Movie Roundup: Attack the Gas Station!, About a Boy, Safety Last!, Argo, F For Fake

Attack the Gas Station! (Kim Sang-jin, 1999):  The plot is beyond simple: four youths find a gas station and raid it, holding its staff hostage by threatening to bonk them on the head with blunt sticks. (The film notably exists in some bizarre universe where where everyone is deathly afraid of this.) Partway through they each fall into daydreamy flashbacks of disappointment and disenchantment with authority; these kids clash with an older generation that’s anti-art and anti-music, filled with old men who bully students just to show that they can. These moments bring to light a deeper meaning behind Attack the Gas Station, and realizes the story as a warning sign to an aging Korean society that if it doesn’t start being more open-minded, its youth will rebel. Problem is, the film’s shallow exterior and often unfunny slapstick facial expressions don’t warrant more than a single cursory viewing.

About a Boy (Chris & Paul Weitz, 2002):  A pretty convincing performance by Hugh Grant as an emotionally handicapped pretty boy saves About a Boy from being an awfully contrived quasi-rom-com between a mature child and a childish man. Between this and High Fidelity, one wonders if Nick Hornby’s novels are so well adapted to films because they lack the complexity a properly packed novel should have? Or maybe they’re just easy to summarize? Either way, its final act loses throws away its emotional impact along with its once-natural dialogue, namely when its leading characters refuse to have frankly easy conversations confronting their lies and real feelings. (One wants to reach into the screen and scream at Grant: “Just explain how you met the kid! It’s obviously endearing!”) It falls under a trite emotional arc and culminates in one of the most awkward climaxes ever filmed. Not sure if that’s called “success”.

Safety Last! (Fred C. Newmayer & Sam Taylor, 1923): It is easy to see why Harold Lloyd has not withstood the test of time as much as Chaplin or Keaton; Safety Last!, his most famous film, has no deeper meaning beyond the purely extraordinary stunt of him climbing a 15-story building. But, that said, it’s a helluva scene. Somehow, nearly 90 years after the fact, watching Lloyd slowly inch his way skyward, losing his footing, balancing on ledges, still makes one cover one’s eyes in fear, as if we were still watching him in 1923. Lloyd’s flamboyantly awkward intellectual (big round glasses to later inspire Woody Allen, a three-piece suit he could barely afford) is a pleasant divergence from Chaplin’s immortal tramp or Keaton’s quiet, subdued face, which means, to answer the obvious question, no, just because you’ve seen one silent comedy does not mean you’ve seen them all.

Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012): The opening sequence promptly displays the text: “Based on a true story.” Really, Affleck should have at least italicized “Based on“; it’s unclear why Affleck needed to make this already so ridiculous story even more ridiculous. Still, with the exception of an unnaturally tidy wrap-up, Argo is a totally enjoyable thrill ride, dabbed but not drenched in political history. While the hostages’ three-month-long bottle episode in the Canadian embassy gets occasionally tiresome, viewers will probably most remember the movie’s early Hollywood contingent,  featuring the suave, Oceans Elevenesque Alarn Arkin and John Goodman giddily composing this fake movie, from nothing into dressier nothing. Affleck himself sidles into the background of every scene; he’s gotten some flak for the self-cast, but he does more nothing than harm, allowing the better actors (mustn’t forget Bryan Cranston, breaking out of Breaking Bad to join the authority’s side for a change) to carry the film’s weight.

F For Fake (Orson Welles, 1973): A tsunami of ambiguity, Welles’s last full-length movie has been called more a “film essay” than any other genre, but even that gives it a bit too much credit re: organization. It’s not sloppy, but demands an intense eye and ear from the audience if they wish to understand, well, anything at all–which you won’t, for the first 15 minutes at least; Welles concedes this in the narration, steering the film from story to story, one anecdote to a lie. Flying in the face of these narrative pirouettes is Welles himself, doing his distinctly deep-voiced Wellesian thing, bound only by his dozens of amusing costume changes. There is a moment about an hour in when Welles slows the action down to a monologue about death, which seems both startlingly out of place and the most profoundly beautiful moment in the film. Thirty minutes later, as the credits roll, I was struck by the same feeling I’d gotten after watching 2001: A Space Oddysey and Apocalypse Now: that I had no idea what’d I’d just seen, much less if I actually enjoyed watching it.

Film review: Filmistaan

Like Sunny, the buoyant Indian held captive by vigilante Pakistanis in the movie Filmistaan, Mumbai-born director Nitin Kakkarpaints one of today’s touchiest political scenes in broad strokes. Sunny is a struggling Bollywood actor from India until he joins an American documentary crew as an assistant director, only to be mistakenly kidnapped by vigilante Pakistanis. (“There were supposed to be two Americans in the car!” the underling desperately pleads to his boss, a.k.a. Pakistani with biggest turban.)

The film’s most beautiful and laugh-out-loud moments are when Sunny tries to manipulate his surroundings by merging his beloved film-world with the real world: at one point, he plays director, producer, cinematographer and actor to his own hostage video, desperately crying on camera one moment, yelling “Cut!” in the next.

Read the full review on Busan Hapsas part of the site’s pretty extensive BIFF 2012 coverage.

Every Critically Acclaimed Korean Action Film in Under 120 Words

OPEN ON a lone wolf male. Within the first 20 minutes we understand that he is capable of dangerous things because he works a violent job/is put in an awkward position. We are quickly introduced to a fragile love interest/child/dependent who is the only one who can crack his cold emotional exterior. Said fragile love interest/child/dependent is abruptly kidnapped/killed/threatened and the lone wolf is thrown into a mess well over his head. Now borderline-insane, he seeks revenge through vigilantism and saving said dependent/killing someone important. For the next hour he successfully kills dozens/ hunts someone or something until two hours are up and he questions the cost of his quest, at which point the film ends on a shot of the lone wolf realizing his existential loneliness/crying/questioning true happiness.

Warning: the following post, though exclusively using the words above, may spoil some of these films for you if you’ve not already seen them. Though if you have seen them, come to think of it, it might spoil them anyway.

The Chaser (imdb rating 7.9)

OPEN ON a lone wolf male. Within the first 20 minutes we understand that he is capable of dangerous things because he works a violent job (pimp). We are quickly introduced to a  fragile love interest (his favourite prostitute) who is the only one who can crack his cold emotional exterior. Said fragile love interest is abruptly kidnapped and the lone wolf is thrown into a mess well over his head. Now borderline-insane, he seeks revenge through vigilantism and saving said dependent. For the next hour he successfully hunts someone until two hours are up and he questions the cost of his quest, at which point the film ends on a shot of the lone wolf realizing his existential loneliness.

I Saw The Devil (imdb rating 7.8)

OPEN ON a lone wolf male. Within the first 20 minutes we understand that he is capable of dangerous things because he works a violent job (secret agent). We are quickly introduced to a  fragile love interest (his wife) who is the only one who can crack his cold emotional exterior. Said fragile love interest is abruptly killed and the lone wolf is thrown into a mess well over his head. Now borderline-insane, he seeks revenge through vigilantism and killing someone important. For the next hour he successfully hunts someone until two hours are up and he questions the cost of his quest, at which point the film ends on a shot of the lone wolf crying.

Oldboy (imdb rating 8.4)

OPEN ON a lone wolf male. Within the first 20 minutes we understand that he is capable of dangerous things because he is put in an awkward position (mysteriously kidnapped). We are quickly introduced to a  fragile love interest (stranger) who is the only one who can crack his cold emotional exterior. Said  fragile love interest is abruptly threatened and the lone wolf is thrown into a mess well over his head. Now borderline-insane, he seeks revenge through vigilantism and killing someone important. For the next hour he successfully kills dozens and hunts someone until two hours are up and he questions the cost of his quest, at which point the film ends on a shot of the lone wolf questioning true happiness.

The Man From Nowhere (imdb rating 7.8)

OPEN ON a lone wolf male. Within the first 20 minutes we understand that he is capable of dangerous things because he works a violent job (ex-Black Ops). We are quickly introduced to a child who is the only one who can crack his cold emotional exterior. Said child is abruptly kidnapped and the lone wolf is thrown into a mess well over his head. Now borderline-insane, he seeks revenge through vigilantism and saving said dependent. For the next hour he successfully kills dozens and hunts someone important until two hours are up and he questions the cost of his quest, at which point the film ends on a shot of the lone wolf crying. 

A Bittersweet Life (imdb rating 7.7)

OPEN ON a lone wolf male. Within the first 20 minutes we understand that he is capable of dangerous things because he works a violent job (gangster). We are quickly introduced to a dependent (boss’s daughter) who is the only one who can crack his cold emotional exterior. Said dependent is abruptly threatened and the lone wolf is thrown into a mess well over his head. Now borderline-insane, he seeks revenge through vigilantism and killing someone important. For the next hour he successfully kills dozens until two hours are up and he questions the cost of his quest, at which point the film ends on a shot of the lone wolf realizing his existential loneliness.

Mother (imdb rating 7.9)

OPEN ON a lone wolf female (twist!). Within the first 20 minutes we understand that she is capable of dangerous things because she is put in an awkward position (son accused of murder). We are quickly introduced to a child who is the only one who can crack her cold emotional exterior. Said child is abruptly threatened and the lone wolf is thrown into a mess well over her head. Now borderline-insane, she seeks revenge through vigilantism and saving said dependent. For the next hour she successfully hunts something until two hours are up and she questions the cost of her quest, at which point the film ends on a shot of the lone wolf realizing her existential loneliness.

PostScript Notes:

I think the weirdest part is how so many of these films end on shots of dudes crying. Also fun to connect the celebrity dots: Won Bin is the lead actor in Mother and The Man from Nowhere; Choi Min-sik is the lead actor in Oldboy and I Saw the Devil; and Lee Byung-hun is the lead actor in I Saw the Devil and A Bittersweet Life, both of which were directed by Kim Jee-won.