Top Five Remakes Worth Watching

Posted: September 20, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

Written by Daniel Simpson

There are a few dominant trends in modern cinema. Superhero movies, young adult adaptations, live-action fairy tales, haunted house movies, and of course, remakes. Remakes in particular have often been cited as an example of modern Hollywood’s lack of creativity and vision. A remake itself is not exactly a new concept, it’s more the amount that have been released in the last decade coupled with the general blandness of them. Prominent examples of such films include Robocop (2014), Total Recall (2012), Conan the Barbarian (2011), Straw Dogs (2011), Red Dawn (2011), and Point Break (2015), just to name a few. This trend doesn’t seem to be dying at all either. This Friday marks the release of The Magnificent Seven, a remake of John Sturgess’ 1960 film, itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece Seven Samurai, and this year has also given us The Jungle Book, Alice Through the Looking Glass (sequel to the Alice in Wonderland remake), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, The Legend of Tarzan, Ghostbusters, Pete’s Dragon, Mechanic: Resurrection (sequel to the Mechanic remake), and Ben-Hur. A lot of the mentioned films have a bad reputation, but the fact is not all remakes are soulless hack jobs. Some in fact, are quite good, and today we’re looking at five of the best. As a rule, I’m only listing remakes were I’ve also seen the original so I can provide some comparison.

5. True Grit (2010)True_Grit_Poster

One of the best ways to go about remaking something is to pick a film wherein the original is nothing special and do a better version and that’s basically what the Coen Brothers did with their remake of True Grit. While John Wayne’s Oscar win might suggest the original is something exceptional, that isn’t really the case. In fact the original film is a dated movie which was tired even when released and Wayne’s Oscar was clearly more for his collective body of work. The film has its moments but there isn’t much to say about it. The Coen Brothers remake on the other hand is bursting with style, superbly crafted, and features some great performances from Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges. The film is also shot beautifully, has some great old-school action, and the Coens underlying humour. The third act also reveals to be surprisingly poignant. It’s a film that serves as a way more fun romp than the original and a deeper work too.

4. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nachtnosferatu the vampyre

Unlike True Grit, not only is the original Nosferatu a great film, it’s a straight-up masterpiece and one of the greatest films of all time. Remaking such a work would seem a fool’s errand, but Werner Herzog is able to escape the shadow of F.W. Murnau by employing a radically different style. Obviously, the fact that this version is a sound film certainly changes the dynamic, but Herzog also isn’t interested in recreating the German expressionist visuals that define the original movie. Herzog instead employs a sort of poetic realism that somehow feels both restrained and heightened and Klaus Kinski’s performance as Dracula is amazing. Of course this all begs the question; why remake Nosferatu at all? Why not just do another adaptation of Dracula? Well, two reasons. First, to draw a link between the German expressionists like Murnau and G.W. Pabst with the New German Cinema and filmmakers like Herzog. Second, doing a remake allowed Herzog to employ the same make-up for Dracula as Nosferatu. This is not some sexy creature of the night, but a horrific and disturbing creature who just wants to die. This Dracula is in many ways pathetic, but that shouldn’t suggest he is any less frightening.

3. His Girl Fridayhis-girl-friday-movie-poster-1940-1020143587

This is a classic screwball comedy that a lot of people probably don’t know is a remake, but technically is. The film is based on a play called “The Front Page”, about a reporter who tries to leave the newspaper business and get married only to be roped in again by his editor, which was first adapted into a 1931 film of the same name. The film actually got a Best Picture nomination but has since been mostly forgotten and for good reason too because it’s pretty lousy. It isn’t funny, the characters are lame, and it’s struck the stiffness that pervades a lot of early sound cinema. His Girl Friday took the intriguing plot and injected it with life with some ground-breaking rapid fire dialogue, a great sense of humour, and a pair of awesome performances from Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant. Russell in particular delivers one of the era’s most iconic performances. Howard Hawks also made the brilliant decision of switching the reporter protagonist to a woman and making her the former wife of her editor. This brings a whole new depth to their relationship and it also adds an underlying feminist streak to the work. This is a 1940 film about a woman choosing between having a career or being a housewife and the fact that the film clearly favors her continuing to work at the top of her field rather than in domestic servitude is pretty damn cool.

2. Scarface (1983)scarface-movie-i8166

Comparing plots, the 1932 and 1983 version of Scarface read as very similar. Both films depict immigrant gangsters in America who succumb to their own greed and hubris, continually taking more as they move up the criminal underworld before ultimately being brought down after pushing things too far. Despite these similarities though, these two films feel very different. Oliver Stone’s screenplay moves the action from Chicago to Florida and makes Tony a Cuban immigrant rather than Italian. Being made in the 1980s also meant there would be far less restrictions. This of course meant more violence and profanity, but it also meant Stone and Brian De Palma did not need to add didactic moralizing. While Howard Hawks’ original Scarface was exceptionally violent in 1932, it still ended with Tony begging forgiveness for his sins before being shot down. No such moment is found in the 1983 version. Tony’s excess and lifestyle may destroy him, but not before going out in a blaze of glory. This Tony Montana is brash and vulgar, someone who has got by more on bravado than intelligence, and he isn’t the type to fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness. Beyond that, De Palma’s style really elevates this thing, perfectly reflecting Tony and his excessive lifestyle. The visuals are dazzling, the editing intense, the dialogue has punch, and the set-pieces are masterful. Tony’s last stand in particular is among the greatest shootouts in cinematic history. At the center of it all is Al Pacino, who makes Tony Montana one of the most iconic of all film characters.

1. The Fly (1986)fly

As far as B-movies go, the 1958 version of The Fly isn’t half bad, but it does remain a silly movie wherein a scientist accidentally turns himself into a fly-monster. I suppose that same curt plot description could be applied to the remake, but there’s nothing silly about David Cronenberg’s The Fly. Both films involve a scientist who invents a teleporter and has his DNA fused with a fly’s after an ill-advised test. However the similarities more or less end there. Rather than immediately turning into a half-fly-half-man monster, Cronenberg’s protagonist Seth Brundle undergoes a slower metamorphosis. He begins with a high degree of energy, but over time his body begins to deteriorate and take on the characteristics of an insect while his mind also becomes more animalistic. This slow process really changes the material, elevating a simple monster story into a high tragedy about the fear of dying. Many have seen Brundle’s transformation as a metaphor for AIDS, others as a metaphor for the physical and mental degradation which comes with ageing, but in the broadest sense the whole film works as a great meditation on death and the effects of it. It’s not just Seth that has to deal with this, but also his girlfriend, Veronica.

Another change the film makes from the original is changing the central couple from being already married to a budding romance that we see all the steps of. This makes the tragedy at the center of the film all the more impactful. Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis both give amazing performances and the dialogue their given is very thoughtful. The make-up effects have been widely praised and they are indeed brilliant, but it is the humanity imbued in the story and characters that allow an audience to really empathize with Brundle and Veronica’s plight. Cronenberg focuses intimately on his central characters and he furthers the tragedy with a moving score from frequent collaborator Howard Shore.

David Cronenberg’s The Fly is a perfect remake. It takes another film with an interesting premise and expands upon it, probing deeper and exploring new directions from the same starting point.

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