Martin Campbell’s short memory about “Edge of Darkness.”

Martin Campbell’s short memory about “Edge of Darkness.” (photo)

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The number of Americans who know that “Edge of Darkness” — this Friday’s Mel Gibson-vs. everyone conspiracy actionfest — is actually a remake of a beloved landmark BBC miniseries is very small; almost no one I’ve talked to who wasn’t working press was aware of it (not even some of the latter knew; then again, I’m one of those pesky Anglophiles). Fewer still, I imagine, will realize that director Martin Campbell directed the original as well, which is some kind of benchmark. There’s a few cases of directors tackling their own work again, but generally within the same medium (Hitchcock’s two versions of “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” the Dutch original and American remake of “The Vanishing”). But this is a whole other animal: the compression of five hours into two, 25 years later. As far as I know, there’s no precedent for it.

And apparently, it’s been long enough ago for Campbell to forget a few things about the original. In an interview with CanMag, Campbell said that a scene in which Gibson puts shaving cream on his young daughter “was entirely Mel’s idea […] a scene that Mel improvised with the little girl.” Well no, it wasn’t: it’s one of the very few scenes the remake takes intact from the original, so I guess Gibson remembers the original better than its director.

Now, I know I’m being petty asking Campbell to recall the exactitudes of a production from 25 years ago, but there are a few things he’s wrong about, and they’re kind of crucial. Speaking of his style on the original to ComingSoon.net‘s Edward Douglas, he notes: “I hope I shot the film fairly simply. I didn’t try to do anything pretentious with the way it was shot.” Well, he didn’t. 1985’s “Darkness” won’t be winning awards for convoluted mise-en-scène anytime soon, but it’s far from straightforward. In moments of chasing and running, Campbell tends to put some kind of major obstruction in the foreground to block off space; you can see the directions people are running in and in what order, but you can’t really see where they’re going or, sometimes, who’s pursuing who. He does stuff like this over and over for four episodes, visualizing the confusion of a script that’s already plenty confusing just in outline (until suddenly, in episode five, we’ve put together pretty much all the pieces and it’s time to get on with the chases and speechifying).

01272010_edgepeck.jpgThe other thing’s a little odder. The original version is nothing if not a creature of its time, full of era-specific Thatcherite politics and a very real concern with nuclear weapons. But the “Edge of Darkness” remake has generic politics: without spoilers, what it comes up with could be plausible only to your most unshakeable 9/11-truther. Which is fine: the politics here are a pretext rather than a raison d’être. But Campbell kicks it up a notch in an interview with The Guardian: “None of that mid-’80s stuff is scary anymore. It’s like everyone has plutonium in their back garden now.” Again please? The fact that plutonium isn’t in the hands of potentially mendacious industrialists but in everyone‘s is less scary…how?

Campbell is probably perfectly sincere when he claims “I liked the emotional story, from the original, of Craven losing his daughter. That side of the story is what I loved. The political story didn’t really interest me anymore.” That’s his right. But in a remake that, quite frankly, could use a lot more Gibson-on-anyone violence and a lot less in the way of generic father-daughter bits, it’s a bit inexplicable. And it’s forgetful of what Campbell brought to the original series: not just competently helming a fascinating teleplay that leveled the personal and political (not in the usual facile sense either), but complementing it visually.

[Photos: “Edge of Darkness,” Warner Bros., 2010; “Edge of Darkness,” BBC, 1985.]


Face Melting Cameos

The 10 Most Metal Pop Culture Cameos

Glenn Danzig drops by Portlandia tonight at 10P on IFC.

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Glenn Danzig rocks harder than granite. In his 60 years, he’s mastered punk with The Misfits, slayed metal with the eponymous Danzig, and generally melted faces with the force of his voice. And thanks to Fred and Carrie, he’s now stopping by tonight’s brand new Portlandia so we can finally get to see what “Evil Elvis” is like when he hits the beach. To celebrate his appearance, we put together our favorite metal moments from pop culture, from the sublime to the absurd.

10. Cannibal Corpse meets Ace Ventura

Back in the ’90s,  Cannibal Corpse was just a small time band from Upstate New York, plying their death metal wares wherever they could find a crowd, when a call from Jim Carry transformed their lives. Turns out the actor was a fan, and wanted them for a cameo in his new movie, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The band had a European tour coming up, and were wary of being made fun of, so they turned it down. Thankfully, the rubber-faced In Living Color vet wouldn’t take no for an answer, proving that you don’t need to have a lot of fans, just the right ones.

9. AC/DC in Private Parts

Howard Stern’s autobiographical film, based on his book of the same name, followed his rise in the world of radio and pop culture. For a man surrounded by naked ladies and adoring fans, it’s hard to track the exact moment he made it. But rocking out with AC/DC in the middle of Central Park, as throngs of fans clamor to get a piece of you, seems like it comes pretty close. You can actually see Stern go from hit host to radio god in this clip, as “You Shook Me All Night Long” blasts in the background.

8. Judas Priest meets The Simpsons

When you want to blast a bunch of peace-loving hippies out on their asses, you’re going to need some death metal. At least, that’s what the folks at The Simpsons thought when they set up this cameo from the metal gods. Unfortunately, thanks to a hearty online backlash, the writers of the classic series were soon informed that Judas Priest, while many things, are not in fact “death metal.” This led to the most Simpson-esque apology ever. Rock on, Bartman. Rock on.

7. Anthrax on Married…With Children

What do you get when Married…with Children spoofs My Dinner With Andre, substituting the erudite playwrights for a band so metal they piss rust? Well, for starters, a lot of headbanging, property destruction and blown eardrums. And much like everything else in life, Al seems to have missed the fun.

6. Motorhead rocks out on The Young Ones

The Young Ones didn’t just premiere on BBC2 in 1982 — it kicked the doors down to a new way of doing comedy. A full-on assault on the staid state of sitcoms, the show brought a punk rock vibe to the tired format, and in the process helped jumpstart a comedy revolution. For instance, where an old sitcom would just cut from one scene to the next, The Young Ones choose to have Lemmy and his crew deliver a raw version of “Ace of Spades.” The general attitude seemed to be, you don’t like this? Well, then F— you!

5. Red and Kitty Meet Kiss on That ’70s Show

Carsey-Werner Productions

Carsey-Werner Productions

Long before they were banished to playing arena football games, Kiss was the hottest ticket in rock. The gang from That ’70s Show got to live out every ’70s teen’s dream when they were set loose backstage at a Kiss concert, taking full advantage of groupies, ganja and hard rock.

4. Ronnie James Dio in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (NSFW, people!)

What does a young boy do when he was born to rock, and the world won’t let him? What tight compadre does he pray to for guidance and some sweet licks? If you’re a young Jables, half of “the world’s most awesome band,” you bow your head to Ronnie James Dio, aka the guy who freaking taught the world how to do the “Metal Horns.” Never before has a rock god been so literal than in this clip that turns it up to eleven.

3. Ozzy Osbourne in Trick or Treat

It’s hard to tell if Ozzy was trying his hardest here, or just didn’t give a flying f–k. What is clear is that, either way, it doesn’t really matter. Ozzy’s approach to acting seems to lean more heavily on Jack Daniels than sense memory, and yet seeing the slurry English rocker play a sex-obsessed televangelist is so ridiculous, he gets a free pass. Taking part in the cult horror Trick or Treat, Ozzy proves that he makes things better just by showing up. Because that’s exactly what he did here. Showed up. And it rocks.

2. Glenn Danzig on Portlandia

Danzig seems to be coming out of a self imposed exile these days. He just signed with a record company, and his appearance on Portlandia is reminding everyone how kick ass he truly is. Who else but “The Other Man in Black” could help Portland’s resident goths figure out what to wear to the beach? Carrie Brownstein called Danzig “amazing,” and he called Fred “a genius,” so this was a rare love fest for the progenitor of horror punk.

1. Alice Cooper in Wayne’s World

It’s surprising, sure, but for a scene that contains no music whatsoever, it’s probably the most famous metal moment in the history of film. When Alice Cooper informed Wayne and Garth that Milwaukee is actually pronounced “Milly-way-kay” back in 1992, he created one of the most famous scenes in comedy history. What’s more metal than that? Much like Wayne and Garth, we truly are not worthy.

January, no longer the worst movie month of the year.

January, no longer the worst movie month of the year. (photo)

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It’s common knowledge that January is when — if you’re not lucky enough to live in one of the relatively few American cities with an arthouse theater — there’s nothing much to see, as studios use the month to unload their least promising, most half-baked goods.

But last year, the surprise one-two punch of “Taken” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” kicked the door open. Who’s to say what unlikely, unexpected or just plain silly looking commercial juggernauts might emerge this month?

One of the weird things about this January is how much more expensive it looks compared to last year’s slate. The January ’09 releases were pretty cheap; genre stalwart “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans,” for all its CGI beasts, came in at a trim $35 million, which was about the top on the expense front. This January comes loaded with “The Book of Eli,” which cost $80 million, and the upcoming Mel-Gibson-kills-people extravaganza “Edge of Darkness,” with a reported price tag of $60 million.

These aren’t commercially undesirable movies. “The Book of Eli” made back nearly half its production budget in one weekend, and while how “Edge of Darkness” will fare remains to be seen — it’s hard to tell how people currently feel about Gibson — it’s still sure to have better production values (and explosions!) than the average January release. Lesson learned? You can open a movie that’s not terrible in January and even make bank off of it, especially if you’re catering to the underserved meat-and-potatoes action movie crowd.

01192010_romebride.jpgFor romcom fans, last year saw the little-loved “Bride Wars” and the dreadful “New In Town,” and this year has the hardly more promising looking “Leap Year” and “When In Rome” — no change on that front. What are gone are the cheap horror joints. 2009 had the odd dybbuk-terrorizes-teens “The Unborn” and K-horror remake “The Uninvited.” This year, those lusting for attacking loud noises will have to wait til the end of February for “The Crazies.” Are anonymous casts of interchangeable beautiful people being slaughtered by CGI ghouls and lurking killers on the way out? We can only hope.

It’s impossible to predict from January alone if 2010 will be another record-setting year of audiences going to the movies as they run away from the recession, but hey, can you still get more from less? Looks like it, for studios and audiences alike.

[Photos: “Edge of Darkness,” Warner Bros., 2010 vs “Taken,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 2009; “When in Rome,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2010 vs “Bride Wars,” Fox 2000 Pictures, 2009]

In defense of Mel Gibson.

In defense of Mel Gibson. (photo)

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The trouble-prone Mel Gibson has gone off and made it hard to defend himself again.

There were early rumors that Gibson was preparing to use some personal muscle to clear out a Mexican prison in order to shoot his latest movie, reportedly to be action flick “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” which Gibson wrote and in which he also stars “as a career criminal who is forced to pick up new survival skills while serving a sentence in a rough Mexican prison.”

That was no problem for the governor of Veracruz, Herrera Beltran; Gibson had cultivated good relations while shooting “Apocalypto” there (donating a million dollars for flood-relief housing), and Beltran announced proudly a new “grand production” from “our friend, the actor and producer Mel Gibson.”

More than 200 inmates from a prison there were transferred to four other jails to make room for the production. Angry relatives — concerned they’d have to pay more to travel further for visits — protested and briefly clashed with police, something that can’t help but make you think that yes, this is kind of a jerk-off abuse of power.

In recent years, Gibson’s alienated a lot of people, reducing himself to a drunken, anti-Semitic sputterer obsessed with peculiarly gory forms of violence. And I’m not a particularly big admirer of either “The Passion of the Christ” or “Apocalypto,” the two big products of the Gibson-as-rogue-auteur era (temporarily on pause, it seems, while Gibson tries to resuscitate his acting career).

01122010_vincentgallo1.jpgBut if we’re going to sit around and take Vincent Gallo seriously — a man who says offensive, ridiculous things all the time that we’re pretty much forced to take as ironic — we might as well take Gibson seriously as well. Whatever his flaws as a human, Gibson’s precisely in the mold of that breed of aggressively self-outcasting directors people love to champion despite widespread disapproval: Larry Clark, Harmony Korine, Gallo, and so on.

Gibson’s pursuing a fixated vision of violence as private, obscure and disgusting as any of those other guys. It’s like someone who should be one of those “outsider artists” suddenly got their hands on some real money and went haywire. That doesn’t make his movies any less tedious to sit through — but, for me, that’s true of all of them. And as pathological fixations go, his are pretty compelling. (As a friend of mine one noted, “The Passion” really isn’t that far from “Salo.”)

[Photos: Mel Gibson on the set of “Apocalypto,” Buena Vista Pictures, 2006; Vincent Gallo in “The Brown Bunny,” Wellspring Media, 2004]

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