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The Noteworthy: NYFCC Awards, “Doom”, Defending Spike Lee’s “Oldboy”

A new issue of Cléo, Adam Nayman on Nebraska, on-set photos from Gregg Araki’s latest, a letter to Terrence Malick, and more.

Edited by Adam Cook



  • We haven't heard whispers about Scorsese's The Irishman for a while, but word is that it's slated to go in production after Silence.
  • For his blog, David Bordwell writes on "Hitchcock, Lessing, and the bomb under the table":

"I’ve wondered: Is this suspense/surprise distinction original with Hitchcock? In the tapes of the original interview with Truffaut, he notes: 'You know, there has always been this dispute between suspense and surprise. . . . What I’m saying is not new, I’ve said this many times before.' He then launches into a more expansive account of the bomb-table scenario.

His formulation is ambiguous. Is the distinction 'not new' because it’s been around a long while ('always'), or because he’s reiterated it many times? And is his preference for suspense an uncommon opinion? Exact answers may lie in the vast Hitchcock literature, but so far I haven’t found them. Here’s what I came up with."

"Despair. The weight of history, economics, moral failures, the back of one man, Louis Koo. The mise-en-scène and Koo. Probably as figural as To has ever been."

"Most of what’s good in Nebraska is also fairly obvious. Any praise it has received specifically for its subtlety has more to do with how skillfully Payne and his collaborators have applied a patina of subtlety—a good paint job—to the proceedings rather than any truly multifarious artistry. That’s not a knock, by the way: The Descendants (2011) was obvious too, written with a sledgehammer gracelessness, relentlessly hitting the nail on the head while missing the mark (and hey, guess what, it won an Academy Award for its script). The theme of Nebraska—that our parents were people before taking their places as all-powerful archetypes—is deep and resonant even if the homespun melodies laid over top of it are often tinny and thin."

  • While Spike Lee's Oldboy suffers from a weak box office performance and some rough words from most critics, The New Yorker's Richard Brody has a positive spin on the remake:

"Lee’s Oldboy is the most freakishly nerve-shredding Hollywood movie since Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, from 2010. While it’s not quite the grandly nuanced, historically intricate, psychologically shattering film that Scorsese’s is, Oldboy is a hectic, furious movie that sends a viewer into the street reeling with a sense of having seen something that is, in both senses, incredible—it’s an extreme artifice that, in its implausible plotting, seethes with the power of unbelievable truths. It’s also an intensely political film that, while avoiding the particulars of nuanced analysis, tears the lid off reasoned discourse to display the primal furies at stake in political conflict."

  • For Keyframe, David Hudson provides "an overview of the events and ideas that shaped the year in cinema."

From the archives.

  • Above: via zero focus, Jean-Luc Godard on the cover of Film Appreciation Journal (電影欣賞) published in Taiwan, 1989. Happy 83rd, JLG!
Excellent from the comment thread in response to Brody’s review of Oldboy. Perhaps he should have thought a bit about the context of the original Oldboy before making such grand statements.: “I appreciate the detailed deconstruction of this film, but as a Korean viewer of the original Oldboy who has carefully studied the cultural motifs shown throughout the film, I still believe the conception of this remake was greatly unnecessary. Though I believe directors are entitled to remake films, because Oldboy in particular, was and is known as a chief title in the revival of the Korean revenge genre, it is disrespectful to describe it as " a film that’s better than the original; Lee’s film is clearer, stranger, and more deeply rooted in a vision of life", especially because the original film is very heavily coated in cultural ideals of family dynamics, masculinity, and revenge. Although this review succeeds at identifying the difference between Lee and Park’s Oldboy, I find the remake as a whole a little odd, as a remake of a film that was originally about shattering traditional ideals of East Asian masculinity through a direct attack on the family structure. But what offends me more is a review that praises this remake over such a culturally affected work, so this review manages to erase the significance of Oldboy the original (though some may argue that the significance is not that great, it is significant in promoting South Korea to international audiences, and aesthetically/thematically, it brings forth social/cultural histories to the table). "
Lee’s Oldboy is a pretty obvious metaphor for 12-step programs. I have not seen this written anywhere.
I think Brody is going all-in on “Shutter Island” when he should probably reconsider. That film isn’t built to last, whereas Lee’s recent work has often started slow and grown considerably in stature. Haven’t seen his “Oldboy” and don’t know when I will, but I am curious to see what he does with an Asian remake. Perhaps the better comparison would be with Scorsese’s “The Departed”.
@Bobby: What makes you say SHUTTER ISLAND isn’t built to last? “Lee’s recent work has often started slow and grown considerably in stature.” Do you mean in general critical stature, or in your experience? What did you think of MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA, KOBE DOIN’ WORK, and RED HOOK SUMMER?
Because at the end of the day I don’t think “Shutter Island” is very original or visionary, either in style or content. It does the postmodern homage thing well but seems very surfacy, slippery, and evaporative (that might not be an actual word). Anyway, the last thing I really liked from him was “Casino”. However, “The Wolf of Wall Street” looks promising. Regarding Lee, I meant general critical stature. I haven’t seen these new films of his that you mentioned. “Levees” is serious work, and "Sucker Free City "is good stuff. For the most part, I only read positive things about his 21st century output. I think there is consensus on contemporary Spike Lee.
Bobby, ‘evaporative’ is an excellent word. It really captures the quality of Scorsese’s recent output. He’s always been a showman with the camera movements ( and Lee is an obvious protégé ) which unfortunately has operated as an effective mask to the aesthetic shortcomings in his 21st century work. “The Departed” was fine, but “Infernal Affairs” was better, simple (subjective) fact. As for Lee, he’s a professional - he delivers good work, solid. The same can be said of Spielberg, which begs the question: who’s work will they be teaching in the 22nd century?
Depends which teachers, the practitioners or the theoreticians. The former will always be drawn to Scorsese and the latter to Lee. They don’t teach Spielberg now and I don’t image they will either in the next century. I’ll take “Shutter Island” over “Lincoln” any day of the week. At least Scorsese (like Lee) has the decency not to aspire to prestige picturemaking.

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