New Spin with 'Oldboy' (Film Review)

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
New Spin with 'Oldboy'

Mark J. Lehman
Assistant A & E Editor

Originally published March 30, 2005

The new Korean film by Park Chan-wook has a truly scary concept for college students—a man gets supremely inebriated and wakes up imprisoned for 15 years.

While most will not actually be worried about this sort of scenario playing out in their own lives, this is precisely the situation in which the main characer finds himself in 2003’s “Oldboy,” just now being released in America.

A detective-style mystery film that borrows from such eclectic sources as film noir, Victorian literature and classical greek tragedy, “Oldboy” is certainly something new in the theaters.

The film centers on Oh Dae-su—a family man and business man—who comes to in a small hotel room one day and is kept locked inside for 15 years only to be released one day, handed a cell phone by a stranger, and challenged to figure out who put him away and why. Truly a psychologically heavy film, “Oldboy” keeps one guessing for the majority of its running time and even after the finale leaves its viewers disturbed and questioning.

Don’t be disheartened, though. To keep the film going at a steady, non-breakneck pace, director Chan-wook throws in flashbacks and humor, and he uses narration by the main character as an effective plot device to show the complex mental breakdown that slowly torments Dae-su.

Choi Min-sik, who plays Dae-su, gives a haunting performance as a man who has lost everything and drifts from scene to scene of his life with the on thought of revenge on his mind. At times his quest reeks of the Count of Monte Cristo story, an element of which the director is very much aware and even inserts a direct reference to the book. However, it seems Chan-wook only makes reference to that story so that people will realize just how he has manipulated it to create an intense new twist on an old concept.

Chan-wook also pulls a few strings with his visuals and camera work, which is highly stylized and uses dynamic camera movement to help convey emotion at times and static shots in parts to let the elements of the story speak for themselves.

The screenwriters deserve major credit here because the script is taut and dizzying. While at times one might question the reality of the situation, the different characters that come into play and their seemingly inconsequential roles that turn out to be essential make the story one which must be paid attention in great detail to fully grasp all the intricacies. In other words, one viewing just isn’t enough.

The only real issue that the film has trouble with is that of believability. It’s difficult to imagine real people acting the way some of these characters do in these types of situations, but fortunately for the film, these types of situations don’t come up too often in real life so it’s difficult to say what anyone would do if confronted by one.

Rarely does a film come along that is so haunting and gritty that vivid images stay in one’s mind for long after the film has ended. Chan-wook and his writers have created a truly bizarre and thrilling story in “Oldboy,” and one which will leave anyone who sees it reviewing and replaying and remembering it for weeks.

Grade A-
[Los Angeles Loyolan web site does not have archives available this far back.]

Achieving 'Glory' (Film Review: "Dust to Glory")

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
Achieving 'Glory'
Film Review: "Dust to Glory"

Mark J. Lehman
Assistant A & E Editor

Originally published March 20, 2005

Extreme sports has a new name.

Well, not really; the name, the Baja 1000, has been around for years. With the new documentary “Dust to Glory,” director Dana Brown gives a backstage pass to a single race that attracts hundreds of riders every year and pits motorcyclists against quasi-monster truckers, VW beetles—the old model—against million dollar dune buggies.

Brown, whose father Bruce Brown created the ultimate surf documentary with “The Endless Summer” and followed it up with “The Endless Summer 2,” has finally fully stepped out of his father’s shadow with the new film. To take a giant step in a completely different direction from his past two films, the breathtaking surf documentaries “Step Into Liquid” and “The Endless Summer Revisited,” younger Brown has gone from the ocean to the desert to film a 1000 mile race open to anyone with any kind of motorized vehicle and a death wish.

Admittedly, many a capable documentarian could take an event this exciting, ridiculous and dangerous and make a watchable film out of it. However, with his background in shooting extreme surfing footage through about eight different cameras filming all at once, Brown knows how to always capture that unbelievable shot that places the viewer right in the driver’s seat.

He also knows that even in documentaries, if the characters aren’t intriguing enough, the film inevitably will bore its viewers. So aside from the amazing cinematography by Kevin Ward, Brown and Scott Waugh do an excellent job of editing the film and providing voiceover to create several side stories to give names to the faces and life to the characters. From NASCAR great Mario Andretti breaking down in the middle of the desert to a young man called “Mouse” who wants to ride the whole race by himself on a motorcycle, the characters’ and the riders’ stories give the audience a chance to breathe in between action shots while keeping us interested throughout.

The only flaw in Brown’s method of filmmaking comes from his intrusiveness—that is to say, his inability at times to step back and let the grandeur of the film speak for itself. There’s no question that his sweeping shots of motorcycles racing across beach and desert at 100 mph are breathtaking, but his constant voiceover work commenting on the similarities between each racer’s reason for participation and outlook on life effectively allows him to make his point and then bash his viewer over the head several times with it.

Dana Brown is an excellent documentary filmmaker with the potential for greatness. While he has some things he needs to work on, his newest effort “Dust to Glory” takes him out of his comfort zone of surf-filmmaking and lets him explore the boundaries of his ability in a brand new environment. And his exploration has created a fascinating and remarkable film that’s sure to make anyone wonder.

Grade B+
[Los Angeles Loyolan web site does not have archives available this far back.]

Let's get personal with some aliens

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Opinion articles.
Let's get personal with some aliens

Mark J. Lehman
Assistant A & E Editor

Originally published March 16, 2005

“I am a 20-year-old college student who is involved in community service, online publishing, and writing for the school newspaper. Seeking an attractive, intelligent woman who is goal-oriented but has fun along the way.”

These are the sentences that begin the personal ad I just posted to craigslist.org, a site which allows free classified and personal ad postings for about 100 different cities and areas in the US and overseas. And here are the closing remarks of that same ad: “PS Any aliens out there in space getting this, shoot me an email. I don't discriminate. But you've still gotta fit the profile.”

Anyone not privy to craigslist or the swarm of news articles surrounding it this past week should be very confused right about now. The site, which has burst onto the internet scene with amazing force and expanded by leaps and bounds within the past year or two, recently won an online auction by Deep Space Communications Network for the first private communications transmission light years into deep space. Jim Buckmaster, craigslist’s CEO, decided to bid $1225 for this right with the idea of letting the site’s users transmit their ads into hyperspace. So now someone like me who wants to have a “close encounter” or someone who is getting a new apartment wants to sell a couch to one of the creatures from the “Alien” films can post an ad for free and hope for the best.

While the notion of extraterrestrial life is fascinating, and the idea of contacting alternate life forms is something I never thought would happen during my lifetime, I question the methods of doing this. Though astronomers at the SETI Institute have stated that the chances of extraterrestrials receiving and understanding the craigslist transmission are slim to none, suppose that it does happen—that not only do non-human beings from another world pick up the transmission but decipher it and understand it.

Do we as a people really want our first contact to include a written log of Joe Blow’s quest to find MILFs? Or John Smith’s attempt to get $50 for his LA Dodgers bobblehead collection?

The other problem here is the auction itself. Do we really want it left to chance who gets to send personal messages to ALF? These types of foreign relations don’t seem like something best left to the highest bidder.

There are plenty of things that could have gone wrong with the whole auction process. However, though it seems absurd, Earth lucked out with craigslist. And at least we’ll keep ourselves honest this way. After all, besides personals craigslist has job listings, activity partners, classes, housing, and even discussion boards on everything from haikus and pets to nightlife and fetishes. If we want the Klingons to get a sense of who we are, a personals site would provide almost the perfect cross-section of our world. Or in this case, at least they’ll get a good chunk of Americana.

So next time you’re looking for someone to play tennis with or trying to find someone to work the late shift at work, don’t be afraid to check that box that says “ok to transmit this posting into outer space.” After all, who knows? You might find that ET can double your production, or perhaps be the next Andre Agassi.

As for me, I’m just hoping for one who looks like Keira Knightley. Bring on the alien babes!
[Los Angeles Loyolan web site does not have archives available this far back.]
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