Joint Security Area (2000, Park Chan-wook)

If you try one Korean film, please don’t let it be Joint Security Agency. It’s like hearing alcoholic liquids are good and drinking rubbing alcohol instead of wine.

Maybe that’s a little harsh, but Joint Security Area is a really big piece of shit. It’s not without some merits, some of the acting is good–but a lot of it is atrocious too, and in an offensive way. Park’s got a bunch of English speaking Swedes hanging around–who wear t-shirts that say “ARMY” and they run in formation too–and the boss has a pipe he smokes. I could go on about how awful the lead investigator is, but I won’t.

Joint Security Area is a decent idea for a film, soldiers on both sides of the Korean border becoming friends and the tragic outcome, but Park is so incredibly full of shit, the movie is a painful experience. Park’s direction is terrible. I just had a conversation about whether or not sentimental can be good. Sentimental can, of course, be good (it can be wonderful). I think I’d describe every great director as, to some degree, sentimental. John Carpenter might be the only exception. Now, Park proves that sentimental direction can be unbearably terrible too. His composition and this film’s editing are eyesores.

Still, I’ll point out, I have never turned off a Korean film. In the case of Joint Security Area, it has to do with some of the acting, not with the filmmaker… who really, really wants to come to Hollywood, or at least did when he made this film. Maybe he’s gotten over it, but I can’t imagine anything can improve his filmmaking proficiency.

Oh, I watched some terrible region 1 release of the film from Tai Seng, who are terrible. At least the subtitle spelling was correct this time though….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Park Chan-wook; screenplay by Park, Jeong Seong-san, Kim Hyeon-seok and Lee Mu-yeong, based on a novel by Park Sang-yeon; director of photography, Kim Sung-bok; edited by Kim Sang-beom; music by Bang Jun-seok and Jo Yeong-wook; produced by Lee Eun Soo; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Lee Yeong-ae (Maj. Sophie E. Jean), Lee Byung-hun (Sgt. Lee Soo-hyeok), Song Kang-ho (Sgt. Oh Kyeong-pil), Kim Tae-woo (Nam Sung-shik) and Shin Ha-kyun (Jeong Woo-jin).


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Sneakers (1992, Phil Alden Robinson)

Describing Ocean’s Eleven, Steven Soderbergh said he wanted to “make a movie that has no desire except to give you pleasure from beginning to end.”

He seems to have ripped off that idea from Sneakers.

Robert Redford is a lot more serious than I tend to think. So’s Paul Newman for that matter. We know the affable Redford from Butch Cassidy and The Sting, but really… those films aren’t about having fun. Sneakers is about having fun. Even Redford’s post-1990s career, post-Horse Whisperer, is missing the fun of this film. (Spy Game, of course, could have been fun, but wasn’t). Sneakers is about having fun.

To quote someone else–Quentin Tarantino this time–some films, once you get the story, you watch just to “hang out with [the characters].” This quote is another good description of Sneakers. I remember seeing the film when it came out, and in 1992, it was different to see Sidney Poitier in a fun movie, different to see Dan Aykroyd in something… good, different to see David Straithairn in a big Hollywood movie. Actually, that last one is bull–when I was fourteen, I had no idea who David Straithairn was… I mean, when Sneakers came out, Mary McDonnell was just the woman from Dances With Wolves. It was an event picture. It was back when an event picture didn’t have flying saucers. It was the new film from the director of Field of Dreams… it’s from a magical era that’s long gone (and only thirteen years ago).

The only time’s the film lags–and I do love Redford’s performance in this film, because it’s the same kind of performance Paul Newman gave in Slap Shot–is when Redford’s running the thing himself. It’s not about Redford, it’s about the chemistry between the cast. There’s a party scene in the film with six principals and two supporting characters and you feel every person’s presence at the party. It’s a great scene. It entertains and it’s beautifully constructed. I sat and marveled at how Robinson worked that whole scene out, giving each person the right thing to do for just the right amount of time.

Also indicative of the film’s era is the James Horner score. It’s from before he became Titanic composer James Horner and before anyone cared if he lifted his old material. It’s a playful score. Just great.

I can’t believe I was worried about this film’s quality.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Alden Robinson; written by Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes and Robinson; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Tom Rolf; music by James Horner; production designer, Patrizia von Brandenstein; produced by Parkes and Lasker; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Robert Redford (Bishop), Sidney Poitier (Donald Crease), David Strathairn (Whistler), Dan Aykroyd (Mother), River Phoenix (Carl Arbegast), Mary McDonnell (Liz), Ben Kingsley (Cosmo), Timothy Busfield (Dick Gordon), Eddie Jones (Buddy Wallace), Stephen Tobolowsky (Dr. Werner Brandes), Donal Logue (Dr. Gunter Janek) and James Earl Jones (Bernard Abbott).


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Dead of Night (1945, Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer)

Dead of Night is an Ealing anthology from 1945. I don’t know where it fits in the history of anthology films–films composed of a number of shorts, with or without a “bridging” sequence to tie them–because I’m not particularly familiar with the genre. I saw Dead of Night because movielens recommended it, recommended it a little too highly.

The four short films that comprise Dead of Night are fine, some quite good. There’s a disturbing ventriloquist one, starring an excellent Michael Redgrave, and a gentile premonition one about a race car driver. The first two stories don’t take up as much time as the second two, since the first half of the film is also establishing the “bridging” story. It’s not enough to have four short films playing one after the other, Dead of Night tries to wrap a fifth story around the others….

The film fails because of that fifth story. It’s predictable and, by today’s standards, relatively cheap. Though maybe not. I mean, Memento was cheap and no one thought so, so maybe Dead of Night has just as much fictive merit as it did back in 1945. But it doesn’t deserve the merit, because it’s cheap. My dread of the anthology film–especially one with bridging scenes–is that the characters are going to be secondary. Dead of Night realized that fear. The characters are all thin, though amiably played by all the actors, and there’s no depth to the film. It’s a collection of some–mildly–uncanny stories and it’s mildly amusing. If it had been just a little bit better, I wouldn’t feel like I stayed up late to scare myself for nothing. It didn’t even scare me.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer; screenplay by John Baines, Angus MacPhail and T.E.B. Clarke, based on stories by H.G. Wells, E.F. Benson, Baines and MacPhail; directors of photography, Jack Parker, Stanley Pavey and Douglas Slocombe; edited by Charles Hasse; produced by Michael Balcon; released by Ealing Studios.

Starring Mervyn Johns (Walter Craig), Roland Culver (Eliot Foley), Frederick Valk (Dr. van Straaten), Anthony Baird (Hugh Grainger), Google Withers (Joan Cortland), Michael Redgrave (Maxwell Frere), Sally Ann Howes (Sally O’Hara), Judy Kelly (Joyce Grainger), Ralph Michael (Peter Cortland), Hartley Power (Sylvester Kee), Barbara Leake (Mrs. O’Hara), Mary Merrall (Mrs. Foley), Elisabeth Welch (Beulah), Miles Malleson (Hearse Driver) and Johnny Maguire (Dummy).


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Gremlins (1984, Joe Dante)

Okay, I don’t get it. How did Zach Galligan not succeed as an actor? He’s not astoundingly good or anything, but he’s incredibly likable. From his filmography, it looks like he just disappeared… Anyway, I watched Gremlins because I haven’t seen it in ten years and, I don’t know, I thought Blockbuster was sending me the special edition (they didn’t).

What’s incredible about Gremlins is that it’s a special effects spectacular, back when they knew how to make them. I watched this film and constantly wondered how they did the models, the moving faces, the puppetry (I assume it was puppetry). That feeling is incredible today, because I never feel it anymore. At best, it’s something like Hellboy–watching the ‘making of’ documentary and being surprised they didn’t just use CG.

But Gremlins isn’t just odd because it’s visually interesting, it’s also interesting–and amusing–because they made it to amuse the audience. There is no reality in the storytelling–the Gremlins know pop culture references within an hour of birth–and once you let it go, Gremlins is amusing. A lot of it doesn’t work. For example, the connection between “gremlins” in machines to the Gremlins of the title, that’s all forced. It’s not funny enough either, though I saw the second one before the first, and I think they got that one right.

Oh, and I love how all the characters seem to meet just before the film begins. Presumably, since it’s a small town, everyone would know how Phoebe Cates’ dad died. No one does. It just doesn’t work that there’d be these young stars stuck there with no other young people around… the small size of the town really limited that aspect of the film’s “reality.” It gets the quotation marks because I’m not sure they cared about reality too much. You can’t force a purely amusing film–Gremlins writer Chris Columbus has been trying to do that again for twenty years–so it’s an admirable feat.

I’m trying to think if there’s anything I forgot… Hoyt Axton is really good… I think that’s it….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; written by Chris Columbus; director of photography, John Hora; edited by Tina Hirsch; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, James H. Spencer; produced by Michael Finnell; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Zach Galligan (Billy), Phoebe Cates (Kate), Hoyt Axton (Rand Peltzer), Frances Lee McCain (Lynn Peltzer), Polly Holliday (Mrs. Deagle), Keye Luke (Grandfather), John Louie (Chinese Boy), Dick Miller (Mr. Futterman), Jackie Joseph (Mrs. Futterman), Scott Brady (Sheriff Frank), Harry Carey Jr. (Mr. Anderson), Corey Feldman (Pete), Glynn Turman (Roy Hanson) and Judge Reinhold (Gerald).


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