Sunday, February 20, 2005

Hollywood Redux: The Best Remakes

So one of my many scarcely found readers has posed an innocent question. In this Hollywood environment of recycled, repackaged, reimagined and reconstiituted fecal matter masquerading as motion pictures, just what would I, Chase McInerney, say are the most impressive remakes of the 20th century?

Here, then, are my dozen favorite remakes ...

12. Cape Fear (1991)
Martin Scorsese's remake of the 1962 Robert Mitchum-Gregory Peck thriller has all the understatement of a steroids-and-Red Bull bender, and Robert DeNiro gives an uncharacteristically scenery-chewing performance as evil convict Max Cady. Still, it's a Scorsese flick, which means it is luridly beautiful and wildly watchable.

11. Ocean's Eleven (2001)
It helps to remake crap, and the 1960 Rat Pack exercise in cinematic masturbation certainly qualifies as crap. Steven Soderbergh transforms the remake into what the original should have been: a fun, stylish, star-studded, exquisitely shot excursion into Hollywood make-believe -- filled with pretty people and pretty locations. It's a shame the sequel reverted back to 1960's cinematic masturbation.

10. The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Jonathan Demme's remake of the classic 1962 thriller trades in the original's satirical edge in favor of a paranoiac's fantasy. What the new version lacks in subtlety, what with its ideologically based jabs at war profiteering corporations and saintly depiction of the kindly liberal senator (played by Jon Voight), Demme makes up for with a garish and colorful visual scheme and jittery theatrics.

9. The Three Musketeers (1973)
Perhaps the grooviest swashbuckler ever made, director Richard Lester put his indelible stamp on this retelling of the Alexandre Dumas classic. There is plenty of exciting swordplay to satisfy the purists in the audience, but what really makes this Three Musketeers stand apart is its irreverent sense of humor. Definitely a product of the randy and recalcitrant early Seventies -- and damned proud of it.

8. Heaven Can Wait (1978)
Really, what is not to like in this screwball comedy about reincarnation (well, sorta) that, in itself reincarnates 1941's Here Comes Mr. Jordan? I-love-me icon Warren Beatty directs and stars in the story of a pro football quarterback prematurely plucked from life and hastily thrown back into the body of a recently murdered millionaire. The entire cast -- featuring Buck Henry (who co-directed), Dyan Cannon, Julie Christie and Charles Grodin -- is aces and helps provide a glossy polish (not necessarily a bad thing) to the proceedings.

7. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Loved the original, but the difference between this super-caffeinated remake and the George Romero 1978 original is the difference between a Jaguar and a souped-up Chevy Nova; you love 'em both, but for very different reasons. The first 20 minutes of this Dawn might just have you soiling yourself and barricading your lovely little daughter in the attic before she shreds any more of daddy into slaw. This gorefest doesn't believe in taking breathers.

6. The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Sleek and confident in its technique, this John McTiernan-directed remake improves greatly on the overrated 1968 Steve McQueen-Faye Dunaway caper. Chalk it up to consummate professionalism. McTiernan knows how to spin an exciting thriller, Pierce Brosnan knows not to take himself too seriously and Rene Russo knows how to fog up the big screen.

5. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
No way does this Philip Kaufman-directed retooling approach the heights of the 1956 sci-fi classic, but it's still a damn fine movie in its own right, steeped in the paranoia, cynicism and all-around fatigue of its time. And Kaufman gets to revel in the scenic charms of his native San Francisco, which, we all know, is populated by nothing but pod people. A shrieking Donald Sutherland is particularly memorable.

4. The Fly (1986)
David Cronenberg used his remake of the 1958 B-movie horror flick as a springboard to explore his favorite theme of losing control of one's own physicality. A surprisingly poignant romance to boot, this fascinating and occasionally gruesome film also boasts a career performance from Jeff Goldblum as mad scientist-turned-pest Seth Brundle.

3. The Ring (2002)
Not many horror films know how to do everything right, so give credit to director Gore Verbinski. In this Americanized version of the 1998 Japanese chiller Ringu, rain-choked Seattle is the locale for this story of the world's unfunniest home video. Verbinski must have stuffed himself silly on 1920s' German expressionism and Trent Reznor music videos in preparation for this flick.

2. A Star Is Born (1954)
George Cukor's remake of the 1937 film is not only a far superior work, but a bona fide classic and, perhaps, Cukor's masterpiece. James Mason was never better as fading movie star Norman Maine, an alcoholic who takes Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) under his wing, only to see her star eclipse his own. It was Garland's crowning moment in cinema, particularly poignant considering her downward spiral began shortly afterwards.

1. His Girl Friday (1940)
Howard Hawks' classic 1940 comedy took the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur play The Front Page and took a step further the curiously close relationship between hard-nosed newspaper boss Walter Burns and his favorite hotshot reporter, Hildy Johnson. In His Girl Friday, Hawks made Hildy a wisecracking woman (portrayed by Rosalind Russell in a terrific performance), and a perfect foil for Cary Grant's Burns. I never grow tired of this movie. Hawks' signature overlapping dialogue keeps the pace lightning-quick, and it remains one of the great hard-boiled depictions of the newspaper business.


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