Oldboy (2013)

What Jesse said:

Oldboy was just “icky” kinda like Happiness.

Mike’s verdict:

Oldboy is the Spike Lee remake of Chan-wook Park‘s Oldeuboi, which I’ve previously reviewed. I did not find it icky, nor is it anything even remotely like Happiness.

I gave the original film an 8/10 because I thought that it managed to break through the language barrier well and was entertaining. But looking back I mostly remember it being a little slow, so that likely set the stage for my expectations with the remake. Not surprisingly, the fancy-Hollywood-Spike-Lee version, complete with Samuel L. Jackson, was in no sense slow. This film has all the action and tension that come standard with a Lee film, and it does a very good job of keeping the best aspects of the original. There’s even a rather lengthy homage to some ridiculous scenes in the original that betrays the film’s Korean roots. Without having viewed the original, this particular set of fight scenes will probably feel out of place. But anyone that did watch Oldeuboi first will appreciate them.

There are also a few gruesome scenes that come standard with any Lee film. I covered my eyes for them – I much prefer the Korean style of allowing the viewer to use his imagination to fill in the blanks.

My biggest complaint with the original was that I thought the final twist was too obvious and I worried that this would be the case again. Clearly, I had no hope of being surprised by the remake so I tried to keep this in mind while I was watching. As it turned out, my fear was unwarranted. I think that Lee did a much better job of hiding the twist. Had I not known all along what was happening, I don’t think I would have guessed before the big reveal.

The acting was sound, the settings kept the feel of the original really well, and this version is definitely more accessible to people in North America.

8/10 like the original.


The Grand Budapest Hotel

What Jesse said:

Jesse didn’t really say anything about this one as far as I can remember but he did suggest we get together to see it.  It’s not the strongest recommendation, but a recommendation none the less. We never got around to finding a good time, so I decided to watch it myself.

Mike’s verdict:

Wes Anderson makes strange movies; sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Within minutes of opening, The Grand Budapest Hotel projects a feeling similar to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou which, despite a strong cult following, didn’t work for me. That put me a little on edge to start and in some sense that feeling stayed with me throughout the film, though in the end I felt I had been well entertained. I think anyone who enjoyed Life Aquatic will likely enjoy Grand Budapest but the latter will probably find a broader audience.

Grand Budapest managed to mostly fix the things I didn’t like about Life Aquatic. It’s still very Wes Anderson – you’re watching for an understated quirky story populated by overstated quirky characters. But this time the two halves meshed really well. The endless string of cameos was a lot of fun and the whole cast did a fantastic job. In a lot of cases it took me a moment to figure out why a person was familiar.

One really nice surprise was the variety of cameos this time. You don’t just get the standard Wes Anderson movie fare. A whole new group of recruits meant a wonderfully sparing use of Owen Wilson and no Ben Stiller at all!

The story still moves a little slow, but like with all of Anderson’s films you are expected to make use of the pace to look around at details in the background.

7/10


Gravity

What Jesse said:

Gravity was stupid but very entertaining. There’s only so much Clooney doucheyness a man can possibly endure and that movie pushed that limit to the brink.

Mike’s verdict:

Jesse got this one dead-on; Gravity is stupid. The story failed to suspend my disbelief in almost every way and at no point did I accept the progression of the plot as even remotely plausible. It’s one thing to have the hero be an expert that can make fantastical last-minute achievements to stay alive, it’s another thing entirely to have these achievements made by a bumbling idiot who just randomly mashes buttons. On top of this, add terrible dialogue and Sandra Bullock’s extremely annoying soliloquies. The whole thing is so bad that I barely even noticed the Clooney doucheyness.

As a film, my rating is 1/10. The story is just that bad.

That said, the cinematography in Gravity is absolutely stunning. The visualizations of Earth, the detail in the space stations and the actors fluid motions were fantastic. Even the final scene back on Earth looks great. The physics wasn’t even close to perfect but the most noticeable errors at least made things look good – this is science fiction after all. I don’t think I agree with James Cameron’s judgement that Gravity is “the best space photography ever done”, but I’ll admit it is the best fake space photography ever done.

Assuming a big enough display and the sound turned off, Gravity could be an engaging addition to the background of a party; particularly with the right music playing. But I would definitely not invite people over to watch the movie itself.


Enemy

What Jesse said:

Enemy is one of the most anxiety inducing movies I’ve watched all the way through. I can’t remember the last time I was this uncomfortable watching a flick… and still enjoyed it. Oh, yeah, now I remember… “Prisoners“.

Mike’s verdict:

I don’t get it.

I had high expectations for this one. I thought Prisoners was fairly good and figured that if Enemy could maintain the same atmosphere but with a more interesting plot, it would do well too. And in one sense, the movie is quite effective – the atmosphere is tense from beginning to end. Jesse isn’t wrong about the level of anxiety at all. The music and the cinematography work together perfectly to build a tension that stayed just beyond my comfort level without being over the top. The problem is, it’s a trick. The atmosphere is so effectively tense you almost don’t notice that with the exception of a few scenes there’s almost no reason for the tension. Most of the ‘big scenes’ involve characters reacting dramatically – portraying tension – to events that don’t actually warrant the reaction portrayed. The fear is fabricated – I just can’t imagine normal people reacting the way these characters react. Granted, all movies fabricate atmosphere – that’s pretty much the whole point – so I can’t really criticize that too much.

Unfortunately, Enemy has a much bigger issue: it doesn’t make any sense. Are the twins really twins? Are they just two personalities in the same body? Why does twin #2′s wife suggest she knows what’s going on after meeting twin #1? Why is twin #1 willing to comply with twin #2′s demand immediately, without any fight? Why does everyone act like the sudden appearance of a twin means that something terrible is going on? Why is the movie even called ‘enemy’? What is with the damn spiders?? And what was the point of the opening scenes in the creepy club? Basically all the questions you have after watching the trailer are left completely unanswered by the movie. My theory: José Saramago thought that Javier Gullón‘s book would make a fantastic trailer, and then he tried to write a movie around it.

Admittedly, the acting is really good. The characters seem totally irrational, but the actors do an amazing job of portraying them anyway. And I really liked all the little references to Toronto. I tried to find a location inconsistency but there’s wasn’t anything noticeable.

I have to give this one 5/10. Full marks for the artistic parts, but zero marks for the story. If it had wrapped up in a way that explained what was going on, it might have gotten a perfect score.

p.s. This one will probably be watched again just in case it’s a matter of picking up clues, and I’ll reassess the score then – hopefully it doesn’t lose points.


Godzilla

What Jesse said:

They’ve finally made a movie that does Godzilla justice. It isn’t going to win any awards for Best Acting, but it’s not about the people. There was even a scene where I was compelled to cheer out loud!

Mike’s verdict:

Godzilla has been done. And done. And done. And done.

It’s been done so many times that when Jesse first mentioned seeing it, I was reluctant to say the least. Of course there is always something alluring about movies with large monsters rampaging through major cities, so eventually I came around. In fact, when I found out Jesse had gone to see the movie without me I was annoyed – so much so that I made him go see it again in Imax 3D.

Unlike the mess that happened in 1998, this time Godzilla did not disappoint.

The story is pretty similar – big monsters do their thing, and measly little human cities happen to get in the way. Measly little humans also run around pretending like they are doing something about it.

But this time there is a lot more emphasis on turning Godzilla into a superhero – and it works. With most monster movies I cheer for the monster because, well, who wants to see the humans actually win? But in this case it seemed like cheering for Godzilla was the morally correct option. Plus, without even being told which scene he cheered out loud at, I knew exactly what Jesse was talking about as soon as I saw it.

One thing I hadn’t realized going in (or at all until Jesse mentioned it after the movie) is that the film stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the skinny kid from Kick-Ass. Except he’s had some work done: he’s no longer skinny, nor a kid. Unfortunately, while we have the technology to enhance his body, he still has his skinny-kid voice. It bugged me the whole movie; I just didn’t understand why until Jesse pointed out who he was.

Overall, Godzilla is a very good monster movie. The effects are believable, the story is logically consistent, and very little time is wasted on the development of characters that nobody came to see.

8/10


Prisoners

What Jesse said:

It’s good. Watch it. And when you’re done you’re going to watch Enemy too.

Mike’s verdict:

Prisoners is a captivating thriller / mystery that manages to keep a decent pace and avoid over-done plot devices despite resting in a very crowded genre. The abducted child/helpless parent film has been done many times, but this one manages to present a mystery engaging enough to keep it interesting.  The pieces of the puzzle are laid out in a way that they keep you guessing and building theories all the way through, but they also do fit together to make a coherent picture at the end. It’s a ‘satisfying’ mystery in that once you have all the information the story makes sense.

The atmosphere is quite effective as well. Most of the film takes place in the rainy days of late November and the dreariness really adds to the sense of helplessness.

One aspect that I very much appreciated, but others may find to be a fault, is the very minor emphasis put on character development. The film isn’t about parental anguish or the struggle of a cop – it’s about the mystery of what happened to two little girls. For me the characters were as fully developed as they needed to be to get the story across, without wasting my time.

I like the title too – it’s unclear even to the end who it should refer to (the children, their parents, the abductors) and the ambiguity adds to the mystery.

However, there are a few aspects that I didn’t like. I think Hollywood has greatly overstated how easily the average family-man can be pulled by grief to the point of doing despicable things to another human being; and this film is an example of that.  Even worse, the torture scenes (admittedly tame by today’s standards) were entirely unnecessary as they didn’t really advance the plot. Perhaps the point was to show the uselessness of torture, but if that’s the case this is the wrong movie for making that statement.

Overall, it was an interesting and entertaining mystery. You won’t be talking about it for days, but it’s worth an evening on the couch.

7.5/10


Leon: The Professional

What Jesse said:

I can’t believe you still haven’t seen this 90′s classic! Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Jean Reno… Awesome performances by all these fine actors in a movie that’s all about delivering a fun kick-ass ride. I enjoyed this one very much when it came out and I would rank it as one of my top all-time favorite action flicks. Now drop whatever you’re doing and go watch it!

Mike’s verdict:

What’s with Jean Reno and movies where his character has to protect a teen girl? Leon: The Professional and Wasabi are not the same movie, but they’re awfully similar. In the former, Reno is a good bad-guy protecting a little girl who lived down the hall; in the later Reno is a bad good-guy protecting a daughter he didn’t know he had. In both there is a lot of punching and kicking and grown man / little girl tension.

Leo the Pro is a pretty standard action flick with a very familiar group of characters. It isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t really notable either. It’s the kind of movie that has its few naughty words muted so it can be shown on basic cable at 2pm on a Sunday. Reno’s performance is not as awesome as Jesse pretends, but it’s okay. I’ve never met Reno, but I’d be willing to bet that in real life he’s exactly the same temperament that he portrays in every movie.  My immediate impression in the opening scenes was that this film seemed like is was going to be a comedy.  Then about 5 minutes in I was quite certain it was a comedy. But by the 30 minute mark I had realized that I wasn’t supposed to be laughing.  Natalie Portman is most definitely not awesome either, but she was only 12 in 1994 and has since done much better work so I think she can be forgiven.

The runaway star of the show is actually Gary Oldman. He is absolutely fantastic as a crazy bad guy. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Heath Ledger took Oldman’s performance in this movie as a basis for his legendary portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight.

This film isn’t really anything. But Oldman’s performance is so good that it’s worth watching at least once.

6.5/10


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