Algiers (1938)


Original plot
Pepe Le Pew is a jewel thief trapped in his own safety in Algiers while Hedy Lamarr makes him dream of France.

Big changes
Can’t see a bunch of trouble made in an unstable country for a high-class jewel thief anymore. Gonna have to go off the rails a bit…

The Random Remake
Pre-credit sequence: An undercover Algerian agent is entering the casbah of Algiers, a tight-knit, close-quartered, run-down section of the city that basically governs itself and where uniformed officers don’t enter for fear of immediate violence. The agent is on the trail of the suspected terrorist Le Moko (“Pepe” thanks to his French upbringing) (Jean Dujardin). The agent gets close and is on his trail, with his hand on his weapon when Le Moko turns around and says “Not in my village, monsieur.” Then a crowd of villagers swarm on the agent and form a blockade around Pepe. After a moment the swarm dissipates and Le Moko is gone.

Post-credits: A number of groups are after Le Moko: The Algiers police led by Inspector Slimane (Said Taghmaoui), who is able to enter the casbah and even talks with Le Moko but knows he’ll never get him into custody and live; the Algerian government, which suspects him of funding insurgency against the military order; and the Americans, who set up the undercover agent and consider Le Moko a funder of revolutions in Africa.

Slimane is strolling through the casbah and runs into Pepe at a restaurant. Slimane goes off on a speech about how he will catch Le Moko, who responds that well before Slimane hatches a plan to extricate him from Algiers he’ll already be in France again – “loving my retirement.” We see Pepe end his night with an exotic beauty – but he wakes up instead in a different place, and is confronted at breakfast by his wife, Ines (Archie Panjabi). He smooth-talks his way out of her suspicions.

Le Moko evades a pair of outlandish capture attempts, and one of his flunkies tells him the casbah is impenetrable and he never will go to prison. “This is my prison,” he answers. “I cannot leave. I have paid my penance, and I am ready for release.” He talks of his childhood in France and his growing disgust of seeing the same confined spaces of the casbah every day.

While at dinner – again with another beauty – Le Moko walks over to chat with Slimane, who is dining with tourists Gaby (Mila Kunis) and her fiance. Pepe is taken with Gaby, and we see hints that she is taken with him as well. During dinner Gaby excuses herself to take a walk and Pepe does the same. He tells her of his love for France, and she – a season world-traveler – agrees with him.

The next day Pepe is miserable and it takes all the efforts of his flunkies to keep the capture attempts at bay. His mind is on Gaby and fleeing to France. Ines knows this as well. The next night Pepe and Gaby rendezvous and jam out at a music bar. Gaby pries into Pepe’s life and he confesses that he isn’t much more than a myth. He’s allowed the stories of uprising and crime to manifest themselves into a legend. When he came to Algeria from France it was to study and he got caught up in the spirit of revolution. “The levels of misunderstanding were astounding and I did nothing to correct them,” he says. He would give any to get back to France. With her. Gaby is non-committal but asks how they would do it. He tells her of his plans for escape, which he’s been contemplating for years.

It turns out that Pepe’s escape plan was hatched for he and Ines, who has caught on to his latest – and most serious – dalliance and tries to stop him. But in seeing the determination in his eyes, she knows she cannot get in his way, and she lets him go. Pepe meets up with a flunkie who is made up to resemble Le Moko. They also get a woman to look like Gaby. The couple start on the casbah, on a covered rickshaw, with a big public display from a flunkie telling him not to leave the casbah. Slimane, ever-present, catches on and follows the couple. He alerts his superiors – who converge on the edge of the casbah. But Slimane is stopped in his pursuit by Ines, who points in the other direction. Next we see the real Pepe sneaking onto a chartered plane, with Gaby trying to sneak through the airstrip to follow him. Pepe smiles and enters the plane – to find Slimane, cuffing him. Pepe is led away and looks back to the plane to see Gaby ascending the stairs of the plane – and her fiance at the top waiting for her.

The pitch
Algiers: They rock the casbah, and until it’s time to roll.

Next up: The Great Ziegfeld (1936)


Boom Town (1940)


Original plot
Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy have a bro-down over oil, dames and capitalism.

Big changes
Another fracking one, you say? Sure, I feel like there aren’t enough fracking movies. What will aliens think about our culture when they see we made 27 Spider-Man movies and one middling Gus Van Sant fracking movie? These are the things I worry about.

The Random Remake
Two geologist/engineers working for energy conglomerates converge on Gableton, N.D., the site of a shale mine that until recently had been thought of as inaccessible. The energy firms, Petrocio and Envirolution, are developing competition technologies to reach the Gabelton Shale. The entity that owns the land is holding a bid – whoever can reach the shale first wins exclusive rights to mine it, and the companies’ top scouts are on the ground racing to reach the shale. In Petrocio’s corner, John McMasters (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a smooth-talker who has won his battles as much in negotiations as in the ground. For Envirolution, John Sand (Hugh Dancy) is regarded more for his spot-on knowledge and expertise. The two first interact in a government meeting, reviewing their plans to local elected leaders and the public. They share a meal after the meeting, remarking about all the fracking boom towns they’ve been employed. Gableton will be no different, and in a montage we see the town turn from an iconic-yet-forgotten American standard to an industrial setup – it has fast-food restaurants, strip clubs, motels, RV parking lots and that’s about it.

Sands spends his time in the field constantly tinkering with the machinery and computer models. His only salvation is his sweetheart, who he says he has waiting for him back home, Betsy. Meanwhile McMasters is his schmoozing his way through town, trying to undercut Sands through words instead of technology. While striding through town he sees a bus pull up and striking lady get off. Elizabeth (Rose Byrne), as she introduces herself, takes a liking to McMasters’s gall and she accompanies him on a tour of Gableton. He asks why she’s there, and she’s coy/flippant in her response. They’re together all night, into the next morning where they wake up together. At the motel breakfast, they converge with Sands, who plunges into depression – Elizabeth is the Betsy he’s been waiting for, but she couldn’t help herself around McMasters.

Sands throws himself into working nonstop. His techniques are working a bit better than McMasters’s, and eventually Envirolution wins the bid. Sands is smug, trying to rub it in McMasters’s face – but McMasters has a surprise, he’s bidden and won the rights to mine right next door! Soon the two are in clash for workers. We see them advertising their sites around town, in the fast food restaurants, the strip clubs, the RV parking lots. It’s in the strip club where they share a drink together (one of their associates remarks he’s surprised how often the two hang out; “No one else to socialize with here,” one replies). At the club they both watch an entertainer named Meercat, and McMasters gets a little too close to her for Sands’s comfort.

Sands convinces Envirolution to buy out Petrocio’s claim to the neighboring mine, saying it will make sense financially to drill in the same area but really he wants McMasters away from Meercat. McMasters, and a pregnant Betsy, leave Gabelton to parts unknown. A crestfallen, yet relieved, Sands watches them leave.

Over the subsequent years, each John has his ups and downs. The Gabelton Shale didn’t last long and Sands is on the hunt for the next great white shale. McMasters works for his company’s outfit in South America with a rig off of Brazil, and does well enough to move into a corporate job in New York City. In that role he works on a hostile takeover of Envirolution, leading to his reunion with Sands, who’s now overseeing the operations side of the company. The two Johns aren’t cordial to each other, but Sands and Betsy spend some time together. Sands realizes that Betsy is jealous of McMasters’s coworker Karen and fears the two are hooking up. Sands gets that feeling, too, and can’t resist getting involved. He soon starts working on a reverse hostile takeover (!) trying to buy up mine parcels and pieces of stock through commodities brokers and futures investors. McMasters is pissed, and systematically turns Sands’s investors against them, taking on as many fracking-related ventures as he can find. He runs into Sands in a brokerage firm and the two have it out. McMasters asks why Sands is trying to ruin him. Sands counters saying he’s blinded by money and should give his wife a divorce so she can be free. “That’s what this is about – you’re after Betsy? You’ll have to go through me,” McMasters says and the exchange fisticuffs over a boardroom table during a directors meeting. Sands and McMasters smile at each other. McMasters knows what Sands was trying to do. Sands is reassured McMasters will fight for his family, and we see as much that night when McMasters returns home. Montage of the family growing, with a new baby and effort to make everything work.

The newly reinvigorated McMasters is short-lived, however, when it’s found out Petrocio is being investigated by the SEC for monopolistic behavior in his retaliation against Sands. Sands finds this out while checking his phone and we see that the note says McMasters is with SEC investigators right now giving his testimony, and we track him on the subway through the streets of New York into a big building, through a hallway and barges into a meeting room. McMasters is on one side of the table flanked by his lawyers. A gaggle of SEC suits is on the other. “You’re not part of this – it’s a conflict of interest,” one suit says to Sands. “I know more about this than anyone here, and you’re gonna listen to me.” Sands outlines that Petrocio, and McMasters, actually gave the mine owners and communities in them better terms than what Envirolution, under Sands, was offering – and that things worked out better this way. “You’re gonna have a hard time selling anything else to any judge and jury,” Sands says.

The pseudo-confession works, and the SEC case is dropped. McMasters rings up his old friend at his EPA office and offers him a spot at his company. “Just choose the site, you’re in charge,” he says. “No thanks,” Sands answers. “I’ll be right here, keeping everything square. With the industry, and its people.”

The pitch
Boom Town: A fractured friendship, forever.

Next up: Algiers (1938)

Vertigo (1958)


Original plot
Jimmy Stewart goes dizzy for Kim Novak’s double vision.

Big changes
Remake Hitchock? Tinker with one of the best movies ever made? Heresy? Bah – here comes the dynamite:

The Random Remake
John Ferguson (Freddie Highmore) is an eccentric loner who works in creative at an advertising agency. He’s good with color palates and interpreting focus group data and copyrighting copy. He’s not so good at socializing. John’s got some personality ticks. He can’t work above the first floor of his company, and he has to attend remotely any meeting above that floor. He closes his eyes and goes dizzy when the trolley he rides to work goes over a hilly area of San Francisco. His psychiatrist comes to see him at his basement apartment, as her office is too high up for John’s acrophobia.

In a flashback, we see why. When he was 15 John fell madly in love with his neighbor, Madison. She was a bit of a hell-raiser and got John into trouble by sneaking into places, playing pranks, etc.. She also broke him out of his shy shell. She told John about urban exploration, and breaking into abandoned places such as defunct schools, tunnels and the like. One place they snuck out of home to explore in the middle of the night was the Bay Bridge, walking along the struts and supports. John resisted, and Maddy pushed him a little too far, demonstrating that she was as fearless as could be. In goading John along she slipped and fell, and John couldn’t pull himself away from the bridge support to grab her and she fell into the water. Her body never was found, and John retreated into a person not only cripplingly afraid of heights but of breaking the rules and norms of what should be.

As John works on a spec ad piece at work he files through the pieces of art he needs for the design. He sees the logos, the designs for the product and the headshots of the models. He cycles through the headshots when he is frozen with fear. A woman, who is a dead-ringer for Madison, appears on his screen. She’s a little older, just as he is, and she’s staring at him from the computer. He feels queasy, gets dizzy and walks away upset.

John tells the story to his brother, who keeps trying to borrow money off him (the brother lost the inheritance they split due to drug addiction and poor life choices; John didn’t go to college, using his inheritance to fund his creative outlets.). His brother tells him to forget the whole thing. John tells the story to his psychiatrist, who mysteriously asks only how feels, and “would your life improve if Madison never perished?”

John decides to track down the model, and gets a name – Judy Barton (Selena Gomez) – and address from the ad agency’s records. He follows her after finding her at her apartment and has to summon up the courage to approach her while she picnics at a park. She thinks he’s weird and is about to leave when he blurts out the whole story about Madison. Judy stays listening, and tells him she doesn’t know if he’s crazy or has invented the world’s best pickup line. “I want to get to know you,” John says, and with that we get montages of their dates. Occasionally, Judy does things that reminds John of Madison – the way she grabs his hand and leads him to places. The way she laughs and twists her hair in her finger. The way she randomly twirls when walking down the street. The parallels are maddening, and John is losing control of his sanity.

John runs through the possibilities. Could Maddy still be alive? Is his brother playing a ruse, trying to push him into insanity to take his half of the inheritance? Is his psychiatrist experimenting with him on some extreme alternative treatment? John is slowly losing it, and he sees Madison everywhere – passing him on the street, on billboards. And he relives the moment she fell off the bridge in a near constant loop in his head. He knows he’s not well, and during an appointment with Judy he gets disturbed. He tells her he doesn’t know who’s screwing with him, his brother, his psychiatrist or her. He has an idea that will break it all apart – and he forces Judy to accompany him breaking onto the Bay Bridge. “Who are you?” John screams at her, scaring Judy – who knows of his fear of heights and moves up a bridge support to get away from him. “I’m no one,” she screams back. “I can’t live like this, Maddy,” he says. “I can’t see your face ever again. Only one of us is going back off this bridge.” John is insane now, and he awkwardly fumbles to get to Judy while battling his dizziness. “John, it doesn’t matter who I am. You have to be in control, but you lost that control a long time ago. You did this. All of it,” Judy says to John, ominously. John, in tears, replies, “What did you do to me…” and slips, just as Madison did, to his doom.

The pitch
Vertigo: His world is closing in, and falling apart.

Next up:
Boom Town (1940)

Rear Window (1954)


Original plot
Jimmy Stewart’s confined to a wheelchair after photographing an auto race wreck and rebuffs the advances of Grace Kelly (must be the morphine) while he stares out his window and suspects his neighbor of murdering his wife.

Big changes
Remake Hitchock? Tinker with one of the best movies ever made? Heresy? Bah – here comes the boom:

The Random Remake
L.B. Jefferies (Adam Driver), whom everyone refers to as Jeff, is a freelance photographer, injured by an IED while shooting pictures during a Middle Eastern conflict on assignment for Mother Jones. His leg is shattered and he is sent back to the states to recuperate. His on-again, off-again lady friend Lisa (Lara Pulver) is secretly happy he was injured – now there’s an excuse to keep him home and away from the danger-seeking he craves. See, Jeff is getting lost in his work. After being a witness to hell, he’s losing himself to the devil.

Jeff is bored at home, even as Lisa makes up fun events like turning his Brooklyn apartment into a mock fancy restaurant complete with a violinist or inviting a barista friend over to make intricate lattes for them in their faux coffee shop. “It’s not even the leg that bothers me anymore,” he says. “It’s the boredom. I’m itching, Lisa – I gotta get out of here.” “That’s the OxyContin talking,” she replies. Lisa tells him there’s no future in being shipped to the most dangerous places on Earth. No future with her, at least. He makes her a promise to do some freelancing close to home, in his apartment – something he can do that would allow him to express himself without “bullets whizzing by his head.”

Since Jeff’s only contact with the outside world is his large back window, he decides to undergo an art project – photographing his neighborhood from his vantage point. Lisa’s already hatching plans for a gallery opening when Jeff shows her his early work. He’s photographed the bickering couple across from the courtyard, the aspiring foodie always in her kitchen, the nocturnal hipster, the creepy guy and his girlfriend in their dumpy rooms always at their computers.

Jeff is working on the photos, playing around with them in Photoshop (wait, maybe it’s Lightroom – we’ll see who has the better placement offer) when he notices a collage of sorts in the background of the dumpy apartment with the computer couple. It has a computer handle intricately drawn on it, @Alexyinnaya. Jeff searches for the name, and finds a Twitter profile, a YouTube account, and a website – a dirty one. Alexyinnaya appears in cam videos, doing stuff on webcam for money. The guy in her apartment must be the one behind the website. She talks in a Russian-ist accent. Jeff watches as many videos as he can and is found by Lisa as he does so. She’s incensed but Jeff insists it’s part of his art project – he tells her of the apartment and of what they’re doing there. Jeff tells her of the sex trafficking from eastern Europe and tells Lisa his theory that “Alexyinnaya” is being held against her will.

During the day, Jeff pulls out his super-zoom lens and tripod and scours the dumpy apartment. He notices padlocks on doors, that the fire escape looks to have been removed from their section of the building. Later, in the early morning hours Jeff is still searching the dumpy apartment from his camera as he dozes off. He wakes and struggles to keep his eyes open when he notices the man in the dumpy apartment coming and going, holding garbage bags. The next day there’s no sign of Alexyinnaya. He tells Lisa this, she goes off about how they can’t stand by knowing what they know. She’s going to take a closer look, while Jeff lures the guy out by sending cryptic messages to Alexyinnaya’s Twitter account. Lisa tries to peer into the windows from the broken fire escape but she slips and ends up inside the apartment. The guy is returning to the apartment and just as he’s about to enter, Jeff tries to get Lisa’s attention by shining his camera flash. This attracts the guy’s attention, and he sees Jeff and then Lisa. Jeff calls the cops and tells them about a struggle in the apartment. Officers take Lisa away in cuffs, and the guy then turns to look at Jeff. Later, footsteps are heard closing in on Jeff’s door. Jeff hobbles around but can’t do anything much when the guy breaks in and aims his gun at Jeff. The guy’s just about to shoot when Jeff grabs a camera and fires off a series of burst shots, the flash pulsating and blinding the guy – who falls crashing into a coffee table, setting off his gun and hitting Jeff in his good leg a few times. Jeff drags himself over to the table and struggles with the guy for the gun, shooting the guy in the chest. The cops come, and Jeff tells them to search the dumpy apartment. They find Alexyinnaya, along with several other abused women, bound and being held in a small room as part of a sex trafficking operation.

Next we see, Jeff is smiling – both his legs in casts, Lisa in his lap as he’s in a wheelchair – as he’s in a gallery with his “View from Brooklyn” series hanging on the walls being admired by an impressed crowd. One of the pictures is a hazy, blown out outline of a man holding a gun staring into the frame.

The pitch
Rear Window: Seeing is believing

Next up: Vertigo (1958)

The Thin Man (1934)


Original plot
A boozy former detective gets urged by a family friend and his sugar momma to solve a string of murders. He does so over dinner.

Big changes
“Can’t you tell us anything about the case?” “Yes, it’s putting me way behind in my drinking.” Awesome! So many choice lines about booze! Nick Charles reminds me of Gregory House with martinis instead of Vicodin. I feel like we don’t have enough high-class drunks in cinema anymore – we’re keeping it in!

The Random Remake
Clyde Wynant is an absent-minded professor working on biomechanical prostheses for wounded veterans and others who’ve lost limbs. He’s so focused on his latest breakthrough that he doesn’t even care that his secretary is skimming from the books and that his business partner keeps trying against Wynant’s wishes to take the company public. Or that his ex-wife hounds him for cash, or that his daughter is about to be married and wants him to pay for a lavish affair. His lawyer/handler (a large man tipping the scales in size and demeanor) is the only one to see Wynant alive before he was about to flee quickly for a trip Wynant won’t reveal any details of. But suddenly there are gun shots, and before the lawyer is knocked unconscious by a blow to the head he sees the silhouette of a very skinny man lurking about. He wakes to find the workshop engulfed in flames.

Dental records confirm Wynant was killed, either in the fire or by the gunshots. Wynant’s public persona as a miracle medical engineer has the media wrapped up in the murder and the lawyer’s story of the “thin man” captures headlines. With no leads to speak of, Wynant’s daughter turns to her old family friend and former detective Nick Charles (Johnny Depp; it’s already happening – might as well go with it). Charles isn’t sold on taking the case, as he’s enjoying his leisure life with wealthy heiress wife Nora (Sandra Bullock). But Nora wants him to take it up, since Nick has grown dull in their marriage and constantly jokes about his constant drinking. Marrying an heiress isn’t what Nick was meant for, Nora tells him – he was born to crack cases. Nick is still stubborn until the secretary’s lover breaks into the Charles’ apartment and demands to know what Nick knows about the case and what he’s going to tell the police. Since he’s already dragged in, Nick decides to solve the murder – wisecracking and inebriated the whole time.

The lawyer thinks Wynant was lured away by a secret government mission to work on a top-secret project and then killed by secret agents to cover the covert work. His ex thinks Wynant was having an affair with the secretary and Wynant killed her “like he killed our marriage.” His daughter thinks Wynant was killed by the secretary to cover her bookkeeping irregularities. The business partner thinks it was a rival firm.

Nick’s investigation goes nowhere, and he freely – and boozily – admits he doesn’t know what’s going on. He teases everyone around him and whirls around with random trivia that doesn’t apply to the situation at hand. Nora smiles at it all – knowing he’s got his rhythm back and is enjoying the mind games. Nick repeatedly calls on the various people in Wynant’s circle for updates. “We’ve been seeing these people so much we might as well invite them to dinner,” Nora says. Nick cracks a devilish grin. “Do you still have that black dress with the bow?” he asks. “From the White House dinner?” she answers. “Yeah, that’s the one.” “Why?” “We’re going to throw a party. Love that bow – I want to see the bow again.”

Nick leads a surf-and-turf dinner with all the sordid suspects: the lawyer, the ex, the daughter, the secretary, her lover, the business partner, and even the police. He tells long stories about his days as a detective, how he once solved a murder involving a cockatiel for a friend. How the NSA tried to recruit him. How the Russians tried to, too. It’s all bluster and he’s clearly making everything up on the spot. It’s a montage, with several courses of the dinner coming and going and Nick promising the murderer is at the table. He watches intently as the waiters take the plates away at each course.

Finally Nick starts talking about Wynant, and how they were friends back in the day when Nick was looking into an industrial accident and asked Wynant to help the victim. “He was so focused on his work he barely looked up at us. He was so singularly focused he wouldn’t eat for days – that’s how he got so skinny, right? That’s one of the stories everyone tells about him. His narrative, huh? Too bad it’s wrong, right? He didn’t eat because he was convinced a low-calorie diet would let him live forever. He was trying to augment his body, as much with will as with science. He was obsessed with staying skinny – that’s how he has no idea how to walk as a fat man.” Everyone is puzzled, but Nick trains his stare on the lawyer. “You made legs for people to match their gait but you never thought about how to change your own walking. And you haven’t touched the halibut.”

The lawyer is Wynant! Dressed up in a high-tech fat suit of prosthetics and extensions he had been secretly developing to add to his own body. He was going to start a new company, one that sold permanent disguises to people in witness protection or spies. He didn’t want anyone to know, to put his family in jeopardy of the mob or terrorists. He knocked himself out with a prosthetic fist punch. He fabricated teeth based on his own work to leave at the site.

“Nice work, Nicky – I knew you had it in you,” Nora says. “What, Scotch?” he answers. “No, the sniffer to solve the case.” “I didn’t solve anything, sweetheart. There was no murder. No victim. Almost makes me want to …” “Solve another?” Nora interjects. “Have a drink.”

The pitch
The Thin Man: A big murder with slim chances of being solved

Next up: Rear Window (1954)