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April 9, 2017:

WHAT BECOMES A LEGEND MOST

Bruce Kimmel Photograph bk's notes

Well, dear readers, I have just finished watching the remake of The Manchurian Candidate – it was on the Flix of Net and I hadn’t seen it since August 8 of 2004. How do I know the exact date I saw it? Simple – really simple when you have the longest-running daily blog in the history of the Internet – in 2004 we were coming up on our third anniversary. So, here’s what I wrote about it on August 9:

Yesterday, I saw a motion picture entitled The Manchurian Candidate. Of course, I have seen The Manchurian Candidate many times, but this time I saw a film masquerading as The Manchurian Candidate – a Manchurian Candidate poseur, as it were. I’ve been reading reviews of the film and I must say the usual suspects are falling all over themselves to cut Mr. Jonathan Demme some slack, as the always do, even after his horrid remake of Charade. They trot out the usual hyperbole about how Mr. Demme hasn’t so much remade The Manchurian Candidate as reimagined The Manchurian Candidate. Note to usual suspects: Mr. Demme is not the screenwriter of this film, hence he did not reimagine, reinvent or re anything regarding the script. What the writers did was simply rewrite The Manchurian Candidate (from both Mr. George Axelrod’s original script and the book by Richard Condon), only they rewrote it using the Robert McKee/Syd Field formula – in other words, not very well. It’s been tarted up with all manner of silly twists that have nothing to do with anything and which harm any chance the film had at being interesting. That’s the mantra of film today – it’s all about twists and turns instead of storytelling. The original had a few twists but that’s not what the film was about, that’s not what made it great, and that’s not what made it unique. There is some very risible dialogue in the remake, each scene is two pages long, and all the bite has been taken out of it. The changes are all for the worse. The most egregious for me is the total neutering of the Senator Jordan and his daughter Jocie subplot. If you’ve never seen the original, skip to the next paragraph, please. In the original, Miss Leslie Parrish’s performance is so wonderful, and you care so much about her and her positive influence on Laurence Harvey, that when the big scene with Mr. Harvey, Mr. McGiver (as Senator Jordan) and Miss Parrish occurs, it is one of the most coldly shocking scenes in all of cinema. Here you don’t know anything other than a passing reference to Jocie and Raymond Shaw’s relationship, so the big scene has no impact whatsoever, and it also makes no sense in the context of the way the new film changes things. In fact, it’s so incredibly stupid that you just sit there and scratch your head.

Meryl Streep takes a totally different approach to Raymond’s mother, the role played to perfection by Angela Lansbury in the original. Miss Streep is fine, but the way the character is written is not so hot and there’s no chill at all. Several critics have said that Miss Streep will be taking home the Oscar that Miss Lansbury so richly deserved. I say not. The critics are also comparing this film to The Parallax View – it should be so lucky. In fact, I’d wager that The Parallax View is mentioned in the press kit, because literally every review I’ve read has mentioned it, and we do know some of these reviewers most likely don’t even know what The Parallax View is. I find Liev Schreiber unconvincing, but he’s better here than I’ve seen him before. Denzel Washington is fine, and the film is littered with little Jonathan Demme in-jokes, like performances by Roger Corman, Charles Napier, and on and on. The film looks fine, but it’s just bad on so many levels – none worse than the by-the-numbers script, making it a real film for “today’s generation” – whatever the HELL that means. That was actually something I read in one of the reviews – that this Manchurian Candidate was for today’s generation. Heaven help us. Leave the classics alone, say I, and try to actually come up with a new idea or a new slant on an old idea. I wouldn’t think quite so little of this had they called it something else.

So, here we are, almost thirteen years later. If I were writing these comments for the first time I would actually be much harsher than I was above, for this remake is such a piece of trash it’s not even funny. Everything that works in the book and the first film is here subverted by terrible screenwriters. The direction has none of the amazing originality of John Frankenheimer. The score is a droning mess. The film is terrible right from the Paramount logo and the awful rock song that plays over it. Changing the characters in such stupid ways kills any chance the film ever had and that especially goes for what they did with Janet Leigh’s character, which is just amateur beyond repair. You can just hear these writers thinking how clever they are, how they’re so much more interesting than Richard Condon and George Axelrod – I mean, look at this revelation, look at that twist – THAT’S so GREAT. Well, no, it’s not. That’s so terrible is what that is. There is not a single worthwhile thing in the entirety of the film’s two-hour running time. Have things gotten better in the past thirteen years? Nope, they’re still remaking classics (now called reboots), and remaking them badly for “today’s generation.” Uh huh.

Yesterday was okay in certain ways and not okay in one specific way. I was up early, went and had an omelet and a bagel. Then I had a smog check, which I had to do for my registration renewal. That’s supposed to immediately go to the DMV electronically, and yet when I went to pay it hadn’t shown up yet. I’d say the system needs overhauling because it should be instant. I picked up no mail – that’s right, the check that should have been here the day before still wasn’t here – and purportedly it was mailed last MONDAY, which means IF it arrives tomorrow it will have taken a full week – one envelope. We ship out books, they get to most people in a day. The USPS is at their nadir, I have to say.

Then I came home, answered e-mails, had a nice and long telephonic conversation, chose some more songs, put out more cast feelers, and then met up with Robert Yacko at Jerry’s Deli – since I’d already eaten, I just had a cup of chicken soup. We had a lovely conversation, and then I came back home. I listened to some music, did stuff on the computer, then began watching the awful movie. In the middle of it I went and got a few things from the market, then came back and finished it.

Today, I believe I can have a ME day. Oh, I’ll hopefully hear from the cast members I’ve queried, and I’ll try to choose Robert’s songs, and I have to get a chart done on one of my songs we’re doing. I’ll eat, watch some movies, and relax.

This week is a bit crazy – meetings and meals, but then four eight-hour casting days for the musical. I may have a couple of dinners to do, as well, and I’ve got to begin preparing what will be our next Sherman Brothers rarity CD, as well as visit Richard.

Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, cast, choose songs, eat, watch, and relax. Today’s topic of discussion: It’s free-for-all day, the day in which you dear readers get to make with the topics and we all get to post about them. So, let’s have loads of lovely topics and loads of lovely postings, shall we, whilst I hit the road to dreamland, as I ponder what becomes a legend most – and when the legend is The Manchurian Candidate it’s certainly not the terrible and lame remake.

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