Sunday premiere: Kate Winslet’s Mildred Pierce

Kate Winslet

Remakes of classic films are risky things. No one ever really wants to see a remake of The Wizard of Oz, although several have been attempted. The Wiz (1978) and Disney’s Return to Oz (1985) were more re-imagined than remade. At least six more are in development, including John Boorman’s CGI project The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Witches of Oz starring Sean Astin and Christopher Lloyd and Surrender Dorothy directed by Drew Barrymore. James Franco is supposed to star in Sam Raimi’s Oz, The Great and Powerful after both Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp passed.
The great 1939 Wizard of Oz film, it must be remembered, was a remake itself. There were as many as five silent adaptations to the L. Frank Baum book, including one featuring a young Oliver Hardy.
The idea of remaking other classics also often just seems wrong. Nobody ever wants to see anybody but Bogart tell anybody but Ingrid Bergman that the troubles of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
Even Casablanca, however, has been remade (albeit in a cheesy, mercifully short-lived early `80s TV series starring David Soul as Rick!). Some days it seems like every film, good or bad, gets remade sooner or later. Such a film is Mildred Pierce, the 1945 melodrama which brought screen icon Joan Crawford her one and only Academy Award.
Film fans today may know Crawford won her Oscar for Mildred Pierce but how many have actually seen the film?

Joan Crawford
This wild-eyed image of Crawford as a control freak in shoulder pads has been burned into pop culture by Faye Dunaway’s over-the-top performance in the movie Mommy Dearest. That was based on a sensational tell-all book by Crawford’s daughter Christine, who claimed she was abused by her movie star mom.
HBO has remade Mildred Pierce as a five hour miniseries. It stars Oscar winner Kate Winslet in the Crawford role as a proud mother who would do anything to win the affection of her warped daughter. Evan Rachel Wood (Across the Universe) plays the spoiled offspring who looks down on her working class mom.
Winslet told critics on the January TCA press tour that she decided against even watching the 1945 black and white film. Director Todd Haynes left the decision up to her, and she started to watch it but shut it off after the first five minutes. “I knew I would never be able to unsee it,” she says. “When you know someone utterly extraordinary has played that role before, it’s a really fine line,” she says. The director had warned her that the book was very different from the original movie and that this HBO miniseries (premiering Sunday night on HBO Canada) would stick closely to the book. Winslet followed her instincts and kept Crawford out of her head.

I write more about Winslet and the new Mildred Pierce here in this article in the current issue of Movie Entertainment magazine.
In the meantime, here are my list of the five best and worst movie remakes:

King Kong
The miracle of the black and white, 1933 original was the power and empathy animator Willis O’Brien stuffed into his stop-motion Kong. The 1976 version was a sloppy mess, a setback for even Jeff Bridges acting opposite a guy in a monkey suit. The 2005 remake was a CGI thriller, but Jack Black as an adventurous showman? Really?
(*an aside on the poster: spotted a nice original of this earlier this month at Cinefest. Price: $90, which I was told was cheap. The film may not be so collectable but the poster is for one fact: look where Kong is standing–on the twin towers of The World Trade Center.)

Psycho
Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 original was a bloody bad idea. Could there be anything more pointless than remaking a classic shot for shot, with lesser actors (Vince Vaughan and Anne Heche instead of Anthony Perkins and Vivian Leigh) just to get it in colour? Psycho was 10 times creepier in oppressive black and white.

The Thomas Crown Affair
The rare exception—a remake as good as the original. Norman Jewison’s 1968 version sizzled thanks to Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway (who knew chess could be that sexy?). The 1999 remake had style and class, a great soundtrack and dazzling photography—plus career best performances from Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo.

The Italian Job
The 2003 remake was even better than Michael Caine’s 1969 original, providing dazzling thrills, breathtaking scenery, star power (Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Donald Sutherland) and even laughs—as well as selling plenty of those cool little Mini Coopers.

The Longest Yard
While it was daring to cast Adam Sandler to step into Burt Reynolds football cleats, the 2005 remake remains a bit of a Hail Mary pass. The grit and intensity between Reynolds gang of misfits vs. Eddy Arnold’s prison goons puts the 1974 original yards ahead of the uneven remake.

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