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Play It Again, Sam

Russell Brand in Arthur (2011).

Russell Brand in Arthur (2011).

The good, the bad and the ugly of movie remakes

– by Regan Payne

You have to hand it to Russell Brand: the man does nothing half-assed.

To Brand, moderation would appear to be the opiate of the sissy, and his onslaught of Hollywood seems to be following suit. Brand has appeared in no less than six films in the last two years, and as of Friday, he will battle himself at the box office, as his remake of Arthur hits theatres, attempting to knock off current box-office champ, Hop, in which Brand voices the lead character.

Arthur, the original, was the tale of a lonely, depressed man, who hid behind a barrage of laughs and underneath a comforting family fortune, where he was stuck in a state of perpetual, emotional arrested development – quite heavy stuff for a very funny movie. In Dudley Moore’s hands, the pain trapped within the sloshed, vibrating chuckles of his cheeks made us root all the more for him to shrug off the co-dependent ties to his deadening family, and run off with the affectionate and fun Liza Minnelli.

Moore and Minnelli, both show business vets, were a cut above Brand, and his unfortunate counterpart, Jennifer Garner, so one hopes at the very least that this version of Arthur remains a troubled man wrestling through his demons by finding adventure with another kindred spirit – though those hopes remain guarded.

In an earlier post of mine, I promised a dissertation, at some point, on the validity of the film remake itself. I hold true to that claim; however, as Arthur opens wide this Friday, we present the good, bad and ugly of movie remakes.

Dudley Moore in Arthur (1981).

Dudley Moore in Arthur (1981).

The Good:

The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956 (based on The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1934) – No one remade Hitchcock better, than, well…Hitch himself. I don’t feel the first attempt is egregious by any means, though the Jimmy Stewart-Doris Day update is superior.

Cape Fear, 1991 (based on Cape Fear, 1962) – I may be in the minority on this one. However, I think Scorsese was at his most fun here remaking J. Lee Thompson’s tale of a man returning from prison to torment the man he feels put him there unjustly.

The Fly
, 1986 (based on The Fly, 1958) – David Cronenberg swings for the fences and hits a home run with his update of this cult sci-fi favorite. Now that the Canadian is a serious filmmaker, one almost longs for a throwback to his Dead Ringer days.

The Departed, 2006 (based on Infernal Affairs, 2002) – A good remake of a great original. This time out, Scorsese revisions Wai-keung Lau and Alan Mak’s tale of an undercover cop, and a mole, desperately hunting down the identity of the other. Even with a crucial scene lifted directly from another film, 1947’s Crossfire, Scorsese still delivers an exciting cat-and-mouse thriller.

Dawn of the Dead, 2004 (based on Dawn of the Dead, 1978) – Another debatable entry; George Romero, though lacking in what modern audiences are used to in production values, always brought his best game to the table. A group of citizens on the run from zombies, take refuge in a local shopping mall in the original and in the Zach Snyder (Watchmen, Sucker Punch) remake.


The Bad:

Alfie, 2004 (based on Alfie, 1966) – Much like the Brand-Garner pairing in Arthur, Jude Law and Sienna Miller have the unenviable task of trying to live up to Michael Caine and Shelley Winters – they try, they fail.


Vanilla Sky, 2001 (based on Open Your Eyes, 1997) – Penelope Cruz, still untainted by the Hollywood glare, shines along with her co-star, Eduardo Noriega, in the Spanish original, remade with Cruz, and future beau, Tom Cruise, in the hopes of recapturing some cinematic magic.


Get Carter, 2000 (based on Get Carter, 1971) – I realize there is a reason why Michael Caine films are cannon fodder for the remake bin: he’s tough, cool, witty, and trifle sophisticated (when called for). The remake stars Sylvester Stallone – and there we have it.


Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1992 (based on Dracula, 1931) – It’s not completely fair to pick on Coppola’s take on Transylvania – there have been many gaffs at recreating the Tod Browning original. However, this version features Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves – I’m picking on it.


Down & Out in Beverly Hills, 1986 (based on Boudo Saved From Drowning, 1932) – Jean Renoir is an undeniable cinema giant, while Paul Mazursky… is a nice man, I hear. So, again, it’s not completely fair to compare the two, however, no one put a gun to Mazursky’s head and told him to pick on a legend – sometimes we get what’s coming to us.


The Ugly:

Planet of the Apes, 2001 (based on Planet of the Apes, 1968) – Tim Burton has a thing for big remakes (Alice in Wonderland, The Chocolate Factory thing). This one did not have Johnny Depp however to help smooth the ride.


Psycho, 1998 (based on Pyscho, 1960) – Seriously, Gus van Sant? Why not De Palma? He kind of made a career imitating Hitchcock.


The Ladykillers, 2004 (based on The Ladykillers, 1955)

There should be a cinematic rule: everyone leaves the Ealing comedies alone – including the Coens.

Breathless, 1981 (based on A Bout de Souffle, 1960) – Jean-Luc Godard forever changed cinema with his first feature (with help from Francois Truffaut’s script and Jean-Pierre Melville’s suggestions of jump cutting), Richard Gere and Jim McBride set the industry back a step or two with their version.

Meet Joe Black, 1998 (based on Death Takes a Holiday, 1934) – Death gets a crash course on what life on earth is like – and, somehow, someway, completely unpredictably, falls head over heels in love in the process.


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