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We Were Movie Gangsters


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Oldboy (2003)

Park Chan-wook’s South Korean revenge thriller Oldboy is overwhelming in every possible way. Watching this movie was such an intense experience that I kind of don’t even know where to begin with this review.

First of all, Oldboy is one of those movies where giving away too many crucial plot points beforehand would ruin the experience for any viewer. The thrill of Oldboy is the gradual release of the truth; the slow reveal of the intricate details behind Oh Dae-Su’s kidnapping and release.

I didn’t really know much about the movie before watching it (other than a lot of people telling me it was amazing), which in hindsight was definitely the best to watch it. Everything was a surprise, and my eyes were glued to the screen the entire time (other than a few moments when, squeamishly, I had to look away). By the end of it, I felt like I had been run over by a train.

Without giving away too much, though, in case anyone reading this hasn’t seen it, the basic premise of the film is that businessman Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is kidnapped one night and imprisoned for fifteen years, torn away from his life and daughter and all of society. Without any explanation as to why, he is trapped in a room with no human contact, and nothing but a TV to keep him connected to the outside world. It is through his many hours watching this television that Dae-su learns of his wife’s murder, a case in which he is a suspect. After fifteen years, Oh Dae-su emerges from his prison extremely changed, and now must seek answers and revenge. The new Dae-su — who is dark and intense and played beautifully by Choi Min-sik — is taken in by a young woman named Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), who he meets at a sushi restaurant.

Oldboy is raw, gritty, violent, and powerful. It’s shocking and emotional and a complete roller coaster ride of a movie. It’s also filled with a lot of really memorable scenes involving hammers and live octopuses. The famous one-take hallway scene, in which Dae-su single-handedly fights his way through an army of henchmen, is particularly brilliant.

Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) and Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung)

Fun facts from Wikipedia about the octopus scene: “The octopus being eaten alive was not computer-generated; four were used during the making of this scene. Actor Choi Min-sik, a Buddhist, said a prayer for each one. It should also be noted that the eating of live octopuses (called sannakji (산낙지) in Korean) as a delicacy exists in East Asia, although it is usually cut, not eaten whole. When asked in DVD commentary if he felt sorry for the actor Choi Min-sik, director Park Chan-wook stated he felt more sorry for the octopus.”

Now, about that remake. A couple of days ago, the first trailer for the English-language, Spike Lee-directed 2013 remake of Oldboy was released, and I saw a lot of outrage in response to it. Outrage that I think, after viewing the original, is definitely justifiable. Halfway through watching the movie, I found myself asking, “Why are they even remaking this?” To cash in on English-speaking audiences (and close-minded people who refuse to watch movies if they have to read subtitles — I know for a fact that these people exist) who haven’t seen the original, maybe? Remakes are acceptable if the source material can somehow be improved upon or reinterpreted, but I don’t see any way that this remake of Oldboy can do either of those things. And from the looks of the trailer, it’s not going to.

The concept of Oldboy is brilliant, and it is beautifully constructed and executed. I’m not exactly sure how any remake could improve, let alone measure up to, the original’s excellence. I just hope that viewers who go to see Spike Lee’s remake (which is out October 8 of this year) will watch the original first. Or, honestly, I just really hope that, at the very least, viewers know that the original even exists.

I had been meaning to watch this film for ages, and put it off because the version Netflix has available stream is an English-dubbed version (I really, really don’t recommend watching anything — especially this — dubbed unless you have no other option), but the other day I was informed that you can watch Oldboy for free on Hulu, so I ran to it with open arms. And it definitely paid off.

My advice to first-time viewers: prepare yourself. Oldboy is a movie that you should open your mind to and allow yourself to be absorbed into (getting sucked into it isn’t hard). The plot twist(s) and overall intensity will hit you like a freight train. After watching it, I felt dazed and drained — it’s a movie that you really experience. And it’s one hell of an experience. I’m still in shock, and I think I will continue to be for days/weeks more before this film fully sinks in.

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The 400 Blows (1959)

On Friday, TCM honored French filmmaker François Truffaut in their Friday Night Spotlight lineup, so I camped out on the couch with a frozen pizza and some blankets to watch Les quatre cent coups (The 400 Blows), Truffaut’s first feature.

The 400 Blows is the first of Truffaut’s films centering around Antoine Doinel, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, whose life in this film mirrors the real life struggles of François Truffaut. Like Doinel, Truffaut was born out of wedlock but accepted as a son by the man his mother soon married. His childhood was troubled, as shown by the life of Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows. So brutally honest that his parents were hurt by the film (Truffaut defended his portrayal of his childhood, which he told them really was that unhappy), The 400 Blows is a touching story about growing up, touched with incredible insight and personal experience.

Antoine grows up in a cramped apartment with his mother (who really doesn’t seem to like her son very much) and stepfather, where he always seems to be unwanted and in the way, or else left completely alone. Misunderstood and mistreated by his callous and largely uncaring parents, Antoine engages in a life of petty crime and juvenile delinquency, eventually leading to his arrest for the theft of a typewriter. He is sent to an observation center for troubled youth, where, at the end of the film, he escapes and runs to the nearby sea.

Director François Truffaut

Director François Truffaut

In the famous final scene of The 400 Blows, we see Antoine Doinel standing on the shore and seeing the ocean–something he dreamed of all his life–for the first time. In literature, art, film and elsewhere, the ocean can often be a symbol of hope and renewal. As the final frame freezes on young Antoine, at the brink of the sea, my thoughts were that there is hope for him. Children are in the vulnerable position to be molded–for better or for worse–by their environment (which includes parents, who probably have more power than anyone in shaping the adults that we become). But as they mature, they have the opportunity to free themselves from their past, or from oppressive environments. That hope seems to exist for tender, movie-loving Antoine, who, as a maturing boy, has choices he can make to determine his own future.

Antoine’s real-life counterpart François Truffaut did just that, becoming one of Europe’s most celebrated filmmakers and a huge influence on the New Wave movement through his passion for and dedication to film. Movies became a kind of schooling for the future filmmaker, who, as a young’un, set goals for himself to watch more movies and to read more books. The 400 Blows, with its depth, sincerity, and honesty, shows that Truffaut’s dedication to cinema paid off. Henri Decae’s cinematography and the young talent of Jean-Pierre Léaud add to the impact of Truffaut’s touching debut feature.

After finishing The 400 Blows, I was already deeply attached to the character of Antoine Doinel, and wanted to see more of him, as well as learn more about the life of François Truffaut. I can’t wait to watch Truffaut’s other movies about Antoine (Antoine and Colette, Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run), as well as more of Truffaut’s films in general. Shoutout to my fellow Moviefellas writer Miranda for letting me know this was on TCM!

The final shot of ‘The 400 Blows’


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10 America Movies to watch on July 4th

Happy 4th of July from Moviefellas! Here are ten great movies about America to watch between barbeque and fireworks and shedding a tear to the tune of Proud To Be An American.

Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein in ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976)

All The President’s Men
Three cheers for exposing political corruption!

Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump unknowingly wanders into some of the biggest events in 20th century American history.

Born On the Fourth of July
It has ‘Fourth of July’ in the title. Also, Tom Cruise stars as Ron Kovic, a gung-ho marine whose view on war quickly changes when he experiences it and is left paralyzed and scarred.

Lincoln
Daniel Day-Lewis received basically every award available for his portrayal of the 16th President in Steven Spielberg’s historical drama about the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment.

National Treasure
Nic Cage is going to steal the Declaration of Independence.

Jimmy Stewart and Claude Rains in Frank Capra's 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' (1939)

Jimmy Stewart and Claude Rains in Frank Capra’s ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ (1939)

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
An idealistic young Jimmy Stewart goes to Washington and learns a few things about the reality of politics.

American Beauty
The Burnhams are living the American Dream! Only not really. Look closer and everything is not as it appears to be.

Flags Of Our Fathers
Clint Eastwood’s counterpart to Letters from Iwo Jima is based on the book Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley, which tells the story of the famous flag-raising photo taken by Joe Rosenthal atop Mount Suribachi during the horrifying Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. Flags of Our Fathers examines war and heroism through the stories of the men pictured in the photograph.

Frost/Nixon
The story behind the historic Nixon interviews in 1977, conducted by British journalist David Frost.

HBO’s John Adams Mini-series
An incredibly well-made series about John Adams’ role in the founding of the United States, starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as John and Abigail Adams. Just set aside like eight and a half hours to watch it.

*BONUS* The West Wing
Not a movie, but if you feel like watching a television show about politics in the White House, your best bet is to stay inside and watch ten episodes of The West Wing.


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Binge Watching and Alain Delon Movies: A Love Story

Summertime is a time to binge watch tv shows on Netflix and catch up on one’s movie watching. Last week, I decided to banish the various preoccupations keeping me from my one true love (movies) and returned to a rigorous schedule of film consumption. And a bit of crack tv watching.

Le Samouraï (1967)

After realizing that I hadn’t been watching movies regularly for quite awhile (and had been watching far too much Gossip Girl), I decided it was time to begin anew. I’ve seen a disappointingly small amount of foreign films, so I took to twitter and asked the lovely people there for recommendations. Le Samouraï was one of the fifty or more recs I got in return–thanks Monica!
Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 film follows French assassin Jef Costello (Alain Delon), whose latest job doesn’t go as smoothly as it should have: Jef is pulled into the police station for questioning, leading to various complications that endanger his safety (naturally, Jef’s boss isn’t happy when he is questioned by the police). Le Samourai is thrilling and iconic. I loved it a whole lot, and also ended up falling in love with Alain Delon, who is memorably cool as the killer in the beige raincoat and hat.


Nights of Cabiria (1957)
Nights of Cabiria, directed by Federico Fellini and starring Giulietta Masina, was recommended to me by the lovely Miranda, who cherishes this film (as I cherish her). Anyway, it was a really great recommendation, because I absolutely loved it.
Cabiria (Masina) is a spunky prostitute who endures misfortune after misfortune, but manages to keep her head up in spite of being screwed over by a series of men. Played beautifully by Giulietta Masina, Cabiria is lovable and easy to feel sympathetic for as she endures humiliation and heartbreak, yet remains resilient. In spite of the many wrongs inflicted upon her, Cabiria ends the film with a smile.

Gossip Girl
I didn’t anticipate getting so thoroughly sucked into this show, but then, what’s summer without a show to binge watch? I started watching Gossip Girl  by accident when I happened to be in the room while my twelve-year-old sister was watching it, and though I poked fun at its melodrama and generally aggravating characters, I found myself going back to watch the show from the beginning.
Set in the landscape of Upper East Side New York City, Gossip Girl is pretty much a show about secrets and backstabbers and a host of characters who seem to have nothing better to do than tear each other down. Unhealthy friendships, relationships, and families abound in this sometimes laughable series. And yet, it’s addicting as hell, and from time to time illustrates a touch of humanity that, speaking completely honestly, has brought tears to my eyes more than a few times. Twisted webs of complicated drama, various takedowns and schemes, a couple of surprisingly dynamic characters that show depth on occasion (Blair Waldorf is my personal favorite), and some kind of a party every episode make this show extremely entertaining and extremely addicting. You know you love me xoxo.


This Is The End (2013)
I’d be lying to myself and everyone else if I tried to hide my genuine enjoyment of this movie. I went into it thinking it was going to be pretty stupid, but This is the End is brilliantly funny, I’m pretty sure I was in hysterics for at least 75% of it. Everyone else in the theater seemed to be having a great time too. Except for the middle-aged couple sitting in front of me and Lauren who got up and left twenty minutes in. This Is the End is probably not for everyone, but I enjoyed it’s brand of crass-yet-well-written, laugh-out-loud-inducing humor. Stars like Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and James Franco play versions of themselves, trapped at James Franco’s house while the world is engulfed in hellfire. Shenanigans and casualties ensue. Go see it if you like to laugh.

La Piscine (1969)
Like the title might suggest, Jacques Deray’s drama centers around a swimming pool. The significance of this fact is that stars Alain Delon and Romy Schneider spend most of the movie in their swimsuits (A++). Oh yeah, and someone gets drowned in said swimming pool at a lavish villa. When lovers Jean-Paul and Marianne (real life ex-lovers Alain Delon and Romy Schneider) are paid a visit by Marianne’s former lover Harry (Maurice Ronet) and his teenage daughter Penelope (Jane Birkin), a love rhombus ensues, leading to drama and tension that explodes in the second half of the film when murder happens. This movie is mostly worth watching for Alain and Romy.


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‘Before Midnight’: Reviewed

Richard Linklater’s new film, ‘Before Midnight’

Now in theaters and receiving widespread critical praise, Before Midnight is the third in Richard Linklater’s Before series, previously consisting of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Each film is set nine years apart from the last, and offers us a glimpse into the day (or night) in the interconnected lives of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy).

The pair first meet on a train in Europe in the first film, Before Sunrise (released in 1995), and soon fall in love after American Jesse convinces the French Celine to spend the night walking around Vienna with him before he boards a plane home the next morning. Before Sunrise is a film that I will forever hold dear–I don’t know of any other movie that could so beautifully make two people walking around and talking so engrossing and insightful. Watching it, you fall in love with Jesse and Celine as they fall in love, and are left with a question at the end: will they ever meet up again? 

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in ‘Before Sunrise’

In Before Sunset, (spoiler alert) they do, though not under the circumstances they had originally planned. It’s nine years later, and Jesse has written a novel about that night in Vienna with Celine. While on a book tour in Paris, Celine finds him, and the two long-lost lovers are reunited. The reunion isn’t without its complications, however–Jesse is caught in a troubled marriage, and Celine in a long-distance relationship.

I was so excited to learn that the third movie in the series, Before Midnight, was coming out, and even more excited when it finally expanded to wide release. Naturally, I rushed to the nearest theater to see it as soon as possible, and I was not disappointed.

This time, Jesse and Celine are in Greece, on holiday with their twin daughters. As always, the dialogue is what drives the whole thing and, as always, it’s a beautiful, natural-sounding balance of wittiness, realness, and depth. The screenplay by Richard Linklater and the film’s stars is brilliant, tackling a wealth of issues unexplored by the previous two films. As aging adults and parents, Jesse and Celine face new challenges and a changing relationship in a changing world.

Their relationship is not untroubled or as simple as it was when they were only two strangers who met on a train; this becomes especially evident in the second half of the film, which is pretty much just Jesse and Celine arguing in a hotel room. In spite of the back-and-forth jabs and obvious unrest, Before Midnight contains the underlying sweetness and deep, undeniable love that marks Jesse and Celine’s relationship throughout all three films.

Before Midnight is, overall, darker than the first two films (although, at parts, also a lot funnier). It tackles real, timely issues through performances that are so natural that the actors don’t seem to be acting at all. It’s easy to believe that Jesse and Celine are real people, in spite of their almost fairytale-like beginnings. But if true love ever existed, it’s here, and it’s not difficult to feel reassured that there is hope for them.

I would rank Before Midnight as my second favorite of the series. I found it to be a bit more dynamic and engaging than Before Sunset (though they’re all great and I love them all a whole lot), but nothing beats Before Sunrise. If you’re a fan of the first two films, rest assured that Before Midnight definitely stands up to them. If you haven’t seen any of the films… GO GO GO!


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12 Movies About Moms

Happy Mother’s Day from Moviefellas! Here are twelve movies to watch with your mom on this special day, some of them warm and fuzzy and some… not as much.

1. The Kids Are Alright-two moms!

2. Terms of Endearment-Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson, what else can I say?

3. Steel Magnolias-Why isn’t Sally Field my mom

4. Psycho-“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

5. Forrest Gump-Why isn’t Sally Field my mom, Pt. 2

6. Mommie Dearest-NO WIRE HANGERS EVER

7. Mrs. Miniver-Greer Garson as the best WWII mother

8. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore-An early Martin Scorsese gem about a hardworking single mother, played by Ellen Burstyn

9. Mamma Mia!-singing and dancing mother-daughter goodness. STREEP.

10. The GraduateAnd here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson…

11. Cat On a Hot Tin Roof-feat. Big Momma and that awful Mae with her brood of brats

12. Gilmore Girls-Okay, not a movie, but on the real, you can’t go wrong with this sincere, pop-culture-referencing mother-daughter TV show.