13 December 2013


Given how my time has recently been taken up by either being so busy that I don't have time to go and see movies, or being so knackered from the busy stuff that I want to just not do anything until 2014, it feels like we have a bit of catching up to do. Happily, we can lump together a couple of remakes for short reviews- Kimberley Peirce's Carrie and Spike Lee's Oldboy.

Both of these films have been criticised for skewing closely to their respective, better regarded predecessors- Brian De Palma's 1976 coming-of-age horror movie and Park Chan-wook's breakthrough 2003 revenge thriller, respectively- but how do they stand up on their own merits?

I mean it in the best possible way when I say this, but Carrie seems to have been made solely to give a showcase to Chloe Moretz and Julianne Moore in the lead roles, and both actresses prove that to be a noble endeavour. The plot doesn't stray too far from De Palma's film- Carrie White is a formerly home-schooled girl who is bullied and ostracised by the popular kids. When they take things too far in the girls' changing rooms, Carrie unlocks a primal force within herself, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Despite low expectations, this is at least a serviceable rehash of the story for today's young'uns, which is more effective if you're not already familiar with the twists and turns. But even if you don't know how this one pans out, the trailers have gone to great pains to show as much of the third act as possible- pig's blood, rampant destruction, a final showdown, etc. etc. That leaves you with little chance of going into see the movie without knowing how it's going to pan out. This undercuts the mounting dread of the De Palma film, which Peirce bravely attempts to replicate.

The whole thing is elevated by the performances, with a cast that's on top form throughout. Although Moretz hardly made her name in Disney movies before now, this feels like her first really grown-up role in a grown-up movie, and the strength and vulnerability of her work as Carrie should mark a watershed in an already excellent career. Likewise, Moore really digs into the expanded role of Carrie's over-zealous mother, and it's a joy to watch these two actresses raising each other's game. The supporting cast is very well put together too- Judy Greer's sympathetic gym teacher is lovely, Ansel Elgort is a sincere, likeable nice guy as the jock who takes Carrie to prom, and Portia Doubleday's high school bitch is pure, hate-able evil.

More grisly and yet less affecting than the original, Carrie is little more than a souped-up version of the original film, but it still never feels unnecessary. I had hoped that Peirce would bring more to the table than contemporary references to YouTube and Tim Tebow, but if foreknowledge of the outcome takes the dread out of her rendition, it doesn't hurt the intrigue one bit. Some fans might have preferred a reinterpretation of the original source material, by Stephen King, rather than another spin on DePalma's iconic version, but the sheer strength of the performances helps it to stand out from mediocrity.

Carrie is still playing in cinemas nationwide.

Oldboy doesn't meander too far from the point of the original film either, but perhaps deserves more flak for it- it's only been a decade since the Korean version, and it's essentially just another American language remake. After a drunken bender, advertising salesman Joe Doucett is kidnapped and locked up in solitary confinement for 20 years. When he is suddenly and mysteriously released, he sets out to unpick the conspiracy that behind his imprisonment, but only becomes more tormented.

Park's version was based on a manga, but Spike Lee's is clear from the very beginning, that it's "based on the Korean motion picture." It's a much more toothless version of the film at that- gore spills all over the shop, but as with Carrie, it's less affecting than it was the first time around. Unlike Carrie, Oldboy has an 18 certificate, and so it's bizarre to see the bloodlessness of an obviously, visually bloody film. It doesn't shy away from rehashing the major twists in the tale, but it's not good enough to keep you from questioning the contrivances that were there all along.

I've only seen Park's film once, while waiting up all night to see the simulcast of the Lost finale back in 2010, and I'd forgotten the particulars of the plot, outside of the big reveal. When Lee's version reaches this point, an English-accented Sharlto Copley spells it out like he's hosting Beadle's About. I doubt that Copley could ever be bad, but he is sorely misused as the villain of the piece. There's a solid leading role for Josh Brolin, an actor who needs more solid leading roles, but there's so much else that is misjudged in the re-telling.

Oldboy is a flat-pack assembly remake of the 2003 film, spruced up with some visual panache and a couple of canny acting choices, but generally lacking in any identifying creative marks. There's also a confusing and distracting amount of product placement for Apple and Google, at first used for a minor comedic beat about the effects of going away for two decades, and then repeated ad infinitum. In fact, Joe generally seems more perturbed by the internet and these new products than by some of the later revelations in the story, which is just one symptom of an over-balanced, over-indulgent and-- yes-- unnecessary remake.

Oldboy is still playing in selected cinemas nationwide, and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on March 14th 2014.
If you've seen Carrie and/or Oldboy, why not share your comments below? What's the most unnecessary remake you've seen?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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