Few things make filmgoers shudder more than the word “remake.” For years, audiences have been treated to reheated, recast, and reimagined versions of past films, both classics and otherwise. John Semley, Chief Editor for the Onion AV Club’s Toronto branch, aims to create a broader dialogue and discussion surrounding remakes with a new screening series at the Toronto Underground Cinema titled “Remake/Remodel,” where local film writers will present two sides of the same cinematic coin.
“On paper, not every premise for a remake is all that terrible.” Semley said during a recent interview. “A lot of these films are actually still documents of historical or cultural moments that can’t really be denied. I mean, 9 out of 10 times they are going to suck, and even I will always carry that stigma with me, but they always have this inherent curiosity factor. Then you also have films like Batman Begins and Casino Royale that manage to be entertaining and resonate with audiences that people don’t necessarily see as straight reworkings of something.”
“I mean, they’re unnecessary evils, really. The most recent version of The Thing would be a great example of the kind of stuff that works today on its own terms and as a remake. It’s not nearly as great as the iconic Thing and it’s also sort of a prequel, but it faithfully hits all the high notes and beats of the original, and it’s still relatively clever. The same goes with the recent Fright Night, which I know not everyone was too hot on, but that one was surprisingly good, and I’m not someone who was ever really that jazzed or excited enough to run out and catch Tom Holland’s original film.”
This Friday starting at 7 pm, The Grid and Cinema Scope’s Adam Nayman will be presenting one of the more interesting double bills in the series line-up. First up will be the classic 1950s Edmond O’Brien starring noir D.O.A., and following that, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s blissfully cracked out, kinetic 2006 masterwork Crank. What do these films so vastly different in style have in common? Both are the tale of a man who has been poisoned that has a limited amount of time to discover just who slipped him a mickey and why.
“I mean, our first couple of screenings that we’ve done just so happen to be pairing one really good movie with one seemingly shitty one, but that’s not always the case.” Semley said, not specifically referring to Crank as a bad film (and if anyone can defend the merits of Neveldine and Taylor, it’s the incredibly articulate and genial Nayman, who has a genuine love for the gonzo filmmaking duo), but in reference to his first two screenings.
“Our first one was John Boorman’s great Point Blank from 1967 with Lee Marvin and Mel Gibson’s Payback from 1999. Both are adaptations of the same novel called The Hunter (written by Donald Westlake), and while Boorman’s film is great, I still really like the Gibson version because of how silly it seems at times. But still, that’s a great comparison to be made between the two.”
We asked John to weigh in on some other famous/infamous remakes, reboots, and remodels for Dork Shelf, and asked his opinions on which film was superior.
Okay, first up, John Woo and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Hard Target or Ice-T and Rutger Hauer’s Surviving the Game. Also, you can’t answer by saying Predator.
Ha! Oh yeah! Because those are all retellings of The Most Dangerous Game! You know, for being Woo’s first English language picture Hard Target is okay and kinda cool, but I fucking love Surviving the Game. It’s got (Gary) Busey and Hauer, and it has that silly, campy ridiculousness that I always appreciate in a movie.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre or Walter Hill’s Trespass?
Which one was Trespass again?
It’s the one with Ice-T and Ice Cube as gangbangers going up against Bill Paxton and William Sadler as two firemen trying to find gold in an abandoned inner city warehouse.
Oh yeah! Didn’t Robert Zemeckis write that one and it just sat around for a decade or so before it got made?
Yup. That’s the one.
You know, I don’t think I’m really qualified to give a firm opinion on this one because it’s been so long since I’ve seen Trespass and I only vaguely remember bits and pieces of it, mostly Paxton. But I generally like Walter Hill and I would love to give him the edge on this one because Treasure of the Sierra Madre was always a film I could go either way about. But again, I really don’t remember much about Trespass, but the fact that Hill made it makes me want to say that one.
Blackenstein or Frankenhooker?
Haha! What? Ah fuck, Blackenstein is really fucking boring for what it is – but Blacula on the other hand is pretty great – and Frankenhooker is legitimately a good movie. That one is way better. But they’re both better than Young Frankenstein, which was cool when I was, like, nine, but just isn’t really that funny today.
Casablanca or Pamela Anderson’s Barb Wire?
I would love to be really contrarian on this one and give the nod to Barb Wire, but there’s no denying that Casablanca is the vastly better movie here. And I guess you’re right to include it since both have basically the exact same plot.
The Bad Seed or The Good Son?
Oh, The Good Son, for sure, but I mean, I love all of those Bad Seed-style films unless they’re We Need to Talk About Kevin. I still have really fond memories of watching The Good Son in my pre-adolescent years. I mean, you have North’s Elijah Wood as the protagonist and you have that really outlandish climax where the mother has to hold both Elijah and Macaulay Culkin over that cliff face and decide which kid to let go of. Like I said, I love those kind of movies, but there’s some definite nostalgia factoring into this one.
The Magnificent Seven or A Bug’s Life?
Ah yes, two retellings of Shichinin no samurai (The Seven Samurai). Seeing as The Magnificent Seven has so many of my favourite male actors of all time in it, that one gets this hands down. I’m not even going to give A Bug’s Life any credence. I was more of an Antz man, myself.
The 1958 version of The Blob or the Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell 1988 version?
’58 for sure and without question. I actually have a funny anecdote about that one because when I was about seven or so, my dad’s friend simply told me the story to the original Blob and I was terrified for about a week to the point where I couldn’t go to sleep and I was having nightmares about it.
The ’88 version is just way too silly and knowing to be all that fun, but the ’58 version is such great camp combined with better depictions of teenagers and this kind of cool Rebel Without a Cause vibe that the ’88 version botches entirely.
1962’s Cape Fear or Scorsese’s 1991 version?
I’m going with Scorsese on this one just because it’s the pinnacle of what everyone deems “bad Scorsese.” I mean, when Shutter Island came out everyone said it was Scorsese doing a genre film, but that movie tries way too hard at times to be something more than what it is, where Cape Fear truly is his best junky genre effort. I also love (Nick) Nolte and (Robert) DeNiro in this one.
But I’m actually going to go the third way on this one and go with The Simpsons episode that riffs on Cape Fear (“Cape Feare”), the one where Sideshow Bob comes out of prison and they all have to go into witness protection. Just for setting up that incredible rake gag alone, that’s the best version of this story.
Finally, Guy Maddin’s Keyhole or The Coen’s O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Oh, that’s a really tough and really good one and some great takes on (James Joyce’s) Ulysses and (Homer’s) The Odyssey. I really like all the filmmakers involved here, and I might even like Maddin just a little bit more and he might even have a better handle on the material, but O Brother, Where Art Thou? is just a hard film to hate. I’ll always have warm and fun memories of watching it, and it’s the perfect film to show to Clooney haters who think he’s “too smart” because this showcases him at his most charming and most dimwitted.