Spy – Figeish

spyDirector: Paul Feig
Title: Spy
Production: Chernin Entertainment, Feigco Entertainment (US)

Paul Feig certainly deserves respect for his inflated and witty methods of giving the audience plenty of punch, but so much is attempted that I felt I was hardly watching a movie and something more like an explosive stand up routine. It is undeniably funny and it will be received with great pleasure from a wild flock of summer entertainment enthusiasts. The laughs collect in different measures, occasionally the self-aware slapstick will get in the way of the more developed commentaries in pursuit of social puns, and the popular culture in particular is rewarded with heavy dosage. Fits of laughter spewed out across the auditorium make oneself hard of hearing for the actual rebound, but the wicked gasps in response to such images as kitchen knifes cleanly splicing there way through flesh were sufficient enough to boost my audience predilections.

Susan Cooper is everything that a CIA agent shouldn’t be: I don’t need to spell out the long list of adjectives. Therefore, you quickly sense that the film’s objective will be to turn this around and make her kick some serious butt out in the field, instead of being cooped up behind her staunched desk with Miranda Hart. I say Miranda Hart because she sticks out like a snapping branch in the wind, though unfortunately the only miscast in what is a very attributable supporting cast. Jason Statham is uproarious as the trouper agent Rick who is an unconditional fool to believe in his dexterities, but has the warm heart underneath it all to compensate; the soul of a child even. I must note that Carlos Ponce’s character treats Italians so unfavourably and with such misunderstanding that I found it painful to watch: yes, men can lust woman, but seriously?

Thankfully, there are a few surprises along the way, but this is largely due in part to the revelations not making a whole lot of sense. When you whittle it down, the infiltrated domain of this arms dealer has no reason to exist other than to serve the surface proceedings. There is no explanation or commentary here on the severity of such dealings, but no harm done as the film is well to not be interested in such matters. Just try and imagine a logical way to reach a storyline where you become the guardian to your very own rogue. No spoilers here.

There is obvious reason why espionage outings are often given the thriller bonus rather than comedy: I doubt a member of the international intelligence goes about their jobs making a fool of themselves. Of course, this is thoroughly naïve of me, a comedy can come and go as it pleases, particularly one constructed in a spoof factory. Jonny English was novel and every attempt since has been misguided, for starters, why are these films made? An individual being totally inept at their jobs does not enrich comedy; rather it is in the working of normality where we can find the most enriching moments of hilarity. I cannot help in taking a critical standpoint to these films. Comedy is by nature a particular activity that is found in unique sensibilities (it is the delivery of a comedian that lures us), but films like Spy seek to codify conventions and displace the charm that should be associated with comedy.

spy_weaponsTo fully suspend any disbelief with this breed of film requires your inner gremlin to go through some form of cathartic release. It means embracing the consistent malfunction of life on the screen and converting it into hollow hedonisms. In other words, aim to let the thought “this is just ridiculous” rest in the back of your mind and bury it there for the duration of a spectacle that successfully completes a full-scale turnaround of glees. The film does have intelligence and it could easily be ten times worse, but can’t anything be so?

Now that the honest niggles are out of the way, I can say that Spy was a good film. 3/5

Sex Tape – Laughable Crap!

1138130 - SEX TAPESex Tape (US/2014)

UK Release by Columbia Pictures – 3rd September 2014

Directed by Jake Kasdan 

Whilst you may be having a fit about how bad this movie is, I ask you to look beyond how it appears and laugh at the satire it presents of the age we live in. Indeed, the plain fact that a film has been made about a couple that looses their sex tape in the cloud is laughable, but oddly peculiar and admirable. It is a simple concept that screams bad movie, but the film is relevant, somewhat bizarre and an awakening of how online (or should I say Apple driven) our society is; yes, beware it is a cosmic scale ad for Apple.

Each character is foolishly pleasant. Annie couldn’t be played by anyone other than Cameron Diaz (or the film would make zilch) and Jason Segel who is squeamishly admirable plays her husband, Jay. Annie’s boss Hank (Rob Lowe) is entertaining as a middle-aged CEO desperate for a line of cocaine once the family are out and with an ego great enough to forge his appearance onto iconic works of art hanging up in the home. Annie and Jay’s best friends, Robby and his wife Tess (Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper) are simply just desperate to get hold of the sex tape and indulge in the fantasy themselves. This is cringe warfare, but if you let your hair down it can at times be raucous laughs, especially when things turn bonkers at Hank’s house in search for the tape. However, there are moments that could have been more intriguing and it is arguably a weak effort from a strong writing team of Kate Angelo, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller.

It is clear that Jay is a character that is still tongue-in-cheek about the fact that he ever scored with Annie and, consequently, it is amusing watching him lust over her and become frustrated at managing the relationship. In fact, the chemistry between Annie and Jay is the best thing this movie has going for it, they are actually relatable in their playful manner, even when they act like children. I am assuming that we have all acted childish with our partner once in a while? Anyway, if you want to watch what is essentially laughable crap with your partner, this is it!

Side note: if you are wondering what nudity is on show here, the movie shouldn’t disappoint!

2.5/5 stars

 

A Discussion of Film Technique

Sergei-Eisenstein

The early filmmakers and film theorists (many of whom were both) discovered the fundamental techniques of film and hence called for the appreciation of the medium as an art form. Soviet filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin discovered the turbulent effects of montage, commonly referred to today as simply the process of editing: the stitching together of a series of shots to form a linear (or non-linear) narrative. [i] With montage, the filmmaker is able to transcend the space and time of a narrative; something that had never been done before cinema and that is taken for granted today. However, montage means far more than merely putting the constructs of a film together and as the masters of cinema have discovered, it is fundamental to their unique expression and intrinsic to ensuing direct control over audience reactions and behaviours.[ii]

The filmmakers in Hollywood began utilising tools of the camera and montage to a classical effect (angles, movements, continuity editing etc.) that reached pitch perfect by the 1940s (or more specifically, 1939, the year commonly referred to as the golden year for film). They used several camera angles to create compositions of varying meaning and perception that allowed greater control over the process and the editor to become the key manipulator of the unfolding story. For example, an editor chooses the exact frame on which to cut the characters action with a reaction (the cause-effect approach); whether dialogue or an action sequence. This formula of Hollywood film technique was flawless; it is the framework for approaching a classical narrative and classical cinema would know no different.

Citizen-Kane-Secrets

However, a couple of years later emerged further pioneering filmmakers introducing techniques to Hollywood that laid bare the current rhythmic montage and presented alternate methods. For example, the deep focus shots of panoramic views that allowed for far more effective shot sequences, like introducing a close-up parallel to a master-shot. Orson Welles and William Wyler are forerunners of such movements and throughout the 1940s and 1950s the auteur in film developed as the director implemented a greater and more vigorous understanding and control of their style. For example, in Citizen Kane, Welles uses single shots with a deep focus to cover entire scenes and, thus, carefully lets the audience pick out specific points of detail. Welles had full control to use a close-up or alternating shot to devastating effect simply because he savoured such tools at his disposal (of course, before sound, long takes were common, but scenes remained primitive and classical technique was only in its prospective development).

From the 1960s, film technique (or rather exploration of) explodes and is sewn together by innovative filmmakers from across the globe with an eye to pitch their new wave of style.[iii] It is clear, however, that the foundations of film technique and even experimental forms, were all manifest and in practice from the classical era of filmmaking. Exploitation films and progressive/subversive genres simply got buried beneath the mount of classical cinema until the disintegration of the studio system in 1948 (Paramount Case[iv]). B-movies started getting more attention and filmmakers plunged into the deep waters of making films on shoestring-budgets. However, really one needn’t look no further at the vast world of cinema, which today rehashes and replicates all that has come before (albeit with particular visions), than the pioneers and masters of early and classical cinema, if one wishes to gain a fully comprehensive understanding of film and technique.

Alfred-Hitchcock

I want to briefly discuss the film technique of Alfred Hitchcock (he is always a good place to start), a filmmaker who utilised just about every technique the cinema has to offer within his tales of deceit and murder. From revealing pans in trembling close-ups to harsh low-angles of towering objects and from suspenseful montage (and direction) to layers of allegoric meaning, he has carved a succinct and colossal discourse of film techniques.[v]

How is suspense created? We have all heard of Hitchcock’s label “The Master of Suspense” and whilst he did continually make thrillers, they didn’t necessarily have to have the same degree of suspense – this is the touch of Hitchcock, if you like. The basic indicator of suspense is revealing the horror before the subject (or in terms of dramatic construction – dramatic irony). For example, in Psycho the audience sees the shadow of the killer as he raises the knife behind the shower curtain before our heroine, who witnesses the latters brutal attack. Yet, Hitchcock has a certain aura (or added layer) of creating such suspense and this is accomplished by his specific use of film technique. Suspense is a narrative technique, like mystery (the reversal of suspense) or surprise (the coinciding revealing of an event), and whilst narrative technique and film technique are inextricable (one can’t exist without the other; just as to film something you have to apply a film technique – the cameras viewpoint), Hitchcock enriches, upholds and resolves the former technique with the latter.

shower-head-Psycho

The camera lingers in the shower with our heroine, immediately shadowing the heroine’s narrow field of vision. Amidst this field, Hitchcock moves his camera above the subject (she is nothing but an ant about to be stamped on) and across the axis (the 180 line: a relatively strict rule cinematographers abide by in order to keep the audience in line) to reveal all sides of our victim; she is weak and so are we. Hitchcock has offset the audience by his sequence and it is then that the killer is revealed in the shadows. Hitchcock has built up the suspense, in effect, before he has applied it. Whilst, you could rightly label narrative techniques under the heading of film techniques, in my analysis I am aiming to refer specifically to technical devices; the camera and the editing; the two vital and expedient processes of cinema.

Film technique is arguably more powerful than any story and plot structure, as it gives you infinite control over what the audience sees and how and when they see it. You cannot scatter a narrative and execute it to the same effect (Tarantino explores with the limitations of this effect notably in Pulp Fiction); scenes must retain a reasonably substantial order; each must punch into the next. However, a choice of film technique is immeasurable and impossible to avoid; it is what nurtures a filmmaker’s vision. The filmmaker can represent the subject however they please within the wondrous three-dimensional space that is offered to them. Beginning a scene in a close-up or a wide shot is the filmmakers choice, the narrative, or rather the plot, remains fundamentally the same, but the filmmaker can alter the audience’s reception to the narrative with film technique. Such is the power and the language of the cinema. It is not just shot composition, but the sequence of editing the shot compositions together that the filmmaker should adore. A close-up may be repeated, or only used for one second instead of four, as intended; all processes change the expression of the filmmaker and his judgement of the narrative. Indeed, a daunting process for the filmmaker is working out how to cover a scene, by cover I mean what shots they will use, and how they will stage and block the scene. Of course, there is nothing more exciting than this exposition, it is discovering the inner fibres of your film and it is also discovering the fibres of yourself, the filmmaker.

You will hear, “script is king”. Well, the filmmaker (film director) is “king” and queen. He is the sense and sensibility of the script and the pioneer of its land. Of course, you must have a great script, and a great filmmaker can make a great script great, but a great script on the shelf is not a great film, it is nobody. A great filmmaker would be silly to direct a script that wasn’t great (or at least that he/she thought wasn’t great) and therefore this discussion of script (or screenwriting) is vain to an analysis of film technique; we can assume the material that a filmmaker has chosen to work with is good.

wesmrfox2

I don’t wish to dismiss contemporary pioneers of film technique. Wes Anderson is a prime suspect of innovation and flair in filmmaking. Metaphorically, he creates a symmetrical box in which to frame his action that can move up, down, left, right, or in and out. Occasionally, the camera jumps to the far side of the box or sits on the roof, but it never breaks this manner of primitive and proportioned framing. Whist this is innovative, it is no more than a fresh refurbishment of film techniques; the director has utilised the techniques of the camera and staging to create his own style within his canvas, as should any great film director (or artist, in relation to their canvas). I will further define how I am using the term film technique (it often gets used as common excuse for anything film production), the technique is the central grouping of film compositions (shots), montage (edits) and sequences (scenes); techniques that have phenomenal undergrowth of exploration and which belong exclusively to the cinema.

These cannot be changed, the close-up shot will always be the close-up shot, but it is how the filmmaker uses it that I am concerned with. This draws on a fundamental principle of the cinematic language, it shows and then it tells; and film directors have often stressed the importance on how you show it that matters (this is characteristic to the subsequent telling). No contemporary filmmaker is able to pioneer, for example, the close-up shot (I believe first used by Georges Melies of the moon in Le Voyage dans la lune (1902)), but they can structure it effectively within a sequence that makes it innovative and appear utterly fresh and convincing, but it will be innovative only to that filmmaker’s style. In other words, technique, at its innermost core, is never new, but if it is utilised by a master, it can appear as such.

A reductive approach could argue that all film technique is drawn from the other arts, at the core of its invention, the seventh art is photographic, steals a generous palette from painting and it pinches the actor from the theatre. Of course, this can be ridiculed by modernistic approaches to film; the illusion of the moving image itself as a new phenomenon provides generous possibilities for techniques to evolve. The surrealists had an art form that is able to uncannily blend fantastical elements with the real; painting could never achieve the same impact. The close-up first appeared in painting, but the close-up in film will have an entirely different effect. Distinguishable meanings and implications are, of course, the beauty of each individual art form; and meaning in the cinema continues to blossom at the cutting-edge.

manhattan-shot

Lets not forget that film has been praised and simultaneously impugned for its tendency to merge multiple arts under one umbrella, but this is why the medium is home to some of the greatest artistic geniuses. Why did Woody Allen start making films? He could express his artistic values: his favourite music (Jazz), comedy (his own stand up and Mel Brooks), art, sculpture, photography (The Museum of Modern Art) literature (The Catcher in The Rye), theatre (Broadway), architecture (New York) and films (from Bergman to Bunuel) under one canvas. Indeed, as a true auteur of his craft, it also allowed him to express layers of meaning from his own life and concurrent philosophical insights – death, religion, moral relativity etc. – and appropriately (and with great talent) digest those interests via the language and technique of film.

I want to end this discussion by saying that if film technique is used correctly, if it connects with the concurrent meaning and implication of the subject, then it will create good and stimulating cinema. If it is masterfully constructed, if it connects with every sequence, act, and the entire story while adding an ambiguous but concise layer of allegory, then it almost becomes magic and is certainly categorised as great cinema. If you witness a masterpiece, it is because the magic of the film technique (there are other factors of course, you need a great story, but as mentioned earlier, a bad film director – a filmmaker who hasn’t mastered the language and his technique – won’t make a good film) used by the filmmaker seamlessly catches your tongue and sews you to the story, layer by layer, so you can only succumb to praise of what is an impeccable execution of the form. A separate discussion is raised, an audience’s varying interpretation of film technique (though this should be at the unconscious level – a filmmakers technique should pass the spectators eye integrally, or, in fact, unnoticed – at least this is the case for typical audiences). Let’s conclude that if the filmmaker has executed his technique how he wished (and he is closest to the material) then it will be so purely inscribed that even if you (as a viewer) don’t connect with the filmmakers intentions it will otherwise have an equivalent effect (possibly at the unconscious level) in an equal and opposite direction.

 

To be continued…

 

Notes:

[i]For a discussion on the three pioneering techniques of Soviet montage and related topics see Eisenstein Film Form and/or The Film Sense.

[ii]For a great book on film editing, see Walter Murch’s In The Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing.

[iii]See Peter Cowie Revolution!: Explosion of World Cinema in the Sixties for an insightful introduction to world cinema and disparate styles of filmmaking.

[iv]For a discussion surrounding the studio systems collapse and the battle between the competing world industries (specifically Europe and America) see David Puttnam’s The Undeclared War: Struggle for Control of the World’s Film Industry.

[v] If you are interested in Hitchcock then there are plenty of great books to discover more about his technique and style. Here are a couple of my favourites: Hitchcock: Centenary Essays edited by Richard Allen S. Ishii Gonzales and Hitchcock: A Definitive Study of Alfred Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut.

The Death of the Audience

coloured_eye

We are all succumbed to advertisements and various images on a daily basis: on the bus, on the walk to town, on our computers and even in our mail. It has become so commonplace that we now fail to see it. Images are for the best part, totally ignored. I don’t blame us. But, what does this mean for cinema? My primary focus here is audience attention spans getting lost and the proliferation of online media becoming so vast that we can’t watch anything anymore.

Lets begin with a theory that if there is so much content to choose from and it is so readily available then how does one manage it? It becomes less valuable, less important and ultimately loses meaning. This is the nature of human interaction. We become accustomed to things, we need more or we need a higher dosage, but when this becomes to high it causes all sorts of problems and we don’t know where to begin. Is this happening to the film audience?

I am certainly spoiled for choice when I go online and search for a movie. Yet, I will still pick whatever grabs my attention first. There will be thousands of other films, independent and foreign, that exists online, but they may never make it to the limelight. If this film doesn’t grab my attention, I may begin another, and another, this brings a whole new dimension to the experience of film watching. The audience can actively engage with the films they seek, they can slice them up and choose exactly what they want. There is no need to fully engage with one piece of material when thousands attempt to surround it and move in front of it. Online media gives the audience a reason to loose attention; we have other options.

One used to sit down to watch a film and be entirely devoted to that picture for the next 2 hours or so. There is no way out, there is only the way in, into the movie. I speak for the mass audience here, people who are intrinsic about film and the filmmakers will of course still shut themselves out and focus on the picture. But even cinephiles attention spans will have been numbed by the invasion of our digital world. It is inescapable, unless you lock yourself in a basement without a mobile.

Obviously, exhibition plays a big part in this. Thank goodness the cinema is still there. It is the one place that we can become totally immersed, or is it? Have a read of Mark Kermode’s The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex. It will highlight how cinemas are still places of distraction; the popcorn munchers and whisperers will certainly get your blood boiling. Home cinema systems attempt to offer a similar experience, perhaps an even more immersive one, in the light of your own home. That is until the landline goes off or your wife gets up to have another glass of wine. Or, on the verge of abiding boredom, you may have an earnest painting hanging on your wall that becomes far more appealing than the slew of images on your TV set.

I can certainly speak of personal experience over audience disruption. I love to watch films with my girlfriend and share our journey, but this journey is inhibited by mobile phones and iPads. If she loses attention for less than five minutes, she will be on her iPad checking emails or playing with her various apps. The patience of modern audiences is a contributing factor to the decline in attention spans. Modern audiences simply aren’t patient enough to realize the full potential of a film; most of us need guns and explosives to keep us going (the lady needs kisses and clichés). Our lives are active with images, media, work, family and whatever else, and to sit down in front of a screen for two hours can, at times, be extremely agitating.

The instant connectivity of our networked world has undoubtedly caused humans to be less patient. I will curse if I can’t connect to the Internet or if a web page won’t load in under five seconds. We expect instant connectivity, and the result is a higher expectance of entertainment, entertainment that needs to instantly grab our attention. I love to see a filmmaker use a shot over a minute long, it is there for a virtuous reason, though I can be sure that the eye of a modern audience would start to waver until being reawakened by a fresh cut. The movies, over the years and in most cases, have become faster and faster (narratively and technically), it is no wonder then that when a modern audience watches an old film they begin to coil at the edges.

Earlier, I made the anomalous comment that we can’t watch anything more. Focus on the watching aspect; are we really watching, or are we simply receiving images? We are faced with pictures moving at 24 frames per second, a common occurrence, but when do we really watch the image, scan it from right to left, top to bottom? Arguably, there isn’t the chance (and this is the filmmakers magic), but our mind can reflect on the entirety of moving images if we really focus it. For most people, the story remains at the centre of the frame, their eyes are followed by the technique of the filmmaker, yet what if they ruled against convention, and looked beyond the image. The filmmaker is confined to a rectangular frame in which to show his world of reality, but the audience isn’t confined to believe merely within this boundary.  This would truly be seeing, there has to be an element of imagination to fulfill our sight.

This way of watching is to be wholly engagement, interactive and imaginative by way of sight. The filmmaker is inviting you to explore their world, don’t be limited by the lens. Different filmmakers, of course, have different demands for their audience, but the best directors always lure you in and invite you beyond. This is my argument for film watching in our age, it is inextricably linked with the distractions of constant connectivity, expectancy, patience and proliferation of imagery.

Get to know Mark Travis

afilm-Mark-W.-Travis-1-640x480

Mark Travis is a consultant and expert on the art and craft of film directing. He is also a very friendly guy who one can easily get in touch with to ask for advice etc. After reading his internationally acclaimed book Directing Feature Films, I felt obliged to get in touch with Mark and express my enthusiasm for his work. Mark got back to me 10 minutes later with his thanks and a mark of confidence and good luck.

So, if you are starting out – like myself – or a crafted expert, then either way you should head over to Michael Wiese Productions and check out his brilliant book. In this blog post I want to note a few effective and basic methods that Mark mentions in his book and shed some light.

Firstly, Mark talks in great depth about character and how one needs to dig deep below the surface in order to reveal the truth. It comes down to genuine human emotions and behavior when looking for that believable performance, or “magical” performance as Mark likes to say. In the book, Mark suggests a few fundamental ways to achieve this as well as some new and alternative approaches. I found the emotional graphs and obstacle charts that Mark draws particularly insightful.

emotional-graphs

Above, I have included the emotional graphs of two characters in a short film I am directing at the moment. The emotional graph allows me to see where the characters reactions/shifts in emotion are taking place from good to bad. I have labeled the graph by the chronology of scenes in which they appear. From this I can get a true representation of the characters arc and how they should respond by changes in their behavior. Of course, these graphs are highly susceptible to the interpretation of a character and the various other obstacles they may be facing through staging and their environment etc. But, from a director’s point of view, it appears invaluable to guiding the actor through various obstacles and hidden anxieties. Once you understand this, you can break the ‘rules’ and shift the characters obstacles slightly to get a different emotion and performance that works best.

Another area that draws similar results is recognizing the characters ‘Gap’ – the difference between their expectations versus the reality. How a character responds to this can determine their true nature – it could be aggressively, progressively, confidently, arrogantly, wisely, sadly etc. etc. Mark explains this in greater depth in his book and also provides examples of graphs you can draw to configure your characters ‘Gap’.

Moving on from character analysis, Mark takes the reader from assembling the creative team to the final mix in postproduction. He always evaluates the areas from an approach of the director and gives valuable examples of all the hidden tasks he and his fellow filmmakers have undergone in the past. It is hard to find an angle that Mark doesn’t cover. Though, I am sure this opinion of mine will change when/if I get the opportunity to direct a feature a film. I will end up writing to Mark saying, “You didn’t warn me of this, or that, or this! Etc.” Though he does say something along the lines of “be ready for the unexpected!”

One of my favourite things in the book about production (I hope I don’t get in trouble for attempting to quote the book too much!) is that one should think of the camera as a character and the director should play that character. This character will eventually become the audience. Having a reason behind every angle or move you make this character (the camera) do is essential; the reason should link nicely back into the arc of your story. A cinematographer knows all this and depending on your specific collaboration he may push your reasoning or he may have a stack of his own. I think a great cinematographer should bring his or her own ideas and challenge yours respectively, but inevitably encourage whatever you – the director – decide to do.

(You – the reader – probably already realise this, but the idea of this blog post – and the rest – is not for me to teach you, rather I just to want share my opinions (small or tall, fresh or naive) and hopefully you will put a comment in the box below!)

On the other front, is working with actors and Mark has plenty of answers (Also, I promise this post isn’t a Michael Weise ad). I will let you discover these notes for yourself, but it goes without saying that ‘result direction’ is also frowned upon here. However, I must say, Mark does provide a noteworthy reason for times when it can be necessary and valuable to throw commands at your actors.  One thing that he does hammer home is the priority of character intention and function over anything else, including the written word. This intention and function is established via character objectives (intention) and behaviors (function). So, by looking at this, to change the outcome of a character-driven scene, simply change their objectives and behaviors – it is pretty simple really.

So, there were a few things that stood out to me from the book; there are 395 pages more of it!

Find Mark on his website here.

I won’t attach a link to buy the book because as I mentioned  – this is writing from the heart, not the bank!

Oldboy Reboot – Booted off the tracks

Oldboy2013

MOVIE REVIEW

Oldboy (2003)
40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, OB Prod, Vertigo Ent, US
104 Mins
2.35:1
UK Release: 6th December, 2013

DIR Spike Lee
EXEC Nathan Kahane, Kim Dong-joo, John Powers Middleton, Peter Schlessel
PROD Doug Davison, Roy Lee, Spike Lee
SCR Mark Protosevich, Garon Tsuchiya, Nobuaki Minegishi
DP Sean Bobbitt
CAST Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson

Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy is a cult classic that navigated the globe after it was picked up by Tartans home video distribution label, Asia Extreme. It created a surge of other South Korean and Asian titles to be sought out and appreciated by Western audiences. It indulged ‘fanboys’ to traverse the Asian market and become further engrossed in the movies abilities to shock audiences. Why was Oldboy so enthralling? Because it’s a badass movie (as Quentin Tarantino would say), and because it is a masterpiece that is interminable. I think you can see where my approach to this review is heading; I’m just building up some steam. A masterpiece of great fixation shouldn’t and can’t be remade. I will try and approach this review as if it weren’t a remake, a grave challenge indeed. However, otherwise my review would simply read: an utter waste of everyone’s time, go and watch the original or get some sleep. 1 star.

Some critics have taken mixed approaches to the film however, though most say “it’s got no kick to it” (Peter Travers), “it’s just drab” (Michael Phillips), which is the common consensus that I can very much agree to, if we compare it with the original. However, critics like Bruce Ingram for the Sun-Times call the film a “vengeful, respectable homage to a cult favourite.” Ingram then talks through the story in a step-by-step review for people who have most likely never seen the film before; he makes no reference to the original in doing so. So, are we sure it’s respectful Bruce? Lying somewhere in between but just under the surface, I can appreciate the effort: the impressively groomed performance by Josh Brolin in the lead and Lee’s creative homage to various scenes, such as the hallway fight scene, the cctv operator torture scene and the passionate love-making scene (though, the fight choreography and suspense was laughable in comparison).

The overall twist of Oldboy is there; in fact it is made slightly more complex than it should be thanks to screenwriter Mark Protosevich trying to be too clever. It doesn’t hit you as hard as it does with Chan-wook’s. The timing of events is all off and some of it superfluous, which offsets the entire themes of misfortune and revenge at play, which are so essential to the film. If I hadn’t seen the original, my mind would be all over the place, the new script crams a fresh backstory and key plot signifiers into one solo act. Then it’s all over. This reminds me, the film felt extended (never a good sign), as if I was sat there for over three hours. Yet, to my surprise, the film was only 100 minutes long. It’s a mystery as to how Lee crammed all that rustle and hustle into under two hours (the length of the original). I didn’t realize I was that disconnected, what a drag.

The film will have some appeals for mainstream audiences however, with Samuel L. Jackson putting in a “mother-fucker” line here and there and the newly acclaimed young actress Elizabeth Olson looking delightful. Of course, the crime, the violence, the action, the muscle man and the emotional pain will always satisfy ‘fan-boy’ audiences and those seeking a bit more from their cinema outing. Lets not forget, that despite its baloney, this film is a big achievement for Hollywood. They are letting loose and firing an ostentatious canon cross the world, at least it is opening more eyes to national cinema cultures. Two of my friends are now seeking out the original because they liked the movie, bravo.

Spike Lee is an artist of variation, a stylistic dicer, a respectable director. But, this film needs Park Chan-wook at the helm. Park’s demanding, rigorous and intensely prim visual style simply can’t be matched.

2 stars.

Watch the trailer below: