Six months ago, I compiled a list of movies to watch before going to the movies in 2014. It was a homework assignment for you all to become familiar with the old movies that were remade for this year, whether direct originals or early versions of the same stories retold. That was just the first part, covering only the new releases from January to June. As promised, here is part two.
Looking over the second half of the year, one thing is apparent: there are fewer remakes. There are a lot of sequels, of all sizes, and I’ve avoided including the previous installments of series like Night at the Museum, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Trip, The Hobbit, Horrible Bosses, Madagascar, Dumb and Dumber, The Hunger Games, Paranormal Activity, Dolphin Tale, Cabin Fever, The Expendables, Sin City, Planes, Planet of the Apes and The Purge. Those are all givens. I also didn’t include the TV series of The Equalizer, which has been adapted into a feature, because that’s a TV series not a movie.
Another note: fall release dates are never as pre-filled as spring and summer movie seasons. That’s because there are a number of movies that will premiere at Telluride/Toronto/Venice film festivals will wind up added to the slate for last-minute Oscar contention. I don’t know that any will be remakes or new adaptations of works previously filmed, but there’s a chance this list will wind up incomplete by the time late December rolls around.
The Legend of Hercules
As with part one, we begin with a Hercules movie, because as with the first month of the first half of the year, there’s also a new Hercules movie in the first month of the second half of the year. Instead of going back into the classic coffers for another early take on the mythic hero, I want to recommend this other 2014 release. It’s terrible, I admit, but my guess is it’ll help you to enjoy the newer one starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson more, by having perspective on how much worse it could be. This is assuming Brett Ratner’s Hercules is not as bad or worse itself. Due Date: 7/25
La Femme Nikita
Once upon a time, Luc Besson was the king of the kick-ass heroine movie, and then he mostly stopped directing stuff altogether and instead wrote and produced action movies starring guys like Jason Statham and Liam Neeson. He’s back this summer with his first female fighter in years — not counting the political powerhouse at the center of The Lady, that is — with the Scarlett Johansson sci-fi/action vehicle Lucy. In anticipation of this, it’s a good time to watch or revisit Besson’s 1990 breakout. Make sure you see the original, though, and not the Hollywood remake, Point of No Return. Due Date: 7/25
If you’re wondering what to expect with James Gunn joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe for Guardians of the Galaxy, there are varied examples of his sense of humor and tone as both writer and director out there, from the early Troma days and Tromeo and Juliet to the alien invasion horror comedy of Slither to his screenplays for the Scooby-Doo movies. He’s also previously done two superhero movies, neither of which were based on comic books like Guardians is. The better of the two is the one he also directed, 2010’s Super, which stars Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page as regular folk who try to be costumed crusaders. Before that was 2000’s goofy comedy The Specials, which Gunn wrote and co-stars in, as Minute Man. It seems more fitting because it’s about “the sixth or seventh most popular group of superheroes,” and that’s sort of like the Guardians of the Galaxy, a team that was fairly obscure before Marvel decided to give them their own movie. Judy Greer is in it, and that’s really all you need to know. She makes almost anything worth watching. Due Date: 8/1
Available on DVD
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Given all the preliminary complaints about the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, you’d think the 1990 adaptation (of the comics, cartoons and toys) was some kind of masterpiece. Far from it, but it is entertaining in spite of looking really cheap and feeling extremely dated. And yet in both respects it is a quality piece of work compared to its sequels. Kids today who didn’t grow up with it may recognize its April O’Neil (Judith Hoag) from TV’s Nashville and its Casey Jones as Atom Egoyan staple Elias Koteas, plus a very early small role for a young Sam Rockwell. As for the voice of Splinter, you’ll hardly recognize that’s Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash. Due Date: 8/8
Dog Day Afternoon
It’s not often that I get to recommend a dramatic feature in anticipation of a documentary; usually it’s the other way around (see God Grew Tired of Us below). But this August we get a “Doc Option” that offers up the real story behind Sidney Lumet‘s classic bank robbery movie from 1975. The new film is titled The Dog, and it focuses on John Wojtowicz, the basis for Al Pacino‘s character. It’s actually not the first doc to tell the tale, and so you could also seek out the 2000 short The Third Memory and the 2005 Seattle Film Fest winner Based on a True Story. Rare for the case of fictionalized versions versus nonfiction films, though, Dog Day Afternoon is still the best of all. Due Date: 8/8
Simon Bolivar is one of the most important figures of American history, specifically for the Southern hemisphere. Not enough people remember or learn about him nowadays, but that can change if the Venezuelan biopic The Liberator, which stars Edgar Ramirez as the revolutionary hero, is enough of a hit. And there’s no discussion, movies about Bolivar are best to be made by South American directors like Alberto Arvelo. Before this latest portrayal, though, I have to highlight a 1969 effort by an Italian filmmaker (Alessandro Blasetti) that starred the great Austrian actor Maximilian Shell. Simon Bolivar is at least a Venezuelan co-production and that makes sense since it focuses on the “Liberator”‘s time freeing that country’s independence from Spain. Due Date: 8/22
Cuban Rebel Girls
With a title like The Last of Robin Hood, it might seem appropriate to recommend The Adventures of Robin Hood in connection with the movie about Errol Flynn‘s later days (as portrayed by Kevin Kline). But it depicts a time when he was involved with teenage starlet Beverly Aadland (played by Dakota Fanning), whom he helped get a role in his hybrid feature supporting the Cuban revolution. Flynn wrote, produced and narrates the cult film, which he also appears in as himself/a journalist hoping to interview Fidel Castro. Aadland is one of the recruits of the title, an American girl who travels to Cuba mostly to find her mercenary boyfriend while joining her friend as a volunteer for the rebel army. It’s a terrible film, but it’s great reference material for the upcoming biopic. Due Date: 8/29
The latest director to be invited to Hollywood to remake his own foreign film is Erik Van Looy, whose 2008 feature became the biggest Belgian hit of all time. Now he’s added an article before the original’s one-word title so it’s called The Loft. And he’s retained one of the original’s actors, Matthias Schoenaerts (also of Bullhead), as one of an ensemble of characters who share an apartment for the purpose of having extramarital affairs. Due Date: 8/29
Available for import on Region 2 DVD
Left Behind: The Movie
[This is a repeat from part one, because it didn’t end up coming out in the first half of the year.] One of the quickest remakes of something that was already in the English language I know of, the Nicolas Cage-led bigger budget adaptation of the first of Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye’s Christian doomsday novels is due sometime in late Spring or early Summer of this year. Whatever the date, as long as the actual Rapture doesn’t happen before then you should have plenty of time to get up the courage to watch the 2000 version starring Kirk Cameron. And don’t think you won’t get sucked in and want to watch the sequels. Due Date: 10/3
God Grew Tired of Us
There are actually a number of documentaries about the Lost Boys of Sudan, including a noteworthy release titled Lost Boys of Sudan. Any of them is a valuable resource for moviegoers ahead of the upcoming drama The Good Lie, which stars Reese Witherspoon because of course Hollywood needs that white savior character in anything dealing with African refugees. God Grew Tired of Us is arguably the best of the docs, and it’s actually got its own white woman to host the story of Sudanese refugees adapting to their new life in America. Nicole Kidman narrates the film, which is produced by fellow celebrities Brad Pitt, Catherine Keener and Dermot Mulroney. Due Date: 10/3
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
The new adaptation of Judith Viorst‘s classic children’s book doesn’t seem faithful at all. That might be fine, as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs wound up surprisingly great. But that was a wacky animated film by new movie gods Christopher Miller and Phil Lord. The live-action Alexander movie, which co-stars Steve Carell, is from Miguel Arteta, who has some great stuff on his resume but disappointed me with his adaptation of Youth in Revolt. Anyway, for a more literal translation of the picture book, HBO produced an animated short featuring Danny Tamberelli (little Pete of The Adventures of Pete & Pete) as the voice of the unlucky boy of the title. The adaptation was scripted by Viorst herself — she also penned lyrics to some of the film’s songs — and directed by Allen Foster, who it turns out also worked on Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Due Date: 10/10
Watch it on YouTube, starting with the video below.
In part one of this feature, one of the recommended movies was Frankenstein. It’s only fitting that this one includes the other top-tier classic Universal monster movie based on a 19th century Gothic horror novel. The latest movie to spawn from Bram Stoker’s text (is it the billionth yet?) is titled Dracula Untold and focuses on the real-life Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, who is believed to be the basis for the iconic vampire. We’ve had depictions of Tepes in the 1973 Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Dan Curtis and the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola. But this is the full story, I guess. As with the majority of the Dracula movies, it still won’t beat Tod Browning‘s 1931 take. Due Date: 10/17
The Ten Commandments
Don’t wait until Easter/Passover for your next viewing of the Cecil B. DeMille epic — either the 1923 original or his own 1956 remake. You’ll want it fresh in your memory for when Ridley Scott‘s version of Moses and the Israelites flight from Egypt, which is titled Exodus: Gods and Kings. Then you can properly compare Christian Bale to Charlton Heston, Joel Edgerton to Yul Brynner, Aaron Paul to John Derek, Sigourney Weaver to Irene Martin, John Turturro to Cedric Hardwicke and Ben Kingsley to, well, I’m not sure if he had a counterpart. But he narrated the 2007 animated version of The Ten Commandments, so you can throw that in the pile to watch and compare him to that. Due Date: 12/12
It’s a hard knock life, having to put up with all these remakes. And while it is at least interesting that this one takes racial liberties with the classic cartoon character, I don’t know how I feel about Daddy Warbucks being renamed Benjamin Stacks. Even if it does work in a new, modernized pun. Not everyone loves John Huston‘s 1982 movie of the same-name stage musical, but I’m one of its fans. And I’ll eat my shoe if Cameron Diaz makes a better Miss Hannigan than Carol Burnett. The remake will at least give us an opportunity to see if little Quvenzhane Wallis deserved that Oscar nomination. Maybe she can get another one, which would mean they’d only need one more to tie with the original’s Academy recognition. Due Date: 12/19