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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

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The new "Total Recall" hits theaters Friday. Here are five good remakes to get you geared up for it.
The new "Total Recall" hits theaters Friday. Here are five good remakes to get you geared up for it.

Remade to perfection: Five great remakes

Remakes, like this weekend's "Total Recall," are often considered the lowest of the low for Hollywood. Just take an old movie or franchise with the slightest bit of name recognition and rehash it for a new generation with lackluster results ("Psycho," anyone?).

Sometimes, however, a remake manages to equal or even surpass its predecessor. Here are five great examples that give unoriginality a good name.

"The Departed"

It's rare for remakes to be good, much less for them to win Best Picture. However, in the hands of master director Martin Scorsese (who previously found remake success with "Cape Fear"), it should come as no surprise, especially when the source material, a 2002 Hong Kong crime thriller "Infernal Affairs," is right down his alley.

As expected from a Scorsese film, the cast is at their gritty, profane best, but it's the director's craftsmanship with the genre that makes "The Departed" a delight. He knows how to create terrific, character-driven tension, clearly demonstrated in a sequence involving two moles and a ringing cell phone. I'm not sure if it quite deserved Best Picture in 2007 (it seemed more like a make-good for Scorsese's previous overlooked classics), but it certainly deserves a high spot on this list.

"The Manchurian Candidate"

The original "Manchurian Candidate," starring Frank Sinatra, is almost as much a product of its time as it is a product of great filmmaking. Released in 1962, its paranoia-drenched story of a brainwashed politician echoed the fears of a nation in the grips of the Cuban Missile Crisis and, a year later, the Kennedy Assassination. The 2004 remake, directed by "The Silence of the Lambs" director Jonathan Demme, could never hope to be as timely, but it's close, capitalizing on post-9/11 fear and paranoia.

Demme does a terrific job of making the audience uncomfortable and feeling the characters' paranoia. The updated screenplay is surprisingly an improvement as well, especially in its …

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Father and son in 2006.
Father and son in 2006.
Dad and the West Virginia Power mascot in 2005.
Dad and the West Virginia Power mascot in 2005.

A father, a son and lots of baseball

It all began in the summer of 2003.

That summer, my dad and I starting planning out our first baseball trip. The first year, we journeyed to Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Cincinnati to see some major league baseball.

Along the trip, we ate some legendary local foods and rode some of the country's most terrifying rollercoasters. Or at least we tried; in a twist pulled straight out of "National Lampoon's Vacation," we arrived at Cincinnati's King's Island only to discover it was closed.

Besides that unexpected snafu, the trip was a wild success and jam-packed full of cherished memories. We knew we would have to do it again.

And we did. We've only missed one year since our inaugural journey (a 2008 high school trip to Europe took up much of the money and time that would normally go toward the baseball trip). Besides that strange summer, the baseball trip has become an integral part of my summer.

Over the course of our eight trips – which have grown out from the Midwest to California, Florida and Washington D.C. – some things have changed. We dropped the amusement parks and roller coasters, but began adding minor league teams to our list of baseball teams to see. This is also the first year that I can legally enjoy a beer with the ballpark hot dogs that make up most of my diet during the trip.

Thankfully, several other elements have stayed the same. For instance, no matter where we go, we see terrific baseball and gorgeous stadiums filled with personality. Most of the best baseball experiences have actually come in minor league stadiums. In Buffalo, for instance, we witnessed a 10-run comeback. In 2005, my dad and I got to see a young up-and-comer named Ryan Braun hit a game-winning home run for the West Virginia Power.

Despite being called baseball trips, however, the moments that truly live on from these expeditions are the memories that I have with my father. There are the outrageous ones, such as getting lost in Pittsburg…

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"The Watch" features a star-studded cast, but British actor Richard Ayoade (second from right) steals the show.
"The Watch" features a star-studded cast, but British actor Richard Ayoade (second from right) steals the show.

Co-star Ayoade helps make "The Watch" worth watching

The new R-rated comedy "The Watch" features a star-studded cast both on screen (Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Will Forte) and off (co-written by Seth Rogen). It seems ironic then that the film's saving grace is a relatively no-name British comedian who gets fourth billing and has been tucked to the side in most of the movie's publicity.

The man's name is Richard Ayoade. He's mainly only starred in British television comedies, including the hilarious "The IT Crowd" and the cult-smash "The Mighty Boosh." However, he's due for more attention after his scene-stealing performance in "The Watch" that helps keep the film matinee-worthy despite itself.

Instead of Ayoade, the film follows Ben Stiller as Evan, a small-town do-gooder who minds his time creating and leading various neighborhood clubs and managing the local Costco. His picture-perfect suburban life gets turned upside down, though, when a guard at his store gets murdered. Distraught by the criminal act, Evan creates a neighborhood watch (the original title of the film, but it was changed after the shooting of Trayvon Martin) with the help of Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Ayoade.

In between cans of beer and bonding chats, the quartet discovers the murder might be the result of a devious alien plot involving UFOs in disguise as average citizens.

The plot sounds like it could have some entertaining suburban satire along the lines of "Hot Fuzz" or "Edward Scissorhands," but the screenplay by Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jared Stern barely touches on depth. Early in the film, for instance, Stiller notes in voiceover that he has several minority friends and is searching for an African-American to call his pal. There's a witty satirical idea in there about white America's dependency on minority relationships to prove their worldliness and goodness, but it's abandoned almost immediately after the first 10 minutes.

"The Watch" is far more interested in watching the four man-child…

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The dancers of "Step Up Revolution" aren't the only ones who can bust a move in Hollywood.
The dancers of "Step Up Revolution" aren't the only ones who can bust a move in Hollywood.

Five great on-screen dance moments

Somehow, a fourth "Step Up" film is hitting theaters this weekend (how it's not called "Step Up 4 Your Rights" is a mystery to me). Luckily, the "Step Up" movies and others of its ilk aren't the only movies that feature dancing. A few movies have managed to fit dance into their stories and become iconic as a result.

Here are five examples of great movies that can also bust a move (musicals don't count toward this list; it just wouldn't be fair).

"Black Swan"

It's not an easy task to take ballet, an art most known for its fluffy tutus and delicate spins, and make it terrifying, but that's exactly what "Black Swan" does. Darren Aronofsky's 2010 psychological thriller places viewers inside the twisting mind of Nina (an utterly terrific Natalie Portman), a young ballerina struggling with the sacrifices needed for a great performance.

It all comes to a peak when Nina takes the stage as the lead in the opening night performance of "Swan Lake." Aronofsky films the performance as though the camera is her dance partner, spinning and pirouetting with the action. Some viewers might be upset that the footwork doesn't get the focus, but Aronofsky still captures the physical and especially the mental aspects of a performance. Plus, when Portman stares her cold eyes into the crowd during her Black Swan dance, it's a more chilling and eye-popping effect than anything from a 3-D movie.

"Pulp Fiction"

When most people watch Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction," they first marvel at his unique brand of banter – and understandably so. It's brilliant, and I'm not sure Tarantino has written anything better since. But even the parts in "Pulp Fiction" without any dialogue carry the same Tarantino spark, namely the iconic and oft-imitated dance scene at Jack Rabbit Slim's.

It's hard to say exactly why the scene is so memorable, but I think the choice of actors is a large component. Travolta and Thurman are both perfect, staying cool while the audience c…

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