The snobbish horror elitist in me is a little uncomfortable recommending a remake as, by and large, they are the scourge of the horror world.
But as reviled as they may be, remakes are not uniformly without merit. One of the greatest remakes ever conceived is 1986’s The Fly and Netflix has made it easy for you to not only see this phenomenal reimagining of The Fly, but the 1958 original starring Vincent Price as well. Today we'll recommend the remake, which is currently streaming in HD.
Who Made It: The 1986 version of The Fly was directed by David Cronenberg. If you aren’t familiar with his work, rectify this by reading our profile on the legendary filmmaker, as Cronenberg is one of the greatest horror directors of all time, and a personal hero of mine. His films all deal with some type of body trauma or mutation; earning his works the classification of “body horror.” If you enjoy The Fly, I would also highly recommend seeking out Scanners, The Brood, and Videodrome.
Who’s In It: The film stars Jeff Goldblum in the absolute prime of his career. All of the delightfully quirky tropes that we’ve come to know, expect, and love from him are almost permanently established in this film. His performance is so complex and heartbreaking to watch. Opposite Goldblum is Geena Davis who is in similar top form. Her struggle to be the one constant during Goldblum’s violent transmutation is agonizing and she excels in the role. Fun fact: the two actors were dating at the time, and Goldblum suggested Davis to Cronenberg, who initially didn't want to work with a real couple.
What It’s About: Seth Brundle (Goldblum) is a brilliant young scientist bound and determined to invent something that will forever change the course of humanity. He creates a teleportation machine that initially can only transport inanimate material. Eventually he solves the problem and, not wishing to further delay his breakthrough, hastily decides to test the machine on himself—much to the concern of his new girlfriend (Davis).
Unfortunately an unforeseen variable intercedes; a common housefly trapped in the teleportation pod with Seth. Now Brundle is transforming into something horrifying, something unspeakable, something not entirely human.
Why You Should Watch It: The Fly has several components that serve as major draws for the film. The first has got to be its stunning, and often times unsettling, makeup work. The metamorphosis from Brundle to Brundlefly is simply breathtaking. The transformation begins slowly, but as every piece of the intensely intricate makeup design is applied, we feel the weight, pain, and the horror of Brundle’s descent into monstrosity. The final incarnation of the creature is unbelievably imaginative and frightening. It may be grotesque, and you may not have the stomach to let your eyes linger on its slimy nooks and crannies, but there is something beautiful about the unquestionable artistry employed here. The final product was enough to net makeup artists Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis an Oscar for their efforts.
But the effects are far from the only draw here. The characters in this film are fascinating and wholly likeable from the onset. This allows us to fully empathize with them every shocking and horrendous step of the way. The film is impeccably shot and features some of the single most indelible imagery in modern horror. The score by Howard Shore is powerful and captures all the old-school grandeur of the original '50s-era film. The ending of The Fly is a heart-wrenching gut-punch; a multi-organ testament to the incomparably brilliant direction of David Cronenberg.
The Fly, like Frankenstein, is a tale of the modern Prometheus. Prometheus was a character from ancient Greek mythology who stole the power of fire from the gods and gave it to man. Mary Shelly adopted the subtitle “The Modern Prometheus” to her novel Frankenstein as she saw the titular doctor as a man who was striving to surpass the limits of mankind and sample the power of the almighty. In the case of The Fly, Brundle may not be aiming to obtain the power to bestow life, but he is seeking to become basically omnipresent; to be able to be anywhere and everywhere. His punishment, like that of Prometheus, is incredibly severe. The fact that both of their fates involve bodily torment (Prometheus being bound to rock to have birds peck out his perpetually regenerating liver) is most likely what attracted Cronenberg to this project.
There are buzzings that David Cronenberg is in talks to remake or sequelize his version of The Fly in the near future. A remake of a remake directed by the same author of that initial remake? That’s meta to a point of which we can barely conceive.
Built from comic book auteur Frank Miller’s (Sin City) rock solid foundations 300 is based on his vision on the 1962 film The 300 Spartans filtered through the same tough-as-nails pulp sensibility that populates most of his comics work. Leaving such leaden wannabe sword-and-sandal epics like Troy and Alexander in the historical dust 300 reworks the real-life legendary tale of the Battle of Thermopylae in which a battalion of 300 elite Spartan soldiers heroically hold the line to protect ancient Greece from the invading Persian hordes. The story focuses on the Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) who must not only lead his small cadre of troops--each one honored since childhood into a razor-sharp battle-relishing warrior—into a battle they are unlikely to survive but he must also fight for the fate of Greece and its democratic ideals. As the bizarre seemingly endless marauding legions of the tyrant Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) descend upon the Hot Gates—a narrow passageway into Greece that Leonidas’ miniscule band can most ably defend—the soldiers take up arms without the usual post-modern anti-war hand-wringing that most war epics indulge in. These soldiers are both bred for battle and fighting a good fight and the film focuses squarely on the highly charged action. Meanwhile in a new plotline created specifically for the movie his equally noble and faithful queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) takes up arms in a more symbolic way as she also tries to keep democracy alive by taking on the political warlords of Sparta to secure relief for her husband’s troops. Butler has become a familiar and welcome on-screen presence in such films as The Phantom of the Opera and Reign of Fire but there has been little on his mainstream movie resume to suggest the kind of bravura fire he brings to the role of Leonidas. This is the stuff of an actor announcing himself to the audience in a major way akin to Daniel Craig’s star-making turn as James Bond. In a big bold performance that could have gone awry in any number of ways Butler plays even the highest pitched notes like a concerto perfectly capturing the king’s bravado bombast cunning compassion and passion each step of the way. Headey is his ideal match imbuing the queen with more steel and nobility in a handful of scenes than most actresses can summon to carry entire films. Fans of Lost and Brazilian cinema will be hard-pressed to even recognize Santoro whose earnest pretty handsomeness is radically transformed into Xerxes’ exotic borderline freakish form personifying a terrifying yet seductive force of corruption and evil that spreads like a cancer across the earth. And don’t forget to add in the most impressive array of rock-hard abs on cinematic display since well ever (think Brad Pitt in Troy times 300). Even bolstered by canny casting choices and their washboard stomachs helmer Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) is the true undisputable star of 300 establishing himself firmly as a director whose work demands to be watched. With a kinetic sensibility that’s akin to Quentin Tarantino and John Woo and using CGI technology to its utmost effects both subtle and dynamic Snyder creates a compelling fully formed world that the audience is eager to explore. Snyder doesn’t literally match Miller’s signature artwork as meticulously as director Robert Rodriguez did with Sin City. Instead Snyder captures Miller’s essence be it raw brutality majestic size and scope the exotic and otherworldly carnal physicality or hideous deformity--even seemingly antiquated and potentially off-putting techniques like the repeated use of slow-motion are put to fresh effect making every blow and cut seem crucial. Yet even in the visual glorification of some of the most bloody and violent conflicts ever put to film Snyder infuses the tale—which ultimately is one big glorious testosterone-soaked fight sequence—with the sense of honor and sacrifice which characterizes the most noble of war efforts. Yes war can be hell but this is a case where some like it hot.
Based on books by Besson (yes he writes books too) we meet Arthur (Freddie Highmore) a 10-year-old kid living on his grandparents’ farm. But there’s trouble: Arthur’s grandfather has mysteriously disappeared and now a real estate developer wants the land Arthur’s grandma (Mia Farrow) doesn’t have enough money to keep. Maybe the solution lies in his grandpa's treasure which is hidden somewhere on the "other side" in the land of the Minimoys. Who are the Minimoys you ask? Why they are creatures that live in Arthur’s backyard just a tenth of an inch tall--that’s who. The only hope is for Arthur to enter into this miniature world become a little pointy-earred wild-haired Minimoy find the treasure in the forbidden city and save the day. For this adventurous boy that’s no problem. Arthur and the Invisibles doesn’t lack star power that’s for sure. Along with sweet-faced high-spirited Highmore (taking a step down from Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in my opinion) and Farrow (who looks a little Minimoy-ish herself) we have the voices of: Madonna as the plucky Minimoy warrior princess; Jimmy Fallon as her younger klutzy brother; Robert De Niro as their father the king; Harvey Keitel as a kindly wizard; Snoop Dogg as a weird-looking miniature denizen who runs a dance club; and David Bowie as the evil ruler of the forbidden city. That’s some eclectic lineup--too bad they couldn’t all click. Poor Madonna--even her animated voice-over efforts can’t make the grade. We all know how creative French filmmaker Luc Besson can be. His offbeat sensibilities can be seen in his tense crime dramas La Femme Nikita and The Professional as well as his wildly imaginative sci-fi cult favorite The Fifth Element. But he’s been taking a break from making his own films producing and apparently writing children’s books instead. Arthur and the Invisibles is his first directorial effort since the 1999 movie The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc and while it definitely taps into Besson’s fanciful notions--which is probably even more evident in the novels--it doesn’t necessarily translate as well to the big screen. Invisibles’ animation is lush and there’s a lot to look at but it’s almost too busy while the tepid yet convoluted story drones on. Invisibles is definitely not adult-friendly.
Based on a series of six Marvel Comics created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby in 1962 The Hulk revolves around a scientist named Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) who following a laboratory snafu absorbs a normally deadly dose of gamma radiation. Bruce thinks he has escaped unscathed--until he gets mad ... real mad which causes him to turn into a huge rampaging green monster known as the Hulk. In order to make this 40-year-old gamma theory somewhat more believable for today's science-savvy moviegoers screenwriter James Schamus and his team decided to arm the script with a somewhat more convincing scientific rationale. The story follows Bruce's father David Banner (Nick Nolte) who as a young scientist conducted prohibited genetic experiments on himself thus changing his son's life before he was even out of the womb. While modernizing the scientific reasoning behind Bruce's transformation makes sense it's a pity it had to be done in such a heavy-handed way. By adding such an elaborate layer to the story The Hulk becomes more about Bruce and David's tormented past and any semblance of a plot is buried in melodramatic dialogue between the characters. The result is a comic book adaptation that is much too serious for its own genre.
Despite the theatrical discourse don't expect complex characters to emerge from The Hulk. Although Bana (Black Hawk Down) is a good choice for the lead of the nerdy scientist and reluctant hero his character is so busy pretending he doesn't have any problems that the audience never gets to see his emotional side. Bana's character grimaces convincingly as he represses his anger for example but he fails ever to open up on a personal level to his love interest in the film his co-worker Betty played by Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind). Betty is Bruce's old flame but the two are obviously still in love: she is obsessed with fixing whatever is broken about him. As the Hulk Bruce need only look at Betty once for his anger to subside and allow him to morph back into human form. They have weighty discussions about the significance of their dreams and Bruce's past yet they never seem to connect on any level. One of the film's best performances comes from Nolte (The Good Thief) in the role of Bruce's mad scientist father David. Almost Shakespearean at times Nolte--scraggly hair and all-- completely immerses himself in the role. The cast's performances however are muted by the general heaviness of this would-be actioner. Look for quick cameo appearances by Lou Ferrigno (from the 1970s TV series The Incredible Hulk) and Marvel legend Stan Lee.
For his follow-up to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Ang Lee has turned to bigger greener matters. The Hulk the director's visual effects-intense picture (with a little help from Industrial Light & Magic) is stunning and startlingly well done. The green beast's computer generated movements from his heaving chest to the single leaps that spring him well into a different zip code are convincingly real. Not only does the ground shake when this goliath lands but his momentum even throws him off balance at times sending his lumbering arms flailing. But while the CGI Hulk has been meticulously honed Lee's homage to the world of print comic books--using multiple screens to present concurrent storylines and alternate angles of the same scene--is off-putting: Rival researcher Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas) suspiciously walks out of the lab Betty reacts in one panel Bruce sits back in another. The simultaneous screens don't necessarily show anything pertinent going on making the far and wide close and medium shots of the character's reactions a distraction rather than a helpful storytelling technique. But the most disconcerting thing about the film is that in its leap from the four-color paneled pages to the big screen it lost its wit.