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Notes from the Back Row

Remake mania

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At least the Whistler Film Fest is coming soon, and the B-Grade Horrorfest before that, because movie fans looking for original content are getting very little out of Hollywood these days, and absolutely nothing this week. Instead its remakes and retoolings as both The Thing and Footloose open Friday at the Whistler Village 8 and the Garibaldi 5 in Squamish.

The Thing is based on a novella called Who Goes There ? by John W Campbell and tells the story of an Arctic outpost of scientists terrorized by a shape-shifting alien. In 1951 Howard Hawks ( Rio Bravo, The Big Sleep) adapted it as The Thing From Another World, then in 1982 genre champion John Carpenter redid it as a pitch-perfect claustrophobic horror-thriller starring Kurt Russell back when he was really badass (pre- Overboard). Carpenter's The Thing is one of the best sci-fi/horror mash-ups ever and a landmark for '80s special effects.

This new, three-peat The Thing is supposed to be a direct prequel to Carpenter's version, which means anyone who has seen that picture already knows the ending of this one. Besides that, director Matthijis Van Heijningen brings nothing new to the table and essentially just bites Carpenter's style (and Aliens) but with more overblown CGI effects and a female protagonist ( Scott Pilgrim's Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who does a good job considering).

Despite the lack of anything fresh or smart this The Thing is not total shite - it will entertain young audiences unfamiliar with Carpenter's classic, but truth is it's nowhere near as good. The new The Thing is all spectacle and fabricated tension without any of the intelligence that made the 1982 version great.

Carpenter's version included real human elements of paranoia, distrust and betrayal - a film reflecting the persona of a post-Watergate, post-Vietnam, post-Cold-War society. This The Thing is basically just a slasher flick with an alien as the bad guy and a smoking hot chick leading the charge. Which doesn't sound that bad (and it isn't) unless you know how good it could have been (and once was). Youthful viewers might buy it but for anyone who remembers rotary phones The Thing (2011) is like humping a blow-up doll - it works, but it chafes.

On the other hand, the new Footloose is quite a bit better lubricated and should slide into favour with today's dance-crazed audiences like a lip-glossed whistle-pop. Director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan ) has fun with his '80s remake and delivers a squeaky clean, rebel-with-a-cause film that works on almost all fronts, including a kick-ass "punch dance" sequence.

Ren is the fish out of water, a city kid who moves to a small southern town where anyone under the age of 18 is forbidden to dance in a public place. While wooing the stiff preacher's hot-ass daughter Ren fights the power, sticks it to the man, and shakes a leg until those stifling adults come to realize that the kids are all right and dancing is not just sex standing up, with clothes on.

Newcomer Kenny Wormald, a former backup dancer for Justin Timberlake, shines in the role that made Kevin Bacon a household name and Miles Teller ( Rabbithole) adequately fills the sidekick cowboy boots left by the late Chris Penn. Dennis Quaid (who I generally can't stand) works as the overbearing reverend and Julianne Hough sells the bad-girl daughter like she was born for it. At 113 minutes Footloose is a little bit long and a little bit sappy but it's also one of those rare films that parents can actually see with their kids and everyone will enjoy it. Footloose is a remake that works, and it might even be better.

 

 

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