Category Archives: Art House

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


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.


Possession

What Jesse said:

One of the weirdest movies I have ever seen. Good luck.

Mike’s Verdict:

Possession is utterly incoherent. Andrzej Zulawski‘s 1981 film set in Berlin, West Germany (not the 2002 romance with Gwyneth Paltrow) is the kind of movie that manages to build a cult following not because it develops some subtle-yet-meaningful symbolism that only a few people “get”, but because it truly doesn’t make any sense. It’s incomprehensible; and that makes it cool. Even worse, it gets critical acclaim not because it’s a fantastic film, but because critics don’t want to have to admit that they have no idea what is going on.

Unfortunately, since Possession is an art house film we’re socially obligated to ignore the parts that don’t make sense. Instead, we’re supposed to step back and let the meaning come to us through its surrealism rather than trying to understand what is happening on a story level. It’s not about the story, it’s about art.

Fine. But if a message is going to be portrayed in story form, I’d prefer that story to be coherent. Even Beyond the Black Rainbow made some sense.

It’s not all bad though – the acting is fantastic.  Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill express their characters’ disintegrating relationship with an amazing intensity. And while the mess of a story often left me wondering why Neill’s character was behaving in certain ways, I never doubted the behaviour itself.

5/10 – 2 points for Adjani, 2 points for Neill, and 1 point for the man with the pink socks