By Vernor Rodgers
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I am ambivalent about remakes,
be they movies, television series or songs. It takes a certain
amount of craziness, and a lot of courage, to redo a movie, TV show
or record because the original was either critically acclaimed or
very popular, or both, hence supported by a legion of ardent fans
who may not be too happy about someone messing around with a
favorite film and such. On the other hand, as a film aficionado I am
curious to see what the new vision of these movies, etc., will
be. And then this hits me: Movies, TV shows and songs get remade all
the time, but nobody dares rewrite the fiction of John Steinbeck,
Jane Austen, Jack London, Raymond Chandler or Kurt Vonnegut. It's
just the visual / audio medium that seems to have carte blanche to
fool around with the classics.
Director David Cronenberg is
one of the people whose image should be carved on the Mt. Rushmore
of Horror. He has presented us with such iconic movies as
"Scanners," "Videodrome," "Dead Ringers" and "Naked Lunch." But his
first attention-gainer was the 1977 film "Rabid." It was scary and
gory and even had as its star an adult film hall of famer -- the
late Marilyn Chambers. Now, 42 years later, "Rabid" is getting a new
treatment, directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska ("American Mary," "See
No Evil 2").
It is interesting to note that
Cronenberg himself did a remake, of the 1950s Vincent Price-starrer
"The Fly," featuring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, and there are
many who consider his film far superior, admitting Cronenberg
benefited from great advances in special effects to enhance the
The Soskas collaborated with
John Serge on the screenplay of "Rabid," which is a story of how
unchecked medical science can lead to terrifying results.
"Rabid" is the story of Rose
(Laura Vandervoort), a young woman who hopes to become a high level
fashion designer, but is struggling in this endeavor. Attending a
fashion industry party, she suffers a bit of meltdown and
leaves, departing on her motorcycle and too upset to be a cautious
driver. She gets into an accident, resulting in her face being
horribly disfigured. Her doctor, Dr. Keloid (Stephen McHattie),
offers no optimism about a full recovery, and Rose, who likely had
no health insurance plan, feels financially helpless about any
reconstructive surgery. But she learns about the Burroughs Clinic,
run by Dr. William Burroughs (Ted Atherton), which appears to be an
altruistic facility specializing in some radical and untested stem
cell research. So essentially, Rose will get the treatment at no
cost, but there may be some side effects.
Boy, are there. Rose emerges
with a beautifully reconstructed face, but feels a bit off kilter.
She is given a supply of some formula to ingest when she feels
bad. But now Rose is engaging in nocturnal hedonistic activities and
wakes up the next day not knowing if her actions were real or just
intensely realistic dreams. Also, she is horrified that, as a
vegetarian, she suddenly craves red meat.
It is obvious that Dr.
Burroughs is not being totally honest with Rose, as indicated when
he takes Rose's boyfriend wannabe, Brad (Benjamin Hollingsworth),
aside and chats with him out of Rose's earshot.
Meanwhile, things are going
crazy with what appears to be an expanding outbreak of rabies among
adults. And Rose's new world begins to collapse on her, including a
horrible fate of her best friend and supporter Chelsea (Hanneke
"Rabid" has been the subject of
some blistering reviews on IMDB, but there are some positive
assessments too. I cannot be a totally honest reviewer here because
I have known Jen and Sylvia Soska for several years and consider
them friends. I flinched at some of the harsh comments but know that
the Soskas are resilient -- they have had to be, working in an
industry that despite some progress made by women in movie making,
still has a ways to go.
So I liked "Rabid." it was what
I would expect from the Soskas, who do remarkable things with a cash
flow that has be miniscule compared to other film productions.
"Rabid" was made available on
streaming platforms in December, coinciding with a limited U.S.
theatrical release. It will be available in DVD and Blu-ray on Feb.
Although getting some good
reviews, "Richard Jewell," directed by Clint Eastwood, has bombed at
the box office, as well as received some complaints about its
portrayal of media and the FBI.
Billy Ray, who as a
screenwriter has an impressive array of movies on his resume --
"Volcano," "Flighplan," "The Hunger Games," "Captain Phillips" and
"Overlord" and had a busy 2019 with "Terminator: Dark Fate" and
"Gemini Man" -- adapted the screenplay based upon an article by
Marie Brenner. It is the true story of Richard Jewell (Paul Walter
Hauser), a security guard during the 1996 Summer Olympics in
Atlanta, who saved hundreds of lives at the Centennial Olympic Park
when he spotted a suspicious backpack and managed to get an
evacuation going before a device in the pack exploded, resulting in
one fatality. At first hailed as a hero, the modest Jewell seems
befuddled at all the attention. But then his life is turned inside
out when a former employer at a college campus alerts the FBI and
tells them Jewell was an overzealous security guard on campus and
thus had to be fired.
The FBI agent in charge of the
investigation, Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm), smoldering because the bombing
took place under his watch, begins to focus most of his energy
toward finding evidence to pin the crime on Jewell. It doesn't look
good for Jewell, as information comes out about his rocky previous
employment. Plus he is an adult still living with his mother, Bobi
(Kathy Bates), and soon Jewell is being profiled as a frustrated law
enforcement wannabe who may have planted the bomb in a plot to make
himself seem a hero.
Meanwhile, the crime reporter
at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) is
on the story, and snuggles up to Shaw, who tells her Jewell is being
investigated. In a rush to get the scoop out, Scruggs convinces the
editor of the paper to go with the story. So Jewell, once praised,
is now being convicted by a public that has been fueled by a
Jewell asks an attorney
acquaintance of his, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), to offer him
legal assistance. Bryant, pretty much a small-time lawyer, is
propelled into the national spotlight, and proves to be a pretty
tough guy despite the overwhelming odds.
The portrayals of Shaw and
Scruggs, which would make for great drama in a fictional story, have
instead garnered criticism. And to make it more difficult, Scruggs,
who had a history of depression, died of a drug overdose in 2001,
thus cannot defend herself.
While I cannot comment on the
actions of the FBI, as a retired veteran of 39 years in the
newspaper business, I do question the validity of the way Scruggs
and the Atlanta paper were presented. There is a scene where, when
the breaking story of Jewell being investigated is published, people
in the newsroom stand up and cheer Scruggs. I never saw that happen
in a newsroom, even when three reporters on our staff won a Pulitzer
Prize. As to the decision to run the story, it shows one senior
editor making the decision to publish it. In my experience, the
decision to publish such a story would have been discussed by
several top-level editors, possibly even the publisher, and would
have assuredly been subject to scrutiny by the legal department. The
fact that Scruggs had only one source was problematic too (see "All
the President's Men").
That said, "Richard Jewell" is
a fine film, enhanced by great performances, particularly by Bates
as a loving mother having to watch helplessly as her only child is
put through such a wringer and her home almost literally torn apart;
and Rockwell as the resourceful lawyer who not only is outgunned but
has to deal with Jewell, just a good old guy whose candidness makes
things even worse. And Hauser is superb as Jewell, a man who is
modest but naive and perpetually an outsider taken on a hell ride he
did not deserve. Happily, Jewell is vindicated when the FBI has to
admit there is no evidence he planted the bomb (a fact even Scruggs
realized too late) and years later the actual bomber is tracked