A-List:
Re-Makes Don't Have to Suck

By David Mumpower

August 4, 2004

*YOU* are playing the Cary Grant role? You can't be serious.

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Everyone has a bit of pre-cog in them. We have all taken a look at the commercial for a re-make of a film and immediately dismissed it out of hand as pointless. It's the Psycho effect most recently utilized for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead and even last weekend's The Manchurian Candidate. Fark.com even has a running joke every time a project like this is announced: "Hollywood is out of ideas." More often than not, this sort of lateral thinking is valid. Look no further than Love Affair starring the 104-year-old Warren Beatty as a romantic lead, Out-Of-Towners (Why, Steve Martin? Why?), Sweet November (a film where Charlize Theron and Keannu Reeves flunk Chem 101) or *gulp* Swept Away to see how much of a train wreck a remake usually winds up being.

Sometimes, though, an injustice is done to a project. In such instances, a modern update of a movie might not be necessary but then again, how many films really qualify under this criteria anyway? It's not like the world was dying for a videogame-to-movie conversion of the light gun game House of the Dead either. For this reason, BOP is going to take a step back and have a look at the meta in this edition of A-List. Here then are the top five Unfairly Pre-Judged re-makes which in hindsight deserve a much better fate, an open-minded viewing and arguably even a better reputation than their predecessors.

The Truth about Charlie

Perhaps no film on this list better represents the Unfairly Pre-judged Re-Make model than this Charade redux. Replacing Cary Grant with ever-bland Mark Wahlberg is the worst kind of cinematic blasphemy to many. And since Grant is my all-time favorite actor, I understand that line of thinking. In shrugging him off as wholly unfit, people either ignored or missed the beauty of the 2002 release.

Writer/director Jonathan Demme has an obvious love for the original piece as well as an intrinsic understanding of why Charade has stood the test of time. His re-make offers the same sense of whimsy and exotic charm. And that's not all he brings the table. The masterstroke in The Truth about Charlie is the movie's answer to Audrey Hepburn, Thandie Newton. The actress who came to fame in the criminally underrated 1991 John Duigan production, Flirting, proves to be the perfect modern recreation of Hepburn's beguiling charm and innocence. What should have been her star turn here went largely unnoticed due to an audience's rush to judge. Any Charade lover who takes the time to watch the re-make with an open mind will realize that Demme has lived out a fan's dream. He has recreated one of his most beloved films, and he has done so with a meticulous respect for the original subject matter. It's impossible for me to envision Grant, Hepburn and particularly director Stanley Donen being anything other than thrilled with this version. Newton on her own would steal their hearts with her smile.

Thir13en Ghosts

It's somewhat of a juxtaposition to include this selection on the list. Whereas the other films are perceived as beating a dead horse, the Dark Castle productions are predicated upon the notion that re-makes are a good thing. The reason that this title still fits the theme is that audiences were not as receptive to the idea. Like the other entries, Thir13en Ghosts was harshly judged as inferior by many.

Perhaps ironically, the most indicting criticisms of the 2001 title attacked its choice of style over substance. Considering the career of William Castle, no one would have laughed harder at these outcries than the showman himself. His entire life was spent attempting to create immersive theatrical experiences. If that meant hanging sheets on strings or creating smell-o-vision cards to further engage the audience, he gladly obliged.

Had today's technologies been in place during his career, Castle would have exhuberantly rushed to embrace them. The man was all about style over substance, because he fully appreciated the immediacy of such enterprises. It is most fitting that the 2001 update offered the trappings of horror blended with aethetically unique albeit often discomforting visuals. This is, after all, intended to be a tale of the macabre.

At its heart, the movie is about the stealing of souls in order to gain nearly ominpotent power. Such a concept should not be diluted for the comfort of its viewers. Thankfully, director Steve Beck does not have a weak stomach or a lack of resolve in these matters. His offering is unabashedly creepy, and this boldness allows him to create a visceral experience for the viewer. Thir13en Ghosts is the rare Hollywood horror film that may be enjoyed even by those who don't find it scary. The lush visuals manage to engross even when the storyline fails to compel. It is very much a film that would make William Castle beam with pride.

High Society

Admittedly, this is an unusual choice. The thought of taking a 20-year-old classic and turning it into a musical is one that would occur only to the most insane among us. I am talking to you, Baz Lurhmann. And quit looking at Top Gun that way!

High Society was just that daring, though. It took the genteel nature of the original film, The Philadelphia Story, and turned it upside down. The newspaper folk trying to get a scoop aspect was dialed way down, while the singalongs were dialed up. Waaaaay up. Never in the history of cinema has a re-make treated its source material with such irreverence. Oddly enough, it works.

The key to High Society's success lies in the casting. There was simply no way for the producers to acquire the frontline talent requisite to compete with Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Instead, a decision was made to bring in the right set of singers such that a musical wouldn't be doomed from the start. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra certainly can't act on a par with Grant and Stewart but they sure as hell can out-sing them. Hall of Fame Hollywood siren Grace Kelly didn't have the voice of her peers. Instead, her presence was a concession to the fact that the film needed at least one star on the level of the players from the original.

All of the desperate creative genius involved in making this project would have failed, though, if not for the presence of one man. Cole Porter was still relatively new to the Hollywood game when he wrote this score, which has turned out to be one of the most lasting in cinematic history. The light-hearted whimsy of the piece captivates, making Porter (and his on-screen avatar Louis Armstrong) the real star of the proceedings. If you have been considering watching Porter's story told in De-Lovely, I would instead recommend a trip to Blockbuster to pick up this nearly forgotten re-make.

The Thomas Crown Affair

Non-plussed critics showed an insufficient amount of respect for this John McTiernan offering. That's tragic, really, as Crown is one of if not the best adult film(s) of the past five years. The leads are pleasantly comfortable adults who are firm about what they like and who they are.

When bored billionaire Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) pulls off what seems like the perfect heist, insurance investigator Catherine Olds Banning (Rene Russo) is brought in to research the crime. Each is well aware of the other's likely outcome, but the two manage to fall in love anyway.

Along the way, the duo strongly reminds the audience that despite what Hollywood conventional wisdom wants us to think, 40-year-olds can be just as sexy as 18-year-olds in Britney Spears paraphenalia. Like Faye Dunaway (who also has a small part in the re-make) and Steve McQueen before them, Russo and Brosnan offer up a sizzling romance that smolders beneath the surface of their cat-and-mouse investigation duel.

Out of all the films on this list, The Thomas Crown Affair is simultaneously the most universal offering as well as the sequel most definitively able to surpass the original.

Solaris

The final entry is unquestionably the most difficult to describe and discuss. George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh could have taken the easy way out as a follow-up to Out of Sight, one of the best films of 1998. Each man had soared in popularity after that film, so their reunion was likely to produce a blockbuster hit if they were inclined to go commerical. Instead, the duo took the road less traveled with this existential think piece.

Solaris is a movie I enjoy a great deal, though I feel no shame in admitting I don't understand it very much. At the time of the film's release, it evoked innumerable theological and philosophical discussions amongst the BOP staff. Even after participating in all of those discussions, I still don't profess to have a complete understanding of the events of Solaris.

Why, then, am I recommending it as a re-make which does credit to the good name of its original? Well, it's not as if the first film was named for genial nature and action sequences. The Russian film was turtle vs. hare level slow and impossibly caustic. By comparison with that laconic outing, the re-make is Michael Bay-esque in its straightforwardness and Kevin Smith-ish in its verbosity.

What I am certain about is that the performances in Solaris are riveting. George Clooney's withdrawn, befuddled actions as he attempts to solve the mysteries of his ship blend nicely with Natascha McElhone's nascent recognition of her prior self-image and Jeremy Davies's creepy twitchings as Snow. None of them completely understand the events unfolding around them, paralleling the confusion the viewer feels in watching them.

In the end, everyone comes away from Solaris with a singular perspective on what has transpired. There are no right or wrong answers about the events which occur on the ship. That lack of finality is the beauty of the film. It creates passionate discussion about the all-encompassing (or is it nihilistic?) nature of Solaris. Rare is the movie that offers such an open-ended story.


     


 
 

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