Skip to main content

I’m a symbol of the human ability to supress the selfish and hateful tendencies that rule the greater part of our lives.

Miracle on 34th Street
(1994)

(SPOILERS) There are sentiments in the original Miracle on 34th Street, but it isn’t weighed down with sentiment, and it has a “serious” message amid the wit and frivolity, but it isn’t overburdened by it. There’s a romance, but it’s breezy rather than stodgy, and there’s an obligatory cute kid, but she isn’t horribly precocious. And, of course, Santa Claus features, but he isn’t impossibly twinkly and ineffectual. In short, Les Mayfield’s remake makes heavy weather of everything that was sharp and inspired about the 1947 movie, and shoots the whole thing through a nightmarish soft-focus gauze designed to add to the viewer’s distress.


It’s also a good twenty minutes longer, and boy, does it feel it. You have to wonder what happened to John Hughes post-Home Alone, as he seemed to entirely lose his creative mojo, content to act as writer-producer on mostly weak/unnecessary adaptations or remakes (Dennis the Menace, 101 Dalmatians, Flubber, Just Visiting). The only reason to redo Miracle is if you can somehow put a different spin on it, rather than basing the project – seemingly – on how much Sir Dickie resembles like a Coke bottle Saint Nick. Which simply isn’t enough. Attenborough lends no weight to the role, even when enraged. He could do with a bit of 10 Rillington Place to punch up his 34th Street.


Less than a decade earlier, Hughes was still churning out screenplays filled with pep and vibrancy, but he seems intent on ensuring Miracle is as flaccid and congested as possible. Most of the principle plot points are the same, but they sprawl by ambivalently. Instead of a shrink leading Krisk Kringle into the courtroom, it’s a put-up by evil Joss Ackland (always evil, since Lethal Weapon 2, but barely in the thing –this is the kind a movie that now needs an obvious villain to work, apparently) inducing an inebriate “fake” Santa (Jack McGee) to cause an altercation leading to Kris winding up in court and likely to be put away when the judge (Robert Prosky) rules there is no Santa Claus.


As before, Kris is defended by a hotshot lawyer (Dylan McDermott), and as before (but more sickly-sweet in its foregrounding and emphasis on faith) he’s got a thing for the mother (Elizabeth Perkins) who has persuaded Kris to fill in as Santa. Did I mention that the kid (Mara Wilson, of Matilda) – the one brought up not to buy into Santa fakery – is all kinds of wrong? Smug and preternaturally confident as only Hollywood brats can be, so you never really believe in Susan becoming a true believer.


Meanwhile, Perkins is no Maureen O’Hara – she lacks that warmth –  so all you can really see in Dorey is her draconian parenting. You certainly won’t be able to fathom why McDermott’s interested. He’s okay, but doesn’t lend Bryan the sense of fun John Payne brought to the equivalent role in the original (I had in mind that McDermott was a frequent love interest in such movies, but I’m probably thinking of Dermot Mulroney). That’s the problem with this all over. It ups the treacle at the expense of the wit.


The tension between Bryan and Dorey over Susan needing castles of the air is rather plodding (“Believing in myths and fantasies just makes you unhappy”), while the idea of Santa belonging to little ones everywhere (“I don’t see any harm in her saying hello to an interesting old man”) takes a rather sinister turn when it’s suggested that Kris be locked away, “so the children of New York are no longer put at risk”. If the only way you can tackle a modern update of this story is to suggest Santa might be a paedo, you’re probably best leaving it well alone. It certainly isn’t a subject you want aired in a nice festive family movie environment (“You got a thing for the little ones, huh?”)


Even the court scenes, surely an easy victory, rather fall down, as Bryan’s evidence uses some of the same ideas as before but misses out on the broader, crowd-pleasing element. JT Walsh is as great as ever he was as the prosecution lawyer, particularly exasperated when his wife is called to testify that he told their daughter Santa existed, but Hughes undoes his case resting – as per the original – when Walsh’s Collins puts in a bid to prove Santa doesn’t exist (involving the history of Saint Nick, a colonel who explored the North Pole, and a reindeer that won’t fly). Kris offers fey, anodyne responses (his workshops are invisible – and bizarrely, “They’re in the dream world” – and his reindeer fly only on Christmas Eve). Additionally, it’s the judge who now delivers the get-out-of-jail-free speech (as a result, the playing with the consumerism/popularity angle in avoiding proclaiming Santa as a fake is far less lively and provocative), flourishing a dollar bill issued by the Treasury bearing the words “In God We Trust”, and observing it refers to “a being just as invisible and just as present”, which is somehow much less satisfying in its equivocal philosophical appeasement than the original’s US Postal Service.


Other faces popping up include James Remar, Jane Leeves, Mary McCormack, Allison Janney, and most surprisingly, and pleasingly, Arthur Dent himself, Simon Jones (he evidently had an agent attempting to get him US work in the ‘90s). I wouldn’t go as far as suggesting this Miracle on 34th Street is a terrible movie, but it’s bereft of any reason to be, sitting unwanted under the tree a week after the big day. It somehow manages to be less relevant fifty years after the original and is rightly regarded as its footnote (although, some will no doubt pick this one over the first as it’s in colour, with an even happier ending).


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

I think my mother put a curse on us.

Hereditary (2018)
(SPOILERS) Well, the Hereditary trailer's a very fine trailer, there's no doubt about that. The movie as a whole? Ari Aster's debut follows in the line of a number of recent lauded-to-the-heavens (or hells) horror movies that haven't quite lived up to their hype (The Babadook, for example). In Hereditary's case, there’s no doubting Ari Aster's talent as a director. Instead, I'd question his aptitude for horror.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

There’s still one man out here some place.

Sole Survivor (1970)
(SPOILERS) I’m one for whom Sole Survivor remained a half-remembered, muddled dream of ‘70s television viewing. I see (from this site) the BBC showed it both in 1979 and 1981 but, like many it seems, in my veiled memory it was a black and white picture, probably made in the 1950s and probably turning up on a Saturday afternoon on BBC2. Since no other picture readily fits that bill, and my movie apparition shares the salient plot points, I’ve had to conclude Sole Survivor is indeed the hitherto nameless picture; a TV movie first broadcast by the ABC network in 1970 (a more famous ABC Movie of the Week was Spielberg’s Duel). Survivor may turn out to be no more than a classic of the mind, but it’s nevertheless an effective little piece, one that could quite happily function on the stage and which features several strong performances and a signature last scene that accounts for its haunting reputation.

Directed by TV guy Paul Stanley and written by Guerdon Trueblood (The…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

What you do is very baller. You're very anarchist.

Lady Bird (2017)
(SPOILERS) You can see the Noah Baumbach influence on Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, with whom she collaborated on Frances Ha; an intimate, lo-fi, post-Woody Allen (as in, post-feted, respected Woody Allen) dramedy canvas that has traditionally been the New Yorker’s milieu. But as an adopted, spiritual New Yorker, I suspect Gerwig honourably qualifies, even as Lady Bird is a love letter/ nostalgia trip to her home city of Sacramento.