(On Cable TV, April 2016) If I have trouble getting angry about movie remakes these days, it’s because I grudgingly recognize that they don’t make the original go away. If they’re good, they earn their place in the sun. If they’re not, they’re forgotten quickly and the original remains the reference. But even relatively competent remakes can fall in the last category, as proven by 2015’s Poltergeist. I ended up watching both films back-to-back in a single evening (sleeping very well afterwards—that’s how jaded I am) and the original still kicks the pants off the remake, even though the remake itself isn’t half-bad. More faithful than many remakes, the 2015 Poltergeist follows the same plot structure of the original film, adding a few technological refinements, compressing the pacing by a quarter and adding as much CGI as it can. It works insofar as the film is rarely boring even when seen immediately after the original. Some sequences, such as the drone “flight into hell” are even decent additions. But this remake has a mechanistic quality that is hard to ignore: It doesn’t try to ape the original’s intermittent goofiness, and you can feel the weight of 35 years’ worth of added Hollywood formula filmmaking bearing down to choke any accidental quality to the result. Sam Rockwell and Jared Harris (with a welcome appearance by Jane Addams) do relatively well as anchors despite erasing much of what made their original counterparts so memorable. That explains why, as much as this remake isn’t a bad film, it does have trouble justifying its own existence. It’ll do for those viewers who have trouble locating the original, but that original has a craziness that the normalized remake sorely lacks. In a few years, most people will have trouble remembering that there was a remake—the original will still stand tall as one of the movies of 1982 that are still remembered … and that’s saying something given how terrific 1982 was for genre films!
(In theaters, December 2011) It goes without saying that sequels often aim to replicate the elements that made the success of their predecessor, and add something more. In this light, this follow-up to 2009’s Sherlock Holmes is an unqualified success, and maybe even a more enjoyable film than its predecessor. Front and center, of course, is Robert Downey Jr.’s fast-witted take on the title character, complete with instant-strategy monologues and slashy repartee with Jude Law’s dependable Watson. More importantly, though, Game of Shadows ups the ante by providing an antagonist that is strong enough to present a challenge to Holmes: Jared Harris’ Moriarty lives up to its literary namesake, and makes for a formidable opponent. It all leads to a climactic chess game that plays off a few of the series’ signature motifs. (Literary fans will see Reichenbach Falls appear and nod at where the film is going.) Casting Stephen Fry as Mycroft is a bit of a coup, while it’s nice to see Noomi Rapace’s high cheekbones get a bit of Hollywood gloss after her role as “The Girl” of the Millennium trilogy. Director Guy Richie once again provides an action-adventure take on the basic premise, along with light steampunk esthetics and slow-motion action sequences. (A blue-tinted run through a forest provides a quasi-impressionistic sequence of almost-still images.) While the end result doesn’t transcend the Hollywood holiday blockbuster genre, it’s a well-executed example of the form, keenly aware of its audience’s demands and almost eager to satisfy them.