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Good, bad, indifferent

In the middle of Anthony Lane’s nastily hilarious review of The DaVinci Code movie, he observes, “Movie history is awash, of course, with fine pictures that have been made from daft or unreadable books; indeed, you are statistically more likely to squeeze a decent movie out of a potboiler than you are out of a novel of high repute.”

Oddly enough, Your Humble happened to see a couple of very bad movies this past week, and I had a not altogether unrelated observation to make: Why do people remake excellent movies, but never crappy ones? There are loads of movies that had perfectly good concepts, but which were badly written or badly executed or badly performed, and you would think that a good film-maker would take one look at a movie like that, see where they went wrong, and be able to make a much better movie, a good movie in fact. Taking a movie where the writing, the performances, and the direction, are all magnificent and making even a halfway decent remake seems much much harder.

Take The Ladykillers. The basic premise is only OK: A group of criminals rents a room from a little old lady, steals a massive amount of money and then they split on each other and the little old lady thwarts them, resulting in the criminals getting killed and the little old lady winding up with all the loot. It’s a good concept, but it’s obvious on first glance that the movie depends on the execution. In the 1955 movie, written by William Rose and directed by Alexander Mackendrick, the wonderful performances by Alec Guinness and particularly Katie Johnson are untouchable. The screenplay is wonderful, the pacing is superb, and the supporting performances are all quite good, and have moments of brilliance. So even if a filmmaker is an absolute genius, and gets the perfect cast (which he wouldn’t), and all the money in the world, and everything goes absolutely perfectly, and every wild vision of the remake gets onto the screen just as it was in his head, you will end up with ... a disappointing, but pretty good movie.

Now, the Coen Brothers/Tom Hanks remake does not have all those things coming into place. Well, at least not in the first half-hour, after which I stopped watching. It wasn’t awful, it just wasn’t really ... no, it was awful. I like the Coen Brothers, or at least I absolutely adore about half of their movies, and I like Tom Hanks, but blech.

But my point isn’t really about this, as for all I said above I can’t really blame the Coen Brothers or Tom Hanks for wanting to remake the movie, and they clearly had a lot of fun with it, and a fair amount of people seemed to think it was good. No, my point is about the other lousy movie I saw last week: Mr. 3000. Now, this is actually a very clever idea for a movie: a baseball player who is a self-centered jerk quits in the middle of a pennant race when he gets his 3,000th hit, telling the assembled sportswriters that they can all go fuck themselves, now, because they have to put him in the Hall of Fame. Nine years later, he’s five votes short when the Archive discovers that a three-hit game got counted twice (don’t worry about it, it’s plausible enough for a movie) and he retired with 2,997 official hits. Faced with having to buy a ticket to get into the Hall, and his self-identity as “Mr. 3000” crumbled, he makes a comeback at 47 with his old team, now in the cellar, to try to get 3 more hits in September. Along the way he learns humility, teamwork, and all that he missed when he was in the game.

Bernie Mac plays the aging jerk, and he’s actually terrific, as far as he goes, but the movie is so badly written and paced and slapped together that it just doesn’t work. Even the good ideas (Paul Sorvino as the silent stone-faced manager, and Michael Rispoli as the sidekick) are butchered or buried. And even Mr. Mac isn’t so good that I couldn’t imagine somebody else, ten years from now, being even better. Worst of all, I have no sense that anybody connected with the movie liked baseball or baseball movies in the slightest. In other words, a remake would not only almost certainly be better than the original movie, but could very easily be a really good movie. But will anybody make it? No. Because nobody remakes crappy movies.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


I suspect the reason to remake good movies is connected to the pattern among people choosing to go see remakes. For example, I've seen every remake in the last 10 years of a movie I liked, and not so many remakes of movies I didn't like. I don't know why -- I've seen a lot of bad movies that way. But you can blame me for supporting the tendency to remake good movies.

Though I suppose I'm glossing over the fact that my taste in movies is odd, and very different from yours...

Of course, some movies are so good they get remade simultaneously with the original, such as the duelling volcano movies a few years back.

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