I Saw The Devil (aka: Akmareul boatda) (2010) This brutal, unnerving psychological thriller from director Jee-woon Kim (A Tale of Two Sisters) and writer Hoon-jung Park plays like a cross between Silence of the Lambs and The Most Dangerous Game. When a special agent’s young wife is murdered and dismembered by a serial killer, he decides to catch the sociopath on his own time. As he tracks and ultimately toys with his prey, the young agent’s sanity erodes in the process. While the audience’s sympathies are never with the serial killer, it become evident that not turning him in to the authorities can only lead to disastrous consequences. By the time he realizes that he’s taken his revenge too far, it’s too late to undo the damage. I Saw the Devil features terrific work by the two leads Byung-hun Lee and Min-sik Choi, as agent and psychopath, respectively, and illustrates how revenge can utterly consume someone. While I admired the film for being well made and effective, it’s also extremely hard to watch. It’s definitely not something that I’d recommend for everyone.
Rating: ****. Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Netflix Streaming
Sleeping Dogs Lie (2005) Sometimes the truth won’t set you free. Writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait takes the taboo subject of bestiality, and somehow uses it as the premise for a romantic comedy (Is this a first?). Amy (Melinda Page Hamilton) harbors a shameful secret, which she begrudgingly reveals to her incredulous fiancé John (Bryce Johnson). She immediately regrets her decision to talk about her past, but her relationship is already irreparably harmed. Goldthwait actually raises some thoughtful issues with his twisted comedy: 1) Does a committed relationship require full disclosure, or is it better for some things to remain hidden from your partner? 2) There’s a double standard that governs the threshold for men and women’s behavior.
To its credit, the film never explicitly depicts any of the admittedly repellent subject matter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an entirely enjoyable exercise. Sleeping Dogs Lie takes a serious turn in the third act, and never quite recovers from this rapid tonal shift. If nothing else, one has to admire Goldthwait’s cojones to bring his warped premise to the big screen. While I can’t quite bring myself to recommend it to anyone, I won’t dissuade anyone from seeing it, either. Just don’t blame me.
Rating: ***. Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming
The Last Unicorn (1982) In recent years, revisionists have hailed this as some sort of unsung classic. I was a bit too old to appreciate The Last Unicorn when it first came out in 1982, but finally caught this at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, with my family in tow. The plot concerns a lone unicorn’s quest to locate others of her kind, while avoiding the dreaded Red Bull (an unstoppable bovine specter, not the energy drink). There’s some nice voice work by Alan Arkin as the marginally competent wizard Schmendrick (Yiddish for jerk) and Christopher Lee as King Haggard. Unfortunately, it’s hampered by Jeff Bridges’ somnambulistic line readings as Prince Lir (he also sings a love ballad). Another low point is the groan-worthy music by the group America, whose best days were already behind them. I can’t fault the cut-rate animation, which was more or less standard for the era, but the whole production just seemed bland and tiresome. While I can’t say that I was the target audience for this movie, my kids weren’t exactly enamored with the movie either. Neither worthy of praise or damnation, it’s a mildly diverting time-waster, best remembered for what it is, rather than what it’s not.
Rating: ** ½. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Zonad (2009) This comedy misfire about hero worship and mistaken identity was co-written and co-directed by John Carney (responsible for the vastly superior film, Once). Zonad stars Simon Delaney as a portly escapee from an alcoholism rehab clinic. He arrives at the tiny Irish village of Ballymora, clad in a red, skin-tight jumpsuit, and claims to be an alien named Zonad. Inexplicably, the townspeople believe him, and begin to treat him like royalty until his rival, a fellow escapee, arrives on the scene. After watching Zonad, I could only arrive at one conclusion – that the villagers were complete idiots. It’s hard to imagine that anyone involved thought they were working with a workable screenplay. Every chance for comic misadventure is a misstep, completely devoid of comedy, except for one early line in the film. Moments that must have been intended to evoke laughter only come across as grating. Avoid this Celtic turd at all costs!
Rating: * ½. Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming