4/16/05:

Today was a bit of a disappointment; only two films in the evening, and neither as good as I'd hoped. Still, the first one was pretty good, and anyway...movies!

Films I saw today: Oldboy and Stratosphere Girl



Oldboy

To be fair, it would have been nearly impossible for Oldboy to have lived up to all the hype I'd heard about it ahead of time (just read programmer Travis Crawford's glowing review for one example). But I was still disappointed. This film, from the admittedly extremely talented Park Chan-wook, director of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, has many incredibly powerful and well-constructed sequences, including a brutal and spectacular fight scene that is filmed in one long, single, side-view tracking shot; and the opening of the film, a stunning montage that covers 15 years in the life of our main character, Oh Dae-su - 15 years in which he is held imprisoned in a hotel room, fed the same take-out dumplings day after day, and gassed to sleep every night. But despite these amazing scenes and the obvious imagination and talent that went into creating them, I found the film as a whole ultimately unsatisfying.

To get back to Oh Dae-su - he spends those 15 years in the hotel room trying to figure out who has done this to him and why, to no avail. Then, just when he is on the verge of escaping, he is mysteriously released. He immediately sets out to discover the reason and the culprit behind his imprisonment, and, of course, to get revenge. But who is having revenge on whom? Oh Dae-su's punishment is not over. He will spend the rest of the movie investigating the mystery of his jailer and the past that they share, and discovering the terrible extent of the sickening vengeance that has been wrought upon him.

Oldboy is a riveting and memorable film, intense and violent and twisted. It's about the extremes of human behavior, and sometimes it gets so extreme, it creeps towards being sickening and/or unbelievable. And its conclusion, which I suppose is meant to be mind-blowing, left me rather cold and empty. Oldboy isn't a bad movie. It's just missing something. Humanity, perhaps? I'm just not sure what the point was of doing all those horrible things to those characters.

My Poll Rating: Good

Intermission

I went from one sold-out show to another, but thankfully both were in the same theater, so I just had to go out, get in line, and come right back in again. Three friends had accompanied me to the first film (and all of them enjoyed it more than I did, by the way), but - luckily for them - they couldn't stay for my second film.

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Stratosphere Girl

This movie isn't worth too many words, so I won't waste much space here talking about it. Stratosphere Girl is about a pretty, bored, young, artistic, blond 18-year-old girl named Angela who (as she explains in horrible and pretentious narration) is looking for a purpose and some adventure and thinks she's found both when, at a dance party, the Japanese DJ offers to hook her up with a job in Tokyo. She takes him up on his offer, of course, and soon finds herself in Japan, confused, lost, and a bit disillusioned. Things are much harder and less glamorous than she'd hoped. The job she's been given is as a bar hostess at a fancy gentlemen's club, and it's difficult and more than a little demeaning. The girls she's living and working with don't seem to like her, and may even want to hurt her. But soon enough, Angela thinks she's found her mission: it turns out one of the girls who used to work at the bar mysteriously disappeared. What happened to her? Was she kidnapped, killed? As Angela digs deeper, things get more and more confusing and strange, and more and more dangerous.

The story is rather ridiculous and exploitative and not particularly original. The characters are rather stupid and dull and, as I said, the narration is terrible. Still, the film and its plot are at least intriguing enough to keep you mildly engaged, but that's mostly because the story is changing all the time, contradicting itself, offering new possibilities for what occurred until, during the completely stupid and cliche conclusion (and here's where I warn you that "spoilers" are ahead, although that term is misleading in this context), we learn that the whole thing has just been a daydream of Angela's as she sits in her room scrawling pictures, and the characters in the story are based on her family and her hot gardener ("And you were there, and you...").

Argh! I hate that!!! Can we please ban this kind of end to a movie, now and forevermore? I know that nothing in a movie is really real, and none of it "actually happened" regardless of how it ends, but it still really pisses me off when films negate themselves like this with a lame "it was all a dream" ending. A conclusion like this might - and I emphasize might - be acceptable if it's done for good reason, in a new and different way, and the story preceding it is a good one and well told, but none of that is true for Stratosphere Girl. This film is pointless, stupid, childish, and irritating. Avoid it at all costs.

My Poll Rating: Poor

Epilogue

My last film was such an insulting disappointment I actually left the theater angry. But you've got to expect at least a few duds during the festival. And I had plenty of time ahead of me to recover from it before tomorrow, which would be a heavy day of movie watching.

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Jim Genzano





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