DID YOU READ

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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.