Friday, 20 May 2011

I Saw The Devil DVD review

Backstage at Stars In Their Eyes: not a pretty sight
It’s when you press play on films like this controversial revenge shocker from South Korean director Kim Ji-Woon that you become increasingly aware of how old you are. Do you really want to put yourself through it? Has your youthful tolerance for shock and excess eroded over time and should you instead reach for the Sight & Sound and hunt for some Hungarian film about farming? 

In the case of I Saw The Devil, though, the ‘you could hang every frame on your wall’ arthouse gang have partially balanced out the equation, creating the suggestion of an ugly-beauty dichotomy, a brutal aesthetic that makes it ok to bring it up at the dinner table. It’s hard to argue with that. I Saw The Devil is a striking piece of work – visually lavish and confidently directed, handling a difficult subject matter with an effortlessly sure hand. After his pregnant wife is killed in horrific circumstances by a notorious serial killer (played by Oldboy’s Choi Min-Sik),  a government agent (Lee Byung-Hun) embarks on a personal vendetta of brutal revenge, making it his mission to make sure that his wife's killer's life is a living hell too, playing cat and mouse by basically fucking the murderer up at every opportunity - but always making sure that he lives for the next dose.  It has all the key elements for a really grim day at the cinematic office, but director Kim’s execution marks it out as something far more compelling and moving. It looks incredible, reminiscent of Chris Doyle’s work with Wong Kar-Wai, with a bold colour scheme and potent composition – this should instead be called In The Mood For Blood. The soundtrack is equally lush, which could have pointed towards a fetishized approach to the violence, but that’s effortlessly kept in check by the moral underpinning. One of the strongest elements of Asian revenge spIatter bonanzas, from the Babycart films to Lady Vengeance, is the tragic note of unbearable loss and draining sadness that the violence is trying in vain to extinguish. I  recently heard I Saw The Devil described as a critique on the South Korean revenge genre, and that strikes me as spot on. As well as carrying that tone of crippling misery, there are clear references to other revenge films – the hamstring cut from Park Chan-Wook’s Sympathy For Mr Vengeance for a start – with Kim suggesting that this cycle is intrinsically futile. Though packed with acts of vengeance, I Saw The Devil debunks its validity: “Revenge is for the movies.” Nobody comes out of this with any credit or satisfaction. Kim’s direction is as deft as it is canny – though filming violent, shocking scenes with an undeniable opulence, the choice of framing and composition offers a neutrality that offers no endorsement, nor encourages any – he simply seems to be showing us the events. This clinical distance does however highlight the one troubling moment in the film, the rape sequence that caused the original fuss – for a film so punctuated with pathos and logic, this unsettling scene has a relish that sits pretty uncomfortably.

Perhaps I Saw The Devil’s reflective, pensive undercurrent means that it isn’t as enjoyable as Oldboy, but thanks to some quality performances and the obviously stunning execution, it’s hard to advise you against watching something as powerful.   

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Is it at all possible that Jennifer Aniston may in some small way be about to make partial amends for having the most tedious Hollywood career in living memory?

I'm not sure and I may be very wrong - but her new film, Horrible Bosses, looks it may possibly be at least a good 6ft away from being shit.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Rubber DVD review

This all makes perfect sense in the film, trust me

Whatever you end up thinking of Rubber, you can’t say that it doesn’t warn you. “This film is an homage to ‘No Reason’, that most powerful of elements,” it tells you, right from the off. This is actually handy, as otherwise you may have had some issue with a feature film about the murderous rampage of a psychokinetic car tyre. Yeah, you heard.

Now, I’m prepared to cut artists plenty of slack if they go out on a limb in the hope of being inventive and original, but Rubber takes some serious risks in testing the patience, so thank fuck that writer/director/editor/composer Quentin Dupieux - better known as Mr Oizo, him what gave the world the Levi’s-endorsed Flat Eric - has instead made a smart, clever, striking and original feature, though granted it does still test the patience, and may be overly smart-arse in places.

Soaked to the pants in post-modernism, Rubber critiques the basis of much of pop culture, in that there’s no real legit reason for any narrative action, and that many are simply ridiculous *whistles nonchalantly while looking in the direction of Transformers* and what is more No Reason than the entire age of reality TV? Anything more so than Rebecca Black? Taking that as the jump-off point, it follows the journey of Robert, the tyre whose reign of terror we follow. Knowing the cinematic issues he faces, Dupieux spends the opening ten minutes giving Robert as much humanity as possible, filming it in almost a nature documentary style as he discovers his own strength, with a face-off with a beer bottle proving to be weirdly touching and compelling. There’s a remarkable tactile feel to it, thanks to the superb camerawork, which allows the tiniest detail to speak volumes. There’s also a Wall-E feel to the opening – a lone presence silently functioning in a sprawling landscape, until he becomes fixated with a girl, in this case Sheila (Roxanne Mesquida). Pursuing her into town draws Robert into human territory, where the carnage begins. Dupieux isn’t overly concerned with the claret, more about the conventions of narrative cinema, which is backed up by a key part of the film – the presence of an audience within the film, whose presence proves vital to the plot, and allows the director to piss about with the relationship between the film and the viewer. To many that may be an eccentricity too far, but it does at least provide another gear just when the initial joke tyres, sorry, tires *shoots self for allowing that joke to slip in*

Much will depend on your love of genre movies and cult cinema. Rubber is very much a concept piece, with its subversion of cinema conventions always to the fore. As a result there’s a wilful hollowness that adds a quirky cultish quality, but will set a time limit for everyone else’s endurance – the performances are average and the characters are no more than narrative markers. It feels like a counterpoint to Synecdoche, which managed to draw warmth and empathy while jerking with the viewer’s expectations – Rubber at times feels like the greatest art school project ever. This means that Dupieux has plenty to do before he can be compared to the likes of Gondry and Kaufman, but he’s earned the right to have another pop at it.

Rubber is out now on DVD.