OLDBOY REVIEW

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Oh Boy!

Now firstly, I am a huge fan of Park Chan-wook’s 2004 original cult classic, and was devastated to hear a remake was in the pipeline. However, I felt somewhat assured knowing that Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing and Inside Man) was at the helm, with Josh Brolin and Samuel L (The L stands for Motherfucker) Jackson in the cast.

But what I just watched was a travesty, everything I feared in a Hollywood remake by the bucket load. The opening half hour did pay homage and pretty much covered the same set up as the original, which did not bother me in the slightest, with Brolin with his Southern drawl playing the part to perfection and establishing early on that the character is asking for trouble. For those unaware of the original plot, I will try not to spoil too much but I’m so riled up after watching this, I cannot promise anything.

Basically, the main gist is that Joe Doucett (Brolin) is kidnapped and held prisoner in a hotel room for 20 years, until one day he is released thus putting him on a murderous vengeance-seeking path with a hammer in tow. (That’s right. A hammer). Original fans – I’ll get to that. What I liked was the little touches. The fact that Lee included the mystery umbrella woman. However, he focuses, if a little too much, more on Doucett’s entrapment. Although it allowed the scenes to provide more depth and encapsulate (Word of the day!) his vulnerability and ever-growing psychosis, it could have been condensed a lot quicker.

(Plus was I the only one thinking, Jesus Brolin, put on some pants son?). The Cast Away-inspired pillow companion was a nice touch.

Oldboy was always a strange and violent film but what I loved about Chan-wook’s original was that it was suspenseful, intriguing and hypnotic, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen (and no! Not because it was in subtitles!). But once Doucett is freed from his motel confines, Lee seems to throw away everything that made the original a classic for me, leaving a big, bloody mess. This is settled in one ridiculously unnecessary violent scene, in which Brolin pretty much kills a high school football team for getting in his way. And with that very moment, went all logic and interest.

The cast do their utmost to provide a dimension to their wafer thin characters. A notable exception being the beautiful Elizabeth Olsen (I didn’t realise the Olsen twins had another sister, my goodness, steady now). You know you’re onto a losing streak when even Samuel L Jackson can’t save the day (he was the Spirit bad. Bad). Jackson just come across as a whiny, cross dressing weirdo with a stupid blonde Mohican, not even his motherfuckery was funny. Just plain irritating.

The lines fall flat, Brolin the powerhouse actor that he is, can only grumble and pull stupid faces. The dumpling scene, my God! At one point, in an attempt to find his captors, he knows that the food he was given was from a Chinese restaurant. So what does he do? Go to every restaurant and literally fill his face with dumplings until he recognizes the taste.

The whole thing borders on self-parody. At one point, Josh Brolin is riding a tiny Chinese bicycle while chasing after a Jeep frantically waving a hammer and Sharlto Copley (District 9) as the villain. Oh my word! What was the deal with his accent? Now, the villain was always an eccentric and a flamboyant dresser. But Copley’s portrayal comes off as a really naff Bond villain from the 70s Moore era. It was laughable. There was genuine suspense when the two protagonists finally meet but with Brolin and Copley, it was comical.

The hammer scene, the infamous hammer scene. Terrible. Lee films it all in one take, like the original, but instead of leaving the camera static and the action unfolding around it, the camera pans around, following Brolin. He only uses the hammer for thirty seconds, then swaps to every possible weapon. The violence is OTT, ridiculous and stupid. He’s running around with a knife in his back while being slapped about with 2×4’s! One big Saturday Night Live piss take.

No squid eating, just a passing reference. And the umbrella woman, just disappears. My friend who has not seen the original did not get the point to her at all and frankly there wasn’t one in this rehash. Oh and the twist. Well, there is a twist for those unfamiliar but for those familiar, it’s different, they stay true but go a little bit more messed up.

It is difficult not to draw comparisons, especially to a film that was, and still is good. It did not need to be remade.

On it’s own merit, it’s a stupidly gory and OTT watchable mess that is so-so at best, and I mean best. Worth a gander if you’re a gore nut but the tone is all over the place, just like everything else with this movie. A real mess, a beautifully shot mess but oh boy 1.5/5

Currently ranked 176 out of 178!

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THE RAID 2 REVIEW

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The Dark Knight of Action Movies? Sorry guys not for me. The woes of hype and the dreaded sequelitis hinder a brutal tour de force of bone crushing awesomeness. By all means, it’s still one of the better films out there at the moment but at a whopping 2 and a half hours, some might feel they didn’t get enough blood for their buck.

Now, I loved the Raid. A friend recommended it. The premise was nothing special. Sounded like Dredd. A swat team hunt down a dealer in a tower block but what came next was something fast, frantic, furious and f- flipping awesome. The Raid knew what it was. Didn’t mess around. Quick set up of who is who. Bad guy. Good guy. Let the mayhem ensue. Leading to one of the best action films I have seen and no wonder it became a cult hit and no wonder that there would be a sequel.

Now finally getting the attention it deserves and a wider release, hype spreading like wild fire, the anticipated second serving is unleashed and unfortunately for me, it was a mixed bag. Now it would help to have watched the first installment and ideally quite recently as well; as I struggled in the opening 20 minutes to remember who was who. Kudos to Gareth Evans for actually attempting to tell a story and set up a plot. The flicking back and forth and a shocking opener had me amped up and ready. The general gist is that only a short time after the first raid, Rama (Iko Uwais) goes undercover with the thugs of Jakarta in an attempt to bring down the syndicate and uncover the corruption within his police force.

Once the flicking back and forth is dealt with and the premise set up, it does burn on the Bunsen at a low flicker which, to start with, works to its strengths. The plot set up juxtaposed between a worn Rama prepping for an intense prison punch up, delicately teases your blood lust and tests your patience. However, after a while, that latter part of the sentence soon grates on you as my eyes starting to wonder at the little hands on my watch. Evans is a maestro with the camera filming the fight sequences and like most big action movies, he wants you to wait. Feeding your action movie palette with little blood-curdling adrenaline pumped tidbits until that macho main course finale. However, what I liked about the first Raid. There was no need for that wait. I would happily wait if the story warranted the time. But for me, it didn’t.

The first half an hour in which Rama’s cover is set up was well worked and the prison sequences were fantastic. Tense, violent and brilliantly choreographed as Rama must earn the trust of the son of a kingpin, Uco (Arifin Putra) in order to work his way up the chain of command. Unfortunately, I have seen this premise done a lot better and a lot quicker. At first, endearing as Rama must distance himself from his family for their protection soon drags on and the next hour or so, is endless slow paced exposition with an intense five minute punch up or shoot em up, followed by more predictable back stabbing and droll exposition. A few twists pick up the pace, some unexpected, others blatantly obvious.

However, the final forty minutes. Now that is what I waited for. Bold, brash, brutal, gory, violent, breathtaking. The Bunsen is soon obliterated in a fierce finale with kick ass kitchen kick offs, crazy car chases and mindless violence. Check, check and hell yes! The car chase sequence was one of the best I have seen in a long time. Intense fighting and crazy driving surpassed the relentless CGI and intensity of the Matrix Reloaded by miles. Within the fight sequences, Evans created three memorable and soon to be cult classic characters that make worthy foes for our powerless protagonist. In the red corner, the shade wearing, hammer welding, alluring deaf assassin, Alicia or the appropriate named Hammer Girl (Julie Christie) and her baseball carrying nutter of a helper, the . . .  Baseball Bat Man (no, seriously, that is his credited name – played by Very Tri Yulisman) and in the blue corner, the double bladed bearing badass The Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman).

It may drag with predictable climbing through the ranks exposition at a questionable length but when it unleashes the action, this is where it excels. Evans still recruits a strong Indonesian cast and hasn’t tainted or given in to Hollywood pressures, except for one minor scene in which they unexpectedly speak English. The cinematography gives off a more polished look to its predecessor which makes it stand out so much more. So well done, Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono. The real wizards are the stunt teams and the cast who perform them. So in all in all, not bad. Bigger? By the end, definitely. Badder? The foes? Definitely. But better? Not to me. Slow, meandering, the film could have been cut by an hour and been so much better for it. Invest by all means just be patient and the pay off will be worth it. If you want it fast, furious and constant, then go back to the first. 3.5/5

Currently ranks #22 out of 165!

JACK STRONG REVIEW

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Hit and miss. Suspenseful in parts. This US/Polish collaborated thriller just wasn’t strong enough.

I was impressed to see a foreign film at my local Cineworld. However, this film might not be the best case to persuade them to do so. An intriguing opening certainly got things going. The sinister looking Dimitri Bilov showing how the Soviets deal with spies. BUT that was soon bogged down with heavy exposition which people (who are unfamiliar or a little bit rusty with their Cold War history on the Soviet Empire) would find quite hard to follow.

It seemed to skim across the years without really establishing a date. The characters age at an alarming rate. It’s only when a brief encounter with an army officer confirmed that three years had passed, five years, etc that you even had a clue.

It was a good half hour before anything happened. I don’t mind a slow burning film if there’s enough suspense or story to keep it going. This was just lulling me into a coma. It was established early on that this account is a flashback which killed a good bit of the tension.

It was only when Ryszard Kulinski (Marcin Dorocinski) decides to provide important information to America that we start to get an engaging and suspenseful thriller. It was nostalgic of the early Bond films. The markings on the bricks, secret meetings, as well as the odd piece of gadgetry in the form of a nifty cigarette lighter that my interest was piqued.

However, this all gets too repetitive. The tone stutters along. With one brilliantly tense scene, there is one OTT and unintentionally hilarious one. Without spoiling too much, whether it was the acting or the execution; two scenes came off like something out of a parody! In one tense scene, Kulinski steals an important document, shoves it in his bag and attempts to walk out of the fortress. Only to walk into a wall.

Another example; the gruesome Putek (brilliantly played by Miroslaw Baka) suspects that someone in the room is the spy. What do you do? Keep calm. Act dumb. Or do you sweat profusely, ring your handkerchief out like a sponge and then grab the nearest piece of paper and rub ink across your forehead? Hmmm. Yeah didn’t think so.

Obviously, the main character is under a lot of stress and risk which would test you psychologically more than physically but it came off hammy and if I was in that room, I would have pointed him out in a heart beat. I mean he was a highly ranked military figure. Surely he had experience in hostile situations?

The family element seems to be forced in to break up the floundering tension and was only really necessary in the final act. I mean the heated tension between Kulinksi and his son Bogdan (Piotr Nerlewski) had its moments but more could have been made out of their fractured relationship. Shame. Kulinski’s encounters with his wife Hanna (Maja Ostaszewska) lacked real chemistry and came off sloppy.

It was a surprise to see Patrick Wilson (Insidious/The Conjuring) in this and speaking Polish. He played the part well but in all fairness, anyone could have done it. You would have thought having a big name (ish), you would have given him a meatier role? Nope. Wilson is wasted as a deadpan handler who reels off the usual cliched rubbish and then isn’t even around for the big finale.

The finale, on the other hand, does pay off. As the pressure mounts, escape is the only option. There is a brilliantly shot car chase across an icy Polish town that was tense and pacey. Remembering it was a flashback, there were a few cheeky red herrings that made you stick with the finale.

However as the film catches up with the present. You’re left somewhat confused. Although pacey and suspenseful, you notice plot holes. The intentions of the police become increasingly unclear. A reveal in the closing minutes was surprisingly laughable.

What was also infuriating was the unexpected demises of several characters I had followed throughout the film. They were rushed and unexplained. BUT as the credits rolled, it was revealed that some of the deaths are still not. This did add a somewhat sombre touch to the aftermath.

Not a complete dud, but it’s stuttering style and execution took the wind out of what could have been one heck of a thriller. Not strong enough for me.

2.5/5