Age. How is this any different? Mirror-mirror.

Not only did Scorsese show you the corrupt world, extreme and in your face, but also provided plenty of wiggle room to distance yourself from people like Jordan Belfort. People can easily judge him, the film, saying they are better than that.  Even saying they are better than Scorsese.  Crucify the artist for showing us what really lies behind the curtain.

I came away exhilarated not just by the film, but because someone had to courage to make it, to throw the truth back in our faces.  Human nature is complex; we are all capable of doing anything. For someone to think otherwise simply means (to me) they can’t reconcile their own desires. So Scorsese gave those people an out. The film is so brazen and over the top, all the do-gooders are off the hook for any greedy thought they may have ever had.

I personally find sociopaths entertaining to watch. If the fictionalized Belfort played so brilliantly by Leonardo DeCaprio was anything less, there would be no film.  

When Jonah Hill, also brilliant in this film, burns FBI warrants, there was a part of me right there with him. F**k the government. Haven’t we been screwed over long enough? Scorsese managed to make me grapple with, even if for a second, my own morality!

Of course I would never do that. Which is why this movie is so important. We watch people act out ideas, plans and plots that many people can only fantasize about.

But: People love to judge a sinner. It makes them feel superior and excuses their own less than admirable behavior.

Perhaps it’s only those of us who understand so-called “sin” that can fathom how easy it is to cross lines. Scorsese certainly faced down demons.

It’s been a long time since a film has affected me so strongly, both intellectually and viscerally. Where is the truth in art anymore? Where are the films? I live in fear of losing Scorsese and other filmmakers who are not afraid to show the ugly side of human nature. Because it is there, whether people want to believe it or not.

To me Belfort is no more dangerous than a TV evangelist who preys on the weak, fleeces their bank accounts, and makes them promises that will never come to fruition. Then he goes off to live in his mansion, drive his Rolls, launders his money and carries on with a very depraved sex life. I’ve seen it.  How are they different? Because he is preaching god rhetoric he gets off the hook?  It’s all bullshit. 

Call me cynical but I’ve seen way too many conmen and gurus selling god and riches to saucer-eyed people that just want their piece of the American pie. 

“Tithe me 10% of your paycheck and I promise you will have all the wealth you’ve ever dreamed of,” said the man with the crooked halo. And these transfixed people pull out their checkbooks.

I won’t even begin to discuss the government, possibly the largest cauldron of conmen.

Perhaps because I grew up with a con artist, one day we lived in a car, the next a mansion in Belvedere with a view of San Francisco, that I have a broader view. After tiring of that way of life, I went on my own at 15, studied hard, went to film school, and ta-da. More conmen.

The film business felt like home:  Despicable liars selling dreams to unsuspecting “investors” so this dentist or that doctor can say they met a movie star. Then the movie bombs, they lose money, write it off on their taxes. They knew the risk. How is that different? The producer goes on to make more movies, finds a different set of gullible people. It happens everyday. While this was not the way I chose to earn within the film business, it happens all around me.

My first exposure to Hollywood was during freshman year at college.  I was living with a professional gambler, putting myself through school on scholarships and my poker earnings. Say what you will, but poker is a game of skill. And it's legal. Somehow I became very good at it.

The "star" film professor thought my life would make a fascinating film. I thought he was ridiculous, but he seduced me into Hollywood, where he also had a 2nd home. He introduced to me to lots of high profile people, one of the first being Hal Ashby.

Of course I knew who Mr. Ashby was, we studied him in film school. He lived in Malibu, a beautiful house, all clean lines, and modern furniture and in the middle of the living room, a large glass table.

It seemed everyone in Hollywood had a large glass table. Then I learned why. There was a mountain of finely sifted cocaine sitting in the middle. All the guests had rolled up hundred dollar bills they kept tucked in a pocket or behind their ear.

Hal was incredibly kind, funny, humble, and mad intelligent; he had me under his spell. 

So here I was, 18, being offered my first line of cocaine. Everyone there was an agent, producer, actor or film executive. They were all ripped out of their minds on coke, fake Quaaludes and champagne. I tried it. I liked it. I got it.  

That was many, many years ago.

We live in a culture where millions of people put money before anything. And if they believe a drug will help them achieve their means, they will take it. Cocaine still exists and when I witness a film exec pull it out of a hidden desk drawer I almost gasp. You can’t be serious? Then countless people run on Adderall or pick your prescription drug, to give them that edge. And it’s getting worse.

A friend a mine said he understood why I loved the film but felt it might leave a bad impression on the youth of America. But every kid I asked that saw the film understood Scorsese’s intention.  They did not judge it, they did not want to go to Wall Street and figure out how to be Jordan Belfort. 

Instead, the scene these kids talk about over and over is the fictional Belfort hypnotizing a group of slacked jawed, hopeless sad sacks; how this crowd was more interested in what a sociopath had to say to than any FBI man with integrity. 

Young people understand this film far better than many of the generation that lived it. I am not worried about them.

We are living in a culture that idolizes the obscenely rich: movie stars, reality stars, tech stars, rap stars, rock stars, pop stars. Many of the young people have zero interest in this nonsense.

But others, a bit older, hordes of people who've been working an honest life, now just want, but lack any further work ethic or imagination on how to achieve. These people fall into the hands of conmen all the time.

Martin Scorsese did the world a favor. Here is what that world is. Empty. Soulless. Animalistic. There is never a place to arrive. Except to want more.

I feel actual grief for people today because they have fewer role models, so few people to tell them the truth; joy, happiness and fulfillment comes from within. Period. Sure, it’s nice to have money. But it can’t fix a broken person.

Post script: I love Leonardo DeCaprio, always have. So it was especially enjoyable for me to watch him run the gamut of acting, including having fun despite the subject matter.  Finally a film where DeCaprio's wife doesn't die, his kids go missing or he isn't killed. :))

DeCaprio on Wolf: "The attitude of what the characters represent is ultimately everything that is wrong with the world we live in."   Yep.

Rhonda Talbot weighing in on The Wolf of Wall Street. Again.