Quick flash: Clean and Sober (1988)

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Original plot
Michael Keaton does Michael Keaton things while battling cocaine and a massive raincoat.

Big thoughts
Morgan Freeman has been a mentor to three Batmen, including Affleck! He should call up Adam West and Val Kilmer and go for the sweep.

The Random Remake
Remove the obvious anachronisms (pay phones, mullets) and the plot holds up pretty well. Shoot, maybe Smashed is basically a remake with swapped genders and a not-deceased co-dependent. You know what, now I can’t get Mary Elizabeth Winstead out of my head. You beat me to it, Smashed.

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The Strange Woman (1946)

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Original plot
Hedy Lamarr breaks hearts and bodies in 1824 Maine.

Big changes
People in the 2010s watching what people in the 40s thought of people in the 1820s. See, Hedy’s even breaking my brain.

The Random Remake
Jaji Patel (Shraddha Kapoor) and her uncle, Tajim (Adil Hussain), emigrate from India to the U.S. after her parents die in a car crash. It was Jaji’s parents’ wish that she go to college in America. In the states (upper New England to be precise), Jaji (rebranded “Jenny” by her peers) is acclimating, but her uncle struggles. He perceives the area as unfriendly and feels isolated. He constantly berates Jenny’s new clothes, new attitude, and her new name.

Tajim forbids Jenny from going out and hanging out with friends or boys. But Jenny’s enjoying her new-found freedom, and flaunts it when her uncle acts up. “Men like me, uncle – are you jealous,” she says, as Tajim’s rage enters a boiling point. He starts to attack her, but she flees – right into the arms of a hometown schoolmate’s family, notably the father, Isaac Poster (Jason Isaacs). Isaac leers at Jenny, and suggests to his son Ethan (Logan Lerman) that Jenny come to their family for breaks and holidays and away from her uncle. Soon Jenny is exploiting the situation, flirting with Isaac. When Isaac sees better of the situation, and threatens discipline against her, Jenny “confides” in Ethan that Isaac has been anything but fatherly with her and that he has even assaulted her. Ethan, smitten with Jenny of course, rages against his father and agrees to concoct a story so he’ll be taken away by the authorities.

Ethan, however, is soon struck with guilt about lying to put his father in jail. Jenny blackmails him by saying he’ll be in trouble if he admits to his dishonesty. Ethan also is distraught because Jenny’s got her eye on a new suitor, John (Zac Efron) – the older casual boyfriend of their mutual friend and schoolmate Meg (Taissa Farmiga). As Jenny lures John away from Meg, Ethan grows into psychosis and ends up hospitalized after trying to kill himself with pills.

The story is getting out about Jenny’s lies and deceptions, now that Ethan has come clean. She denies being duplicitous and John’s influence has her stopping her schemes. John’s a 12-stepper and he’s trying to renounce his hard ways as a kid. She joins him at recovery meetings, where a raconteurish meeting leader, Lincoln Pettridge (Michael Parks), starts telling pseudo-biblical parable of “the strange woman.” “The world has labeled this woman as ‘strange,’ and of course she thinks it’s the world that’s strange, not her, because of her selfishness. The strange woman is all our undoing, falling to temptation and abuse.”

Inspired by the tale, Jenny confides in John she conspired against Isaac, and John leaves to get some space. He meets up with Meg, who urges him to go back to Jenny and reform her like he’s reformed himself. They agree Jenny can be a good person and needs someone to guide her – but when they walk out of the coffee shop, Jenny has found out they are together and comes driving toward them. She crashes into the restaurant, and bloody and disoriented tells John she deserves everything that’s coming to her.

The pitch
The Strange Woman: Culture crash

Next up: Tortilla Flat (1942)

Dishonored Lady (1947)

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Original plot
Hedy Lamarr goes on the lam from fashion and gets framed for murder.

Big changes
Hedy can’t win – she doesn’t even get to be the heroine of her own story, a dude solves the mystery for her.

The Random Remake
Madeleine Damien (Rooney Mara) is slumped in her car, staring off into the distance. She then starts her car, seems disoriented, and drives right into the front of a house.

Next we see Madeleine she’s at the high-powered Wall Street firm started by her wealthy, powerful family (of whom she’s the last one). The over-eager, brownnosing employees of the firm are wishing her well after her “accident” and that they’re glad she was able to walk away from the unfortunateness. Madeleine dead-eyes them, staring right through them with the same look she had in the car. Her boss Felix (Iain Glen) soon enters her office and begins a long diatribe about her carry on the family business (she’s the only Damien left, etc. He’s not consolidating power and buying off politicians for himself – he’s doing it for the legacy of his old friends and their only child). Felix is adamant she’s on his side and working with him – his other partners are moving the firm to ethically dangerous ground and without Madeleine, Felix is scared his firm will veer toward ruin. “There’s a way out of that, but I need you with me,” he pleads with her. Her expression never changes.

During lunch with work associates, including pseudo-friend Ellen (Jenna Malone) and rival Jack (Anton Yelchin), Madeleine confesses she wants out of her world. Cut-throat finance, high-frequency trading, currency exchanges, futures commodities, acquisitions – she’s tired of it all. “What are gonna do, just disappear? Invent a new life? You got it pretty good, poor little rich girl,” the associates counter. That night Madeleine is obsessed with the idea. She dumps the contents of her bag (computer, phone, folders, etc.) into her apartment’s safe and walks to the train.

The film color scheme changes from blue to red and we see Madeleine in a small, ocean-side town. She’s retreated to the coast of Maine, assumed a new name (Madeleine Dixon), and is overseeing the town’s tiny budget. She’s being courted by the local non-profit hospital chain to do their budget and fundraising (since she’s done a bang-up job on the town’s finances) but she demurs, saying she might not be cut out for “that kind of work.” But when she meets the hospital chain’s new intern David (David Oyelowo), whom the higher-ups want to feature in an ad campaign, she is smitten and agrees to help.

Madeleine and David begin spending more time together and grow close. But Madeleine’s work for the hospital keeps ratcheting up – and it draws the attention of town newcomer, Jack Garet (Madeleine’s former coworker). He’s needling her about her past in front of her new friends, and Madeleine is not happy about it. Jack says that her former life misses her – and he promises to leave her alone if she just returns to the city and explains why she left everything behind. When David says he is going to present at a conference in Chicago, Madeleine agrees to Jack’s offer. She returns to New York and tells Felix that she never wanted the life he laid out for her after her parents’ death. Felix is disappointed but begrudgingly consents.

Madeleine returns to Atlantic Harbor and reunites with David only to discover police at her cottage. Felix’s been murdered, she was the last to see him. Jack has told the police they had an affair and Madeleine confessed to wanting to be rid of Felix, who was pressuring her to go back into finance. David hears this and storms off, ignoring Madeleine’s pleas to the contrary. Madeleine is taken back to the city and is put under house confinement. She is catatonic and does not defend herself while the authorities build a case around her.

At the trial Jack continues his story, and even Ellen backs up the lies. Madeleine, withdrawn, does nothing to exonerate herself. Then the prosecution calls a surprise witness – David! – to try to paint her as a liar and manipulator. David is hurt and tells the story of her deceiving him. Against her wishes Madeleine’s attorney cross examines David, ending in asking if he still has feelings for the woman who betrayed him. “Actually, I do,” he says. Madeleine is rejuvenated and tells David that nothing that’s been said about her is true – and she can prove it. They go to Madeleine’s apartment, where she is confined, and she retrieves her belongings from the safe. In it are files Felix left with her to spin off part of the firm under her name, allowing her to invest and run it as she saw fit. The prosecution accepts the evidence and pores over it looking for another suspect. They find Jack’s name on the papers – meaning he knew all along Felix was going to set up Madeleine the way she wanted. They interrogate Ellen, who admits Jack killed Felix to prevent the split of the firm and made her go along with it.

Back at Madeleine’s home: “You could have told me about all this,” he says, pointing to her well-appointed high-rise apartment. “It would have our fundraising a lot easier.” “Money hasn’t really been my problem,” she answers. “It’s what it does to me.” “Perhaps you need a better moral compass,” David replies. “What about one that points north?” Fade to Atlantic Harbor and David and Madeleine in each other’s arms.

The pitch
Dishonored Lady: She’s growing a new soul. Please keep off the grass.

Next up: The Strange Woman (1946)

Ziegfeld Girl (1941)

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Original plot
Judy Garland, Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr melt all over an episode of Lawrence Welk while Jimmy Stewart goes full New Yorker.

Big changes
The rise and downfall (literally) of celebrity is apparently timeless, but an elevator girl notsomuch.

The Random Remake
Sequel! Geoffrey Collis (Ron Livingston) works for the now aging Florence Ziegfeld, the latest in a long line of an entertainment management company that started on stage and had a heyday in movies before losing much of their money, and importance, after a string of high-budget flops. Desperate to remain relevant, Ziegfeld started a cheap TV production outfit that, tracking the rise of reality TV, now is one of the most influential and prolific producers of trash TV. Needless to say, the shows she produces make instant stars out of the everyday people plucked to be on the shows. Collis is hunting for fresh meat when he stumbles upon Sheila Regan (Juno Temple) at a nightclub. He’s tracked Regan through her erratic social media profile, where she posts updates about herself acting crazy at high-profile events (we see this through a montage). Collis wants to develop a show about Regan, “The Regan Years,” and she’s not at all surprised that he does. “Actually, I take that back – I am surprised. That it’s taken this long,” she says.

Next we see Collis again on the hunt. This time he’s at a comedy club catching a stand-up act by Susan Gallagher (Anna Kendrick). Susan is wry, self-deprecating and incorporates singing and dancing into her comedy bits. She’s the next Zooey Deschanel! Susan is reluctant – she knows Ziegfeld Media is trash – but her father tells her to do it, reasoning that any publicity is good publicity when you’ve decided to become an entertainer. He should know, he’s a part-time mine and street performer.

Collis is rounding out the talent search and goes to see Frank Kolter (Bobby Moynihan), who has pitched him a series about him and his buddies pulling public pranks (he calls it “Pranks with Frank”). This is flash-mobs, crap like that. Meeting with Frank is boring, but his klutzy wife, Sandra (Isla Fisher), catches Collis’s eye and he calls her over to talk. Sandra is captivating, and it turns out her home is like a rescue shelter because of all the abandoned pets she takes in (Frank refers to the hobby crassly, Collis is amused). Collis offers her a test pilot, and Susan remarks that she’s not terribly comfortable flying a plane.

Here we track the productions. Sheila’s hits early and is an instant hit. She has a massive following, and is being seduced (literally and figuratively) by the big money men of Los Angeles. This is irritating to her former boy-toy/hanger-on/plaything Gil (Dax Shepard), a low-level production assistant on a network sitcom whom she tosses aside when she hits it big. Susan’s show starts slow, and she’s talented but uncomfortable in front of the camera. She keeps going to her dad for reassurance and advice, some funny/tender moments not captured by the reality cameras. Sandra is a savant, and her show is a niche success, which Frank isn’t so happy with. He still does his (poorly received) pranks while the production of the show edges him out of his own home.

After a while, Sheila is kind of a wreck. She’s ever-demanding on everyone in her life – the TV crew, her friends (the ones left at least) and anyone she runs across. The producers make an episode of her boorish behavior and it becomes a sensation and parodies of her attitude are everywhere. Sheila sees herself for what she’s become, that she’s lost herself in a cloud of character, and she quits the show. She finds Gil, toiling away running coffee for the network show, and reunites with him. “Aren’t you that bitch from TV,” someone snidely remarks to her as she’s in Gil’s arms. “Yep. And don’t you forget it,” Gil replies.

Sandra turns her modest success into a gig overseeing Hollywood productions to ensure animals are treated fairly. The cameras are still following her as she visits movie and TV sets, where she gets along better with the animals than she does the famous actors who recognize her. On the set of one sitcom she’s nurturing an actor dog when she hears the producers frantically yelling that they’ve auditioned 20 actors but can’t find the right “screwball next-door neighbor” type needed for the show. Sandra speaks up and tells them her Frank would be perfect. At that exact moment, Frank has his cellphone out doing a selfie video prank pretending he’s a member of craft services and that all he brought was bagels. It’s stupid – and the producers love it.

Susan is retreating further into her family, and the producers have run out of storylines to tell. The crew then starts to film her and her dad together and boom! the footage is a hit. Soon the whole family stars in a show, “Gallagher’s Travels” about their comedy tour and her father becomes an eccentric sensation – much to his daughter’s delight. Collis signs the whole family to a new show.

The pitch
Ziegfeld Girl: It’s about to get reality

Next up: Dishonored Lady (1947)

The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

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Original plot
William Powell golden ages through Broadway and has as many ups and downs as the legs of his chorus girls.

Big changes
You know, there really should be a parental warning in some of these movies for blackface scenes. I’d really like to know that ahead of time. And then it comes back for a brief second! I had the same reaction when watching Holiday Inn. But, William Powell is amazing as always (Myrna Loy, too!) and it’s crazy that the Behind the Music arc was alive in well in the 1930s. What’s the closest thing we have to Broadway? I’d say Bravo…

The Random Remake
Florence Ziegfeld (Kristen Wiig) is the latest in a long line of a powerful entertainment management family. She pretty much inherited the family business from birth, when we see her family presiding over lavish musical movies. She takes over the business at the start of the 1980s, and quickly falls for the blockbuster era. We see her pulling together ideas for the biggest movies ever made. She evens falls for the high-priced lead actor she lured from France, Andrew Held (Vincent Cassel). We see the deals, the handshakes, the huge sets and money pouring away. This is a post-Star Wars, post-Jaws time and she wants big pictures, big budgets, big returns. Well, she gets the first two – and her movies (a pirate one and a western one) bomb big time. She’s ruined the family name, and she’s got nothing left but that very name.

Desperate to rebuild her company she starts pitching ideas all around Hollywood. But no one cares for the has-been legacy child. Producer Jack Billings (Billy Crystal), who she famously outbid for the rights to both the pirate and western flops, relishes when she comes back to beg for money and her turns her down. Flo is down in the dumps – well-heeled dumps due to her mansion she still has, but she’s depressed. She drinks TaB and watches music videos all day. And that’s when inspirado hits her. Andrew makes an off-hand comment about the music videos being too fruity and that real actors should be in them, not the boring bands. The idea strikes Flo: She’s going to get back into show business, by producing a reality show about a pop band!

Flo signs the high-hair girl group called Sandow, and hitches her wagon to the theatrics of its lead singer Audrey Dane (Emily Browning). Audrey is a dramatic booze-hound, with a penchant for wild antics – and the show is a massive success. Flo keeps the publicity stoked with fake stories about romances and arrests involving Audrey, creating headlines in the rags. This rankles Billings, now the CEO of the network the show is on, but he goes with it when the ratings shoot up. At first, Audrey doesn’t mind the fake stories because they feed her ego, but soon she tires of the lies and the repetitiveness. So, too, does the audience for the show. The big hit burned brightly but flamed out just as quickly.

Flo tries to copy her success, and signs up for another reality show – this time with a muscle-bound action star from Germany, Frank Banx (Jason Momoa). Billings reluctantly agrees to finance the show but it starts slowly. Flo tries to get Banx around the VIP clubs and paparazzi, but it doesn’t get off the ground, because he’s kind of a bore. Andrew then accuses her of having an affair with Frank, which she denies. Using that accusation, she leaks made-up stories to the magazines of an affair – just to get ratings up. It works, but she loses Andrew in the process. But again the show flames out when people grow weary of the premise, and Flo is again back to square one.

Now Flo is trying to pitch new reality shows but the networks aren’t biting. She sneaks into a charity ball to see Billings, to try to get him once again to finance a show. But Billings is there with former soap opera actor turned one-hit wonder Bill Burke (Mark Duplass) a new star he’s trying to persuade to be in a show he’s getting on track about a talking sports car. Flo intervenes and tells him he should be in a show about himself and his music. He agrees with Flo, much to the chagrin of Billings – but he decides to finance the show anyway. Bill and Flo develop the show and fall in love, and their lives are now on camera in the biggest show on cable.

The pitch
The Great Ziegfeld: Trying to catch your heart is like trying to catch a star

Next up: Ziegfeld Girl (1941)