What If? 5 Alternate Casting Choices

What if games are as futile and inane as trying to keep a body count in your head while watching Death Wish 3- you can’t change time-and yet, they’re fun. Recently, I’ve been imagining certain films, great films even, with different actors in key roles. How dramatically that changes the film is a case by case situation, but there’s no question it reshapes each one. What follows is my five favorite alternate casting choices. I left off films that were beyond redeeming, such as The Last Airbender, which suffered from poor casting, but even with solid casting, couldn’t be saved. Most of my picks are great films that I feel could be even greater with these surrogate actors. Here goes:

Will Smith in Django Unchained

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This was so close to happening. Tarantino wanted the superstar for the title role, but was apparently turned down by Smith. Django Unchained was the best movie of that year, and Tarantino is one of the best filmmakers going, so I’m more upset for what Smith missed in his career than what Django Unchained lost. I’ve heard that Smith wanted Django to be the one to kill Candy (ultimately played by DiCaprio), and was pushing back on a number of plot points. Why fight a Tarantino script? It’s a shame, since I really think Smith would have been fantastic in the role, as good as Jamie Foxx is. Smith has star power, and it would have been a bold move in his career. Instead, he did After Earth with his son, Jaden, trying to make him a star, and hasn’t fully recovered the box-office power he once had. You can’t stay on top without taking risks. Once you lose your power to surprise people, you lose your power. I really think Smith missed a huge opportunity.

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To be fair, he came out afterwards and had this to say, “It was about the creative direction of the story. To me, it’s as perfect a story as you could ever want: a guy that learns how to kill to retrieve his wife that has been taken as a slave. That idea is perfect. And it was just that Quentin and I couldn’t see [eye to eye].I wanted to make that movie so badly, but I felt the only way was, it had to be a love story, not a vengeance story. We can’t look at what happens in Paris [the terrorist attacks] and want to f— somebody up for that. Violence begets violence. I just couldn’t connect to violence being the answer. Love had to be the answer.” Alright, you can’t fault an actor for having principles, though I disagree with his assessment. If it really was all about principles, and disagreeing with the heart of the film, than that’s his prerogative.

Denzel Washington in Seven

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Here’s another example of a star actor who turned down a great role. Denzel Washington was David Fincher’s first choice for the role of young detective, David Mills (a role that finally went to a very good Brad Pitt). Not that it has effected Washington’s career much, if at all, but can you imagine him paired with Morgan Freeman, who was just incredible as Detective Somerset? The two had already worked together in the classic Civil War drama, Glory. Seven would have been among Denzel’s best films, and would have benefited from both actors’ gravitas and charisma.

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Denzel, himself, later commented that he passed on the role because he felt that it was “too dark and evil.” He says when he saw the finished product, he kicked himself. David Fincher wasn’t an established name at the time, having only directed one film, Aliens 3, which was, well…I can see it being difficult wanting to go out on a limb with that material with an unproven director.

Mel Gibson in Mad Max: Fury Road

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This choice is slightly different. Mel Gibson, to my knowledge, was never offered the Mad Max role that Tom Hardy played in Fury Road. It’s also different, because Mel obviously originated the role in the landmark trilogy starting back in 1979. Mel Gibson is Mad Max, and no disrespect to Tom Hardy, who did an admirable job of putting on the shoes, but I don’t want to see anyone else in that role. I’ve heard talk about the reason for the switch being that Gibson was “too old,” for the role. I shake my head at that. I think old Mel Gibson could have been the best Mad Max yet. Picture the barren apocalyptic setting of the franchise. Picture all the death and destruction, and then picture an old, grizzled Gibson somehow surviving and outliving everyone and everything, even though he probably longs to die. That could have been incredible. Yes, Fury Road was great, and the best of 2015 already, but I truly believe it could have been better still. The real reason Gibson wasn’t hired, or likely considered, was that he was still in the doghouse for his boorish behavior several years prior. Here’s Tarintino on what could have been:

Michelle Williams in The Great Gatsby

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Michelle Williams could be a great Daisy Buchanan. Carey Mulligan, who is an extraordinary actress, failed in my mind to make the requisite impression. Partly, I’m sure, the fault of the filmmakers, her Daisy gets lost in the shuffle, and becomes scenery. Leonardo DiCaprio and Joel Edgerton completely overpowered all of the other actors. Mulligan said about her performance, “I’m not sure if I kind of lost my way because I was intimidated by the scale of it. I think I might have been overawed by my experience and intimidated by the level of performances around me. It was how big it was and how visual it was. I definitely felt there were fleeting moments where I really found the character and then I felt like I lost her a little bit. I’ve never been wholly thrilled about my work in it.”

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Williams’ performance as Marilyn Monroe in the film, My Week with Marilyn, really suggested to me that she was capable of handling this iconic, fictional, woman as well. Daisy, aloof, vapid, superficial, among such weighty male roles is a very difficult challenge. Actors are taught to get to the root of a character’s motivation, to give them depth, but that’s contrary to how the role of Daisy needs to be played, and then, on top of that, it’s directed by Baz Lurhmann, so there’s music blaring, choreographed dance numbers all around. It’s easy to get lost in the maelstrom.

Robert Downey Jr. in Inherent Vice

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Robert Downey Jr. as Doc Sportello seems like a no-brainer to me. Sportello is a weed smoking, wise-cracking, counter-cultural private eye in early 1970s Los Angeles. Instead Anderson reteamed with Joaquin Phoenix, 2 years after their sublime work together in The Master (2012). Phoenix mumbles his way through this 2 and 1/2 hour snooze fest. I didn’t like this film at all, and maybe I just missed the point completely, but I think Downey Jr. could have helped. He, at least, would have been intelligible, and might have brought some wit to go with the film’s aimless style. Downey Jr. was considered for the role, but was shot down eventually for being “too old.” That’s kind of bizarre to me.

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-Walter Tyrone Howard-

 

 

 

 

5 Films of October (2018)

October. The month of Halloween. The month of Halloween movies. And, this year, the month of the Halloween reboot. Perhaps my favorite month of the year. October 2018 looks stacked. One exciting film being released after another, but, I hate to be purely optimistic. That’s why I’m going to Jekyll and Hide the five films I’m most intrigued by this month; play devil’s advocate with myself. Here goes:

October 5

A Star is Born

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Directed by Bradley Cooper           Starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga

Walter: 95% on Rotten Tomatoes would seem to suggest that director and star, Bradley Cooper, has pulled it off; it being a remake of an oft told story. All eyes will likely be on Lady Gaga, getting her first real star vehicle. She’s talented, Cooper’s a strong actor. That should be enough to sell A Star is Born 2018.

Tyrone: I’ve seen enough bad movies directed by actors to last me a lifetime. I don’t discourage their ambition to try and branch out, but, more often than not, the film turns into a vanity project. Bradley Cooper has given himself a plum role as an alcoholic with a country accent. Accents+sickness=Oscar Bait. The best version of A Star is Born is the 1954 musical starring Judy Garland and James Mason. That film knew to give Garland the spotlight. Will Cooper allow Lady Gaga to shine?

Venom

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Directed by Ruben Fleischer          Starring Tom Hardy

Walter: Hardy is an exciting actor. He’s never really had a starring role in a huge mainstream movie. With Venom, hopefully he brings something interesting to the somewhat obscure anti-hero.

Tyrone: Hardy’s mainstream attempts as the lead suck. Venom is a dumb character, and the fan base for this Marvel creation isn’t big enough to justify the blockbuster treatment. The trailer did little to change my mind. I don’t recall the context (it doesn’t matter), but Tom Hardy as Venom actually utters the line, “like a turd in the wind.” I don’t know anyone who’s happy  about the PG-13 rating. I’m predicting a box office bomb and critical failure. I’m also predicting that I won’t know what Hardy is saying.

October 12

First Man

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Directed by Damien Chazelle    Starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy

Walter: An immersive look at Neil Armstrong’s quest to be the first man on the moon. Another critical favorite and a sure-fire bet for later Oscar consideration. Chazelle’s first two films were Whiplash and La La Land. That’s a good track record.

Tyrone: La La Land was overrated, and I’m not that interested in space travel. I thought Gravity was boring

Bad Times at El Royale

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Directed by Drew Goddard        Starring Jeff Bridges and Chris Hemsworth

Walter: The trailer is a knockout. Seven strangers with secrets clash in a secluded hotel. Directed by Drew Goddard, who gave us the insane Cabin in the Woods. I love a good mystery.

Tyrone: This looks extremely similar to Tarantino’s Hateful Eight.

October 19

Halloween

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Directed by David Gordon Green       Starring Jamie Lee Curtis

Walter: Great slashers are few and far between. The original Halloween is one of the very best, and so, I couldn’t be more amped up for this reboot. Jamie Lee Curtis is back, and all the lame Halloween sequels (I don’t consider Season of the Witch a Halloween movie) are forgotten.

Tyrone: I don’t have any negative expectations with this film. I have huge expectations, and the only risk is it not measuring up.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

 

 

Sex in Film isn’t Interesting

Here comes an article from the old cantankerous man in me: every other Hollywood R rated film has one: the obligatory sex scene. On average, it’ll last 5 seconds, with an emphasis on the upper body, accompanied by bedroom sounds. It’s not difficult to picture the behind the scenes mechanics of a Hollywood sex scene. Many actors have spoken about how awkward they can be. Setting aside the tedious details of how simulated sex scenes are done, attempting to look past any prudishness I have, I simply don’t think sex scenes are ever very good, and that’s not reserved for Hollywood. Perhaps there’s a bias that comes with being an American, but for me, as opposed to violence in film, sex scenes, in general, are not interesting cinematically. Sex scenes, simulated or unsimulated, are not romantic, they’re not sexy, they’re rarely realistic, and they’re always reduced to the same level (regardless of the acting or technical talent involved).

I can think of one handful of exceptions, but the majority of sex scenes aren’t sexy. When I think of sexy or romantic scenes across film history, I think of Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps playing basketball together in Love and Basketball (2000), Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis sharing a passionate kiss at long last in Witness (1985), James Stewart and Donna Reed sharing a phone call in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson struggling over a soppy book in Remains of the Day (1993), Daniel Day-Lewis unbuttoning Michelle Pfeiffer’s gloves in The Age of Innocence (1993), just off the top of my head. These scenes all built up dramatic tension through writing, acting, staging, what-have-you. How many different ways can you stage a sex scene? What’s the last sex scene that was filmed in a way you hadn’t seen before? I don’t think it even matters, because my main grievance with sex scenes, and maybe this only applies to me, but they all work on the same level, and sure they’re appealing on a base level, but not on any level I respect. Have you ever watched a sex scene and been impressed or moved by the performances? I haven’t. It doesn’t matter if it was Oscar winner Cate Blanchett or Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed, no one is watching the acting. No one is thinking about the movie. If there is nudity involved in a scene, no one is thinking period. Can anyone relate Little Finger’s back story (this is a Game of Thrones reference, so not a movie, but my point remains)?

Violence in cinema can serve any number of purposes. It can give a film weight (Unforgiven), setup suspense (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), provide dark humor (Pulp Fiction or Fargo). Violence can even be aesthetically beautiful (which I’m sure many object to) as in Jean-Louis Trintignant’s sacrifice in The Great Silence. Nine times out of ten, sex scenes are just there for me to ignore awkwardly with my family.

-Walter Howard-

People Don’t Know How to Drive on Film

Still, after 90 plus years of cinema, actors remain unconvincing behind the wheel. They barely watch the road, or they turn the wheel incessantly, or they talk over their shoulders which would sprain any actual drivers neck. I can forgive classic Hollywood bad movie driving. The actors would climb in a car set in front of a screen that projected their surroundings later. One xample: To Catch a Thief (1955)

Keep in mind, this is by Alfred Hitchcock, one of cinema’s great masters. Keep in mind also, I’m not pointing to the old fashioned special effects, which are still rather effective. I’m looking at Grace Kelly’s simulation of driving. She, at least, keeps her eyes on the road convincingly, but she’s turning the wheel every other beat, which has become the standard for fake film driving. Why? Are actors afraid that if they don’t turn the wheel enough, we won’t buy into the illusion? Nobody turns the wheel that much when driving.

The thing is fake driving on film is still pretty bad more often than not. It’s not juts an old fashioned thing. Sixty years later, you still have these examples of poor driving:

No, it’s not that dire. It’s just amazing to me that director’s don’t point this out. It’s become a pet peeve of mine. Any time there’s driving in a film, I’m watching the technique.

-Walter Howard-

 

Television is More Diverse Than Film

Blockbuster films took a huge step forward over the past few years with the casting of John Boyega in a lead role in the new Star Wars trilogy and Diego Luna in Rogue One. Black Panther became the highest grossing, predominantly black movie ever in February, and Crazy Rich Asians showcases Asian Americans, in what I’m sure will be a hit worldwide. Film is heading in the right direction, I like to think, but it still has a ways to go to catch up to television. Name a demographic or a minority and there’s probably a show. Indian American: Master of None, and it’s not just that the show features an Indian American lead. Aziz Ansari created the show and writes for the show, meaning his voice is there. Single mothers, young black singles, Asian Americans,  traditional Hispanic families, twenty-something white women, etc. There’s a show. Obviously, the reason television is more willing to branch out has to do with the relative inexpensiveness it takes to produce a show, but film should takes notes on how wide open television has become. Television is more diverse than ever before, and people are watching television more than ever before.

-Walter Howard-

 

Troll 2 is the Worst

How often do people reach for superlatives? It was the best, the greatest, the most, etc. In many cases, it seems the easiest method to make a point. The same goes for the reverse hyperbole: the worst film of all-time. Whatever movie a person’s seen recently that wasn’t good gets described as the worst film of all-time. I’ve heard people say Titanic is, “the worst film of all-time.” It’s not. Even if you don’t like it, Titanic is nowhere near the worst film of all-time. I’ve seen a large number of very bad films. I’m just as curious about bad films as I am about good films. I try to watch one movie a week that’s said to be terrible. Plan 9 from Outer Space, The Room, Leonard Part 6, I’ve seen them. Because of this, I feel very confident in asserting that Troll 2 (1990) stands below them all. Troll 2 is the worst film of all-time.

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Unlike The Room, its closest rival, Troll 2 has a plot. The Room is a ponderous travesty. It’s profoundly terrible. You know how after watching a great movie, you can’t stop thinking about it? The Room is so bad, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Troll 2, on the other hand, has all the ingredients of a normal film- plot, structure, villains, a climax, a protagonist- but they’re all handled so poorly, the people involved are so talentless, that Troll 2 becomes special in its own way.

Directed by Italian filmmaker, Claudio Fragasso, the man behind Monster Dog with Alice Cooper, who supposedly had a very limited grasp of English, Troll 2 isn’t even a real sequel. Hoping to drift off of “the success” of 1986’s Troll (a film which itself sits at 26% on Rotten Tomatoes), producers decided to call this film about goblins, Troll 2, starring Michael Stephenson as a boy, named Joshua, dragged to the sinister town of Nilbog (Goblin spelled backwards). His parents don’t notice all the odd things going on in this town, nor does his sister, Holly. The only aid Joshua gets is from his dead grandfather, who comes back sporadically (never explained why he can’t just stay and help). Here are my three favorite scenes:

  1. The Dinner Scene- Devoid of logic, and therefore any suspense, this is a hilarious catastrophe of filmmaking. The ghost of Joshua’s grandfather tells him not to let his family eat the green food that they didn’t make, or else they’ll die. No explanation for why the grandfather can’t speak to the other members of the family. To help, he freezes everyone but Joshua for thirty seconds (no explanation for why he has this ability and why it only lasts thirty seconds). The face Joshua makes when seeing his family frozen is priceless. I can’t think of anything that’s made me laugh as hard, and you’ll see the characters that are supposed to be frozen blink. Then you have the fact that he wastes most of the “thirty seconds” (it’s clearly way longer than thirty seconds). At the scenes conclusion, we get a bit of acting from the father, and well…

2. Oh My God!-I’m not even going to try and explain this scene. It was already horrible, but Darren Ewing’s line reading is notorious. His underacting versus the other two actors just chewing up the scenery is a wonder to behold.

3. The Corn Scene-Seduction by corn. No one thinks of corn as erotic, and I doubt anyone ever will. In this scene, the Goblin witch seduces a dumb teen by rubbing corn against her leg, culminating with an excessive amount of popcorn when they start kissing. Inexplicable scene really. Honestly, can’t imagine what the filmmakers thought they were going for here, and I love that the actress playing the witch goes for Oscar gold. She really gives it her all.

Troll 2 is extremely funny and amassed a sizable cult following. The film’s star produced a successful documentary titled Best Worst Movie, dedicated to Troll 2. There are many movies made, designed to be inane like Sharknado or Piranha 3D, but they can’t compare, for me, to Troll 2 in which every actor and filmmaker gives their all, and it still sucks. Just like certain intangible things have to come together for a movie to be great, I think it takes a kind of magic for everything to go this wrong. Best worst movie, indeed.

-Walter Howard-

 

 

Idris Elba Would Make an Excellent James Bond

What is it that we like about James Bond? My first experience with the character and the franchise, Goldfinger (1964), starring Sean Connery, left me bewildered and significantly entertained. Bewildered because, at times, in one scene in particular, Bond wasn’t very heroic. I remember a stressful sequence where his “love interest,” Tilly (Tania Mallet) gets in a bind, and I’m thinking, how will Bond rescue her? The answer: he doesn’t. She dies, and he moves on pretty quickly. Not to mention, Tilly was already the sister of another girl, Jill (Shirley Eaton), he slept with and saw die earlier in the film. I’ve since seen at least 20 Bond flicks, and you learn to put up with a fair share of eye rolling and questionable antics (though the franchise has improved in some areas). All the accusations of misogyny and sexism are valid, and yet I, along with many people around the world enjoy these films, and it has to do with the opening music number, the title sequences, the action, the gadgets, the cars, the beautiful women, outlandish villains, and exotic locations, all surrounding a central character that’s supposed to embody cool. Sean Connery, the prototype, did that, and I think Idris Elba could do that too, given the chance. Rumors leaked out at the end of this past week that he’s being given strong consideration, and I think (though there could always be some dark horse unknown candidate) that he’s the right man for the job.

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Before getting in to his qualifications- because I honestly think they should go without saying-let me address the objections people seem to have. He’s 45 at the moment. In other words, too old for the role. That’s pretty weak, and there’s precedents in the Bond franchise (as well as the fact that Tom Cruise is 56 years old and going strong in his Mission Impossible franchise) that render that argument groundless. I mean, Daniel Craig is 50 right now, and everyone seems pretty excited about his coming back for one more Bond film. Roger Moore did Bond until he was 58, and did his best Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me, at 50. Honestly, the only young Bonds were the first two, Connery and the woeful George Lazenby. I don’t believe people actually care how old Bond is. The real objection is, of course, the idea of a black Bond, and I don’t personally dismiss it as mere racism. “Why not get your own character,” some say? I think Doctor Who’s dealing with some of these feelings with the casting of Jodie Whittaker; a female stepping into a, heretofore, male role. I know I might be a little upset if, say, they rebooted Indiana Jones as a female character, but a reboot is different from Doctor Who and Bond, series without end. Changing Bond’s skin color, in reality, does not alter his character in any way. It doesn’t, and that’s the distinction I would make. Bond is a supremely skilled assassin and lady killer, always ready to save the world. Idris Elba in that role would still be that.

The original author, Ian Fleming, supposedly modeled the character after himself and American pianist Hoagy Carmichael.

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Eon Productions, the studio behind the films, has long left this image behind. Sean Connery became the standard bearer, truly, as soon as Dr. No hit. Tall, dark, and handsome became synonymous with Bond, and I’d argue that Daniel Craig veers furthest from this original film image. Shorter in comparison to earlier Bonds, blonde, and yet he proved to reinvigorate the series, and was a wise choice. How do you follow Craig? Eon could get a younger Craig-type, or they could be bold, which they always have been, which is why the franchise is ongoing and successful. Idris Elba already has an audience, he’s a strong actor, he’s cool, and I’d be anxious to see what he did with the role. Picking Elba is rolling the dice, whereas going with what’s already been done will make Bond stagnant. To be clear, Bond doesn’t need to be black to be exciting moving forward. I’ve heard Tom Hardy’s name tossed around. That could be good, or maybe there’s some guy that I don’t know, but the next Bond needs to be different, and why not Idris Elba?

-Walter Howard-