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Entries in Remake (18)

Friday
Oct142011

Footloose

The original Footloose starring Kevin Bacon is one of those cherished films that the younger generation of the time grew up with and still loves to this day. Now in their late 30’s and early 40’s, those people surely remember the high spirited energy and reckless abandon of the characters who stood up and challenged a ridiculous anti-dancing law. What they probably don’t remember is that the movie is a mess. It wants to say one thing, but instead says another. Its message of expressive freedom is rendered moot by a screenplay with plot turns that contradict it. The remake is, by and large, the same. Aside from a few minor, yet notable differences, 2011’s Footloose suffers from identical problems. For all intents and purposes, the majority of this review can double as a review of the original. It’s a two for one. You’re welcome.

Ren McCormack, this time played by Kenny Wormald, is a high school teen from Boston who has just landed in the small town of Bomont, Georgia. Because of a fatal accident a few years back that occurred after a night of riotous partying, dancing and listening to loud, vulgar music have been outlawed. The person most in favor of the law is Reverend Moore, played by Dennis Quaid, who lost his son in the accident. It’s because of him the town finds dancing sinful. Ren, being the free spirit he is, disagrees with the rest of the town and, along with his new friend, Willard, played by Miles Teller, and Reverend Moore’s beautiful, but rebellious daughter, Ariel, played by Julianne Hough, he sets out to change the law and open the minds of the people of Bomont.

If a winner must be chosen, it seems pretty clear to me that this remake is a superior film than the original, even if only slightly. It’s cleaner, tighter and it does away with many of the extraneous side characters that were given little to do. Ren’s mother, who sat around and twiddled her thumbs in the original, is rightfully forgotten here, replaced by his aunt who lends an ear when the time comes for Ren’s big emotional spill about why he has to fight authority. The book burning townsfolk who came off as caricatures are also dropped, giving more time to the story at hand. In those ways, as minor as they are, this version of Footloose is able to improve upon a much loved story.

Unfortunately, the bulk of it is still the same. The situations remain, the characters are unchanged and much of the dialogue is copy and paste. If you’re familiar with the original, prepare to get a strong sense of déjà vu upon watching this. This remake is a film that refuses to find its own voice and it’s that refusal to change, to adapt to our times, that makes it suffer. It uses different musicians like Wiz Khalifa to portray the type of music the town is against, but it still rests on the same foundation of the 1984 film. Even back then, it was a story that was hard to take seriously, but it’s even harder today. The rebellious preacher’s daughter, for instance, may not have been much of a cliché in 1984, but it sure is now.

Its biggest and most glaring flaw, the entire reason both movies fail, is its approach to confronting the supposedly unjust law. Here’s a movie that wants to make the argument that dancing and music of all types don’t lead to rebellion and violence, yet nearly every violent act in the movie happens at a dance or stems directly from dancing. When Ren and his pals head out of the town to dance at a bar, Willard is overcome with jealousy while watching a random man dance with his girl, which leads to him getting his face smashed. Later, due to her attraction to the rebellious nature of Ren and his willingness to dance in the face of the law, Ariel gets smacked around by her boyfriend. When the kids finally get the approval of the town to host a dance, a fight breaks out almost immediately in front of the building it’s being held in. These things wouldn’t have happened had Ren not started a minor revolution and began dancing. In these ways, the film goes against its very reason for being.

For every step forward, this remake takes, oh, I don’t know, half a step back. It’s always leading its predecessor in terms of quality, but it’s never far off from it. I suppose if you liked the original, you will enjoy this one too, but if this story is ever told again, significant changes to its poor narrative construction need to be implemented for it to work.

Footloose receives 1.5/5

Friday
Oct142011

The Thing

The Thing is a franchise that continually defies expectations. The 1951 original, The Thing from Another World, escaped the usual silliness of man-from-space pictures of the time period with strong central characters and a couple of impressive horror set pieces. In 1982, John Carpenter released his take on the story, simply titled The Thing, that managed to be one of only a select few remakes in movie history that improved on the original in almost every way. What it may have lacked in characterization, it made up for with unrelenting terror. It was a masterful display of suspense and it still holds up today. Then in 2002, Carpenter’s film got a terrific video game sequel that surprised gamers everywhere by breaking the trend of poor licensed video games. Now in 2011, we get a prequel to Carpenter’s film, also titled The Thing, that any person would rightfully expect to be lousy, but it’s not. It’s not as good as its predecessor, but it works and does so in a different way, separating itself from Carpenter’s version while still retaining its style. This is a franchise that can do no wrong.

The film takes place days before the events of 1982’s The Thing at a nearby Norwegian camp in Antarctica where a team of scientists have just found an alien spacecraft and a specimen frozen in the ice. To help unearth and examine it, they enlist the help of American paleontologist, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who soon realizes that the cells of the creature aren’t dying and are able to fuse themselves with the cells of other living creatures, replicating them perfectly. After it escapes, it’s a game of wits as nobody in the compound can trust anybody else. Any of them could be the thing.

The idea of not knowing who is a person and who is a thing was the driving the force behind Carpenter’s movie and the same is true here, though to a lesser degree. Although technically a prequel, it feels like a remake of the remake, following in its footsteps to a tee, including the lock-up of suspicious characters in a cabin outside and a variation on the blood test scene to check who is a monster and who isn’t, but it’s done well, building a good amount of tension and excellently playing off the fears of paranoia and claustrophobia. These early moments are undoubtedly its high points.

Eventually, however, it succumbs to monster movie madness and becomes nothing more than a gross-out creature feature. It becomes more jumpy and more effects oriented and thus, less effective. The tension is replaced by loud, overblown spectacle and the characters spend less time worrying about who is a thing and more time running from them, but it never gets boring. Because the movie has spent its early moments focusing on the characters, the sense of peril remains. You’ve come to care about them and even though the mystery is gone and the suspense is fading, its outcome remains as emotionally important as ever, despite the fact that, thanks to its prequel status, it had already been decided.

Where The Thing falters the most is in its climactic moments where it gets a bit too Hollywood and shows us too much. To go further would be critically irresponsible, but it ends up raising more questions than it answers, which is baffling given that it won’t ever have the chance to answer them (short of shooting a sequel separate from the Carpenter movie). Still, as far as these things go, this is pretty good. Creature features are generally silly, redundant and ineffective. The Thing proves not all creature features are created equal.

The Thing receives 4/5

Friday
Sep162011

Straw Dogs

Although I, unfortunately, have never seen Sam Peckinpah’s original Straw Dogs, I’ve heard plenty about it. I was told about its uncomfortable rape scenes, off-putting violence and general nihilism. The more I heard, the more it sounded like a spiritual companion to Last House on the Left, a film (or two if you include the remake) that I simply cannot handle. That movie is sick, twisted and it disguises evil as good, looking at the world from a pessimistic, animalistic viewpoint. I wasn’t exactly a fan of that film and the trailers for the remake of Straw Dogs, which looked so similar to that movie, didn’t get me particularly excited, but after seeing it, the contrast between the two is clear. Straw Dogs isn’t sensationalism. It may get a rise out of its viewers, but that’s not its goal. It aims to tell a story, albeit a dark and violent one, and it does it well. If you can stomach it, it’s well worth seeing.

David (James Marsden) and Amy (Kate Bosworth) are a happily married couple. They both work in show business, David a writer and Amy an actress, where they met one day while working on the same television program. Now, they are getting away from the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood lifestyle and heading to Blackwater, Mississippi, Amy’s hometown. Upon arriving, they run into Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), Amy’s high school boyfriend. He and his buddies have a contracting business and they are employed by David and Amy to fix their shed, which lost some of its roof thanks to a recent hurricane. As time goes on and Charlie begins to manipulate David, tension mounts, inevitably leading to a violent confrontation.

Straw Dogs is a smart movie that doesn’t feel gratuitous like many other similar films, including the aforementioned Last House on the Left. It doesn’t jump right into the abyss, eager to get to the bloodshed. No, it takes the time to build its characters up before killing them off. The tension builds not through attempts at excessive style or moody music or jump scares; it slowly percolates through dialogue and character interaction, which is no small feat. By the time the bloody end rolls around, you’ve invested yourself in what’s going on and it’s practically guaranteed to get your heart pumping like you just ran a marathon.

What disappoints, however, is how we end up reaching that bloody end. Throughout the film, there’s a bout of wits between Charlie and David. Neither likes the other, David aware of Charlie’s lust for his wife and Charlie seeing David as an unworthy companion to the girl he used to love. There’s also an odd sexual connection between Charlie and Amy; some of Amy’s bizarre actions are evidence enough of that. The way these are presented in the film is more than enough to make us believe violence could erupt, but the film instead relies on its B story to get us there. It involves an autistic man and a 15 year old cheerleader that goes nowhere fast, other than to set up a narrative contrivance that will lead the man into David and Amy’s home while the cheerleader’s father, alongside Charlie and his goons, stands outside with weapons demanding his head.

The way the film ultimately gets there is unsatisfactory, but at the same time, that route gives it a moral compass. David refuses to give up the man because he knows the guys outside will severely harm or even kill him. He knows keeping him in the house will lead to violence, but he doesn’t have it in him to turn over a man who is unable to comprehend what he did. Unlike Last House on the Left, where the “heroes” sought out their victims in the middle of the night and killed them in cold blood, David is protecting someone. He only kills because he has to.

If nothing else, that is what sets Straw Dogs apart from the rest of the pack, a likable main character who doesn’t try to justify his actions with flimsy reasoning. The film doesn’t romanticize the violence he inflicts on his attackers and it treats an earlier rape scene as it is, as an awful, soul crushing event. It’s not the most technically accomplished film ever made, but it knows what it’s doing. It works in its own crazy way and, though it’s certainly not for everybody, it’s one to keep your eye on.

Straw Dogs receives 3.5/5

Friday
Aug192011

Conan the Barbarian

As the summer winds to a close, it’s time to reflect back on what we’ve seen over the past three and a half months. We’ve seen many big budget action films released, including no less than four superhero movies. There have been some disappointments (Cowboys & Aliens), but there have also been those that have exceeded expectations (Captain America: The First Avenger). Now, with the most exciting time of the cinematic year ending, we have one last high profile film to see, Conan the Barbarian, and it’s a turd, easily one of the worst of the bunch, rising only above Green Lantern. It’s been many years since I’ve seen the original film and its sequel, so it’s difficult to make a direct comparison, but even with only a vague recollection of those two movies, I think it’s safe to say this reimagining makes those look like Shakespearean classics.

The film begins with some gobbledygook about sacrifices and ancient masks that can make a mortal a god. And that’s where it lost me. Conan the Barbarian is such an incomprehensible mess, it manages to confuse before anything actually happens. Before you know it, you’re watching Conan being born in the midst of battle before it flashes forward to the future not once, but twice, and takes our hero on a journey to at least half a dozen different locales in a quest for revenge.

That’s about as specific as I can get when it comes to the story. After watching, I challenge anyone to do better. An inability to follow what’s going on doesn’t stop at the story, however. It translates to the action scenes. The shaky camera, combined with the frenzied editing and darkened screen, compliments of a worthless 3D effect, keep the visuals murky and at a far too accelerated pace. Most of these action scenes are arbitrary in nature and mean very little to the story, though they’re all very violent and one in particular ends with about a dozen topless women standing around, so there’s that.

Conan the Barbarian is a rare anomaly, in that I honestly couldn’t tell whether or not I was supposed to be taking it seriously because there are plenty of laughs to be had, like one hilarious scene where Conan sticks his finger inside the wound of a man’s chopped off nose, which causes a good amount of snot to drip out. Whether that was supposed to be funny or not is debatable. What isn’t, however, are the hearty laughs provided by the narration from Morgan Freeman (which has become a joke unto itself in recent years) and the amusingly sexist dialogue, where Conan bosses his female companion around (“Woman! Come here!”) and accuses her of looking like a harlot, which would be offensive if the movie weren’t so ridiculous.

When you aren’t laughing at it, though, the dialogue (or more generally, the movie itself) is unbearable. It’s shoddily made, with one of the more obvious inconsistencies in recent memory (night turns to day in a matter of seconds), and the acting is uniformly bland. Jason Momoa, who plays the titular character, gives one of the most wooden performances of the year. Bearing a grimace and speaking in a deep voice does not a performance make. I would say his acting coach forgot to tell him that, but I find it unlikely he has ever had one.

Conan the Barbarian thinks it’s way more epic than it really is, but it’s nothing more than a hack and slash video game that you can’t play, and just as shallow as one too. It’s bloody and gruesome and its level of violence is matched only by its stupidity. And it is pretty violent.

Conan the Barbarian receives 1.5/5

Friday
Aug192011

Fright Night

In regards to remakes, bashing Hollywood has become the cool thing to do. I don’t mean to be preachy (because I’ve done a fair share of it myself), but in reality, remakes aren’t nearly as common as original films. It’s a common misperception because it feels like they are (and even so called original films are redundant of each other). Case in point: in the last three days, I’ve sat through three separate remakes: Conan the Barbarian, next week’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and now Fright Night. It’s getting a bit wearisome, to be sure, but this new Fright Night is solid. It’s a faithful reboot of the 1985 original that simultaneously does enough to stand on its own.

Anton Yelchin plays Charley, a normal high school kid who is caught up in a relationship with his girlfriend, Amy, played by Imogen Poots. He’s trying to fit in, which has caused him to neglect Ed, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, his nerdy former best friend. But when Ed accuses Charley’s next door neighbor, Jerry, played by Colin Farrell, of being a vampire, he has no choice but to listen. Before he knows it, Jerry is after him and Amy and he realizes he won’t be able to peacefully rest until Jerry is dead.

The original 80’s Fright Night is a good, not great, film that used its campiness and humor to charm. It had a creepy moment or two, but it wasn’t scary. It was just plain fun. The remake, similarly, is a good, not great, film, that retains the original’s humor, but dials down the camp and attempts (without succeeding) to ratchet up the scares. For what it’s worth, one film is no better or worse than the other. They both do what they do and they do it well without ever truly impressing.

Neither manage to impress because both films hit insurmountable narrative flaws that hamper the experience. While it could be argued the original is a tad too slow for its own good, the pace of the remake is decidedly too rapid. The film does a masterful job of establishing a battle of wits between Jerry and Charley, the latter the only person aware of Jerry’s true self and the former using psychological scare tactics to keep Charley subdued. Just when this intriguing set-up is about to play out, however, it goes overboard. Jerry blows up Charley’s house and goes on a statewide hunt to kill him. It becomes a case of too much, too soon. Rather than take the calm and patient (and, ultimately, better) route of the original, it goes to extreme measures to please a cinematic society that favors fast action over calculated storytelling.

Where it betters the original is in its casting of the villain. Colin Farrell is wonderfully evil as Jerry and he brings a type of menace that was missing from Chris Sarandon’s performance 25 years ago. The problem is that the script doesn’t allow him to shine (again, a problem stemming from the much too quick pace). He’s most effective when things are quiet, so when the movie decides to go berserk at about its halfway point, his commendable creepiness is rendered moot. Those around him do a good job of picking up the slack in the screenplay, however. Yelchin is a great nemesis for Farrell and he produces authentic chemistry with Poots, though that’s probably more in part to Poots’ natural beauty and charisma than anything else. Likewise, Mintz-Plasse does his best to keep the comedy coming and mostly succeeds, though, like most of his attempts since Superbad, he’s hit and miss.

Keeping with the recent trend, Fright Night is in 3D and, yet again, it’s an unnecessary aesthetic. Because this is a horror movie that takes place mostly at night, the dim picture is sometimes hard to see and there is rampant double vision. Despite a few effective moments, the 3D here is unpleasing to the eye. Even movies that are shot in 3D, as opposed to post-production conversions, have done little to persuade me that the effect is necessary, including this one. But 3D or not, Fright Night works and proves itself as one of the most purely enjoyable movies to be released this summer.

Fright Night receives 3.5/5