Saturday, 6 February 2016

Elwood's Essentials #14 - Donnie Darko

Title: Donnie Darko
Director:  Richard Kelly
Released: 2001
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Holmes Osborne, Daveigh Chase, James Dubal, Beth Grant, Seth Rogen, Patience Cleveland, Jolene Purdy

Plot: Donnie Darko (Gyllenhaal) a complex teenager prones to bouts of sleep walking finds himself being given a prophetic warning by a mysterious figure called Frank in a demonic bunny costume that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds.

Review: Unquestionably a key film in my personal film education as this is one of those films where I can still remember everything about that screening while at the same time putting it in a very exclusive club. More so few films have inspired these kinds of memories while Richard Kelly is still the only director to have two films like this. At the same time by the time this film had finished after that original screening I wanted to rush out and instantly discuss it with someone while perhaps knowing back then that this film was hardly the easiest premise to sell people on. Still originally destined for a direct to video release it was saved by Drew Barrymore’s production company “Flower Films” who enabled the film to have a theatrical release. However despite the film now having a large cult following it was initially a flop in the states only to find its audience in the UK much like Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs”. 

Despite being his debut film Kelly directs this film with a truely unique vision for the story he wants to tell while at the same time finding a perfect leading man for his psychologically complex hero in Jake Gyllenhaal who like his sister Maggie here appearing as Donnie’s sister Elizabeth was still an unknown at this point and through this film managed to finally find his breakout role. Infact looking at the cast while many have gone on to more mainstream roles at this point Patrick Swayze was probably the best known name on the cast, alongside Noah Wyle and Drew Barrymore but despite this there is really no member of the cast who doesn’t deliver on their characters

Donnie meanwhile is far from your traditional type of hero, which I guess is only fitting as this is anything but a traditional type of story. Here though Donnie is seen as having various issues in his life which his parents are attempting to resolve by sending him to counselling while at school he is seen as something of an oddball, not popular enough to be one of the cool kids yet not so unhip to be at the bottom of the social order which is no doubt one of the many reasons this film spoke to me back on that original screening. Throughout the film the closest Donnie gets to a friend are his two bumbling sidekick-of-sorts Ronald and Sean but the person who has the closest bond to him is his girlfriend Gretchen (Malone) who herself comes with her own set of issues having moved to town with her mother to escape her violent stepfather.

While Donnie and Gretchen’s relationship is a key part of the film it somehow never overshadows the main meat of the story which see’s Donnie exploring the principles and theories of time travel as he tries to figure out the mystery of Frank and the increasingly strange visions he finds himself beginning to suffer especially when his initial meeting with Frank saves him from being crushed under a stray jet engine which mysteriously crashes through his bedroom ceiling. At the same time though Kelly knows when to use Donnie and Gretchen’s relationship and when to push it to the background as he crafts a truly believable relationship between their characters while ensuring because of this groundwork that he lays that the final twist is suitably devastating.

While Donnie’s journey is one which is as gripping as it confusing, its one which is only made the more enjoyable by the catalogue of interesting characters he encounters over the course of the film from his effortless cool English teacher (Barrymore) whose class on Graham Greene’s short story “The Destructors” frequently seems to overshadow so many events of the film. Equally memorable is Patrick Swayze’s motivational speaker Jim Cunningham whose life philosophy based around life’s issues being categorised as being a result of love or fear is memorably torn apart by Donnie in the school assembly from hell.  Each of these supporting characters bringing their own small element to the story while never feeling like they are being included as a way to tie the story together.

The other key aspect of the film is unquestionably the soundtrack with the opening bike ride to Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” perfectly setting the tone of the film, while at the same time now ensuring that its nigh impossible to think of anything else when you hear the song in much the same that “Stuck In The Middle” will thanks to Tarantino always bring back memories of “Reservoir Dogs” ear slicing sequence. Elsewhere Kelly manages equal success with his use of Tear for Fears “Head over Heels” and The Church’s “Under The Milky Way” while Gary Jules stripped down version of Tears for Fears “Mad World” hauntingly frames the final montage.

Unquestionably this is a truly unique debut film not only with its premise but also for its genre hoping antics as Kelly sees no issue in combining elements of time travel, surreal imagery and comedy alongside pop culture musing such as how a Smurf orgy would play out and somehow he manages to make it work. Yes this is certainly a strange and at time confusing journey which we are taken on, but at the same time it is an engrossing film and one which only continues to reward with repeat viewings.  At the same time the success of the film would see the film being given a director’s cut which ultimately serves to provide what I felt to be a dumbed down version of the film as additional footage only served to explain away more of the mystery which made the film so memorable to begin with, while Kelly changing out music for his original choices ironically fail to have the same impact as his original choices.

As important a film now as it was when it was released this film really has lost nothing despite being ever more of a cult favourite especially with pages of theories available online as we continue to try and figure out what exactly its all about (try pausing the film on Grandma Death's diary pages) while a misguided attempt to continue the story with "S. Darko" only further highlight just how key Richard Kelly was to making this world work, while his follow up "Southland Tales" continues to divide audiences even now. The real mystery though is why Kelly has still been unable to get his forth film made, especially when the likes of Eli Roth and M.Night Shyamalan can seemingly find funding for any half baked idea they can attach a hook to, making us only the more hungry to see where Kelly takes us next when he does return.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Death Race 2

Title: Death Race 2
Director:  Roel Reine
Released: 2011
Starring: Luke Goss, Fred Koehler, Taint Phoenix, Robin Shou, Lauren Cohan, Danny Trejo, Ving Rhames, Sean Bean

Plot: Set before the events of the original film as getaway driver Carl “Luke” Lucas (Goss) is sent to Terminal Island after a failed bank robbery. Here the Weyland Corporation currently run their televised gladiatorial fights known as “Death Match”. However with the audience waning a new event is needed and that event is “Death Race”

Review: A direct to DVD prequel to the surprisingly good Paul W.S. Anderson remake, who this time returns only to take on producing and scripting duties, while the directing reigns are handed over to Direct to DVD regular and favourite of WWE Studios Roel Reine.

With Jason Statham clearly not interested in returning here instead we get a prequel with direct to DVD regular Luke Goss taking over the leading man duties as he once more wheels out his bargain bin Statham act. At the same time its films like this which only serve to make me question what exactly Guillermo del Toro did to get such a great performance out of him in “Blade 2” and “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army” two films which are continually used to hock these lesser films and give the illusion of someone of some star power being involved. Here though it is a pretty charm free experience as we get a lot of gruff machismo as he essentially plays the same character that Statham did in the first film. Just one of the many moments of déjà vu which run through this film to say the least.

Joining Goss we see fellow Direct to DVD regular Danny Trejo who shows up as Luke’s mechanic Goldberg the only Mexican Jew. Tanit Phoenix meanwhile gets to provide the titillation as Luke’s navigator / love intrest and who like her character like all the female characters here has been drafted in solely for the purpose of providing sex appeal, more so when she shares zero chemistry with Goss. Ving Rhames and Sean Bean meanwhile continue their journey to direct to DVD fame with Bean putting in a fun villainous turn as Luke’s former crime boss employer. Only two member of cast return from the first film being Fred Koehler who appears once more as Lists the compulsive data collector while Robin Shou also returns as the Triad gangster 14K though sadly is once more given far too little to do.

Clearly aiming to fill in the gaps in the franchise history as we return to Terminal Island where currently they run gladiatorial battles to the death between the prisoners. The battles taking place in an arena filled with the same kind of pressure pads that we have in the races to release weapons. This in itself isn’t a bad idea to provide a gateway into the creation of the races, what is a bad idea is to spend half the film focused on these fights scenes especially when you’re selling the film under the “Death Race” header in a move that left me kind of confused to say the least. This wouldn’t have been a major problem if the fights had been shot with any kind of style or featured capable fighters both of which the film is lacking and further hindered by these scenes being largely shot with quick cuts and shaky camerawork which makes them hard to follow and this is before we watch Luke and the films main villain Big Bill (Oparei) engage in a flame thrower fight which might sound awesome but when you see the weedy flames these things produce, there is never any sense that either of them is in any kind of danger.

Once the film finally remembers that it’s supposed to be about you know a “Death Race” we get even more fighting as there are too many inmates for the vehicles they have. When it comes to the race segments for some reason they choose to just recycle the same vehicles from the first film only with different drivers and considering that all but two of these vehicles are destroyed by the end of the film, you have to question why they rolled out the same vehicles for the race in the first film especially when they are supposed to be using vehicles being broken down by the prison.

Unlike the first film the race scenes here pale in comparison thanks largely due to some clumsy direction and the shots of the drivers frequently appearing like they sitting in stationary cars. This however is not to say that the film is without its own standout moments, as the races manage to pull out a few surprises but when they are shot with such rapid cuts with none of the lingering shots or fancy car work of the first film you can’t help but assume that your just watching race footage cut out of the first film rather than anything specifically shot for the film. Why these scenes are so poor is something of mystery especially when we have the scenes of Luke’s getaway driving during the bank heist which are enjoyable enough, even if Reine has a strange obsession with shooting things in slow motion even if they don’t need to be perhaps in an attempt to raise the film about its budget limitations.

Hampered by questionable action scenes and a plodding script let alone one of the most boring and pointless sex scenes ever which does little for the audience unless they wanted to see the bare ass of Luke Goss which is put on full display here. The film does atleast try to fill in some of the blanks left by the first film, such as why all the navigators are female and how the races were created while the ending clearly has been done to set up the events of the first film, something which is essentially undone by the third film which is something of a shame when it perfectly explains how Frankenstein came to be.

Essentially the sequel you’d expect it to be especially considering the release type, its only the made the more frustrating when the film constantly hints at a better film lurking underneath that could have made this a more memorable sequel had the direction been tighter and the action scenes more traditionally shot as such this is really worth giving a miss or for the completists only.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Death Race (2008)

Title: Death Race
Director:  Paul W.S. Anderson
Released: 2008
Starring: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane, Natalie Martinez, Max Ryan, Jason Clarke, Frederick Koehler, Jacob Vargas, Justin Mader, Robert LaSardo, Robin Shou, David Carradine

Plot: Prison warden Hennessey (Allen) runs the the Terminal Island Penitentary which has a side line running ultra-violent races called “Death Race where prisoners compete to win five races and with it their freedom.  Now former NASCAR driver Jensen Ames (Statham) framed for the murder of his wife, he is offered a shot at freedom by impersonating the popular racer Frankenstein who was killed in the previous race but who Hennessey is keen to use keep alive to maintain her ratings.

Review: I don’t know what is the more surprising aspect of this remake, the fact that its as good as it is or the fact that its directed by Paul W.S. Anderson a director whose had more hits and misses than most directors manage in their career and leaving you never quite sure what to expect when you see his name in the director’s chair.

Spending over 13 years in pre-prodution the film was originally envisioned as a sequel to the cult classic original were it would have been called “Death Race 3000”, what we get instead is what Anderson views as being more of a prequel to the original film as the cross country race were competitors score points for running over pedestrians is instead replaced with a more traditional race format with the added bonus of weapons and a trap laden course. At the same time Anderson clearly seems to be working from the George Miller playbook when it comes to crafting the film with the film being built around practical effects, vicious looking vehicles and a heavy dose of vehicular carnage.

This change in format while unsurprisingly met with murmurs of disapproval from the established fans does however surprisingly work, thanks to the cast of colourful characters which Anderson populates the film with, each racer driving their own distinctly unique vehicle from Frankenstein’s Mustang through to Machine Gun Joe’s (Gibson) heavily armoured truck which makes a break from the usual fancy street cars we have become accustomed to seeing in the “Fast and Furious” films especially when they vehicles are not about looking pretty, but rather causing as much carnage as possible in the bid for ever higher ratings that these races attract. At the same time the use of practical effects and some extremely fance driving means that each crash or racer killed has the feeling of having some presence to it which is always lost when such scenes are shot in CGI so to see such a throwback to the classic car smash movies like the “Mad Max” films makes for a refreshing change let alone a fun thrill to see such carnage being unleashed on the screen.  

Outside of the action on the track Statham here once again hones his usual gruff asskicker persona as he essentially transfers Frank from “The Transporter” into this pre-apocalyptic setting as he spends most of the film either kicking ass on or off the track, though at the remit of Statham the action this time is largely vehicular based clearly not wanting the comparisons to “The Transporter” to be too clearly drawn. Here Statham is also joined by a great cast with Gibson bringing a fun ruthless and competitive edge to the character of Machine Gun Joe and makes for the perfect rival on the track, while Allen in a departure from her usual roles makes for a great villain off the track as she cares for nothing other than the ratings and thinks little of the racers for the most part other than them being a disposable commodity especially when she has a full prison of competitors to replace them with. Ian McShane meanwhile provides most of the laughs with as Ames head mechanic and essentially steals the film whenever the camera is on him with his dry whit.

Plot wise the film is unsurprisingly pretty minimalistic with most of the focus of the film being based around what is happening on the track and trying to survive whatever new twist Hennessey chooses to thrown at the racers next with the film clearly being based around spectacle than anything else as no better shown than when Hennessey unleashes her heavily armoured 18 wheeler known as the Drednought and which we get to see spectacularly flipped in one of the many grandstand moments throughout the film and one which was suprisingly overshadowed by the lesser truck flip seen in “The Dark Knight”. As such some may choose to view the film as being loud and dumb especially when its choosing not to get bogged down in angst and attempts to add some kind of social commentary to what is happening. Instead what Anderson is doing here is showing that he recognises his audience and the fact that they are showing up to see cars get wrecked and Staham kick a lot of ass and that is exactly what he gives them, putting the film in the same category as “XXX” doomed to be critised by the critics for the sheer reason of giving the audience what they really want.

To compare this film to the original is a futile exercise as both exsist truly within their own rules while at the same time doing what we want them to do, according to the rules and confines of their individual worlds. As such its better just to enjoy both films for what they are, rather than attempting any kind of tit for tat comparison between the two. Instead  leave your mind at the door and enjoy the full throttle carnage rush it more than provides.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Hateful Eight

Title: The Hateful Eight
Director:  Quentin Tarantino
Released: 2015

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks, Channing Tatum, Dana Gourrier, Zoe Bell, Lee Horsley, Gene Jones, Keith Jefferson, Criag Stark, Belinda Owino, Quentin Tarantino

Plot: Bounty hunter John Ruth (Russell) and his fugitive captive Daisy Domergue (Leigh) are forced to wait out a blizzard along with a collection of assorted strangers including bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) and the local town’s new sheriff Chris Mannix (Goggins). However its not long before tensions between the group start to rise as it becomes clear that some is plotting on helping Daisy to escape the hangman’s noose.

Review:  Watching a Tarantino film in the cinema for the first time I always find comes with the same thrill, as those familiar yellow block front titles appear on the screen while at the same time introducing the film as the “8th film by Quentin Tarantino” once more reminding the audience just how important Tarantino views his filmography, more so as he continues to threaten us with a pending retirement once he completes his 10th film. That being said this film certainly owes a great debt to Samuel L. Jackson who convinced Tarantino to make the film after the script was leaked online with Tarantino choosing at the time to respond by refusing to make the film. It would of course be a decision changed by a script read and the aforementioned involvement by Jackson and having now seen the finished film I’m so glad that he did.

Clearly not ready to move on from the western genre after giving the world his own addition to the long running Django series with “Django Unchained” a film which was a much a continuation of sorts for that series as it was a homage to its director Sergio Corbucci who here aswell appears to be a key influence for Tarantino who at the same time seems equally keen to take his film making back to the simplicity of “Reservoir Dogs” by keeping all the action for the most part inside the walls of “Minnie’s Haberdashery”. While the western genre is far from a favourite for myself and probably placed somewhere just above “French New Wave” yet somehow Tarantino has crafted here a western that even those of us who aren’t fans of the genre can still enjoy, especially as here it is essentially just more of a setting for him to tell his own reworking of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” in much the same way as John Carpenter did with “The Thing” which itself makes for the other main influence at play here.

What is clear though here though especially with Tarantino’s much use of film over digital especially from the Roadshow presentations of the film which included an intermission and prelude both cut out of the general release with Tarantino believing that they wouldn’t work with your average movie going audience. A risk it seems he wasn’t willing to take again after the disappointing reception that greeted “Grindhouse” and which lead to the film ultimately being split into its separate films when it was released outside of the states. True this is all essentially window dressing, but it’s clear at the same time that Tarantino is trying to once more make movie going an experience again, something that he clearly feels is being lost with the use of digital over the more traditional use of film. The downside of course being that while the intermission has been removed, Tarantino’s narration remains reminding us of what we watched 15 mins ago, despite the fact the audience on these non-roadshow screenings haven’t actually gone anywhere.

As with “Django Unchained” Tarantino’s vision of the Wild West is once more a rough and dirty place and one in which the smallest dash of light and happiness can suddenly be dashed out in an instance, while strangers all carry their own agenda and should only be trusted with caution, a trust which is truly stretched between the group as they begin to suspect that someone amongst them might not be who they seem.  At the same time Tarantino is in no rush to tell his story as he spends the first half of the film cranking up the tension and establishing the setting, which did towards the end of this section really feel like the film was dragging itself through a quagmire before ensuring that he ends this first half on a suitably shocking note.  Its once we get into the second half though that the film really gets going and the violence is cranked up to suitably bloody levels.

I guess it should however come as little surprise that the film is exceptionally bloody and violent in places, as heads are blown off, bullets tear through bodies and the disgusting effects of a pot of poisoned coffee are suddenly revealed, yet at the same time while easy to consider gratuitous is still used at key moments to provide the right amount of shocks. The same can also be said for the large amount of violence inflicted on the character of Daisy which unquestionably shocking when we first see it can see be seen as justifiable considering how she is after all a criminal and in fitting with the period likely to have hardly been treated with the most gentlemanly behaviour as we frequently see here. Tarantino though being the maestro of violence he is though never seems to push things too far as might be seen with a lesser director at the helm. That being said the ending did feel perhaps more sadistic than I personally liked it to be and kind of left me wishing that he gone for the more bloody proposed ending than the one we got but it’s a fun ride until this point and seems like a justifiable end for the events which have transpired.

Unquestionably by going back to his “Reservoir Dogs” roots and keeping the action in one location here it frees him up to craft a truly memorable group of characters who are all distinctly different from each other, while at the same time the dialogue is arguably its most memorable since “Jackie Brown” which is only further advantage here when so much of the action is based around the characters trying to figure each other’s motives out before communication breaks down and the bullets start to fly. At the same with the cast he has assembled here being as good as they are really makes for an engrossing experience once the film finds its rhythm which coming as late as it does may mean that the film comes off perhaps a little plodding for some, even if it more than makes up for things in its second half.

Ultimately this is an improvement over “Django Unchained” and an enjoyable addition to his filmography even for non-western fans like myself, at the same time though I really hope that he decides to move onto another genre for his next film, especially when he continues to taunt us with such tantalising project such as “Wild Crows” and “Kill Bill Vol.3” though I’d be personally be happy to see him doing anything other than another western, but then I guess it all rests on him being able to get hold of enough film stock, so let’s hope that someone is keeping Tarantino a private stash.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Wish I Was Here

Title: Wish I Was Here
Director:  Zach Braff
Released: 2014
Starring: Zach Braff, Josh Gad, Ashley Greene, Kate Hudson, Joey King, Mandy Patinkin

Plot: Aidan (Braff) is a struggling actor living in LA while being supported by his wife Sarah (Hudson) and relying on his father Gabe (Patinkin) to send his kids to a good school.  However Aiden finds himself forced to examine his life when his father’s cancer returns.

Review:  Coming ten years after his critically acclaimed indie hit “Garden State” this follow up is probably better known for the controversy Braff caused by trying to use Kickstarter to fund part of the film after being inspired by the success of the “Veronica Mars” campaign to try the same for this film. It’s still unclear why everyone was so upset by this move, perhaps believing that Braff should be able to fund his own movie but yet these same people have little concern about raising funds to bring back MST3K which had a decent run to begin with.

Once again here Braff plays an actor (way to branch out) though here it’s clear that things aren’t exactly going according to plan as he goes from one failed audition to the next all while his wife Sarah is forced to work a tedious job in data entry to pay the bills while also being forced to share a cubicle with her douchbag co-worker who constantly makes inappropriate jokes about his penis. Despite the comfortable setup Aiden has for himself there is a sense of him feeling lost and without purpose, especially with his acting career having seemingly stalled and is only thrown into further confusion when his father stops funding the expensive Jewish school his kids had been attending and leading Aiden first of all on a misguided attempt to home school before ultimately re-examine what he wants to do with his life.

Despite clearly aiming for the same element of indie cool that his debut had it’s ultimately a missed bag of ideas that we ultimately end up with here as he drags his kids Grace (King) and Tucker (Gagnon) along with him on his journey of self-discovery, while his daughter deals with life outside of the tight restraints of her Jewish school, a situation she chooses to deal with by shaving her head and in doing so spends the rest of the film wearing a bright pink wig. Tucker meanwhile…..well not a lot changes for him as seemingly its enough for him to just be the bratty younger brother.

Elsewhere Aidan has to also help reunite his brother Noah (Gad) and father the two having drifted apart under Gabe’s continual criticism of his son, which has seemingly now turned Noah into a slovenly shut in. Sadly Gad is sorely under used here, especially when he so much fun when he is on the screen making demands for a Lego Death Star to babysit the kids or getting in an argument with his neighbour (Greene) over whether she should be classed as a furry while at the same harbouring feelings for her he’s seemingly only able to show via showing up in his own costume at Comic-con leading to one of the more original sex scenes ever.

While the key theme of the film is clearly about the discover of self, here Braff also appears to be asking the question of when if ever is it okay to let your dreams die, in this case Aiden’s refusal to give up on his acting career. With Aiden though so self-focused on his own journey it does at time feel that we are watching Braff play the cool babysitter running around with someone else’s kids rather than his own. At the same time Aiden frequently drifts off into “Brazil” inspired daydreams where he is running around as what appear to be a medieval astronaut, which Braff attempts to nail some importance on, but largely these come off more as whims and left off plot devices which could have gone somewhere but ultimately never do, something all the more frustrating when such importance seems to be placed upon them.  

Despite the plotting issues which run throughout the film it is another great cast which Braff has assembled here with Joey King once again proving herself a charming young actress and certainly a talent to watch. The downside though is that despite having a great cast, the script never gives many of them anything particularly interesting to do especially as in the case of Hudson who spends most of the film outside of her harassment plot line pushed to the back of the film and there mainly to provide the moral support and be the rock of her relationship with Aiden. Mandy Patinkin meanwhile is on hand to provide food for thought, but gives a very sedate performance even outside of his character dying from cancer, it feels like he was autopilot for the most part here.  

Outside of the issue the film is enjoyable enough, though lacking in the same spark which made “Garden State” such a memorable indie classic while at the same time leaving little to discover on a rewatch, especially when things generally happen around the characters as they move towards the inevitable conclusion of the film which you will no doubt see coming early on. Still as the kind of movie that you throw on a lazy Sunday you could do a lot worse while making me curious to see what Braff does next and whether “Garden State” was the fluke many now seem contempt to proclaim it as being.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Sympathy For Lady Vengeance

Title: Sympathy For Lady Vengeance
Director:  Park Chan-wook
Released: 2005
Starring: Lee Young-ae, Choi Min-sik, Kwon Yea-young, Kim Shi-hoo, Oh Dal-su, Lee Seung-Shin, Kim Byeong-ok, Ra Mi-ran, Seo Young-ju, Kim Boo-seon

Plot: Wrongly imprisoned for the kidnap and murder of a young boy, Lee Guem-Ja (Lee Young-ae)  has spent the last thirteen years plotting her revenge on the man responsible Mr Baek (Choi Min-sik). Now with the help of the prisoners she helped while serving her sentence she sets out to put her plan into action.

Review:  The third and final film in Chan-wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy” following on from “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and “Oldboy” while it is also a trilogy more in the sense of reoccurring themes and ideas rather than characters, while Chan-Wook’s trilogy can equally be known for just how beautiful he manages to make the look of revenge, despite the fact that he has his characters over the course of the trilogy carry out some truly ugly acts. More frustatingly though is the fact that the bookend films in this trilogy are generally overshadowed by “Oldboy” a film which has gone onto alongside “Battle Royale” and “The Raid:Redemption” become one of the few subtitled movies that everyone including none subtitle fans have seen. This of course is only more of a shame especially when this film alongside “Symphony for Mr. Vengeance” are equally as good if not better than the middle film in this trilogy a case I have especially argued for this film.

Opening with the release of the angelic Guem-Ja its hard to imagine that she will soon transform herself into an Angel of Vengeance but as she rejects the offer of snow white tofu from the gathering of Christians outside the prison its clear that she has no plans of living pure as her consumption of the tofu would symbolise. Soon though she is wearing her trademark red eye shadow and leather coat but not before she has attempted to apologise to the parents of the boy she is accused of murdering by cutting off her finger in an attempt it would seem to cut them all off which goes down as well as can be expected.

One of the great aspects of this film is how this time is seeing how Geum-ja puts her plan into action, visiting paroled inmates she helped while in prision she is quickly able to assemble everything she needs and it’s during this portion of the film that we not only get to meet this colourful group of characters including my personal favourites the husband and wife bank robber team and a plump lesbian responsible for killing and barbequing her family, while we also learn the things that Geum-ja did to help each of them from caring for them to the more extreme donating of a kidney and slowly poisoning the prison bully making it little surprise with so many selfless deeds being done by her that they are so keen to help her with her plans for revenge. Of course the path to revenge is never a straight path and it was never truer than here as even with all the tools required to carry out her revenge she soon discovers that her situation may just be a small part of a much larger picture which soon leads to a much more chilling finale which comes completely by surprise yet at the same time makes for a fitting finale for the trilogy as a whole.

As with the previous entries in the trilogy Chan-Wook once more brings a distinct visual look to the film as here the grim cityscapes are countered by the purity of nature, with his use of snow being especially effective as we are reminded once more of how effective blood on snow can look. Despite more once containing some memorable scenes of violence throughout, though perhaps nothing to the levels seen in “Oldboy” here he goes more for subtly over splatter while at the same time making it look stunning to watch, proving once more that such stunning visuals shouldn’t be kept solely to arthouse and prestige pictures.

For those coming to the film after the spectacle of “Oldboy” they may find themselves slightly disappointed by the slower pacing of this film, much less the lack of shocking scenes as no one is eating live squid or taking on multiple thugs with a hammer here. This is of course not to say much like “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” that the film is lacking in its own memorable moments such as the touching reunion with her daughter now living in Australia with her adopted parents or the showdown with a pair of thugs in which Geum-ja constantly has to keep judging her position to ensure her gun is in range. Geum-ja constantly proving that she is far from the fragile doll despite the angelic persona she equally hides that of a devil aswell as she proves herself more than capable of handling herself or carrying out ruthless deeds without any concern for the morals of her actions.

On equally great form is Choi Min-sik who after playing the antihero lead in “Oldboy” here returns as the villain of the film Mr Baek and who like Geum-ja does his own great job of showing two very different sides to his personality as he hides behind the persona of being a friendly primary school teacher who we see in one seen happily entertaining his class with a rendition of “Two Little Dickie Birds” before showing him at home brutally abusing his wife, who it turns out is also a former cellmate of Geum-ja who married him as part of her revenge plot which makes you wonder what else Geum-ja did that we didn’t see to inspire such loyalty and favours from these former convicts.   The fact that he is such a hedious character certainly makes his fate easier to accept, especially from the surface details such as him being an abusive husband, but the fact that Chan-Wook is able to add further grime to his character as Geum-ja gets closer to completing her revenge only hightens the film above just another run of the mill revenge flick.

While it’s true that this entry is more concerned with its styling and cinematography than the previous entry, much less slower paced this is far from a boring watch, thanks to its interesting characters and Chan-Wook’s ability to

Monday, 11 January 2016

Elwood's Essentials #13 - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Title: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Director: Michel Gondry
Released: 2004
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson

Plot: When Joel (Carrey) discovers that his ex-girlfriend Clementine (Winslet) has had her memories of him erased via Lacuna, Inc. he undergoes the treatment himself to remove his memories of their relationship only to soon find himself wanting to hold onto his memories of her and attempting to hide the subliminal Clementine within his own memories as a unique chase soon begins to unfold.

Review: Occasionally as a avid movie watcher you will encounter a film which for one reason or another seemingly hits you on a deeper level, making the experience take on a whole new level. It’s something that has only happened a few times with Donnie Darko, Southland Tales and A Clockwork Orange all providing this kind of viewing experience, to the point where I can still remember every detail about those initial viewings.  The same thing would also happen during the opening to this film as Joel suddenly decides to blow off work and take the train to Montauk, while her reels off his thoughts as a voice over from the random such as critising sand for being “Just tiny rocks” to suddenly hitting on two thoughts which hit me hard

“Random thoughts for Valentine’s day, 2004. Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.”

“Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?”

And it was these two quotes which made me suddenly realise that I had found in this film a kindred spirit,  knowing in the back of mind that no matter what happened next I would love this film forever.  Thankfully the rest of the film is just as great as this opening with the perfect storm of the visually driven director Michel Gondry and the highly unique writing of Charlie Kaufman with this film being their second time collaborating after the hit and miss “Human Nature”.

Being a Kaufman script it should come as little surprise that the films narrative is less than traditional, with the opening introduction of Joel and Clementine whose mismatched personalities somehow gel together into a believable relationship not that we get to enjoy it for long as we cut to a post break up Joel struggling to deal with the fallout from their break up while more confusingly why she suddenly doesn’t seem to remember who he is. Needless to say it’s a disorientating style of plotting, but Gondry trusts enough in his audience not to baby them through the film as he throws out bursts of information along with a heavy dose of his visual styling and leaves the viewer to piece it all together.

While the lead up to Joel undergoing the treatment might be confusing its none the less of a rough ride once we get into his memories as we are confronted with the bitter end of his breakup as these two characters we see falling in love now seemingly can’t stand a thing about each other. As each of these memories are deleted though we inevitably come to the turning point in the relationship when things weren’t so bad and it’s this sudden realisation on Joel’s part where the films emotional centre lies especially as Joel now realises that he’s not ready to give her up. The added twist here though are the frequent cuts back to the real world as Lacuna technicians Stan (Ruffalo) and Patrick (Wood) carry out their work and as Joel decides to go on the run in his own memories struggles to delete the memories of Clementine he’s attempting to save, especially as his body remains paralysed while undergoing the treatment.  

While these two plots would be perfectly sufficient for the film to be an intresting and unique film, we also get another and more creepy aspect added with Patrick attempting to seduce Clementine using her deleted memories of her relationship with Joel with little regard for the ethics of doing such a thing. This role being the start of a chain of interesting roles for Wood who at this point was coming off his lead role in “The Lord of the Rings” and here really manages to tap into a surprisingly creepy side while equally happy to brag about his involvement with her to Stan and makes for an interesting antagonist of sorts for Joel as he constantly tries to figure out who he is from the fragments of memories of him he has.

Perhaps because Gondry is such a visually driven director that the film is almost too perfectly suited for him, as here he shows scenery rapidly disappearing as memories are deleted, while using visual trickery to shrink Carrey without the use of CGI as seen during the scene in which Joel hides out in his childhood memory of hiding under the table while Clementine remains fully grown as she takes on the role of his mother’s friend. Its also during these diversions into his childhood memories or when memories start merging into each other that the film is at its most arresting and memorable.

At the same time the films characters are as equally memorable and intresting as the visuals happening around them be it the free spirited Clementine whose introduction is her voicing her desire to have the job naming hair dye such creative names as “Agent Orange”. Joel on the other hand while depressed and withdrawn when we first meet him, soon starts to show a variety of levels throughout the film including a fun and creative side that Clementine brings out in him, with Carrey playing it largely serious once more, yet somehow still manging to work in some of his natural clowning abilities. However the person seemingly have the most fun here is Winslet, who shugs off her usual well-spoken persona and embraces an anarchic side not seen from her since “Heavenly Creatures” and one which perfectly gels with Carrey despite the unusual pairing and making me wish that they would team up together more often.

Unquestionably this is a highly unique film and the kind which seems to be sadly increasingly a rarity in these times were studios are favouring tentpole and prestige pictures over the risks of more imaginative and creative works. At the same time this remains currently the high water mark for Gondry who while certainly none the less creative with the films which he has made following this has yet to produce anything which has come close to matching the surprisingly emotional yet entertaining trip that he takes us on here.
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