Monday, September 15, 2008

Least Necessary Remakes

Most movie remakes are second-rate exploitative pap produced by the creatively bankrupt, of course. In order to make my list, a movie has to be more (less?) than that. It's not enough to be incompetently executed, preferably on a budget hugely larger than the original, or devoid of redeeming artistic merit. To make this list, a remake has to somehow miss the most essential point of the appeal of the original.

Here we go:

Planet of the Apes: The most memorable and dramatic element of the 1968 original is the moment when Charlton Heston discovers what planet he is really on. Needing a new twist for the 2001 remake, director Tim Burton gave us an ending in which... nobody can figure out what the hell was supposed to have happened. Up next: Burton remakes Soylent Green. Heston has a non-speaking cameo as a dead body.

The Day of the Jackal/The Jackal: The 1973 original was a brilliant psychologically tense thriller in which the ruthlessly efficient assassin and doggedly determined detective converge in a nailbitingly tense finale. The 1997 remake gives us Bruce "One Note" Willis as an assassin whose combination of ludicrously over-complicated plans and incompetent execution makes him the least likely killer this side of Wile E. Coyote.

Deathrace 2000/Deathrace: The makers of the 1975 original took a cast comprising some of the least talented stock players of the day plus a threadbare budget and created a much-underestimated satire on the dehumanizing effects of violence as entertainment. The makers of the 2008 version gave us a forehead-slapping celebration of the same thing. Deathrace is like watching somebody else play a video game.

Rollerball: 1975 original, satire on celebrity culture. 2002 remake, celebration of same. See Deathrace above.

Psycho: The 1960 original retains the power to scare to this day, even for audiences familiar with its central plot twists. Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake replicates every move of the original, even intentionally including many of its continuity errors, yet somehow fails to deliver its tension. With what may well be the cardinal definition of the unnecessary remake, Van Sant proves that it's possible to play all of the notes and none of the music. This is the film-making equivalent of karaoke.

The Day the Earth Stood Still: Yes, I know the remake isn't even out yet, but the casting of Keanu Reeves as the alien Klaatu when his acting skills far better suit him to the role of the robot Gort is enough by itself to get it on this list. Add to that the fact that 1951 original is intractably rooted in the Cold War fear of mutual destruction. Lacking the threat of nuclear warfare as a compelling driver, in the remake the aliens are, reportedly, concerned about mankind's destruction of our own planet's environment. So in his departing speech Klaatu is going to threaten us with... what, exactly? If we continue to destroy our planet, his people will send Gort to... uh... destroy our planet?

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Zen of Game Shows

Stuck in a hotel room this week, I finally watched "Deal Or No Deal". At first I thought it was the dumbest thing I've ever seen on TV. Yes, I know, there are a lot of shows that are offensive, stupid, intelligence-insulting garbage. This is worse: it is a game show without a game. It's like the producers spent so much time on designing the set, "interviewing" the models, and hiring the "talent", they forgot to actually think how to play. If you've never watched the show -- something I highly recommend -- it consists of the host, Howie Mandel, basically asking contestants how much money they would like, while a bevy of models pose on a staircase smiling stiffly.

After a while though, I began to wonder if I'd missed something really subtle. (This tends to happen when I spend too much time alone in hotel rooms.) "Deal Or No Deal" might, in fact, be a TV game show distilled to its purest essence. It strips out all of the frippery and goes directly to the heart of what every viewer wants to see: how much money will the contestant win? It is so dumb it might actually be clever. It is the Zen of game shows.

Mind you, that epiphany still leaves one baffling question: what the hell is that thing on Howie Mandel's chin? It looks like he had one face lift too many, and his pubic hair ended up just underneath his lower lip. One word of advice, Howie: Brazilian.

Friday, September 05, 2008

An ad about nothing? Or early-onset dementia?

I finally caught the famous Microsoft/Seinfeld ad last night... and I'm baffled. What were they going for? I read a lot of comments on various boards and I'm even more baffled at the people saying the ad was "clever". Trust me on this: I'm clever, that ad was dumb.

And as for the people saying "It must have worked, we're talking about it aren't we?": the maxim that all publicity is good publicity was already stupid 50 years ago. Apparently some people didn't get the memo in Junior High -- you know, the one about the difference between laughing with you and laughing at you. But that's OK, they can ask Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan to explain it.

Frankly, I thought it was creepy. Bill came across like a confused old man who had wandered off at the mall and stumbled into a shoe store, with Seinfeld as the concerned son trying to persuade him to come home without causing a scene. Maybe Microsoft is launching a new SPOT-based device for tracking seniors?

Just me?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Why so serious?

Am I the only who sees a resemblance here? Clean off that caked-on make-up and blood-red lipstick... muss up her hair a little...

Oh, c'mon. Why so serious?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

In a world gone sad...

"In a world gone mad, only one man can deliver the voiceover..."

Don LaFontaine, the voiceover guy, is dead. I have nothing funny to say about such a cultural icon. He wasn't just a voiceover actor, he was a voiceover actor on the edge.

Somebody once said that when you die, you don't hear God's voice -- you hear God trying to do Don LaFontaine's voice. I picture Don right about now telling God, "No, no, no -- try it like this."