Mulligans – My Favorite Remakes

So far I’ve found 2010 to be a rather dull year at the multiplex, and the summer slate even more uninspired. It’s a tired complaint but it feels like everything being released is based on something else, be it a sequel, TV show, comic book, comic strip, video game or remake. Don’t get me wrong, there are some original ideas out there, as Adam’s review has pointed out (or anyone anticipating Inception can attest) but they are few and far between during the blockbuster season.

But, there are some diamonds in the rough (I’ve been watching Aladdin a lot, thanks kids), and that is what I am here to list-ify: my favorite remakes. To be clear, this is a list of straight-up remakes (or as straight-up as it gets), because when it comes to remakes, things can get a little foggy. So, I will not be diving into the awesomeness that is Batman Begins or Star Trek. I also tried to avoid stuff that has been done again and again or based on a novel type stuff, so no Hamlet or Dracula or whatever. You get the idea. Also, it doesn’t matter how it compares to the original (I’ve only seen 4 of the originals on my list anyway), it’s simply my favorite movies that also happen to be remakes.

Feel free to let me know how wrong I am in the comments.

10. Scarface (1983) – Dir. Brian De Palma

Based on the film Scarface (1932) which was based on the novel Scarface from 1929

Before you can say it, I will; this is one of the most overrated movies ever made. For some reason (lots of drugs and violence?) the hip-hop community and all who wish they were apart of said community gravitate toward this one movie’s iconography like it was gospel. So why is it here? Well, the short answer is: most remakes suck, so there was slim pickings. But when it came down to this and a handful of others, Scarface wins out because of its grandiosity, Pacino’s accent and the numerous classic moments. It may be too long and too full of itself but in the end Tony snorts a helluva lot of coke and introduces us to his little friend. That’s too much fun to ignore. Also, my love of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City may have been an influence.

9. Oscar (1991) – Dir. John Landis

Based on the French film Oscar (1967) which was based on a play of the same name

After the fantastic 80’s, directing comedy classics like Three Amigos and Coming to America, John Landis began the 90’s with this much maligned remake. Since then, Landis hasn’t made a decent movie, but I would argue Oscar belongs in the group of good films before his career went south. It’s about a mobster trying to go straight when everything in his life starts to go sideways. There’s mistaken identity, slapstick, a lot of twists and turns. I don’t really get why this was Razzie-nominated. It’s funny, fast-paced, and full of great comedic performances. Marisa Tomei and Stallone are great, but my favorite was always the invaluable Tim Curry.

Do yourself a favor and give this one another (or first) chance.

8. The Blob (1988) – Dir. Chuck Russell

Based on the film The Blob (1958).

This is a pretty standard sci-fi horror entry. There’s a blob and it kills people (as we’ve established blobs do). A couple of things make this one better than it’s B-movie clichés. First off, the creature effects are amazing. When they remake it again it will surely be CGI and not nearly as awesome. The film also boasts a tight script written by Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont (The Mist). It is well-paced and void of any extraneous crap. Finally, the show Entourage has changed the way I watch this movie. Kevin Dillon (Johnny Drama) is the star of this remake and he does solid work, but it is hard the shake the feeling that this is a film of Drama’s and not Dillon’s. It’s fun to watch and imagine that this film lead to the career he has on Entourage (real and imagined).

7. Ocean’s 11 (2001) – Dir. Steven Soderbergh

Based on the film Ocean’s 11 (1960)

The set-up is a straight forward as it gets: Danny Ocean and a bunch of career criminals come together to pull off a major heist, fun ensues. I so wanted not to like this movie because it looked like that place where all the cool kids hang out, if that place was a movie directed by the coolest kid (Soderbergh). But, hating this slick caper is next to impossible. Part two was god-awful, and part three was decent, but it was the original remake that made everyone feel cool by proxy.

6. King Kong (2005) – Dir. Peter Jackson

Based on King Kong (1933), which was first remade in 1976

I’m the minority here, but I loved this remake. It’s the classic story of love between a giant ape and a screaming blonde woman. I’m being serious; I really think the love story works (as does the love triangle). But the action, effects and grand scale of this blockbuster work great too. There are many breathtaking set pieces and Naomi Watts gives one of her finest performances, which went totally overlooked. It does have some hammy moments, but the strength of everything else powers through any of the missteps. I like some of the scenes in the extended edition, but the theatrical is the preferred version (unlike Lord of the Rings).

5. True Lies (1994) – Dir. James Cameron

Based on the French film (Which is next to impossible to find in the U.S.) La Totale! (1991)

Yet another film supporting the theory that ’94 was the best year for movies, Lies is about super spy, Ah-nuld, leading a double life that his family doesn’t know about, and then stuff blows up real good. It’s what Mr. and Mrs. Smith and last weekend’s Killers desperately wish they were. I dare say this might be the best action-comedy ever made, if not my favorite. It works great because it doesn’t wink during the action and it doesn’t force the comedy. The action is big and explosive, and then the comedy scales back and relies on character and situation.

4. Little Shop of Horrors (1986) – Dir. Frank Oz

Based on the Corman classic Little Shop of Horrors (1960) after it was adapted into a stage musical in 1982.

This is my second favorite musical of all-time (South Park being my first). It’s a black comedy about a mean green mother from outer space and the lovelorn nerd who foolishly cares for it. Rick Moranis is never better as Seymour, all the songs are great, and the Audrey II plant effects are still jaw-dropping. The sets are obviously sets and tend to give the whole film a great otherworldly feel, like some Norman Rockwell painting on crack, sealed in plastic wrap for a hundred years and reopened just for this movie. And finally, it makes me mad when someone tries to argue that Zombieland features the best cameo of all-time, when it isn’t even Bill Murray’s best. I still laugh my head off at his brief scene as the masochistic patient to Steve Martin’s deranged dentist.

3. The Departed (2006) – Martin Scorsese

Based on the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs (2002)

I’ve already talked about my love for this particular remake in my top twenty of the decade list. So I’ll talk about something different here. Like why the hell wasn’t Leo nominated for an Oscar for his great work in this picture? He was nominated that year, for Blood Diamond (which is a meh movie with fine work from Leo), but if you ask me I’ll tell you it was for The Departed.

I have seen the original film this was based on and it’s okay. Some might call it classic, try to tell you it is superior, but I bet you’ll like the remake more. My favorite thing the remake does better is get all the set-up out-of-the-way with a 20 minute opening montage, while the original wastes at least double the amount of time and isn’t nearly as clear and concise about it.

2. 12 Monkeys (1995) – Dir. Terry Gilliam

Inspired by the short film La Jetee (1962).

This is Terry Gilliam’s last great movie. In the future, a virus has wiped out humanity and those that survive live underground. A prisoner, Bruce Willis, is sent back in time to find a cure and reinstate the human race. The story jumps back and forth through time and has a great sense of how this time jumping might adversely affect one’s sanity. Willis is brilliantly haunted yet volatile throughout. The science fiction is played realistic not futuristic, kind of like Children of Men. Brad Pitt is amazing as the loony leader of the army of the 12 monkeys (he won a Golden Globe and was Oscar nominated). It’s a rare film that balances its wild sci-fi tropes with real interesting people and drama.

1. The Thing (1982) – Dir. John Carpenter

Based on the film The Thing from Another World (1951), which was based on the novella Who Goes There? (1938)

Kurt Russell stars in this wonderfully claustrophobic sci-fi horror classic. When an alien organism that can take any form crashes in the arctic, no one is who they seem and no one can be trusted as fear takes over outpost #31. The tension of this film is great and there are some surprising bursts of action that are well served by the make-up effects (some of the best you will ever witness on film). Heads sprout legs, chests grow mouths and dogs split open in brilliantly gory detail. Amazingly, whenever I revisit the movie, I can never remember who is a thing and who is human because of how well the film keeps you guessing.

Did I nail it or forget to include your favorite? Oh, and as a side note and something that might interest only me. Howard Hawks directed the original Scarface, and The Thing From Another World, and throughout The Departed Scorsese included X’s as an homage to Hawk’s Scarface. So yeah, mildly interesting.

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2 responses to “Mulligans – My Favorite Remakes

  1. Pretty good list even though I would say The Blob doesn’t hold up to original and you know how I feel about King Kong. Might I suggest for your consideration Cronenberg’s The Fly as well as The Man Who Knew Too Much with James Stewart.

    • Bryan Parrill

      I like both Blobs equally.

      I know how everyone feels about King Kong.

      The Fly was one on the bubble, but I find it a little slow and long. It has some classic moments, much like Scarface, but the final Scarface shootout is just a little more classic.

      And maybe you’re right about Man Who Knew Too Much as I’ve never seen it or the original.

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