I have to confess, I had not previously seen any examples of Korean cinema. And indeed, had I merely stumbled across Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy blindly, I might have thought the premise sounded moderately interesting, but I may still have passed it by. But blogging can be good for broadening one’s horizons. I had seen Oldboy bandied about the comments sections of some other film blogs, and it was always praised as being a captivating, dark, and “sick” film. I had thought “sick” was simply being used in that odd slang sense of “really cool”, but this wasn’t the case; they actually meant sick as in disturbing. But I’m still glad I took the time to watch it, as it is very well done. Plus, the film is being remade in English by Spike Lee (set to debut this coming October), so the film turning up on my radar now meant it was a convenient time to see it before the remake — and thus before the arguments over whether the remake was as good, better, or an utter travesty.
Oldboy tells the story of Oh Dae-su (Min-sik Choi), a gregarious drunk who one fateful night has to be bailed out of jail for drunk and disorderly charges. But before his friend can take him home, Dae-su is abducted by unknown figures, and finds himself in a rather different prison. An apparently privately-run prison. He is not told why he is there, nor for how long his stay is to be. After fifteen years, he is released, just as suddenly and inexplicably as he was imprisoned. A greatly changed man, Dae-su sets out to find out who was responsible for his imprisonment, and why it was done — and to get his revenge. Continue reading →
There are certain times when you watch a film and aren’t quite sure what you’re watching, or what you watched when you’re through with it. Watching Stingray Sam provides one such experience. Its IMDb page genre listing describes it as a comedy musical sci-fi western, and this is as good a description as any, yet manages to fall short of illuminating the full oddness of this little picture. An independent film released in 2009 “on screens of all sizes” — the internet equivalent of direct-to-video, one supposes — Stingray Sam was written and directed by Cory McAbee, who also stars in the title role.
The film is at once a product of the modern era and an homage to the early days of film. It’s filled with post-modern humor, some of which works and some of which doesn’t (though a 50/50 ratio would be well above par for that type of humor). But it is presented as if it were a movie serial, similar to the old Flash Gordon stories; appropriately, its main character is a cowboy-like protagonist adventuring in the distant future. Continue reading →
I was late getting on the Firefly bandwagon. About three years late, to be precise. Firefly was a sci-fi series by Joss Whedon that had a sort of “old west in outer space” vibe to it. Now, I’m not one of those who subscribes to the theory of the “Whedon curse” — from the five TV series he’s produced, he’s gotten 16 seasons; most execs would give their eyeteeth to be so “cursed” — but there’s no denying that Firefly had a rough go of it on TV. Whether it was a simple mix-up or deliberate meddling as some of its more vociferous fans allege, FOX aired the episodes out of order, giving the show a tougher time finding an audience than it would otherwise have had. And considering that sci-fi and westerns are two genres that have sometimes had a tough time finding audiences anyway, that spelled death for the series. But the fans pushed and pushed, as they are wont to do, and it actually paid off for once: in 2005, three years after the series’ cancellation, Paramount released Serenity, a movie spun off from the series, with Joss Whedon writing, producing, and directing.
It was when Serenity was released and some of my friends started talking about it that I first heard of Firefly. Though they said the movie could be enjoyed by someone who hadn’t watched the show, I decided to wait anyway. A year or two later, Hulu put all the episodes online, and I got caught up on the series — and caught up in it as well. It’s a fun series, with great characters, a sense of style, and an interesting universe. So I was primed to watch Serenity. Of course, it took until now for me to actually catch the film. Continue reading →
Note: Due to spending some time on other projects (such as dealing with my spotty internet connection again), I didn’t have time to write an article for today. Instead, I’m digging up another old review of mine from my pre-blog days when I would occasionally write these on forums I was a member of. In this case, the review is from 2006, of a 2005 film entitled Edison Force, directed by first-time director David J. Burke. It was originally going to be a theatrical release called Edison, but a strongly negative reception at the Toronto Film Festival led to it going direct-to-video. Had I known that, I may have avoided it — but at the time I tended to watch first, investigate later. Admittedly, I still do; how else is one to discover hidden gems? Not that this is one. The review is left unaltered save for a few minor adjustments, so it may lack some of my current polish… though my snideness is in full abrasive force.
I’ll start my review with a bit of disappointment, as the movie doesn’t involve a science-fiction task force run by Thomas Alva Edison, which would probably have made a better movie. Edison Force is about a wannabe journalist (yes, not even a full-fledged journalist) who uncovers corruption in the Edison city police department’s “First Response Assault and Tactical” team. The lead is played by Justin Timberlake, of all people, and… his acting is about what you’d expect, which is to say, not much. Which is really disappointing considering the rest of the cast consists of such worthies as Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, LL Cool J (who plays the other lead, one of the cops, and does a good job), and Dylan McDermott, who steals the show as the truly psychotic cop Lazaroth. Bit parts are filled out by Cary Elwes, Piper Perabo, and other generally-recognizable actors. Continue reading →
Blow is a film that was released in 2001, starring Johnny Depp as real-life drug smuggler George Jung. It was directed by Ted Demme, whose body of work I am largely unfamiliar with, but the premise sounded like it had potential. Jung was one of the most prolific drug runners in American history, an associate of Pablo Escobar, and largely responsible for fueling the cocaine craze of the 70s and 80s. With that real-life background, and A-list stars Johnny Depp and Penélope Cruz, one could be forgiven for expecting this to be an interesting movie.
Sadly, as this film meandered its way through 124 minutes, I nearly found myself nodding off a couple of times. And since I stayed up for about three hours afterward organizing my music files, I don’t think it can be blamed on fatigue. Continue reading →
Layer Cake is one of those films that everybody seems to have heard about after the fact. It was a modest, but largely underground hit when it was released in 2004. But producer Barbara Broccoli was among the people who saw it, and it gave her the idea for who could be the next James Bond. And so now it seems like everybody has heard of Layer Cake as “the film that got Daniel Craig the role of Bond.” Naturally, I had to check it out.
Layer Cake is a seedy little crime film with a fairly realistic tone. Daniel Craig plays the main character and narrator, a drug supplier who doesn’t think of himself as a dealer, but rather a businessman whose business is simply cocaine. It’s a testament to Craig’s performance that it didn’t even occur to me until the end of the film that we are never told his character’s name; he is simply identified as XXXX in the credits, but he has such a strength of presence that it never seems odd that nobody ever addresses him by name. XXXX has his business down to a science. He never deals with the end user, he only deals with parties who come highly recommended, and he doesn’t deal with irregular situations. He’s got a retirement plan already worked out, and is planning on taking it soon. But things are never that simple, and his boss, Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham), tasks him to find the missing daughter of his boss at the same time that XXXX has to deal with a particularly irregular deal, again at Price’s insistence. Continue reading →
Watching the first movie in a franchise — when the series has moved on to having several entries by the time you first check it out — can be an odd situation. You’re aware the film was successful, and that several of its sequels were, but the quality of those sequels can be a mystery. This is particularly true when the original film occupies that tiny little quality tier which consists of films that aren’t great, but aren’t bad either, and which show the potential for both improvement and deterioration. Such was the case when I watched Underworld a few weeks back. I enjoyed the film, but it was unquestionably a flawed and in some ways stupid film. But it was fun, it had style, and the concept had some potential for an interesting, if not fantastic, action series.
So I decided to watch the second film, Underworld: Evolution, while it was available to me. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from it, but was hoping it would take the good points of the first film, and bolster the weak points, even if only slightly. The first film had entertaining action sequences, but when it came to plot and characterization it was rather thin. I felt that if Underworld: Evolution showed improvement in those regards, it would be a better film overall. This was a fairly low bar to step over. Underworld: Evolution gracefully limbos under that bar. Continue reading →
When it comes to aliens arriving on Earth, science fiction films have offered a few different possible roles. Often, especially during the 1950s, they come as invaders and conquerors. Perhaps just as often they come as ambassadors, such as in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Sometimes they come as amoral researchers, abducting people and experimenting on them. Comedic works and features for children often depict them as accidental tourists, an extreme case of the fish out of water. Neill Blomkamp’s first feature film, District 9 offers a new possibility for alien arrivals: refugees.
The film starts in a documentary style, relating an alternate version of the 1980s where a massive spacecraft stops over Earth. It doesn’t move, it doesn’t open. Eventually humans cut into it and find the aliens on board in deplorable conditions: lost, confused, and growing ill. Why the alien ship stopped is unknown. Why the aliens are so helpless is unknown. Where their leaders are… also unknown. And so the local government takes them in and puts them in a refugee camp. That local government? Johannesburg, South Africa. Continue reading →
Promotional material for Equilibrium, be it movie posters or the DVD case, seems to frequently feature quotes from reviewers comparing it favorably to The Matrix. It’s an apt comparison, as anybody who has seen both films will recognize certainly similarities. Like The Matrix, Equilibrium is a science-fiction film set in a subtle dystopia. Like The Matrix, it’s a film that relies heavily on action and style, a style which indeed bears a more-than-passing resemblance to its predecessor (one wonders if the Wachowskis told director Kurt Wimmer where to shop). Like The Matrix, it features a large dose of philosophy and thinks it’s a lot smarter than it actually is. And like The Matrix, this pseudo-intellectualism doesn’t actually hurt it much.
Equilibrium is set after mankind has recovered from the third world war, in the city-state of Libria. The ruling government of Libria (we never see any hints of whether the rest of the world still exists) have decided that all war and conflict have their roots in jealousy, greed, and anger. To curb global and domestic violence, they have decided to eliminate the problem at its source: human emotion. The people of Libria are dosed daily with a drug that inhibits their emotional reactions. Anything which can provoke a strong emotional reaction — such as art, poetry, and music — is banned. Special agents called Grammaton Clerics are sent out to the fringes of the city to eliminate any uprisings and resistance that try to preserve these cultural items. Continue reading →
There is a reason why so many films, particularly action films, stick to the same basic concepts. The cop placed in a situation that’s far beyond his normal line of duty, the soldier who has to become a one-man army, the getaway driver who ends up going on a war of revenge against those who betrayed him… these are familiar themes because as implausible as they may be, they are nevertheless — with a certain allowance for Hollywood invulnerability — vaguely possible. They are therefore slightly believable, and the recurring use of them makes them more believable as we come to accept them. Incorporating different themes — particularly into a film that otherwise still adheres to the conventions of action films and a modern day setting — creates a basic risk vs. reward scenario. The reward is that the film will stand out from the pack, and if done well may earn a major following. The risk is that the less familiar something is, or the less plausible it is, the greater the chance of it looking ridiculous.
Underworld posits a version of today’s world — or 2003′s, which is still recent despite being ten years gone now — in which there is secretly a war going on between vampires and werewolves. It is supremely ridiculous. Continue reading →