Monday, May 30, 2011

The little tire that could...kill!

What if a tire came to life, struggled it's way out of the sand in the desert and wheeled it's way down the road with the intent of killing innocent bystanders by way of making their heads explode? RUBBER answers that strange question that no one ever asked. Here's the greatest film that could ever be made about a killer tire. Instead of being a simple exercise in absurdist horror filmmaking, RUBBER is more of an artistic cinematic put-on.

The opening scene sets the tone in an hilarious fashion. A police officer parks his car, gets out and walks towards the camera to address the audience. He tells us that this film is an "homage" to odd things occurring in movies that make no sense and have no explanation. "In the movie, E.T., why was the alien brown? No reason." he says. We then see a timid looking man hand out numerous binoculars to what appears to be some sort of test audience. They will be viewing the movie from within the movie, at a distance. They will also be forced to sleep on the ground when nothing of any significance seems to be happening. As this diverse group of people look toward the action, they make snide comments, observations and annoy the other people around them with their chatter. Much like a movie theatre audience does. The only thing missing are cell phones.

Meanwhile, the killer tire goes on a rampage at a nearby motel. It, or "He" as the people in the film refer to it, sets it's sights on a sexy French women staying in one of the rooms. Much like a peeping killer in a slasher film spies on a sexually attractive girl, this animated car part pursues female prey and even watches her undress and take a shower. "For the first time ever I identify with a tire!" says a flabbergasted member of the desert audience.

RUBBER is some kind of twisted, ingenious masterpiece that deconstructs conventional thriller storytelling as well as audience expectations and behaviour. Imagine if Jean Luc Godard directed REPO MAN. That's the distinction I made with this quirky little gem.

This film was written and directed by a French techno musician named Quentin Dupieux and shot on a shoestring budget. He does a great job of building up interest in a minimalist way. The sound effects and editing standout the best as we hear the tire roll through the rough terrain, crush or explode beer cans, birds, crabs and human heads. It even takes the time to shower and soak in the motel pool. "Do tires sink or float?" one audience member asks.

I guess that's the purpose of this audience within the movie. They ask the answer-less questions so you don't have to. Neat.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Enduring A Serbian Film

A SERBIAN FILM is a prime and unholy example of a litmus test fans of transgressive cinema put themselves through to see if they can make it to the end credits. Why do some desire such a journey?

The story involves pornography and snuff filmmaking, produced with a political and philosophical bent by a Eurotrash millionaire. He is interested in hiring a down and out ex-porn star to participate in his latest "work of art". This former "star" is now happily married with a loving and beautiful wife and cute son, but he is need of serious money and after some reluctance, essentially signs a contract with this devilish man to act in his ambitious porn film. The producer tells the star nothing with regards to what acts he's expected to do on camera. He is to take direction without any script or knowledge of what to expect. But to his horror, what he encounters is a sick project that involves pedophilia, necrophilia and any other taboo or breach of human decency. He is also trapped, because he awakens after days of his participation to see videotapes of what he did. He is of course sickened and horrified. How did he come to commit such acts that are against his morality and seemingly beyond his willpower?

It's without question that A SERBIAN FILM will shock and offend most people. Some adventurous film goers who have been inoculated to such depraved films by way of seeing CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, IRREVERSIBLE, etc. will may find it worthwhile. I watched it with a critical sense of detachment which, in order for this film to truly work, is not an ideal state of mind. Throughout the horrendous on-screen mayhem, I was never truly absorbed and captivated. I did think what I was seeing was abhorrent but not believable for a second. It functions more as an artsy freakshow instead of something with conviction that could grab me. Aside from the movie's exploitation trappings, it also makes heavy handed statements about Serbia by way of sexual metaphors that went over my head. Maybe I need to read up on Serbian politics to understand why the mad porn producer feels his snuff film somehow represents the social state of the country, but then again he is a psycho.

The film's strengths include some strong cinematography and editing that build an inspired story structure. But the main asset is the performance by Sergej Trifunovic as the doomed ex-porn star Milos. He has a striking presence and look that reminded me of a cross between Mickey Rourke and character actor Don Stroud. He does a commendable job of portraying a man who loves his wife and son but also misses the financial rewards of being a porn star. His character is interesting. A man torn between a normal life and a past life that he cannot explain to his infant son.

A SERBIAN FILM succeeds, I guess, as a sick head trip for the unprepared. There are acts committed in this film that I'm unwilling to print. However, it's absurdity and contrived execution kept me from feeling profoundly disturbed, even though what I was witnessing was beyond the pale. It's too ambitious and well made to easily dismiss as trash but I can't recommend it. But then again, is recommend a proper word to use in a review of this movie? How in the world can you recommend A SERBIAN FILM?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

THOR in not so 3-D

Another Marvel Comics hero hits the screen and he's burdened with mediocre, dull, dim and even shallow 3-D that seems to be mandatory for blockbusters with ancient warriors with mighty weapons and... Anthony Hopkins. Remember when swashbucklers and comic book movies were made in glorious and underrated 2-D?

THOR is the story partially set in the 900 A.D. era in which the Nordic warrior awaits to be named King by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, in fine form, aside from the goofy eye patch) But Thor's arrogant and reckless ways lead him to engage his enemies, a race of icy monsters who have the power to turn their victims into human ice sculptures. King Odin is angered by his son's disobedience against his orders not to go looking for confrontation and war. He banishes Thor to another realm to live as a powerless mortal, in modern day New Mexico. When he falls out of the sky, he is lucky enough to be struck by a Hummer driven by Natalie Portman. She's a scientist with a two person team made up by her father figure elder (Stellan Skarsgard) and a plucky teen sidekick (Kat Dennings). The trio first think that the fish out of water warrior is a delusional weirdo. But they wonder why is he so mysterious, noble, skillful at fighting and so...hunky?

The secret government agency S.H.E.I.L.D., usually in charge of keeping tabs on Iron Man, quickly come to town. They set up shop and try to determine why a gigantic hammer is stuck in the middle of the desert and impossible to remove. Meanwhile back in Thor's realm (realm is a word this movie loves to reuse) his scornful and jealous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) discovers he is actually an orphaned child who belongs to the Icy bad guy species. Feeling betrayed, he takes advantage of King Odin's ailing health to assume the throne, cross the icy bridge between worlds (which resembles a Guitar Hero track) and wage war against the modern human race.

Thus CGI galore ensues at rapid fire pace. Director Kenneth Branagh seems love dutch angles too much as well and utilizes them at every possible opportunity. In between special effects sequences there is however, touches of light and dry humour. THOR is a middle of the road, sweet, inoffensive and overall unremarkable fantasy saga that is aided by a very charming performance by Chris Hemsworth as the titular hero. Supporting players include Clark Gregg who reprises his character the head agent of S.H.E.I.L.D. from IRON MAN 1 and 2. Gregg plays his role with a good balance of seriousness and humorous levity. He's so used to seeing Tony Stark fly faster than a Mach 3 jet and destroy major buildings, that the sight of century old, heavily costumed warriors doing battle hardly fazes him.

Middleston is a good actor but his character is too petulant rather than intimidating. What THOR lacks is a really menacing villain. Additional scenes with master thespian Hopkins would have benefited as well. And poor Rene Russo is given nothing to do as Thor's mother. She basically stands around looking either worried or waiting to recite her brief lines of dialogue.

Now that I've given my two cents on the film, let me digress further on my disdain for 3-D. The obvious disadvantages include dim, lifeless projection and super imposed effects that only intermittently appear on screen in a film that was in shot in 2-D originally. But what really struck me as inconvenient was when the movie ended and I exited the theater to walk out into the sunlight. My eyes were overwhelmed as if I had entered stunning daylight after a long exile in a dark cave. The movie going experience is supposed to be an escape and not one with assaulting after effects.

I repeately maimed the Devil

Revenge has never been more merciless or repetitive in I SAW THE DEVIL, a new film from South Korean filmmaker Jee-woon Kim. It's a simple game of cat and mouse, taken to uncompromising extremes of violence and hatred.

A brutal serial killer (Min-sik Choi, of OLD BOY) approaches attractive and helpless women in the dead of winter night. He drives a small bus for school children but hidden in his vehicle is a tool that represents his real intentions. His latest victim is the a woman in a car that has a flat tire. Her husband is a cop (Byung hun-Lee) who is given much time off by his superior to grieve after her grisly death. He only requests two weeks, not to mourn, but to avenge. He sets off to track down the man responsible. But killing him isn't satisfying enough. He must stalk him, beat him, cause him injury and then let the son of a bitch live so he can do it over and over.

I SAW THE DEVIL is a clear cut revenge story, told in direct and horrific fashion. The violence and gore is pervasive and relentless. The cop is so single minded, even sloppy and irresponsible, in his mission that he allows his target to suffer and even get away to claim more innocent victims. Min-sik Choi gives a powerful performance as the sick deviant who plays it quiet and creepy in his first scene only to reveal himself through out the film as a mad, repellent pig who first needs to intimidate his victims before exacting unspeakable action. Think Anton Chigurh from NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN crossed with Frank Booth in BLUE VELVET. On the opposite end is Byung hun-Lee who does a good job embodying pent up rage coupled with a selfish agenda of seeing his enemy bleed and moan in pain. His family members speak to the cop over the phone, pleading him to stop his endless game of vengeance. "Revenge is for the movies." his sister in law tells him.

Director Jee-woon kim has a lot of style to spare. Even the sound editing adds to the atmosphere of unforgiving dread. There's a shot of a mass murder in the film done at 360 degrees that represents how far this film is willing to go to portray how truly evil it's villain is. But what stops this movie short of greatness is the thin plot and characters that lack depth. The rampant scenes of violence are impressively handled but they become repetitive after a short while. There's only so many way to beat someone over the head with a fire hydrant. With a two hour plus run time, it manages to be well paced and engaging but a more complex story with more insight into the characters would have been welcome. Still, I SAW THE DEVIL delivers frenetic thrills through masterful filmmaking that proves why South Korea is a force to reckoned with in the world of genre cinema.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I'm on The Drunken Master Revue!

I now have the wonderful privilege of being a regular on a radio program known as the Drunken Master Revue which airs every Monday morning 9-10am on 93.1 CKCU-FM in Ottawa. It's a show for movie geeks by movie geeks and it's quite funny and informative. We review the latest releases and just generally bull shit about movies good and bad.

If you aren't up that early on Monday, the episodes are archived as podcasts available right here:

Since I'll be seeing more new movies, I'll be reviewing films here on the blog as well as on the show.

Check out the show and enjoy!

See you in radio land.