Original vs Remake: Hollywood’s Need to Retell the Story (or the Lack Thereof)

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“The World of Apu” is a bimonthly, diverse, and multilingual online film magazine which explores film cultures from around the world.

Below you can find my analysis on a few international films, not particularly well-known ones, that have spawned renowned Hollywood successes (whether critical or commercial). Maybe I can get you to watch either or both of them, and then get you to ask if the Hollywood remake added to the existing film it was indeed necessary.

Original vs Remake: Hollywood’s Need to Retell the Story (or the Lack Thereof)

 

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American Son (2019): Drama

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While their son goes missing, an estranged couple, having a lot of issues to deal with, must wait at the police station until further news arrives.

As a big Kerry Washington fan, straight after watching the trailer, I put on Netflix and watched it. The disappointment was huge. So, where do I start…

Characters: All four of them are dislikable. In a nutshell: Kendra throws out there a few times that she has a Ph.D. in Psychology and not even once, can she hold her emotions, lashing out at everyone. Scott, an FBI agent, who acts nothing like it – more like a wannabe CEO with his head way up his arse. Paul is just a dumbass and Lt. Stokes an obnoxious bellend.

Acting: Jeremy Jordan could have made his naive character act like it; he could have done a lot more with it. Steven Pasquale looks like he doesn’t want to be on set; it’s like he forgot he is going out with his mates for pints and he has stood them up. Eugene Lee acts as if he’s a judge, dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and, as with Steven, he’s in a rush to leave the set and go back to sleep. Last but definitely not least, my favourite Kerry Washington who, while raising political and social issues, constantly grimaces and acts as if the importance of those issues matters to her more than her missing son. Something that leads me to the…

Story: Feels very forceful! In an hour and a half, it is trying to address racism from… Every. Single. Angle. The topic changes and, not very creatively, every time comes back to that. Repeatedly. Over and over again. And the damage it does is that it overshadows the parents’ greatest fear: the worst-case scenario about their child. Which may or may not be the case here (watch it). When your child goes missing and ultimately is proved that you know a lot more than you reveal in the beginning you are not preoccupied that much with racism. You wait until your child proves to be alright, bollock it to tears, and then argue with anyone about anything. In American Son, everyone argues with everyone and it all boils down to race. White on black, black on white, and black on black. And this notion to fully develop and thoroughly analyse such a perplex and painful issue as ‘racism’ in an hour and a half ruins the plot which should have been the parents’ agonising drama. Period. All the rest is a subplot.

Really shame as all actors are brilliant (apologies for favouring more Kerry) but the story’s unfolding doesn’t do justice to neither the characters nor the acting. Here in the UK, racism is a massively sore issue as well but I have hardly ever heard any conversation going down like that. One of the best films I watched last year, which tackles racism in a very creative, subtle but also kind of a funny way is Blindspotting (2018) – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!

Blue Mountain (2019): Drama / Romance / Short

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A woman lies in bed watching the love of her life sleeping and can’t help but wonder if life is how she perceives it to be.

Watching Blue Mountain you stop debating with yourself regarding whether a short film can convey the message as effectively as a feature can and start wondering if what you perceive as real is everyone’s reality or just yours. Translucent Film Studios, Congo Station Productions, and one (wo)man army Jasmine Brotzman produces, writes, acts, edits, designs, and directs life’s convolution, focusing on the antitheses of certainty and doubt, love and the perception of it, and the human mind’s complexity as it endlessly and relentlessly weaves our story’s should haves, could haves, would haves…

A proud addition to the Film Festival Circuit (www.filmfestivalcircuit.com), Blue Mountain deserves all the spotlight it can get, and so does Jasmine.

The Gallows (2015): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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Years after a kid’s accidental death, four kids get trapped in a school and tortured by a sinister supernatural force.

I would like to be clear once more and I will be every time I am forced to make a review such as this. I never judge a film itself. I judge the intentions behind it. As with The Nun (2018), the ghost in The Gallows is nothing but a clichéd plot device that does whatever is convenient and wannabe impressive to just… I don’t know… take them out? Story and dialogues are horribly written and the camera work is plainly bad! The acting is mediocre (with Cassidy Gifford being the exception) and the VFX… plainly bad again.

I try to be lenient and I’m definitely holding my punches here but it is really difficult as there is nothing positive I can say about the film other than the semi-decent opening scene followed by a freefall to the rock bottom. The scariest thing is that Jason Blum jumped on board. What is even scarier is that there is a sequel out there and Blum is behind that too – The Gallows Act II (2019).

I’m an avid supporter of indie, low budget films and praise them every time they achieve what Hollywood blockbusters can’t. It’s admirable that two directors did everything they could to make this film but please, do not undermine your audience’s intelligence. And this is why the intentions behind The Gallows are not noble. And this is why my review is bitter.

P.S. The poster’s tagline: “Every school has its spirit”. No comment…

The Farewell (2019): Comedy / Drama

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Using a wedding as an excuse, a Chinese family gathers after many years to bid farewell to their grandmother who doesn’t know she is dying.

“Based on an actual lie”… Lulu Wang’s real-life same case scenario inspires her to write and direct a bittersweet film about death, the way it brings people together, and the human awkwardness surrounding it. Powerful is also the subplot showcasing the moral differences between East and West even when language is not a barrier. The film consists of amazing, everyday, relatable characters, beautiful music (Wang’s behind the piano) that doesn’t dictate how one should feel, meticulous editing that balances the aspects of comedy and drama, and Lulu’s daring lens that unfolds a funny, yet heartbreaking story.

I proudly take my hat off to all cast and crew as well as the financers that I can only imagine the risks they took behind such investment. A great addition to the modern cinema that will make you laugh and cry while reconsidering whatwhen, and how you would like to say to the people you love the most.

P.S. SPOILER ALERT: After watching it, I urge you to find out what happened in the end in Wang’s real-life story https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8637428/trivia?item=tr4647494

 

Shiying… this is for you! Thank you wholeheartedly for your wonderful recommendation!!!

The Crow (1994): Action / Drama / Fantasy

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A man, after been brutally murdered, comes back to life to avenge his and his fiancée’s death by killing the ones responsible one by one.

Even though deeply stigmatised and remembered as the film that Brandon Lee was killed, The Crow still remains Lee’s legacy and a ’90s goth, revenge, Halloween classic. One of Alex Proyas’ finest films that unfortunately spawned sequels that should have never been made. Ranked 37th in IGN’s Top 100 Comic Book Heroes, the film has significant differences to the graphic novel but, proudly growing up with it, I can reassure you that, despite its flaws, it will be admired by every future generation to come.

The production details vary from ground-breaking VFX to complete the film after Lee’s death, to sets getting destroyed, to numerous people getting injured, and to cast and crew constantly abusing cocaine from the set to the toilets. Regardless, if you grew up with it as well, it will take you for a stroll down memory lane and if you were too young or not born yet, it will travel you to an analog world before the digital era took over.

Both father and son will always live in our hearts.

Trick ‘r Treat (2007): Comedy / Horror

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Demons, witches, pranks going wrong, werewolves, serial killers and a virgin, all happen in a small town’s Halloween night.

Jack O’ Lantern’s favourite comedy/horror. Writer/Director Michael Dougherty offers great home entertainment by blending scared kids, horny teenagers, and mentally deranged adults in a non-linear narrative horror with plenty of laughs, quirky performances, snappy editing, and highly creative costumes. Winner of the 2009 Fright Meter Award for Best Horror, Trick ‘r Treat is surrounded by mystery itself as, without explanation, it was pulled from the schedule, did not get a theatrical release, and went straight to DVD two years later. Producer Brian Singer reunites the amazing Brian Cox and the mesmerising Anna Paquin after X-Men 2 (2003). So, turn the lights off, grab something unhealthy to munch, and forget about all of your problems for the next hour and twenty minutes. Happy Halloween!

Sleepy Hollow (1999): Fantasy / Horror / Mystery

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An eccentric constable is sent to a village called Sleepy Hollow to investigate three mysterious murders but he gets more than he bargained for when he encounters The Headless Horseman.

Twenty years later and it’s still captivating. Tim Burton adapts for the silver screen the legendary Celtic and German folklore and creates one of the most atmospheric, period gothic fairytales you will have ever watched. Sleepy Hollow is purely a masterpiece. The perfect balance of horror, comedy, and fantasy with an equally “magical” and intense subplot. Like Shakesperean thespians, all actors deliver amazing performances that enhance the film’s genre. Danny Elfman’s eerie score gets your undivided attention from the opening scene and Emmanuel Lubezki’s hauntingly beautiful cinematography may have lost the Oskar to American Beauty (1999) but this merely means anything as you will probably have never encountered anything like it in any other fairytale adaptation [Maybe, Edward Scissorhands (1991) or Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)]. The “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” Oskar was well earned for building the Sleepy Hollow from scratch within three months. As the and crew stated: “The feeling one had walking around Sleepy Hollow’s sets, and in particular the town at Lime Tree, was almost as if you were walking around the inside of Tim Burton’s head.”

Sleepy Hollow is the best side of Hollywood. A side that is often forgotten by the studios but should be a reminder that quantity (the $100M budget) can be indeed spent wisely and increase the film’s quality. A reminder that visual effects are meant to be used as a means to advance the story, and not dominate the film overshadowing its narrative. Words cannot beautify Tim Burton’s classic. A must-watch not only for the Haloween period but also for times of classical storytelling nostalgia.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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On Halloween, three friends and a mysterious drifter end up in a haunted house, discovering a dead girl’s notebook that contains deadly stories that come true.

Are you a Halloween fan? Are you a ‘scary stories’ fan? Then look no further! Based on the ’80s homonymous book series written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen, Gammell Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a nostalgic, coming of age horror which builds on the historic events of Nixon’s elections and the effects of the Vietnam War through the eyes of teenagers living in a small town. Is it too scary? No. Is it flawless? Definitely not. But don’t rationalise it and don’t be too harsh on it. Like any scary campfire story, the couple of plot holes do not matter a bit as the film, in its own right, is thoroughly enjoyable and a perfect fit should you decide to stay in and turn the lights off.

Great storytelling to keep you entertained, and how could it not be? With André Øvredal [Troll Hunter (2010), the Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)] behind the camera and Guillermo del Toro behind the script and the production, it could be nothing but a perfect mix of reality and fantasy. Also, first-class acting by all kids, and very well edited. Look forward to watching more Halloween films like this one which creates the right atmosphere to ward off the ghosts and, whatever issues loop in your mind, take the back seat until the end credits start scrolling down. Highly recommended!

Fractured (2019): Thriller

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Following an accident at a pit stop, a man’s wife and daughter go missing at a remote hospital, leading him to go to extreme lengths to find them.

Act 1: An unsettling feeling takes over that cannot be shaken off. From the opening scene to the plot point, an unspecified wrongdoing causes uncertainty as to why this unsettling feeling applies pressure against your chest.

Act 2: The “what on Earth is happening?” thought glues you to your seats as you unsuccessfully try to put the pieces together, wondering if you have missed something, or you have watched something similar before, or if this is a conspiracy vs paranoia.

Act 3: Everything becomes clear until…

Brilliant job from Brand Anderson who brought you Session 9 (2001), The Machinist (2004), Transsiberian (2008), and Stonehearst Asylum (2014), to name but a few, and manages once more to blow our minds away. Read nothing, watch it knowing nothing, and I’m most certainly saying nothing! Turn the lights off, put your phones on silent, and descent into madness!

P.S. Oh… uh… yeah… it’s written by Alan McElroy, the guy who wrote the 5 Wrong Turns! (and yet another remake?!)

P.P.S. Gaz, Thanasis, and my beloved Ioanna, that’s a must-watch for you!!!