#306. Based on TV

The rallying cry of fans of the TV series, Community was “Six seasons and a movie.” While playing to an established fan-base is a wise move for movie producers, sometimes striking a nostalgic chord with audiences is the better path to success. Sure, there have been plenty of movies based on TV shows which have also featured the original cast, but sometimes a reinterpretation with modern actors gives the concept a fresh feel. That’s not to say movies based off of TV shows that feature the original cast (a la the Star Trek films before 2009) are wrong, it’s just that a unique take on the themes and motifs of the TV show makes the movie feel more like a standalone story, instead of just an extended TV episode. This week’s two films were based on television shows but did not feature the shows’ original cast.

The A-TeamThe A-Team
Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

Clearly, the wave of nostalgia for those people who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s is what has inundated Hollywood with the plethora of TV show adaptations. Starting around 2004, the trend to bring these television shows from the golden era of television has only continued. Films like Starsky & Hutch (2004), Bewitched (2005), and The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) all played as standard comedies, albeit updated to the comedic styles and tastes of the new millennium. A couple of years later, we saw these adaptations gain steam again with such films as Get Smart (2008), Land of the Lost (2009), and Dark Shadows (2012) leading the pack. Of course, none of these films were that great. Occasionally audiences would get a treat with such fantastic films like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), but these were rare. Most films were campy throwbacks, much like The A-Team (2010).

Acting as an origin story for the eponymous “A-Team,” this film modernizes the original premise behind the television show. “In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire… the A-Team.” Instead of taking place in 1972, these commandos were shown to be Army Ranger veterans from the Iraq war. Upon being framed for a botched mission involving U.S. Treasury plates, these four men set about to find the man behind their wrongful incarceration and manage to bring him to justice.

Year: 1994
Rating: PG
Length: 127 minutes /  2.11 hours

Even before Hollywood began marketing on the nostalgia of comedic television shows, they had already adapted a few films to prove that the concept worked. What’s interesting about these earlier adaptations from TV was that they were almost able to maintain their own notoriety apart from the source material on which they were based. Films like The Fugitive (1993) earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture, whereas Mission: Impossible (1996) spawned a five-film franchise. Even newer adaptations like Star Trek (2009) have been able to cash in on the popularity of its fan-base, even if most of them don’t particularly care to be pandered to. Of course, there are also the television shows that haven’t remained nearly as relevant in popular culture, so few modern moviegoers will know that these films were even based on TV shows. One such film that would fit this category for me would be Maverick (1994).

Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson) is confident he is the best card player in the world, so to have definitive proof of this, he enters a poker tournament that requires $25,000 as an entry fee. While he’s a little short on the money, he sets out to get the rest of it from some of his contacts. Along the way, he meets two others who want to participate in the tournament: Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster) and Angel (Alfred Molina). Bransford and Maverick manage to con a Russian Grand Duke out of some money so they can both enter the tournament, while Angel is on a mission to stop Maverick from playing. Meanwhile, Marshal Zane Cooper (James Garner, who also played Bret Maverick in the original show) is keeping an eye on all the players, hoping to arrest some of them for illegal activities. The tournament comes down to a single card to determine who will win. So, who has luck on their side?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 TV transitions

#305. Letters

The individual building blocks of any language are letters. These letters can be combined into words, which in turn can be transformed into sentences. The process continues on and on until you’re left with a story of saga-like proportions. But sometimes individual letters carry certain connotations just by themselves. We use letters to help classify objects, actions, and quality. In certain circles, letters are used to form acronyms, their singular purpose is to shorten a complex topic like a Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus into something simple to understand like SCUBA. Some films even use letters as a way to simplify their characters or premise. These atoms of language can be mighty and are often used to condense broad subjects into simple ideas. This week’s two films focus on single letters.

V for Vendetta
Year: 2005
Rating: R
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours

Franchises like Men in Black and James Bond often use single letters to identify their characters. When your cast isn’t that large, it can be easy to identify someone as J, K, M, Q, or Z. Similarly, whole films have been made about people with a single letter identifying them, such as George W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s W. (2008). Of course, Stone wasn’t the first to use a single letter to define a political film, as the foreign film, Z (1969), stood for the protesters’ dissent of the Grecian government. Sometimes, these single letters can stand for more sinister actions as well. M (1931) and Dial M for Murder (1954) both use this single letter to represent the killing of another person. In V for Vendetta (2006), we find all the political intrigue, murder, and personal identification is wrapped up in a single character who goes by the name of “V.”

Not only does V (Hugo Weaving) stand for the vendetta against the people who did him wrong, he also stands for the Roman numeral for “five,” which is the day in November associated with Guy Fawkes Day. In aligning himself with the political ideologies of the man who attempted to blow up Parliament, he has taken up the mask of the revolutionary in an attempt to finish what was started centuries ago. He has seen the politics of England become much more totalitarian due to the influences of the people who locked him away in a research facility, and now he wants to give the people a voice once again. Pulling strings on an already high-strung society, he sets dominoes in motion that will help topple the leadership of this oppressive regime. In one final statement about the power of a symbol, V manages to accomplish everything he intended.

The A-TeamThe A-Team
Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

When I was a child, there was one particular book that confused me. It was filled with pictures and strings of letters, but not words. It wasn’t until I read the individual letters out loud that I understood these letters were actually words. “I C A B” suddenly transformed into “I see a bee.” This wordplay is what leads us to such films as Bee Movie (2007), which is itself a pun on the idea of a B-movie. Of course, when letters are associated with quality, the earlier it appears in the alphabet, the better. We all want an “A” in school, to buy “Grade A” produce, and just to generally have the best of something. Now, an “A” can also stand for other things, like in the modern adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Easy A (2010). But, for the most part, when we want the highest quality, we’ll go with the “A.”

Army Rangers, Hannibal (Liam Neeson), Face (Bradley Cooper), B.A. Baracus (Quinton Jackson), and Murdock (Sharlto Copley) met in Mexico through a series of events that eventually led to the death of rebel General Javier Tuco (Yul Vazquez). This team of four men eventually wound up in Iraq, where they were tasked to complete a black ops mission to retrieve some U.S. Treasury plates from the insurgent regime. While they were successful, they were framed and court-martialed, winding up in separate prisons. After successfully escaping from each of their prisons, they work together to uncover the man who set them up. Through an elaborate ruse, they get self-proclaimed CIA operative Lynch (Patrick Wilson) to admit that he stole the plates. While the real Agent Lynch (Jon Hamm) comes to arrest the fake Lynch, the four men are taken back to prison, only to easily escape again and form “The A-Team.”

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 single letter stories

#200. September 11th

While the 20th Century might have officially ended on January 1st, 2000, I think that, culturally, it actually ended on September 11th, 2001. The tragic events that took place across America that day truly thrust us into a new world and a new age of caution and terror. While many of the children today weren’t even born when the 9/11 attacks happened, the history books will inform them of the day’s importance. Of course, it was only going to be a matter of time before films would be made about September 11th. The challenge then becomes: how do we approach this with tact and sensitivity? A lot of people lost their lives during that fateful day, so their tragedy should not be seen in any sort of humorous or irreverent light. This week’s two films look at the horrors and effects of September 11th, both at home and abroad.

Zero Dark ThirtyZero Dark Thirty
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 157 minutes / 2.61 hours

After the dust had settled, then-President George W. Bush proclaimed a “war on terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan to track down the terrorists responsible for the devastating attacks on United States soil. Many films have been made about this war resulting from 9/11, all to varying forms of success. From some comedies that loosely use the war as a setting (including The A-Team (2010) and The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)) to serious dramas that have won major awards (like The Hurt Locker (2008)), the Iraq War has been used as a backdrop similar to many films that came before it using the wars of their time. However, the most important battles on the war on terror were not necessarily fought by soldiers, but by analysts. Films like Fair Game (2010) tried to convey this, but none have been able to match Zero Dark Thirty (2012).

The true end to the war on terror occurred nearly ten years after the September 11th attacks. While subsequent wars on terror may have emerged, the assassination of Osama bin Laden by Seal Team Six on May 2, 2011, marked the end of the pursuit of the terrorist leader responsible for 9/11. Of course, the only reason why Navy Seals were able to find bin Laden was due to the relentless efforts of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young CIA intelligence analyst who started working to find Osama in 2003. After many years of little to no progress, with many lives and careers ruined, Maya finally hits pay dirt. A series of connections leads her to find where bin Laden is hiding, which prompts her leadership to organize a raid on the complex. Highly trained soldiers with advanced equipment descend on the humble abode to finally end the decade-long pursuit.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours

Even though closure on the September 11th attacks wouldn’t come for many more years, there have been many films made about that day. From movies about the people on the planes (United 93 (2006)) to the people on the ground in New York (World Trade Center (2006)), there have been few films that have dealt with the families of those who died during the attacks. Since everything happened so suddenly, many struggled to cope with the loss. Those who perhaps had the hardest time dealing with the death of a loved one were the children whose parents were in the World Trade Center when it fell. Fortunately, as we’ve seen time and again in tragedy after tragedy, the community steps up to lift itself past the hurt and forward toward healing. Released on the same year as the final scenes of Zero Dark Thirty, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011) reminds us of the strength of a community.

Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is a socially-awkward boy of nine years old who is coaxed out of his shell by his father, Thomas (Tom Hanks). To do so, Thomas sets up scavenger hunts throughout New York City which require his son to interact with many, diverse people. Unfortunately, Thomas is killed when the World Trade Center falls on September 11th. A year later, Oskar meets a silent old man (Max von Sydow) who does not talk due to a similar trauma during World War II when his parents died. After having found a mysterious key in his father’s closet days before, Oskar and the old man set out to discover what the key goes to. As Oskar conquers some of his fears, he starts to realize the old man is his grandfather and plays back Thomas’ final answering machine messages. Finally, Oskar finds what the key goes to, and is somewhat disappointed until he learns of his mother’s (Sandra Bullock) involvement in setting up the search.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 sides of September 11th