Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Jack Black Squealing Like a Pig and No Mr. Yunioshi (Green Light These 5 Remakes!)

Within the past month or so, news has come from Hollywood that remakes are in the works for two iconic science fiction films: John Carpenter’s 1981 dystopian thriller, “Escape From New York” and 1951’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” in which an interplanetary messenger warns Earth to change its warlike ways before it’s too late.

It’s undeniable that Hollywood’s propensity for raiding its own past is increasing, and while the knee-jerk response is to cry unoriginality, the fact is some movies do warrant another go. Better effects technology, a more sophisticated audience and less censorship are just a few reasons that filmmakers might want to take an old movie and spruce it up. Sometimes it’s a good idea (see Rewind: Top 10 good remakes), and sometimes it’s not (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” anyone?).

But since the practice is not going to end, we thought we’d offer some suggestions of movies that are ripe for a remake. We just want executive producer credit.

John Boorman’s 1972 culture-clash drama was a chilling look at how it’s possible for humans to treat one another like animals. Burt Reynolds was never better than here, playing Lewis Medlock, the alpha-male leader of a southern canoe trip that goes horribly awry when a run-in with some aggressive hillbillies leads to death. Ned Beatty is especially effective as Bobby, the “squeal like a pig” rape victim. But “Deliverance” is not so revered that it can’t be revisited, especially given today’s heated Red State / Blue State environment. We’d love to see Vince Vaughn or perhaps Johnny Knoxville in the Reynolds role, taking his devil may care testosteroney persona to an entirely new place, playing opposite Jack Black or Philip Seymour Hoffman in the Beatty role, a timid man pushed to the brink by a humiliation he never dreamed. May we suggest Paul Haggis (“Crash”) in the director’s chair? Or maybe the Coen Brothers could bring something crazy to the table?

This 1955 Cary Grant – Grace Kelly jewel heist whodunit / romance is widely considered one of Alfred Hitchcock’s lesser efforts, a glitzy, superficial piffle. We still love it, but its place in the pantheon makes it less sacrosanct than, say “Psycho.” The tale of John “the Cat” Robie, a former jewel thief living on the French Riviera who has to clear his name after a rash of robberies puts him under suspicion has many timeless elements, not the least being the cat and mouse romance between Robie and Francie, the younger, spoiled, thrill-seeking American heiress. The obvious recasting would put George Clooney as Robie and Scarlett Johansson or Kate Winslet as Francie (with Kathy Bates as her smartass mother, John Cleese as the uptight insurance agent who reluctantly works with Robie to find the true thief and Ludivine Sagnier as the seductive daughter of a former cohort of Robie’s). But we could also see the story with a super-suave Denzel Washington in the lead opposite BeyoncĂ© Knowles, supported by Pam Grier as the Mom! Put Clooney collaborator Steven Soderbergh behind the camera and watch the fireworks fly!

Francis Ford Coppola’s often overlooked 1974 gem stars Gene Hackman as Harry Caul, a lonely, paranoid, but brilliant surveillance expert who’s hired by an executive at a large corporation to eavesdrop on two employees as they take a lunchtime stroll. The reason and ramifications are ostensibly meaningless to Harry, merely a professional doing his job. But Harry has a troubled conscience that begins to weigh on him in ways that bring a shattering climax.

“The Conversation” is a near-perfect film, and the only reason it’s suitable for a remake is the incredible advances in technology over the past three decades. Contemporary audio spyware would force the filmmakes to come up with a real challenge for Caul (we think Bill Murray would shine, or the role could similarly boost the career of fellow SNL vet Dan Aykroyd) as well as dramatically jacking up the character’s paranoid, hermetically sealed lifestyle. While the original film tapped (sorry) into a post-Watergate paranoia, a new version could certainly tackle the ever-expanding threats to our civil rights and personal privacy. Not to give him MORE work, but this sounds like a directing job for George Clooney.

In the creepy, stylish 1971 horror flick, Vincent Prices plays the titular doctor, a famous organist / theologian (!!) who becomes horribly disfigured in a car crash that critically injures his wife as well. When the surgical team fails to save Mrs. Phibes, the doc goes mad and sets out to get revenge on them, utilizing the Ten Plagues of Egypt (rats, frogs, locusts, boils, et al) as his murderous inspirations. Given the current spate of torture-horror films ala “Saw,” Dr. Phibes’ thematically gruesome methods are more timely than ever. Give the film to “Hostel”’s Eli Roth or David Fincher (“Se7en”), stick an over-the-top Nicolas Cage or Patrick Stewart in the horrific makeup and watch the birth of a new horror franchise.

Oh, we can hear some of you crying foul. Yes, Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly in the 1961 Blake Edwards original is one of the most iconic performances in film history. Yes, the movie is beloved and acclaimed and bla bla bla. It’s also honestly not that great, and it bears very little resemblance to Truman Capote’s 1958 book, a far more complex and melancholy tale for which Hollywood just wasn’t ready. Sure, movies and books are different media and shouldn’t be compared with each other, but in this case we’ll make an exception. Why not take a stab at a more faithful adaptation with a less gazelle-like Holly (how about Elisha Cuthbert or Lauren Ambrose?), a less-straight Fred (played by Topher Grace? Owen Wilson?), no happy ending and most of all, no Mr. Yunioshi? Hey, Sofia Coppola! Whattya think? Good follow-up to “Marie Antoinette?”

We know we lost some of you with that last one, but that’s fine. Every film has both detractors and defenders. We think it’s ridiculous to bother with a re-remake of “The Fly,” as David Cronenberg’s 1986 update was as good as that can get. Of all the remakes in the works right now, the one that makes the most sense to us is “Westworld.” The 1973 original is a great idea not fully realized. The notion of things going horribly wrong at a futuristic amusement park where guests interact with humanoid robots in different historical settings is a doozy of a concept. But, despite the casting coup of Yul Brynner as a killer Gunslinger ‘droid, the movie is slow-paced and remarkably lacking in excitement. Our fingers are crossed for the new version, but if it doesn’t work out, no problem. There’s a lot more where that came from.

The ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, WESTWORLD and THE FLY remakes have yet to happen, while THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL was pretty weak, despite the presence of Jennifer Connelly. Oh, and I got some serious knee-jerk shite for that last suggestion on the internets, mostly from people who didn't actually bother to READ what I wrote.


Bob Fingerman said...

Whoa, whoa, whoa: you're advocating Nic Cage taking on the role of Dr. Phibes? You? I thought you couldn't stand Cage. I dunno, usually you and I agree on stuff, but I say leave all of these as is, especially The Conversation, especially since, as you say, it's a near-perfect film anyway. I totes agree about Westworld, though. I'd be up for a remake of Soylent Green, but I imagine everyone knows the punchline by now.

Pops Gustav said...

I don't hate Nicolas Cage, but bear in mind, this piece was written four years ago. He's changed a bit in those four years.

Of these five, while PHIBES could be remade with the least outcry, I think the one that deserves it the most is TIFFANY'S.