Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

American remake

I think I have mentioned once or twice a little game that my friends Michael and Darlene play. They mainly play it at the Seattle International Film Festival, and I hope they are enjoying SIFF right now and playing their little game day and night. I only wish I was there to play it with them and, more to the point, to see some of the great movies they are probably seeing.

The point of the game is, after having seen a really cool film made outside of America and in a language other than English, to try to imagine what Hollywood actors would be cast in a hypothetical American remake. You see, there is a long history of Hollywood taking great film ideas from other countries and adapting them for an American audience. Ingrid Bergman was actually brought to Hollywood from Sweden to recreate her role in an American version of the Swedish film Intermezzo. In 1960 Hollywood remade Akira Kurosawa’s classic The Seven Samurai as The Magnificent Seven, transplanting the setting from 16th-century Japan to the American wild west. More recently, the creepy Dutch/French thriller The Vanishing was remade by the same director with Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland, with the action set in Washington state. And the 1993 French comedy hit Les Visiteurs was remade eight years later as an American film (Just Visiting) with the same two French stars playing opposite Christina Applegate.

So, it’s not stretching things too much to imagine that a really cool foreign flick might be remade with American actors. And therein lies the fun of Michael and Darlene’s game. Since I can’t be in Seattle right now to watch all kinds of cool foreign flicks, I will play the game with some recent cool foreign flicks that I have seen:

  • Passing Away: A heartwarming story of a man with terminal disease, this film goes for more laughs than the French-language Canadian original, The Barbarian Invasions. Jack Nicholson stars as a university professor, who has been an unrepentant womanizer his whole life. Now that he is in the hospital with a life-threatening illness, his estranged, career-obsessed yuppie son (David Duchovny) has returned to Los Angeles from New York to spend time with him. Many laughs ensue from the political clashes between liberal dad and conservative son. By the end, however, they overcome their differences in time for a tearful reconciliation. The film ends on a happy note, however, when Nicholson’s condition turns out to be gas rather than cancer. Susan Sarandon provides wisecracks as Nicholson’s sharp-tongued ex-wife.

  • I’m Dreaming!: A more cineplex-friendly rendition of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, this movie features Frankie Muniz as Matt, a naive student who goes off to study in New York City, where he meets a pair of fun-loving twins, played by Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen. When his dorm room becomes flooded by a burst pipe, Matt is forced to share the twins’ apartment, raising the eyebrows of the neighbors. The trio bond as they spend hours discussing their favorite TV sitcoms. Hilarity ensues when Matt has to hide from the twins’ straitlaced parents (Michael McKean and Catherine O’Hara), who return from a business trip unexpectedly.

  • Love and Lucy: In a more fun and frolicking variation of Spanish director Julio Medem’s Sex and Lucia, Tom Cruise stars as Larry, a New York-based novelist who falls in love with a fan who has been stalking him, named Lucy (Julia Roberts). After a period of domestic bliss, there is a wacky mix-up when Lucy mistakenly thinks Larry has died in an accident and she promptly flees to Fire Island, which he talked about frequently as one of his favorite places. In an amazing coincidence, she becomes a close friend of a woman there, with whom Larry once had a one-night stand (Cameron Diaz). When Larry turns up alive and the women realize each other’s relationship to him, all kinds of hilarity ensues.

  • Hiccup!: In a more accessible version of the low-budget Hungarian film Hukkle, Bill Pullman stars as an FBI agent who is sent to a small backwoods town in the Ozarks to investigate some mysterious deaths. The suspense reaches a fever pitch with the annual Fourth of July picnic. Will he or won’t he eat the potato salad? Robert Duvall is featured as the old codger, with a bad case of the hiccups, sitting on his front porch.

  • What Are You Doing in My Kitchen?!: Providing more yuks and belly laughs than the low-key Scandinavian comedy that inspired it (Kitchen Stories), this film tells the hilarious story of a flamboyant interior designer, played by Martin Short, who travels to rural Vermont in a publicity stunt by a major corporation to redesign the kitchen of a bachelor farmer (Adam Sandler), who is set in his ways and likes his kitchen just the way it is. Hilarity ensues as the two men clash and get on each other’s nerves. By the end, however, they achieve a grudging respect for each other and become good friends, but in a purely heterosexual sort of way.

  • Good bye, Clinton!: An Americanized version of the German film Good bye, Lenin!, this feature stars Tobey Maguire as the devoted son of Debby Reynolds, a devout Democrat who falls into a coma just before the November 2000 election. When she awakes four years later with an extremely fragile heart, Maguire tries to avoid shocking her by perpetuating the illusion that Al Gore is the president. A friend who is a video expert (Jamie Kennedy) helps him create fake news broadcasts which portray an America that never had another recession, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average well over the 20,000 mark. Furthermore, the faux newscasts avoid any mention of major corporate scandals, implying that they have been avoided by strict federal oversight and that Enron and Worldcom are still thriving companies. In the most hilarious sequence, the boys spring Martha Stewart from her prison cell to film new television shows. They also hide all references to 9/11 and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, suggesting instead that Al Qaeda has voluntarily disbanded as result of skillful diplomatic negotiation by the U.S. government, working in close cooperation with all of its allies.

    See how easy and fun it is to play Michael and Darlene’s game? Now, I just need to find some more cool foreign flicks to see, so that I can play it some more! Wish I was in Seattle…

    -S.L., 3 June 2004

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