Remakes and Sequels in the Service of Story

Matt Lynn Digital recently reviewed the Disney animated movie Dumbo (1941). We did so anticipating the live action movie Dumbo (2019)‘s theatrical release in the United States on Friday, March 29th. Without making a fine distinction between remake and reboot, we at Matt Lynn Digital wanted to review why some remakes work well while also looking at why sequels, as a distinct thing from remakes, also are worth the time.

Remake - A Star is Born 1937,1954, 1976, & 2018(The movie A Star Is Born was first made in 1937 with remakes in 1954, 1976, and 2018).

Followers of the 2019 Academy Awards will recognize A Star is Born (2018) as a featured nominee for best movie. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga starred in the directorial debut for Cooper. Part of the success this movie enjoyed rested in starring a well known musician and actor (Cooper and Gaga) in featured roles executing their craft using contemporary film and musical take on a movie that had been made three times before. A Star Is Born (1976) with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, A Star Is Born (1954) with Judy Garland and James Mason, and A Star is Born (1937) with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March were others that succeeded with a similar compelling story.

Remake - The Wizard of Oz - The Wiz - 1937 & 1978(1939’s movie The Wizard of Oz was remade as The Wiz in 1978).

We at Matt Lynn Digital have ranked the movie The Wizard of Oz (1939) as the fourth best movie ever made. Starring Judy Garland and her friends the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion singing and dancing in the service of an adventure of rural versus city, labor versus management, poor versus rich, the music enhanced the telling of a story that has endured for many years. The same themes with a Motown soundtrack and an African American cast including Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Lena Horne, and Richard Pryor starred in The Wiz (1978). A powerful story serving powerful audiences are powerful reasons to remake a movie.

Remake - Annie - 1982, 1999, & 2014(1982’s musical movie Annie was remade in 1999 and 2014. All take inspiration from Little Orphan Annie of 1932).

The final look into remade movies includes the music filled song of looking towards tomorrow with family with Annie (1982). In reprising a heartwarming tale of the adventures of a young girl in finding her family, whereas The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz both reinforce getting back home, the original stars Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Aileen Quinn and others. Annie (1999) rebooted the franchise for television with Kathy Bates as a notable star. Annie (2014) offered an entertaining review of the movie with a more robust and contemporary telling of the underlying story with stars Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis, and Cameron Diaz. The 1982 and 2014 movies experienced commercial success. Each of these movies trace back to the comedy and drama Little Orphan Annie (1932).

The notion of making sequels to movies often is more creatively deliberate. It’s goals are often are not to retell a story with a more modern take or for a more modern audience, as we explored with some examples above. Instead, sequels seek to extend a story or take themes explored within a story to something more robust or fanciful.

Sequel - The Godfather - 1972, 1974, & 1990(1972’s The Godfather experienced sequels in 1974 and 1990).

The Godfather (1972) joins with The Godfather: Part II (1974) and The Godfather: Part III (1990) to tell the trials and tribulations of an Italian American mafia family with the surname Corleone. The story tells of how Vito Corleone became a major American criminal, how he died, and then how his youngest son Michael Corleone succeeded him and then became corrupted. The first two movies often are considered superior to the third movie in the sequence. Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, and Talia Shire are notable stars in these movies.

Sequel - The Dark Knight - 2005, 2008, & 2012(2005’s Batman Begins was followed by The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises in 2008 and 2012, respectively).

The Dark Knight Trilogy of movies collectively refers to Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Gary OldmanMorgan Freeman, and Heath Ledger are notable stars telling the background story of Bruce Wayne (aka Batman), his becoming a crime fighter, and some graphic crime and violence he fights while simultaneously fighting his own emotional baggage wrought by the death of his parents at the hand of violent crime. Christopher Nolan became a director of worldwide reputation thanks to these movies.

Sequel - Jaws - 1975, 1978, 1983, & 1987(The 1975 blockbuster movie Jaws was followed by sequels in 1978, 1983, and 1987).

The movie Jaws (1975) led to three sequels, namely Jaws 2 (1978), Jaws 3-D (1983), and Jaws: The Revenge (1987). The first movie launched the career of director Steven Spielberg, who directed only the first movie. Roy Scheider starred in the first two movies, as did Murray Hamilton, and Lorraine Gary. Other notable stars in the original were Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss. The notion for all four movies was to extend the suspenseful interplay between unsuspecting folks on the beach, a hungry great white shark, and the engaging conflict the allows the audience to question who is the predator and who is the prey. Each movie in the series had a different director. Both the quality and originality of the series suffered from one movie to the next in this series, which is to say that this series demonstrates cases where sequels failed in the mission to extend the story into new and original places.

In walking through some notable remakes and movie sequels, my aim was to begin a dialogue for where one or the other is appropriate. Especially with some examples of  sequels, we are aiming to stake more ground for where sequels are not appropriate. For example, two sequels for Batman Begins seem justified, and a second sequel for The Godfather seems unwarranted. Multiple follow-ups for Jaws seem clearly unnecessary. The remakes of films largely seem justifiable reaches into new territory. What do you think?

Matt – Wednesday, March 27, 2019

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Completing Dennis Lehane’s loose trilogy of novels in ‘World Gone By’

The three books of Dennis Lehane‘s Coughlin trilogy follow an unexpected path in telling three distinct stories that are only loosely connected by a cast of common characters over many years. While ostensibly about one family, the narrative arc of the three books rather connects two brothers (a cop and a gangster) first through their father in The Given Day and then Live By Night. The larger story then pivots to the story of a gangster aiming to get out of the business while losing every semblance of family in Live By Night and World Gone By.

World Gone By 2 - Dennis Lehane(Dennis Lehane)

Joe Coughlin, the youngest son of Boston Police Department captain Thomas Coughlin, is the unmitigated star of the books Live By Night and World Gone By. Climbing the corporate ladder of  the Italian mob takes Joe from his Irish family in Boston, Massachusetts to Ybor City, Florida near Tampa to Havana, Cuba. The era of Prohibition and illegal booze are the racket. Joe is highly competent, highly profitable, and highly troubled as far as his love interests, loyalty to the family he cultivates in the mob, and functioning a mob syndicate amongst the intrigue of those gunning for him, regardless of his conscience.

World Gone By 3(World Gone By)

World Gone By is a clear sequel to Live By Night in tone, style, and subject matter. That The Given Day even existed adds nothing to this tale, as the story looks to tie up loose ends from the story of Live By Night. Joe works as the consigliere to the crime family headed by his former partner Dion Bartolo. Bartolo is the family Joe has, in addition to his son. Joe’s wife, Graciela, was killed at the end of Live By Night. To me, World Gone By is a book length examination of regret, recrimination, and the workings of an author (Lehane) and a mobster (Joe Coughlin) who wanted better for themselves but had to suffer through more story than they could execute. It is an irony that Joe loses his son in the way Thomas Coughlin emotionally loses both of his sons through the trilogy. Joe lost his son by killing Dion. Thomas lost Joe and his other son through different degrees of alienation in the three book trilogy.

World Gone By 4(The Given Day, Live By Night, and World Gone By)

Thomas Coughlin appears in Live By Night and the opening book of the series, The Given Day. The Given Day is a historical novel that looks into the stories of two main characters, namely Aiden “Danny” Coughlin of Boston and Luther Laurence, a talented black amateur baseball player from Columbus, Ohio. Their stories intersect in bringing out compelling narrative pitted against the 1919 Boston Police Strike for Danny, the  Tulsa Race Riot against Black Wall Street for Luther, the shame that former Red Sox and Yankee baseball player Babe Ruth about the prohibition against blacks in baseball and baseball’s unfair financial structure, and a few other story lines.

In getting into subjects of class tension, racial tension, poverty, economic instability, political corruption, and so much more, The Given Day was an outstanding book of its own accord. That the book incorporates historical events and people so well made for high expectation for the series for me. Live By Night and World Gone By, while not bad and decent reflections of tensions with the story of an upswing of 20th century mob activity in America and Cuba, quite simply places a blemish upon The Given Day by bringing in characters that only tangentially relate to what may be the best accomplishment of Lehane’s writing career. In comparison, these two suffer by bringing less history into their telling. These are statements more for the first book than against the second and third books.

World Gone By 5(Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin in the movie Live By Night (2016))

Ben Affleck played Joe Coughlin in the 2016 movie adaptation of the book Live By Night, which of course introduced us to the central question of family and whether a gangster can remain moral. The clear answer is no, though the notion of ethics is strong in the second and third books. World Gone By continued with the fallout of family and the ethical lifestyle, and to a certain respect feels to me like The Godfather: Part III (1990) feels for many who like the Godfather movie franchise…that the first two movies are clearly better. My feel is that I am not clear what fans of Dennis Lehane‘s work received in the third installment of this trilogy of books. More clearly, Live By Night as a standalone book with no relation between Joe, Danny, and Thomas Coughlin would have been best. Having Live By Night exist without World Gone By also would have been good for the Joe Coughlin and Dion Bartolo story.

My personal rating of the book World Gone By is 3.25-stars out of five (5).

Matt – Tuesday, June 12, 2018

‘The Given Day’ by Dennis Lehane exceeds ‘Live By Night’

The sequel to The Given Day by Dennis Lehane, Live By Night is a prohibition era gangster novel aiming to establish an ethos for the gangster lifestyle first in Boston Massachusetts, second in Tampa Florida, and finally in Cuba and into the northern Gulf of Mexico cities Miami through New Orleans.

Live By Night 2 (Dennis Lehane)

A adequate job of tension was central to the story, and for that I was grateful. This quality of the book frankly saved the book for me, as the inner conflict . The characters lacked some depth, in my humble opinion, and the story almost felt like an attempt to offer us Joe Coughlin as modeled on the character Michael Corleone from Mario Puzo‘s The Godfather. Live By Night is no The Godfather, and Lehane does not compare well with Puzo in this effort.

It is not necessary to read The Given Day to read Live By Night, as the two books share at least three characters of significant import. The focus of the two books are greatly different; the protagonists for these two books are largely different. In fact, I would say that the idea of carrying characters over from one book to the other feels more an accommodation to a publisher than a deliberate desire from the author.

Live By Night 3(From the author of Shutter Island and The Given Day)

In comparing the two books, I liked the first more than I did the second. I felt more invested in the characters of The Given Day. The resolution to the characters that carried over between these two books was much better in the first book, too.

Overall about 3.25-stars, rounded to 3.00.

Matt – Sunday, July 23, 2017