Mark Walker (MrMarakai)Glasgow, Scotland
Mark's Recent Reviews
Park Chan Wook's 2004 Korean original of "Oldboy" is one of the most visceral and emotionally devastating thrillers that you're ever likely to find. As a result, it totally baffled me when I heard about the intentions for an English language remake. I don't care how much of an impressive cast or crew were assembled, as far as I see it, there really isn't anything else that could have been brought to treading this ground again. Now that I've seen Spike Lee's version, I stand by that even more. This was a completely pointless exercise.
Estranged husband and father Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is on a downward spiral with his alcohol problem. One drunken night he's kidnapped from the streets and wakes up in a locked room with no windows and no means of communication. He's held here without explanation, while on the outside he's framed for the murder of his ex-wife. After 20 years in this locked room, he‚??s suddenly released and sets about finding out the truth and why he was held in the the first place.
I'll start with the (very few) positives this film has to offer and that simply comes down to Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen. They are both on particularly fine form and give this misguided endeavour more than it actually deserves. The same can't be said for the villains of the piece, though. Normally, the nasties are the one's that stand out in a film of this type but in this case, it's them that suffer the most in their caricature roles; Jackson is his usual, reliable self and (with that idiosyncratic tone of his) can make even the worst of dialogue work for him. He adds a requisite sprinkle of menace but he's so elaborately overdressed that he looks like he's just there to do a little turn on the catwalk. Copley, on the other hand, I feel both sorry and embarrassed for. He's even more ridiculous. His accent and histrionics are so laughably bad and completely misplaced that he looks like he's wandered in from a child's pantomime. The only thing missing was an audience taking great delight in booing or hissing him off the stage. If Copley doesn't get his act together soon, he'll fade into obscurity and his wonderful work in "District 9" will be a thing of the past.
The film itself looks the part, though, and Spike Lee almost gives the impression that he knows what he's doing by capturing a suitably grim and foreboding atmosphere. However, it's ultimately the script that lets everyone down here. It's practically a scene-for-scene remake of the original (well, the good bits at least) but the changes that they do make to the story don't improve it in the slightest. It really is perplexing why they would've even went to the bother and why such an acclaimed director and cast would put their reputations at stake.
The scene that stood out for me was the ridiculous hallway fight (where Lee is obviously trying to emulate Park's impressive handling of a similar one-take scene from the original). Here, Brolin takes on an abundance of adversaries and it's obvious how badly choreographed it is. His opponents are absolutely nowhere near him as they swipe the air with pieces of plywood while our man sets about them with his claw hammer. It's was around this point that I gave up on the whole affair, as it was apparent that the filmmakers were putting as much of an effort into the film as I am this review.
With almost ten years between them, I can only assume that Hollywood thought that this was ripe for a remake. It's not! Granted, it might work a lot better for those that are unfamiliar with the original but for others, it's pretty much a guarantee that it won't. If it does appeal to those that are already versed in Park's sublime original, then I'll eat my claw hammer with a live Octopi chaser.
When provocateur Lars von Trier released the magnificent "Dogville" in 2003 and followed it up with "Manderlay" in 2005, I was very eager to see him complete his USA: Land of Opportunities trilogy. Unfortunately, the third instalment "Wasington" never came to fruition. He did, however, venture into another trilogy - focusing on depression. The gruelling and unforgettable "AntiChrist" was the first, followed by the restrained and meditative "Melancholia". Now, von Trier completes this outstanding trilogy in style.
Volume I: Joe (Charlotte Gainbourg) is found in an alleyway by a compassionate man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsg√•rd). She is badly beaten so Seligman takes her back to his home to nurse her. It here that Joe proceeds to tell him her life story of being a self-confessed nymphomaniac and the encounters she has had during her adolescence.
Volume II: Joe's story of sexual exploration grows darker as she recounts her erotic adult experiences of group sex and bondage and how she found herself in the alleyway where the A-sexual, scholar Seligman found her.
Von Trier is certainly no stranger to quoting controversy. Throughout his whole directing career he has always managed to raise a few eyebrows and invite some vitriolic hatred towards his films. Personally, I regard him as one of the most important and visionary directors that we've ever had. I admire his unflinching approach to taboo subject matters as well as his intelligence in tackling such endeavours. He, admittedly, can be shocking but there's always a level of intelligence to his films that far out way any of the gratuity that he's proclaimed to deliver. "Nymphomaniac" is no different and it's definitely a film to masticate over. Yes, I said masticate... That's just your dirty minds taking hold already.
As you will have noticed, this is a review that encompasses both volumes in their entirety. The film is one complete story and being released in two parts, only strikes me that audiences wouldn't have been fully prepared for a 4 hour sitting (although the Director's Cut would be even more of a challenge as it runs for a full 5 1/2 hours).
Say what you will about von Trier and his movies but there really isn't anyone else at the moment that's tackling the matters that he does. As a society we often avoid uncomfortable subject matters or issues but if we fully explore the artform of film and how it can help us cathart or explore our innermost desires or fears then von Trier is certainly at the forefront of doing so. His films are, by no means, for those of a sensitive or prudish nature but for those willing to delve into the depths of human psyche or behaviour this man really shows no bounds. I, for one, applaud his unrepentant boldness and audacity.
The numerous claims that this is just a self-indulgent porn film are sorely mistaken. This is, in fact, so much more than that. It's an odyssey of self discovery and nihilistic sexual exploration, laid out in eight novelistic chapters (which also reflect Fibonacci numbers and the amount of times our protagonist was penetrated when she lost her virginity) and incorporates everything from masturbation, a montage of penises, the use of a Nymph in fly-fishing, Johan Sebastien Bach's polyphonic harmonies and the use of the Prusik knot in bondage. If that's not enough to wet a voracious vulva, then an education in "the silent duck" may just do the trick. But (as the tag line says) "Forget about love". Love, we are informed, is "just lust with jealousy added".
Von Trier doesn't mince his words here and he rarely skips a beat. There are shades of the sexual promiscuity that he covered so well in "Breaking The Waves" and a similar, playful humorousness that he delivered in "The Idiots" - where he also had porn actors engage in genuine scenes of intercourse. Speaking of which, the intercourse scenes here are seamlessly and impressively handled with CGI and it's difficult to tell where the porn actors start and the dramatic actors end. It's quite an achievement and it's during these scenes that some will view the film as exploitative or mere titillation but there's a truth and depth to von Trier's ambitions. He questions the intrinsic polarity of how a form of sexual-liberation can also be empty and soulless and he explores how science and religion form the constructs of how we behave socially.
Of course, a certain willingness to go along with von Trier's philosophical ramblings is required and that's where his cast pay him dividends. It's through the commitment and bravery of his ensemble that he's able to realise his vision and few, if any, let him down; Charlotte Gainsbourg (who has appeared in the complete trilogy), once again, shows a fundamental courageousness and Stellan Skarsg√•rd (another of von Trier's most reliable regulars) anchor the film with their naturalistic approaches. Solid support also comes from Jamie Bell as a sadomasochist and the American contingent of Willem Dafoe, Christian Slater and Shia LeBeouf (despite a very questionable accent) deliver good work. From that assemblage, though, it's Uma Thurman who really shines as a scorned wife and mother. In one of the films most memorable scenes, she gate-crashes the house of her husband's mistress asking to show her children the "whoring bed", which their father has found so sacred. The biggest revelation, however, is newcomer Stacy Martin who fearlessly tackles her extremely difficult role with as much professionalism as an actress twice her age. Von Trier has unearthed a talent in this young actress and I'd be very surprised if we don't see more of her in the future.
Quite simply, this a work of outstanding quality and substance and von Trier has opened up a whole new can of possibilities. He's somehow managed to cross the boundary between pornography and mainstream filmmaking and delivers an ethical hypothesis that's by turns comedic, sensationalist and intimate but does require a progressive open-mindedness in order to be receptive to it's provocative themes. Trust me, leave your conservative mind at the door and embrace a true work of art.
Mark's Favorite Movies
This film has such a massive cult following that it has even spawned a traveling, annual festival called "The Lebowski Fest", at which fans congregate dressed as their favourite characters. It has also amassed a new belief system called "Dudeism" of which you can be ordained as a Dudeist priest. Now, this might be going a bit far but it's all in the name of fun, of which, this Coen brothers tale supplies plenty of. Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) is a cannabis smoking throwback from the seventies. He minds his own business, enjoying "bowling, driving around and the occasional acid flashback". One day, two thugs break into his home and urinate on his rug - "which really tied the room together". As he looks for answers, he finds that he has been mistaken for his namesake Jeffrey Lebowski, the Passadena millionaire (David Huddleston). Otherwise referred to as "The Big Lebowski. Looking for compensation for his rug, he pays the millionaire a visit and finds that his absent, trophy wife Bunny (Tara Reid) owes money all over town - including known pornographer Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazarra), who sent the thugs (to the wrong house) to collect on the debt. But the thugs aren't the only ones who have gotten their Lebowski's mixed up. A trio of Nihilists threaten "The Dude" for a ransom of $1 million, claiming they will kill his wife. Reluctantly, "The Dude" gets involved, with his crazed Vietnam veteran buddy Walter (John Goodman), in trying to get the bottom of all the confusion. Does this make sense? Don't worry, "The Dude" doesn't get it either. Trying to even give a synopsis of the plot in this complex tale, is hard enough, but that's to the Coens' credit in concocting this elaborate modern day private detective story. In the past, the Coens payed homage to crime writer Dashiell Hammett with "Miller's Crossing" and here, they pay homage to Hammett's contemporary Raymond Chandler. It has all the elements of a classic private-eye yarn but masquerades as a zany comedy. It's so much more than that. It's a film that relies heavily on consistently sharp dialogue and each word, pause and stammer are delivered perfectly by an exceptionally brilliant cast; Bridges is a very fine actor but this is his moment of glory, in a role that is perfectly suited. He has received numerous plaudits throughout his career - for his more serious roles - but this is his most iconic. Coens regular John Goodman is also at his maniacal best as his loyal buddy, Walter. Sam Elliott is wonderfully endearing, as "The Stranger", in cowboy attire, that's narrates the whole wacky tale and a scene-stealing John Turturro is simply unforgettable as Jesus Quintana, a latino, sex-offending bowler. In fact, it's very difficult to single out a specific performance, there are so many great appearances: from the likes of Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, David Thewlis, Ben Gazzara, Jon Polito and the always marvellous Philip Seymour Hoffman. The entire cast are just sublime and deliver their, razor sharp, dialogue under the most creative guidance from the Coens. It's not just the performances that stand out though; usual Coens cinematographer Roger Deakins works with a rich and colourful pallet and the choice of music throughout, accompanies the scenes perfectly. I could go on and pick out every perfect detail of this classic but then I'd just be ruining it for you, even if you've already seen it. It'll do no harm to see it again - with a spliff and a beverage - and allow your "casualness to run deep". I have tried to find the words that do this film justice but I still don't think I have. Rest assured though, this is the most enjoyable Coens movie to date and an instant cult classic that wll take one hell of a film to topple it from my #1 spot.
Numerous excellent crime sagas have been made over the years and at the top of most peoples lists tend to be "The Godfather parts I & II", "Goodfellas" and some would even have "Scarface". Although these are superb inclusions in the genre, this Sergio Leone masterpiece is the definitive and the real classic of them all. Based on the novel "The Hoods" by Harry Grey we are manificently told the story of David 'Noodles' Aaronson (Robert DeNiro) who, after several decades away, returns back to the lower east side of New York city where he grew up with his friends and became prominently involved in a Jewish life of crime. Having loved and lost throughout his time here, he reflects on what was a tumultuous time in his childhood (and young adulthood) and now in his twilight years, longs for answers to a fatal double-cross. Leone is better known for his spaghetti westerns and brings that same style from the dry barren western plains to the sprawling city of New York. Along with him, is composer Ennio Morricone and his idiosyncratic and masterful musical style. When these two combine their talents you know you're about to be treated to a wonderful storytelling experience. Just for good measure, throw in the iconic and most prodigious of screen actors in Robert DeNiro and what you have is a work of art. An absolute masterpiece of cinema. A multi-layerd epic that has such depth that it's yet to be matched. "The Godfather" saga has a similiar magnitude but only over three films. Leone manages to condence his elaborate tale in just under 4 hours. However, the original U.S. release was cut by 88mins, ceasing to make sense, with characters appearing and disappearing suddenly. This would explain why it didn't fare so well and shockingly wasn't even acknowledged for any awards. Although compellingly acted by DeNiro, this doesn't stand as his finest performance, but it certainly stands as his finest film and it's by far the best work that James Woods has delivered, as well as the impressive supporting cast of Tuesday Weld, Treat Williams, Joe Pesci and Jennifer Connelly is her film debut. It's all down to the excellence of Leone though and his stylish homage to the gangster film. It's long, it's engrossing and once all the pieces begin to fit together it's a quite heartbreaking story in it's telling, With it gorgeous art direction by Carlo Simi, it's heartwrenching soundtrack by Ennio Morricone and the magnitude of Sergio Leone's vision, it's one of the best films ever made. Sadly it was Leone's last but a virtuosa one to go out on.