Friday, March 16, 2012

What are the best remakes of all time?

As a general rule, I’m not a fan of remakes.

That being said, there have been a few that have taken me by surprise and proven to be as entertaining (if not more entertaining in some cases) than the originals.

Without further ado, the most entertaining remakes are:

10. Fright Night (2011): I’m not a fan of the original, so maybe that’s why I love the remake so much. It also might have something to do with the fact that I’m sick of sparkly and brooding vampires and want to see something with actual teeth. That’s what Colin Farrell’s Jerry brings to ‘Fright Night.’ This movie isn’t just horror, though. It has a darkly hilarious comedic side as well – and who doesn’t enjoy McLovin as a vampire?

9. Ocean’s Eleven (2001): We’re only talking the first movie here, not the two sequels (those were pretty bad). The original remake though was a fun romp with a stellar cast. While George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon get the most attention for the films, I personally enjoyed the antics of Bernie Mac, Scott Caan, and Don Cheadle. While the two sequels do drag down the entire franchise, you have to admit the first movie is still ridiculously entertaining. I think the audience has fun because the actors look like they’re having a blast. That always helps.

8. Father of the Bride (1991): Steve Martin is one of those performers that always manages to engage you. He does just that as George Banks, a father who thinks his entire life is being derailed by his daughter’s impending marriage. The movie has a lot of funny moments, like George watching ‘America’s Most Wanted’ in hopes of seeing his future-son-law or freaking out about buns and hot dogs in the super market, but the movie’s true strength comes in the quiet moments that are rooted in reality. George’s freak outs are not about the cost of the wedding but losing his daughter – and I think there are a lot of fathers out there who can relate to that.

7. The Ring (2002): This is a remake of a Japanese horror film and, quite frankly, that usually doesn’t work. In the grand scheme of things, Americanizing Japanese horror falls flat. In this case, though, it worked. Naomi Watts is stellar as a paranoid reporter following a story that she can hardly believe herself, yet she has to if she wants to save her child. Martin Henderson (why don’t we see more of him?) is also solid as a father who struggles with his decisions, and yet doesn’t change them. It’s David Dorfman, though, who actually sells the premise of the movie. It’s rare that you find a child actor that cannot only hang with the adults but surpass them. As young Aidan, Dorfman managed to do that and more. The sequel was a horrific piece of crap, but the first movie still holds up to this day.

6. Battlestar Gallactica (2004): The original was a cheesy 1970s science fiction fest that was entertaining, but not quality television. You can’t say that about the reboot. Edward James Olmos and Mary McDowell anchor a quality cast, but it is Katee Sackoff that earns the most accolades for her turn as ‘Starbuck.’ The fact that this show aired on SyFy – a network that has become synonymous with bad television movies – should also be noted. It proves that when you have the right cast and a great script, just about anything is possible.

5. Dawn of the Dead (2004): It’s surprising that a remake made about 26 years after the original manages to hang on to the first movie’s central theme – but this one does. This is the movie that introduced running zombies (I know an argument can be made for ‘28 Days Later’ but those people weren’t technically zombies) long before ‘The Walking Dead’ took over the airwaves. While the action and acting in the remake is good (especially for a horror movie) the commentary on rampant consumerism is still as poignant today as it was in 1978. Plus, who doesn’t love a good zombie movie? They’re so hard to find since Romero went off the rails.

4. The Departed (2006): This is a remake of ‘Infernal Affairs’ and, as far as remakes go, it really is topnotch. Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson shine in the foul-mouthed love story of dirty cops and blood thirsty robbers. It’s a manic DiCaprio that really sells the angst of the film, while Nicholson shines in his bad guy role and Damon lends the film his steady credibility. The one drawback of the film is Mark Wahlberg – that guy pretty much sucks in everything he does – but he’s really my only complaint. This is a film where the line between good and bad isn’t just gray, it’s almost transparent.

3. Cape Fear (1991): The original was superb. So was the remake. Both Nick Nolte and Robert De Niro stand out in a solid cast that launched the career of Juliette Lewis. Jessica Lange is at her manic best as a wife and mother being put into a precarious situation and Nolte is steady as a father being plagued by past mistakes. This is one of De Niro’s finest performances, though, and he really does steal the movie. From the opening scenes of him working out to the final scenes of him terrorizing the family, De Niro is at his best throughout the film. It almost makes you forgive him for ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ – just not quite.

2. M*A*S*H (1972): This is a case of a television show being as good as (maybe even better) than the original. The movie was released in 1970 and proved to be a poignant hit. The television show premiered two years later and launched itself into American television history. Not only did the show last for more than ten years, it also had the distinction of having the most watched finale in television history – ever. What was great about ‘M*A*S*H’ was that it could be funny and irreverent in one moment and realistically touching in the next. The characters were richly drawn and endlessly entertaining. There isn’t a lot on the airwaves these days (or ever) that can compete with the magic that was ‘M*A*S*H.’

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997): We’re talking the television show here (obviously). The 1992 movie on which the franchise was base was a debacle of epic proportions. It was essentially a vapid comedy with a charisma-free lead. That can’t be said for the television show, which proved to be a lot heavier and emotionally poignant than a show with a silly name should be. I think that’s why those that haven’t seen the program still look down on it. Those of us that have seen it know, this show was so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s wasn’t just about a bunch of silly kids in high school. It was about a group of friends fighting monsters – even when those monsters were in themselves. I’ve never hidden my dislike for the last two seasons of the show, but the first five seasons are some of the best television ever aired.

Honorable mentions:

S.W.A.T. (2003): This movie isn’t going to win an award but it is endlessly re-watchable and enjoyable. Between LL Cool J, Colin Farrell and Samuel L. Jackson, the movie manages to be high-octane action and middle-of-the-road laughs served up with a healthy side of beefcake. What more could you ask for?

The Parent Trap (1998): This was when Lindsay Lohan was still young and sweet and you had hopes for her future. Still, the movie is highly entertaining and the modern twists to the old story are welcome – while still giving a nod to the past in just the right places.

Hawaii Five-0 (2010): Remaking a beloved television show is always a dubious challenge, and recasting one of those characters as a woman has a risk factor. Something about the ‘Hawaii Five-0’ cast just gels, though. Between Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan’s never-ending banter and Kono and Chin’s familial bond, the whole show is a fun ride. Just don’t expect too much realism. This show survives in a surreal world more than anything else.
Let Me In (2010): This is a horror movie, but it’s also so much more. This is the story of a lonely little boy and a vampire girl who forge a friendship that is both scary and necessary for them both to survive. There’s a moral message to the film, essentially proving that sometimes the monsters aren’t the truly evil ones. The young performers are both solid, though, and the film benefits from a darkly charged atmosphere that always keeps you guessing.

The Fly (1986): In the grand scheme of things, the special effects in this movie don’t hold up. The performances do, though, and the script is still solid. I have a feeling this is a remake that will be remade within the next few years, though. Until then, I will remain horrified by the Brundlefly.

True Grit (2010): I’m not a big western fan, but this one was entertaining and engaging. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon (he’s in a lot of remakes apparently) and Josh Brolin all shine in their roles, but it’s a young Hailee Steinfeld that steals the show. Sometimes, in this modern world, westerns can’t hold up. This one manages to find the right balance between humor and heroics, though. That’s a winner in my book.

What do you think? What are the best remakes?


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