A Hijacking – Tobias Lindholm (2013)


When a Danish cargo ship is taken for ransom off of the coast of Somalia, the shipping company’s president, Peter (Søren Malling), begins a long, drawn out negotiation with the hijackers who are unimpressed when he lowballs their demands on the advice of a kidnapping expert. The film succeeds as an intense talking thriller, but it focuses on the negotiations and miscommunication so heavily that the larger stories of the sailors (spearheaded by Pilou Asbaek) and the kidnappers are never dipped into with any satisfaction. The high tension is enough to make the film worth your time, but there is little there to make you care about either the hostages or the hijackers, who we actually learn startlingly little about.

Stoker – Park Chan-wook (2013)


There could have been something to this dark film about India (Wasikowska), a misfit girl whose secret family history is unbound following the death of her father, but director Park Chan-wook refused to get out of his own way, overloading the film with a hyperactive camera, an overbearing level of CGI that never quite manages to enmesh itself with the live action and a collection of somewhat pointless transition gimmicks. Through the cold, calculated muddle, Mia Wasikowska emerges as the only element of interest, but that can’t sustain a film for 100 minutes, especially when that film is ostensibly a thriller.

Getting out of his own way has increasingly become a problem with Park since the Vengeance Trilogy ended, as if he were working overtime to convince the world that he really was a visionary director. He’s not, he’s a good director, or once was; he can be again, but that’s up to him.

The Taste of Money – Im Sang-soo (2013)



After the unprecedented crossover success of Psy’s hit singleGangnam Style – about the horse-dancing absurdities of the rich in South Korea — Im Sang-soo’s follow-up to 2010′s The Housemaid would seem to be coming along at the right time. Set in the same luxuriously moneyed world as The Housemaid,The Taste of Money is a more serious, high-gloss-finish take on the absurdities of the very rich that starts on a different path than Gangnam Style but ultimately spins into the same kind out-of-control parody.

No matter the country, wherever you find money, you will also find sex and power. Almost to flaunt it, the film begins in the Baek family vault, where Yoon (Baek Yoon-sik) and his bodyguard Young-jak (Kim Kang-woo) are filling suitcases with cash to get Yoon’s son, Chul (On Joo-wan), out of jail. It’s not bail, it’s a bribe, a time-honored Baek family tradition it would seem. Chul, in his mid-20s now, is a rising star in the company founded by his grandfather, which Yoon currently runs but is losing interest in.

Not shockingly, Yoon’s interest was always purely int the money and the power, not the family business he married into. And the sex, of course, but not with his aging wife, Geum-ok (Yoon Yeo-jeong). When Yoon goes too far, though, and seduces the Filipino housekeeper, Eva (Maui Taylor), promising her a life together with her children, Geum-ok discovers his secret and takes her revenge, seducing Young-jak.

The Taste of Money is a somewhat twisted sequel in that it really isn’t a sequel. Im calls it a spiritual sequel, but only the children, Nami (Kim Hyo-jin) and Chul , now grown, seem to carryover from The Housemaid, and aside from a few vague references that Nami makes relating to the fiery climax of The Housemaid, very little of the story carries over. They would be better described as parallel films, like a comic book alternate universe, where Nami and Chul are the parallel conduits to different stories.

While the Korean actors are all well cast, Darcy Paquet as the American business man that Chul is trying to woo for a big and highly immoral and probably illegal deal, is a serious weak link in the film. Paquet is an American journalist and translator who runs KoreanFilm.org. I’ve interviewed him for articles in the past and hold him in such high regard that it pains me to say that he is the weak link in the film. He’s far from the only weak link in the film – Maui Taylor is equally hard to bear in the film, and for the same reason: neither have an actor’s voice, and something as simple as that is often the downfall of actors.

It’s not the downfall of the film, it just pegs it back a few notches from what it could have been. It’s a bit of a tough film to digest though, on an empathy level especially. It’s hard to find anyone to root for, let alone empathize with. Nami and Eva work to an extent, but only to an extent. It’s a cold and calculating thriller though, and on that level it works with extreme efficiency and skill. Empathy would likely just ruin it.

Deadfall – Stefan Ruzowitzky (2012)



From the trailer, it looked like Stefan Ruzowitzky’s wintry casino heist film Deadfall had all of the makings of a tight, gripping psychological thriller. Everything looked right, from the twisted, broken family angle to the Thanksgiving blizzard setting that eventually sets the deadly Addison (Eric Bana) against Jay Mills (Charlie Hunnam), the boxer just out of jail, and his own sister Liza (Olivia Wilde).

But this is why we shouldn’t trust trailers. They lie, willfully, like a politician. And instead of the gripping thriller promised, Ruzowitzky and screenwriter Zach Dean treat us to a sloppy melodrama full of bad accents and ham-handed police sexism where screaming as loud as you can is a substitute for emotional depth.

The film starts shortly after the casino heist, with Addison and Liza already on the run, splitting up after their car hits a deer and flips off of the road for a better chance at survival. Addison murders the cop who was trying to help them, setting off a slow witted manhunt by the local sheriff’s department, where none of the boys club want to let the deputy sheriff, Hannah (Kate Mara), join in because what if she has to stop and change her tampon in the middle of the chase? I should have added quotations there, because that’s a quote, one that thuds in the middle of the scene like an anvil from a 1980s very special episode. In the world of this film, sexism is a cartoon problem, lacking all of the subtlety and savvy that it possesses in the real world.

These problems extend out to the cast, with Eric Bana playing an extension of his character from Hanna, a cutthroat survivalist with pinpoint accuracy who speaks like an imitation Southern preacher. He’s not given much to work with, and Charlie Hunnam is given even less with Jay, an Olympic-level boxer just out of jail who gets into trouble hours after getting out when he gets into a fight with a sleazy boxing trainer to owes him money. Jay is attacked and fights back, but doesn’t think anyone will believe him so he flees, running into the shivering Liza along the way, whom he promptly falls in love with and takes home to meet his parents, where Addison is hiding out, holding Jay’s mom and dad (Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson) hostage. Spacek is the only one who really comes off well in the film, and it’s her scenes with Eric Bana that play the best. Bana feels to be over acting, or at least acting in a way where we can see him acting, in the rest of his scenes, but he is calm and understated playing against Spacek in a way that eventually falls apart once the rest of the gang joins them for their Thanksgiving hostage diner, where writer Dean meant to play out the heady drama, but either as written or as translated by the actors came out as maudlin and overwrought before mercifully ending.

Jaws – Steven Spielberg (1975)


If there is a film that sums up the start of summer better thanJaws, I’ve never heard of it. Whatever it did or didn’t do to backside of the the film industry forever aside, it is one of the greatest films ever made.

Jaws gets a lot of shit from cinephiles for “ruining” movies, though it’s a bit of a falsehood, and it only “ruined” movies for a very small percentage of people. It wasn’t even the real model for huge high concept openings — Universal actually cut the amount of theaters running the film from 900 to 500 to generate a bigger buzz as people waited in line and were shut out, ensuring tons of free publicity as newscasts around the country rushed to cover the long lines.

There are many ways to take it: a pure a thriller; as a wild dramatic ride; as a horror film; allegory of class warfare, or political upheaval — whatever you want to apply to the film basically works. It’s a film about struggle against ever escalating odds, so everything under the sun adheres to it with a little massaging.

The thriller and horror aspects are fine, but the way I like to read it is as a simple essay of the shifting tenuousness of power, or manhood if you want to call it that. It’s the interpersonal connections and disconnections between Brody, the Mayor, Hooper, Quint and the shark, the rise and fall of their fortunes and glory, and balls, with every Bill Butler frame, Verna Feilds cut and John Williams orchestral swell that keep me coming back to the film year after year.

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Quick Hits on: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – David Fincher (2011)


-I seem to be very much in the minority on this issue, but I preferred Rooney Mara’s portrayal of Lisbeth Salander to Noomie Rapace’s. Not to knock Rapace’s performance, because it was quite good — she handled the character with a slithery quality worth of her tattoo — but I found Mara more believable and felt she offered the same slithery quality, but with a level of vulnerability that Rapace didn’t have. The great part about the vulnerability is that Mara’s Salander operates like she seem to be aware of it, even though its noticeable to everyone with the possible exception of Micke (Daniel Craig). There is almost a gender reversal in their relationship. Someone (in The New Yorker, I think, but can’t remember or I’d link it) made the observation that Lisbeth fucks Micke like a teenage boy who doesn’t care if the girl gets anything out of the experience, and that’s a dead-on accurate assessment. Lisbeth comes off like Micke’s guardian angel because of her sealed off avenging nature, but it’s really just her way of articulating a crush, which he spurns in the end, of course.

-The problem is the same in the new version as it is in the original version though: the mystery plot is terribly boring, and it only got worse in the original sequels. If they keep the remake series going, I hope they break off from the book series like the Bourne movies did and just come up with new stories to fit Lisbeth and Micke into. I know all of the warnings about the original sequels, how they were made for TV and had no budget, but even for that level they were still dreadfully boring, especially the third one.