De Palma’s “Scarface” shows how to do a remake correctly

Al PAcino as Scarface

Courtesy Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures has announced a new writer for the second remake of the 1932 Paul Muni gangster film “Scarface.”

“Second remake?” you say? “There was a ‘Scarface’ before Al Pacino?”

Yes and yes.

De Palma’s Miami-set, cocaine cowboy version of “Scarface” starred Al Pacino in a tour de force performance as Cuban refugee-turned-gangster Tony “Scarface” Montana.

It is also an outstanding example of “if you have to remake a movie, this is how you do it correctly.”

The original “Scarface”

In the original “Scarface,” stared Muni played Tony “Scarface” Camonte, a low-level mobster in Prohibition era Chicago. Like Pacino’s Montana, Camonte was a wild card hedonist with a violent streak. He always had something to prove, but always knew when to be loyal.

Camonte and Montana both also knew when to cast loyalty aside for something they wanted, particularly when that something was a woman.

De Palma and Stone create the remake

De Palma turned to screenwriter Oliver Stone to pen the remake. (Yes, THAT Oliver Stone, the one who would go on to win a Directing Oscar for “Platoon.”) Stone had already won an Oscar for screenwriting (“Midnight Express”), so the guy was a proven talent even then.

Stone took several key elements from the original film almost verbatim, including the following: Camonte’s first meet and relationship with the boss’s girl Poppy; Camonte’s bizarre obsession with his sister; Camonte’s friendship with his right-hand man and that man’s subsequent death for marrying Camonte’s sister; Camonte’s clever phone call during a meeting with his boss that reveals the boss’s assassination attempt; a climax with Camonte taking on a horde of enemies.

Lifting scenes as Stone did is inevitable with a remake. You don’t want to veer too far from the source material for fear of alienating the original audience. But you can’t simply do a shot-for-shot movie. You’ll lose the spirit of what made the original great (looking at you Gus Van Sant).

The dangers with remakes

Brian De Palma, director "Scarface"

Courtesy Universal Pictures

The filmmaker who sticks too closely to the original also risks creating a film relevant to an older generation but not relevant to their present audience.

Worse, some remakes lift scenes but add material that changes the tone of the original. This goes to the generational audience appeal. You’ve got old gen material conflicting with the new gen additions, creating a disjointed movie that drowns under its own weight.

This is where Stone and De Palma’s genius gets full applause.

The duo moved their Tony’s drama from the played out streets of 1930s Chicago to the newly minted drug wars in Miami, Florida. This gave the dual big bang of a setting untapped and overused by Hollywood while maintaining the “Wild West gangsters” motif of the original film.

Making a remake is tricky business, but De Palma and Stone pulled it off with aplomb.

For an interesting take, watch the new “Scarface” Blu-ray in U-Control mode. You’ll get a picture-in-picture comparison of scenes between the two versions of “Scarface.” The limited edition steel case edition also comes with a DVD copy of the original 1932 film.

For more on the new writer and Universal’s thoughts on the new movie, check out Collider. Though I don’t agree with their notion that De Palma’s “Scarface” “really isn’t all that good.” That’s just me thinking out loud.

Here’s the trailer for the original “Scarface.”

Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor for “Batman v Superman”

Courtesy Entertainment Weekly and Warner Bros

Courtesy Entertainment Weekly and Warner Bros

Thanks to “Entertainment Weekly,” we have our first look at Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor for the upcoming “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

He’s bald. Like the character. Big deal. There’s a picture of him with hair, just so you can tell.

The movie hits March 25, 2016 because they were too scared to release it head-to-head against “Captain America: Civil War.” No details on plot except, well, see the title.

It stars Henry “Neck Breaker” Cavill as Superman, Ben “Please forget ‘Daredevil'” Affleck as Batman, Gal “I couldn’t act worth a damn in the ‘Fast and Furious’ movies so yeah, why not play a cultural icon?” Gadot as Wonder Woman and Jason Momo as Poseidon — er, the dwarf version of Aquaman.

Yes, they’re actually doing Aquaman.

"It Follows" horror movie

Is horror movie “It Follows” worth, well, following?

“It Follows” has gotten a bunch of hype, so much so that what was initially a limited release has turned into a full on press this weekend.

Is it worth all the hype?

The magic eight ball that is me says yes.

In a time of inevitable sequels (“Insidious 3”) and remakes (“Poltergeist”), “It Follows” gives a fresh blast of originality to the teen slasher-style and demon haunting genres.

Usually in these films, the teens have sex and, as a punishment, they die, leaving the virginal girl to survive.

In the demon haunting genre, the demon haunts a specific location.

“It Follows” mixes those genres by letting the teens have sex, but then tying the demon haunting to that sex — like a sexually transmitted disease.

This is the situation protagonist Jay (Maika Monroe) finds herself after sleeping with her boyfriend. Now a demon stalks her — slowly (it can only walk). She can run, drive or whatever, but, as the title says, it follows.

Which gives some nice scares as the demon stalks Jay and her friends. Her friends can’t see the demon, but writer/ director David Robert Mitchell comes up with some inventive ways for the demon to materialize to them.

Another interesting angle is that Mitchell doesn’t spend screen time telling us the demon’s origin. It’s all about the scares and the escapes. I love this approach, as the “origin story” is all played out.

Spider-Man, Bond, Batman — looking at you.

Secondly, the revelation of origin often harms the horror. If you know where it came from, you can kill it — and the franchise. Because it gets really silly if in movie A the wise old character tells you what to do, you do it, but in movie B you learn it didn’t work.

Rob Zombie “Halloween,” I’m looking at you. And the umpteen sequels to “we killed the slasher but he’s alive again” movies: looking at you too.

No origin? Jay and her friends are grasping at ways to escape the demon. And even after they think they’ve succeeded, they’ll never really know if the demon is really gone. Audience unnerving and franchise potential secured.

On a technical level, I do have to call out the use of the spinning camera. It seems like a good idea at the time (very Scorsese in fact), but in this movie the damned thing didn’t follow focus so the shot was out of focus.

Annoying.

“It Follows” is fun, creepy, and even has echos of classic horror like John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (not the crappy remakes).

Seriously. Try NOT seeing the “No running in the hallways” scene from “Nightmare” when Jay flees the school as the “it” of the title follows her.

I highly recommend seeing it, particularly all you haters hating on remakes and reboots. Here’s your chance to vote with your wallet (the only currency Hollywood understands) for original content.

Check out the trailer for “It Follows” below.

They said that? – Larry Wilmore

Larry Wilmore of the Nightly Show

Courtesy Comedy Central

[Fifteen year old girls running off to join ISIS?] This is what happens in the 21st century when you’re trying to piss off your parents and there’s no Black guys in town to sleep with.

— Larry Wilmore, “The Nightly Show”

First Wednesday without “Empire”

What the hell am I supposed to do with a Wednesday night without Lucious (Terrence Howard), Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) and the rest of the “Empire” clan? Guess I could pick up another show. Been wanting to get to “Arrow,” maybe the new season of “House of Cards” with Lex Luthor — er, Frank Underwood.

Or I can re-watch “Orphan Black” in prep for its season 3 premiere April 18th.

Meanwhile, guess I can just enjoy this GIF of Lucious.

Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) from Empire

Courtesy Fox

Chloe Grace Moretz as a vampire in "Let Me In"

Chloe Moretz plays a vampires audiences should let in

A&E is moving forward with a TV version of Swedish vampire film and novel “Let the Right One In.”

I figure it an appropriate time to look back at the 2010 American remake by director Matt Reaves, “Let Me In,” which starred Hit-Girl herself, Chloe Grace Moretz.

Back in 2010, Sexy reluctant heartthrobs (“Twilight”) and gun-toting Deathdealers (“Underworld”) ruled Hollywood’s current vampire movie cycle.

Unfortunately, audiences were missing another aspect of the genre, the vampires who are actually not only scary, but in a movie with an engaging plot and pitch perfect acting.

“Let Me In” opened October 1st, 201 to horrible box office. The film premiered at number eight on a weekend when only two other movies opened. This in October when horror movies should be an easy sell.

I understand that audiences may have stayed away from the film because it is yet another remake churned out by an unoriginal Hollywood. Remakes such as “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “The Grudge” series were inferior to their originals in every way, paving the way for audience disappointment in other remakes.

Fear not, vampire lovers. “Let Me In” received very positive reviews. Having seen the remake and the Swedish original I vouch for those reviews.

“Let Me In” isn’t simply a retread of the original film. Director Matt Reeves (who would go on to direct the impressive “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) brings an American sensibility to the material that matches and surpasses that of the original.

Reeves transforms one of the novel’s characters from a simple townsperson into a detective. What in the novel and the original film is a man stumbling through the vampire’s apartment now becomes an urgent search, making for heightened suspense.

In the same scene, the original film has main character Oskar very quickly shutting the door on a horrific element to the scene. In Reeves’s version, the victim reaches to Oskar (now Owen) for help.

Owen appears to reach to help the victim – only to grab the nearby door handle and close the door instead.

Much more suspenseful.

To this add Chloe Moretz’s performance as the young female vampire, Abby. She conveys innocence and violence with a twitch of her eyes. That’s impressive for an actress not old enough to see the original R-rated film.

“Let Me In” deserves the praise it has received. It also deserves better box office respect. I don’t expect the film to reach the tween masses who swoon for Teams Edward or Jacob, but those claiming to be devoted fans of the vampire genre – and horror films in general — should see the film in droves.

Otherwise, unoriginal Hollywood will feed us a steady diet of “Twilight,” “Underworld” and “Tru Blood” knock-offs instead of searching for a touch of originality in their bloodsuckers.

To learn more about the TV version, check out the article from Collider.

Here’s the trailer for “Let Me In.”