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Oldboy (2013)

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Oldboy (2013)Starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley

Directed by Spike Lee


Oldboy screenwriter Mark Protosevich has endured a long, winding road with this project, which was initially going to be helmed by filmmaking giant Steven Spielberg with superstar Will “Blockbuster” Smith set to star. Imagining how much more tame and watered-down that final product might have been should make you appreciate just how bold Spike Lee’s version turned out, but knowing his work, you wouldn’t necessarily expect anything less.

With Josh Brolin and Lee attaching themselves to finally realize Protosevich’s script and a few white hot trailers teasing a potentially great remake of Park Chan-wook’s original revenge masterpiece, things looked quite promising. In its execution, however, Spike Lee’s Oldboy doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head – but it does drive a hammer through a few skulls deserving of Brolin and Lee’s wrath.

Really? Spike Lee’s Oldboy? That’s a thing? Initially, it doesn’t seem like a good fit for the legendary Brooklyn filmmaker, but the story does center around family, a dynamic that Lee likes to deconstruct and analyze in certain films from Do The Right Thing to She Hate Me. In Oldboy he doesn’t just destroy the family dynamic, he perverts it. Brolin’s character, Joe Doucett, has already done a great deal of damage to his family once the film begins: he’s divorced, doesn’t care about missing his daughter’s birthday, and struggles with severe alcoholism. After a pathetic all-night bender spurred on by losing a big client, he’s imprisoned without committing any crime (that he is aware of) in a faux hotel room that’s really a private dungeon. The days turn to months and then years as Doucett slowly goes mad.

A lot seems to be riding on the twist of this new version where Doucett finds out why he’s been imprisoned and then set free for seemingly no reason, but the original Oldboy is not just about the twist ending – a conclusion that approaches Shakespearean levels of tragedy; it’s about the path to revenge that leads to the darkest horror imaginable.

One of the reasons Spike Lee is even able to remake Oldboy a mere ten years later is that most mainstream moviegoers don’t know what happens in the final reel of the original and the film fans that have seen it don’t just talk about the ending. That’s a testament to the true craftsmanship of director Park’s film because there are memorable moments throughout and the original isn’t beholden to the shocking conclusion. When the reveal comes in Lee’s version, it’s more melodrama than heavy drama and is dangerously close to being just plain silly.

In fact, I would guess that when most people think of Oldboy, the first thing they think of is the hammer scene – the side-scrolling gang fight shot over one take. When Lee tackles the scene, it’s electric. It’s apparent by the staging and choreography that Lee and his team were clearly looking forward to showing their version. Shot on multiple levels, it’s kinetic and bloody and exhibits what can happen when brute strength and pure wrath are unleashed without warning. No guns are used, replaced instead with bricks, 2×4 lumber, pipes, and, of course, one very pissed off hammer. It’s the highlight of the film, and after it happens, the slow realization starts to set in that the rest of Oldboy just doesn’t really work.

Lee is more concerned with the imprisonment, lengthening the time from fifteen years in the original to twenty years in this version. This segment of the film is much longer than the original. As Doucett learns through a stagy newscast that his daughter is now an orphan after his ex-wife was brutally raped and murdered (presumably by him), Lee is allowed to explore the reality of how so many black families have been torn apart because the father and mother either end up dead or in jail, leaving a child alone and endangered. Now, he’s able to take that idea and cover it in a new and original way with the unique premise of a man not knowing why he was imprisoned and why he’s being set up.

Once released, Doucett is almost like an abused child, befriended by a volunteer trying to stay sober played by Elizabeth Olsen. She believes what’s happened to him, and they slowly start to form the first human relationship Doucett has had in years. From there, Oldboy becomes a slow-moving procedural that starts to piece together just who is behind all of this. Sharlto Copley plays the part of the mysterious villain and reveals himself rather early. His story and the way Copley plays him are both fairly ridiculous, and he’s never menacing in any significant way. He really comes off as a wounded child himself, too rich for his own good.

The reason why Oldboy doesn’t click and function as a fully realized film is that Lee doesn’t seem to be nearly as invested in the last half of the story, where Doucett uncovers the reasons why he was jailed and what the final secret really is. It feels like an epilogue after his version of the hammer sequence. The villain he seems more interested in is Samuel Jackson and his multi-colored mohawk. Once that portion of the film is over and Doucett explodes in a brilliant rage, Lee seems to tune out as if he’s grown tired of watching his own newscast and is ready to be set free of the Hollywood machine that probably forced his hand to make Oldboy in the first place. His next film, The Blood of Jesus, funded solely through Kickstarter, should be much more energetic and passionate.

2 1/2 out of 5

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IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor

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Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.

On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.

The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.

While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.

What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.

While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.

  • Alive in New Light
5.0

Summary

IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.

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The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell

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Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law

Directed by John Law


I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.

The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.

The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.

  • Film
3.5

Summary

The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.

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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions

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Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa


During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

  • Before We Vanish
4.0

Summary

Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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