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31 Days of Howl-oween: Day 09 – Let the Right One In

Vampire films are all the rage in today’s marketplace.  We have films like those in the “Twilight” franchise, we have HBO’s hit “True Blood”, and we have films nobody has seen such as “The Vampires Assistant”.  Recently, there was a remake of today’s Swedish film that hit the local cineplex, to mostly average reviews and abysmal box office numbers.  With that, I decided to give today’s pic a viewing.

31 Days of Howl-oween

A Review of Films Filled with Frights

Day 9

Film #09


~ Let the Right One In – “Låt Den Rätte Komma In” ~

Director:  Tomas Alfredson
Year:  2008
Cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Patrik Rydmark
Language:  Swedish
Country:  Sweden
Specs:  135 mins. / Color / OAR 2.35:1 / MPAA Rating: R

Oskar (Hedebrant), a 12 year old boy, is the butt of a classmates (Rydmark) bullying, and tends to spend time by himself outside his mothers Stockholm apartment, where neighbor Eli (Leandersson), a 12 year old girl, lives.  One winter night, he meets Eli for the first time, and instantly forms a bond with this mysterious kindred spirit.  What he doesn’t realize is that Eli’s solitude is self-imposed, as she in actuality is a centuries old vampire, tormented by the curse that bedevils her.

This gothic character piece is more a brooding tale of loneliness and friendship set in the world of vampires than a horror film.  Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s eerie and haunting work is absolutely stunning to look at.  At first glance, one would assume the prima facie of the cinematography is of the land as a cold, dark, and blue winter.  However, I would say that it is describing the characters in their lonely, cold, blue lives.

The acting of the children is stellar.  Watching the face of Eli it is easy to feel her pain she suffers internally, as well as her hesitance to engage in a relationship with a human.  This is not “Twilight” teeny bopper fare.  It is a character driven piece with nary a predictable moment.  The score is equally as menacing as the story, and lends itself to the unusual vampire tale in the most engrossing of ways.

Some gruesome effects, even more disturbing coming from the horrors of a 12 year old child!  Well worth the time to take this pic in.  No surprise that an American remake (“Let Me In”) has hit theaters as I write this review.

A worthy vampire tale.

My Rating:  ***** / A

Available on Amazon: Let the Right One In [Blu-ray]

Or Amazon Video on Demand: Let the Right One In (English Subtitled)
or Let the Right One In (English Dubbed)

Stay tuned…

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2010 in Movies

 

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20 Films Remade by the Original Directors Pt.10

We are at the end of my 10 part blog on films remade by the same director as the original version.  To recap, the seeds for writing this article came about when news broke that director David Cronenberg was going to be remaking his 1986 film “The Fly”, which originally stared Jeff Goldblum in the starring role.  Days later it was announced that French director Géla Babluani was going to be remaking as a big budget Hollywood film his 2005 French film “13 Tzameti”, this time in color.  It was with this news that I set out to research if there ever had been a director who had done this before?  I was curious if any directors in the past 100+ of film making had learned from the mistakes (even if the original were an excellent film) of the original and redone a later version, with years of maturity, money, and experience behind them?

To my surprise, there were many.  I decided to narrow my field of research to 20 different films, thus giving me a total of 40 to watch (I actually watched 42, counting the two mentioned in the section above!)  Even further to my astonishment, I learned that it is indeed quite possible for a director to turn out a better film.  Not surprisingly, I also learned that it’s possible to turn in a turkey as well.

However, even more to my incredulity, and you’ll see after todays final films, the odds were IN FAVOR of the film turning out better!  A total of 12 were equal or better, in my opinion, and only 8 were worse!  Even then, only a few of those were grades lower in my ratings, with many them being only 1/2 – 1 grade lower!

You’ll be happy to know that todays films were my favorites out of the bunch.  Not favorite remakes, per say, but favorite pairs.  Meaning, I thought that the originals were excellent, and the remakes magical.  Surprisingly (or maybe not!), all 4 of todays films were directed by the same director.  A director that, hitherto, I did not know much about.  However, after watching these 4 films, I realized that I had stumbled upon a director of the highest caliber.  A director that I knew would soon garner a position in my favorite directors list (needless to say, I did view a handful more of his films subsequent to this review, solidifying his standing).

“Remaking the Tinsel in Tinseltown”

Or

“20 Films Remade by the Original Directors”

Part X

Remake #19

~Director: Yasujirō Ozu~

Original Film: A Story of Floating Weeds – “Ukikusa Monogatari”
Year: 1934
Cast: Takeshi Sakamoto, Chouko Iida, Koji Mitsui, Yoshiko Tsubouchi
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Specs: 86 mins / Black and White / OAR 1.37:1

A wonderful little film that is unlike most others of that era.  The acting is subtle and not overacted, as is so common in other silent films.  The engrossing story of a traveling acting troupe that stops into a small Japanese farming town where the master has a former mistress and son whom he decides to visit, inciting a vengeful current mistress, is beautifully told.  It is evident moments into the film that Ozu was a master storyteller, relying on character mannerisms and subtleties to compel the viewer to stay seated.

The film is a testament to how one little sin can snowball and affect so many people, not just the one who committed the sin.  A truly wonderful piece of film from one of Japan’s most celebrated filmmakers.

My Rating: ***** / A

Remake Film: Floating Weeds – “Ukigusa”
Year: 1959
Cast: Ganjiro Nakamura, Machiko Kyō, Hiroshi Kawaguchi, Haruko Sugimura, Ayako Wakao
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Specs: 119 mins / Color / OAR 1.37:1

An absolutely wonderful film.  Simply put, one of the best.  Wonderful musical score and spectacular script easily make this a huge improvement on an already excellent film (the 1934 original).  Director Ozu has flushed out the story, added some very witty humor, and cast the perfect actors to pull off this story of a traveling acting troupe that stops into a small Japanese farming town where the master has a former mistress and son whom he decides to visit, inciting a vengeful current mistress.  Most of the humorous scenes are part of the side story, which is about the other actors in the troupe seeking to find women to keep company with while in town.

The only question I had regarding Ozu’s direction was the choice to have the actors speak directly into the camera when addressing the offscreen character, instead of an over-the-shoulder or a two-shot framing.  I felt myself being pulled out of the film each time this occurred.

The cinematography is simply gorgeous, with colors popping off the screen in the most vibrant of ways.  The story itself is a simple one, yet powerful in that it shows how one man’s sin will affect so many around him.  A must own.

My Rating: ***** / A

Remake #20

~Director: Yasujirō Ozu~

Original Film: Late Spring – “Banshun”
Year: 1949
Cast: Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara, Haruko Sugimura, Yumeji Tsukioka, Yoshiko Tsubouchi
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Specs: 108 mins / Black and White / OAR 1.37:1

A gratifying character driven story about a widowed man who desires to marry off his stubborn daughter, lying about his own engagement in order to do so.  This film was an entertaining film, but lacked any real drama.  It served more as a day-in-the-life-of genre  film than a dramatic film in the truest sense of the word.

Interestingly, Ozu chose to have the characters speak directly into the camera when addressing another character, instead of an Over-the-shoulder shot, or two shot.  The second or third time it happens, I no longer noticed it, which is an indication of the quality of filmmaking.

While a very slow moving film, one that likely would never get made today due to the current nature of the flash, bang, cut, music video style films, it was still a very well acted film, with wonderful music, and an interesting peek into middle class life in early postwar Japan.  The cinematography is superb, and truly shows that images can indeed tell a story.  Another case to show that editing isn’t cutting every 3 seconds, but letting a scene play out and breathe to tell a more effective story.

A very well made film.

My Rating: ***** / A-

Remake Film:  Late Autumn – “Akibiyori”
Year: 1960
Cast: Setsuko Hara, Yôko Tsukasa, Mariko Okada, Keiji Sada, Miyuki Kuwano, Chishu Ryu
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Specs: 128 mins / Color / OAR 1.37:1

A very amusing remake of “Late Spring” changes some things from the original version (strangely enough, the title, as you can see) that give it more drama and tension.  The change from the father widow to a mother widow made the desire for the girl to stay and help her parent instead of getting married all the more dramatic, as the two women go through similar situations with courting men.  Including the fathers friends as the men attempting to marry off his daughter has added delightful humor, as well as a dramatic element of the pressure of men to see their daughters married.

A wonderful jazz score, a script that could be made again today with it’s portrayal of adults and their views on “young kids today”, along with the beautiful cinematography all elevate this film above the previous in a minor way.

Again, as seems to be common with Ozu, there is one directorial decision I still don’t quite understand?  Why Ozu has his characters directly addressing the camera in CU’s instead of an over-the-shoulder two shot is unclear.  Happily, after seeing it for a few films now, I have an opinion on the matter.  I would surmise that Ozu feels it allows the viewer to see inside the soul of his characters, giving them more personality.

A wonderful film through and through.  A true classic.

My Rating: ***** / A

Hope you enjoyed this series.  I’m off now to catch some much needed sleep!!!…

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2010 in Movies

 

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20 Films Remade by the Original Directors Pt.9

Very nearly down to the last 4 films and their remakes.  I trust you’ve enjoyed the articles as much as I did watching the films and writing about them.  In fact, do yourself a favor and take a look at a few of them, if nothing else.  Get yourself geared up for the next wave of remakes coming soon to the local mega-plex.

I’m confident you’ll have as much fun as I did.

“Remaking the Tinsel in Tinseltown”

Or

“20 Films Remade by the Original Directors”

Part IX

Remake #17

~Director: Roger Vadim~

Original Film: And God Created Woman – “Et Dieu… créa la femme”
Year: 1956
Cast: Brigitte Bardot, Curd Jürgens, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Christian Marquand
Language: French
Country: France
Specs: 95 mins / Color / OAR 2.35:1 – Cinemascope

Film opens with shot of Bardot in the buff, and continues to feature her in revealing clothing, bikinis, nude, and prancing about in the most sexually enticing way.  Little else is needed to be said about this otherwise boring film.  Put some clothes on the woman who earned the term “Sex Kitten” from this film, and you have nothing.  Pointless story of a man who marries a woman known as the town floozy only to have a hard time taming her is without much action, drama, or tension.  In fact, is reeks of Vadim’s similarity to director John Derek (just as Derek made pointless films to showcase his wife’s naked body, Vadim seems to have done the same here with his wife Bardot).

The only thing I could see is that for 1956, this must have sent young men the world over into a frenzy, as this would have been the most titillating thing to hit the screen since the Hayes Code was in effect.

Yawn.

My Rating: *** / C-

Remake Film: And God Created Woman
Year: 1988
Cast: Rebecca De Mornay, Vincent Spano, Frank Langella, Donovan Leitch Jr.
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 100 mins / Color / OAR 1.85:1

Wow.  I’m not quite sure why this remake of the 1956 film was made other than to feature steamy gratuitous sex scenes with DeMornay (Vadim’s girlfriend at the time)!  It has ZERO to do with the original, other than there is a steamy blonde woman who likes sex as the lead.  We get a silly setup with a woman escaping out of prison, only to be picked up while hitchhiking by a man running for governor.  He returns her to prison where she sees a janitor and decides to have sex with him.  This begins the very unbelievable story of him marrying her, getting jealous of her, her joining a rock band, having an affair with the governor in running, befriending a little boy who is motherless, trying to avoid returning to jail for breaking parole (not sure how having sex is considered breaking parole?), and gets the crowd dancing and cheering her band on at the governors ball she crashed.  Right.

The chemistry between the two leads is absurd, but not as much as the “story”, or lack thereof.  As with Vadim’s original (where it seemed little more than an excuse to feature Vadim’s spouse Bardot in what then would have been on par with what we’re presented with in this film), it is very apparent that story mattered not in this exploitation film, even though that’s not what it aims to be.  None of the scenes feel connected.  Rather, the story comes across as a number of mini vignettes all strung together to attempt to make sense.

I’m being a little harsh perhaps.  Thankfully the acting wasn’t over-the-top bad (“Insert sarcasm here”).

One thing is for certain.  Cinemax surely has this film in rotation at least twice per week.

My Rating: ** / D

Remake #18

~Director: William Wyler~

Original Film: These Three
Year: 1936
Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon, Joel McCrea, Bonita Granville
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 97 mins / Black and White / OAR 1.37:1

It’s rare that a film can get the viewer to truly hate one of the main characters.  Thankfully, Wyler has done just that in this tense, gripping tale of lies, deceit, and gossip, and how those three vices can utterly destroy a persons reputation when used with malice.  Granville is simply amazing in her portrayal of the viciously deceptive and controlling wicked little girl.  (If only this had been in 3D, I could have reached out and slapped her character!)

While hints at the original stage-plays story comes across at the start (the relationship between the women is never clearly defined and is quite vague) the story of the alleged affair with the others fiance is so cleverly written and believable it’s frightening.

It’s no wonder why Granville was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  I’m dumbfounded why Wyler, screenwriter Lillian Hellman, or any of the other brilliant performers didn’t receive any nominations.  A truly remarkable moment in film.

My Rating: ***** / A-

Remake Film: The Children’s Hour
Year: 1961
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, James Garner, Miriam Hopkins, Fay Bainter, Karen Balkin, Veronica Cartwright, Hope Summers
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 107 mins / Black and White / OAR 1.66:1

This remake of “These Three”, while an entertaining film, doesn’t hold a candle to the original.  For starters, the little girl is no longer portrayed as wickedly evil as she marvelously was in the previous film.  The main reason for that would be the accusations in this film are not entirely unfounded, just simply embellished.  That is where the problem with this film lies.  By doing so, the film loses it’s main antagonist; that being lying, deceitful, maliciously slanderous gossip.  The focal point instead shifts to an implied morality tale that it’s wrong to judge someone because they are gay (which is true, but not what the first film was about).  Having the two characters actually have lesbian sexual attraction between them only hurts the plot (which, as stated, worked better as malicious vindictive gossip and lies), and takes away from the tension found in the original.

My Rating: *** / C+

Back tomorrow for the final post in this 10 part series…

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2010 in Movies

 

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20 Films Remade by the Original Directors Pt.8

As I write this article in the continuing series, I think of the current tendency for Hollywood to focus on remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings of previously produced pictures.  I wonder if those behind the remakes have a tendency to first ask the original directors if they would be interested in directing the remake, or if they simply forgo that for whichever director is cheap enough and/or “hot” at the moment?

I would have to do another series of articles to see if my impression is that remakes from different directors usually fare better or worse than the originals?  Considering my most recent visits to the box office, I’m willing to say they are worse off.  The last few remakes that I’ve spent my $15 on were bad enough for me to wish I had waited to Netflix it instead.  At least with the original directors there is a fighting chance they would be as good if not better.

Anyone have an opinion on that?

“Remaking the Tinsel in Tinseltown”

Or

“20 Films Remade by the Original Directors”

Part VIII

Remake #15

~Director: Michael Haneke~

Original Film: Funny Games
Year: 1997
Cast: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, Arno Frisch, Frank Giering, Stefan Clapczynski
Language: German
Country: Austria
Specs: 108 mins / Color / OAR 1.85:1

The discomfiting opening title sequence (not what you think!) sets the mood for this eerie disturbing tale.  The movie starts with slow long cuts of a family of three driving through the countryside with classical music playing on the radio, when suddenly, hard-core death punk music begins playing under the titles.  It jumps at you, and juxtaposed with the idyllic family amidst the countryside exterior, is rather jarring.

Cleverly, for the remainder of the film, there are only a few more instances of music, and it is always in the scene, coming from a radio.  This near lack of music lends to an uncomfortable ambience.  Haneke favors very long takes with little camera movement, which immediately reveals that this is not a traditional Hollywood film. This is further solidified by the 3rd act, with its depressing and dark finale.

One puzzling aspect of the film was why Haneke chose to break the fourth wall a few times (the character addresses the audience).  Another even more baffling scene involves a remote control rewinding sequence (I don’t want to spoil anything here, but you’ll see what I mean when you view it!).  The thing I “enjoyed” was the lack of any real predictability (other than the “tag” on the end of the film), even though it left me much too uncomfortable to likely view again.

My Rating: *** / C

Remake Film: Funny Games
Year: 2007
Cast: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 111 mins / Color / OAR 1.85:1

A nearly shot for shot, word for word (with a few minor changes) remake of the 1997 film of the same name left me unclear of one thing:  Why in the world did Haneke choose to do this?  Don’t get me wrong, this version of the film is indeed a better version, as the actors this time around are simply superb.  Not sure, however, why he nor the studio left in the bewildering elements from the first version that had me scratching my head (the breaking of the fourth wall, the remote control sequence)?  Nor why he didn’t use this opportunity to flush out his script, or make some other minor tweaks to bring the film up another level?  Indeed, as it stands, it seems it would have simply been better financially to “dub” the original into English and bring it here to the States.

Just as the original, obviously, this film is pure “edge of the seat” suspense from the first frame to the last.  Of course, again obviously, my review remains the same as the previous film.  Much too dark for a “third” viewing!

My Rating: *** / C+

Remake #16

~Director: Raoul Walsh~

Original Film: High Sierra
Year: 1941
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 100 mins / Black and White / OAR 1.37:1

An excellent caper film with loads of tense suspenseful drama make this one of the best.  Bogart is simply a wonderful baddy, who is sucked back into his former life of crime to pay back the “big boss” who saw to his early parole.  The film doesn’t have many sour points, other than the portrayal of a “yes boss!” black servant early in the film.  The car chase through the Sierra’s is an early example of fine action, with the tension building around every sharp turn.

A wonderful “gangster” film that any fan of Bogart’s will simply enjoy.

Oh yeah, and the scenery isn’t bad either!

My Rating: ***** / A

Remake Film: Colorado Territory
Year: 1949
Cast: Joel McCrea, Virginia Mayo, Dorothy Malone
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Specs: 94 mins / Black and White / OAR 1.37:1

This remake of “High Sierra” has had a major overhaul and set as a Western this go around.  The basic script remains intact, with a few minor changes here and there, most notably the ending becoming more of a “Bonnie and Clyde” ending set in some ancient Indian ruins.  While this version features stunning scenery, the acting is a step down from the original, now more akin to B-level status.  The chemistry between McCrea and Mayo is nonexistent, feeling very stale and forced.

Certain elements that differ from the original are the crippled girl is now simply a normal girl, the “inside man” no longer gives up the info because he was nearly killed and abandoned, but turns them in before the heist even happens, and McCrea’s character gets more sympathetic, becoming more of a “Robin Hood” than Bogarts rendition.

The strangest decision Walsh added this time around regards the abandoned Mission storyline.  We see Mayo’s character praying at the cross, we see them desiring a wedding with the monk, we see Mayo tithing the stolen money to the church, and we see the church happily accepting the money and keeping it a secret from the authorities in order to bring back it’s long forgotten congregation.  Very strange message indeed.

An entertaining western yes.  Better than the original?  As Tonto would say, “Me no think so.”

My Rating: *** / C

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2010 in Movies

 

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20 Films Remade by the Original Directors Pt.6

On this Memorial Day, I bring you another article in the continuing series sparked by the news of the remakes of “The Fly” and “13 Tzameti”.  Be sure to catch up on last weeks entries along with today’s.  Feel free to leave comments about the choices in films, as well as the reviews themselves.

And have a very safe and enjoyable Memorial Day.

“Remaking the Tinsel in Tinseltown”

Or

“20 Films Remade by the Original Directors”

Part VI

Remake #11

~Director: Jean-Marie Poire~

Original Film: Les Visiteurs
Year: 1993
Cast: Christian Clavier, Jean Reno, Valérie Lemercier, Christian Bujeau
Language: French
Country: France
Specs: 107 mins / Color / OAR 2.35:1

It’s not everyday that a film comes along featuring such a different take on an old formula that it simply stands apart from all the rest.  “Les Visiteurs” is just that film.  A very funny, crazy, goofball of a film in the style of Terry Gilliam starts the ball rolling right from the start and doesn’t stop until the very last frame (they even included a little note for people who stay to watch the credits!).  This out-of-time time travel film is so heavily influenced by the French language and its unique attraction, as well as the nuances of similar sounding words in French that translate to two entirely different meanings as the core of many jokes, that any person who enjoys foreign films is bound to enjoy this tale.

The humor is not over the top “Jim Carrey” style, yet it is a subdued slapstick, where none of the characters are “in on” the jokes, they just happen as in real life situations.  No contorted faces, no double entendres, and no sex jokes.

In its place we have humor relying on situations, humor relying on prosthetic make-up gags, and, as mentioned previously, nuance with the translation of the French language.

Not at all what I was expecting.  A pleasant surprise indeed.

My Rating: ***** / A-

Remake Film: Just Visiting
Year: 2001
Cast: Jean Reno, Christina Applegate, Christian Clavier, Malcolm McDowell, Tara Reid, Bridgette Wilson
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 88 mins / Color / OAR 2.35:1

A remake of the 1993 French Film “Les Visiteurs” that begins to fail with the change in the title. Wow!  What a tired, boring, unfunny typical Hollywood film.  This remake of the much superior earlier version is the perfect example of a great film destroyed by the hands of Hollywood.  For starters, why they let John Hughes rewrite the script originally penned by the director and costar of this film as well as the original is beyond me.  The original story by Jean-Marie Poiré and Christian Clavier was filled with so much dry humor, that replacing it with stereotypical fare did nothing but destroy the idea.

For starters, the entire plot of the film has been rewritten.  The quirky Terry Gilliam-ish comedy has been erased, and elements such as “everyone in the town starts acting like the ‘crazy’ visitors, cause they are cool!” have been added.

That’s not all.

The heir to the throne and the “by the books” husband have been replaced by a museum curator and her (seen in any number of films) smarmy live-in boyfriend who is only with her for her potential money; the character that was a descendant of the servant has been completely erased; the wizard, who in the original left his plans to save them to his descendant, has been transported with them and becomes a Willie Nelson looking character; in an offensive “racist” change the characters constantly blame the zaniness on the travelers being “French”; an unnecessary women’s empowerment storyline has been introduced (I can see how it was needed in this version, however, as they added the idiotic boyfriend).  That and a hip-hop soundtrack, club scenes, and relocation from the European countryside in the original to Chicago (hmm, wonder if Hughes had anything to do with that one?) in this version are all travesties.

An unfunny film, unfunny script, and unfunny acting.

That, to me, isn’t even fun.

My Rating: ** / D

Remake #12

~Director: John Farrow~

Original Film: Five Came Back
Year: 1939
Cast: Chester Morris, Lucille Ball, John Carradine, Allen Jenkins, Patric Knowles, Casey Johnson
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 75 mins / Black and White / OAR 1.37:1

An entertaining film that does a great job at building suspense.  The script develops the 12 characters very well, giving them each their own interesting qualities.  The acting is very well done, and the direction/editing only enhances the film.  Truly one of the first in what would later become known as a disaster film, especially in similar films such as the successful “Airport” series from the 70’s.  The fact that the title tells us how many will survive is suspenseful enough.  However, the suspense kind of dies down near the end of the film, and becomes a little predictable.

The look of the film is dated, however.  The locations are obviously sets, yet that never truly matters as the story is engrossing enough to overshadow that minor point.  Overall, an enjoyable thrill ride.

My Rating: **** / B-

Remake Film: Back from Eternity
Year: 1956
Cast: Robert Ryan, Anita Ekberg, Rod Steiger, Phyllis Kirk, Keith Andes, Gene Barry
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 100 mins / Black and White / OAR 1.37:1

This remake of the better 1939 version, “Five Came Back” is still entertaining, just not as full of thrills as the original.  Basically a flushed out script, with more character exposition, and actual beautiful locations in place of backdrop sets for most of the traveling shots is hurt by fan service segments (two women wrestle in the river, one in a thin white top even!), stagey dialogue (“Let’s go over there” “Yes let’s”. “Let’s go find out” “OK, let’s move now”.), and the odd casting of Rod Steiger as the South American immigrant Vasquez.

In addition, having Vasquez become an attempted assassin of an evil South American dictator instead of his being a cold hearted killer (as the character is in the original) has far less of an impact on his sacrifice he makes at the end of the film, and makes him more into just one of the passengers with a past.

Unfortunate.

My Rating: *** / C

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2010 in Movies

 

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20 Films Remade by the Original Directors Pt.5

This past week I’ve reviewed 8 films that were remade by the director who directed the original version (that comment may be a misnomer, as some of the “original” films were actually remakes themselves!).  Today we will close out the week by taking a look at 2 more films, which will bring us to the halfway point.  It is to be hoped that if nothing else, this series of articles will give you all some films to add to your queues, and give others a list of films to watch over this three day weekend.

Yesterday, I took a look at two films whose remakes paled in comparison to the original versions.  Thankfully, that is not always the case, as we will see in today’s post titled:

“Remaking the Tinsel in Tinseltown”

Or

“20 Films Remade by the Original Directors”

Part V

Remake #9

~Director: Michael Mann~

Original Film: L.A. Takedown
Year: 1989
Cast: Scott Plank, Alex McArthur, Michael Rooker, Daniel Baldwin, Xander Berkeley
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 97 mins / Color / OAR 1.33:1

I really wanted to like this made-for-television film.  On the surface, it is an entertaining crime/thriller with an intriguing premise.  However, it feels rushed and miscast, unfortunate though it may be.  Story revolves around a rag tag group of professional hold up men and their desire to make their final “hit” before “retiring”.  Meanwhile, a no-holds-bared detective is hot on their trail, mostly just moments behind each step they take.

Most of the acting in this film is mediocre at best, with dialogue bordering on hokey in many of the scenes.  It felt as though the script was written to make the villains/heroes look cool, but it came across as amateur filmmaking.  The music is nicely chosen, and fits the mood of the film very well, as is usually the case with a Michael Mann film.  However, it wasn’t utilized nearly as much as it ought to have been.  Many of the scenes could have used some background music to set a mood, instead of the (what sounded like) the raw audio track.  A couple of times the character that was off screen says their line, and it sounds like the mic on the “on camera” character was used to record it.

In addition, the story felt completely rushed.  It felt as though a number of scenes had been excised, to fit it into a 90 minute window.  The storyline of Vincent, the cop, and his girlfriend isn’t very deep.  I was completely removed from the film (similar to my reactions to the current season of “24”) by the girlfriends actions suddenly halfway through the film, as they were completely unbelievable.  She gets upset with him because he fought off some harassments in a bar, in which she tells him “You don’t care about me, you care about the job”.  Never were we led to feel that way.  Also, Pat and his girlfriend all of a one-night stand are deeply in love with each other, and she is upset that he lied to her and is a bank-robber?  Again, too much happens to fast.
I got lost in the sudden mentioning of character names, without showing faces, in the convoluted “who turned on who?” finale.  And the ending was very anticlimactic.  SPOILER ALERT:  I never felt tension between the police and Pat, who dies in a hotel hallway after Waingro shoots him through the wall, then jumps to his death.  Could have certainly used an additional 30 minutes or more of exposition/story.

To his credit, I understand Mann was forced to make changes to his much longer and detailed screenplay when he learned that his script “Heat” would not be a theatrical feature after all, but a watered down made for TV film.

Still, too much was missing in the way of story for it to make much difference.

My Rating: *** / C

Remake Film: Heat
Year: 1995
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore and Jon Voight
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 188 mins / Color / OAR 2.35:1

Excellence in filmmaking sums up “Heat”.  Right from the start, we are introduced to a thought out intricate plot.  At moment 1 we are launched into a scene full of intense suspense, fast paced action, and superb acting to bring it all together.  Mann has taken his first incarnation of this, “L.A. Takedown”, and flushed it out immensely, given the characters wonderful exposition, obtained a wonderful cast, and brought his budget up tenfold.

For starters, the intensity level has been ramped up to 11 in the multifaceted character piece.  The bank shootout itself is one of the best action sequences ever captured on celluloid.  The scene where De Niro’s and Pacino’s characters meet in the coffee shop, while subdued and dialogue driven, is as brilliantly written and filmed as could be.  The anticipation when De Niro’s character eventually has to make a pivotal life choice is as charged as they come.

Giving the characters lives outside of the “crew” gives every one of them a personality beyond the typical bad guy.  Getting rid of most of the “clever” dialogue found in the original only brought perfection to an already interesting premise.  Tweaking the ending to actually be an intense standoff between the protagonist (Pacino) and the antagonist (DeNiro) was what the first version was lacking.  The film is about the two men against each other, and how similar they are.  Giving us a peak into what makes them tick was brilliant, and most other filmmakers ought to wish they had the chance to do what Mann did here.

Perfect.

My Rating: ***** / A

Remake #10

~Director: The Pang Brothers~

Original Film: Bangkok Dangerous
Year: 1999
Cast: Pawalit Mongkolpisit, Premsinee Ratanasopha, Patharawarin Timkul, Pisek Intrakanchit, Korkiate Limpapat
Language: Thai
Country: Thailand
Specs: 105 mins / Color / OAR 1.85:1

Wow.  I owe an apology to every film that I’ve ever given a 1 star rating to.  Can I give negative stars?  This overlong (at 1:45 even), boring, incoherent, jumbled mess of a film needed a new writer, a new editor, a new actor (am I supposed to really believe the trannie is a sexy stripper?), and a new editor (did I already say that?).  There is ZERO rhythm to the editing style of this film.  It feels like the worst student film ever made (is that even possible?) has been expanded into a feature length “film”.  How they got the money to do an American remake is beyond me.

Some of the positive aspects of this film are….they are….um…..man this is hard.  OK, the opening title sequence is a very clever and cool sequence.  On the other hand, the fact that I never know why he is a contract killer, I don’t know who the people are that he is killing, I don’t understand why the girl falls in love with him when they cannot communicate AT ALL (he doesn’t read lips, doesn’t speak any sounds (until at the end of the film after the “twist”), doesn’t know sign language, and apparently doesn’t know how to write), pains me to even spend the time to write this review.  Sadly, no, depressingly, there is no story beyond a forced attempt at a love story amidst the random ruthless killings.

This film has so little sound, so much random nonsense editing, and techno music beating throughout, it literally felt like a very very very long music video.  I’ve never been as bored with a major motion picture as I was with this.  Ugh.

HORRIBLE.

My Rating: * / F

Remake Film: Bangkok Dangerous
Year: 2008
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Charlie Yeung, Chakrit Yamnam, Nirattisai Kaljaruek, Panward Hemmanee
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 99 mins / Color / OAR 1.85:1

OK, I was surprised by this “by the book” action film from the directing team that also brought us “The Eye”.  I think that they completely screwed up the marketing of this film.  The trailer alone had me yawing in my seat.  Surprisingly, this remake of the 1999 film is a completely different film. Not in story, but in style.

For starters, The Pang Brothers did the wise decision and allowed the main assassin (Cage’s character) to speak.  They also added narration to the film that helped with the character exposition.  And lastly, they allowed someone else to rewrite their script, and edit their movie.

This new version is most certainly a better film in every way (compared to the original, it’s a masterpiece).  It has loads of action and suspense, feeling an awful lot like a Tony Scott film in a number of places.  It has a visual color palette that is also fitting (with the exception of the confusing choice to film the closing scene in red?).  Sequences such as the boat chase (and the camera angle showing the bullets piercing the bottom of the boat) are pleasantly exciting, and keep the interest level high.  There was nary a dull moment in this film.

While a typical action film that hits all the marks of “how to make an action film 101” (I did say, after all, that if feels like a Tony Scott film) is what The Pang Brothers delivered, it is never boring, and surprised as though I was, Cage did an OK job in the role.  I would expect that the reasons it got a mess of negative reviews are because many did not see the original.  Had they, I’m sure they would rescind most of the negativity directed at this entertaining thrill ride.

My Rating: **** / B

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2010 in Movies

 

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20 Films Remade by the Original Directors Pt.4

I love film.  I have studied film, worked in the film business, and created films for both a hobby and a living.  Watching movies is a wonderful experience.  Watching movies that are simply wonderful is an experience I’d deem delightful.  Watching lovely films that were remade as substandard is simply atrocious.  It is because of this reason that many filmgoers like myself sit to watch a remake of a previously produced film with extremely dubious assumptions.

It is why I, after hearing of David Cronenberg and Géla Babluani’s plans to remake “The Fly” and “13 Tazameti”, respectively, I decided to take a look at 20 other films that were remade by the original 20 directors.

Thankfully,  there are many times when the remakes far exceed the original film in tone, story, and execution.  Many times, it is clear that the director revisited his earlier film with years of maturity, experience, and reflection to expand on a story dear to his heart.

Unfortunately, today’s films are not in that category.

“Remaking the Tinsel in Tinseltown”

Or

“20 Films Remade by the Original Directors”

Part IV

Remake #7

~Director: George Marshall~

Original Film: Destry Rides Again
Year: 1939
Cast: James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Mischa Auer, “Charlie” Winninger
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 94 mins / Black and White / OAR 1.37:1

Excellent western sets the bar high for many years to follow.  The superbly written banter, clever dialogue, funny quips all add to this very well written script.  After losing a bet over his pants with Dietrich, one cowboy says, “I can’t.  It’s undignified.  Think of my position!  I’ve met every king in Europe”  Dietrich retorts in perfect comedic timing “Now you’ve met two Aces in Bottleneck.  Off with those pants”.  Another perfectly executed scene involves every patron in the bar teasing Stewart for his gentlemanly ways.  The bartender asks “Whattaya have?  Milk?” Steward answers “Yeah, I think I will!”  The look of sudden surprise on the bartenders face is excellently timed.

The opening scene with Dietrich pulling a fast one on the local ranch hands poker game is classic.  Her titillating character as the tavern owner / cabaret performer is very memorable and superbly portrayed by the consummate actress.  The wonderful direction by Marshall has Dietrich’s character hiding gold down her bra, displaying a very simple act that so cleverly defines her character.  Her cat fight with Mrs. Callahan and Stewart is so exceptionally staged and dramatic that it stands head and shoulders above most other fight scenes.  In fact, the whole scene is played with the actual actors, instead of stuntmen, and it adds to the realism of this scene, as well as the film.

The acting chops on display in this film are so spectacular, the plot so well written, the direction so amazing, this is simply one of the best.

My Rating: ***** / A

Remake Film: Destry
Year: 1954
Cast: Audie Murphy, Mari Blanchard, Lyle Bettger, Thomas Mitchell, Edgar Buchanan, Wallace Ford
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 95 mins / Color – Technicolor / OAR 1.85:1

What happened?  For starters, there isn’t much different from Marshall’s spectacular 1939 version of this film apart from the cast.  Other than the upgrade to widescreen and 3-Strip Technicolor, this a far less superior version in every way.  The cast, and the direction for that matter, is so flawed, I cringed at the fact that the same director was behind this film.

For starters, the mayor has been re-envisioned as a bumbling idiot.  Attempting to replace the iconic Marlene Dietrich proved futile at best.  Frenchie is uncomfortably generic and uninspiring, lacking even the smallest iota of villainess qualities.  The scene involving the bet for pants, a running gag throughout the original, is a quick bet for a woman’s hat.

Audie Murphy as Destry, played by the charismatic James Stewart in the original, now has ZERO charisma.  Much of the dialogue from the first film is retained, word for word, Sadly, this time however, either the actors were given horrible direction for the comedic timing or they lacked the acting abilities to pull it off.

There is no mystery as to the location of the old sheriff, and none of the clever manipulating Destry performs to defeat the town villains.  This time he simply “stumbles” into almost every situation.  Little character traits that added depth and insight into the character, such as Destry whittling away at wood to create napkin holders, has been rewritten as fiddling with a piece of rope, tying knots the most basic of knots.

All in all, I was never completely convinced Marshall knew what he was thinking, nor the reason behind the soulless direction.  Simply put, a terrible film with a sissy for a lead in Audie Murphy.

My Rating: ** / D+

Remake #8

~Director: George Sluizer~

Original Film: Spoorloos (“The Vanishing”)
Year: 1988
Cast: Johanna ter Steege, Gene Bervoets, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu
Language: Dutch / French
Country: Netherlands / France
Specs: 107 mins / Color / OAR 1.66:1

This Dutch film is a hauntingly tense suspenseful thriller.  If you have not seen this film, I highly suggest you do so today.  It is simply riveting with its portrayal not only of the inner turmoil the victims boyfriend goes under, but also the very believable actions of the perpetrator and his preparations.  The film takes place in both the Netherlands and France, which adds tension in the form of being in a strange land, having a crime take place, and not completely being familiar with the language.  Surprisingly, the film is strictly a character driven story with a very nontraditional (in Hollywood terms) ending.  Even more surprising, the film contains very little coarse language, zero nudity and zero violence.  A true testament to the filmmaking prowess of Sluizer.

If it doesn’t appear obvious, this is certainly, without question, an excellently produced foreign film.

My Rating: **** / B

Remake Film: The Vanishing
Year: 1993
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, Nancy Travis, Sandra Bullock
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 109 mins / Color / OAR 1.85:1

As with the previous remake, I ask “What went wrong?”  A typical vanilla plain thriller with very predictable ending is a bland remake of the far superior Dutch film.  This version, for reasons I cannot fathom, was directed in a style completely different from Sluizer’s first effort.  It appears he was under a deadline, as the film feels completely rushed, with any sense of character development gone.  Bridges character, whom in the original was brilliantly portrayed as having a relationship with a family, is nearly nonexistent.  The dichotomy between good and evil, so cleverly evident in the original, has been completely erased, simply making the character of Barney nothing more than a sadistic evil creep.

Additions such as having Sutherland’s character being a novel writer contracted to write about his experience, and turning the new girlfriend into a super sleuth is silly and absurd.  How she knows that he’s been buried alive, and how she has the strength to easily fight off the twice her size attacker is Hollywood nonsense.  In fact, it seems at times that Sluizer intended to film an updated version of Sherlock Holmes, as her detective skills in finding him at a hotel, and finding the daughter to get directions to the house is more far fetched than an episode of Batman: Detective.

Lastly, the complete rewrite of the ending to a more traditional, and predictable, ending is tantamount to having a graphic on the screen read “For the easily pleased audience”.

Such wasted talent, both for the director and the usually entertaining cast.  A witless remake, through and through.

My Rating: *** / C-

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2010 in Movies

 

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