Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sh!#ting on the Classics: The Three Stooges

I feel like poking the Farrelly Brothers in the eyes.

If it were not for the box-office juggernaut that is The Hunger Games, the steaming pile of shit that is The Three Stooges would have been the Number One movie at the box office this past weekend, which I believe is one of the Biblical signs of the Apocalypse.

Look, if you want a straight review of this thing, read this.

What I want to discuss today is a wider trend than simply the latest disappointing Farrelly Brothers movie.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I love the original Three Stooges. I have also developed two theories about them. First, all men can be classified as a Moe, a Larry, or a Curly. THINK ABOUT IT.

The second is that the Three Stooges are a glimpse of what all men would act like all the time if there were no women on the planet. It is true.
The original Three Stooges films were never sentimental or uplifting. They were about three guys beating the shit out of each other. In contrast, this film pours on the schmaltz, proving that the Farrelly Brothers have no understanding whatsoever of what made the original films work. For example, the original Stooges never found it necessary to present an “origin story.” Is there a single goddamn person who has watched an original Stooges short and thought, “Okay, but what were they like as children? What’s their deal, anyway?”

This new film plies us with the contemptible notion that the Stooges are misunderstood orphans who would have been adopted if not for their heart-warming desire to stay together, and that all of the violent and indefensible destruction they wreak is somehow okay because it is now in the service of reuniting orphans, healing sick orphans, and saving an orphanage full of orphans.

This film could give you diabetes. The original Stooges could only give you a concussion. They were mostly interested in hitting each other with big wrenches. Oh, how far we have come. (We have not come far.)

The most jaw-dropping example of how this film panders to its audience is the brief pre-end credits sequence where we are shown by the directors (actually male models pretending to be the directors in one of this movie’s many jokes that do not quite work) that the hammers and saws in the movie are fake, that the sound effects sell the gag, and that WE SHOULD NEVER REALLY POKE ANYONE IN THE EYES.

They were the Three STOOGES. The word “stooge” means something. They were NOT the “Three PhD Candidates on a Mission to Save an Orphanage and a Dying Kid.”

A LITTLE FILM HISTORY: Critics agree that the Marx Brothers were at their best in the five films they made at Paramount between 1929 and 1933. Here we see the “unfettered” Marx Brothers, free of distracting subplots or sentiment. When the failure of 1933’s Duck Soup led to their contract not being renewed, they moved to MGM, where their films were quickly watered down with romantic subplots and huge “straight” musical numbers. They were neutered in the MGM films; their anarchic spirit was gone. The ironic punchline: Night at the Opera, their first “safe” MGM film, made more money than their previous five films combined.

With The Three Stooges, the Farrelly brothers are apparently interested in box office success and not the spirit of the original Three Stooges. They have constructed the same mountain of distracting nonsense that the Marx Brothers had to climb at MGM – The Farrellys have made the Three Stooges film that the real Stooges WERE NEVER FORCED TO MAKE. This film even boasts an unnecessary musical number that features Jennifer Hudson as a SINGING NUN.

The Three Stooges also continues the nauseating trope I wrote about last week. Modern filmmakers seem bent on contrasting something old (the Stooges) with something new (contemporary society) in order to get easy laughs. Except for the fact that I derive psychic satisfaction from watching them experience physical abuse, the cast of Jersey Shore has no business being in a Three Stooges movie. This is a moron’s idea of cleverness.

This is designed to appeal to a new generation that wants everything to come to them… “I will watch The Three Stooges, but only if it contains THINGS I KNOW.” This attitude, when applied to popular culture, is suicidal and self-defeating. If someone will only watch “comfortable” entertainment, FULL OF THINGS ONE ALREADY KNOWS, then where will new ideas come from? The mind boggles.

I think Roger Ebert said it best. “Modifying [entertainment] to make it more 'contemporary' and 'relevant' is doing an injustice to [viewers] who will become relevant to the exact degree that [movies] encourage them to outgrow themselves and escape from the contemporary into the timeless.”
(Chicago Sun-Times, January 19, 1996)

Am I simply patting myself on the back? When I was a child, I fell in love with the movies—first with horror movies but then with all movies—and I eagerly sought out THAT WHICH WAS UNFAMILAR TO ME.

I sought it out. I expended effort to find it and therefore it held intrinsic value. It was not presented to me gift-wrapped and full of iPhone references and pee-pee jokes!

But this “updating” also leads to a rift in the time-space continuum. The Stooges are shown being dropped off at the orphanage in the late seventies, so they grow up to exist in 2012, but for some asinine reason they favor fashions from the 1940’s—you know, the kinds of clothes the original Stooges always wore. This film wants old Stooges and new Stooges; it wants its pie in the face and it wants to eat it too.

Some critics have complimented the acting in the film, but this too leads to a postmodern meltdown that makes my head feel like it is about to explode. The film is not a biopic. Will Sasso, Sean Hayes, and Chris Diamantopoulos are NOT impersonating Curly Howard, Larry Fine, and Moe Howard; they are impersonating the fictional characters that the beloved, original actors created. This is a puppet show of a puppet show.

I realize that the Stooges were lowbrow, but even they shied away from poo-poo and potty jokes. This film has no problem with the Stooges using urinating babies as weapons and lighting farts.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I found the slapstick sequences in this film pretty funny. They are well choreographed, well performed, well paced, and well edited. During these brief moments, the film comes alive. This does not argue, however, for a better Three Stooges film; it instead argues for more and better slapstick comedy in contemporary films.

I am on record saying that it is a fool’s errand to go back and remake something like this…anything like this. Here’s a game you can play at home: List ten terrific remakes (not sequels, that is cheating.) Ten terrific remakes … I am waiting…

It is the same problem I have with Gus Van Sant’s misbegotten Psycho remake. It is like trying to reheat a soufflĂ©. Filmmakers: stop remaking stuff that already works! Remake bad movies and make them better.

Why not just rerelease two hours of original Three Stooges film to theaters? You could save the entire budget of this misbegotten film.

BUT WAIT! There is a problem looming on the horizon… the original Stooges might never be shown in a real movie theater again. Have you seen this? No? Well, read it. Now-- the whole thing. Do not just read the first two pages and say you have read it. Read the whole goddamned thing for a change.
Scary, huh?

BETTER YET: The third most popular film this past weekend was Cabin in the Woods and, believe it or not, it provides an interesting contrast to The Three Stooges. Like the Farrelly brothers and their love of the Stooges, Drew Goddard and Joss Wedon love the horror genre, make no mistake; but they do not express their love by merely remaking Friday the 13th. Goddard and Whedon create something challenging that demonstrates their love for horror movies by forcing the audience to think about horror movies with the same depth and clarity with which the filmmakers have thought about horror movies. Some reviewers have missed this point; apparently, being confronted with ideas about their misanthropic love of carnage and fright makes them think that the movie itself is “not scary enough.”

Dude, do a little soul-searching and you will be plenty scared.

Go see Cabin in the Woods.


  1. I tried coming up with 10 good remakes but only came up with 5. Maybe with the other F This Movie! regulars we can come up with 10.

    1.The Thing (1982)
    2.Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
    3.Nosferatu : Phantom der Nacht (1979)
    4. A Fistful of Dollars (1964) Unofficial remake of Yojimbo
    5.The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) That's right Hitch reamade HIS OWN film!

  2. I would quibble here with Nosferatu. I have a great deal of affection for the silent original.

    1. So do I but Herzog's film is still great and amongst my favorite of his work.

  3. Yes! I concede your point. I did ask for "terrific," not necessarily "better." Touche, sir!

  4. Magnificent Seven is pretty terrific, so is the DePalma remake of Scarface. The Maltese Falcon with Bogart is a superior film to the one with Ricardo Cortez made in '31. Added to Gabriel's list that gets us up to 8.

    If we allow that Die Hard is essentially a remake of High Noon, we can get to 9.

    Aaand, I'm all out of terrific remakes at this point.

  5. Not to get stuck in the horror ghetto, but that's where stuff seems to get remade the most: Cronenberg's The Fly and Chuck Russell's remake of The Blob (of which I'm on record as being a big fan) are great. I even think Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead is really good, even though it's nowhere near as good as the original.

    1. Patrick can ransack and pillage my kingdom if he wants to. I'd welcome my new overlord with open arms, so long as he promises not to torture me by subjecting my fragile little mind to any more unwanted viewings of "The Cabin In The Woods" (which would be tempting given he'd role-play you-know-who and I'd be oh-hell-no that one).

  6. Thanks for that link to the LA Weekly article about the battle between digital and 35mm. I've added it to the HDTV blog/thread at AVS Forum I'm in charge of updating (after the guy that created it got married and "retired"): http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?p=21917190#post21917190 . I doubt this article will be well-received by the AVS crowd though. Most folks there are happy that home theaters and Blu-ray allow them to skip going to theaters and put-up with high ticket prices and obnoxious patrons. I want the best of both worlds, but some (I'd say most) folks are content with HD/digital taking over. :-(

    As for "The Three Stooges," as long as we're not stuck with a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" 1931-type debacle (i.e. we lose access to the original because the inferior remake/new version locks away access to the good original version) I don't care if they remake the classics because I just won't go see them on principle. The 2005 movie version of "The Honeymooners" with Cedric the Entertainer hasn't hurt the appeal of the original Gleason TV series one bit. And one anthology movie (RIP Vic Morrow) and TWO 're-imagined' TV remakes (CBS in the 80's; UPN in the early 2000's) of "The Twilight Zone" haven't affected the appeal and quality of the Rod Serling original series one iota. As long as the Stooges shorts are available on TV (IFC showed them semi-regularly weekend mornings) or home video (love the chonological sets Sony put out a couple of years ago; makes it easy to separate the Shemp and Curly eras) Hollywood and the Farrelly's can waste their time and money. You know, like I did over the weekend watching "The Cabin in the Woods."

    Ten terrific remakes? Tall order but OK:

    -1986 THE FLY (the Dave Hedison/Vincent Price is classic, but Cronenberg's version is tops)
    -1988 THE BLOB (Chuck Russell ups the gore but doesn't lose sight of the fun)
    -1956 THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (DeMille pillages from his '28 self 28 years after the original)
    -1959 FLOATING WEEDS (Yasujiro Ozu remakes his own '34 silent film 'A Story of Floating Weeds'; both are good but the remake is better IMO);
    -1982 THE THING (remake of Howard Hawks' 50's classic);
    -1978 THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (not even two shitty remakes in the 90's and 2000's can bring down this excellent remake of the '56 classic);
    -2010 TRUE GRIT (better overall movie than the '69 John Wayne star vehicle);
    -1941 THE MALTESE FALCON (you know the Bogey remake is good when you'd rather watch that than the '31 Hays Code-free original);
    -1998 THE PARENT TRAP (I honest-to-goodness prefer this over the Hayle Mills original... think Linday will be reduced to a "Parent Trap II" remake like Hayle did in the mid-80's? :-P);
    -2002 THE RING (rare J-pop horror that the American remake enhances and improves on).

    Thank you for not saying 'better than the original' instead of 'terrific' remakes JB, that expanded the list of potential movies sky high (technically "Disturbia" is a 'terrific' remake of "Rear Window" for a new generation, but I won't go there!). And, as the many early silents and early 30's talkies were already being remade by the early 40's shows, the thing you complain about with "The Three Stooges" is as old as the movies themselves.

    Great column, as usual. :-)

    1. To respond to your post and add to my rant below, as hinted at in Beale's fabulous ravings in Network, there seems to be some agenda by the powers-that-be to just keep us all in our fucking homes where we won't be bothered or bother anyone else. "They" (whatever that means exactly - a collective corporate consciousness or something) drive us into our homes by exploiting our fears and then keep us there with plenty of distractions (esp. TV) - limiting the theatre experience so that movie watchers overwhelming decide to just watch them at home, seems to fit into that agenda quite nicely.

  7. EMPIRE MAGAZINE's 50 FEATURE-FILM REMAKES THAT WORKED: http://www.empireonline.com/features/remakes/ . Some are questionable ("Airplane!" as a remake of "Airport"?) but most are spot-on, and #1 will be a pleasant surprise for 'F' heads.

  8. I'll add "Ocean's 11", "The Departed", "3:10 To Yuma", "Cape Fear" and "Scarface". I'm sure "terrific" might be debatable, but I really enjoyed all of these.

  9. That article you linked to made me think back to something you said in an earlier podcast (Network?) about Business Majors ruining what might make a company's product special in favour of the bottom-line, which not only leads to bland, Peruvian-cinnamon-free cupcakes, but also to MUCH larger issues like the dissolution of America's manufacturing economy and the widespread poverty it has created. Companies are no longer expected to live up to moral values when profit becomes the sole measure of success. "We can increase our profits by 10% if we move our operations to China - sorry 1000s of Americans who will lose their jobs, we have shareholders to answer to."

    Before hordes of eager young Business Majors hit the scene, profitable companies didn't seem to worry as much about squeezing every last drop of potential profit out of their business. They paid people better (remember when Dad could go to work at his blue-collar job and afford a house and a car and a couple kids which the wife could stay home and take care of if she wished?) and kept jobs in America because that was the right thing to do. So the company made $50 million instead of $60 million - they were able to make due.

    Now we have yet another symptom of this cancer that will eventually lead to the collapse of the American economy with this digital projection shit. "Fuck the multitude of jobs the use of 35mm film creates - the manufacturers, the processors, the couriers, the projectionists, the independent theatre owners - fuck the nuances in the quality of what is presented to the audience - fuck em - we can add a few more millions to our billions in profits if we FORCE a switch to DP - sink or swim motherfuckers! Sign all the petitions you want - the shareholders aren't going to sign and that's who we answer to."

    And for the staunch capitalists who look at my rant and say, "Well, that's the proper thing, you little pinko!", the cultural destruction is even more frightening - many films are simply going to become lost to the ages. Even if they still exist no one will have the equipment on which to present them. As someone who is just starting to explore classic films, this is scary shit indeed.

    Oh, and to get on topic, fuck The Three Stooges remake. I didn't really need to read your essay to pre-emptively hate it, but it certainly confirmed my presumptions. Why does Hollywood think everything has to be remade? Why won't I be surprised when they "reboot" the fucking King's Speech?

    That's it, I'm going to go get "HATE" permanently tattooed on my knuckles like I assume JB did.

  10. Agree 100% with you, Sol. We just keep finding more evidence that Mike Judge was scarily accurate when he made Idiocracy and predicted that in the future, the Carl's Jr. advertising catchphrase would be "Fuck you-- I'm eating."

  11. This movie was great - but it would have been greater with the original stooges.They can't be replaced.

  12. Perhaps I should have been more clear in the column that there is a huge difference between a REMAKE and TRYING TO BRING BELOVED CLOWNS BACK FROM THE DEAD.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. How much better would The Three Zombie Stooges have been?! THAT I'd see. Eye pokes going right in the sockets, slapping body parts off - this started out as a joke but I'm actually seeing a lot of potential here - surely it couldn't be any more disrespectful to their memories than the shitty remake.

  14. 'This time, shot in color, the idea of the Stooges seems to bloom as if a new flower ready to be sniffed and examined.'
    -Armond White's review,
    "The Three Stooges" (2012)

    Make that FOUR stooges including you-know-who!

  15. I have to recuse myself as not getting the better fan of the aboriginal Three Stooges ball aggregation and the shorts that fabricated them so famous. I consistently anticipation the act amounted to little added than a one-trick pony; there's alone so abundant face-slapping, head-pounding, eye-poking, nyuk-nyuking, and woo-wooing I can yield afore it becomes dried and repetitive. If you've apparent one, you've appealing abundant apparent them all - the casual tweaks to the act notwithstanding. Knowing this, I acquisition myself in the position of reviewing The Farrelly Brothers' The Three Stooges, which isn't a biopic but a awakening in which new actors adapt Moe Howard, Curly Howard, and Larry Fine as their knuckleheaded adapt egos. True to form, the blur is a adolescent ball