mr. jones challenges you to... Cast A Fictitious Remake!

After all "3:10 To Yuma", "Ocean's Eleven" and "Cape Fear" weren't too bad, were they?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Grand Hotel

I hope you have at least heard of one of the first winners of the best picture Oscar, "Grand Hotel". No? Well, we wouldn't have had even the idea of the all-star film spectacular if not for this film... movies like "Separate Tables", "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", "The V.I.P.'s", "The Poseidon Adventure" (or any Irwin Allen disaster film), or, on television, any episode of "The Love Boat"... okay, you can forget about that last one if it makes you feel better. Starring John and Lionel Barrymore, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, and Lewis Stone, this film told the interlocking stories of several characters staying (or hanging out at) Berlin's most expensive hotel in 1932.

For the purposes of this fictitious remake, let's suppose that the new film will also be set in 1932 Berlin. And so for the cast, perhaps a mixture of international and Hollywood...
Baron Felix von Geigern- David Bowie. Songwriter/Singer/Musician, but let's face it, Bowie has never made as much of a film career as his own great performances in the few films he has made would warrant. And the part of a Baron who has been forced to become a jewel thief in order to stay away from creditors, a man who hates what his life has led him to, who looks to a moody ballerina and a dying accountant to help give him some meaning to a meaningless existence... Bowie would nail this. Watch him as Pilate in "The Last Temptation of Christ" or in "The Hunger", or even as Tesla in "The Prestige" and see an actor who would rock in a part like the Baron.
Grusinskaya- Lena Olin. Ever since international audiences saw this Swedish actress in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", there has been the expectation of exceptionally intelligent and emotionally mature performances in her characterizations. I can't think of anyone who could match frickin'* Garbo in one of her iconic roles (she even says "I vant to be alone" in this), than Lena Olin, an actress who finally forced to me watch "Alias" purely because she was on it. The part of the ballerina who is lonely, moody and difficult. Olin would go to town on this. The only thing would be that you would have to change the character from a prima ballerina to an ex-prima ballerina (or an Isadora Duncan type? Someone who went on dancing and giving performances into their later years?) in order to allow for Olin's age. I'm not trying to be ageist, but the reality of the dance world at that time would demand it. Even Garbo thought she would be too old to play the character.
Flaemmchen- Amy Adams. Is there anyone on the planet who doesn't know who Amy Adams is at this point? I mean, when is the media backlash going to start? Well, before it does, she should try to do more offbeat projects like playing an ambitious secretary/gold digger with a heart of gold, a part that originally drove the mighty Joan Crawford to even greater acclaim. Adams is both a good comic and dramatic actress (see "Junebug") and would be fine in this part.
Preysing- Philip Seymour Hoffman. The bullying industrialist who is Flaemmchen's boss and has brought her to the hotel for an affair with his secretary. Hoffman, who has played variations on "bully" since the beginning of his career, would own this. Yeah, that's right, I said "own". Seriously, an actor as good as he is, would bring more vulnerability to what is, in Wallace Beery's hands, a two-dimensional, German-accented monster. Preysing employs an accountant dying of some sort of thirties movie disease...

Otto Kringelein- Lee Evans. Kringelein, the dying accountant, was originally going to be played by Buster Keaton, before studio chief Irving Thalberg moved on to John Barrymore's brother Lionel. Now Lionel is really good (and a revelation to people who only know him as Mr. Potter in "It's A Wonderful Life"), but in thinking about this, there is something cool about having someone known for physical comedy playing this insignificant little mouse who becomes a big man by the end of the film. Evans is one of Britain's secret comedy weapons in the world of Hollywood (see "Funny Bones" to see how awesome this guy is... he upstages Jerry Lewis!) and would be on fi-yah in this part.

Dr. Otternschlag- Bruno Ganz. Well, this does take place in Germany, it'd be nice to have an actual German in the cast. Actually Ganz is Swiss-Italian, but he is an icon of German cinema including Wim Wenders' "The American Friend" and "Wings Of Desire", as well as playing Hitler in "Downfall". To play the drunken doctor who loudly proclaims at the beginning and end of the film the ironic line "People come... people go... nothing ever happens", one needs to be quite an actor to put over such an irony-as-theme piece of dialogue. Watch Ganz in some of the above. You'll see what I mean.

Director- Alan Rudolph. A film as big as this would need a director who can handle large casts, but, in this day and age, bring something new to what is, admittedly, a period piece. The first director who came to mind was Robert Altman. Well, Altman died a couple of years ago, so I moved onto a great, independent filmmaker who also happens to be one of Altman's proteges. Rudolph made two of my favorite films "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle" and "Choose Me". The first is a great film about the collection of artists, writers and wits who comprised the Algonquin Round Table of the 20's and 30's. The second, while firmly grounded in the early eighties when it was made, is a still relevant, universal take on love and the masks we use when we do the communication dance of trying to find someone to love. Both show how qualified he would be to make this remake.

So, that's what I got.

Any better ideas?

*Swedish for "f'ing".

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Thin Man

Have you seen this great progenitor of "Remington Steele", "Moonlighting", and "Hart To Hart" ? This is the original to all of those pale (and not so pale- hey, I still love Remington Steele- season one/pre-Doris Roberts only, please) imitations. Assuming you have (I know, I know... that makes a "su" out of one of us), let's move on with the remake casting...
Nick Charles- John Cusack. With this cast, you can either have a remake that takes place now, or in the thirties when it was written. Cusack has played period well and his chemistry with Minnie Driver in "Grosse Point Blank" felt like an update of Nick and Nora Charles. He has the chops to play the sophisticated, worldly ex-private detective who married well (in more ways than one).

Which leaves his wife...

Nora Charles- Maggie Gyllenhaal. I know that Nora is supposed to be younger than Nick and Gyllenhaal is 11 years younger. But more importantly, a "Gyllenhaal Nora" would be as much of a match for Nick, as Gyllenhaal (who is one of the most interesting actresses of her generation) would be for Cusack. But what about the case itself? Clyde Wynant/Mimi Wynant Jorgenson- Philip Baker Hall/Susan Sarandon. If you'll recall Wynant is the actual "Thin Man" of the story- a brilliant inventor has gone missing and his daughter Dorothy has asked Nick Charles to help find him. Wynant is basically rude to almost everyone in his life (except for Dorothy), so it's no wonder when he disappears and is suspected of murdering his wife. Hall has played this kind of part so often he should have "irascible" stamped on his forehead. The ex-wife is the sort of flighty, high society matron that was a staple of thirties screwball comedies. In this film, she has a swarthy, foreign gigolo for husband (with the improbable name of "Jorgenson"). I think Sarandon would nail this.
Macauley- Paul Giamatti. Macauley is Wynant's lawyer and while Wynant is gone, initially, Macauley is handling all of his affairs, directed by notes sent from Wynant. The lawyer is a meek yes-man for Wynant's cruel remarks, who later turns out to be a stronger than anybody guessed. Giamatti may be a little too on the nose for this part (he's played a gazillion* variations on this type), but for supporting cast you want pros who can nail things in as few lines and scenes as possible. Giamatti is one of those pros. And speaking of pros in the supporting cast...

Dorothy Wynant- Ginnifer Goodwin. Dorothy is Clyde's daughter. She gets Nick involved in the case and is never seriously considered as a suspect. Played by Goodwin, who is making a big name for herself on HBO's "Big Love", after years of supporting work, the sweetness of the character will be sincere without cloying.

Lt. Guild- Jeremy Piven. Guild is a good dimwitted flatfoot type. Piven, who usually plays sharper guys would be great in this slight departure from his displayed range. Plus, he's in every Cusack movie. Every single one.

Gilbert Wynant- Cody Kasch. Kasch played the creepy son of the dead narrator on "Desperate Housewives" and would be fine as the creepy intellectual son of Wynant.

Chris Jorgenson- Kevin Alejandro. In the original film, this part of the gigolo was played by Cesar Romero, who was looks like he was cast because he didn't look anything like a Swedish gigolo named Jorgenson. Alejandro has been fine in television shows like "Ugly Betty" and last year's Fox sacrificial lamb** "Drive".

Joe Morelli- Vincent Pastore. The gangster in the picture. Pastore was Big Pussy on "The Sopranos" and has ridden that ever since. He'll be fine.

Albert Nunheim- Steve Buscemi. The weasel in the story. 'Nuff said.

Mimi- Amy Ryan. The weasel's girl. She has a one big, emotional scene in the film, her only scene as I recall, and you want someone who can knock it out. Ryan just got nominated (for an Oscartm!) for her small part in "Gone Baby Gone" and do the job here as well.

Tommy Quinn- Christopher Gorham.The nice guy fiance to nice girl Dorothy Wynant. Not a suspect. Gorham's been doing a great job on "Ugly Betty" as Betty's nice guy boyfriend. Do the math.

Mrs. Amelia Jorgensen- Ana Ortiz. Speaking of "Ugly Betty", Ana Ortiz could do with a big movie part and this, Chris Jorgenson's wife, would do nicely.

Julia Wolf- Cady Huffman. Wynant's floozy secretary. Seeing Huffman on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" a couple of years ago, as herself, reminded me of how good she is. She was the original "Ula" in the Broadway company of "The Producers". She'd be fine in this.

Director- Stephen Frears.This is a large ensemble, period piece who needs a director who doesn't leave thumbprints on the material. Frears is a classic journeyman director, almost in the style of W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke the director of the original "The Thin Man", and has worked with Cusack a couple of times. For this, he'd be perfect, adapting his direction, as he usually does, ot the needs of the story.

Got any better ideas?

*"gazillion" is a real number used by real number people.

**a good show that, despite critical acclaim and a small, passionate fanbase is cancelled by Fox far too quickly for it to find an audience. See "Firefly" and "Arrested Development".

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Rio Bravo

This will only work if you've seen the film, so let's assume you've seen the original. Let's also assume the new version would follow the original pretty close. For a remake, I have some out-of-the-box casting ideas...
Sheriff John T. Chance- Nick Nolte. Listen, besides Clint Eastwood, there's no one else that could carry the part of an older lawman, who probably was a gunslinger back in the day. No one with the screen authority Nolte has, unless it was Clint or Tommy Lee Jones. Chance needs to be a big, tall presence and, frankly, I think Nolte is the more interesting choice.
Dude (Borachon)- Hugh Jackman. A drunk when he starts the picture, Dude must make the transformation to easygoing, capable (good with a gun) lawman (who also sings!) and make it all believable. Jackman is a good, but untested actor, who deepest role has been the part of a mutant killing machine in the "X-Men" films. Still perceived as a lightweight musical theatre singer, this would the part to make him a viable all-around actor in Hollywood's eyes. Just like a certain crooner from the fifties.
Colorado Ryan- Justin Timberlake. I know, I know. But he has been good in unexpected places ("Alpha Dog") and great in the expected places (SNL) and he would have, I think, a little less of the self-consciousness that Ricky Nelson had in the original. Plus, he and Jackman would nail the duets the two characters have.

Nathan Burdette- Alec Baldwin. Listen, this guy has become one of the great character actors and he would more than hold his own in the few scenes he would have with Nolte. Plus, any of his brothers would be great to play Joe, the character's imprisoned brother. Speaking of other characters...

Stumpy- James Garner. Again, he;s a guy who can hold his own with Nolte, plus Garner was cantankerous when he was young. Playing an old cantankerous guy should be a cakewalk.

Feathers- Ellen Barkin. To break with the original a bit, I think an age-appropriate love interest for Chance would be more interesting here. Barkin, like Debra Winger, plays tough, sexy, wounded really well.

Pat Wheeler- Gene Hackman. This is a toughie because Wheeler in the original was played by Ward Bond, who in most films plays characters who can handle themselves pretty well, fisticuffs-wise. So, when Wheeler doesn't, you have to feel it on a "Jeez-they-just-killed-Janet-Leigh-all-bets-are-off" level. A Hackman (or even Eastwood) killed off in the first thirty minutes would be a gut-punch for every audience member.

Consuela Robante- Eva Longoria. In the original, there is a Mexican couple that run the local hotel/saloon and are friends with Chance. They have a cute subplot about the guy ordering red bloomers for the girl. I think here, we could eliminate some of the running time and give Dude a love interest if Consuela were single. And this would put Longoria in a decent part to get her out of TV Land.

Director- Steven Soderbergh. He can handle large casts (giving everyone something to do that's interesting), has a good sense of how to change a remake around without losing the spark of the original and is his own cinematographer. So, you'll save money.

So, I've had my say. Howsabout you?