5. The Manchurian Candidate (Jonathan Demme, 2004)
Jonathan Demme was unperturbed following the disappoint of his reimagining of the classic sixties caper Charade with 2002’s The Truth About Charlie, immediately getting back on the remake horse with his 2004 adaptation of The Manchurian Candidate. With the likes of The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia in his canon to restore any hurt ego Demme did not shy away, instead taking an even higher esteemed film and updating it for the modern world. Demme examines the post-9/11 hysteria in America and ever-growing military-industrial complex by shifting the original premise from the Korean War to America’s conflict with the Middle-East and converting Manchuria from an international conspiracy to multibillion dollar company.
It had to take an impressive cast to fill the boots of the likes of Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury so Demme started off on the right foot by employing some of the most decorated names in Hollywood with Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep as well as a parade of venerated supporting actors including Miguel Ferrer, Bruno Ganz and Dean Stockwell. One particular highlight is when Ferrer’s typically unapologetic, blunt Colonel describes the internet as the “sacred sanctuary of idiots and nutters”.
One can justifiably criticise The Manchurian Candidate for its incredulity and plot holes but never has a line become more relevant with age. Washington plays Gulf War veteran, Major Bennett Marco, who starts to remember his experience of warfare differently to his compatriots. He begins to uncover a vast conspiracy that suggests that the team’s collective memory that Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) heroically earned a Medal of Honor in combat was fabricated and indoctrinated into them so that he would appear valiant when he later runs for office as the Vice-President of the United States under the strict guidance of his mother (Streep). The plot becomes increasingly insidious as the extent of the power that the Manchurian Corporation has over the actions of the brainwashed cadets becomes apparent.
Demme’s film may not quite hit the dramatic heights of Frankenheimer’s original but it is definitely a serviceable modern thriller with ideas that are relevant to our times.
4. Solaris (Steven Soderbergh, 2002)
If you were to ask a random selection of film fans who the most intellectually poetic filmmaker of all-time is, nine out of ten would respond with Andrei Tarkovsky. One of the most revered directors in history, Tarkovsky made only seven feature films in his lifetime but all of them are considered masterpieces as he combines the intensely emotional and elegiac with an advanced intellectualism and philosophy. Out of his seven films, only 1972’s Solaris has been dared to be remade by another filmmaker. Steven Soderbergh’s ambitious reproduction thirty years later of the same name stars George Clooney as the haunted psychologist who is asked to visit the space station Solaris after concerns are raised about the psychological welfare of the crew.
Not only does Soderbergh make the narrative of Solaris more accessible to the average viewer but also the runtime, almost halving originals 167-minute length. For those who do not have the patience to potentially sit in the same shot for minutes on end, Soderbergh keeps the essential story the same but chooses to accelerate Tarkovsky’s trademark extended ruminative scenes. As with the first, after arriving at Solaris, protagonist Kelvin soon discovers that the uncharacteristic irregularities of the crew are caused by the planet that they orbit which is able to access and manifest any dark, obsessive memories that anyone may have. Kelvin quickly becomes troubled by the replicant of his deceased wife and is torn between his heart and his head over what he should do, living in a dream that doesn’t make any sense but one that he accepts because he desperately wants it to be true.
Considering how the early 2000s is notorious for being guilty of shabby special effects – just take a look at The Scorpion King – Solaris’ visuals of the space station and planet still impress and blue and purple lunar lighting effectively create a cold, delirious atmosphere. Soderbergh’s effort was never going to eclipse Tarkovsky’s original but it is admirable in its attempt in trying to reach its interstellar heights.
3. Miami Vice (Michael Mann, 2006)
The only film on this list to not be a remake of another movie, Miami Vice is Michael Mann’s 2006 reboot of his 1980’s television series of the same name. Although he is famous for forever working on his projects, repeatedly re-editing and playing with films that were theatrically released years earlier, Mann is only thought to have considered revisiting Miami Vice after Jamie Foxx suggested the idea to the director. As a result, the updated Miami Vice stars Foxx as Detective Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs alongside Colin Farrell as his partner Detective James “Sonny” Crockett as they try to infiltrate an international cocaine racket.
The original series is the prime example of quintessential 80’s cheesy fashion with its garish suits and vibrant shirts and the 2006 feature film is a similar heightened snapshot of its own era. Miami Vice is unashamed in its stylisation of what was slick at the time as it opens to Jay-Z and Linkin Park’s “Numb/Encore” in a pulsing, strobe-lit nightclub.
The resuscitation of Miami Vice may have been down to Foxx but it is really sustained by Farrell in his embodiment of Sonny. With the appearance of a walking, sweating cocaine-zombie with greasy long hair and the thickest of moustaches, he fits seamlessly undercover into the world of narcotics, growling and mumbling his way through the narrative. Yet, through Farrell’s innate handsomeness and vulnerability, he still pulls this stylisation off and makes a likeable character out of Sonny. As he embarks on a forbidden romance with Gong Li’s Isabella, you can still only hope that their love works out as she unlocks his emotions, revealing deep sensitivity that is usually masked by his work.
Despite Miami Vice’s complex, sometimes nonsensical story, you always feel like you are in safe directorial hands with Mann due to his thoroughly-researched jargonised dialogue and action sequences. At a time when many of us are stuck indoors, you could do worse than to make yourself a mojito and hop on a digital go-fast boat to the Caribbean for a couple of hours and indulge in the escapism of this enjoyable action-thriller.
2. Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)
Before Paul Schrader was a Facebook influencer, he was a highly-celebrated filmmaker, famed for his screenwriting collaborations with Martin Scorsese and solo directorial efforts such as Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, American Gigolo and, most recently, First Reformed. With a distinctive voice and perspective, Schrader is most known for working on his own original projects, making it perhaps surprising when he decided to remake Jacques Tourneur’s classic horror Cat People about a woman cursed with the affliction of turning into a panther when feeling intense, sexual urges.
Schrader heightens the sexual nature in his version of Cat People, taking the original concept a step higher by including incestuous themes. Natassja Kinski stars as Irena, a sexually-repressed virgin, who reunites with her absent brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell) in New Orleans. Whilst Irena rejects her sexual urges out of fear, Paul embraces them as he visits prostitutes, inevitably mauling them to death, and makes advances upon his sister, claiming that they themselves are the product of incest and that only sex with a fellow werecat will break the curse. This is not the only trouble for Irena as her attraction to her zoo co-worker, Oliver, continually threatens to convert her into the uncontrollable, carnivorous predator.
Although Schrader describes the film as having “more skin than blood”, Cat People is filled with plenty of memorably shocking moments, such as when Oliver attempts to complete an autopsy on the feline animation of Paul, only to be attacked by his human form still within the beast’s body. Nevertheless, Schrader also exhibits instances of artistic beauty. With an original theme song composed by David Bowie and an extraordinary opening in a sandstone-washed savannah, there are elements in Cat People that are sure to make you purr.
1. Sorcerer (William Friedkin, 1977)
In the accompanying booklet to the restored blu-ray, William Friedkin describes Sorcerer as the best film he has made – high self-praise from the man who had preceded the film with The French Connection and The Exorcist.
Although most audiences would not agree with its maker about its superiority over other films from his career, Sorcerer is an intense, sultry two-hour ordeal through the Latin American jungle, following the journey of four men as they attempt to transport two trucks of highly-unstable nitro-glycerine two-hundred miles through the troublesome terrain. Warned that even the slightest movements can trigger the explosives, the men test their nerves against rickety bridges and roads that had never heard the sound of an engine before in what will be perhaps the slowest adrenaline rush you will ever experience.
Although he follows the same story as H.G Clouzot’s film, The Wages of Fear, Friedkin insists that he did not want to remake the classic French thriller and was instead attracted to the plot’s theme of international co-operation in the face of total destruction that felt relevant at the time.
The makeshift international crew assembled to undertake this task are made up of Roy Scheider’s American Jackie Scanlon (living under the name of Juan Dominguez), the French Victor Manzon/Serran (Bruno Cremer), the Israeli Kassem/ Martinez (Amidou) and the Mexican Nilo (Francisco Rabal). All of these men have escaped to the same South American village for various illicit reasons but are now desperate to leave their tedious refuge by any means necessary, even if it means taking the most dangerous job of their lives. Their journey is interrupted by various obstacles that in any other film would only be considered a minor difficulty but, to them, is a matter of life and death. Removing a fallen tree trunk from the middle of the road or cornering a tricky bend is an irritating task made inimical.
Only making $9 million dollars worldwide in its initial release from a $20 million dollar budget, Sorcerer has been rediscovered and revisited over recent years and is gradually gaining the praise and respect it deserved at the time of its release.