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Double Feature: November 2013

| November 1, 2013

Insomnia 2002

Double Vision

Warning! Sitting around watching hours and hours of video will totally fry your brain! But if you do it right, watching movies back-to-back can illuminate wildly different details, create a whole new viewing experience and totally BLOW your MIND.  Plus, it’s fun! Here’s your monthly guide:

There are some strange movies out there.  Strange, wild, totally bonkers, foreign movies with languages that spurt and bend, cities that sprawl amongst ancient structures – and suddenly a friend blurts out “Dude! You have got to see this friggin’ nutso movie! There’s a part where a guy eats a real live octopus! No CGI! I swear to God!”

This would be Oldboy – one of those great secrets you get to share only with your most fearless of buddies.  The premise could travel many trope-filled paths: a man who has been mysteriously imprisoned in a motel room for fifteen years is suddenly released without any explanation – and now he’s obsessed with finding who destroyed his life.  Simple. Hooked. But Chan-wook Park, a badass director of Asia Extreme flicks, opts for a path far stranger than most would dare in this 2003 film.

Feats. We are made to witness thrilling feats of action set-pieces and storytelling that dip into shocking depths of depravity.  Min-sik Choi, as the released prisoner, Oh Dae-Su, delivers an unholy performance that flings from drunken despair to stone cold heroics to animalistic sexuality and rage to…well, you have to see it to believe it. Nothing like this could ever have been made in the USA. And yet, The Americanization was bound to happen, it was just a matter of when and who.  So, it’s the tenth anniversary of Oldboy and now it’s Spike Lee’s turn to have at it. Americanizing is what we do! Fajitas, pizza, chop suey – we find exotic morsels and reproduce them in a prettier (gaudier?) package on a mass scale.

So, Hollywood does its part by processing eccentric fun like Le Femme Nikita into bland duds like The Point of No Return. Ringu was lucky as the monster hit The Ring, but then we had to suffer the endless onslaught of generic raven-haired kid creeps.  Americanizing fairs best when transferred to a specific subculture: feudal Japan’s Seven Samurai was transported to the wild west for Magnificent Seven; Hong Kong’s Infernal Affairs was flown across the world to Southie Boston for The Departed.

Perhaps it’s this idea of playing with cultural identity that appealed to Spike Lee when he took the job of re-inventing a film that vibrates with a strong South Korean personality.  He is a powerfully visual director, and, with the brilliantly cast Josh Brolin, this just might be an experience that is rabidly unique, for something made in the USA. Here is a similar case of Americanization, which could actually be more fascinating to review backwards:

First up:
Insomnia (USA)
Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2002
Availability: DVD/Blu-ray – now; Amazon Instant

For his first big studio gig, Christopher Nolan chose a morally murky murder yarn with a veteran star as the anchor.  A weary LAPD detective in deep need of sleep has been sent to Northern Alaska – where the sun doesn’t set for months at a time and scorches through his eyelids any time he tries to close them.  But soon daylight won’t be the only disturbance keeping him awake.

Accidents turn into cover-ups and then blossom disquietingly from there.  Yet, despite all his shady doings, Al Pacino plays this man as someone who is fundamentally good, just exhausted by corruption.  As we watch him grow dizzyingly, desperately fatigued, we feel so empathetic we want to scream at the screen, “Just let this poor man finally get a little sleep!” Of course, you get the sense that eventually, one way or the other – he will.

Insomnia (Norway)
Dir. Erik Skjoldbjærg, 1997
Availability: DVD –now

It’s pretty stunning to watch this original right after the remake.  You can see how faithful Nolan is to his source, how he crams nearly every major moment, no matter how sticky, from the Norwegian version into his Hollywood version.  And yet, each of those sticky moments here seems so much more menacing and unpredictable.

Stellan Skarsgard paints his impression of the weary anti-hero with cold, ruthless intelligence.  He is a man who is considered to be on the right side of the law.  But now, as his reputation is being questioned and he is slipping into his own dizzying, desperate fatigue – he floats easily into a disturbing world of sins without consequence.

Endings are always the biggest diversions in remakes. Hollywood demands closure, satisfaction, comeuppance.  Will the new Oldboy just be an intriguing crime drama? Or will it be a jaw-dropping chiller?

– Rob Fagin

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Category: Columns, Double Feature, Monthly

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