The SmarK DVD Rant: Remake-O-Rama II!

Let’s face it, Hollywood is lazy. Why go through the trouble of coming up with an original concept when you can recycle an older movie? Heck, even I’m lazy enough to make a sequel to my own remake post! So this time around, I go for the most tenuous of DVD connections by noting that both of our contenders this time are remakes of previous movies. One of them is a much better film than the other, I’ll let you guess which one.

True Grit

The Coen brothers have had some wild successes, creatively speaking, and some tragic misfires, sometimes within the same movie (Ladykillers, I’m looking at YOU), but you know they never fail to entertain when given a chance. The original True Grit was one of the few classics I’ve never seen (never been much of a Duke fan, sorry to say) so I came into this one without any previous judgment on it. In a word, AWESOME. Although this is technically the remake of the original John Wayne movie, the Coens more specifically went directly from the 1968 novel, giving a movie that’s much more faithful to the original source material.

Back in the late 1800s, Mattie Ross is a 14-year-old girl who watches as her father is gunned down in cold blood by drifting con man Tom Chaney. Given that she’s ill-equipped to seek vengeance on her own and the law doesn’t appear to be interested in helping her, she enlists the services of crusty drunkard Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, reinventing the classic Wayne role) and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (pronounced La-Beef, because they’re in AMERICA, dammit). The charm of the movie isn’t in the told-and-retold story of revenge, it’s the details that the Coens throw in to keep the old western yarn interesting. Mattie’s surprisingly hard-nosed negotiations with a horse-dealer are like something right out of The Big Lebowski (“Oh no…are we dealing again?”) and kind of set the playful tone that the movie adopts as it’s own. It never really veers into a full-on comedy, but there’s a definite sense of playfulness from the directors, like when Rooster’s attempts at a one-man ambush goes decidedly south. (“That did not pan out,” notes Cogburn in the typical subdued Coen humor).

Hailee Steinfeld completely steals the show from everyone as Mattie, commanding the expedition as surely as any adult would, until the story finally puts her into the damsel-in-distress role that Hollywood demands for whatever reason. What I really liked about the eventual payoff is how pathetic the big bad Tom Chaney turns out to be. After all the buildup, he’s just another sad drifter who gets overruled by his boss when the chips are down. Unfortunately, this isn’t a movie that ever reaches classic status, as the weirdly stilted language of the novel carries on here (characters speak entirely without contractions in the most glaring example) and it can get really off-putting after a while. As well, the middle portion of the movie, with LaBeouf seemingly unable to decide if he’s going or sticking around, kind of drags compared to the fun beginning and gunfighting finale. And let’s face it, The Dude is not The Duke. Still, if you enjoyed the remake of 3:10 to Yuma from a couple of years ago and you’re looking for something in a similar vein, it’s hard to go wrong here. Extras are good, although I would have liked a commentary track. The Blu-ray offers a bunch of making-of pieces covering the novelist, the costuming, set design and a bunch of other topics, as well as the DVD version of the movie on a second disc and the ubiquitous digital copy that no one cares about. Recommended.

Jackass 3.5

“Football to the groin! It works on so many levels!”

  • Homer Simpson

So this is also technically a remake, although of a much more recent movie. Jackass 3D was not exactly a triumph of cinema, but it made a shitload of money and there’s a devoted audience, so now we get the leftovers. There was apparently another movie’s worth of footage left from what made the cut in the original movie, so Jackass 3.5 acts as both a making-of feature and a giant compilation of deleted scenes. In case you’re totally new to the Jackass phenomenon (and really, is anyone unaware of the formula by this point?), a group of ex-skaters who now make millions of dollars a year but still look like homeless people engage in whatever idiotic “stunts” they can convince their insurance company to underwrite. Example: Everyone gets an enema, and then does a long jump to force themselves to poop. Repeat for 90 minutes. For this release, new stunts are intercut with interviews with the cast and crew, as they talk about what didn’t make the cut and why. Some deletions are obvious (Bam Margera trying to run into a wooden post with a pole vault never really goes anywhere, while the human bowling ball exists only as a Johnny Knoxville prank on the rest of the guys) and some stunts had enough goofy charm that they probably could have existed in a longer cut of the original movie. But it’s probably for the best they didn’t, because 90 minutes of this stuff is about the most anyone can take before it wears out its welcome. Even here, the first half of the movie is sometimes gut-bustingly hilarious in a “I can’t look, but I can’t look away” fashion (Barrel Surfing, the various adventures with treadmills, slow-motion camera injuries, and a competition to dropkick Bam in the face all come to mind).

After an hour or so, it starts to get numbing, and by the nutshot compilation that ends things, you’ve had enough for a while. I think that’s why the TV show was such an effective formula: 30 minutes was just enough time not to get sick of the Jackass crew. I’ll say that I laughed a lot here, but this was really a 40-minute deleted scene reel edited into a 90 minute movie. Not as painful as a basketball to the nuts but not as funny either. Extras include MORE deleted scenes (which really shows you that you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel), as well as an extended version of the original Jackass pilot with new cast and crew interviews. I liked this well enough, but if I wasn’t getting this sort of thing sent to me by the studio, I wouldn’t have given it a second glance on the shelf. Mildly recommended as a companion piece to Jackass 3D if you really loved that movie, but as a standalone product there’s not much to recommend. It’s basically like that Matrix Revisited DVD that came out in between the first and second movies – a glorified second disc of special features, but no substance on its own.

The winner this time: True Grit.

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