Late spring and early summer releases to challenge the tentpoles
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
To pull a quote from the poet laureate of Farmer’s Boulevard, L.L. Cool J, the DVD summer warm-up offers “destruction, terror and mayhem.” Death explodes, lurks in the shadows, leaves deep psychological cuts and makes killers of us all. After sampling this collection it will be hard to clean the blood off your hands.
Why waste time with an elaborate critical setup when music producer cum cult film director Quentin Dupieux just lets the rubber hit the road? Rubber, which made its DVD and Blu-ray debut June 7, is the story of Robert, a tire that rolls to life and discovers it is no ordinary tire, but one with telekinesis and the ability to love (or at the very least experience extreme lustful attraction). Life turns Robert into a killer and he develops a following, and not just audiences who were lucky enough to catch the movie during its brief theatrical run or those who will likely race out to purchase a copy after reading reviews. This horror farce should chase all of the paranormal acts and tortured slashers out of the game, maybe for good.
Director Brad Anderson (Session 9) occupies a dark claustrophobic corner of the cinematic landscape. Thanks to Christian Bale’s dramatic weight loss in 2004’s The Machinist, Anderson’s nightmarish vision attracted a bit of mainstream press, but not enough to drag the filmmaker into the light, which is quite possibly where he needs to venture if he wants to continue making movies. Vanishing on 7th Street (May 17), his latest, finds a ragtag collection of survivors, including John Leguizamo, Thandie Newton and Hayden Christiansen, squinting their way through a mysterious blackout in Detroit that has “taken” everyone else. Creepy shadows attempt to snuff out the last few heartbeats of remaining light. There is no explanation, even less hope, and honestly, no reason to hang around for the dawn. Anderson sees death and unlike an M. Night Shyamalan flick, there is no twist on this straight and utterly narrow path.
Sean Bean was born for swords and sorcery. The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the new HBO series Game of Thrones gain immense credibility once Bean appears onscreen with a sword raised high. And he elevates Black Death, which right off the bat looks like a pale imitation of the howlingly bad witchy affair from Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman, Season of the Witch. Rather than going over the top in all aspects, Death, from cult maestro Christopher Smith (Severance), deals with the gritty reality of the darker ages (1300s) and the ludicrous claims of a church that trafficked in superstition, fear and the blood of its adherents. This take on the plague and the power of believe in a vengeful God and/or witchcraft thoughtfully questions the philosophy and points of faith rather than succumbing to lurid special effects and graphic decapitations. And as a dead-eyed holy warrior, Bean takes the job of making believers of us quite seriously.
I Saw the Devil delivers shocks and tortures viewers’ hearts, minds and souls like nothing else since Irreversible. It will become the DVD or Blu-ray in your collection that you watched once and tucked away, forever. You might even loan it to friends. The grisly drama unfolds as a psychopath (Choi Min-sik) murders and mutilates the pregnant fiancée of special agent Kim (Lee Byung-hun). Kim, working outside the authority of the investigation into this outlandish serial killer’s spree, tracks him down and crafts a plan to humiliate and gain the upper hand against him while achieving the kind of vengeance that would never come from the legal system. But as his plan unravels, Kim ends up locked in a battle of wills that transforms him into something far more sinister than the evil man he was pursuing. Devil winds up becoming the film hinted at in the soapishly rendered torture porn of the Saw franchise.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi