When David Mamet's play Sexual Pervesity in Chicago was adapted into the 1986 movie About Last Night, the self-absorbed Chicago twenty-somethings were played by Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Jim Belushi, and Elizabeth Perkins. In the 2014 remake, those parts are now being played by Michael Ealy, Joy Bryant, Kevin Hart, and Regina Hall and nothing about that seems unusual. It isn't that Mamet's play has changed much in the 40 years since he first wrote it, it's that some of the audience's preconceived notions of who can play what role have.Just as it happened with the reworked The Karate Kid that featured Jaden Smith in the title role made famous by Ralph Macchio, About Last Night takes a '80s story and adds some ethnic diversity to come up with something new. Well, there's a whole lot more movies from the '80s that are just sitting there waiting for just such a redo. Here are five stories that would work just as well in a more coloful version.
Molly Ringwald playing the forgotten girl on her birthday, in love with an older boy and tormented by geeks in the John Hughes classic. Everything about the story still works, including the Chicago suburban setting that was ultra-white in the '80s. Disney Channel stalwart Coco Jones is the right age to play the teenager in love, and Zoe Kravitz would make a fine addition as her attention-hogging older sister. So what if Jones and Kravitz don't look alike? Ringwald looked nothing like her onscreen family in the original. In the all-important older guy role, someone like 90210's Tristan Wilds could provide the smolder. The only real issue would be what to do with the original's exchange student, The Donger. That was a role so racially regrettable that it doesn't exactly have a place in today's world.
In Mike Nichols' film, Melanie Griffith played the secretary that secretly takes over for her out-of-commission boss (Sigourney Weaver), proves a capable business woman, and wins the affection of Harrison Ford. The Griffith character would have to be called an assistant now, but otherwise there isn't much about the story that needs to change. Use someone like Kat Graham (The Vampire Diaries) or Tika Sumpter (Ride Along) as the underling trying to get ahead, maybe Halle Berry or even Gabrielle Union as the obnoxious boss and Taye Diggs as the love interest, and update the setting from a generic New York investment bank to the entertainment idustry. What Hollywood assistant doesn't want to push the boss out of the way and take over?
Sure, people remember the soundtrack but how many people remember the story? A steel-worker by day who dances in a bar by night, all while dreaming of making it as a legitimate professional dancer, and is pursued by her rich boss. Back then she wasn't really a stripper, but now she would have to be and she'd be trying to break into something hipper than ballet. The role could also be played this time by someone that can legitimately dance, since Jennifer Beals, the original star, was famously replaced by a body double. Someone like That Awkward Feeling's Jessica Lucas would work, or else there's got to be a Janelle Monáe back-up dancer that's ready to break out.
Tiger Woods broke on the scene nearly 20 years ago, so a golf comedy set at a country club and featuring a diverse cast shouldn’t be any big deal. It's near sacrilege to many to consider remaking such a beloved classic, but a new version would be shooting for a whole new audience. After all, golfers of all colors are tired of reciting the same tired lines from the original. Start with Hart taking on the Rodney Dangerfield role of the rich guy that doesn't like the country club set. Imagine letting Hart riff on a bunch of rich people while dressed in ugly golf garb, throw in Saturday Night Live's Jay Pharoah as the wacky grounds keeper, and it just flows from there. You could have a who's who of comedy going... Godfrey, Chris Rock, Mike Epps, Katt Williams, Faizon Love… there would be a part for just about everyone. Heck, even Eddie Murphy might be convinced to do the Judge Smails role that Ted Knight made famous. That would be top notch.
Three Men and a Baby
Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg were three well-off bachelors sharing a fabulous midtown Manhattan apartment that have their lives interrupted by a baby being dropped off at their doorstep. The idea of guys taking care of babies continues to be played for laughs, most recently in the sitcom Guys with Kids. What has been missing since Three Men is the angle of the guys being rich, Type A personalities. Take Jesse L. Martin, Tyler Perry and Damon Wayans Jr., move the setting to Hollywood, make them all successful and sharing a Charlie Sheen-type playpen, and then let a baby screw up their lives. It's comedy gold.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.