October 19, 2013

CARRIE (1976) vs. CARRIE (2013) - On Needless Remakes And Movie Theater Etiquette

"I can see your dirty pillows."
It's really hard to justify the existence of a remake when half your film is a slavish rehash of the original and everything you change simply doesn't work.

But before I delve into Carries old and new, I've got to vent a bit about movie theater etiquette.

First, my hat is off to the AMC Boston Common for a projection they can be proud of.  Carrie was shown in Sony Cinema 4K and it was as bright and as crisp a picture as I've seen in recent memory.  Thanks to 3D glasses and projectors kept intentionally dim to save costs, I've sadly gotten so used to some pretty dark and generally piss poor image quality at my local cinemas.  But last night even the green band screen in front of the trailers was so bight that it literally made me squint.  So kudos for that.

Now I'd like to make a request, AMC.  Can you please go bak to the days when you had ushers in the theater to deal with movie assholes?  Because this is getting pretty fucking ridiculous.  I'm not talking about hecklers, or the old "Times Square Audience" routine where people talk back to the screen.   While that can sometimes be annoying, at least that's usually born from a genuine reaction to what's happening on screen.  ("Oh shit bitch!  Don't open that door!")  No, I'm talking about douchenozzles who sit in the theater carrying on full volume conversations with their friends, or texting or TALKING ON THE DAMN PHONE.  What kind of a fuckwad do you have to be in this day and age to actually take or make a phone call in the middle of a movie?  The movie theater is not your living room and the rules are different.  If you don't want to abide by those rules, then stay the fuck home because you're ruining it for the rest of us.

Last night there was a kid and his friend sitting behind me and throughout the beginning of the movie they were talking to each other loud enough as to be distracting.  But they certainly weren't the only ones talking, so I brushed it off as simply the shitty cost of doing business these days.  They continued to talk and at one point I turned around and could see the kid texting.  Dick move to be sure, but he was sitting behind me, so it wasn't actually affecting my ability to watch the movie.  Someone behind him should have said something, but at that point there was no reason for me to get involved.  Five minutes later the kid was talking again, and when I turned around I could see he was talking on his phone.  There's simply no excuse for that shit.

I turned around and said, "Hey, get off your phone."
"What'd you say to me?"
"I said get off your phone asshole."
"What'd you call me?"
"Get off your damn phone."

He kept saying shit over my shoulder for the next minute or so, expressing his righteous indignation and clearly trying to provoke a fight with me because it was Friday night and he was 16 and didn't have shit else to do.  I let him grind his gears down and thankfully he was mostly silent for the rest of the movie, so I didn't feel the need to go off in search of a manager.  But even if I had, there's no doubt in my mind that little would have come of it.  He would have walked into the theater, which would have shut the kid up only for as long as the manager was standing there.  It's an experience I'm all too familiar with.

When I relayed the story to Jamie later that night, she mentioned that she always prefers to be super polite to people in those situations in order to avoid escalating conflict.  And if this was on the subway and a nearby passenger was talking a bit too loud, then I agree that civility is the right course of action.  You're asking someone to alter their behavior in a public place solely to suit your personal desires.  But a movie theater is different.  By paying for admission, you're agreeing to follow a certain code of conduct, and if you're going to blatantly flout those rules and have no regard for the people around you (who paid just as much as you did to be there) then the burden is on you, not me.  I shouldn't have to politely ask you to act like a considerate human fucking being.  Short of punching you in the face, there's not much I do in that situation that's ruder than what you're already doing.  Trying to act like you're the wounded party here only makes you more of a tool.

And what's up with people who get up and walk out of the theater two minutes before the movie ends?  I see it happen from time to time, but last night there was a group of eight people who all got up from the very back of the theater, walked across the room in front of everyone, and exited the theater, followed by about ten more people scattered around the room all within the last 90 seconds of the film.  What does that accomplish?  Are you really so desperate to beat the crowd out of the theater that you'll sit there for an hour and forty minutes and then skip the last scene?  And when we're talking about a downtown theater like the Common, it's not like you're going to get stuck in a crowded parking lot because nobody drives a car in Boston.  It's patently absurd.  The final scene of a film is something a filmmaker crafts with great care, so aside from the disservice you're doing to yourself by leaving early, it's also incredibly distracting when there's a mass exodus of people literally walking between you and the screen.

This is why movie theater need ushers who do more than just tear your ticket and pick up empty popcorn bags.  They need people to help ensure the quality of the viewing experience.  It's one of the things I miss most about Los Angeles; there's a respect for movies there that simply doesn't exist here, where going to the movies is just a thing you do to pass the time on a Friday night.  The only local places with truly attentive staff and decent filmgoers are theaters like the Coolidge and the Brattle, but because those are "art house" theaters that show independent, foreign and classic films (the Brattle a bit more so than the Coolidge, which is currently playing Don Jon among others) that means the audiences are often extremely sparse.  I spent two days at the Brattle last weekend and the majority of the films played in front of a room that was more than half empty.  It's getting so that there's simply no middle ground anymore, nowhere that you can see a movie in a crowded theater full of people who aren't entitled little shits.  And that's depressing beyond words.

Okay.  RANT OVER.

I really dug the old Carrie.  It's weird as hell and a spot on examination of a girl's coming of age as illustrated by Carrie White's exploration of newfound supernatural abilities.  Sissy Spacek is beautifully strange and off-kilter, barely able to speak let a lone relate to another human.  And when the pig's blood hits the fan at the prom, she looks like a fucking alien creature, standing ramrod straight, soaked in red and her eyes bugged completely out of her head.  Piper Laurie is brilliant as her religious zealot mother and the collection of high school kids is a virtual who's who of familiar faces from that era, including Stupid Shit Travolta, Robocop's Partner, The Greatest American Hero, Bill Murray's MP Girlfriend from Stripes, and The Secretary From Ferris Bueller.  Jamie was watching it with me and remarked that she always felt that The Greatest American Hero was in on the prank, but I thought that he was pretty genuine in his kindness towards Carrie.  Aside from the gym teacher, he was the one I most pitied for seemingly getting knocked out by the bucket and then burning to death in the gym along with every other student at the prom.

The remake is fine I guess, but it struck me as being largely pointless.  A lot of the scenes and even lines of dialogue are lifted directly from the original film.  Structurally and thematically there's absolutely nothing added here, which is a shame considering all the attention now being paid to how we address bullying in school.  It feels like there are a lot of possibilities there and Kimberly Peirce, the director of Boys Don't Cry, felt like an exciting choice to explore that dynamic.  Instead, the only real difference from the original is the inclusion of a YouTube video.  Perhaps Peirce is trying to make the point that our systemic attitude toward bully hasn't dramatically changed in the last 37 years (I would argue that's incorrect) but instead it just comes off as not wanting to deviate from DePalma's film.

That's true of most of the movie, which is so close to the original it's almost surprising.  In fact, the only major addition (aside from a pointlessly dead end subplot at the very end) is the film's opening scene in which Julianne Moore seemingly has one of those "I didn't know I was pregnant until I gave birth" moments.  It would have been nice if that had lead to some scenes of Carrie's childhood, so we could get a better sense of exactly what drives the twisted relationship between mother and daughter.  Instead the film jumps straight to where the original started, with the girl's gym class playing volleyball.  Although this time they're playing volleyball in a pool, which gave me a brief moment of fear that we were about to see Carrie standing in a cloud of her own period blood, spreading out across the pool.  Thankfully we were spared such nonsense, although I have no doubt that there was a studio note suggesting such a "cool image" at some point in the project's development.  It really does feel as if the only reason this film was remade at all was because some studio executive was watching the original one day and thought, "You know what this movie needs?  Some fucking digital effects!"

Chloe Grace Moretz has a tough legacy to live up to as Carrie White.  She holds her own I guess, although she feels inherently more confident and put together than Sissy Spacek ever did.  I guess it makes sense that, in the age of the internet, she would have access to more information about the world and be a bit more curious.  But the script is so excited to show off Carrie's powers that she eventually stands up to her mother before literally putting her in her place.  By the time she's crowned prom queen, Moretz seems much more like a full and complete person than Spacek ever did.  It makes the carnage that follows all the more disturbing, as it feels like the willful act of a scorned teenager, instead of the defensive reaction of a wounded creature.  Also, Moretz's facial expressions whenever she's moving things telekinetically have an almost orgasmic quality to them, just to make it clear that her powers are a metaphor for her sexuality.  But even still, she acts circles around most of the other kids in the movie.  The girl playing Sue might as well be a cardboard cutout for all her screen presence, and while I kind of liked Ansel Elgort as Tommy Ross, I suspect that he's a bit miscast as the popular jock and would be better served in a quirky comic role.  Portia Doubleday plays Carrie's lead tormenter, and whereas Robocop's Partner was merely a vindictive bitch, this new incarnation of the character eventually evolves into a full on homicidal psychopath, screaming "Kill her!  Kill her!" as she and Not Travolta try to run her down with a car.  It's a really weird choice late in the film that feels unnecessarily over the top.

Speaking of over-the-top psychotics, I feel really bad for Julianne Moore here.  She seriously digs into Mrs. White and brings an intensity that rivals that of her predecessor.  The difference is that Piper Laurie's version was a woman whose dedication to God made her awkward around other people and abusive to her daughter.  Moore's Mrs. White is a woman totally unglued, with wild hair and a serious case of the crazy eyes.  No one could every mistake this woman for being well balanced or even nominally sane.  You didn't want to have a conversation with Piper Laurie because you couldn't connect to her about anything that wasn't Jesus.  Julianne Moore looks like she might stab you in the throat for mentioning evolution.  At one point the principal mentions that the state forced her to stop home-schooling Carrie and I was astounded that the state would get involved and not just take Carrie completely out of her custody.  And on top of all that, she's also incredibly self-abusive, bashing her head against the wall and stabbing herself in the leg with a seam ripper to repent for her daughter's imagined sins.  Yeah it's creepy, but it's so artless that it borders on parody, as evidenced by the audience cackling every time she mentioned God or the devil.  Like I said, Moore really gives it her all, but it just doesn't work as written on the page.

The original Carrie is really great, but it's hardly a sacred thing.  It's got a certain dated quality to it and in places it's downright campy.  Hell, the the opening credits are five minutes of high school girls showering in slow motion.  And while there's nothing particularly wrong with the new Carrie, it also doesn't bring anything new to the table other than Julianne Moore at her most unhinged.  If you're going to remake a film as iconic as Carrie, you sure as shit better have something interesting to say.  Otherwise, what's the point?  You can watch the old one or the new one, it almost doesn't matter.  While they certainly differ in tone and quality of effects (although I'll take the practical work of the original any day), everything else is virtually identical.  If nothing else, the original is currently streaming on Netflix Instant, which means you can watch from the comfort of your own couch without having to deal with a bunch of inconsiderate asshats.

Perhaps all this movie watching is making me a bit jaded.

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Title: Carrie 
Director: Brian DePalma
Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, John Travolta, Amy Irving, William Katt, Nancy Allen, P.J. Soles
Year Of Release: 1976
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant





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Title: Carrie
Director: Kimberly Peirce
Starring: Cloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Ansel Elgort
Year Of Release: 2013
Viewing Method: Theatrical 4K - AMC Boston Common