Daily Archives: June 13, 2013

What do Spike Lee’s remake of the 2003 South Korean film Old Boy and Dr. H have in common? Recognition that American films are in as deep a recession as the economy and Dr. H acknowledging that Asian movies have better scripts, stories and endings.

Anyone who has looked at JPFmovies knows that we review a lot of Asian films.  As I have said before, Hollywood, in my opinion, has not done anything fresh or original in years.  It seems that the studios come up with some action scenes and then fill the time between explosions with simple stories and bad dialogue.  So, disillusioned with American cinema, I’ve had to turn elsewhere—mainly to Asia.

Since the turn of the century Asian films have come a long way.  In the 1980s and throughout most of the 1990s Asia was copying Hollywood almost without shame.  Now the reverse is true.  Spike Lee’s recent announcement that he is going to remake the South Korean film Old Boy (2003) seems to embody this sad trend.  We here at JPFmovies loved Old Boy and I will be very interested to see how well Lee’s film stacks up against the original.  Even the remakes that Asian cinema produces, i.e. Hari Kari Death of a Samurai and 13 Assassins, are standout films in their own right.  The remakes here in America stink on ice.  Films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, “Planet of the Apes” (even though the 1968 Charlton Heston starrer doesn’t stand next to “Grand Illusion” or “Citizen Kane” in the cinematic pantheon).  But it worked beautifully as a campy thriller, it spawned four successful sequels in the ’70s, and it has gone on to become a cultural icon with a large landmark cult following.  The Tim Burton-directed remake in 2001 suffered from a wooden performance by Mark Wahlberg in the lead, an overemphasis on special effects and action, and a painfully formulaic script.  Another disgrace to the original films is the Harrison Ford & Greg Kinnear movie Sabrina where the film’s story is about as predictable as an X-rated movie script.  These only name a few.  And I will not bore you with a litany of similar foul-smelling remakes made in order to avoid having to create fresh ideas.

How, might you ask, does this relate to Dr. H?  While we rarely air our dirty laundry here at JPFMovies, long-time contributor Dr. H was almost universally opposed to foreign movies.  This recently changed after he attended an international medical convention full other physicians and moviegoers who informed Dr. H that if you want a real script with thriller and intelligent endings, South Korea, Japan and China are now at the forefront of the film industry.  Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to get him to acknowledge this for at least two years.  Until now, he’s fought me consistently on watching Asian movies containing subtitles.  Several days ago, after returning from the conference he actually requested that we watch Old Boy without any prodding from me.  This means that he took the word of his colleagues over the experts here at JPFmovies.  While disappointing on its face, at least we have someone who has taken the Matrix’s proverbial red pill, opening his eyes to the truth instead of blissful ignorance.

While it seems like my mantra has been falling on deaf ears for some time now.  I am feeling at least a little bit vindicated for my position on the current state of cinema today.  Naturally, I invite your comments, questions or concerns regarding this post and hope to hear from you soon.


Posted by on June 13, 2013 in Movie Reviews


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Yes Mr. Mamet we know you are clever. “The Spanish Prisoner” (1997). Our third look at actor Steve Martin in our tribute to him.

You all know my opinion on movies by now; that is, can there be such a thing as a movie which is too intelligent?  Nope.  But it can try way too hard to seem intelligent.  That’s the case with The Spanish Prisoner.  Written and directed by David Mamet, The Spanish Prisoner has many of the hallmarks of great films: intelligent plot, fascinating twists and turns, smart dialog, and an interesting atmosphere or mood.  I like this film a lot, but I can’t call it a great film because Mamet tries too hard to prove he’s clever—which we already knew.

Mamet is probably one of the most prolific and famed playwrights of our time.  However, I recently read in the Guardian that Mamet’s last 6 plays have been serious box office flops—one was even announced closed after the first day it opened having only 17 professional performances.  Read the article here  I think the problem is, and I’ve said this before in our review of Gengarry Glenross, that Mamet has one underlying theme and most of his work is a variation on that theme.  Simply put, that people are selfish jerks and would step over their own mother for a dollar.  The Spanish Prisoner is no exception only it is much more complicated and elaborate than his big three “Oleanna” “American Buffalo” and of course “Glengarry Glenross.”

Campbell Scott (son of George C. Scott) and also a graduate of my alma-mater (where he was a visiting professor when I attended university) is the victim of a truly intricate con known as the Spanish Prisoner.  “The Spanish Prisoner” is a con game that dates back to the 19th century. Typically, the con man informs a victim of a wealthy man held prisoner in Spain. The con man then convinces the victim to put up funds to rescue the wealthy man in exchange for a larger sum of money once the prisoner is released, as well as obtaining the hand of a young, beautiful woman, typically the wealthy man’s daughter. The con game ends once the victim has been cleaned or realizes that he has been duped from the beginning.


Steve Martin plays Jimmy Dell. Now, in truth, Martin is brilliant. Prior to this film, I viewed him as a an actor who could only play the “put-upon guy.” Yet here he plays a suave and brilliant businessman, and he does it incredibly well.  In The Spanish Prisoner, Martin takes over the screen with his performance.


The title is a direct reference to the specific con game, an updated version of which Joseph A. ‘Joe’ Ross (Campbell Scott) suddenly finds himself caught in.  A small clog in the machinery of a large firm, he invents an unnamed and un-shown “Process” which is guaranteed to make untold masses of money for the company he works for.  On a business trip to the Caribbean, he meets millionaire Julian ‘Jimmy’ Dell (Steve Martin) and is befriended by an even lowlier coworker, the secretary Susan Ricci (Rebecca Pidgeon), who obviously has a thing for him.  Back home, he slowly begins to feel that his boss Mr. Klein (Ben Gazzara) is out to screw him, but before he can protect his interests, he not only finds out that it is actually Jimmy who is out to screw him but actually gets the screw job.  A twist and a turn and a twist and a turn and a double and triple twist and turn later, Ross is not only bereft of The Process but is also seemingly framed for the murder of his buddy George Lang (Ricky Jay).  Everything everywhere points to Ross, while Jimmy is nowhere to be found. With the help of Susan, he sets out to prove his innocence, but the film still has a good dozen twists to go before the last line of smart dialogue is crisply delivered.  In the end it turns out not only was it his employer who was behind the scheme but that the U.S. Marshalls (disguised as Japanese tourists) were watching the whole time thereby wrapping up this incredibly complex artifice in a few minutes.

The truly horrible thing about this film is Mamet’s wife, Rebecca Pigeon, who plays a mere secretary at Joe’s firm.  Apparently she has had a role in every one of Mamet’s plays since their marriage in 1991.  That is not a good thing.  Listening to her in this film is like nails scratching on a chalkboard.  She tries to come off as the quirky cute temptress but instead bogs down the film with her annoying dialog, speech patterns and voice inflections.  I mean it is hard to put up with.  Putting that to one side,  it’s a tricky plot, and Mamet never lets his audience forget just how tricky it is, just as he never lets anyone forget that he’s a writer, or maybe preferably a Writer. And boy can he write.  One gets the sense, listening to his dialogue, which he just loves to write, that he loves the sound of his own words that he loves the wordplay and clever twisting of familiar quotes and clichés to new purposes.  One does not get the sense that he has ever actually heard the way real people talk, or that he has any feel for (or interest in) writing in such a way that actors can actually deliver his lines without coming across as stilted and inhuman.  Maybe he doesn’t care, maybe he’s quite content creating this stylized Mamet world where these humanoid figures sort of look and sometimes act like people, but speak as though they learned about human interactions by studying high school productions of Shakespeare.  There’s stylized dialogue that works (His Girl Friday, still the model for artificial but infectious patter), and then there’s stylized dialogue that merely calls attention to its own stylization without compensating for it by being, you know, clever or fun or intelligent. Maybe you can guess which category this falls into: “Money, it depresses everyone but what did it ever do for one?”

Let me stress that you should not read this review as a condemnation. I like this film and I recommend it.  But I feel the film artificially limits my ability to love it because of these entirely avoidable flaws.  Had Mamet stopped telling me how intelligent he is (which we already knew), then this could have been a great movie.  As it is, it’s a good movie which wasted its potential to become a great movie.


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Posted by on June 13, 2013 in Movie Reviews


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