Oh! Brothers (2003, Kim Yong-hwa)

I saw the director’s cut of Aliens when it first came out in 1991. I didn’t have my own laserdisc player (and going downstairs was too far), so I probably didn’t watch Aliens again for quite a few years, if ever. Once you’ve seen the director’s cut, there’s no point in going back to the original. Oh! Brothers runs 109 minutes and it seems like there are a number of missing scenes, including visible ones, when characters talk about something they’ve done and the audience is supposed to be familiar with… but they never did it. There’s a 134 minute director’s cut, but it’s not available with English subtitles. Twenty-five minutes is a long time and it might have helped Oh! Brothers a little, because the film’s a mess.

Essentially, the film’s a remake of Rain Man, only instead of autism, the brother has a fictionalized version of progeria–a disease which causes accelerated aging–and Oh! Brothers portrays it as the kid in the adult’s body. I’m not sure why it bothers, since the disease is infrequently taken seriously and when it is, it’s forced. Given the main character’s angst–over his half-brother’s mother being the woman who drove his (the main character’s) mother to suicide–it seems like overkill. In fact, it’d probably have worked better if the kid had just been a kid, especially since the film never fully convinces. Lee Beom-soo does a fine job, but he never makes the audience forget (and, geez, that guy on “Maniac Mansion” made me forget). His performance is so generic, like the film, he leaves little impression.

As the lead, Lee Jung-jae is stuck. The film expects the audience–I assume because it’s Lee Jung-jae–to know the character’s got a heart of gold deep down, but it never shows us any evidence. He’s a blackmailer who works for a small-time gangster and a dirty cop (who’s got fraternal issues of his own), and he’s a constant dick to everyone in the film. Given he doesn’t have a character, Lee Jung-jae does a great job, but it’s still plastic. He’s not the kind of actor who can do this plastic work… he’s not a movie star, he’s an actor. The character doesn’t engage the audience and the film only does it with melodrama.

There are a lot of good moments in Oh! Brothers, a lot of funny ones. As the crooked cop, Lee Moon-sik is fantastic and easily walks off with the film (he doesn’t really have any competition). Overall, the film manages to amuse and engage and it’s hard to believe it isn’t offensive in its treatment of a tragic disease, but it isn’t (it’s oblivious as opposed to insensitive). It just isn’t particularly good….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Kim Yong-hwa; director of photography, Park Hyeon-cheol; edited by Park Gok-ji; music by Kim Deok-yun; produced by Park Moo-seung; released by KM Culture Co.

Starring Lee Jung-Jae (Oh Sang-su), Lee Beom-su (Oh Bong-gu), Lee Mun-shik (Jeong), Ryu Seung-su (Heo Ki-tae), Ryu Yong-jin (Mr. Park) and Lee Won-jong (Mr. Hong).


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Install (2004, Kataoka Kei)

I watched Install because I was curious to see Ueto Aya in a non-Azumi role. She’s good in Install, though it’s impossible to determine whether or not she could have been bad. The film’s constructed very carefully not to put her–or any of the actors–in difficult situations. Acting situations. Ueto narrates the film and the beginning is classy–the film’s nicely shot, cinematographically speaking, and beautifully edited–so I had some high hopes for it. Install does something different with music in a drama–the music reacts to what’s happening on screen. It’s not a revolutionary practice, films have been doing it for specific moments since… what, 1933? But Install takes it a step further by never stopping with the music integration. Unfortunately, besides the opening theme, the music in Install is incredibly annoying. It’s carnival music and it repeats over and over and over again. It was driving me nuts. But the film’s still nicely edited. Great editing.

However good the editing, Install fails. Ugh. I was about to say the install fails to complete. Sorry. Ueto’s character is a teenage girl, apparently reeling from her parents’ divorce and not having at boyfriend. Well, maybe on the boyfriend part… She doesn’t have much conflict, but the film’s goofy and I’m not sure she really needed much. She’s just floundering and a floundering girl is an interesting character. Install even sets up an indigenous agent of solution–a similarly floundering (or so it seems) ten-year old boy. The opening scenes with the kid and Ueto are great. Install’s first twenty minutes are mostly narrated summary scenes, but the twenty minutes moves. Then, once the kid is introduced, the film starts to crawl as the hook is introduced. And once the hook is introduced, Install craps out.

The direction doesn’t help the film at all. Kataoka Kei is fantastic at one person shots, but once he’s got two in the frame, he does this silly distorted long shot and he does it every time.

Ueto was never going to be some great dramatic actor, but I had hoped Install would have been, well, watchable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kataoka Kei; screenplay by Omori Mika, based on the novel by Wataya Risa; director of photography, Ikeda Hidetaka; edited by Omori Shin; music by Iota Rita; production designer, Isoda Norihiro; produced by Kuroi Kazuo; released by Kadokawa Pictures.

Starring Ueto Aya (Nozawa Asako), Kamiki Ryunosuke (Aoki Kazuyoshi), Nakamura Shichinosuke (Kouichi), Kikukawa Rei (Momoko-sensei), Kojima Hijiri (Kayori), Tanaka Yoshiko (Kasa Megumi) and Ôkôchi Hiroshi.


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Pocket Money (1972, Stuart Rosenberg)

Pocket Money is, in addition to being an excellent film, an example of a couple interesting things. First, it’s a 1970s character study, which is a different genre than what currently passes for a character study (if there are character studies at all anymore, since Michael Mann and Wes Anderson stopped doing them). The 1970s character study (Arthur Penn’s Night Moves is a good example of another) works in a kind of short-hand with the viewer. While the first act of Pocket Money takes maybe twenty minutes, Paul Newman’s character is fully established in the first five. Paul Newman’s a movie star, so there’s an expectation of him and Pocket Money breaks that expectation, but then sets him up again… in about those five minutes. Maybe six. There’s no established goal to these films (more modern character studies add a goal, something to give the story some drama). Pocket Money is following some cowboy, who isn’t too bright, but is amiable. The film never raises a single expectation of what’s going to come next. I can’t imagine what the trailer must have looked like.

Second (I almost forgot–not really), Terrence Malick wrote the screenplay. Pocket Money would have been his highest profile work at that point, followed by Badlands the next year. Obviously, Badlands looks and sounds different from the rest of Malick’s work, but Pocket Money sounds a lot like Badlands. This Malick is the one who still enjoys dialogue for dialogue’s sake, who likes to make people laugh. Since the film co-stars Lee Marvin, who delivers Malick’s comic lines (Newman’s got plenty of comic lines and a few of the exchanges sound a lot like Lucky Number Slevin of all films) with his gravelly, earthy voice, they are a lot of great comedic moments in the film.

Stuart Rosenberg directed Pocket Money. He directed a number of other Newman films, Cool Hand Luke being their most famous collaboration. Actually, he seems to have replaced Martin Ritt–Newman did a number of films with both directors and when Ritt stops, Rosenberg starts. Whatever. Rosenberg’s impressive. He distances the viewer from the actors at the right times and he pulls them in at the right times. Pocket Money’s got a great supporting cast–Strother Martin, Wayne Rogers and Hector Elizondo–and Rosenberg knows how to use them.

Since DVD’s advent and AMC’s full commercialization, a number of films have fallen to the dust. I was just thinking this morning about the difference between DVD enthusiasts and film enthusiasts. A DVD enthusiast is passive, he or she takes what is available. A film enthusiast has to look around, has to find things. Pocket Money is no longer particularly hard to find (it just aired on INHD, so there’s a beautiful print of it–it has great Laszlo Kovacs cinematography–for the someday DVD) and I hope people try to see it. While it’s never as outstanding as the first twenty minutes, it’s an excellent film.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg; screenplay by John Gay and Terrence Malick, based on a novel by J.P.S. Brown; director of photography, László Kovács; edited by Bob Wyman; music by Alex North; produced by John Foreman; released by National General Pictures.

Starring Paul Newman (Jim Kane), Lee Marvin (Leonard), Strother Martin (Bill Garrett), Wayne Rogers (Stretch Russell), Hector Elizondo (Juan), Christine Belford (Adelita), Kelly Jean Peters (Sharon), Gregory Sierra (Guerro Chavarin) and Fred Graham (Uncle Herb).


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The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972, Paul Newman)

Paul Newman must have had an interesting experience directing Man-in-the Moon Marigolds. His wife played the lead and their daughter played her daughter, the film’s protagonist. The mother’s awful (Joanne Woodward isn’t awful, the character is awful) and Newman sticks with her. Woodward manages to infuse her with some humanity, but only so much is possible. There isn’t very much tension whether or not things will be all right (they won’t), but the last act is structured with lots of moments of immediate dread, so many I forgot the inevitable and it still came as a surprise at the end.

Watching Man-in-the-Moon is watching an exploration. It’s not a character study, since Woodward’s character isn’t the protagonist, and the differences between the film and a character study make it all the more interesting. We learn all about this woman, who we’ve prejudged–there are a few moments when we might be wrong about her, but there’s really only like three–and the film goes and confirms everything we’ve already decided. It’s a strange formula, since it breaks one of those major tenets of good fiction, never let the reader prejudge the character. The reader engages a work to make that decision. This observation leads me to Man-in-the-Moon’s quality as fiction. I’m not sure it’s particularly good. It comes from a play and Newman does a great job making it not feel like a play, but the film wallows in a stifling helplessness. It’s good, but it’s good because the writing–by Alvin Sargent, who also adapted Ordinary People and knows how to make things work–and the acting and the directing all go together. There’s also the setting, some sad Connecticut town, populated with people who never went anywhere. Idealism is absent from Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds and Newman makes you work for anything positive.

As a director, I’m not sure who Newman learned from. Some actors (George Clooney) have very obvious influences, but Newman’s beyond quiet. He does let composer Maurice Jarre carry some of the weight, but otherwise, the camera isn’t even present. Still, its absence doesn’t make the adapted play feel stagy, Newman just doesn’t let the viewer interact with him. It’s a great approach and probably the one to make this material work.

All of the performances are perfect, not just Woodward and real-life daughter Nell “Potts” (you’ve seen her on the Newman’s Own labels), but also the other sister, played by Roberta Wallach (Eli Wallach’s daughter–love that IMDb). After seeing the film version–and I know Woodward is a big supporter of the theater, so I’m sure this reaction wasn’t at all her intent–I have no interest in seeing a staged version. It couldn’t be as good, which is the greatest compliment an adaptation can get.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Paul Newman; screenplay by Alvin Sargent, based on the play by Paul Zindel; director of photography, Adam Holender; edited by Evan Lottman; music by Maurice Jarre; production designer, Gene Callahan; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Joanne Woodward (Beatrice), Nell Polts (Malilda), Roberta Wallach (Ruth), Judith Lowry (Granny), Richard Venture (Floyd) and Carolyn Coates (Mrs. McKay).


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