Stoker Review (Kirk Haviland)

Stoker Banner

Stoker (2013)

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Lucas Till, Dermot Mulroney and Jackie Weaver

Written by Wentworth Miller

Directed by Park Chan-wook

New in theaters this week from Fox Searchlight Pictures is Stoker, the English language debut film from Korean master filmmaker Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance). The intense horror/thriller written by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller packs a stellar cast with Mia Wasikowska heading up the center of the story. With Chan-wook delving into the English market, the question remains, is his unique style and vision compatible and adaptable for an English audience?

After India’s (Wasikowska) father, Richard Stoker (Mulroney), dies in an auto accident her Uncle Charlie (Goode), who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her emotionally unstable mother (Kidman). But there is something not quite on the level with Uncle Charlie, something from the past has kept him from being a part of the family for India’s entire life, and that is not lost on the house matron and India’s Auntie Gin (Weaver). But instead of feeling outrage or horror the tormented and bullied high school girl becomes increasingly infatuated with her Uncle, and begins to feel urges and actions that she never knew she had come bubbling to the surface.

stoker 2

Stoker is one hell of a debut from Park Chan-wook. Continuing to press forward with his trademark brooding atmosphere, pierced periodically with jarring violence, Chan-wook has crafted an unconventional yet beautiful looking story. The script provides a solid base for Chan-wook to jump off from, staging even the most mundane and generic dialogue in subtly dramatic tones that increase the ominous feel that permeates the film. The script does pack a sexually charged coming of age story that Wasikowska grabs with gusto. Her India goes from dour and reclusive, a girl whose best friend is her father and would rather go hunting with him than shopping with her mother, to a confident and determined young woman set upon a different path. Chan-wook does nothing to subtly connect this other ‘awakening’ to her sexual awakening, he smashes his audience over the head with it like a cast iron frying pan. Matthew Goode delivers the fully formed silent menace that was only touched upon in his Ozymandias performance from the Watchmen back in 2009. And Nicole Kidman chews scenery in a deliciously camp performance.

stoker 3

On top of the heaps of violence there is a lot of stunning imagery on display here. The transitions are gorgeous and some of the most beautiful put to lens this year or last. Some of Chan-wook’s favorite imagery does creep into the film as well; his spider motif does show up here as does his fascination with unconventional weaponry, but this helps to add to the visual flair. The Stoker house is a visually compelling estate with lush grounds, including stones and large boulders that may have more than decorative purposes, old style French doors and all the creaks that come with a house of age. The Plantation type feel is lost once you enter the dungeonesque basement, complete with iffy lighting that India swats as she walks like low hanging school decorations.

stoker 4

The film will not go without controversy though – it will not be universally loved. Chan-wook does not dilute his vision to appeal to North American audiences. His audacious and bombastic connections between female sexuality and violence, culminating in a shower sequence that very well may disturb quite a few, and may  have some screaming misogynist and sexist charges his way, and they may not even be wrong. But ultimately it is the same girl who ends up aware, and even gaining the upper hand, by the end of the film. Of course means to an end is hardly a defense but the seeds of India’s behavior are sown from the very beginning of the film, through another classic Chan-wook piece of imagery in a gift box. Seeing these exploited and maneuvered by Goode’s Charlie through the film you can see how the malleable India could be formed and shaped by his deeds into something more sinister than she may have if her father had lived and was around.

stoker 5

In the end Stoker may not be a film for the masses. The unflinching portrait of a girl discovering the true meaning of her family and their dark secret, as well as discovering herself along the way, will be unsettling for some and possibly offensive to others. But for fans of Park Chan-wook, this is the film they have been praying his English debut would be. For fans of experimental and ground breaking cinema, who aren’t afraid of some violence mixed in, or fans of Park Chan-wook’s previous works, Stoker is a must see.

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

Follow me directly on twitter @moviejunkieto and by liking my Facebook page at Movie Junkie TO

Email me at moviejunkieto@gmail.com

The Last Stand Review (Kirk Haviland)

Photo Courtesy of Eone Entertainment
Photo Courtesy of Eone Entertainment

The Last Stand (2013)

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Eduardo Noriega, Rodrigo Santoro, Johnny Knoxville, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzmán, Peter Stormare and Genesis Rodriguez

Written by Andrew Knauer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Goergeo Nolfi

Directed by Jee-Woon Kim

Making his first starring bow since leaving his office as Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns this week with his new film: The Last Stand. The film also marks the English language debut of Korean director Jee-woon Kim, the director of atmospheric thriller “I Saw the Devil” and the western homage “The Good, The Bad and the Weird”. But will Jee-woon’s frenetic style mesh with the action veteran Schwarzenegger’s own signature style?

Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) moved out of Los Angeles and settled into a life fighting what little crime takes place in the sleepy border town of Sommerton Junction. But that peaceful existence is shattered when Gabriel Cortez (Noriega), the most wanted drug kingpin in the western hemisphere, makes a spectacular escape from an FBI prisoner convoy. With the help of a fierce band of lawless mercenaries led by the icy Burrell (Stormare), Cortez begins racing towards the US-Mexico border at 250 mph in a specially-outfitted Corvette ZR1, a hostage in tow. Cortez’ path is straight through Summerton Junction, where the whole of the U.S. law enforcement, including Agent John Bannister (Whitaker) will have their final opportunity to intercept him before the violent fugitive slips across the border forever. At first reluctant to become involved, Owens ultimately rallies his team and takes the matter into his own hands after a tragic encounter, which sets the stage for a classic showdown in the middle of Sommerton Junction.

Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment
Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment

The Last Stand is a film that knows very much what it is meant to do and who the film is targeted at, and boy does it delivers. Arnold is in classic mode here, with many sequences feeling like he is winking directly at the audience, all that is missing is an actual wink and an already lit stogie. The film title sequence is a broad animated sequence that lasts about 30 seconds as just when you are ready for a full out sequence it ends as abruptly as it started. This just sets the tone for an all-out, action packed 107 minutes of bullets and blood that will satisfy any action fan. Schwarzenegger’s welcome return is flanked by a handful of familiar faces: Knoxville, playing a local gun aficionado who coincidentally has a full arsenal that he makes available for the final shoot out; Stormare, the leader of the mercenary team helping Cortez escape; the always hilarious Guzmán, playing a bumbling deputy; and Forest Whitaker, the agent in charge of the case. Whitaker’s performance is noteworthy as he is full on tongue-in-cheek and hilariously over the top throughout.

Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment
Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment

Jee-Woon is very good at is staging action. The set pieces here all work very well and cater to Schwarzenegger’s capabilities. The sheer amount of blood exploding out of the very ‘juicy’ squibs used for the bullet wounds add a level of comic book mentality to the film and allows the audience to buy into the more comedic tone of the action. Schwarzenegger’s dispatching of a roof top mercenary is a stand-out among the sequences, as is Guzmán’s ‘hero moment’ in the film. The final chase through a cornfield ending on a knockdown, drag out fight on a bridge with traditional fisticuffs facing off against jujitsu is excellently staged and extremely satisfying. Car buffs will love the Corvette of Cortez’s and gawk in awe at how the film uses the vehicle as an escape device as well as weapon. The action here is also more “Expendables” that “Kindergarten Cop” in nature as it is extremely violent and not intended for small children as the 14a rating would suggest, and Jee-Woon revels in the freedom of this choice.

Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment
Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment

An extremely satisfying North American debut form one of Korea’s rising stars, Jee-Woon makes the most of his opportunity in delivering a film very much influenced by his own “The Good, The Bad and The Weird”, with its western feel being set in a small town and a Sheriff refusing to back down. He is a very astute action director as Last Stand will attest to and with his compatriots in Chan-wook Park and Joon-Ho Bong also set for their English language debuts later this year, 2013 could be a breakout year for Korean cinema in mainstream North America. Full of plot inconsistencies with goofy dialogue and predictable story lines, The Last Stand is ‘technically’ not a great movie, but this film knows all this and plays to it, resulting an film that may end up one of the most fun times in a theatre this year. The Last Stand is a strong recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

Follow me directly on twitter @moviejunkieto and by liking my Facebook page at Movie Junkie TO

Email me at moviejunkieto@gmail.com

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑