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List: Remaking Your Own Foreign Language Film

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09102008_bangkokdangerous.jpgBy Alison Willmore

If “Bangkok Dangerous,” with Nicolas Cage as a hitman in Bangkok moping over both his career choices and a girl, felt familiar — well, that’s probably because it’s derivative of many a sad assassin movie that’s come before. But it’s also a remake, and not just your run-of-the-mill Hollywood retread of a foreign film. “Bangkok Dangerous” finds Hong Kong-born sibling directing team Danny Pang and Oxide Pang Chun remaking their own debut, a 1999 Thai-language film of the same name, and joining that growing club of directors who’ve headed to the U.S. to try an English take on their own movie. While the set-up makes sense — subtitle-avoidant audiences here prefer a language and actors they’re familiar with, and who knows the ins and outs of a project better than whoever helmed it the first time out? — these remakes have a higher chance of stinkiness than the already dubious average redo. Here’s a look at five other titles that offer foreign filmmakers reshooting their own work in good ol’ American English.

09102008_vanishing.jpgThe Vanishing (1993)
Original: Spoorloos (1988)
Director: George Sluizer

There are plenty of standout qualities in Sluizer’s icily good 1988 Dutch thriller about a vacationing woman who vanishes at a crowded French rest-stop, leaving her stricken boyfriend to spend the next three years searching for her. There’s the sunny horror of the scene of the disappearance, in which no one can be bothered to get involved with the panicking tourist; there’s the disturbing mundanity of the soon-revealed villain. And then there’s that ending, a real weekend-wrecker of a bleak (and yet completely deserved) finale. That dark conclusion, of course, had to go when Sluizer remade the film in the early 90s with Kiefer Sutherland and Sandra Bullock as the central couple. What replaced it was derided by most critics, with Roger Ebert noting that “The first movie was existential in its merciless unfolding. This one turns into a slasher movie with a cheap joke at the end.” Kim Newman, in an essay for the Criterionizing of the original film, speculates that “It may be that The Vanishing is a one-off: a film so original, so effective, so surprising and so ruthless that it represents a single, perfect coming-together of director, writer, subject, and cast.” Certainly nothing Sluizer has done since has approached the quality of “Spoorloos”; his next film, “The Chosen One,” stars one Rob Schneider.

09102008_nightwatch.jpgNightwatch (1997)
Original: Nattevagten (1994)
Director: Ole Bornedal

When the 1997 version of “Nightwatch” opened in theaters, star Ewan McGregor was still white-hot from his career-making role in “Trainspotting.” Put him in movie set in a creepy locale with corpses and serial killers, have Steven Soderbergh adapt the script, and what could go wrong? There wasn’t even the weight of expectations to shoulder — the original “Nattevagten” made the festival rounds and brought in big bucks in its native Denmark, only to be snatched up and shelved by the folks at Miramax, who were looking to protect their U.S. remake.

Both versions center on Martin (“New Amsterdam”‘s Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the 1994 film), a law student who takes a job as a morgue night watchman, needing the money and figuring he could use the (far too) quiet time to study, only to find his sanity shattering as he becomes the main suspect in a series of murders. Unfortunately, the 1997 “Nightwatch” suffers from a surfeit of grime and a lack of any sense of intentional humor, though Nick Nolte’s scenery-chewing as a police inspector provides a bit of the other type. While no one would canonize the solid Danish original, it has a nastiness to it that’s watered down in the remake — not, as you might expect, in the killer storyline, but in the sadistic game of “dare” played by Martin and his best friend (played by Kim Bodnia in the first film, Josh Brolin in the second). The stakes are adulthood — first one to chicken out has to buckle down and marry his girlfriend — and in “Nattevagten,” this leads to cover-your-eyes scenes like a blow-job from an underage hooker in a restaurant and vomiting during a church communion. In a way, “Nattevagten” asked for its own lukewarm U.S. incarnation — in a few self-reflexive lines, Martin wonders if telling his girlfriend he loves her will sound “Iike a bad American movie.” Doomed! After “Nightwatch”‘s underperformance, Bornedal headed back to Denmark. His last film, “Just Another Love Story,” played at Sundance this year.

09102008_justvisiting.jpgJust Visiting (2001)
Original: Les Visiteurs (1993)
Director: Jean-Marie Poiré

Humor is way harder to translate than thrills or scares, but every few years someone forgets that and gives it a try. “Les Visiteurs” outgrossed “Jurassic Park” in France, an exceptionally broad comedy starring Jean Reno as a medieval count who’s sent forward in time to 1992 with his servant Jacquouille (played by co-writer Christian Clavier and transmuted to Jacquasse — hah…? — in the subtitles) due to a wizard’s spell gone wrong. Hijinks, temporal misunderstandings and toilet humor ensue. “Les Visiteurs” didn’t do well when it received a small U.S. release two years after its French one, but that didn’t stop Gallic studio Gaumont from exporting director Jean-Marie Poiré and his stars, Jean Reno and Christian Clavier, to the U.S. for 2001’s “Just Visiting.” “Just Visiting” is essentially the exact same movie as “Les Visiteurs,” tamed from a R-rating to a PG-13, transplanted to Chicago, with Christina Applegate and Tara Reid playing the love interests. Not sold? Er, how about Malcolm McDowell as a wizard? Ultimately pulling in less than half its reported $35 million budget at the global box office, “Just Visiting” was an unqualified bomb as well as an unnecessary excuse for journalists to dust off dozens of creaky jokes about France’s inexplicable fondness for Jerry Lewis. And yet, it could have been worse — before the remake went into production, Miramax commissioned a dubbed version of “Les Visiteurs” that was overseen by Mel Brooks and apparently deemed unreleasable. One can only imagine.

09102008_funnygames.jpgFunny Games U.S. (2007)
Original: Funny Games (1997)
Director: Michael Haneke

In interviews, director Michael Haneke has been forthright about the reasoning behind his shot-for-shot U.S. remake of his 1997 Austrian film “Funny Games,” telling Time Out London: “The first film didn’t find its public among English-language viewers. So when I had the proposition to remake it I thought maybe we had an opportunity to reach the audience for which it was made: the violent consumer!” The violent consumer, alas, remained mostly unreached — “Funny Games U.S.” struggled over the $1 million mark, having cost a rumored $15 million to make. Maybe audiences didn’t want to be lectured to by the dour Haneke, even if those lectures were sans subtitles and illuminated by the star wattage of Naomi Watts as a wife who, along with her husband (Tim Roth) and child, finds her bourgeois day-to-day shattered by two polite young men in tennis whites who turn out to be sadistic sociopaths with tendencies to break the fourth wall. When the German-language original premiered at Cannes it was a truly divisive provocation that spurred debates on voyeurism and violence, but a decade later “Funny Games U.S.”‘s reused indictments of the audience seemed less fresh and curiously unreactive to the whole torture porn trend that had taken place in the years between the two films. Haneke headed back to Austria for his next project, a period drama called “The White Ribbon” that’ll be completed in 2009.

09102008_theshaft.jpgThe Shaft (2001)
Original: De Lift (1983)
Director: Dick Maas

Two works: Killer elevator. In 1983 Dutch music video and film director Dick Maas attempted a horror movie about the most unlikely of menaces — an elevator in an office tower that first malfunctions and then begins killing people in the limited ways available to an in-building transportation device. A not-so-serious B-movie, “De Lift” is notable for its even more unlikely hero, an elevator repairman with an unhappy home life who persists in his investigation of the diabolical device even as it takes him into the realm of sci-fi conspiracies, mostly because it seems to be the only thing he’s good at.

“De Lift” isn’t a title you’d single out as screaming for a remake, but in 2001 it got one with “The Shaft” (aka “Down”), an ill-timed effort starring James Marshall, Naomi Watts, and the admirably shameless Michael Ironside and Ron Perlman, with Maas in the director’s chair for what was his second English-language feature (the first was William Hurt thriller “Do Not Disturb”). The action’s transported to fictional New York landmark the Millennium Building, where a naughty elevator traps and traumatizes a group of pregnant women into given birth and then terrorizes the building in other imaginative ways, while Marshall’s maintenance man struggles to figure out why (an organic computer is involved). With a higher budget than the 1983 original and a better-than-expected cast, “The Shaft” is broader and dumber, silly and fun, but in 2001 no one was in the market for a campy film about skyscraper deaths, particularly one with an unfortunate Twin Towers reference. “The Shaft” eventually went directly to DVD in 2003.

More for the pile: Takashi Shimizu’s “Ju-on”/”The Grudge,” Hideo Nakata’s “Ringu 2” and it’s semi-remake “The Ring Two” and Francis Veber’s “Les Fugitifs”/”Three Fugitives.”

[Photos: “Bangkok Dangerous,” Lionsgate, 2008; “The Vanishing,” Twentieth Century-Fox, 1993; “Nightwatch,” Dimension Films, 1998; “Just Visiting,” Buena Vista Pictures, 2001; “Funny Games U.S.,”, Warner Independent, 2008; “The Shaft,” Barnholtz Entertainment , 2001]

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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GIFs via Giphy

Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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