Cinema Cocoa
Review: 3 Days to Kill

Three days to have awkward conversations.

Kevin Costner plays Ethan, a CIA agent thirty-two years in the job and alienated from his young daughter and wife because of it. His life becomes worse when cancer ends his career, but the CIA ask him to complete one last job in exchange for an experimental drug to prolong his life.

This film is utter nonsense.

I know exactly where to start my criticism: “Based on a story by Luc Besson”, oh you mean like based on Taken, a film written by Luc Besson. A film vastly superior to this one in every way imaginable?
I can see were Besson’s influence exists here, but director McG hasn’t a clue how to execute any of it and what we get is a parody of a Besson film with an identity crisis.

At its best 3 Days to Kill is a cliche action movie with the classic scenarios in the first and final acts. Costner is roped into the story because he “may have seen the villain of the story before”, possibly the loosest reason I’ve heard in a long while, and naturally the story concludes exactly as it should: this is a 12A after all, it is child friendly.

But the second act, what can we fill it with? Exciting car chases, interrogations, memorable lines (ie everything Taken provided) no, no… we get possibly the weirdest most passionless comedy show on Earth. Everyone (and I mean everyone) knows by now Costner is not one for charisma. I’m sorry, all five of his fans out there but the entire middle of this film is utterly tedious and insanely repetitive.
Want action scenes? How about a father/daughter debate about girls’ hairstyles? No? How about an argument about moustaches versus goatees, or how yellow isn’t a man’s colour, or which is considered “real Football” from a French or American standpoint. Good lord, the script pushes the boat out for asinine conversations. I know the film is trying to be funny (to its potential benefit: some distance from Taken is a good thing) but it fails so completely that I just feel bad for it.

I’ve not even touched on Amber Heard… who after proving to me how hopeless she is as an actress in Drive Angry, continues to do so here, playing the most… uhm… how can I put this… unorthodox, dominatrix barbie CIA agent ever put on film. No explanation either, she’s just there, a CIA “higher up” who dresses in tight leather or lacy corsets like she’s just fallen out of a teenage vampire novel.

Oh did I mention the editing was terrible too? To think I forgave McG for Terminator: Salvation, the man has no sense of timing or pacing.

You know, from the beginning I had some hope it might improve and I stuck it out… but no one can endure so much repetition and cliche. Just watch Taken again, seriously. I cynically thought this was Costner’s agent saying to him: “Hey, it worked for Neeson!” and… that’s exactly what tried to happen here.
The key word being tried.

Review: A Most Wanted Man
A troubling, quiet but politically charged spy thriller starring the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his final leading role.
 
After the attack on New York’s Trade Centre in 2001 the dock city of Hamburg in Germany was identified as a security risk; allowing those responsible for the attacks access to the western world and continues to do so for other Islamic extremists. Hoffman plays as the head of a small German spy network who feels personally responsible for the city’s increased security.
But when one suspicious man appears from the docks his spy team leap into action, but while the man appears inoffensive, red flags are raised when he attempts to acquire a huge amount of money from a local bank. Things are made worse for Hoffman when the American CIA come to intervene.
 
Spy work is often over dramatised, indulgent on the action or romanticized, but A Most Wanted Man is none of those things. While Hoffman’s target is of ambiguous intent or purpose throughout the film, we see the security organisations fighting over the moral actions they should take while monitoring his movements. The need to spy from a distance and learn more about terrorist cells, against the need to clamp down immediately on any suspects before they can cause devastation.
Things become even more complicated when a young social worker, a self-styled lawyer, takes the immigrant into her care in hope of giving him a new life in the country.
 
It is a fascinating film purely from the characters and the organisations they answer to, as well as a contemporary look at what our society acts upon and what governments consider just cause. This actually provides most of the conflict rather than simply making it a racial struggle like most other stories of this type would.
The characters are all given backstories and motivations for their actions without ham-fistedly ramming flashbacks or monologues into our faces. Hoffman is excellent throughout, and Willem Dafoe is always a good addition in my opinion.
 
Everything is very muted and quiet. This isn’t an action movie, or a chase movie, it is slow and steady in pacing and this might lose some audiences expecting something else. Personally I found its character work and slow build very intriguing and the ending was excellent.
Review: Before I Go to Sleep
Amnesia! The writer’s best friend comes back to haunt Nicole Kidman in her newest thriller. While the premise has been done before, I still found the film engaging and an overall success.
 
Kidman plays Christine, a woman who every day wakes up with no memory of the last twenty years due to an accident. Her husband Ben, played by Colin Firth, is conflicted and struggling to cope with her condition, reminding her daily about who she is.
But when a doctor calls her and instructs her to find a camera he had her use to keep a video diary to help reconstruct her memory things aren’t all that they seem.
 
The film had me interested immediately with its small cast, Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong (as Doctor Nash) there is something appealing about film’s that focus so intently on characters, especially with thrillers.
It is also extremely hard to talk about this film and not spoil anything. Consider that your warning. Sufficed to say I enjoyed it a great deal.
 
The meat of the film comes directly from Colin Firth’s character Ben. Initially the audience is extremely skeptical of his character, considering we are as in the dark as Kidman’s character is and Ben is clearly holding things back during the first act.
However, the story twists and pulls at your expectations just enough to change even my cynical mind at times, Firth’s performance is very engaging and creates a complex character and probably makes the film. If this wasn’t as strong, it would have been terribly transparent. Kidman and Strong also work very well together, making a lot of the clue drops and investigation scenes compelling.
 
It is a little forgettable, excuse the pun, but only because of the amnesia storyline and perhaps being somewhat predictable. But the lengths it goes to to convince you otherwise and throw you off the scent of what may or may not be happening is to be commended!
 
I enjoyed it, a classic thriller drama that kept me guessing in all the right ways and revealing new information in tantalizingly slow doses.
Review: The Boxtrolls (2D)

I believe I am a victim of my own hype. From the animation studio behind Coraline and ParaNorman comes a surprisingly shallow, directionless story about a man who really wants hats.

When the town of Cheesebridge is terrorised by creatures known as the Boxtrolls, who at night steal anything they can find, a self-styled troll exterminator sets about finding and capturing them. But when a boy who had been considered kidnapped by the trolls as a baby returns and allies himself with a young city girl, the trolls might not seem so evil after all.

I really wanted to love Boxtrolls. I find Coraline insanely creepy and underrated, and ParaNorman I had shamefully missed in cinemas (it became fourth in my 2013 list) and from the trailer Boxtrolls looks like a unique, quirky and once again dark children’s animation.
Well it is certainly… dark?

The inherent problem I had with the film was the storytelling. We are immediately shown a nightmarish scene of a troll stealing away a baby, shadowy lighting, glowing eyes, no explanation. Intimidating stuff, and that’s all we get for backstory, foundation and lore of the creatures for the first hour of the film.
Sure we see the child, named Eggs by his troll captors, grow up happily (albeit badly: trolls living in boxes and not speaking a word of English) but we have no idea what the trolls are doing or why they have him. We don’t even know the past or present relationship between humans and trolls to gauge whether we should be afraid for Eggs or not while in their company for the first half of the film.

All of this isn’t helped by the lack of sympathy or empathy I felt for the trolls themselves. They are a cross between Jawas and Minions, they jibber and babble childishly and the film assumes we regard them as loveable misfits.
That and our antagonists insist on calling themselves antagonists, literally, throughout the entire film! As if the story was unsure we’d appreciate the trolls were the victims or not.

Sufficed to say, the first act of this film is very hard to get into.


Enter Ben Kingsley as Archibald Snatcher, putting on his best Timothy Spall impression, as possibly the weirdest villain. The city has an unhealthy obsession with cheese (street names are called Milk and Curd, etc) and Snatcher wants nothing more than to sit and enjoy fine cheeses with the city’s royalty while wearing a white hat… despite being horrifically allergic to cheese…
He is accompanied by three stock henchmen who blunder about and stress how they “are the good guys, right?” and “good triumphs over evil… yeah?” I get the cut of this movie’s jib, but it is played out so bluntly and with little alternate substance that I just found it tiresome.

Boxtrolls is a shallow affair. It has bright sparks but they are infrequent. When Eggs is first introduced to civilized society things naturally escalate with good fun and charm, the characters and animation are excellent and almost carry the film on their own. I love stop motion animation, it is a dying art, and this is an excellent example of it. The atmosphere is good, details are pin sharp and interesting.

But it is ridden with story cliche (I think you have to be three to fall for this story’s “twists”) it isn’t compelling or engaging like ParaNorman nor is it as visually edgy as Coraline. It rests happily in averageness, which for my expectations becomes quite low, I am sad to say.

Review: The Guest

The director of last year’s slasher You’re Next brings us a downplayed thriller with an ambiguous tone. It is like Drive but less stylist and less convincing.

David, an ex-soldier, returns from the war only to visit the grieving family who lost a son who had been in his unit. But despite his seemingly good and quiet nature and intention to help each member of the family out, he isn’t quite what he seems.

You probably know that I liked Drive, I liked Drive a lot, but to compare The Guest to it would be unfair. What can be comparable between the two is a very similar narrative structure and pacing, but that’s where similarities tend to end.
Dan Stevens plays the humble David, and plays enigmatic very well; he could be the one major selling point of this film. The script is very simple and straightforward, giving a reasonably realistic take on proceedings without mumbling everything.
The film rotates around David but also his growing relationship with the family’s youngest members, Anna and Luke. Both child actors are very good despite playing very stereotyped characters.

The pacing is slow, perhaps a little too slow. While ambiguity is great in small movies like this, I felt a little restless midway through (though please take into account I was watching this quite early in the morning, and this is more like an evening film) and you can assume from my earlier references to Drive, The Guest does explode towards the end. The action sequences, from very small brawls and fist fights to full shootouts are very engaging and well done.

But the change from moody insecurity to full-on action feels clunky. The action is rewarding after such a protracted silence but for whatever reason I couldn’t help but find it funny, surreal even. I preferred the cool, calculated fight sequences within the second act (a fight in a bar being particularly impressionable)
Possibly the worst part of this film though is the children’s parents, surely awarded “Most idiotic Parenting Award for 2014”. While the premise could be acceptable and quite unique, here it suffers a terrible blow to integrity early on. The father (Leland Orser, who plays that shaky, mentally traumatized victim character in Alien: Resurrection, Se7en, and various TV series. You will recognise him) immediately calls David out as a potential risk to the family, as any sensible person would - though not his wife apparently - yet after a couple of beers together one time he actually sides with David against his own daughter’s accusations! Wait, what?

It is a decent film to wile away ninety minutes. The final act is exciting and there is a great sense of plight around the two kids, and David is both charming and threatening in the same breath.

Trilogy Review: Starship Troopers

Very loosely based off the novel by the same name, Starship Troopers was a pretty infamous film when I was growing up, but it has become a cult favourite of the science fiction genre. Unfortunately… people thought this lightning-in-a-bottle exploitation of Paul Verhoeven deserved a sequel… and another sequel…

To this day I refused to watch the sequels, but now I feel I am ready to see just how trashy they really are.
Yes, there is a third animated sequel now, but that one will have to wait! 


Starship Troopers (1997)

Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi love letter to warploitation and war satire still stands up by today’s scrutiny! As silly and self-aware as it is.

In a future were Humanity is in the middle of a mindless war with an unknown alien force, enrollment with the military is encourage and even enforced over young people. Ricco is one such young soldier, and the story follows his recruitment, training and finally battle experiences.

If there is one thing Verhoeven is good at, it is making vastly enjoyable, satirical adult movies, distilled most completely in this film and 1987’s RoboCop. The film takes the few comic skits from RoboCop (television adverts) and blows them up by eleven with full military recruitment videos that treat war, bloodshed and killing in defense of Earth as a family friendly commitment for all, young and old. The satire is rife throughout this film, coupled with the seemingly ambiguous designs or origins of the war to begin with! It is great fun, though I’m sure some audiences might find some grief in it if they are looking for a more “serious” toned sci-fi film.

Starship Troopers is a long, loaded film too. It goes through multiple phases as we follow not just Rico’s (Casper Van Dien) career but also his girlfriend’s (Denise Richards) career as a space pilot and their own friends. The narrative almost feels episodic, but its heart and satire prevents it from feeling like a stop-and-start.
The visual effects, asides the occasional alien, are still fantastic. Verhoeven clearly put a lot of money and effort into making his film look physical and practical, with model effects for the spaceships and several physical effects for some aliens. This coupled with awesome blood squibs to ramp up the gore makes the film a riot in terms of action and war scenarios!

This film has some infamy for me personally; at least, for people my age. Released in 1997 were I was thirteen, this film became notorious for containing aliens, war, swearing, nudity and gore, I remember friends feeling proud having seen it! It certainly delivers all of these things in ample supply!

It has plenty of cliche, and the episodic nature of the screenplay makes things feel a little forced at times, especially with how flippantly the universe and the society are described. It plays fast and loose with its logic which might annoy or perplex more cynical people. It has surprisingly not aged, though there is one scene at a party with some pretty dated music playing!

Overall it is a great science fiction action movie! I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the genre and hasn’t seen it yet. It is gory, adult, full of wartime satire and packed with action set pieces and awesome special effects.  


Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation (2004)

Without Paul Verhoeven at the helm and a fraction of the original film’s budget, none of the cast returning… the sequel completely tanks unless viewed in a vacuum (of space!)

Set after the events of the first film, the story follows a platoon devastated in the war against the Bugs on a distant planet. They become entrenched within an abandoned factory, and while their psychic officer sense something within their ranks, they find an imprisoned and disgraced officer.

Well… this is certainly a step down from the original’s budget and tone! The film opens with action as our squad is vastly outnumbered… at least… we assume they are. The cinematography is terrible, the shots alternate between our characters shooting in a grey fog, to aliens running around in isolation. 
The majority of the film however takes place inside the factory, and actually takes the tone of a horror movie instead of an all out war film like Verhoeven’s original. We get very few of the original aliens; our protagonists are safe behind a surrounding energy barrier, instead the threat comes in the form of body-snatchers.

The budget kills the film stone dead, the filming is poor, the acting is poor, we are trapped in a single location and the enemies are hiding within our human characters, and by comparison to its glorified and sprawling predecessor this film deserves a lot of frustration and hate. It doesn’t even attempt to justify its existence with decent setup and connection with the greater universe.

But… by its own merits, it has some redeeming factors. It has some decent claustrophobia, and there are still great physical alien effects that are gooey and bursting with venom and bile. Director Phil Tippett has done very little actual direction work, but he had worked as a stop-motion animation supervisor and creator on such little known films as RoboCop, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the original Star Wars trilogy! While his direction is terrible, I can appreciate the monster effects that he clearly had a lot of say with.

I suppose I had such low expectations for this film that these few decent qualities surprised me and actually made me appreciate the atmosphere generated.

Put it this way, the first film had a budget of $100,000,000, this film had $7,000,000! Not even a tenth of the original budget! So while it is very questionable why this film even exists, you can forgive its need to reuse “money-shots” from the first film, and television-grade acting.

There are better body-snatcher stories out there, it has little to no connection with the first film, making it quite a redundant watch unless you like to see some creepy alien designs.


Starship Troopers 3: Marauder (2008)

Directed neither by Verhoeven or Tippett, Marauder was a straight-to-DVD affair even in the USA and directed by Edward Neumeier. It claws back some of the original’s satirical tone, has more budget to play with but feels really awkward when it is all said and done.

Johnny Rico (played by returning actor Casper Van Dien) now a Colonel, must rescue an important psychic military leader who’s ship crash lands on a distant world. The handful of soldiers on the planet must hold out against approaching aliens long enough to be saved, yet political espionage threatens Ricco’s rescue attempt.

Unlike the second film, the third movie attempts to embrace the wider universe and government that lurks in the background of the franchise, and… marginally fails in doing so. While it does recapture some of the tone and satire, the delve into why this corrupt, military controlled government shows the flaws in the premise all too well, and this film lacks the ambiguity the original film could play with.
The killer issue I had with this film is a strange switch of narrative direction when we get to the third act. A villain, determined by their actions, is positively redeemed and proven to be correct about everything and virtually wins when other conspiracies come to light. It is hard to explain without “spoiling” it, but it felt as though the third act had been rewritten for some reason and a narrative (and thematic) flip occurs. There’s also a heavy handed religious development, which comes out of nowhere and doesn’t feel right within the satire of warploitation movies…

Despite Rico returning, the film is mostly centred around Captain Lola Beck (Jolene Blalock, of Star Trek: Enterprise… err… fame?) as she leads the hopeless survivors of the crash landing to safety. While this isn’t terrible by providing some nice landscapes and photography, the script is bland and I counted several occasions where they rip off Pitch Black (“Where’s your God now?” quips Beck)
While the budget is a little better here, it is still woefully short at $9million, the bugs CG looks like the worst it has ever been, though the film maintains a level of physical effects. The opening attack on an entrenched fortress is decent and has some fun moments.
The film feels quite scatter gun, as if they wanted to hit as many notes as possible like the original film but with a fraction of the cost, most notable is the completely shoehorned “group nude scene” that presumably fills in for the original’s shower scene. But unlike a shower scene, this one feels completely unnecessary and completely gratuitous.  
 
It is hard to say which is better, ST2 or ST3… While the second film lacks any of the tone or heart or integrity of the first film, it does feel more comfortable with its singular purpose. The third film feels like a low-rent but full sequel to the original, despite narrative flaws and cheap special effects. While it is a close call… the third film’s attempt to be an actual sequel means it just wins out.
Review: Sin City - A Dame to Kill For (3D)

Nearly ten years since our last visit to Basin City, but for all the fondness for brutality being shown in black and white, stylised shine, there isn’t the same energy or business in the sequel.

Following the events that ended 2005’s Sin City, A Dame to Kill For follows three of the original film’s characters: Nancy, Dwight and Marv, as their paths cross and join through the never-ending and merciless night of Sin City.

It feels like this film is five or six years too late, but let me clear something up. Long before Cinema Cocoa I still rated movies annually and in 2005 Sin City topped the list! It was fresh, vile, exciting, Noir and packed with stories like a comic book version of Pulp Fiction. It is has some very unforgettable moments (most of which involved Elijah Wood)
But its 2014 sequel feels a little… empty, as if the original material didn’t have much more to give? (I admit, I’ve never read the comics)
The film opens with everybody’s favourite Marv, and certainly Mikey Rourke appears to be having the most fun in returning to this character of all of them! Bringing the same brutal physicality he did before, but lacking some of the personal vendetta from before; he simply comes to the aid of our two other “heroes”, Dwight and finally Nancy.
While Rourke reprises his role, I was sad to see Clive Owen not returning as Dwight… I love continuity, and this sort of thing bothers me. Don’t get me wrong, Josh Brolin does a great job! In fact he could be on par with Rourke here and stands out from the others, and considering his story involves the Dame in the title, Eva Green’s Ava, you’d hope he would be!

But the sequel’s stories fall short of the original’s intensity, though ten years and such similarly styled missteps as The Spirit has made this series revival difficult, most of it focuses on Ava, a seductress and femme fatale of Basin City. If you are a fan of Eva Green(’s body) you’ll be happy here! The sequel banks singularly on sex appeal than the original’s dark kaleidoscope of variety. What I take away from this film is Green’s breasts, and men being thrown through a lot of windows!
I had trouble understanding this film’s narrative alongside the 2005 film, especially around the character of Manute… The man with the gold eye. Yet in this sequel he gets his gold eye?? But this is a sequel… It is also sad (alongside Brolin’s recast) that Devon Aoki did not return to play the mute assassin Miho.

The best elements here are involving Jessica Alba as Nancy, who’s story follows off the back of the original film most clearly, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s newcomer Johnny has a great little story.

A Dame to Kill For didn’t feel as memorable as the original, or as faceted, but the style and the characterisations are still as strong and it works well as a Sin City 1.5 rather than a full sequel. The 3D effects were decent too.
A little, a little disappointing, acting like an homage to an incredible film rather than outdoing it like a good sequel should.

Review: Lucy


A high speed science fiction thriller with a difference, and three of my favourite actors!


Lucy is just another girl before a friend gets her involved with a Korean drug cartel, she is abducted and becomes infected with an experimental neural stimulating drug. The effect cascades and increases, making Lucy a superhuman with access to incredible mental powers. Can questions about the human mind be answered before the cartel catch up with her? Or will she self-destruct under the increasing strain on her body?

I was more than happy that two of my favourite actors were in this film, headliners Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman, but imagine my joy and surprise to see Oldboy’s Min-sik Choi in the opening credits too!
French director Luc Besson is no stranger to superhuman heroines either, colours of Leeloo from The Fifth Element and shades of one of his first films La Femme Nikita. He is in his element here. It is also great to see something original again! Something akin to comics and current science fiction franchises and yet an original screenplay!

The film is fast paced and full of action set pieces and physical fighting as we watch Lucy develop from the standard “10%” of her brain capacity escalates higher and higher! We know Johansson is capable in stunts and action what with Marvel’s Black Widow character, but Lucy becomes more of a race against the clock than a brawler, introducing the audience to the incredible mental powers humans might be capable of. It uses its entire runtime to express what is happening to Lucy and how it affects her mentally.
Min-sik Choi’s antagonist isn’t used as much as I would have liked, but as a Korean powerhouse of acting talent, it is good to see him in a Western production, especially one such as this!

The film’s key strength lies in its sense of humour, which goes from dry and intelligent to subtle and goofy. While Johansson’s Lucy becomes colder and more detached from her human side, our secondary characters, especially Freeman, have great fun bouncing off her detachment and incredible powers with bewilderment. This humour and fast pace stops the film becoming something of a pretentious waste of time and more an enjoyable romp with intelligent undertones.

This sense of humour does go off the deep end a little. Besson, in a peculiar move, splices throughout his film footage of wildlife and disconnected scenes that are metaphors for what is happening narratively. For example, when Lucy is first kidnapped we see an escalating scene of a cheetah stalking its prey, or a mouse going towards a trap. Running parallel with this is Freeman’s initial presentation speech about the human mind, also with wildlife footage.
This will probably alienate the wider audience, who’ll wonder why there’s National Geographic clips in their action movie!

But after reminding myself this is a Luc Besson film, Lucy gets better and better as it goes on and you can’t wait to see how far her mental powers go, and how the director will present it!

Remake Rumble Review: Oldboy

Remake Rumble…? More like Remake Execution.

So, against my better judgment I’ve decided to do this particular Remake Rumble! I guess it wouldn’t leave my mind until I had seen it through. Read, and feel the frustration!


Oldboy
(2003)

The definition of a revenge tale, beautifully savage and cynically dark in humour, Oldboy is one of those films that gets better and better each time you watch.

A drunken, hopeless father is abducted on his daughter’s birthday and imprisoned in a room for fifteen years. When he is mysteriously released, he swears vengeance on whoever took his life away.

It is hardest to write a review of a film you like so much. If you look at Cinema Cocoa’s first post, you will find Oldboy makes the twentieth spot on my top fifty films, yet I don’t remember how I came by this film originally. All I do remember is the impact it left on me as a piece of film making!

Directed by Chan-wook Park, Oldboy crams almost every facet of revenge into its two hour runtime and packages it with great cinematography and a wonderful score. With Min-sik Choi as the leading man providing a great range of acting talent, there’s a fantastic sense of dedication and integrity to the film.

But praise doesn’t stop there. The film is remarkably well paced for how many scenarios it plays out and how complex the screenplay becomes. Like peeling an onion, every scene and every set piece has a purpose to unlocking the mystery behind our hero’s plight, the writing just dropping enough hints that… if you are clever enough and reading between the lines… audiences can start to puzzle it all together.
I’ve seen this film at least three times now and it is safe to say I appreciate more and more each time!

Why only three times? I’ve had the DVD in my collection for years! Well, Oldboy is not the easiest film to watch, it certainly might turn some people’s stomachs and there is one scene involving a claw hammer that makes me squirm every time and just thinking about it makes my teeth hurt…
But while the film is intensely violent (the corridor fight scene has gone down in cinema history by now!) I forget the wicked, black sense of humour that runs all the way through also. This film has an awesome script and Min-sik Choi delivers his lines and reacts to his internal monologues with incredibly sick jest. I laugh with him, and as the film says: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.”

How much longer can I gush about a film? Not much longer as I don’t want to spoil it by telling you too much. The film has a surrealist edge, though like the violence it is somewhat restrained in preference of a calm, methodical dive into madness. At times Oldboy just seems like a casual stroll with morose, almost reluctant tones, and I think that’s why I enjoy it so much; while the violence is visceral at its heights, it isn’t a slasher movie… it is a thriller.

With a screenplay so layered and mysterious, with acting both subtle and outrageous, intense action and a script both comic and horrible, Oldboy offers everything and fails at none of them. By the end your mind will be bruised and sore from the ordeal, yet amazed at the masterful execution of it all!




Oldboy
(2013)

Spike Lee directs a watery, shallow remake of the cult Korean film. Josh Brolin weeps, and Josh Brolin weeps alone.

A drunken father and failing husband finds himself imprisoned for twenty years in a mock-up hotel room. When he is released he aims to clear his name, reunite with his daughter and find whoever locked him away for so long.

Okay, so as you can tell already I love the original movie and a remake by its very existence will frustrate me. In fact I boycotted seeing this film originally, that’s how low my expectations were! This Oldboy received such a critical hammering (no pun intended) that I was prepared to forget it even existed… but that would be ignorant of me…

Initially, I had some hope this film would be just “average” and not the train wreck I feared; Josh Brolin is probably the best American to fill the acting range and physical ability to fill Min-sik Choi’s formidable shoes, and automatically I knew (mostly from having such an indepth understanding of the original) how this American version’s twist ending would differ. It seemed vaguely promising.

But almost like a reversal of the original film, where it gets better and better, this film gets worse and worse… and worse.

None of the original’s black humour is present, none of it, unless you count laughing at all the wrong parts to be edgy comedy. The editing is terrible, what was Spike Lee doing with this?? It has zero gravity or atmosphere, and feels more like running through a checklist of requirements such as the shoehorned nods to the original like… showing us an octopus! For no reason! The characters even act unnaturally in scenes just to have a shot framed like the original! Then… there’s the hammer scene. Badly choreographed, badly structured… it pales in comparison.
Part of what made the original so interesting was how interwoven its screenplay became as you watched the puzzle unlock, but here, there’s none of that, it just plods along like any other cliche hostage movie.

Oh, but we have Samuel L. Jackson, and he swears a lot! Is that… supposed to be the humour coming through? Having an actor playing the same role he plays in sodding everything he’s ever done?

Then…
There’s Sharlto Copley. The guy who used to be cool from District 9. Good… lord.
So, this film becomes something of a “who done it?” in the second act, Brolin’s Joseph is trying to find who had imprisoned him. He gets a phone call from Copley’s Adrian who is putting on the most generic, cringeworthy, stereotypical upper-class British accent you can fathom! Good god, Spike Lee, what… This is NOT acting, this is hamming it up! I swear, at the end of this film, he is walking around like Nosferatu!

And remember, we are in America. Are you telling me that when Joseph finds the antagonist went to the same school as him he didn’t consider: “Hm, who at my school had a CARTOONISHLY BRITISH ACCENT LIKE THE ONE I JUST HEARD ON THE PHONE?”

Sorry, I will try to regain my composure.
Asides a cartoon villain, Nick Fury, bad film-making, and terrible homages to the original I tried to see this as a unique film. Many people say don’t compare remakes to the original (despite how that is a completely ridiculous concept)
America’s Oldboy could have been quite interesting had it distanced itself more from the original, what we get it something lost in translation, like an abridged version or worse: a parody. I think what damages it most is its finale, and its villain’s motivations… or rather lack thereof.
Even the violence is toned down, I even saw a computer generated blood splatter. Seriously? Though the sexual content was higher than expected, given how America hates that sort of thing.

This film isn’t just a direct insult to the original masterpiece, this is an insult to American movie making. If you are going to remake something, at least try and do a good job with it! Don’t say something like: “Oh, well the Korean film was weird, so dumb Western audiences will take my shoddy, cliche script and bad directing as avant garde and self-aware that it is of Asian origin!”

Additional Marshmallows: Why one full, happy, marshmallow-filled cup of cocoa? You ask? Josh Brolin… and the sliver of original thought that was buried under the nonsense of abusing someone else’s original idea.

Review: I Saw the Devil

Korean cinema once again blurs the line of good and evil while at the same time twisting your stomach and fraying your nerves. This film isn’t Oldboy but it is certainly memorable.

When a police officer’s fiancee is tortured and killed by a serial killer, he vows revenge by hunting the killer down and… instead of handing him over to authority or even killing him, the officer instead exacts his own torture and deprives the killer of further victims.

Directed by Kim Jee-woon (The Good, the Bad and the Weird; a cult favourite of mine) and starring Min-sik Choi and Byung-hun Lee in the lead roles, this film certainly delivered what I was expecting. Some great acting with disturbing characters and good film making.
Who are these people, you might ask, Min-sik Choi is most recognised as the lead from the original Oldboy (within my top 20 films) and you might recognise Byung-hun Lee as he features in recent western blockbusters such as the G.I Joe films.

I Saw the Devil is not for the faint of heart. Our serial killer, who we follow for most of the story, is rapist and murderer of young women, and we see a lot of what he does. Unlike a lot of western cinema this film doesn’t pull its punches very often, but the effect is exactly as the narrative requires. The killer is merciless, but our “hero” becomes so unhinged with revenge that he becomes something of a monster himself.
While many can sympathise with revenge, especially on someone so hideously deprived as our killer, the calculated lengths in which our law abiding officer goes to make him suffer makes the audience start to question his integrity.
The film’s best moments are surely when these two characters connect; the brief moments when the murderous hunter is hunted down himself. Byung-hun Lee is an excellent on-screen fighter and even shows some parkour skills here too, coupled with Min-sik Choi’s terribly disturbing finesse at acting as a psychopath, you have a great chemistry between the two.
I was a little worried for repetition when the character looked to reenact the hammer scene from Oldboy, but it wasn’t so. Instead we get a similarly great fight within a moving taxi cab!

But, this isn’t as good as Oldboy (the theme of revenge makes the two supposedly comparable) certainly my expectations weren’t too high and this easily exceeded them, but I Saw the Devil felt a little drawn out. I think twenty minutes could have been cut easily from it and still have the impact. This feeling is exaggerated with multiple moments of “is that the end?” It also suffers from some occasional cliches, though I can’t say it was predictable.

It isn’t for everyone, sex and increasingly agonising torture scenes are rife, but fans of the slasher genre definitely need apply! The film making is above average and doesn’t fall into too many cheap shocks and the acting is excellent, making it one of the best in the genre.