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Entries in Remake (18)

Friday
Apr082011

Arthur

When a movie like Arthur comes along, I can’t help but sigh. Is the 1981 original really worthy of an update? No matter how you cut it, I would argue it isn’t. While a popular comedy in its own right, its name is not recognizable enough among all generations to ensure a high number of ticket sales, but more importantly, it holds up remarkably well. It isn’t a film that has degraded with time and needs a modern retelling. So who exactly is this remake of Arthur for?

Taking the role from Dudley Moore in the original is Russell Brand as the titular character. He’s the wealthy son of Vivienne, played by Geraldine James, who supplies him with endless amounts of cash ($950 million if we’re being exact) for him to live his life the way he wants. However, she has grown tired of his slacker ways and has become embarrassed by his confrontations with the law. His public troubles are hurting her company, so she tells him she is cutting him off unless she marries Susan, played by Jennifer Garner, a woman she hopes will set Arthur straight. Unfortunately, Arthur doesn’t love Susan, but agrees to go through with it anyway to keep the cash. However, he soon meets Naomi, played by Greta Gerwig, the love of his life, and he finds himself torn between love and money.

There are two things this remake does better than the original. In regards to the cast, Gerwig is infinitely more likable than the bland (yet inexplicably popular) Liza Minnelli. She has a radiant onscreen presence and, along with her performance in last year’s Greenberg, has catapulted herself to the head of America’s sweethearts. She is to die for and conveys a type of innocence that is all but missing from women in the cinema these days.

The other step up is that the romance in this update is sweeter and better developed. While largely thanks to Gerwig, it also helps that the Arthur character isn’t as obnoxious here. In the original, he was loud and grating, stumbling over his words and his feet as he drank himself stupid. It was never entirely clear why Minnelli’s character fell for Arthur, but it’s understandable in the remake. Although he does drink and can sometimes be a little too much to handle, his crazy antics rarely reach the unpleasantries of his 1981 counterpart.

The problem is that those crazy antics are what made that movie so darn funny. The romance may have been a bit weak, but its main goal was to make you laugh and it succeeded. That prioritization is the same in the remake, but it only gets the less important romance parts right while the jokes strain to get the slightest reaction from its audience. A few are undeniably funny, but the rest are lazy, boring and obvious.

A lot of the original’s charm and laughs came from the butler character, played by John Gielgud (who won an Oscar for the role), but that charm is entirely missing here. Instead, the role is taken over by Helen Mirren, who laces her lines with contempt. Rather than coming off as cynical, yet playful as she is supposed to, she simply comes off as mean. So when the time comes for the inevitable late movie bonding scenes, they feel forced and fake.

To continue along with this doesn’t-live-up-to-the-original rant, Brand is simply a poor replacement for Dudley Moore. He has given me plenty of laughs in the past in movies like Get Him to the Greek, but he is strangely subdued here, probably because he is forced to restrain himself to keep with the PG-13 rating. Aside from the previously mentioned positives, everything in this remake (including those left unmentioned) is a step down from the original. I suppose those who haven’t seen it may find something worth watching here, but if you’re like me, there’s really no comparing the two.

Arthur receives 2/5

Friday
Feb112011

Just Go With It

I’ve come to terms with Hollywood having run out of ideas. With years of examples to back it up, it’s fairly easy to make the claim that the bigwigs at the major film studios have no idea what else to do. So, to compensate, they release remakes, not because they have a fresh idea on the story or think they can improve on the original, but because they know a movie with a recognizable name will sell tickets. While I’m not flat out opposed to remakes, I believe the classics should be left alone. If you’re going to remake a movie, make it one that had an interesting idea or a lot of potential, but failed to live up to it, a modern update that could indeed be better than the original. Cactus Flower, which is now being remade as Just Go With It, falls somewhere in the middle of “classic” and “worth an update.” It's a classic only in the sense that it’s old, not that it’s considered one of the best films of all time, but it’s still wonderful, full of heart and whimsy and multi-dimensional characters you can care about. This 2011 update doesn’t improve on it, but it differs enough to stand apart from it and, although it’s a wildly erratic film in terms of quality, it’s watchable.

The story follows Danny (Adam Sandler), a plastic surgeon who pretends to be married to pick up women. His manufactured sob stories about his neglectful “wife” tug at the heartstrings of the women who listen, which allows him to make his way into their beds. However, at a party one day, he meets Palmer (Brooklyn Decker), a stunning girl who instantly smites him, but when she stumbles onto his ring, she mistakes him as a married man. Instead of telling her the truth, he lies to her and creates a whirlwind of deceit. When he tells her he is divorcing his made up wife, Palmer insists on meeting her, so he coaxes his secretary, Katherine (Jennifer Aniston), into pretending to playing his soon-to-be ex. But when Palmer overhears Katherine talking to her kids on the phone, she assumes they are Danny’s as well, so the lie spreads further, which leads Danny to realize something about himself.

Some remakes can be directly compared to their originals, but in the case of Just Go With It and Cactus Flower, the two share only certain aspects. Aside from the initial concept, they each go down fairly separate paths. What they share in common is that the setup is caused by a bad decision, to not come clean to their girls. The differences from here on out are vast, but none more so than the much more excessive and less believable nature of Just Go With It. The situations and conflicts that arise in this movie are brought on by extreme and incredibly unlikely coincidences, like when Katherine runs into her nemesis, Devlin (Nicole Kidman), while in Hawaii pretending to be Danny’s wife, thus making the ruse trickier to pull off. Cactus Flower may not have been perfect, but when characters bumped into each other, it made sense. The rationale behind their actions was indicative of their personalities, so even as you imagined how differently you would have handled the situation, you understood why they acted as they did.

But to criticize the believability factor in a movie like this is frivolous. It’s a comedy, after all, and the real level of its quality is measured in how many laughs it produces, which is precisely what makes Just Go With It so difficult to discuss. It’s a movie I liked one minute and didn’t like the next. It was like my opinion was riding a Ferris wheel, ascending to the highest of peaks before descending to the lowest of lows. There are a surprising amount of laugh out loud moments (especially given the poor quality of other Happy Madison productions like Grown Ups and Paul Blart: Mall Cop), but it also gets into funks. Jokes are stretched too thin (the name “Devlin” as slang for going to the bathroom is referenced no less than seven times), mean spiritedness seeps through and slapstick humor pervades the movie.

When the film reaches its back half, it goes completely overboard with idiotic nonsense—what relevance performing the Heimlich Maneuver on a sheep has to the overall picture I haven’t the slightest clue—but the actors are game and I enjoyed the chemistry between all of the characters, including the two children, played by Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck, who are both terrific and squeeze out some of the film’s biggest laughs. Sandler still works better as a dramatic actor (as seen in movies like Punch-Drunk Love and Reign Over Me) and struggles to hold himself together in the funnier moments, shedding conspicuous smiles when he should be straight faced, but there’s still charm to Just Go With It. It’s slight, but it’s there and you won’t blame yourself for having a look.

Just Go With It receives 2.5/5

Wednesday
Dec222010

True Grit

Many claimed years ago that the Western genre was dead. It’s an easy argument to make and a tough one to refute because the sheer number of films has decreased substantially (and I’m talking about true Westerns, not simply films with Western elements like Serenity or Jonah Hex). But I would argue they aren’t dead; they’re just dormant. Along with 2007’s terrific 3:10 to Yuma and the Coen brothers’ newest, hotly anticipated film, True Grit, proof is offered up that there is still some life breathing in those old Western lungs.

True Grit, adapted from the 1968 novel by Charles Portis (which was previously adapted to film in 1969 by John Wayne), tells the story of little Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who is seeking out revenge against the man who murdered her father, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Despite her strong personality, she is too little and weak to get the job done herself, so she hires bounty hunter and ex-US marshal, Reuben Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help. However, a Texas lawman named La Boeuf (Matt Damon) is also on Chaney’s trail, hoping to bring him in for a separate crime he committed in his home state. Although they initially agree to work together, a disagreement sets La Boeuf off on his own and a race for Chaney’s head begins.

With the exception of Burn After Reading, the Coen brothers are yet to make a movie I dislike. With No Country for Old Men, Fargo, The Big Lebowski and the oft forgotten, but all the same terrific, Blood Simple (all of which they wrote the screenplays for as well), the two siblings are one of the strongest forces in Hollywood. True Grit only reaffirms that statement. It’s a rough, tough, mean and entertaining romp through the wastelands of the old West, a vision we rarely see in our modern cinematic society that is too busy looking forward to remember where it's been.

This is how movies used to be made. Unlike 3:10 to Yuma, which more or less caved into the pressures of a modern audience that calls for action packed extravaganzas, True Grit takes its time. It’s about the characters and story, not how high the body count can reach. The Coen brothers may not always seem to know what movies audiences will flock to, but they know what makes a movie good and that is all that matters.

And part of making a good movie, of course, is assembling a talented cast. Jeff Bridges, collaborating with the dynamic duo for the first time since 1998’s The Big Lebowski, gives an award worthy performance as Reuben Cogburn. What with this and the much anticipated Tron: Legacy, he’s having quite a week. Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Berry Pepper all show up to lend their considerable talents as well, the latter of whom is so good it almost makes me want to forgive his annoying performance in one of this week’s other (not nearly as good) releases, Casino Jack.

The weak standout is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who sometimes recites her lines as if she’s standing on a stage. While not a bad actress, she has a tough time working opposite Bridges and Damon. Whereas their dialogue flows naturally, hers is a bit stilted at times. She speaks with a matter-of-fact attitude, which suits her quick talking character, but there is a refusal to speak in contractions that brings the dialogue to a halt. Regardless of whether or not it was for authenticity’s sake, it didn’t work and became a major distraction.

That predicament isn’t limited only to Steinfeld, however; it’s a mass problem among every character. Contractions are used liberally, seemingly only when a line wouldn’t have been funny otherwise. This inconsistent approach is what bugged me the most about True Grit, but the wonderful direction, otherwise great performances and beautiful cinematography make it easy to forgive. This is the Coen brothers' best movie since No Country for Old Men. It's a must see.

True Grit receives 4/5

Friday
Jun112010

The Karate Kid

There are lots of movies that can define a childhood. For some, The Wizard of Oz rings in their heads. For those perhaps a little less sophisticated, that first Mighty Morphin Power Rangers flick might be their fondest memory. Ask people my age what they grew up with and they may tell you the 1984 classic, The Karate Kid. Having seen that many times as a child, but none in recent years, I walked into the 2010 remake hesitant. Would fond memories of that film come flooding back to me as I watched or would it be able to carve out its own little place in my mind and work on its own terms? Well, I’m happy to report it was the latter. The Karate Kid remake is a fine film and those doubting it will live up to the original may have quite a shock coming.

The kid this time around is played by Jaden Smith. His name is Dre Parker and he is being forced to move from Detroit to China by his mother Sherry, played by Taraji P. Henson, who has just been transferred overseas by her employer, so he’s stuck there no matter how much he hates it, which is quite a bit. As soon as he arrives, the first day in fact, he gets beaten up by a nasty kid named Cheng, played ferociously by Zhenwei Wang. His life is hell and every day he lives with the fear of Cheng and his gang giving him a follow-up beating. One day while on the run, he meets Mr. Han, played by Jackie Chan, who saves him and puts the kids in their place. It turns out that they learned their craft from a local teacher, a mean guy whose motto is “No Weakness. No Pain. No Mercy.” But Han believes that kung-fu should be used for peace, not war and decides to talk to the teacher, only to enter Dre into the approaching kung-fu tournament, taking it upon himself to teach the boy discipline and hard work, thus making him strong enough to fight and protect himself.

The Karate Kid starts out weak. It’s one of those films that promises very little upon initial glance. The first scene shows Dre and his mother abruptly moving out, but not before showing us that his dad has died, seemingly begging for us to feel bad for him already. When he arrives in China, he makes a friend a bit too quickly and immediately meets a pretty girl. It’s this girl that helps him meet his bully. Even this is a little ridiculous. Cheng looks in no way intimidating and his dead cold stares only elicit laughter. The “bad guy” looks like little more than a wimp. But as they say, looks can be deceiving. As soon as he lands his first blow on Dre, your perception of him immediately changes. This kid means business and throughout the film the young actor does a terrific job of keeping the menace. He’s a sickly violent little creature and by the time the end rolls around, you’ll be begging to see him get his comeuppance.

Dre, on the other hand, is a good kid and wants only to be left alone. He’s scared out of his wits after his first encounter with Cheng and, similarly, looks like a wimp. But Jaden Smith, the offspring of the extremely talented Will Smith, does a terrific job. He’s of small body type, but his heart is big and he proves that you don’t necessarily need hulking muscles to fight, only a passion and desire to face your demons and prove your worth. Jaden is a natural in front of the camera and I feel comfortable saying he’s one of the best child stars working today.

But what really surprises here is Jackie Chan. After a string of “what was he thinking?” films, he’s finally back at the top of his game, but that isn’t the surprise. That comes from the fact that he actually has to act, and he's great. In his other American films, he merely has to kick and punch while smiling and cracking jokes, but here he has to emote and one scene in particular is heartbreaking. He took a role from the beloved Pat Morita in the original and made it his own, creating what is essentially a whole new character that thinks and feels and loves.

The film comes with faults, however. It chugs along for nearly two hours and fifteen minutes, a runtime far too long for a movie of this type, and drags in places, which could have been rectified had the romantic angle with the aforementioned pretty girl been dropped. Outside of one excellent scene late in the movie, the whole romance felt out of place and, frankly, a little weird.

But don’t tell that to the audience I was watching it with. I’ve never seen so much adulation for a film coming from the crowd. They were rooting for Dre the whole way, clapping at every hit landed on his foe and cheering for his victories. Indeed, it was a fun experience that I’m glad I had.

My thoughts on the trailer went back and forth prior to my screening. Sometimes it looked good. At other times it looked bad. But all of that doesn’t matter now. The final product is outstanding. The Karate Kid is an excellent film and is one of the biggest surprises of the year.

The Karate Kid receives 4/5

Friday
Apr302010

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Sleep. It’s something we all need. After a long, hard day, nothing is better than plopping down on a bed and heading to dreamland. But what if you couldn’t fall asleep? What if somebody was haunting your dreams with the ability to kill you? That’s the premise that the Nightmare on Elm Street series has frightened us with for over 25 years. Now the series is getting the reboot with a fresh batch of victims and a new face, with Jackie Earle Haley taking over the role of Freddy Krueger from fan favorite Robert Englund, and, well, it’s not very good.

This Nightmare on Elm Street follows Nancy (Rooney Mara in the Heather Langenkamp role from the original). She’s a high school student who works at a diner and one night finds herself staring at the corpse of a friend who has just inexplicably died in his sleep. It turns out that she and fellow classmates Quentin (Kyle Gallner), Kris (Katie Cassidy) and Jesse (Thomas Dekker) have all been having the same nightmares involving a burnt, scarred, hideous man with knives on his fingers. It seems real to them and soon they find out that it is. They start to drop one by one in their sleep and must quickly find out what is happening before they find themselves asleep for good.

At its inception in 1984, A Nightmare on Elm Street was original and terrifying. Freddy Krueger wasn’t simply a psycho who you could outrun and escape from. He was in your head as you slept and if he cut you in there, you were cut in real life. It was a slasher done right. But as the years went on, and the movie studios pumped out more and more sequels, Freddy became a joke. The terror he once instilled in viewers vanished and was taken over by nutty one-liners that slowly diminished the character until he became irrelevant with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare in 1991. It wasn’t until Wes Craven, who helmed the original, returned in 1994 with New Nightmare that people began to once again see the intense fear Freddy could bring.

Craven took a character that had become so marketed that children were walking around with Freddy dolls and somehow made him scary again. He is the only person that has ever seen the true potential in the character (as he should be since he created him). This remake, as promising as the trailers made it out to be, only reinforces that statement.

This is not the Freddy I want to see. It tries to balance the scary Freddy with the jokester and it doesn’t work. It becomes an uneven mishmash of two parts that never fit solidly into place to begin with. Although I’m sure there were a few quips in the original, Freddy was more subdued. His rhetoric never became so jocular that you stopped taking him seriously. He remained frightening through the conclusion. Here, the film sets up a scene for fright and sometimes succeeds, but it’s usually followed by some stupid pun that effectively sucks all of the tension away.

It’s trying to be fun, but then again, Freddy isn’t fun. He’s a child molester and murderer. He’s not a character to root for. This isn’t Friday the 13th. You don’t want to see the monster win, but this film sure tries to make you think you do.

In fact, for the entire movie it almost forces you to. Unless you’re familiar with the mythology of the character (and if you aren’t, I suggest stopping reading now because spoilers follow), you won’t know that he was a sick human until the end. He is not taken to trial and let off on a technicality as in the original. Here he is simply burnt alive by the town’s adults over the speculation that he may have molested their kids. Nothing was ever proven and the film makes you think that he’s really just doing this for revenge. In a way, it's twisted justification.

But the film’s biggest flaw is its rapid pacing. At a brisk 95 minutes, A Nightmare on Elm Street flies to its end, but tries to force in as many nightmare scenes as possible, resulting in far too much screen time for the monster. A new approach to dreams in this remake comes in the form of “micro-naps,” a phase insomniacs get to when they haven’t had sleep where they start to dream when they’re awake (which believe it or not, is actually real). Because of this, the film jumps from the dream world to reality and back as quickly as you can take in breaths. It has little downtime and shows Freddy too much.

And as the best horror films have taught us, the scariest monsters are the ones that are hidden. When one is shown often, it becomes the star of the movie and distracts from the eeriness that the character is supposed to emit. When Freddy is first seen, it’s from behind and from the chest down. You see only his claw as he slides the blades together. This is in the opening scene of the movie and is a great way to introduce the character. It establishes his presence while still maintaining the mystery behind him. This is ruined about a minute later where he is fully shown and dispatches his first victim. His frightening allure was gone before the title card even appeared.

This is no fault of Jackie Earle Haley, mind you, who is quite good in his first outing as Freddy. If there was going to be anybody to take the beloved place of Robert Englund and do it well, it was going to be Haley. He takes the character and reinvigorates him. He plays him in a way that promises dread and is hampered only by the screenplay which doesn’t allow him to reach it.

The look of the film is also very good. The visuals, especially for a horror film, are stunning. The director, Samuel Bayer, most known for his music video work with bands such as Green Day, Metallica and the Smashing Pumpkins, makes this thing look good. He brings his unique visual style and lays it all on the table, delivering along with Haley that desired sense of dread that is, again, hampered by the lackluster screenplay.

The idea of not being able to fall asleep and having no escape if you do is still scary to this day. It taps into a state of being that everyone regardless of age, gender, race or class experiences. With this amazing premise and a terrifying villain, I find it kind of shocking how easily this film misses the mark. It does some things well, but most things not and fails to bring back the scary Freddy I’ve pined for since 1994. Lower those high hopes now kiddies, because A Nightmare on Elm Street is bound to disappoint.

A Nightmare on Elm Street receives 2/5