more Val Lewton remakes on the way

Variety reports that at least three “horror” films produced by Val Lewton in the 1940s might be remade in the near future:

Evolution Entertainment’s horror division Twisted Pictures has formed a joint venture with RKO Pictures and plans to remake four genre pics from the RKO library.

The companies will co-finance development and production of “The Body Snatcher,” a 1945 Robert Wise-directed thriller that starred Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff; the 1943 pic “I Walked With a Zombie”; and the 1946 Karloff starrer “Bedlam.” They’ve yet to select the fourth title from the RKO vault.

Interestingly, two of these titles have been remade before. The Body Snatcher is based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson which has been adapted several times since; and I Walked with a Zombie was apparently remade a few years ago by the ‘Tales from the Crypt’ gang as a movie called Ritual (2001).

Needless to say, I don’t hold out much hope that these new remakes will be any good. The only other Val Lewton film that has been remade, as far as I know, is Cat People (1942), and Paul Schrader’s 1982 version was quite inferior, as I recall. Plus, Variety mentions that the most recent remake of an RKO film was, of all things, Are We Done Yet? — in which Ice Cube took over the role created by Cary Grant in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948). So, that isn’t exactly the best track record.

Evan Almighty and phone sex — oops!

Yikes. Universal Studios has gone out of its way to let people know that the PG-rated Evan Almighty is way, way more family-friendly than its PG-13 predecessor Bruce Almighty. So what happened when Entertainment Weekly‘s Carey Bell dialed the 1-800 number that God, played by Morgan Freeman, uses in the film…? Oops.

There is French, and then there is French …

Last year, I noted that French-language films made in Quebec are sometimes shown with subtitles even when they are shown in France — because the dialects in the two countries can be very different. Now comes this item via the National Post:

Like children all over North America, pint-size Quebecers have been flocking to theatres recently to see the animated film Shrek the Third, or Shrek le Troisieme as it is known here. The only problem is they are leaving confused about what exactly that donkey was saying.

“The donkey is the main character we don’t understand here in Quebec,” explained Tristan Harvey, a Montreal actor who makes his living dubbing movies into French. “When you go out with your child and watch the movie, the children and the adults will say, ‘I just don’t get it. He speaks another language.’ He’s using Parisian slang that we just don’t get.”

Because the French-language version of the movie now on Quebec screens was dubbed in France, Quebecers have trouble following the dialogue. It is one example among many that led politicians in Quebec City last week to call for a law obliging the major Hollywood studios to dub their movies in Quebec, using Quebec actors. In an interesting twist on Quebec’s age-old language debate, the fight is not against English but against the often incomprehensible dialect spoken in mother France.

The fight was taken up last week by Mario Dumont, whose Action democratique du Quebec leapt from nowhere to official opposition in the last election thanks in part to its message that the Quebec identity is under threat. During the election campaign, Mr. Dumont was preoccupied by perceived threats from religious groups seeking accommodation of their customs; now it is the Hollywood studios and the Parisian actors they hire to dub their films. His party tabled a bill last Wednesday that would force studios to have their films dubbed in Quebec before they can be released in the province. (Existing law requires that a French-language version be available but does not dictate where the dubbing is to be done.)

Mr. Dumont told reporters about taking his baffled children to see Shrek le Troisieme. “You have very Parisian expressions that are typical to Paris or France [and that] children of Quebec have never heard of, cannot understand. So this is the whole story of cultural diversity,” he said.

It is also a story of a lucrative industry that actors fear could be lost if the major Hollywood studios abandon their commitment to dubbing in Quebec.

Quebec’s Union des artistes, which represents film, stage and television actors, says the dubbing industry was worth $25-million last year, providing work for 800 people. Of that number, 200 are actors, most of whom work in relative anonymity, providing the French voices of Hollywood stars. . . .

The union annually rates the Hollywood studios on their performances in dubbing in Quebec, awarding prizes to the best and worst. The lemon prize for worst performance last year was shared by Fox and Paramount, which dubbed 52% and 42% of their films in Quebec, respectively. The top prize went to Warner, which dubbed all its films in Quebec. Overall, 73% of major releases were dubbed in Quebec, down from 78% the year before. . . .

Mr. Harvey, who provides the voice of the Seth Rogen character in the current comedy Knocked Up (Grossesse surprise), says the issue for Quebec audiences is not simply one of hearing a familiar accent. Quebec is much more in tune with mainstream American culture than France, so much gets lost in a translation done for European audiences. “They don’t understand as well the American reality, so they transpose it to the European reality,” he said. . . .

If you haven’t read it yet, do make a point of reading that Saturday Night article on the differences between Québécois French and European French versions of The Simpsons. It’s fascinating.

Jesuits in 17th-century China and Japan

While Martin Scorsese prepares his adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s Silence AKA Chinmoku, a couple other items regarding films about Jesuit missionaries and Christian martyrs in 17th-century Asia popped up in my news feed this morning.

First, Doug Cummings at says he has just finished writing the liner notes for an upcoming DVD release of the previous adaptation of Endo’s novel, which was written by Endo himself and directed by Masahiro Shinoda in 1971. The DVD will be released as part of the Masters of Cinema series.

Second, Variety reports that some Spanish filmmakers are now working on a movie about Jesuits in 17th-century China:

Zebra Producciones has inked with broadcaster Antena 3 to produce the China-set “El manuscrito Ricci” (The Ricci Manuscript), a movie budgeted at north of $13.4 million and set to shoot in China.

Pic’s screenplay is being written by director-scribe Joan Potau, Curro Royo (“The Suicides’ Club”) and Carlos Martin (“Swindled”).

A fictional historical adventure pic set in the 17th century, “Ricci” turns on two Jesuits dispatched to search for the Jesuit diplomat and translator Mateo Ricci, who forged relations between the Jesuits and China.

Ricci’s manuscript, they discover, can warp the delicate balance of power between protestants and catholics in Europe.

Sounds interesting, though there is nothing at the Wikipedia entry on Ricci to indicate why anything in his possession might have affected the “balance of power” between the European churches.

The Arcanum battles demons in 1919

I am not familiar with Thomas Wheeler’s novel The Arcanum, but this description in Variety sounds at least a little interesting:

Gold Circle Films has picked up feature rights to Thomas Wheeler’s fantasy-adventure “The Arcanum” out of turnaround from Miramax.

“The Arcanum,” Wheeler’s debut novel, is set in 1919 and follows the titular secret society comprising the era’s leading occult investigators — Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, H.P. Lovecraft and Marie Laveau — as they battle demons descending on New York City, including a serial killer of angels.

Hmmm. Set in 1919, you say? I am reminded that James A. Owen’s novel Here There Be Dragons — which imagines that fantasy writers J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams had some supernatural adventures of their own — takes place only a year or two before that. I can’t help wondering what might happen if these two groups were to meet — though I don’t suppose the worlds created by Wheeler and Owen are all that compatible.

When PG-13 franchises go PG …

Last month, inspired by the kerfuffle over the rating for Live Free or Die Hard, I started a list of movie franchises which began on an R-rated or X-rated note and then shifted down to the PG-13 or PG-rated level as the sequels came out. So far, I cannot think of a single case in which the PG or PG-13 sequel was all that good.

Now, I am wondering something slightly different. How many franchises have begun on a PG-13 level and then down-shifted to the PG level? I note that there are at least two such sequels coming out in the next couple of weeks — can you think of any more?

  1. Doctor Dolittle (1998; PG-13)
  2. Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001; PG)
  3. The Mask of Zorro (1998; PG-13)
  4. The Legend of Zorro (2005; PG)
  5. Bruce Almighty (2003; PG-13)
  6. Evan Almighty (2007; PG)
  7. Fantastic Four (2005; PG-13)
  8. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007; PG)

Note: I have no thesis to make here. Not yet, at any rate. Whereas I can safely say that I have never seen a good PG-13 sequel to an R-rated movie, I don’t expect to notice any particular trend among PG-rated sequels to PG-13 movies — mainly because there is no real practical difference between the two ratings.

Oh, and while we’re at it, how about franchises that started out PG and then shifted down to the ultra-safe G?

  1. The Santa Clause (1994; PG)
  2. The Santa Clause 2 (2002; G)
  3. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006; G)

If you think of any more examples, for either list, post ‘em in the comments, and I’ll update these lists as required.