Movies

The Rundown: Leave ‘Face/Off’ Alone!

The Rundown is a weekly column that highlights some of the biggest, weirdest, and most notable events of the week in entertainment. The number of items will vary, as will the subject matter. It will not always make a ton of sense. Some items might not even be about entertainment, to be honest, or from this week. The important thing is that it’s Friday and we are here to have some fun.

ITEM NUMBER ONE — Don’t do it! Reconsider!

Let’s be very clear about this: It is not a good idea to try to remake Face/Off, as Paramount is now planning to do. I don’t say this because of nostalgia or concerns that doing so will retroactively ruin my childhood. I don’t say this because of remake fatigue, either. I’ve come to accept that this is just a part of life now. We’re going to make the same movies over and over until we’ve bled every penny out of them and then we’re going to bring them back as television shows. It’s not my favorite thing but I also saw the new live-action Aladdin in the theaters with my friend’s seven-year-old and she loved it, so hey. Bigger fish to fry elsewhere.

No, my thought process here is more straightforward than that, and it involves less yelling at clouds. I think remaking Face/Off is a bad idea because… how do you even start?

Face/Off is a truly insane movie. It stars John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, two of history’s most gluttonous scenery-chewers, and it has them pretending to be each other for the majority of the movie. Cage was coming off an iconic three-movie run: Leaving Las Vegas (which he won an Oscar for, a fact that gets crazier with every year that passes), Con Air, and The Rock. This was Peak Cage, in his prime. Travolta was piping hot, too, with his career resurgence in full-swing after Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty. They were both firmly in their zone, willing — delighted, even — to take huge cuts at weird material in the way that really only the two of them can. It is really something to think about today, with 20 years of history in our rearview and both of them still making bonkers news. Read Cage’s interview in the New York Times! Watch the movie John Travolta made that was directed by Fred Durst! These two guys swapped faces in an action movie!

It gets better. Face/Off was directed by John Woo, a visionary action director who loves speedboats and doves and was getting his first big crack at a big-budget American film. He let it all hang out. Cage had two golden guns. Science was glossed right over as though it was a suggestion rather than a set of undeniable laws. There were so many face waterfalls.

The whole movie was a perfect storm of chaos. Everything clicked exactly as it needed to. It was vivid and insane and fun and as wild as a toddler on cold brew and I just don’t see how you can go about recreating that synthetically today. You’d either need to try to play it straighter and grittier like Michael Mann did with Miami Vice or do an extra-campy, tongue-in-cheek love song like the 21 Jump Street movies, which would feel off because the whole point of Cage and Travolta’s performances was that they were as earnest as they were completely unhinged. They weren’t trying to give the wackiest performances you’ve ever seen. They just did. You can’t artificially produce chaos like that. It just won’t feel right.

Maybe this is the best analogy. You know how some mornings you wake up after a particularly vivid and strange dream and you think “I gotta tell someone about this,” so then you sit down and start explaining it to a friend or partner (“… and then the eagle swooped down and grabbed my homework but, get this, the eagle had the voice of Helen Mirren and told me I was going to die…”) and you see their eyes start to glaze over after about 30 seconds? That’s what I’m afraid of here. Face/Off was a fever dream that escaped our collective subconscious and existed in the real world. We all experienced it first-hand, in real life. Trying to tell the story again now, diluted by time and without the anarchy of unpredictability, just won’t be the same. It will be like explaining a dream. I don’t see how it can be anything less than disappointing.

Unless, and please do hear me out on this because I swear I am not joking, we get the whole band back together again. Switch it up from a remake to a sequel. Cage, Travolta, Woo, all on board in 2019 to continue a story that appeared to end in 1997 with a death via spear gun. That’s a movie I can get behind. Or we cast The Rock and Vin Diesel and let Taika Waititi direct it while trying to prevent them from killing each other. These are the compromises I’m willing to make. I’m not unreasonable.

ITEM NUMBER TWO — Matthew McConaughey is exactly who you think he is, thank God

Getty Image

Matthew McConaughey is endlessly fascinating to me. He’s so uniquely and aggressively himself all the time, everywhere, even in commercials for luxury automobiles, and I think I could listen to him pontificate about anything for an hour at a time. That’s why I was so excited to see this article in The Athletic about his new role as “Minister of Culture” at his alma mater, the University of Texas.

The whole thing is pure, unfiltered McConaughey. I’m going to blockquote a few of the best passages but you have to promise me you’ll go read the whole thing. Promise? Do you? Okay, good. Here we go.

Asked to define his job, McConaughey goes on a near 10-minute soliloquy, detailing the position’s European history and background, its importance and how a cultural position suits a decidedly capitalistic endeavor such as the University of Texas athletic department.

I want audio of this soliloquy. I want to put it on my car stereo on the drive from my parking spot to the grocery store. Loud, too. Like, “annoying neighbors blasting heavy metal while working on their motorcycles in the driveway” levels of volume. I want someone to call the cops on me for listening to a Matthew McConaughey speech to loud. That’s where I’m at.

From behind his desk, [athletic director Chris] Del Conte grabs his phone and plays one such message. “Hey CDC,” McConaughey says in his famed, lazy Texas drawl, “it’s the M.O.C., baby. I got an update on the 40. Holler.’’ Asked to translate the message, Del Conte giggles, “I have no idea. It’s the M.O.C., baby.’’

Perfect.

McConaughey steals a piece of paper, borrows a pen and scribbles down his email, apologizing that he doesn’t remember his cell phone number. “Gotta change it a lot?” Ehlinger asks. “Nah,’’ McConaughey says with a chuckle. “I just never call myself.’’

Somehow even more perfect.

McConaughey arrived 15 minutes before practice, and he and Osetkowski headed off to a small office inside the practice facility, shutting the door behind them. “Practice is about to start and one of my assistants says, ‘Want me to get Dylan?’” Smart says. “I said, ‘Nah, let them go.’’’ An hour and 15 minutes later, after practice had ended, the two emerged laughing. The next day, Osetkowski scored 21 points and grabbed six rebounds as Texas upset the 23rd-ranked Sooners. “There aren’t a lot of people who can come in and do that,’’ says Smart, who still has no idea what the two discussed. “But that’s exactly what that kid needed that day.’’

This story is wonderful and it gives me a good excuse to make the same joke I make every time I post the picture at the top of this section: What if, instead of showing him doing a push-up, that is a shot of him giving a pep talk to the beach? “People look at you and they see tiny little grains of sand just slip-slippin’ through their fingers. Elusive. Inconse-quen-tial. But when you… [interlocks fingers, stares at them for 10 full seconds and then chuckles at a thought he will never share]… connect, when you come together… you can make castles. That’s strength, kemosabe. Pow-er. The mighty pebble.”

Honestly, I see no way we can rule it out.

ITEM NUMBER THREE — The 9-1-1 spinoff looks perfect

FOX

As we all know or should know, 9-1-1 is the wildest show on television right now. It’s totally nuts. One half of it is these serious plots about the characters’ traumatic personal lives and the other half is just the loopiest stuff ever filmed. The GIF at the top of this section? Happened in the show. Context is not important. Other things that happened in the show:

– Firefighters saved a man who was choking during an exotic bug-eating contest and, to thank them, the owner of the exotic pet store sent them unmarked psychedelic-laced baked goods and all the firefighters started tripping nuts

– A man died in an escalator accident while trying to propose to his girlfriend with a ring pop at the mall

– Angela Bassett’s character — ANGELA BASSETT IS ON THIS SHOW — once got kidnapped by a crazy woman who wanted to cut out her “good” heart and put it into the body of the cheating boyfriend she murdered on Valentine’s Day

That’s just a taste. There are so many more. There’s no time to discuss them right now, though, because there’s news to discuss about the upcoming Texas-set spin-off, 9-1-1: Lonestar, which will feature Rob Lowe as one of its leads and, no, I am not making any of this up. The news is: Hey look, Liv Tyler is going to be on the show, too.

Tyler will play Chief Paramedic Michelle Blake, who’s a little rock ‘n’ roll, sometimes a bad girl but always boss. Equal parts compassionate and ruthless, Michelle is brilliant and wry, and the only one who can match wits with Owen in the station, where she often will put him in his place. While always on point at work, Michelle has a obsession she struggles to control: finding out what happened to her little sister Iris, who disappeared two years ago. She’ll stop at nothing to discover the truth, even if it means burning her own life down.

Did you read that? Did you really? Because something important is happening here. Look at the first few sentences again. We’ve seen tough, no-nonsense chiefs on television before. We’ve seen loose cannon underlings. But Liv Tyler is, unless I am mistaken, playing a loose cannon chief.

A LOOSE CANNON CHIEF.

Bless these shows and their commitment to shattering television norms one freeway shark attack at a time.

(A freeway shark attack is also something that happened on 9-1-1.)

ITEM NUMBER FOUR — Miss you already, Veep

Veep is over and I am already sad about it. What a treat that show was. It was sharp and mean and silly and painful and delightful and so funny it hurt. If I’m sticking with the treat analogy, it was the razor-blade-filled Halloween candy that your parents warned you about because every news station in America did a story about like the one time it happened four states over. Veep was a good show. That’s my point.

Anyway, here’s a deleted scene from the finale that showrunner David Mandel tweeted out this week. It features Jonah shouting “WHO THE FUCK IS JAMES MADISON?” Mandel is right that it probably wouldn’t have fit in the show, but he was also right to share it online anyway. Good job, everyone.

ITEM NUMBER FIVE — More like The Snoozeroom

I had never seen this scene from The Newsroom before it started swirling around on social media this week. The main reason for this is that I’m a normal, well-adjusted person who saw sentences like “Aaron Sorkin’s new show will follow a fictional news organization that is covering real-life events from two years prior” back when the show was announced and let out a long and involuntary bellow of “noooooooooope.” But maybe you watched it. That’s cool.

I let out another loud and involuntary bellow at the freaking hairpin left turn this scene takes near the end. This time it was more of a groanlaugh. It’s somehow the worst and funniest thing I’ve ever seen, and it leaves me feeling totally validated in never watching but also so morbidly curious that I want to binge the whole show this weekend. It’s a very strange feeling, kind of like smelling lunch meat and realizing it went bad but tasting it anyway just to be sure.

Remember how The Rock was the first person to break the news that Osama bin Laden was dead? That was awesome. That should have been an episode of The Newsroom instead of whatever this is.

READER MAIL

If you have questions about television, movies, food, local news, weather, or whatever you want, shoot them to me on Twitter or at brian.grubb@uproxx.com (put “RUNDOWN” in the subject line). I am the first writer to ever answer reader mail in a column. Do not look up this last part.

Alyssa:

As a fan of your Ballers coverage (including the scoop about Elizabeth Warren’s fandom and your tweets from [Thursday] about the crazy plots developing this season), and as someone who has never seen a single episode, I come to you with a simple request. What is the craziest thing that has ever happened on the show? If you can’t pick one single thing, I will accept a top three. I don’t want to watch the show but I also desperately want an answer to this and I feel like you are the only person who can help me.

Alyssa, where do I even begin? I could do a whole thing about just the first three episodes of this season. The Rock is buying the Kansas City Chiefs with funding from Toby from The West Wing and Brian from Wings, not long after trying to strongarm USC into a recruiting-based television deal and working with Steve Gutenberg to move a franchise to Los Angeles. Rob Corddry and Russell Brand are running an extreme sports marketing firm. An All-Pro defensive lineman for the Cowboys in thinking about retiring to become a professional gamer. Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore plays a character named “Bossman” who owns the Cowboys and is so clearly a stand-in for Jerry Jones that he might as well just go ahead and say it. Denzel Washington’s son, John David Washington, plays a flashy wide receiver who tested positive for steroids, signed a lucrative contract anyway, and then — immediately after hearing about the contract — got hit by a car on Rodeo Drive.

HBO
HBO

He now appears to be starting a podcast. Ballers is the best show on television. It is disgraceful that no one has asked Elizabeth Warren about it at a debate so far. I must know her opinion on Charles’s rise from used car salesman to GM of the Los Angeles Rams.

It appears I have listed more than three things.

AND NOW, THE NEWS

To Australia!

Police launched a raid on Burton Island off the port town of Geraldton last week, finding Frenchman Antoine Dicenta, 51, and British man Graham Palmer, 34, allegedly with 1.087 tonne of methylamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy in dozens of bags that they had attempted to hide under seaweed.

Hmm. I wonder how they got caught. It seems like, at the very least, they’d have a pretty clear escape route, what with the open sea right there in front of them. Well, let’s keep reading to find out, but not until I take this big sip of piping hot coffee. Let’s just hope nothing crazy happens while I have this hot coffee in my mouth. That sure would be a shame. I’d probably spit it everywhere. I bet it’ll be okay, though. As long as the next paragraph doesn’t contain a phrase like “thwarted by a huge seal” or something like that. But, come on. What are the chances of th-…

They allegedly tried to flee but were thwarted when a huge seal blocked their path, police said. The pair were charged last week with importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug.

Dammit.

What is your favorite part of this? Is it that the news described the seal as “huge”? That’s my favorite part. I’m sure they just mean a seal that is slightly larger than a normal seal, but I’m picturing some monstrous crime-fighting 20-foot seal now, barking and clapping and catching criminals up and down the shore. I love him. I love my huge seal king.

When police arrived, Dicenta and Palmer made a run for their dinghy but were thwarted by a huge sleeping seal, Healy told the broadcaster.

“They woke it up and it jumped up with its big chest out and bellowed at them.

“The guys basically had the choice of going through the seal or getting arrested and they ended up choosing getting arrested.”

“Hey, what are you in here for?”

“Drugs.”

“Dang, how’d they catch you? Wiretap? Undercover?”

“We woke up a huge seal and it bellowed in our faces and we didn’t know what to do so we just let ourselves get arrested.”

“YOU TOO?!”

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