TOO many home entertainment choices this week and, true to recent form, DVD Letterbox chose the wrong one to review.
So two recommendations before the malaise. Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said (M, Fox, 93min, $29.99) is a wry little romantic comedy starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini in his penultimate role.
It was a little over-praised because of Gandolfini’s death but Dreyfus is “in the zone” as an actress and Holofcener, whose most recent films include Please Give and Friends with Money, delivers again with a wonderful, understated look at middle-aged love.
The music documentary Mistaken for Strangers (M, Madman, 75min, $29.99) is a terrific film that could pass you by if you’re not a fan of the US indie darlings the National. But it’s not so much a music doco as a comic and affecting look at a familial bond as lead singer Matt Berninger allows his bumbling brother, Tom, to follow his band on tour. Most amusing.
Which brings me to Oldboy. To remake or not to remake, that is never the question asked by Hollywood studios. Spike Lee has taken on the fraught task of adapting one of the most visceral, astounding foreign films of the past decade, Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy (MA15+, UniversalSony, 104min, $29.99). The original 2004 film hit me like an axe. Brutally violent and with a plot that shocked, Oldboy’s psychosexual tale of demented revenge, for better or worse, demanded a response.
Lee’s 2013 remake, at least to those who saw the original, will elicit a shrug. Sure, it follows Park’s film faithfully with the fried dumplings (but no octopus) and the one-man fight against a chain of thugs, but for what? Lee doesn’t build on the original, so it feels like a mere repackaging for a broader Englishlanguage audience.
Joe (Josh Brolin) is mysteriously kidnapped and held hostage for 20 years in solitary confinement. His confinement is uninteresting because Brolin is at his worst here, resorting mainly to grunts. Only when he’s released do Brolin and the film lift, although the revenge tale loses some of its interest with an early reveal of Joe’s “keeper” (a villainous Sharlto Copley, who appears to have just ambled in from a 1990s action film).
Part of the original’s appeal was its baroque atmosphere (which Park replicated in last year’s under-appreciated Stoker) and sharp composition. Any query about his cynicism was countered by his cinematic skill. Lee, who last directed a feature in 2006 (the solid Inside Man), doesn’t seem as creatively engaged.
It is a leaner film than Park’s but some of the dialogue and delivery are ridiculous, the main fight scene is comically bad and Brolin comes into his own only in the film’s second half (although Elizabeth Olsen is very good).
Which leaves one question: why?
Sunlight Jr (MA15+) Madman (90min, $29.99)
London: The Modern Babylon (M) Madman (128min, $29.99)
Kill Your Darlings (MA15+) UniversalSony (99min, $39.95)
Backyard Ashes (M) Umbrella (90min, $39.99)
Reel Time with Michael Bodey,
every Wednesday in The Australian Capital city cinema times,
Out & About, page 28