Friday, July 30, 2010

Film Yap: Remaking Foreign Films

America hates subtitles. You know why? Subtitles means reading and reading is for losers. This may not be true—hopefully this is not true, but it is what Hollywood thinks. That’s why whenever a foreign film becomes popular, there are quickly plans to remake it. This time all of the actors will be speaking English. Thankfully!

Most of the time Hollywood messes it up, but every once and awhile the right filmmaker knows how to respect the original. This allows them to make their own product that stands on its own while drawing from its new location to benefit the story. This makes me think of both versions of Insomnia and the trio of The Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven/A Bug’s Life.

So here’s a look at some recent and upcoming remakes and their foreign counterparts:

Nine Queens (2000)/Criminal (2004)

One of my all time favorite subgenre is the con artist film. Nine Queens (or Nueve reinas) does a very good job of constructing a situation where two thieves team up to pull off a con involving a set of stamps. It stars Ricard Darín who was great in the recent film The Secret in Their Eyes. He works so well with Gastón Pauls in that they can pull off cons together, but the audience still doesn’t know who to trust at one moment. A lot of the smaller cons have seen before in Paper Moon and the ending can be deduced if you’ve seen too many of them, but the ride is plenty of fun.

Criminal’s casting wasn’t as strong. I think John C. Reilly in the Darín part was very inspired, but Diego Luna never pulled off what Pauls was able to do in being very suspicious and keeping the cards to the table while still operating the cons. The original Argentian movie knew how to keep the movie flowing in a natural direction, while I think Criminal suffers from being a bit too rigid in setting up its ploys. It’s still entertaining and I appreciate it not just being a frame-for-frame copy.

Winner: Nine Queens

Infernal Affairs (2002)/The Departed (2006)

This is such a great concept, it’s a wonder that it hasn’t been done a million times before. Tony Leung (In the Mood For Love) plays a cop who goes undercover in the Traid society while Andy Lau is a Triad who is working his way through the police department. It’s a fantastic game of cat and mouse with brilliant set pieces. There’s one in particular that uses Morse code that is very suspenseful.

The Departed takes that concept and uses a lot of similar things, but adds a lot more. There are new themes of fathers and the role of the Catholic Church. (In a Scorsese film? No way!) It’s noted for having a very different ending from Infernal Affairs, but I think each ending works for their respected movies. There’s not a scene that can top the Morse code scene in the original, but the entire movie is amazing, ranking among Scorsese’s best in my mind.

Winner: Tie

REC (2007)/ Quarantine (2008)

One of the coolest horror films of the last decade was the Mexican movie REC. This follows in the vein of The Blair Witch Project where the entire movie is told through a handheld camera. The camera was used to shoot a fluff news piece about the late-shift firefighters. The reporter (played by Manuela Velasco) decides to hop along and they end up in an apartment complex where something is going bump in the night. The entire place is put on lock down and then the thrills begin.

REC is not a very long movie, but knows how to perfectly pace it. It is a slow burn while they spend a long time at the firehouse, but even that builds up suspense. The American movie, Quarantine, copies the movie almost beat for beat but it doesn’t work. Maybe it’s because Jennifer Carpenter isn’t as charming as Velasco or maybe the budget was too big for it. The American apartment complex didn’t seem to have the same level of danger as the original. Very disappointing.

Winner: REC

The Dinner Game (1998)/Dinner For Schmucks (2010)

Now we’re into the upcoming category. I haven’t seen Dinner For Schmucks yet but you can see the Yap’s review for it up on the site on Friday. However I can already tell a ton of differences just from the trailer. The original movie introduces the concept of a cruel dinner party early on. A bunch of elitists find some idiots and bring them to dinner and makes fun of them. The one who brings the biggest idiot wins. Thierry Lhermitte thinks he’s struck gold with Jacques Villeret. However they can’t make it to the dinner because Lhermitte throws out his back and is stuck with his person idiot for the duration of the night. It’s not a great comedy, but it’s very enjoyable.

The trailers for this new version is rather odd. It looks like it’s taking all of the subtly of the original and going really broad. Seeing Steve Carell hit the windshield with the forced face is a bit embarrassing. I know I’m just basing it on early material, but a lot of the ads are showing the actual dinner and it’s crazy slapstick. It’s just weird to take a movie that was praised for being based in reality and going a complete opposite direction with it. Maybe the tone works, but right now I’m very hesitant.

Let the Right One In (2008)/Let Me In (2010)

One of my favorite films of the last decade was Let the Right One In. It’s this very creepy and brilliant vampire tale. It’s not a story of teenagers, but smaller children. A young girl moves in and she looks to be a nice companion for the weird boy next door. Yet she is a terrifying creature when she’s hungry. The film succeeds by being very intelligent with using small ways to unnerve the audience. Like having a lot of the scarier bits off screen or in the background.

Bringing the story to America seems to be an impossible task. One of the things that added to the creepiness was the vast Swedish atmosphere. However when they hired Matt Reeves as the director I had a bit of hope. I may be alone, but I loved his Cloverfield. Then they hired Chloe Moretz (Kick Ass’s Hit-Girl), Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Boy from The Road) and Richard Jenkins as the three leads. Then the first trailer came out and it looks like this movie will definitely not be an embarrassment, to say the least. There’s still a chance it may be too faithful to the original that it can’t stand on its own, but for now I’m looking forward to it.

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